My Stint in the Mental Institution
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My Stint in the Mental Institution


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This post was originally published on April 30, 2015.

I never really expected or even remotely considered that something like a mental breakdown would happen to me. Not in a million years did I think I would end up in a mental hospital. But I did. I sat in the passenger seat of our car, my husband driving, our two young children in the back. It was a Sunday in October 2007, the 15th of October to be precise. I will never forget that date. We decided to take the kids out for the day.

I had been anxious for a long time. My daughter was a year-and-a-half old and I had been diagnosed with post natal depression shortly afterwards. We had moved into our dream home a few months before her birth, we had our own business and our five year-old son was about to start his second year in school. On the outside everything was beautiful, perfection, idyllic. I loved my home in the middle of the countryside. We had a huge garden with natural hedged boarders full of sloe trees, honey suckle and holly. We had carefully chosen furniture, flooring and tiles to decorate inside and we had lovely neighbors with children our son’s age.

I don’t know when things started to go so horribly wrong. I can’t remember when the hope and dreams I had for our future started to dissolve into nothingness. My marriage had been in trouble for a long time, even before the birth of our second child. I guess I thought that her birth and our new home would make everything better and for a while I was so preoccupied with our new life that I was able to shut out the reality. Of course, alcohol played a very major part in the denial process. I tried so hard to keep it all together, to convince myself that things weren’t as bad as they seemed. Then the financial problems started and my relationship with my husband became very volatile. I drank and drank and drank and carried on, hoping, praying and pretending.

The tears started to pour down my cheeks as my children sang songs in the back of the car. There was ringing in my ears, my head felt like it was going to explode and I pretty much couldn’t move. I remember feeling so overwhelmed, irritated and anxious at the same time that I just wanted to die. I can’t really remember my ex-husband’s reaction, or if he even had one. I managed to call my mother and tell her what was happening to me. She told me to meet her at the doctor’s and my husband turned the car around and we drove there.

My mother helped me into the doctor’s office. I was in what I can only describe as a zombie-like state—not really aware of what was happening, not really able to understand the questions I was being asked. I just felt nothing. I had given up and so had my mind and body. There was just blackness, nothing mattered anymore. I would gladly have died at that moment and been completely happy about it. I just wanted it all to end. I was given a sedative injection and the next day I was admitted to the mental hospital.

My mind and body still weren’t functioning fully. I knew where I was but I couldn’t feel anything so the enormity of my situation kind of washed over me. I thought of my home, my children and I felt nothing. I couldn’t cry, I couldn’t laugh and as I sat on my hospital bed watching the nurse going through my bags looking for anything I could hurt myself with all I wanted was a drink. She took the laces from my shoes, my hair dryer because it had a cord attached, anything that contained harmful chemicals in case I drank it and I was put on suicide watch.

That first night, I woke to the sounds of screaming. A woman in the next room was distressed and causing havoc. I remember sitting up in bed in the dark and it hit me then at that moment exactly where I was and what was happening to me. I cried inconsolably and felt a huge wave of grief for my children. I wanted to go home. My children needed me. I got out of bed and went into the hallway. I told a nurse I was leaving, that I was fine now, that I was just overreacting. I pleaded with her to let me out so I culd go back to my life to fix things. I was once this devoted mother and wife. Where had she gone, what the hell had happened? The nurse held my hands and looked at me straight in the eyes and told me that I was very ill and that I needed to get better before I could go back home. Her voice was so gentle and compassionate that it made me cry even harder and she helped me back to bed again, gave me some medication to knock me out and stayed with me until I fell asleep.

I stayed in that hospital almost six weeks. I did everything I was supposed to do. Attended group therapy, spoke to psychiatrists, took my medication. After about three weeks, they would let me go home on the weekends. I thought I would be able to handle that but the reality was very different. My house seemed huge, my children seemed like they were someone else’s, my husband was a stranger. The fear that lived inside me was all-consuming but I never told anyone how I felt. I just wanted to get out of that hospital for good and when I was home for the weekends, I would drink to try and cope. The shame I felt was indescribable. I would tell the staff of the hospital when I got back that I was getting so much better and had had a lovely time at home. I never mentioned that I drank and when I was asked initially by the psychiatrist if I drank much, I told her only occasionally and never to excess.

When I got home, I then faced the end of my marriage and the loss of my home. I vividly remember the day my children and I left. I packed my car with what we needed and went. My heart was broken but I couldn’t let myself fall apart again. I would drink for a further three years after that and while I thought that I had been through hell already, the next three years would prove to be worse until I eventually surrendered and found recovery.

The emotions that are evoked when I recall that period in my life are still so raw that it is hard for me to even speak about it. For most people, it would be difficult to find anything positive about such an event. That was the beginning of my “bottom” but ultimately it led to my assent and to developing into the person I am today. Yes, things got very much worse before they got better and I am still trying to recover from the loss and devastation. But the miraculous positive changes in my life—and in my children’s—has been worth every ounce of pain and trauma. The insanity of active addiction is not part of our world anymore and each day I strive to ensure it never is again.

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About Author

Nicola O’Hanlon is part of the blogging community for the recovery website You can see her blogs on She was born and still lives in Wexford, Ireland.