My Experience in a Mental Institution
what led me there and how I got out
When I was about 12 years old, I started getting depressed. I was an adolescent obsessed with the thought of death.
It started with losing one of my best friends to suicide. He was depressed too. He had a complicated family life and eventually, after going into foster care, was sent to a mental institution.
He lasted only a couple of weeks in there before he hanged himself with bedsheets. He was on suicide watch already, they were a few minutes late checking on him, and when they came in, he was unresponsive.
He was on life support for a while, but ultimately they took him off of it, and he died. I was so heartbroken.
He was this young boy who told me in first grade he loved me, and in fifth grade, he was going to marry me one day—all of that thrown away.
I know it was only grade school, and it may seem silly to you, but to me, that was who I saw myself getting old with from a young age. He truly was my first love.
He would ride his bike to my house in grade school, and we’d hang out, sit there and talk about life. I guess what kind of things did grade-schoolers talk about in the ’90s? Music mostly, I guess.
My parents loved him. After we met in first grade, we figured out that his mom and my step-dad both bartended at the same restaurant. It’s weird how little things like that seem to intertwine.
People talk about the selfishness of suicide; I don’t see it that way. I see a person hurting; in so much pain, they can’t handle it anymore.
Someone who’s never been suicidal has never felt that pain. I have. I was hurt that he did it, but deep down, I understood. It was just strange because even through all his pain, he was the class clown; he did everything he could to make everyone laugh. Always begging for attention.
After this happened, I started having suicidal ideology myself. It just seemed like a way out or an excuse to use as a coping mechanism for one’s extreme pain.
I was in the shower one night, and we had a sliding glass shower door. Something compelled me to write “R.I.P. Nikkole 1991–2003” on the shower door. My mom later discovered it and freaked out.
She repeatedly asked, “Why?! “Why would you write something like that?” My biggest response from a young age was a repetitive “I don’t know.”
When I was in trouble, that was my go-to answer. It’s like I was a walking zombie at home. I did what I wanted till I got in trouble, then did my punishment.
At that time, it usually consisted of 100 push-ups and 100 sit-ups. My parents had tried “grounding” me but eventually learned that solitude in my room with my music was not a punishment to me.
But why did I write that? It’s like there was some demon possessing me to do and say certain things.
A year after this, at age 13, a family member tried to get me to have sex with him. He was drunk, probably high, knowing him. I don’t remember the ride back home the next day, but my mom could tell I was very disturbed when I got home.
I told her the basics of what transpired. She made me call this family member, and he called me a liar. DCFS got involved, and by law, I wasn’t allowed to speak to him or see him until I was 18.
I still haven’t seen him in person to this day. I reached out to him on my 18th birthday. My mom still doesn’t understand why I did. My best guess is I needed a sense of control of the situation.
He was mad when I called him, still called me a liar. But it opened the door to an “electronic relationship,” as he calls it today. It’s a topic we’ve avoided talking about ever since.
But why would I still want any relationship with him? Because I am a strong person and have family values, I guess? I also needed, as I said before, a feeling of control.
A year before I called him on my 18th birthday, I admitted myself to a mental institution. Oddly enough, the same one my friend who killed himself was in. Even stranger, I had his caseworker; she sure as hell got weird when I brought him up. She wouldn’t talk about what had transpired or even him as an individual.
Being in the adolescent ward of the institution, I saw and heard some weird sh*t. Kids younger than me hooked on drugs like methamphetamines. 12-year-olds addicted to prescription drugs. Lots of kids were suicidal and had been experimenting with various drugs and alcohol.
Then there was the 15-year-old that the institution was her permanent home. She had lost both of her kids to DCFS. She would look at you and laugh. She’d say off-the-wall stuff, then try and fight you. She tried to pick a fight with me while I was there. I ignored her like I did most of the people that were there.
Then there was the guy who got caught masturbating in the hallway… It was pure chaos.
I made a few friends while I was there, but we weren’t allowed to give our phone numbers or socials to talk once we left the institution.
I did my time for almost a month there. I couldn’t handle it, so I talked my way out. I was a compulsive liar from an early age; I acted like I was okay, lied about all the things I liked about myself, pretended to do all the exercises and activities they had us do, and got out. But it wasn’t easy.
Think of all the people that are stuck there, though. The people who can’t lie their way out. It’s tough. I can’t imagine spending months at a time there. What if you never got better? What if you got transferred to the adult ward downstairs? It’s a troubling thought.
I watched the girl who lost her kids get dragged down the hall and locked down on a bed. But I couldn’t see what they did to her; the counselors rushed us away from the hall into the common room.
I heard they either gave her a shot or shock therapy, but I never found out. I remember her screaming and crying. When I saw that happen, that’s when I decided I had to get out of there.
I learned absolutely nothing from being in there other than how to pretend you’re “okay.” Granted, I did not want to be there, so I wasn’t trying to learn anything.
Looking back now, I probably could’ve learned something, but I was too focused on my outro of the place. It was an experience, but truthfully I didn’t find it helpful.
Back then, I only looked at it as a vacation away from everyone and everything—something I desperately needed at that time.
Would I recommend going voluntarily? Nope. Not unless you feel you are that much of a danger to yourself, which at that time I felt I was.
My recommendation? Go to a therapist and talk to them. Work with them through your problems, something I refused to do as an adolescent. Tell them everything about how you feel and let out all the pain inside.
This was an experience I will never forget. I learned how to adapt to my surroundings at a crucial time. I learned how to escape a situation unscathed. So maybe I did learn something.
I wasn’t going to be another statistic or number on a page. I picked myself up and carried on. While I may have self-medicated with cannabis and cigarettes, I’m still here to tell the tale and eventually did get myself actual help.
It’s so hard to talk about these things. Writing this piece wasn’t difficult to write. It was harder to gain the confidence to post it.
I was encouraged by my BYV family to post it and share my experience with others. You never know who could be going through this same situation and needs to read it. We can all learn from each other.
There is help out there. I know it’s cliche to say that, but it’s true.
Having suicidal thoughts is so hard to overcome. It clouds your thoughts and makes you feel like there isn’t any help. There is. I promise.
Thanks to my BYV family for your help with this piece and for cheering me on. You all rock!