Wednesday, May 16, 2012

The Johnson Unit

Tom just brought it to my attention a couple of days ago that it has been a little over two months since I was in the Johnson Unit. Two months! It took me be by surprise as well as my therapist. How did so much time go by? In some ways it feels unreal that I actually spent time in a psychiatric unit. Does that make me a nut? I hope not. :o)

I had thought of admitting myself to the hospital a couple of different times. It was an option when I visited the ER for the first time in January. Tom did not like that choice, so we let it pass by. Every time I had what I refer to as an episode I always wondered if it was time to make that choice. Tom was against it when anyone suggested it.

In the beginning of March it was brought to my attention by a close and trusted friend that I perhaps needed to reconsider admitting myself to the hospital. She has the gift of getting to the root of the problem and then asks the hard questions. I love her for that. As unknown as the experience would be I felt that it was time. Tom at this point was at a loss of what he could do to keep me constantly physically safe and was supportive. I needed my space and it needed to be safe.

My dear friend made many phone calls in my behalf and off we went to the ER (my second visit). Unfortunately for me they told my friend she needed to leave because of safety reasons. Later it was suggested that I should have referred to her as my sister. I'm not sure if she would have gone along with that. So I found myself sitting in the odd room by myself for hours. I had a lot of blood work done and had a urine sample taken. They were looking to see if there were any drugs in my body. I eventually was told that everything came back clean (big surprise there) and that someone would be picking me up around 7:30pm to take me to the other hospital where the psychiatric unit was located. More waiting. Then a trip in a secured car.

My ten days in the Johnson Unit were not easy, but I sometimes find myself wishing I was still there. Then I remind myself that the showers were not fun, I missed having face wash, q-tips, chapstick, and access to all the comforts I was used to. I even became sick my second day there. They are very strict about what they let in and for good reason. All garbages were lined with paper bags and we were never given plastic knives to cut our meat with. If I did it just right I could make my spoon work pretty good.

So what makes me sometimes long to be back there? I think it was the people. I honestly didn't have a lot in common with the other patients except one who also happened to be LDS. I think I was the only patient there with a college degree. I don't drink and I don't smoke. I also don't do drugs. And yet we were all there for similar reasons. To seek help. To seek safety. To seek space. Some of us were there by choice, and others were there because the law got involved. I actually was on hold for five days which meant I wasn't allowed to leave unless my psychiatrist released me even though I voluntarily admitted myself.

I am told that usually the Johnson Unit is often filled to capacity - at least the Open Unit where I stayed. During my visit we were a small group. You either got up and took part in the different classes and activities or got really bored really quickly. My favorite place was the art room. I spent a good amount of time there and hit it off with one of the Recreational Art Therapists (I can't remember her exact title). One of my favorite memories is when our close knit group was in the art room and spontaneously all took part in making an interesting peice of artwork. One that was supposedly going to get hung up somewhere in the unit.

It was also the staff that made my stay more enjoyable. They did 15 minute checks and so they knew what each one of us was doing all day and all night. I had a psychiatrist assigned to me that I met with each day. He mainly was there to adjust medications and he is the one who ultimately set my release date. There were the nurses around the clock. I had my favorite two male evening nurses who I spent some time talking to. I could be open with them, and they were just as open back. And then there was "my" therapist. He actually wasn't assigned to me, but I didn't click very well with the other. He checked in on me every single day he worked. He even spent time talking with both Tom and me. He asked a lot of hard questions and got right to the center of things. There was no beating around the bush. As scary as that was sometimes it was also a relief to share some things that had been on my mind for quite some time. And the biggest plus of all is that he is the husband of my therapist outside of the Johnson Unit. He was then able to share with her what we talked about so that once I left she would be up to speed. It wasn't until later that I found out that most patients only meet with their therapist maybe one or two times their whole stay.

And of course my visitors and the cards and letters that I recieved were a HUGE blessing. I would always save them for after visiting hours at night when I would feel the most alone. Thank you to all who came or wrote words of encouragement or even both. I'm not sure I would have made the most of my time there if not for the encouragement and support of loved ones.

Two months later and I very often feel like I came out of the Johnson Unit stronger and braver than I find myself now. To be honest as the depression and anxiety linger on I have a more difficult time keeping the hope, faith and trust that this will not last forever. That I will come out a stronger person. But one thing for sure I will know what it is like to be in a pscyhiatric unit. And you know what? I will always be thankful for that experience even though I never imagined that I would experience anything remotely close to it.


Thomas said...

It was really hard for me when you had to get admitted to the Johnson Unit, but during your stay I was very glad you were there. You were well taken care of, but you were able to have the space you needed that I was unable to give you. I am also very grateful for that place and all those who helped you while you were there.

Kathy said...

Melissa, you are showing so much courage and honesty in writing about your experiences. No one plans to end up in the Johnson Unit, but it sounds like it was a safe, nurturing space for you. I'm so glad we could come visit and let you know we care. You may or may not have to decide to go there again, but at least now you know it's a good option.

Sandy said...

Melissa,I was so glad I had the opportunity to visit you in the Johnson Unit. I had expected it to be a dark and dreary place, but the minute I walked through the locked doors, I felt a tremendous feeling of Christ -like love, acceptance and compassion. I was a mazed. As I watched and listened to what was going on there,I felt again the great love God has for all of His children and especially for those who are suffering and reaching out for help. The people who work there serve with their hearts to make other people's lives better. I felt that no one was judged, they were accepted as they were. It was a life changing experience for me. I also felt that you were there for a reason, that in the future you would use what you learned and experienced to help and lift others. You needed to be there pesonally and understand in a way that would have been impossible if you had not had that very personal experience. I know your road still seems dark and dreary, but soon the light will begin to shine brighter and brighter in your life. Don't give up. Hang on the light will come.