Lessons learned in the loony bin

This article is part 4 of a 5 part series.

For part 1, click here.

For series summary, click here.

I think the timing on trying to put together some words to express thoughts and feelings from lessons learned is pretty great. That doesn’t make it any easier to try to share, but the timing is good.


Ann and I celebrated our 25th wedding anniversary this week. Over the past few months I have been experiencing an increase in the intensity of my love for her. I feel as if I could reach out and grab it as a tangible, real entity that surrounds us. I am humbled by the whole thing. To have the love of someone the quality of Ann Batty makes everything else seem kind of trivial.

But at the time that my love feels like it is exploding inside me, Ann is trying to work through a real fear of what she may come home and find at the end of a long work day. And this would be every day. After all, I was admitted to the psych ward for suicidal and harmful ideations. This isn’t something imagined or can be ignored. It has become a real part of our life that has to be addressed and conquered.

I really learned some important things during my stay in the nut house that will help us conquer. As I go through them to help us figure a way to relieve some of Ann’s concerns, there may be some things that could help you on your own journey to safety and security.


One afternoon in the hospital while things seemed to be a little tense with some other patients and group was cancelled, I spent the time in my room writing feverishly with a very small, very dull pencil. Every so often I took my fingernail and pulled back the wood to expose more lead and then continued. I was soon writing on the back of admittance orders and waivers to protect the hospital from me. Here are some of my realizations:

  • I’m not angry anymore. When it flares up, that isn’t the real me. Knowing that it is a biological connection misfiring, I have more power to try a manual override.
  • I am doing better and making real progress on not being as judgmental. Everyone has a story. Every story is worth taking the time to understand.
  • I can detach when I need to. This is pretty big for me. My emotions don’t need to be overwhelming and consume everyone within reach. I now know that I can feel and still survive. I’d been trying to shut it off for some years now as that was safer. But the truth is that feeling doesn’t have to hurt. My choice.
  • I feel love more differently. Is it more mature? I don’t know. It is quieter, I know that. I am better able to let the people around me grow and learn on their own rather than having to jump in and try to fix everything quickly. It feels more tranquil and trusting. To me, it feels more like what love is meant to be.
  • I know without any doubt whatsoever that God is intimately involved in my life. We never would have caught the clot in my leg and seen the specialists to deal with the Coumadin failure had we not been in the hospital in the first place. Miracles do indeed happen constantly and in the most unlikely ways. Amazing how things keep working out for the best.

Each of these is pretty significant for me. They are characteristics and attributes that I want to be part of the man I become. I weep in gratitude that they are in fact down inside me somewhere. Even if they are deep, they are there. I am learning how to coax them out.

This has brought me confidence in what makes me, me. Yes, there are some pretty wacky things going on with the connections in my brain, my blood has a mind of its own, and those little neurologic demons present themselves when I’m not careful; but, it looks to me like there are some good things too. I do have things to offer and try to make the world a better place.

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What are the things that you need to see better in yourself that will strengthen your confidence? Don’t let the bad overshadow the good that is in you. Each of us has it. Our task is to find it.

I also understood and accepted the difference in my connotation of depression and anxiety from that of the medical professionals.  I learned that it is so important that the people on both sides of the conversation, the diagnosis, and the treatment are saying the same thing to each other. I went for years with a misunderstanding of what these terms meant, and as a result I fought what they were trying to tell me instead of working with them to make things better. Kind of an “oh, duh” moment, but pretty important nonetheless.

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Are you saying the same things as those around you? Do you mean the same thing when you try to explain yourself or try to listen and understand those you love? What do you need to do to make your communication better?

Kind of funny, but in our family we have a saying of “communication complete” along with arm gesturing a touchdown of sorts. When one of our little band of four can tell that two of us are saying something different and not hearing each other, they jump right in and say “hey, this is what Dad is really saying and this is what Alex is really saying.” This is followed by realization and “ohhhh”, and then we all give the arm signal and say “communication complete.” Makes us laugh at something that otherwise could have gotten tense.

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What can you do to make your communication complete?

Another thing I learned was that I had the courage to do the impossible. I had the choice to go or not to go. It would have certainly been easier to just get in the car and go home and promise everyone that I would do better.

I won’t mince words. This was seriously scary for me.

But I closed my eyes and felt that it was the thing to do. I trusted Ann and took the leap. I didn’t do it angrily or blaming others or trying to minimize the seriousness of the situation. I faced it head on and took a deep breath and did it.

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When the time comes, will you be able to choose courage? I think we are stronger often than we give ourselves credit for. If I can do it, so can you. I hope you find the freedom that courage brings.

One of the most important things for me was that by the time I was released, I had found my happiness again. I had learned how to be happy while still there, instead of just biding my time to get out and then be happy again. I simply was happy. Right there, right then, which translates into right here, right now.

I was sharing this with my daughter and linked it to her soon adventure with graduate school. Alex is one who sings in the shower and whistles while walking up the stairs. I told her that the happiness we have is ours; it is not situational, it is not dependent on location, it is ours.

I learned that we get to take the happiness with us wherever we go.

You can too.

I’ve already written about how kind and compassionate the patients were to each other. I continue to be struck by the significance that these people, while at their lowest, were so hungry to unify and connect. I realized just what a vulnerable time this is. What we choose to unify on is even more important than the fact that we are trying to unify. People who are low can rationalize their way around a lot that we normally wouldn’t. It is a time when someone could really take advantage and get people headed down a dangerous path.

Or, we can unify around truth and helpful choices.

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How do we keep our perspective clear enough to make sure we are seeking out and presenting that truth? What are the things that you find yourself unifying around? Do these things make you a better person, or do they just unify you?

This leads me to my last “aha moment” of my stay. The last night one of the new people had spent the day reading a book and he shared it with us at the last group of the day. I could honestly feel his intensity and understand that he was exposing himself in a way he hadn’t been able to for a long time, if ever. He was begging us to understand.

And I understood that we are so much more the same than we are different.

Each person has things that are weird. Each person has things they wish they could hide. Each person has things about themselves that they wish were different.

It’s just that those of us in the psych ward have our dirty laundry hung out for all to see. Everyone else has the luxury of using a clothes dryer in a locked closet.

So, the next time we look and see someone doing something out of the ordinary, I wonder what change it would make in us if we tried to see the similarities between us rather than the obvious differences.


There but by the grace of God go I.

2 thoughts on “Lessons learned in the loony bin”

  1. Well said Greg. Now I know why I told Jeff a few days back, I think we need to check on Ann. We were in the middle of a couple of things and did not follow through. I did not listen to the promptings of the Spirit because I did not see it as such. I think I better start listening a little better. Maybe Ann needed us!! We are glad you are okay and it sounds like you are doing better. As far as that love you talk about, I find myself like feeling that for Jeff. Not sure how to explain, but I know what you mean. Maybe it’s because you and I have married Garrett’s and they are so darn wonderful ? Lucky and blessed us. Communication complete????
    Hugs brother in Law. Don’t give up.

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