‘Five Days in a Mad House’

By Taylor Hembree

When I finally figured out that I wanted to become a journalist, I immediately started researching famous writers. One that stuck out was Nellie Bly. Bly was a badass woman who got herself admitted into an asylum in order to do some undercover reporting. What started out as a series of articles turned into a book that journalism students look at when studying investigative journalism.

“Ten Days in a Mad House” was written in 1887, when the mentally ill were written off as insane and problematic. Women reporters were also restrained by a ceiling created by their male counterparts, which only allowed for women’s work to be published in the newspaper pages that featured stories about social and community events. During this time of neglect for the mentally ill and hardships for women reporters, Bly was in her prime. Bly got herself admitted to the insane asylum after she read several articles that presented cases of patient abuse in mental institutions.

To say that Bly’s story was inspirational to me is an understatement. The reform that her story caused is what made me realize that I want to be an investigative journalist. I want to tell untold stories just as Bly did.

“The insane asylum on Blackwell’s Island is a human rat-trap. It is easy to get in, but once there it is impossible to get out,” Nellie Bly.

On Jan. 11, I went to a counselor to talk about my problems and sort out my issues. Over the winter break, I had become seriously suicidal and thought about ending my life a lot. Obviously, I needed professional help. So- I went to a counselor. The conversation went like this (in a nutshell).

Me: “Sometimes, I want to kill myself.”

Counselor: “Do you think you may hurt yourself? Are you in immediate danger?”

Me: “Yes, I think I may be a danger to myself.”

Counselor: “Why don’t we send you to an inpatient facility until you feel safe being with yourself.”

Me: OK.

That was it. I explained to my counselor how I felt, we talked, I told her I was scared of myself, and the next thing I knew, my friend was on his way to pick me up to take me to the hospital. I sat on the phone with my parents, I was crying. They were crying.

Leading up to this counselor visit, I felt hopeless. I felt unloved. S**t happened; stuff was said; and for some reason I just could not handle my life. I had a distinct plan as to what I would do to end everything. To stop the stress, to stop the feelings, to stop the worries. The plan was to get a plastic bag and put it over my head long enough to stop breathing. Other plans I had were to drown myself in a tub and crash my car on purpose or to drink enough cough medicine. Basically, I just wanted out. One night I Googled ‘how to kill myself’. It pulled up on my phone the next morning and I cried. One night I wrote goodbye notes to the people I loved the most. Some of the lines read:

I am so sorry.

Please don’t feel like this is your fault.

I love you. I always will.

I just want you to be happy.

Never forget me.

You made me so happy.

I will never be able to tell you how much I love you.

When I re-read these letters, I realized that I was serious. I needed help.

Fast forward to the car ride on the way to the hospital.

I felt angry that I had just poured out my emotions to a counselor and she was sending me away to go to a hospital. I was scared, but most importantly, I was sad. I was sad that I felt that way- that I felt like I needed to escape permanently. I was scared that I was going to have to be watched because I was a danger to myself. I didn’t know what to expect.

I got to the hospital that Wednesday night. I checked in and went to sleep. The next morning, I saw a social worker and a psychiatrist. I didn’t want to be there. There were people walking around, talking to themselves. There were people who scratched their skin so much they bled. There were people there that rocked back and forth and laughed whenever someone walked in the room. Alcoholics, drug addicts, schizophrenic. But, I was one of them. I was there because I wanted to kill myself.

There were only four phones, I couldn’t have my cell phone and they even took the laces to my shoes. My life was hell.

Walking around the hospital, people would give us that look. You know the look that you gave the special ed class when they were playing basketball. The ‘you’re cute, but I feel so sorry for you.’ The hospital workers were OK, but it wasn’t an environment where people who suffered with mental illness could really heal. The environment was structured, so that was ‘supposed’ to help. But, I went from being able to do whatever I wanted to basically being in a jail. They had our entire days planned out. They watched us while we slept, they checked our mouths after we took medicine and they woke us up by taking our blood pressure. I was not healing and I was not happy. All I could think about was getting out.

Whenever I talked to the social worker or other nurses, they all would say ‘there’s only one person who can let you out: your psychiatrist.’ The thought that one person’s opinion got me out of the prison that was the hospital was scary and made me uneasy. I played their game. I told them that I was doing OK even if I wasn’t. I said what I had to say to get out. I felt punished for telling the truth about how I felt. So, I started lying.

Now that I am back and have seen my counselor again, I understand why I was sent to the hospital. I was sent there to get medicine, I was sent there for my safety, I was sent there to tell the truth about my feelings, but I didn’t. Now, I wish I would have, because I would feel safer being by myself.

I am not writing this to get sympathy, but instead, to talk about the importance of mental health and how far mental health has come. Not only is there a place where I can go and feel safe, but also there are hotlines that I can call when I feel unsafe. Even with all the advancements, there is still so much we need to know about mental health.

Just because I went to the hospital, doesn’t mean that I am better. I still don’t want to get out of bed, I still have no motivation, I’m still depressed, sometimes I still feel like hurting myself, every day I have to tell myself to go to class, to shower, to take my medicine. I feel numb, I feel like a truck has hit me 18 times. I don’t feel OK. But, the hospital helped me. The counselor helps me. My friends, the people who understand help me.

For those of you who know someone with a mental illness, please talk to them like normal. When people treat me like I am not normal- that’s when it hurts. That’s when I feel weird. Because, I’m still me- just a little different right now.

If you are suffering, get help. If you are having suicidal thoughts- call 1-800-273-8255. That’s the national suicide hotline which is available 24/7. Just, please reach out and get help- you are not alone.

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