Before I was brought up to the Psychiatric Ward last summer, I was put in a wheelchair and told to wait. I still had my bag with me, so I dug in my bag and grabbed three Klonopin. Just some anxiety pills for the road. I thought I might as well be chilled out for a bit while I was getting accustomed to things. Just as I put them inside my mouth and was about to swallow them, a nurses hand reached into my mouth and pulled out the wet pills. “Nope can’t take anything that’s not prescribed!” She quickly took my bag away from me. I never saw her face.
As I was being brought up in the elevator with the EMT, he told me that I had the biggest room up there. It seemed exciting, despite the circumstances. The room was big, with a tiny bed, nightstand and huge window overlooking the buildings in Streeterville. I could see my work. From the high floor I was on, I imagined my coworkers as tiny little people working at tiny little computers. Their voices were muted behind the double thick glass.
It’s difficult to remember why I was there, and even when I remember I forget again. Although I don’t remember feeling particularly traumatized (it wasn’t my first time at the rodeo) I guess your mind does block out unpleasant feelings and memories. I was extremely depressed and anxious. A series of events unfolded to the point where I felt completely helpless. Wherever I turned, whoever I called, whatever was prescribed didn’t help. Nothing broke through the fog. I felt myself falling, closing up, shutting down.
The next day, I noticed a young guy and I decided to chat him up. He was cute, seemed nice and made eye contact with me. He also seemed “high functioning.” Which is a code word for “not completely batshit” in the psych ward.
He told me he wasn’t depressed. He liked the outdoors a lot and wanted to be a Park Ranger or have some other outdoor job. He said his parents put him in there because they didn’t like his life choices. He was really angry that he had to take a pill- Prozac. I nodded my head, sympathizing with him, thinking about the seven different pills I was happily taking.
I didn’t buy that he wasn’t depressed. I did believe that he didn’t need Prozac and definitely didn't need to be in the psych ward. He said his father was very verbally abusive and overbearing. I saw this later when he met with his parents during visiting time. I caught flashes of his dad pointing his finger in his son’s face as if to tell him what he really needed to do and what his real problem was.
A soon as I got in there I desperately wanted out. I did willingly check myself in. I knew that my medication needed to be adjusted and I needed to be forced to try to fix some of the issues in my life that were really, truly threatening my sanity and existence. But I wanted out.
I became obsessed with leaving. I had an irrational fear that I would never be let out. I felt like people were forgetting me. That the outside me, the functioning me would slip away, like a ghost. Like there was a shell of me walking around outside and I wanted to jump back into that shell before it disappeared.
I had been hospitalized before, multiple times, but I never remember being so afraid of being locked away. I made sure that I said all the right things to the nurses and doctors. I lied and said I was fine when I wasn’t. Which is not typical of me, I don’t think. I remember answering questions about my mental health like I was a politician. Everythings fine, nothing to see here. Just let me out.
I read “Postcards from the Edge” by Carrie Fisher that Erik had brought me. That was a tremendous help. Carrie Fisher was and still is so comforting. Basically, she taught me how to laugh at the ridiculousness of dealing with mental illness. I sat on my bed and read that book if I wasn’t being forced to attend a group.
They did have a “comfort room,” which was a small room with a flat screen tv playing nature scenes on a loop. There was LED lighting on the ceiling and floor that slowly changed soothing colors while sounds of the rainforest or a light storm played. There was a weighted blanket that you could put on you that really felt like a hug. I looked into buying one and they are outrageously expensive! Not that great of a hug.
We had Art Therapy which I really enjoyed. I decorated and painted small cardboard boxes in the style of “The Memphis Group” which was a collective of artists whose style influenced a lot of fashion and decor in the eighties. This style also matched the paperback cover of Postcards From The Edge.
I sat and designed my boxes with the Park Ranger guy while he colored in coloring books. The very happy and encouraging art therapist asked if we wanted music on. The Park Ranger guy said yes and suggested a Classic Rock station. This gave me anxiety. I didn’t realize until then that Classic Rock really does give me incredible anxiety.
Sometimes though, instead of Art Therapy we were forced to play games. Playing Scattergories with a group of depressed anxious people is not fun. Trying to think of an animal that starts with X while you are under the influence of sedating medication and a timer is clicking away is incredibly challenging.
They didn’t tell me I was leaving until about an hour beforehand. I gathered all my stuff and was ready to go but I was delayed because they were waiting for my Lithium levels to come back. Lithium is a mineral that humans ingest and is also present in our bodies. Taking bigger amounts of Lithium helps with depression, bipolar and mood swings. Taking too much is dangerous. The window between what is effective and what is toxic is small, so people who take Lithium have to get their levels checked.
As I waited, I sat down at a table in one of the little common areas. A woman who was not “high functioning” sat down at the table. She said she had a question for me. Normally I would be frightened or put off by a person like her, not wanting to risk somehow falling down the hole of crazy she was in. Because I was so happy I was leaving, I was totally down for chatting.
She asked if I would be interested in opening up a Southern style spaghetti restaurant with her. I didn’t commit but I told her I was open to it. She was very excited and ran to her room and came back with a menu she had created. The menu was just a piece of paper with some chicken scratch on it. She started listing off things we would need, “Wood, bread, blankets, pinecones…”
The pinecones got to me. I could imagine sleeping too long and dreaming about a weird spaghetti restaurant that served pine cones. But this woman actually lived in that confusing nonsensical and frustrating place in your brain where your dreams come from. This was her reality.
I gave her as much encouragement as I could as I was getting ready to leave. She looked so happy. I hope she really did get some happiness out of it and she is happily opening up her pine cone spaghetti restaurant in her head. I hope she is surrounded by people that smile and agree and laugh with her and don’t make her feel anymore scared and confused than she already is.
When I got outside I couldn’t believe how hot it and loud it was. I was only in there for a week-but could everybody keep it down? I sat on a curb on the sidewalk and orgasmically smoked a cigarette. I settled into the real world in a few minutes. I went directly to a group therapy session at an outpatient center, then had a meeting with the therapist at the center with Erik and then I went to see my regular therapist.
When I was in the psych ward I had my little ritual every night of drinking my disgusting decaf coffee and looking down eighteen floors onto the crowds on Michigan Ave. I desperately wanted to be out of there. And not just because I wanted a cigarette. I wanted to be in the real world, the sane world.
Going to bed in my own room the night I got out, I could ummeel the pressures and stress and irritation of living in the sane world slowly pouring onto me like wet cement.
The Park Ranger and I emailed back and forth for awhile but lost touch. I think at some point, you don’t want to go back there mentally. It’s scary and you feel ashamed and you want to pretend it didn’t happen and move forward. It’s hard for you to talk about and it’s hard for other people in your life to talk about. I still feel myself, even as I write this, trying to push back or ignore the memories of being hospitalized and pretend none of it happened. But it did.