Last Wednesday, I checked myself into a mental health facility. Three years of not being able to work, burning through savings, financial strain, and feeling useless and a burden had become overwhelming. I was on the verge of suicide and didn’t see any other options.  I went to the VA clinic to see a psychiatrist for help. She wanted me to go to an ER immediately, which I was willing to do. However, she thought I was too unsafe to be allowed to leave the building. So, they had the police come get me. I had to go through the shame of being frisked, handcuffed, and put in a police car. Then, the officer had to sit with me in the emergency room until they were ready to receive me.

IMPORTANT: If you're struggling with depression and need help, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (8255). If you're more comfortable texting, message the Crisis Text Line at 741741.

IMPORTANT: Almost every veteran qualifies for free mental healthcare including in-patient treatment. If you are contemplating suicide or are in crisis, go to an Emergency Room right now! VA provides free emergency suicide prevention care to nearly 50,000 Veterans and former service members in first year of new policy.

It could’ve been a terrible experience. However, the officer and I got talking. He’s a Marine veteran, and I am a Navy veteran. I was a nuclear reactor operator on submarines, and his brother is a nuclear reactor operator on submarines - stationed in Connecticut. We had a lot of funny stories to share.

By the time I was taken back to be admitted, we had gotten to know each other quite well. Once he was finally able to leave, he said, "It was really nice to meet you!" I replied, "I wish I’d never met you, but I'm glad I did!"

I was finally put in a ward late that evening. I mainly spent that night by myself reading a book.

Over the next four days. I worked hard to get to know the other patients in the clinic. We kind of formed a little team. It was a bit bittersweet when a person was released. It was kind of nice when somebody new would come in. I made a great effort to make sure everybody new felt welcomed.

I even celebrated my 55th birthday in a psych ward. Not once, did I ever imagine something like that happening. In some ways, it was quite sweet to have a birthday surrounded by complete strangers. Some of the patients could barely remember their names, let alone the fact they had already told me, "Happy Birthday!" So, they might’ve told me "Happy Birthday!" dozens of times 🤣.

It was quite a complex environment.  There was a mixture of true “crazy”, disruption, fear, violence, and average people like myself that just needed help.

Being in there was really a wake up call for me.  My psychiatrist has been asking me to join group sessions for many years, but I have blown her off. I learned that I really do need to spend more time working on my mental health and that group sessions are not as bad as I expected.

I also learned that I am much better at social situations than I thought.  I’ve always been very introverted, but I’ve been able to hold conversations in social situations for a few years now. However, I’ve never felt included or part of the "cool kids". When I entered this facility, I was faced with a group of people that were not interacting at all. I saw right away that I didn’t want to be there completely by myself. That would have destroyed me. So, I created my own little group of people. I joined two ladies working on a puzzle. By day two, we had pulled three tables together and had anywhere from 5 to 9 people around it at a time, playing cards, building puzzles, joking around, and laughing hysterically. One of the ladies made me her table guardian. Anytime we sat in groups, she would protect a seat next to her for me so she didn't have to sit next to some of the other patients that scared/stressed her. I may not fit in with all the pretty, perfect people, but I sure did manage to band together a bunch of misfits.

When I found out I was leaving, I let my little group of misfits know. One young lady told me she was going to miss me making her laugh. Another young woman told me she was going to miss me being everyone’s dad. Another lady told me she was going to miss me keeping her safe from one of the violent people. Of the guys, there was an Android programmer. He was sad to see me go because we had a lot in common. I passed the "dad baton" on to another patient I'd brought into the group.

On one of our outside breaks, one very sweet, young woman, adopted a pet rock. Of course she couldn’t bring it inside, so she kept talking about how much she missed it. Unfortunately, due to the weather, all outside visits were stopped, so she couldn’t see her pet rock anymore. She was devastated. Before my discharge, I told her and our other friends that I was going to place her pet rock on a sign that was visible from our group room window. As my wife and I left the hospital, I went to the courtyard, and found her rock. We found the sign, and then I called the nurses station and got my group of friends to look out the window and wave to me while I put the rock on the sign. Now, she could look out the window and see her pet rock every day. I immediately began missing my little ragtag group of friends. I hope they are all well and getting released soon.

I got discharged early Monday afternoon.  Yesterday, I spent arranging more appointments with my psychiatrist and with the VA mental health department.

My psychiatrist wants me to look into getting either esketamine treatments or TMS treatments. I’ve got to work with the VA to get those approved.

Many times throughout the years, I’ve known I needed to go for inpatient treatment. However, I was just too ashamed to do something like that. This experience has taught me there is no shame in seeking help. Despite some problems with my visit, it was a great experience overall.

If any of you have been holding back from seeking the medical treatment you need, please don’t! You’re well-being and your family's well-being are more important than any stigma you or anyone else may place on you. Mental health is just like heart health or respiratory health. There is no shame in keeping your heart or your mind healthy.

Photo by Total Shape on Unsplash