Life on the Inside: My Week in a Mental Hospital

As a contributor to the second-longest running group satire site in the world, I’m always looking for a scoop. So when I had a chance to enter a mental health hospital as a patient recently, I couldn’t pass it up.

Sure there was the whole “I won’t let you leave my office until you agree” and “I’ll call the police if you try to leave” business, but really it was about the story, and I couldn’t let an opportunity like this pass me by.

So I hitched that free ride, headed north, and before I knew it I was sitting face to face with an admissions nurse explaining why the whole thing was a pointless misunderstanding. Not my situation, mind you, but life itself.

She wasn’t impressed, but neither was I, and we agreed to disagree. I was committed. Not to the story, just personally, and legally.

That was enough to get me admitted. Apparently you have to promise not to hurt yourself or others if you want to walk back out the door, and let’s face it, there are some real bastards out there that deserve to be hurt, not the least of whom is me. I mean, come on, I’m kind of a bastard. Have you even seen my recent interviews? Pick a side on that one, but let’s just agree, somebody needs some harm.

So they checked me in and from there my week on the inside got interesting. And by interesting, I mean boring. Skull numbingly boring. Soul crushingly boring.

Intake, Search and Seizure

Once all the questions are asked and the vitals are taken, they strip you down naked as a chubby bird and search you for contraband. Necklace has to go, as do your shoelaces and sweatshirt drawstring. All of these could be used to strangle yourself, apparently.

They also take your money and ID, but that’s what they do when you visit North Korea as a VIP tourist, so this isn’t all that strange. It’s basically just keeping up with the Kims.

They check on you 100-times a day

You know how hospitals do rounds to make sure everybody is still alive? Well instead of doing it once every hour or two, they do it like 100 times a day. I exaggerate of course for comedic effect. They don’t literally do it 100 times a day. They only do it once every 15-minutes, so it pencils out to 96 times a day. Much more reasonable.

So if you go to bed at 10:00 and get up at 8:00, you can count on a heavy-footed, hard-sole shoe wearing clown to clomp in and point a flashlight on your not-quite sleeping face a mere 40-times while you do your best to sleep in a freezing room with a blanket as thin as a t-shirt on a mattress no thicker than a child’s fist.

As fate would have it, the mattress actually not like a child’s fist, but more like a collection of tiny fists, so it doesn’t really strain your imagination that much to make the leap.

A World Without Strings

Since you can’t have strings, a number of things are gone. No blinds, since they’d require strings, no drawstrings on your sweats, no belts and also no shoe laces. How do you keep your shoes from falling off your feet? Well two ways. First, you do it in a combo of badly & haphazardly, and second, you do it with zip-ties. Yes, your shoes are held closed with zip-ties. I should mention there is no running in the mental hospital. It’s not a rule, it’s just a practical limitation.

Nothing to do but eat

You know how when you go on a cruise you gain weight? Well this is a lot like that. There’s nothing to do. Nothing at all. Nothing but eat. They serve you three-square a day, and with portions as big as you’ll permit them to heap in front of you, and then they pile the snacks on top of it.

When they served bacon and eggs for breakfast, they put 7-slices of bacon on my plate. I groaned, but then I ate them. All of them. In addition to your three big meals you’ve always got sandwiches waiting in the fridge plus all kinds of cereal, crackers, fig bars, fresh fruits, chocolate milk, hot cocoa, goldfish crackers and, as was the case on Saturday, birthday cake served with ice cream and chocolate chips, maraschino cherries, marshmallows and chocolate syrup. There’s nothing to do but eat, and there’s more food than you could ever hope to tire of.

Read, read and read some more

I stopped reading fiction when I left college. I read too slowly (I like to hear the words in my head,) and I felt I could get as much story joy out of a movie as I could a book. Well, I had some time on my hands so I picked up “Jurassic Park”. I figured if I only got halfway through it I could always get it from the library.

48-hours later I finished it and realized that I don’t read slowly anymore. It was pretty good. Still liked the movie, even as different as it was. The next day I picked up a spy novel, “The Testament of Caspar Schultz”, which had a glowing blurb from the New York Times… well, times have changed since 1962, because this pile of crap would have been lucky to call itself “steaming”.

Sleep, you bitch, wherefore art thou?

Sleep in the mental hospital proves to be sometimes a little bit challenging. My first night in it was easy. I was exhausted from my commitment of the day and I was just spent, but after that it got harder and harder.

Once you go to bed you can count on some high-heel wearing storm-trooper marching a parade route through your bedroom every fifteen minutes with a flashlight, but that’s hardly your only concern.

The bigger problem is that the staff thinks of you as cattle. They pay you no mind, regardless of the hour. They wander the halls on their way to the break room barking to each other at full volume even at 3:00am, feet stomping on the bare floor as they will. There’s no carpet to absorb the sound. No curtains, no plush furniture. Nothing but the endless echos of their careless and inconsiderate presence.

There are no blinds on the windows, and almost certainly a light just outside your window bathing your berth in light for the entirety of the night. And there’s no clock, so if you want to know if it’s time to get up or not, just wait a few minutes and ask the next storm trooper coming in what time it is.

And then there’s the snoring. Dear God the snoring. My first two nights I was in a room by myself, but the snores from the next room still kept me up. My third night a major chainsaw was put in my room, and it was impossible to sleep.

Count the knives and spoons

Once I got cafeteria privileges I was allowed to head to the mess hall so I could dress my own salads and visually inspect the crap I was about to ingest before selecting it. But the funny thing was that all of us were REQUIRED to take a fork, knife and spoon, so we could later turn them in to our supervising counselor. And it was a joke.

They never watched us take our utensils, so they couldn’t possibly imagine how many knives or spoons we took, and they never paid any attention to how many we turned in. Often the knives were gone when we got there, so we couldn’t turn in the requisite number if we tried our hardest. Still we had to maintain the charade.

A walk through the carnival house of horrors

Every time we took a trip to the gym, the art room (named aptly after the man who donated the money to make the place, the “Art Therapy” room — thank you Mr. Therapy!–, or Artie, as we called him,) or the cafeteria, we had to go through the North Unit. North is where they keep the real cuckoo crazy pants people.

A stroll through North is like a walk through the darker side of what humanity would be if you just put the human psyche on shuffle. You’ve got the guy who thinks he’s Jesus, the dude in a hospital gown with a puffy vest over it, the lady who thinks the CIA killed her baby and too many other salty characters to even mention. You just keep your head down, your face straight ahead, and don’t make eye-contact with any of them.

Random stuff I learned in group

Did you know you can’t take Ibuprofen if you’re on Lithium? I didn’t, and I’ve taken Lithium before. Did you know that all hot girls with short hair play softball, and are lesbians? I had suspected it before, but this just cemented it for me.

The biggest thing I learned was that when I raised the question of life “What’s the point?” that half the room joined me in asking, seeking the same answer. Why indeed are we here? Seriously, what’s the point? Go to work, make a widget, sell a widget, market the widget to the Asian market… what’s the point? It doesn’t mean anything so why even do it?

Creamy Discharge

I finally did get out, though it wasn’t easy. I was in on a “voluntary” basis, but based on what I said on admission, I could NOT have discharged myself within a day or few of my admission. They’d have thrown down a 72-hour hold and gone to court to hold me beyond that. I had to sane up and right quick to get my business out of there.

And I DID sane up. My daily logs showed a steady upward trajectory until I reached the point where my nurses and doctors couldn’t disagree. I was safe to go home. From that point it still took a full day to get back home, but it was all well worth it. I still participated in groups and activities, and made no waves. Sure, J.D. liked me well enough he considered fighting me just to keep me on the inside, but it was already too late, and I was gone.

I’ve been out two weeks now, and I’m still safe, so this just proves my discharge was as timely and prompt as when I was 15 and spending too much time with Kayla Orlando from Neuburn Summer Camp that night after campfire when we ditched our advisers. Prompt, courteous, and discharged.

But seriously, the way things ran at the facility? I swear they ran that place like a god damned mental hospital.

So should you go? Well, if you don’t feel safe, then yes you should. It may sound like an ugly, daunting place to go, but it’s a damn site better than being dead. These places aren’t perfect, but they are designed to keep you alive so you can find something else to bitch about, and if you’re around to do that, you’ve already won.

I’m not bitter for my journey, but better for it. I hope never to go back, but if it comes to it, I’ll go back with less apprehension, knowing it’s not merely ‘crazy people jail’, but a real, medical facility that can and does truly help.

And for a glimpse of what life is like in a mental institution, watch this video. It’s hilarious, will surely bring a smile to your face, and although I doubt Matt Mulholland has ever been institutionalized, you’d never know it from watching this video.

Author: Dexter Sinistri

Dexter Sinistri is a famously centrist writer who has worked as a Hollywood correspondent for a number of leading publications since 2005. Though once a photographer, Mr. Sinistri struck out as a writer on all things celebrity, and he likes to consider himself a tremendous asset to Glossy News, though by most accounts, he has fallen somewhat short of this effort.

5 thoughts on “Life on the Inside: My Week in a Mental Hospital

  1. Gosh, I wish you would have consulted with me before going in. I have first-hand knowledge (actually twice in my life) on how to make the stay in one of those places actually fun as hell, starting with forming alliances with a few of the other patients and finding ways to “get around” the rules.

    Hopefully, you won’t have to go back, but just in case what they did didn’t “stick” let me know next time and I’ll give you some pointers.

    With that said, great article. There is always a reason we go thru this stuff if only to get fodder for another article.

  2. Umm…, Dex man, that invite to come and spend the night on Saturday…..aaaaah, we’re going to have to cancel on that.
    Real sorry man! You know, the wife is a bit skittish about strangers, especially ones who write articles like this….
    Nothing personal,now man……really…..its, like, really nothing against you personally…..
    But, you know, we got kids. They get scared so easily. People who have talents like, using pens for other things besides writing articles with…….we gotta think of them.
    Anyway, you can probably find some other place to spend the weekend before Christmas…. I hear the mission has lots of room.
    Sorry to lay this on you so late…..
    Marry Christmas and all that…..and please don’t call the house.
    In fact, don’t email either. Like I say, the wifey freaks out easily. We’d just like to have a nice, quiet holiday. Nobody watching creepy Halloween videos 20 hours out of the day……

  3. [the inmates are playing cards and betting with cigarettes]
    Martini: [rips a cigarette in half] I bet a nickel.
    McMurphy: Dime’s the limit, Martini.
    Martini: I bet a dime.
    [Puts the two halves onto the table]
    McMurphy: This is not a dime, Martini. This is a dime.
    [shows a whole cigarette]
    McMurphy: If you break it in half, you don’t get two nickels, you get shit. Try and smoke it. You understand?
    Martini: Yes.
    McMurphy: You don’t understand

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