So, back to the hospital. Were any of you wondering when the hell I was going to get around to telling you what happened? Well, that's what I was doing on the unit after my doctor went to Asia, wondering when the hell anyone was going to take over for her, and update me about the possibility of my not being incarcerated for Christmas. Slight tangent: if you think the word incarcerated is too strong, you are incorrect. Dr. Rao used to tell me frequently, "This is not a jail.", but it kinda was. I mean, granted it was a lot more comfortable than I imagine your typical jail is, and they seem to put more effort into ensuring that you don't get the shit beat out of you, and they can't force you to work, but the fact remains; the doors are locked, you can't leave, even for five minutes to smoke a cigarette, and people will tackle you and inject you with things if you try. Admittedly I haven't checked the dictionary, but I'm pretty sure that the definition of "incarcerated" is something similar to that. In fact, in the hospital, you have less access to things like T.V. and phone use than some prisoners do (see the wikipedia entry for protective custody). And if you compare your access to TV, phone use, and even visitors on a psych ward to what you get on pretty much any other unit, the difference is staggering. On any other unit, you have a TV for each person in a room which you can watch whenever the hell you want. On a psych ward, there is one, in a community room and your chances of EVER getting to watch anything you might even be remotely interested in without pissing someone off are slim to none. It is also turned off at 11 PM. And it's not like there's anything else to do between groups (which they don't have on weekends). If you're lucky, you get a ping-pong table. The arts and crafts people often picture in such places are available for maybe two hours a day. If you don't have people you can count on to bring you books, you could end up walking the hall endlessly out of sheer boredom. On any other unit, you have a phone, in your room, which does not require quarters to use. On a psych ward, you get a pay phone, which you use in front of everyone and their mother and God help you if you don't have at least two quarters on you when you lose your marbles. And by on you, I mean like, in your clothes (they take your purse, remember). On most units nowadays, you are allowed to have visitors pretty much whenever you feel like it. At some places they respectfully request that you not visit at three in the morning, but you've usually got a good consecutive 14 hours a day when people can come see you. On some units, husbands and wives or parents can even stay overnight with patients. On the psych ward I was on, and on the one where I later worked, you had about four or five hours on weekdays, usually more on weekends, but still less than ten. This means that if your husband, wife, or parent is , I don't know, say a nurse working a twelve hour shift, you can't see them at all half the time. And these are the same people who constantly tell you how important a good support system is. If and when you get visitors, you must have all conversations with them in front of everyone else as they are not allowed to enter your room, even with the door open. The result for me, was that I felt very exposed and vulnerable andpowerless which are not favorable conditions for mental wellness.
On top of all this, the staff on psych units will often remind you that your hospitalization is an opportunity for growth and healing that you should not squander and that you need to be making the most of it. Let's also not forget that you are expected to pay for this "opportunity". Like, a LOT. Don't get me wrong, if given the choice between prison and the psych ward, (for the same amount of time) I'll take the psych ward any time. But prison does have one, single advantage in my opinion. The people who put you in prison and keep you there don't expect you to be grateful for it.