When I spent a week on the psych ward at the hospital, I met a man named Jonathan (whose name has been changed for obvious reasons). He is thirty-eight years old, Caucasian, and has the saddest eyes I have ever seen. His face is gentle and approachable, and with no facial hair, he looks ten years his junior. His hair is brown with a sprinkle of red, quite curly, pulled back under a baseball hat. He is so open, and his honesty kept my stay on the ward a little more bearable.
I was checking my email on one of the two computers accessible to inpatients, and he sat beside me on the other. He asked me how I was feeling – it was my first night on the ward. He asked me why I was there, and after my response, I asked him the same question.
He tried to hang himself – twice, in the past month. The first time in his bathroom over the door, but his weight was too heavy for the rope and he fell, and smashed his face on the bathroom tile. The second time from underneath his back patio. His second attempt was also unsuccessful, and after being found by his mother, he was sent to the lock down ward. He said he couldn’t speak for a while after because of the damage to his throat, and his face was pretty beat up and bruised.
Jonathan is bipolar, which means that he experiences extreme mood swings from complete depression, to emotional highs much like a feeling of euphoria. He told me he had been pretty even keel for the past twelve years – he hadn’t had an episode since he was twenty-six. But, much like what I have experienced in depression, one small thing went wrong, followed by another, and another, and another, until he found himself in a downward spiral, with a noose around his neck.
During my stay on the ward Jonathan’s psychiatrist was experimenting with different medications to find the perfect “cocktail” to suit Jonathan’s needs. This is pretty standard when dealing with mental health – everyone’s brain, and needs are so vastly different that not all medications do the same thing for each person. But the side effects are usually a zombie-like state of feeling nothing, and dead eyes. Jonathan told me that he was getting to the end of experimenting with medications – he had tried them all, and nothing was working, and finally his psychiatrist suggested ECT.
Scary, right? I had no idea that doctors today still use electroconvulsive therapy. But, it’s much safer these days – patients are under anesthetic, and less electricity is used in each session. ECT is used when other medications fail, and apparently it can reverse the symptoms of certain mental illnesses, like depression, or bipolar disorder.
So, as I was being discharged, Jonathan was preparing to attend weekly ECT.
I hadn’t seen him in almost five weeks when I ran into him in the hospital hallways late last week. I said a big hello, and he greeted me with a hug. Then I noticed his slowed, almost slurred speech. He told me his treatments were almost complete, and he would soon be able to go home. He said hopefully the slowed speech would wear off, but the doctors couldn’t be sure. He had lost some short-term memories, and was hopeful those would come back too.
To be completely honest, I’m not sure why I’m writing about him today. I mostly just wanted to share his story too. To let people know that it’s more than just depression out there – that real people are experiencing real things and they shouldn’t be looked past.
I wish you all the best in your journey, Jonathan. Thank you for sharing your story with me.