That’s what it felt like when I was institutionalized in November and December of 2014. I felt like I had been imprisoned behind bars. My first assumption was that this is what it must feel like to be in jail. I spent just about 7 weeks at the Mental Health Foundation St.Maarten. I was released on December 19th 2014. Though, my whole experience there was not completely negative.
First of all, I had to be taken to Sint Maarten from Saba on a helicopter. You can imagine, that while being delusional, I had fears of flying on a helicopter, though, I had already flown in a helicopter once before. This time it was not at all a fun experience, though in hind sight it was not a bad experience. All I could think of at that time , over and over in my head was, “will this helicopter go down because there is no way they can glide a helicopter if it has engine trouble” for the whole 20 minute helicopter ride.
The first day I was put in a room by myself. This room was akin to a solitary confinement cell, in my mind. It had a bed in it, a video camera mounted from the ceiling and a huge metal door with a small window on the metal door. After a while, being in this room by myself, the doctor came to check on me. I was allowed to sleep outside the “solitary confinement” room on the first night. I got up the next morning and I showered. I had a cold shower so then I thought I was in the army barracks or at least that’s how I felt at that time.
Later on, I was moved to a room that I shared with other female mental health patients. Every morning, we were woken up at 7 AM to check our blood pressure. At times, I felt so bad that I could hardly stand up. I would lay back down on the bed because my blood pressure was so low because of the heavy medication that I was on. After the nurses checked our blood pressure, I usually went back to sleep until after 10 AM. Some days I tried to get up to have breakfast because this was at a set time but this was very difficult for me because I was so drugged at the time.
Some days we would have an exercise class together and I would look forward to moments like this when I could be outside the confines of the Mental Health Foundation. There was a television and a computer room inside which also had books that you could read. Unfortunately, I did not make use of this room so often because I couldn’t concentrate through the time it took to watch a movie. I only used this room, mostly when I had visitors which thankfully I did have.
Structure and routine throughout the day are very important to mental health patients and this was established at the Mental Health Foundation. We would have lunch always at 12 PM and would join in prayer before we sat down to our lunchtime meal. Lunch was always a warm meal.
After 10 AM, when I woke up, I would try to make it to the crafts room which was filled with Arts & Crafts materials. This room was only open in the mornings which I thought was a pity because I was so drowsy in the mornings that I was almost incapable of doing anything. Though, when the medicine had not quite began to work, I felt like I was back in my childhood as a Scout making arts and crafts. I did do some small paintings but I didn’t have quite the patience to make the painting the way I wanted it to turn out in my mind though this seems to be a consistent problem of mine when I am painting.
In the afternoons, between 1PM and 3PM, we were put to rest. Sometimes, I would go online, on my phone, to check Facebook. I missed home (the island of Saba) so much during this time. I missed my husband and my dog. From 3PM onwards, it was trying to find things to do, which usually meant I was playing dominoes or I was pacing up and down, experiencing a little akathisia, that is restlessness, outside the ward, but still in an enclosed area, behind bars, metal doors, an alarm system and video cameras; At one point I became so frustrated that I actually pushed in the heavy metal door and set off the alarm system . For me, inside the institution was all about killing time until I could see my husband the next time, who came to visit me quite often, under the circumstances, usually on the weekends.
While, I was institutionalized, I had EMDR therapy, which I will explain more about in a month as I am going to write a monthly blog from now on.