Becoming My Own Advocate | NAMI: National Alliance on Mental Illness

Becoming My Own Advocate

By Maria Black

My story opens with me sobbing uncontrollably in nothing but a hospital gown, alone and terrified out of my mind. The hallway floor I’m sitting on is frigid, but I don’t really notice. I’m working up to a massive panic attack. For the first time in my life, I’ve completely lost my freedom and it has destroyed me.
I’m on hour 30 of a 72-hour involuntary hold in a psych ward. I’m seething with rage and fear having just come from my first interaction with a psychiatrist, which was the opposite of therapeutic. I haven’t been given any street clothes yet and it’s freezing in here. My mind is going a thousand miles a minute. All I can think about is going home. I just need a hug, but there’s no one here to give me that.
I am utterly alone, devastated. In a cruel irony, I’m camped out by the one door in the ward leading outside. It’s a glass door, so I can literally see freedom, feel the warm rays of sun enticing me to step out. But I can’t — the door is barred, the windows are barred and people check on me every 30 minutes. The techs are cold, totally closed down, so they can do their jobs without breaking.
The icy panic of claustrophobia begins to spread into my chest and neck. Not long now before I totally melt down. I unleash a throaty scream of rage and frustration at how unfair the whole situation is. A new wave of tears escapes down my face as I curl into myself on this sterile floor. There’s nothing I can do to get out, no one is listening to me. I feel inhuman, stripped of agency.
The powerless feeling throws me back to times when I was young where I felt alone in my own family, crying and screaming to be heard. In that moment, I am a child again sobbing for attention, starved for just a little bit of understanding. I’m completely broken. But…at my lowest point, at my most broken, I discover something truly extraordinary.
The thing about being so very destroyed is that you have nothing left to lose. Everything somehow becomes opaque, the rest of the world becomes a blur and finally, you can see the pure stuff of your soul oozing through the cracks.
Slowly, as I sit curled into myself, I come to clearly understand one of those simple but powerful truths of life — no one is coming to save me. For the very first time, instead of letting that fact crush me, I choose to let it wash over me, I choose to let it empower me. So, I rise up. In a surreal moment, I seem to leave my body, no longer the same person, but a powerful new woman fighting for the girl crying in the hallway like no one has before.
I demand to speak to a therapist. When I see that counselor, I find my voice to tell her to shut up and listen to me instead of giving me the party line. We end up having an extremely productive discussion. I arrange for my diet to be catered to in the dining hall. In this place where I’m just a number, I am my best and only advocate. By hour 72, I’m a veteran, helping new people who are plopped into the fishbowl of a ward navigate their first few hours.
I become the force of understanding I wished so desperately for during hour 30. I lead with compassion for myself and others. I vow to let the experience change me forever instead of stopping me. I leave still broken, but with a commitment to provide comfort to myself and others going through this hell. I will never let the girl in the hallway be alone and powerless again.

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text “helpline” to 62640, or chat online. In a crisis, call or text 988 (24/7).