April 16, 2010
Psych Ward ~ Part 4
The last three posts were journal entries from my first stay at the hospital. A month later, I was committed again. A month after that, again – that time at the county psych ward, the worst place you can imagine next to prison. But all three hospitals were similar. If you watch the movie “Girl, Interrupted,” well, that’s pretty much what it’s like – except no one gets their own room, you’re not allowed in other people’s rooms, there are no secret tunnels, and you don’t get Whoopi Goldberg as your nurse or Angelina Jolie as your partner in crime.
I remember being restrained. Third time, they handcuffed me because I attacked the paramedics. I’m sorry, but what do you expect when you punch me as hard as you can in the sternum to see if you get a reaction? And quit asking me stupid questions like what my name is and how old I am. Seriously. Then there’s the IV trying to clean the drugs out of your system. Or drinking a sicky-sweet black charcoal smoothie. The nurses that patronize you. Confusion, panic, the endless, repetitive questioning. Everything moving in slow motion. Being left in the hallway by myself with practically nothing on, all the other patients gathering around to gawk at me. Being written up because I refuse to eat. Walking around in a daze, feeling exposed and incredibly out of place. Being sent to a place you leave crazier than when you got there. People screaming, pounding at the walls, watching in horror as someone is restrained and put in the isolation room for days at a time. Wondering if you’re going to be the next one to go stark raving mad. Maybe that’s what this place does to you.
Making you sign form after form. Ha. Asking a “mentally ill” person to sign papers. Just doesn’t seem right. The formidable intake form that tells everyone who wants to know why you’re here. Or at least, why they think you deserve to be in this place. Argue with them at all? Challenge them a little? “That’s something to talk to your doctor about.” Never getting answers, asking for something and not getting it for hours later. I just want a cup of water, is that so much to ask? Don’t look at me like I’m nothing. I probably have a higher IQ than you, you stuck up little excuse for a nurse. Dingy walls, tiled floor, long, sterile hallways. Uncomfortable beds. Silly little rules you’re constantly breaking: “Don’t put things on your windowsill! No running in the hallway! Don’t talk so loud!” Everything you do is suspicious. Things that are normal seem strange just because you’re labeled a “mental patient.” You sneeze. Ooh why did she do that? Hmm she’s gone to the bathroom three times already today. Better write that down. Uh oh. You’re not asleep. Take notes. Everything you do is interpreted as “off.” Imagine if I had done something REALLY crazy, like, oh I don’t know, dancing an Irish jig in the cafeteria while singing “This is the Song that Never Ends” in a British accent. Wish I had thought of that. I’m just a paramecium under a microscope anyways. Nobody gives a damn.
The call for meds. A cold ritual. You’re just a number. A name. A wrist band. “I don’t need these.” “Discuss with your doctor. For now, take them.” Giving me salve to put on my scars. I never used it. I hid it under my bed. Along with other contraband, like the chocolate my parents would sneak in. I felt like such a rebel, hiding food and make-up in my room. Getting outside in the sunshine was a rare treat. Feeling like a bird let out of a cage, just for a few minutes. So much light. Hurts my eyes. I want to go back inside with the fluorescent lighting I’m accustomed to. But once I’m back inside, looking longingly at the slit of blue sky on the top of the plexi-glass barred window. You start to believe that something is deeply wrong with you, you’re just like the rest of these crazy loons. Deeply wrong, not just a misfire of neurons. Something is wrong with your character, your being, in my case – your personality. You’re different. You can’t take care of or control yourself so you’re kept her under lock and key. You’re a danger to society. You’re a danger to yourself. You get points for good behavior. Act good, act happy, get out sooner. Say you’re ok even though you’re not just to get out. Tell them what they want to hear. Anything to get out of that place.
I learned that if I didn’t talk, if I didn’t socialize with these scary people, if I didn’t eat, I would be here forever. I was scared to death. Scared even to sleep. Not knowing what was going to happen to me. Denied things I thought were basics. Like clothes. Hairbrush. No shoelaces. No razors. No hoodie strings. Nothing you could possibly kill yourself with. Also nothing that would make life bearable in that place, like an Ipod. No electronics. In the county hospital I wore clothes people had donated. They felt dirty and uncomfortable. You wear a band on your wrist – different colors meant different privileges. Red band? Oh, you get to eat in the cafeteria! Gee, look at me all grown up. Thankfully our showers weren’t supervised. Your blood pressure and temperature being taken every five hours. They wake you up in the morning to do it. Sometimes they stick a needle in you and draw blood before you even realize what they’re doing. I didn’t sleep much. They would turn on the lights in the day room at 3am so I could write. Well, if it was one of the nice nurses on duty. Otherwise, forget it. Go back to bed, you naughty little girl.
Always feeling spied on. In “Girl, Interrupted,” everyone cheeked their meds. Wish I had the guts to do that. The drugs they gave me made me worse once I got out. You would think they were trying to make me crazier just so I’d come back and they could collect more of my insurance money. Try to engage the nurses in a little small talk, they look at you suspiciously wondering what you’re trying to pull over on them. Awkward stares and whispers when visitors come. Those perpetual patients who will never get better and are brutally jealous of those going home.
Dealing with staff. They insult you, assume you’re something you’re not, blatantly ignore you. You’re treated like a nuisance, a nobody. You scream and no one listens. Heaven forbid you ask for something, ever. Or express yourself, ever. Just shut up and be quiet and let us do whatever the hell we’re doing behind this desk with the high counter and “don’t lean over” sign. Or the ones that pretend to be all caring and compassionate, but really they’re just dying to get inside this crazy person’s head: “Oh dear, why would a beautiful girl like you cut herself?” “Oh gee! That’s why I did it! Cuz I had no idea I was beautiful! I thought I was ugly! Wow, thanks! I’ll never cut again!” Shut up you stupid know-it-alls. Oh, and then there’s the ones that think absolutely nothing is wrong with you and you’re just a little brat begging for attention from mommy and daddy.
Valerie: You know, I can take a lot of crazy shit from a lot of crazy people, but you? You are not crazy.
Susanna: Then what’s wrong with me? What the fuck’s going on inside my head? Tell me Dr. Val, what is your diag-nonsense?
Valerie: You are a lazy, self-indulgent little girl who is driving herself crazy.
Talking to doctors? Pointless.
Doctor: Oh, I see.
Susanna: No, you don’t.
Doctor: Are you stoned? How do you feel right now?
Susanna: I don’t know. I don’t know what I’m feeling.
Doctor: Were you trying to commit suicide?
Susanna: I was trying to make the shit stop. Why am I here? Everyone here is fucking crazy!
You try to explain the whys and wherefores, the strange mixture of thoughts and feelings in words the doctor will understand. You feel like you have to translate your ideas into words THEY will understand, at THEIR level. Or you just tell them what you know they want to hear, just to get out. Or, you just give up and don’t say anything, and they send you out to be heavily medicated.
Lisa: Yeah, well that’s what ther-rape-me’s all about. That’s why fuckin Freud’s picture’s on every shrink’s wall. He created a fuckin’ industry. You lie down, you confess your sins, and you’re saved! Ka-ching! The more you confess, the more they think about setting you free.
Susanna: But what if you don’t have a secret?
Lisa: Then you’re a lifer, like me.
Outpatient program. Three times a week for 6 hours. Torture. What I called the “crazy bus” picks you up and takes you home. Hell. Thrown in a room with a group of people you have nothing in common with and are mostly schizophrenic. I’m not crazy. I don’t belong here. I have nothing to say to you people. I can’t take this seriously. Oh, the things I heard from the so-called “therapists”… “No guy wants a girl who cuts herself. Tsk tsk tsk young lady.” Or “If you didn’t have such a damn high IQ, you wouldn’t be here.” At the beginning of every group meeting, we would have to write out a “report” of how we were feeling and talk about anything that triggered us the day before, and how we handled it. One time (and the only time) I wrote something, it was so sensitive and personal, I asked the therapist leading the group to please not read it aloud. The bitch did anyways. I was always being accused of “acting out.” I wrote “Edde was here” on the whiteboard, I was “acting out.” I decided to be out-going and make jokes with the person next to me and I was “acting out” and “giving off relational cues.” What the hell??! Fine. You’ve labeled me as a deviant. I’ll act like one. Our assignment: write about “How have you changed in the last week?” I wrote “Mostly in my room by myself. But sometimes I forget to close the blinds and then the creepy old man across the street comes around with his binoculars.” I got a “talking to” for that.