Monday, September 1, 2008

Psych wards and not

About four years ago, in the midst of the winter, I found myself in yet another deep and unshakeable depression. I had had it with psychiatric wards. I have had good experiences in psych wards, believe it or not, but times have changed. At least here in Maine, they have become little more than holding cells. You go in if you're seen as a risk to yourself or others and are booted out when you are not. Half of the people there are blue-papered, which means they are there against their will. So, about half the people there want to be there and are frustrated that they aren't receiving any help, while the other half are kicking and screaming with frustration to get out. Ironically, the ones who don't want to be there stay longer, for they are acting out.

So, this one particular winter, I got online to see if there were any alternatives. I had a hunch that what I needed was not another round of sitting on my butt doing nothing but reading novels, having perfunctory conversations with shrinks, and attending group meetings where most people sit around in desultory silence.

What I found was that there are plenty of good alternatives, if you have the money to pay for them.

I kept poking around, trying to find something that wasn't 1000 dollars a day. At about 3:00am I found the Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health, which isn't cheap, but seemed in the realm of possibility. Just thinking of being in a place like that made me feel better. What they had to offer - healthy food, yoga classes, meditation, bodywork, singing, dancing, writing workshops - well, this all seemed so therapeutic and so obviously superior to being locked up in some dreary place eating bad hospital food and doing jigsaw puzzles while trying to ignore people who are complaining and screaming.

I called my psychiatrist the next morning and asked her what she thought. She said, "Great idea, but insurance doesn't pay for it." Well, I knew that.

I did something I never thought I'd do. I called my father and asked him to help me out. And he did, which surprised me.

I spent five days there and by day two I felt absolutely fine. No, I amend that: I felt great.

Why don't psychiatric wards offer any of the things that places like the Kripalu Center offer? Does anyone seriously believe that sitting around all day is therapeutic? I doubt it.

One time I was in a psych ward and I asked if I could do some yoga in the hallway, where there was a rug. They said they really shouldn't let me do it, but they turned a blind eye. When I reported how much better doing yoga made me feel, and asked why there wasn't even one minute of time devoted to any physical activity, the answer was "liability issues".

In a perfect world, this wouldn't be an issue. In a perfect world, a psychiatric ward or hospital would be a place where people learned how to live decently and healthfully, both physically and mentally.

Just "cheering people up" is a good idea. It sounds hokey, but things like singing and dancing make a person feel good. Sitting in a day room (which is usually dark and gloomy) watching television does not.

Group sessions may force people to participate in silly exercises like calling out "healthy lifestyle choices" while some mental health worker writes them on a blackboard, but while we're in the ward, we do none of the things that are deemed healthy. Does that make any sense? No. It's actually crazy making.

I would love to go to Kripalu right now. I would also like to write more on this subject, but not tonight. I was hoping to write a humorous piece about this topic, but (oh well), I'm not feeling very humorous this evening.

Photo note: Even if you don't like yoga, where would you rather be - at Nosara in Costa Rica or locked up in a psychiatric ward? And thank you, Don Stapleton, for one of the most extraordinary weeks in my life (and no, I didn't go to Costa Rica, but Don does lead workshops in the United States).

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