I Always Wondered What A Psychiatric Hospital Was Like, And There I Was
Fallon, 17, suffered a psychotic episode in sophomore year of high school.
When I was in middle school, I was like any other nerdy teen. I was in honors classes. I was getting straight As. I remember seeing my friends at the library every day. We would talk about Japanese anime and videogames and other stuff we liked.
Things were going OK. But I just wasn’t the same as everyone else.
In high school I started getting really depressed. I didn’t want to do anything anymore. I listened to Pink Floyd’s The Wall on repeat. I was just in my own little world.
My mom Sheila knew something was wrong.
“You were somebody completely different,” she said. “You just weren’t you anymore.”
Lots of teens have depression or anxiety. But not many people talk about psychotic disorders in teens and what that struggle is like.
Things were sometimes bad at home. There were a lot of arguments and a lot of bad vibes. I wasn’t sleeping much during that time. Once I went to school without sleeping at all.
I was diagnosed with psychosis at age 16. Psychosis is a brain disorder and describes someone who has lost touch with reality.
Fallon and mom Sheila playing in their yard. Sheila says she wishes she had responded differently to Fallon’s breakdown.
It was my sophomore year when my first psychotic episode hit me.
I was having delusions, which are thoughts and ideas that aren’t real. Like, I was scared my dad was gonna kill me. I tried jumping out the window, running out the door. I did everything I could to escape the situation.
My mom realized that I really needed help. She called the crisis line. Apparently I made the call with her, but I don’t remember.
The crisis line told my parents to take me to the emergency room at UW Medical Center. When we got there, they put me in the psych ward and things got worse. I thought the police were interrogating my family because they were plotting to kill me. I thought “they” were taking me to prison and across the ocean.
That time was really stressful for my mom. She wishes she could have told me that she didn’t blame me for any of it.
“I felt like it was my job to protect you and I didn’t,” she told me. “I’m sorry.”
They took me to Fairfax, an inpatient psychiatric hospital in Kirkland. I remember being put on a stretcher in an ambulance. The lady in the ambulance was really nice – she took off the straps from my wrists so I could scratch my itchy nose.
At Fairfax, they took my picture and wheeled me to the unit. The room had three beds and a desk. Everything was bolted to the floor. I made up one of the beds. There were two other people in the room and they were joking around.
It still hadn’t hit me where I was. I’d always wondered what a psychiatric hospital would be like, and there I was. It was not at all how I thought it would be.
It was very structured there. We’d line up and take pills every morning.
You had to write your name on a board and wait in line to take a shower. It was a tiny little shower and you had to keep pressing the button to make the water run.
You’d have to write your name on a board and wait in line to take a shower. It was a tiny little shower and you had to keep pressing the button to make the water run. There was group therapy and art. There was time to get exercise; we’d usually play volleyball.
Every day we talked to our psychiatrist and wrote down a goal. We had to make our beds every morning. Not only that, but we had to ask for our personal items at the nurse’s station every time we wanted to use them, like a comb or lotion.
A few days after being admitted to Fairfax, my doctors put me on a new medication. That’s when things started to change.
Within days my thoughts cleared. I started looking back on my thoughts, realizing, “OK, that’s not right. None of that was real.”
Through it all, my grandma, grandpa, mom and dad came to see me every day. They were all there for me, but it was surreal to see them for an hour and then have them leave.
I asked my grandma how she felt about me being in the hospital. She said she felt worried because it was my first time ever being away from home.
I remember when I told my family the news that I would be leaving the hospital soon. They were really happy.
The key to bouncing back was getting help early. People say that’s important to keep the illness from getting worse, but few recognize the signs early on.
My mom said that if a friend or family member tells you there’s something wrong and they don’t feel right, “take them seriously.”
“Because the sooner you get them help the better,” she said.
I was at Fairfax for two weeks. The day I left, I put all my stuff in a big plastic bag. They opened the big doors and I walked out.
My family picked me up. We drove home, and it felt like it took forever.
I knew I was better. When I went to my room, I saw that my family had switched around the bed and put in a new bookshelf. It was really nice. It looked different, and I felt different and new. And I felt so happy that I didn’t have to be locked in anywhere.
A couple weeks after I returned from Fairfax, life started to feel more normal.
I went back to school. No one knew where I’d been, but when I said I had stayed at a psychiatric hospital, they were accepting and cool with it. It still weighed heavily on my family, though. It didn’t just affect me, but them too.
No one knows if psychosis is something Fallon will have to live with forever, or if this was a one-time episode.
It’s been a little over a year since I left Fairfax. I still take medication every morning to prevent another psychotic episode, and it keeps me from getting overly emotional during the day.
I have a ton of questions I still think about. No one can tell me if what happened is part of something bigger or not. I don’t know if this is something I’m going to live with the rest of my life. I don’t know if it will happen again.
It’s scary to live with these unanswered questions, but I know my family and I are prepared.
“There’s no right or wrong way to handle something like that,” my mom told me. “You just have to go through it. And it’s made us both very strong.”
Fallon shared this story so other young people with mental illness know they are not alone.
Everett show spotlights art that helps creators heal
Photo/Dan Bates/The Herald
Kito Vilay is proud to show a piece he has been working during a group session in a general purpose room Friday at the Everett Community Justice Center.
Photo/Dan Bates/The Herald
Ian Flannery begins recycling a sculpture he purchased from a thrift store into a completely different artwork Friday, during a group session in a general purpose room at the Everett Community Justice Center.
A younger man who recently created a life-sized human skeleton out of driftwood spends this Friday afternoon sketching.
The mood is relaxed.
Their projects aren’t assignments, but works of their own choosing.
Their works are diverse, but their life stories share two common threads. Each of the seven men toiling around the tables has been in trouble with the law. Each lives with mental illness.
Ian Flannery, 25, spent part of the hour painting black a wood sculpture he bought for $10 at a Goodwill. Eventually, he plans to add shiny stones and parrot feathers to it.
He has been discovering another layer of himself at an art class offered at the state Department of Corrections office in Everett.
“I just exercise my creativity,” he said. “This is a good way to relieve stress, just doing artwork. Even when I’m off supervision, I’m going to continue taking this class.”
Flannery was charged with assault in 2007 after punching a Snohomish County sheriff’s deputy in the nose.
After his arrest, a mental health worker at the jail recognized signs of his illness. He later was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and spent time at Western State Hospital.
A judge eventually signed an order acquitting Flannery of the assault, finding that he was insane at the time of the crime.
The order required he receive treatment and remain under supervision of community corrections officers.
More than five years later, he is making steady progress. His medications are working and he is completing a series of requirements aimed at equipping him with coping skills.
Flannery is one of many people with mental illness whose artwork has been shown this month at the Schack Art Center in downtown Everett.
He has two works on display.
One he calls “The Essence of Abstract.”
The other is an intriguing piece he calls “Katrastra’s Artifact.” It’s a cow skull he has painted and decorated with polished stones, semi-precious gems, turquoise, abalone and other items.
Some of the art show participants are offenders on Department of Corrections supervision. The idea is to showcase the work but also bring public awareness about mental illness in hopes of reducing stigmas.
Andrea Holmes works in the Special Needs Unit at the Everett corrections office. Her caseload includes people with schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and major depression. Some have developmental delays. About 90 percent of the clients her unit works with are classified as “dual diagnosis.” In addition to mental illness, many have major chemical dependency issues that require treatment. All are time intensive.
Holmes calls the art program “Creative Solutions.”
“The art offers an avenue for the expression of emotions and experiences that can be quite difficult to put into words,” Holmes said. “The ability to show art work in an open public venue not only provides the artists a way to give back to their community, but also helps to reduce stigma associated with mental illness.
“Just like any other medical disorder, mental illness is treatable, recovery is possible, and a mental health diagnosis does not define a person,” Holmes added. “This art show raises awareness about mental health and gives the community an opportunity to look past misconceptions and personal biases to catch a glimpse of the value we each possess.”
Cynthia Akers, a counselor from Compass Heath in Everett, said art can be therapeutic and a creative outlet for her clients. “This is kind of a big release for them. It’s a chance for them to show ‘I’m more than my mental illness,'” she said. “A lot of their work is just outstanding.”
Holmes is thankful for the support the program has received from her corrections office colleagues, Compass Health, the Schack center and the local chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness.
Akers said there wouldn’t be a show without Holmes.
“The community is really lucky to have her,” she said. “Andrea is a great motivator.”
Organizers hope the art show becomes an annual event each May to coincide with National Mental Health Awareness Month. This year’s show ends Thursday. The art is for sale and donations are accepted directly at the Schack to help fund the cost of the show.
Eric Stevick: 425-339-3446; firstname.lastname@example.org.