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HOSPITALIZATION **TW: Attempted Suicide**

9 October 2022:

Thursday, July 28 I attempted to take my life.

Earlier that afternoon I received word that the trauma I wanted to discuss in the Trauma therapy program I was enrolled in by my Mental Health provider was more "life altering" and did not meet the criteria for the "life threatening" trauma the program focused on. If I were to move forward in that program, I was going to have to discuss a past trauma that I did not see relevant to the issues I was having at this time (nor was this past trauma a discussion point with my current therapist). The counselor told me that they could enroll me in the general therapy program that was more aligned to my needs but that the August class was full and the next available was 6 September. When I got home the thought of returning to work and continuing to have to push through my depression, continuing to receive the same once a month check in care from my Osan provider, and continuing to not have the ability to connect with anyone around me to include myself made my mind and body want and try to die.

By Monday, 1 August, I told Michael (my husband) and our Marriage and Family Life Counselor (MFLC) what I had tried to do. I told them that I now know that if I have those thoughts again, I will need to go to the hospital because I now recognize that I am in a state where I no longer have the ability to stop it. The MFLC therapist asked me if I wanted to go to the hospital now, I said yes; she called my Commander who escorted Michael and I to the hospital at a neighboring Army base. Michael held my hand the entire drive.

Two hours later after rounds of tests and questions by the ER staff, I was stripped of all of my things, given burgundy pajamas to wear and was admitted by 2 Aug around 1am in the morning.

Tuesday, 2 August was my first full day. I was in total shock, kept to myself, and just went through the motions. I remember staring out of the window just thinking "how did I get here?" "Is this really happening?" "What does being admitted into a Psychiatric Ward say about me?" There were five of us patients in the ward. One of the other patients was in my unit. I felt embarrassment that a junior enlisted Airmen would see me, one of their Squadron leaders, in there with them. I felt SHAME as an officer and just as a person for being there. I felt the pressure to hide again. I NEEDED to fall apart and let my emotions flow in a safe space but I couldn't remove the pressure I felt. The rest of the day was a total blur of anxiety, shock, and shame. I was a shadow of myself.

That evening, Michael came to visit me during visiting hours. I told him how I felt, and he calmly said to me, "Don't compare yourself to others. You are here for YOU." He was proud of me for coming and let me know he loved me and that I had his support. After that I chose to accept my situation regardless of how everything felt, and just go with the process. To not hide my true feelings anymore.

The next day I still kept to myself, but I engaged more in journaling, reading, and in the different group activities. Two more people were admitted which bumped our patient group number to seven. They were more social and as others started to talk to me I began to talk back.

By the third day I really started to enjoy my time there. I received three catered meals a day, met with a nutritionist, was able to get some of the best sleep in my life and not have as much insomnia or nightmares, learned new meditation techniques, took classes on mental health, received guitar lessons, played exploding kittens with our group, sang karaoke, colored in various coloring books, watched G rated movies, etc. I met daily with a psychiatrist for a minimum of an hour to an hour and a half, and was able to make some small progress in recognizing my issues. During our two-a-day check-ins with the nurse they would ask us when the last time we pooped. Over the past couple of months, it was not uncommon for me to go days without going number 2; at the worst I went a week and a half. Apparently if you don't go that can be a sign of stress. In the hospital I was going every day! It was wonderful!

I started to talk to and make friends with the other patients. By this point there were eight of us. We had army and marine truck drivers, culinary specialists, and infantry while I and my fellow unit member were Air Force. One of the guys shared with me stories of being "smoked out" for "talking back". He explained how he would sometimes ask his platoon leaders for clarity on things they said as English was his second language, and he didn’t always understand what they said. He shared experiences of being discriminated against for his Puerto Rican accent and how his leadership has been rushing him to get out of the hospital to return to work. He shared how this has been the only place that he can receive decent care. I totally related.

A man with the wounded warrior project gave us guitar lessons one day. He shared with us how he was retired from the Navy and formerly was an F-18 pilot. He shared how he too receives mental health treatment once a week and is a wounded warrior just like us. He then misplaced his guitar picks and as he searched for them, I saw his anxiety kick in. He was a very friendly man. None of us were judging him. This man used to fly F-18's. He was a pilot, a profession America makes movies about and few ever get the chance to be a part of this career-field. He had so much to be proud of but he was so critical of himself for misplacing his guitar picks. My heart felt for him, and I thought to myself, What happened to you?

The more I opened up, the more I connected with my fellow patients. Not for any rank or anything I did, but by just being my authentic self; not hiding. The Psychiatrist even commented in one of my sessions, "what are you doing out there, they're all crowding around you." I told him, "I don't know, I just started talking and people started coming over." Eventually the beans were spilled about me being an officer. Some of the patients and the staff started calling me ma'am and I said, “please just call me Kristin, part of that officer pressure I feel is part of why I am in here.”

My experience in the psychiatric ward was not like how it is often portrayed in movies. Nobody was rude or disrespectful to me or treated me like I was crazy but every one of the staff and patients treated me like I was a human being. Like who I was and what I thought, felt, said, mattered. I experienced no pressure to prove anything to anyone else or myself. The only requirement was to show up as you were, depression and all. As I was sharing with one of the nurses who was also a fellow Captain, about the trainwreck of life events that happened which led me to get admitted, I said, "why is it that I feel the MOST SANE in a psychiatric ward? I've never been admitted before but I REALLY like it here and am scared to leave. What does that mean? What does that say about me or my environment?"

While my stress in the hospital was SIGNIFICANTLY reduced, I did experience some stressors. The Psychiatrist and the overall experience showed me that its ok to have my emotions and that I AM able to healthily work through them, I just need to be in a supportive environment.

As I was contemplating on the decision to stay in the hospital longer or being released, one of the patient friends I made (who had been there a month) told me that on the weekends they let you sleep in and put your feet on the couch. I said, "They let us put our feet on the couch?!?!" It was REALLY tempting. The truth was, I didn’t want to leave. But I needed to go home. I missed my husband.

5 August, I hugged and said goodbye to my patient friends and was released. My Director of Operations and Michael picked me up and took me home. My journey since then has been learning how to create that "safe and supportive" environment for myself. Sharing my experiences makes me feel good as I am no longer hiding. While it is not my goal or in any span of my control, perhaps some of this experience can help you do the same for you and be considerate of others who need it too.


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