Writing through Hospitalizations
By Emily Glossner Johnson
Every day, many people with a variety of ailments go to the hospital for treatment. For this reason, I should not be ashamed to write that because of my bipolar disorder, I have been in the hospital four times and in a partial hospitalization program twice. Despite this, I do feel a little bit ashamed because of the stigma attached to such hospitalizations. It shouldn’t be this way but unfortunately, it is.
And yet, I have gained so many good things from my hospitalizations. Mostly, I have become healthier than when I entered the hospital. Typically medications are adjusted and there’s intensive group / individual therapy. This is also true of partial hospitalization programs. A patient goes to a hospital for about six to eight hours a day to engage in intensive group and individual therapy and then goes home afterwards (in other words, you don’t stay overnight). Partial hospitalization programs last for about six weeks.
I have gained other valuable things from my periods of hospitalizations. I have come across or met many interesting people—and they are interesting people, far more than just people with mental illness. I have written many characters with mental illnesses and while I haven’t based any one character on a real person, I have gained knowledge about the manifestation of illnesses and the traits a person might exhibit. This, I believe, has helped me to create realistic characters with mental illness.
I have also had my eyes opened to the pain of mental illness in its many forms. One of my times in the hospital, there was a woman who yelled out, “Absolutely!” over and over again. She didn’t sound as though she were in distress, yet it was alarming because of the repetitive behavior and the thought of what must be going on in her head. Another time, I encountered a patient who carried around a doll that she apparently believed was her baby—a real baby. She even presented her “baby” to me on one occasion, and I expressed my admiration. One other time, I met a young man who had scars running down his face. Of course, they could have been from an accident, but I couldn’t help but wonder if they were self-inflicted. Sometimes it’s the unknown that’s most haunting.
I believe that all of this has helped me become a more compassionate, empathic writer. Even when I’m writing about characters that don’t have a mental illness, I feel for them and the choices they make and the paths on which they embark. I truly love my characters and care about them all.
Then there’s the effect my characters have on me. They make me feel less uncomfortable about what I go through with bipolar disorder—from the day-to-day struggles to the hospitalizations. If I can write about others going through hardship—any kind of hardship—then I can better face my own when it occurs.
Emily Glossner Johnson writes monthly blog articles about mental illness and the challenges and triumphs it brings to the writing life. Diagnosed with bipolar disorder in 1995, Emily is familiar with the pitfalls and high points of being a writer with a mental illness. Emily aims to encourage others through whatever challenges they may face when writing—whether it be a mental illness, a physical disability, or some other obstacle. Emily wishes to communicate to others that they are not alone. Even for writers who don’t have a disability, Emily hopes that her articles will inspire, educate, and enlighten.