“The best people possess a feeling for beauty, the courage to take risks, the discipline to tell the truth, the capacity for sacrifice. Ironically, their virtues make them vulnerable; they are often wounded, sometimes destroyed.” — Ernest Hemingway
At this very moment, this is where I lost it. I sit back and put my hand over my eyes and thought to myself that I would never see her again. And then I thought about every traumatic experience that has darkened my spirit. And how it’s been over a year and things were only getting worse. I wanted out. I wanted to disappear and not feel anything. I had a full bottle of Zanaflex that I stopped taking a while ago for sleep, plus plenty of codeine pills and Ativans. I thought very little about what I was going to do next. I was thinking present tense only. Not what the snowball effect would be. How I would break so many hearts because mine has been broken for so long.
This time I wasn’t sending God another text. I wasn’t going to leave God another unanswered voicemail. This time I was at God’s front door, ready to knock.
This time, I was past praying for.
The only plan I had after I took the pills was to lay on the floor stomach down in fears that if I started to throw up, I wouldn’t choke. I simply wanted to fade away. I envisioned what it would look like when I was found dead. A cold lifeless body with vomit on the floor. This image was too clear in my thoughts and I began to panic even more. The only rational thought I had was to call my doctor. For her to fix me.
I called and the lady at the front desk picks up. I say it’s Adam and she recognizes my voice right away. I tell her I need to be seen as soon as possible because something is wrong. She tells me to hold on. Maybe 1 or 2 minutes go by and the next thing I know, my doctor is on the line. I’ve never talked with her directly over the phone. I never had a reason to. She asks me what’s going on. It must have been the sound of fear in my voice that alarmed the lady at the front desk to put the doctor on the phone immediately. I told the doctor that I wasn’t sure, but I’m having bad thoughts.
She told me to go to the emergency room. She paused and asked if I had a way to get there. I told her I would figure it out. She said she would call back in 30 minutes to make sure I made it there. I called a friend, no answer. I called another friend, no answer. But then they called back. I told them that I needed to go to the hospital. After the call, I repeated to myself, ‘it’s okay, it’s going to be okay.’
It took me about 10 minutes to calm myself down, take some Ativan, and get outside. I could not think. I was breathing so hard, I could barely move. After an uncomfortable and awkward drive to the hospital, we made it to the emergency room. They asked what I was coming in for. I told them suicidal thoughts. Right away they checked me in. They took all my personal belongings; my ID, my phone, my shoes, everything. They escorted me to a section with about 8 beds in the corner of the emergency room. I was provided with a green gown and light blue pants to change into. I sat on the bed wondering, ‘what’s going to happen next?’
A doctor comes to my bed and introduces himself. He asked a series of questions, then he left. About two hours later, another doctor came in and did the same thing. Then a third doctor came in and told me that I was going to be transported and admitted to a treatment center. His exact words were, “The way you’ve been going, I don’t see you making it to October.” It was the end of September.
The ambulance pulled up to the treatment center and I was escorted to a room with no windows. They took my picture and then a nurse came and escorted me to another room without windows. She explained that I would be evaluated tonight and given a treatment plan. I was then escorted to another room without windows but with a divider. A tech came in and gave me back the clothes I came in the emergency room with—and that I didn’t need to wear a gown. But before I could change, they did a full body search and examination. They provided me with a telephone number and a security code if anyone needed to contact me. I told them I needed to check my phone and contact my doctor to tell her that I had made it to the emergency room. It’s been about 8 hours since I last spoke to her.
My doctor left two voicemails. The first one said she was calling to see if I had made it to the hospital and that she would be calling back in 5 minutes. The second voicemail sounded very worrisome. She was fumbling her words. She said that the cops have been called to go by my apartment. At this point, she doesn’t know if I’m dead or alive. I called my parents and they patched the doctor on the line. They reassured me that I made the right decision. But I didn’t want to talk about this, I just wanted to lay down. Someone taps me on the shoulder. It’s a patient. He says ‘what’s up’ and walks off.
I’m escorted to my assigned room. There’s two beds and the person that tapped me on the shoulder is laying on the other bed with his eyes closed; fully clothed, saying random words to himself. I lay down and listen to my roommate repeat the words, “acceptance” and “spidey” until he fell asleep. I wanted to leave. I shouldn’t be here. But I’m against my will. I’m not allowed to leave. Nobody is allowed to come visit except on Thursday and Sunday—they allow visitors to come, but only for one hour.
This is too much.
I wake up to the sound of a tech yelling in a deep voice, “Line up for breakfast!” “Let’s go.” “Breakfast!” He sees me in my room and says, “Who do we have here?” This guy was huge. Black, 6’7 probably, nothing but muscle, and with a face that looked like he could murder you with his bare hands if he wanted to. He stands in the front of my bed and says, “Here’s how it goes; right now we’re taking everyone to breakfast. Then after that there’s groups. The more you go to groups, the quicker your discharge will be. Have you gone to the nurses station to get your meds?”
The psychiatrist reduced all my meds down to one anti-depressant and increased the dosage. He also prescribed a very heavy dose of Ativan to take as needed. Right now I need an Ativan badly, but I want to get out of here as soon as possible. I figured that if I didn’t take any Ativans—it would show that I’m making progress and that I could leave sooner. But I felt like hell. I certainly didn’t have an appetite. I took two bites of my oatmeal and just surveyed the room. It felt like the first day of school. There was about 25 of us in which they called Unit 3. Mostly people in their 30’s and 40’s, and then a few twenty-somethings. I wanted to know everyone’s story. Everyone in here at one point hit a breaking point so severe that they had to be institutionalized. And I was one of them.
After breakfast, I didn’t go to any groups. I was not in the mood to pay attention or vent in a group therapy session. I laid back down and started to think about how I ended up in here.
“Adam the doctor wants to see you.”
I’m brought into a room and introduced to a therapist, the psychiatrist again, and two case managers.
“We understand that you’ve been dealing with some deaths. Could you tell us about those?”
My cousin died I told them.
He ran into oncoming traffic on the highway.
Their faces went from ‘nice to meet you’ to the look of shock. I went on further saying he was planning to come visit me that weekend. And that this was something I would have never expected.
“Sorry about that.” “And then someone else passed away as well?”
I told them, yes a friend.
I took a breath and said yes, a few months after my cousin passed. My friend shot himself in the head.
One case manager did all the talking, the other was aggressively taking notes.
“Is there anything else that you would like to talk about? I understand you’ve had some health issues.”
I told them about the mass in my brain.
That to be perfectly honest it’s the least of my worries. It causes me pain every now and then, but I’ve learned to deal with it. The neurosurgeons say there’s not much they can do because of its location. I changed the subject and told them that I wouldn’t be able to see my brother for a very long time. That it’s already been years. And I can’t imagine what he’s going through.
“You said that you’re thinking about leaving your job?”
I explained that my position at work is being relocated and I don’t think I’m going to stick with them. It’s the first and only job I had out of college. And now I’m not sure what I’m going to do. I paused. Then I told them that the real reason I ended up here besides all that I have listed, was that I had lost a friend. Not by death. A person that changed the course of my life. That it pains me to think it’s for the better, but really it feels like the worst.
“They sound very important to you.” “What did this person mean to you?”
This is the only way I know how to explain it:
Imagine a neighborhood with a house that sits on a hill away from all the other houses. The person inside the house on the hill never comes out and has never let anybody inside. Every now and then the neighbors would go up to the door and knock, but it was never answered.
One day the person inside the house peeked out the window and noticed a girl with a flower in her hair and bright eyes. The girl waved towards the house. Quickly the blinds are pulled shut.
This was the first glimpse that maybe the person inside the house wanted to venture out. He was dealing with mortality of people he cared for, and his health was beginning to worsen again. He was becoming lonelier each day. And each day he peeked out the window just in case she appeared again. When she did, she waved again. And for the first time the doors of the house on the hill opened up.
The girl approached the doors and even though he knew little about her, he was ecstatic to let someone in given his despair. She would leave and come back to the house to check on him. He began to fancy her.
After a while she didn’t come around to the house as often. He wasn’t sure why. He was hurting. Alone again. It felt worse than before when he didn’t know her. He wasn’t sure if he regretted opening up the doors for her or not. The thought kept him up at night. He felt the need to explain to her why he let her in.
The conversation between the two was heated. He felt abandoned and she felt that she never did anything to hurt him. The house caught fire. She left. He watched his foundation slowly crumble down in flames right in front of him.
He was miserable. No home. Nobody. He didn’t have the will to start rebuilding his foundation. But maybe something beautiful happened because of the fire. His neighbors could now see him. He was vulnerable. He had no choice but to accept the help from his neighbors. He started to get to know them—he found that they too had experienced similar loss. And he was not alone. But it didn’t feel that way.
Instead I told them that it was the first time I ever opened up to anyone, and it didn’t seem to matter.
The next day my roommate asked me where I was from. He mumbled gibberish to himself constantly. This was the first time I heard him speak clearly. He then said, “Let me show you something.” He lifted up his shirt and there was a large gash on his stomach—like he had been opened up with a large knife. He didn’t tell me how he got it. Then he showed me his wrists. Deep vertical gashes on both of them. He then showed me his hand, but I wasn’t sure what I was supposed to be looking for. It was kind of swollen. He told me, “This is why I’m in here. A black widow bit me.” I asked him if he had been bitten in this room. He said, “No. I did it to myself. I caught a black widow and let it bite me.” This was crazy. I think statically more people are afraid of spiders than they are their own death. But now I get why he kept saying ‘spidey.’
Besides group therapy sessions and a TV in our lobby that always seemed to be on the Sci-Fi channel, there was nothing to do but think. If you smoked they actually had smoke breaks and handed out cigarettes. A hospital that hands out cigarettes. Believe it. They said that our tax dollars pay for the cigarettes. Just about everybody except for my roommate and I smoked. My roommate actually didn’t do anything. I noticed he never ate with us, he never attended groups, and he was never in the room. I laid in my bed and tried to think about things that would cheer me up. But all I could think about is how I let everybody down. That I’m trying hard not to give up.
Another odd thing I had to get comfortable with in this hospital was that the techs monitored us constantly. Every 15 minutes a tech writes down what I’m doing in that very moment. The nights are the worst. If having bright florescent lights shining into our room from the hallway isn’t bad enough, the techs would look into our rooms with a flashlight and shine it on you to see if you’re doing anything else besides sleeping. This is every 15 minutes.
It’s the middle of the night. Most of us are sound asleep now. Then suddenly, I hear a loud commotion come into our room.
“Let me see your wrists.” “I need to see your wrists.”
There’s at least 5 nurses hovered over my roommate’s bed. They quickly get him up and out of the room. He re-opened the cuts on his wrists. I’m wondering what made him do it. And how he did it. They sweep the rooms for anything that you might be able to harm yourself with every day. My shoe strings and the drawstring in my hoodie was removed when I was admitted. The tooth brush that they give us is tiny and rubber. The deodorant they give us is in these little gel packs. Very weird. No breakable plastic. And after I signed my admission forms upon check in the tech said, “That’s the last time you’ll be writing with a pen.”
That morning I laid in bed until it was time for meds. Feeling like hell. It was worse today. For some reason, even though I was in Unit 3, my meds were in Unit 2. Unit 2 is on the opposite side of the nurses station. This unit is the only unit with both men and women. The patients in this unit are labeled as very critical.
When you go to take your meds, its procedure for the nurse to check your blood pressure and ask; “What’s your mood today?” “Are you thinking about harming yourself or others?” I go to leave and ask the tech in Unit 2 to let me back on the other side so I can line up for breakfast. The doors are double-locked from unit 2 and unit 3. Doors are always locked. He then asks, “Why are you over here?” I tell him that my meds are over here for some reason. He then goes through my chart and says, “If your meds are over here, then you’re supposed to be over here.”
I’m marked as critical? Man.
My bed is in Unit 3 so I’m forced to hang out in Unit 2’s lobby. I’m freezing. Unit 2 is significantly colder than Unit 3. And you’re only allowed to go outside to a patio with high walls during smoke breaks. You can’t see the outside world from anywhere in this hospital. I went outside during every smoke break to warm up. A girl who seems to be too energetic keeps telling me, “God is giving me a new family. My family was murdered.” She rubs her baby bump as she’s telling me this. She gets distracted and starts talking to another patient about something. I go back inside and sit down in these seats that they have arranged along the wall. There’s an Asian kid, probably my age, pacing in front of these seats. He’s mumbling to himself as he paces looking down the whole time. Nothing he mumbles is understandable except when he curses.
I attend groups with the Unit 2 patients and honestly, most of them seemed pretty normal. The counselor leading the group discussion about ‘Assertive Styles’ asked one of the patients what their favorite hobby was. He said it was designing software. He seemed like the most normal one among the Unit 2 patients. All of the girls except for the pregnant one, were very quiet. I was quiet too—only speaking when asked a question. I listened mostly—listened to everyone share a little bit of their story of how they ended up here.
After groups I’m back sitting in the lobby trying to stay warm. The TV is now on Cartoon Network. Cartoons are weird these days. I think it was a ‘Dora the Explorer’ marathon. I really wanted to go back to my room and lay down, but that isn’t an option for me anymore. The guy sitting a few seats down from me says, “Man I’m starving.” I threw him a Nutri-Grain bar. The tech gave me an extra one after breakfast. I guess this is what it’s like to make friends in prison.
It’s almost dinner time and everybody in the lobby seems to be occupied with something. I’m super into this ‘Dora the Explorer’ episode playing on the screen. The volume is too low for me to hear. And the Asian guy is still mumbling in front of me—but I’m following along with the pictures. All of a sudden I hear someone yell, “FUCK YOU!” My attention is immediately diverted to people sitting at the table. It’s the software guy. He slams his fist on the table and yells, “FUCK YOU!” again to the guy I gave my extra Nutri-Grain bar to. Several techs swarm into the room and restrain him. A nurse rushes to the pregnant lady and starts to check her blood pressure. The girl sitting next to the Nutri-Grain guy pulls her hoodie over her head. The hoodie was large enough to pull down over her eyes—covering up her tears.
After the Nutri-Grain guy talked with the techs, he comes back to where I am sitting. Even though I didn’t ask him he says, “I tapped that girl sitting next to me on the shoulder. Asked if she was okay, and then he flipped out. What is that? That’s all I did.” While he’s telling me this, I’m overhearing the tech telling the nurse that the software guy needs a B-52 shot. I later find out that a B-52 shot has nothing to B vitamins, but instead is a combination of Haldol and Ativan.
At dinner, a different tech than before asks me, “Adam, do you know why you’re in Unit 2?” I tell him I have no clue but my meds are in Unit 2. While looking at my chart he says, “Yeeaah, you shouldn’t be here.” “We’ll get you sorted out after dinner.”
Dinner is over and I’m asked to push the water cart back to the unit. We are constantly given water. I still think something is wrong with my bladder. Peeing has now become a chore. I won’t go into detail. With the water cart, I’m the last to leave the cafeteria. We have to go through two sets of double-locked doors to get back to the unit. At the last set of double-locked doors, the group goes through the doors, but I’m about 15 feet behind everyone. A female tech is walking in front of me. I hear on the tech’s radio, “Unit 2 is clear, Unit 1 go ahead.” The tech frantically gets on the radio and says, “Wait! I have one more! I have one more!” But it’s too late, we can hear them coming around the corner. With a worried tone, the tech says to me, “Back up a little.” And then I saw what she was keeping me from. I saw Unit 1. It was the children’s unit. Kids 5, 6, 7 years old. All admitted for psychiatry treatment.
A deep feeling of sadness came over me. It struck me hard to know that I was now considered a threat towards children. It’s an indescribable feeling. A drop in self-worth. A sense that I’m not fully human anymore—no longer apart of society. But the worst part about seeing these kids—was knowing that at 5, 6, 7 years old, they can feel emotional hurt exactly how I do, or even worse.
I was now back in Unit 3. I went straight to my bed. I noticed a bag on the other bed. But I didn’t think much of it. I laid down and tried to fall asleep. But I laid awake the whole night. I wish I had my phone for nights like this—to check what’s happening on Instagram or something. To pass the time I tried to remember from start to finish the last ‘Breaking Bad’ episode I watched. Then I tried to remember each song from the new album by The Weeknd. And every 15 minutes I had to pretend that I was asleep. That’s probably what the tech wrote in my chart; ‘pretending to be asleep.’
The next day I realize I have a new roommate. Well, I figured it out when I didn’t hear random words coming from the next bed. He was in his thirties. He reminded me of the people that used to hang out at the Seven-Eleven across from the railroad tracks back in my hometown. Jean shorts, a t-shirt that says GUESS, a goatee—he fit the description. I sat in bed most of the day looking out the window at this 99 Cent store sign. From over the fence that was covered in green tarp and wrapped with barbwire, I could only see the top of it. My roommate came in. He is a talker but we haven’t really spoke yet. He told me which medications the doctor put him on and asked me to alert the nurse if he began to act different. He explained to me that he was in a coma for two and a half months and life has been hell ever since.
The nurses would come to the room and check on him constantly for various tests, meds, vital readings, etc. Meanwhile, we went back and forth sharing stories about our hurt. He said that his fiancé left him while he was in the coma. He took a deadly combination of medication by accident. He found this out after he came to. He paused for a moment, shrugged, and then said he was thankful that at least he had his daughter and God. He told me a story about how on her birthday they would take a picture together with cake all over their faces. But this year, he would be missing her birthday for the first time because he was in here.
He now wants to know more about the girl I mentioned earlier. I tell him it doesn’t compare to what he’s been through. But he insists saying, “In its own way, it does.”
I start to talk:
It’s sort of our first night out together. She’s dressed like Audrey Hepburn, I’m dressed like Ray Charles. A combination of alcohol, dancing, and laughs make the evening go by faster than I wanted it to. But there is a point near the end of the evening where we feel each other out. We ask and answer questions about each other like a TIME magazine Q&A. She’s somewhat familiar with my health regarding my headaches, but when people ask about it, I always seem to downplay it.
She asks if I have any brothers or sisters, and I tell her I have one older brother. But I haven’t seen or spoken to him in a few years. Right away she says, “You should talk to him.” I don’t have a response to this, more of a look of homesickness on my face. She then changes the subject slightly and says that her mother passed away a few years ago from cancer. We were opening each other up. Going in deep. But I gather she let me know this part about her life so I didn’t feel alone. It was heartbreaking and warming at the same time. I don’t think I’ve ever experienced such a feeling before tonight.
I tell him things aren’t great between us right now. She’s with someone else and has become very distance. That all of this happened out of the blue. I’m not even sure she wants to be my friend at this point. We’re not even facebook friends anymore. We laugh when I say this—there’s a silent understanding that facebook has overall ruined the human connection.
I continue on and tell him that I need to apologize for the last time we spoke. Via text message of course. That even though everything I told her about not caring and not being there were honest words, I could have went about it differently. This was weighing me down. I might not get a chance to apologize.
“Well, if you apologize, and you’re sincere, that’s all you can do. If she doesn’t take it or respond, you know that it’s no longer something you are holding in your head.”
I tell him I know. But it doesn’t seem like enough.
I started getting used to being in the hospital with these broken spirited patients. The psychiatrist said I would be staying over the weekend so I knew my discharge wasn’t coming anytime soon. Before that, I thought I could be going home at any minute. And every minute I hoped for that. But I had to accept that this was now my new home. It felt weird doing a load of laundry in the hospital.
After a few days went by I got to know the patients a little better. I watched football in the lobby with one of the soldiers who had returned home from war. He was another one that didn’t eat with us and didn’t attend groups. There were two other soldiers that I knew of. I assumed they were all dealing with PTSD but they were all different. The one I was watching football with seemed very normal and was the only clean cut guy in here. We talked about Payton Manning mostly. There was another solider that looked like Louis C.K. He didn’t say a word to anyone, and no one attempted to say a word to him. I was kind of jealous of this.
A lot of the patients in Unit 3 were dealing with drug abuse and alcoholism. Another patient that looked like an actor, Cuba Gooding Jr., was telling me the different ways he would get high at work without anyone noticing. That he would open up a bottle of Nasonex nasal-spray, pour cocaine into it, and then mix it with a little bit of water. Later on at dinner he took a seat at the table with me and my roommate and said, “This is the normal table, everyone else in here is crazy.” Besides the cocaine ‘how-to’ tutorial he told me about earlier which clearly put him in a category outside of ‘normal’, he was sort of right.
Some of the patients talked to the voices inside their heads. Some saw things that weren’t there and tried to interact with it. I always heard about these disorders in people but never seen it firsthand. One patient would take the markers they give us in groups and draw on his face. This was ‘Lord of the Flies’ and he was the clear leader of the chemical imbalances. He always seemed to be on one of the phones that were in the hallway of the unit. I noticed after a while he wasn’t talking to anyone on the phone. Sometimes you could hear him talking, and then all of sudden, he would breakdown crying. I didn’t blame him. I felt more alone than I have ever felt before being in this hospital.
I pass my psychiatrist in the hall. He hasn’t met with me for a few days. He says, “Hey, how are you doing?” I tell him I’m doing great. That I feel pretty good actually. He says, “Good. I’ll see you tomorrow.” My attempt to lie my way out of here probably only added more days to my stay. The good thing about the next day was that my mom was in town and she would get to come visit me during visiting hours.
Visiting took place in the cafeteria. I saw that a lot of patients didn’t have visitors which bummed me out. Abandonment is common with anyone going through a prolonged mental crisis. From someone on the outside looking in, it may seem like we are choosing to be miserable as opposed to choosing to be happy. In reality, depression and everything that comes with it is not a choice. Sad people aren’t fun to be around. We hear the ‘I’m here if you need anything’ line, but it’s not likely that they really want to listen to despair. They will say ‘stay positive’ and ‘be strong’ in place of not really knowing what to say. I realize to overcome these moments of hopelessness, the ‘stay positive’ ‘be strong’ speeches aren’t going to cut it. Trying to be upbeat and positive all the time is not only unrealistic but dangerous. It can blind us to what is really going on in our minds.
What really helps is when we sympathize with others. For months some of my friends and family would try. But I don’t think they really understood what I was going through. I wrote about my hardships with hopes that it would reach and help somebody going through a hurtful time. I always feared that my writing may seem like I’m playing the victim card or just writing ‘woe-is-me’ essays, but from all of the ‘this is helping me’ messages I received, it feels like sharing these hardships is the right thing to do.
There’s still a real consolation with the knowledge that the person before you knows what it is to truly hurt—hurting so deeply that you’re beyond the reach of language. When you can take solace just by looking into their eyes and see yourself staring back at you—knowing that there’s nothing they can say or need to say, because they have been where you are.
“Adam you have a visitor.”
I look and probably smell miserable. My mom walks in with two friends I haven’t seen since the visit. I talk a little bit about my stay so far in the hospital. How I’m breaking my addiction to Ativan. Realizing I wasn’t addicted to the medicine, but very addicted to the escape from misery. I tell them that the group sessions have been helpful. My mom asks me about how my apology went. I tell her I think it went well. I talked to her on the phone for a while. But I’m not sure where our friendship stands now. But at least she took the time to talk with me. My mom then asks, “What’s the story behind this other girl?”
I had recently befriended an artist while writing about music during the summer. I was a fan before meeting her. The story of how we met is very bizarre. As I am telling them the story, someone’s voice keeps raising from a across the room. He begins to yell. I look over and I see it’s one of the patients from Unit 2. He jumps out of his seat and it looks like he wants to fight the entire room. The techs grab him and escort him out. All of the visitors including my mom and my friends are in shock. I try to continue on with my story but nobody is listening. After that incident, I knew my mom was more worrisome about my situation. She said good-bye to me with tears in her eyes and I felt terrible again.
That evening the psychiatrist gave me a release date. I was elated, but sad at the same time. I had gotten to know these people. They had become my neighbors.
My roommate wasn’t in the room while I was packing up to leave. I wrote down my cell number and wrote, ‘If you ever need to talk.’ He had told me he was probably going to be hospitalized for at least a month. I haven’t heard from him. I hope that means he’s doing well. I sign some forms at the nurses station and I see my first roommate come out from the lobby. I haven’t seen him for a while. He sees that I’m getting ready to be discharged. He comes up to me and gives me a hug. He doesn’t say a word. Then he points to his stomach where his scar is and moves his hand up among the cut while making a sound-effect for a zipper with his voice.
I laugh. And then he walks off.