October 16, 2022

WISE-ROJAS | Being Honest with a Counselor: Depression, Hospitalization and More

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Trigger warning: this piece contains extensive discussion of suicidal ideation, depression, self-harm and hospitalization. 

Hugging my knees to my chest, tears rolling down my cheek, I sobbed into the phone; “I dreamed that I jumped off a bridge and killed myself the other night. I can’t stop thinking about it.” I only called the Cornell counseling line because a trusted adult told me it would be good, considering that my therapist took the week off, and dying was on my mind. Bombarded with questions I didn’t know the answer to, I couldn’t answer confidently that I felt safe. I just wanted to die.

Struggles with depression are common, especially at Cornell. However, no one (or at least very few) discusses their struggles publicly. I think I’m writing this because I need to, as a form of therapy and to inform people about what happens when you disclose wanting to end your life in some way to a counselor. I’m so sorry if you can relate to anything I’m saying. I hope things get better and you know that you’re loved. 

That day, Cornell police were called. They were required to take me to the hospital — they had the right to take me against my will. I felt a strong, gut-wrenching sense of shame as I walked through the halls of my beloved dorm (where I’m a Resident Advisor), accompanied by a close friend and followed by two Cornell police officers. Tears streamed down my face as I gave my coworker the on-call phone and climbed into the ambulance; it was almost as if someone pressed “pause” on my voice. I could barely form sentences. 

Upon arriving at the hospital, they gave me the option to walk inside. I refused, knowing that I would lack the motivation to step inside. They had me change into scrubs and grippy socks and stripped me of all my rights and belongings, allowing me to keep my glasses and teddy bear. CUPD followed the ambulance, and my friends had my car and were following CUPD. This was my first time going to the hospital for depression, and it wouldn’t be my last. Luckily, I wasn’t admitted, and I think it was just being in the hospital alone in a room for seven hours that scared me. I told myself I was better. I did the hard work of asking for help, but now I was scared and wanted to go home to my dorm.

A week later, it happened again. I don’t know what triggered it. It’s all fuzzy to this day. I felt numb. Sitting in my bed, a plan started to slowly formulate. I was paralyzed with fear. I had an urge to overdose on my medications and jump off the bridge near my dorm. I texted a trusted adult. She told me to get my friends to take me to the hospital immediately. 

I didn’t want to get help, but I was so empty with emotions that I knew I needed help. My friends decided we should get some food at my favorite Korean restaurant in Collegetown and then go from there, constantly keeping an eye on me. The previous ambulance ride was traumatizing enough; they wanted to do their best to make this experience as low-stress as possible. My friend asked me how I was feeling after eating; “better, but I know once you leave, it will come back,” I said. 

Back to grippy socks, we go. This time, I walked inside, not afraid of the hospital, escorted by my friends who drove me there. I learned last time how helpful the nurses were, how caring they are and how the more honest you are, the more likely you are to get the help you need. Being dishonest only gets you so far. 

“Maybe it’s Cornell.” It’s not. Cornell is one of the best things that’s ever happened to me. I’m the first in my family to go to college. No, I didn’t write about this in my admissions essays. None of it was processed, and I wasn’t ready to share that with the world. It’s the fact that I’m on my own in college, finally left to my own devices, struggling to cope with my past trauma. 

I should have been honest when I was in high school. My mom asked me if I ever thought about taking my own life after a friend died by suicide during my freshman year of high school. I was too distraught to know what any of it meant. I lied when she asked me again during my senior year when another classmate died from suicide. I was scared. I heard the fear in her voice. By this point, I’ve seriously considered suicide more than once for reasons related to my family/personal life. 

Like last time, they had me change into scrubs and grippy socks, stripped me of all my rights and belongings and allowed me to keep my glasses and teddy bear. This time, I voluntarily complied. The same social worker talked with me the last time I was in the hospital. Luckily, she knew all my history. I was honest. I told them my plan, then curled up into a ball under the hospital blanket, in a room intentionally stripped of anything I could hurt myself with and a table where someone could watch me 24/7. 

The social worker evaluated me, telling me she would let me know what the psychiatrist said and would be back in a few minutes. Ten minutes later, she told me, “the doctor recommends that you be admitted to the behavioral unit.” I asked to write down some phone numbers from my phone, signed some scary paperwork, acknowledged I’m mentally ill and am voluntarily committing myself to the psychiatric ward and was given a guide handbook to being inpatient in the Cayuga adult behavioral unit. It outlined the dress code, things to do, how this is supposed to help, visiting hours for friends and family and a detailed schedule of all the group activities offered. 

I took a deep breath and put everything aside as security came to take my belongings. My emotions swerved between feeling empty and crying. It almost felt like surrendering in the middle of a war. I guess I surrendered in the battle against myself. The other part felt like I had committed a crime, and I surrendered myself to the authorities. As I was walked down the halls to the psych ward by nurses, all I could do was remind myself that I was doing the right thing, that I don’t trust myself and that I needed help. 

Nervous, one of the nurses showed me to my room, introduced me to my (sleeping) roommate and said to come to the kitchen for food. Near the kitchen, there’s another nurse’s station, where a nurse with cool hair and glasses was blasting upbeat pop music. I don’t know what I expected the psych ward to be like, but it certainly was not this. 

She exclaimed, “welcome! My name is ___, and this is ____,” motioning to her coworker. “Do you want pizza? We got you. How many slices? Do you want a cookie? Apple juice?” her coworker asked me with enthusiasm. Obviously, I accepted. I was pretty confused. The staff is happy there. At least, they appear to be. I learned that they do their best to create as positive an environment as possible. I went to bed that night after calling a trusted adult and close friend via the nurses’ station, well-fed, just still overwhelmed with emotion. Tossing and turning with someone checking my room every 15 minutes wasn’t the best sleep I’ve gotten. However, I think it’s better than the alternative of not being alive, I guess.

“Time for vitals!” I remember being woken up at 7 a.m. sharp. Temperature, heart rate and blood drawn are all done within minutes of being woken up. “Breakfast is soon; time to get ready.” I met my roommate, and she was so lovely (aside from the death stare she gave me when I arrived late the night prior). Everything is “suicide-proof;” with no handles, even on the toilet, sink and shower. No strings anywhere. Kind of a sad reminder of where I was. 

Basically, how the behavioral unit works is that you go about your day by going to assigned meal times and group therapy sessions until you’re pulled aside to meet with your social worker, doctor or any other professional. Everyone’s goal is to get out as soon as possible. It gives your life structure again. Everything is taken note of. If you miss groups, make your bed, or take a shower, these are all indicators of how you’re doing. 

I have the best support system. My friends not only took care of my cat while I was in the hospital but brought me clothes from my room that complied with the dress code (no strings, no laces, etc.). I was in touch with my Cornell crisis manager to notify all my professors and employers that I wouldn’t be in classes. I took a week off of school, and SDS provided me with a temporary fourteen-day attendance leniency letter to give me the grace to catch up. 

At this time, I didn’t know how long I would be there. I was there for three days and two nights. I fell into a routine again and started taking what I learned in group and applying it to my daily life to cope. I made friends, went to as many groups as possible, was honest with my support team and by day two, my plan had disappeared, at least the urge to act on it. The therapy dogs were immensely helpful. Shout out to Ozzie the Bernese doodle mix. I realized that other people were there for the same reasons I was. I wasn’t alone. 

Maybe not having access to plastic knives and someone in charge of my medication alongside being checked every 15-30 minutes was what I needed to feel safe and not end my life. I’m not ashamed of it. I thought I would be. It’s the psych ward. There’s no way out of it. No one wants to be there. I’m not in any way glamorizing suicide and hospitalization. I just want people to know that it’s not as scary and stigmatized as people make it out to be. 

Being hospitalized was always a fear of mine. I’ve conquered my fear. Every day I was there, I tried to connect with people in the outside world via phone at the nurses’ station. The longer I was in there, I knew that people were waiting for me to be okay. That was motivating to know. I remember my friends picking me up in my car and running to them, knowing that all these people had saved my life and that I was in a better place. My friends came to visit me. It meant the world.

I don’t want to die anymore. My depression has not gone away, and it’s gonna take a while to get to that point. However, all my doctors’ appointments were booked for me when I was in the hospital, my therapy is now consistent and I have much better coping mechanisms. I’m being honest for the first time in my life. This column is me saying, “this is what I’ve been through, and if you’re there too, I want you to know that there’s a reason to keep going.” Going to the hospital helped me. It’s not the solution for everyone, but I’m glad I did.

In the same way, people wanted me to keep going; I want you to keep going. You are loved. Don’t be afraid to reach out, even to your RAs. We are trained on what to do in these situations. Even the RAs/therapist friends need support, just like I did — there is nothing to be ashamed of. You are loved. I love you. I wish I could tell younger me the same. Feel free to contact me if you have any questions/want to know more about my story.

Daniela Wise-Rojas is a sophomore in the College of Arts and Sciences. She can be reached at [email protected]. She currently serves as Dining Editor on the 140th Editorial Board. Anything But MunDANIties runs periodically this semester.

Suicide hotlines:

Cornell Health, speak with a counselor 24/7: 607-255-5155 (extension x4).

Ithaca Crisis Line: 607-272-1616 or 800-273-832

Advocacy Center (for sexual or domestic violence): 607-277-5000

National Suicide & Crisis Lifeline: 988 

Trevor Project hotline (LGBTQ+): 866-488-7386

LGBT National Hotline: 888-843-4564

TransLifeline: 877-565-8860

RAINN National Sexual Assault Hotline: 800-656-4673

National Crisis Text Line: Text HELLO to 741741 

Steve Fund crisis text line: Text STEVE to 741741 (especially for students of color)

Trevor Project chat service & text line: Text START to 678678 (especially for LGBTQ+ students)