I recall one November night, many years ago, (but not long after my unsuccessful suicide attempt) I was admitted into the hospital. I can’t remember why now, but I was laying there in that uncomfortable hospital bed in the emergency room, in that revealing gown, awaiting results from blood tests. The reason for my being there eludes me. Was it another suicide attempt? Was it asthma? Did my stomach give me issue again? Whatever the reason, I was there nonetheless, and I was angry… And sad.
My doctor came in and said my vitals all looked normal, but there was one thing.
“Congratulations. You are pregnant!”
I wasn’t surprised. This only confirmed my suspicion at the time, and I wanted to crawl into the deepest hole and the thoughts on how to not be pregnant anymore came crashing into my mind like a Mack truck at 100-miles-per-hour directly into a wall.
“Thank you, but I’m not going to keep it.”
His next comment tore me up inside as he looked at me with the most judgmental look a doctor could ever give you and smugly said, “Well, then you should have been more careful instead.”
Shortly after he walked out of my little corner of the ER, I cried. I sobbed into that hospital bed, curled up in the fetal position that makes me feel safe, and hid underneath those thin sheets they gave you to cover yourself with. A nurse comes in and I tell her I feel sick. I rattle off nonsensical chatter and screams in between my sobbing, and I ask her to put me in the psych ward, which she quickly obliged to.
Yes, you read that correctly. I voluntarily admitted myself to the psych ward. I needed help. I wanted to go home and kill myself, the unborn baby, and leave behind all the misery that had become my life. Let my children and their father live happily ever after without me holding them back from real happiness. So, I chose to save myself, come up with a plan, and talk to someone – anyone – who would listen to my struggle, my pain.
I was wheeled down the long corridors, the sterile smell breezing past me, to the other side of the hospital. The psych ward was only one floor with, maybe, ten rooms and two patients to each, with the exception of two especially sick people who were not to be bothered. Whatever I went into the hospital with for the ER visit was all that I had to my name when I got there, and half of it was taken away. I was on suicide watch, which means they took my hair tie, my belt, any rope or string that I had in my sneakers or my pullover hoodie as a precaution. I barely got a hair brush because even the bristles could have been a way to self-harm. I was a lace-less, tangled hair mess of a woman; broken and now I was sloppy, too. Add insult to injury – the mirror? Well, that wasn’t even useful because it was that weird mirror that looked like tin foil sitting behind a piece of plastic trying to show you a distorted reflection of yourself, so if you didn’t have self-esteem issues before, you sure had them now. It really adds to the mystique of being fully exposed in all your emotional glory, and now your outward appearance matched the ugliness you felt on the inside.
I spent a cold, fall weekend in November in the department where they analyze why you have such feelings – emotions – where you aren’t a normal functioning human being, but more or less a shell of a person that used to be a contributing part to society. They poke and prod at you, prescribe medications to keep you calm and almost in a trance, while asking you how you feel, what you’re thinking. It is the first time I can truly say I felt absolutely naked, and willing to be that way, from my souls’ perspective.
I felt like I didn’t belong there, because there were people who were really sick: bipolar, homicidal tendencies, suicidal, and schizophrenics. Maybe I was a fraud, just looking for a way out, some sort of sick vacation just to have an excuse to say I really was sick… I shared a room with a young girl who I believe was clinically depressed or suicidal; again, my memory does not serve me well.
She was a tall, thin brunette. Older and she wore the long white overcoat that doctors wear. Underneath, she wore a black pinstripe, pencil skirt and a white button-down blouse that showed her figure off. She was a stunning woman, to say the least. Her inviting presence and beauty made it easy to talk to her. She was soft-spoken and polite and nodded her head ever-so gently as to indicate she was listening to me prattle on about my problems. And she listened. Intently. Focused on my face with soft eyes as she jotted down those notes that would help her diagnose me. The therapist was my only friend in years and the anguish and the pain poured out of me, the Hoover Dam I had built within my mind, shattering under the immense pressure of 8 years of a bad relationship with a man I couldn’t see myself living without (but wanted to escape from) and about 20 years of repressed anger from God knows what.
All I could do was complain. I hated my life. I hated my boyfriend. I
hated the children… Well, I didn’t hate them, but I admitted to being resentful for them and this baby I was carrying. When I tried to commit suicide earlier on, I knew I was pregnant and that was why I tried killing myself. I couldn’t stand the idea of bringing in one more child into this loveless home, this farce of a family. I was unhappy. Incredibly unhappy. She helped me come up with a plan for escape. A safety plan, where I could escape this wretched man and live happily again without him (which doesn’t happen without trial and error and lawyers after about 4 more years).
I sat in there one more night, no television, playing Apples to Apples with these people who are like any other, you or I, but with serious issues that some of them will never recover from. These people became something important to my recovery because it showed me that whatever I was suffering from, the depression, the suicide attempts, the inability to get past my emotional bullshit was not only real, but it could always be worse. Things can always be worse. I remember laughing with with some of the residents who had been there for months before me, rejoicing in our insanity together. A few mentally unstable people sharing in the experience of being locked up together, playing board games, making jokes and talking about sad experiences that we can only agree with, laugh at or genuinely feel sad about. I was humbled.
That Monday, I was released from the psych ward on my own recognizance. I felt lighter, not the kind after you’ve left the spa, but the kind when you know things just have to get better, that they have to be different after such an experience. You feel like you can breathe. Air had never tasted so good. I was never happier to have shoes with laces on, something you never think about until it is taken away from you. Toothpaste and a hairbrush was a prized possession. Little things that you don’t see as threatening become hostile objects that can be used to harm yourself or others, but you would never have known if you had never been inside a psych ward.
My experience with the psychiatric center that crisp, November weekend, just as the final leaves were falling from the large oak trees on College Avenue, gave me a new vantage point on my life. I knew that perhaps I didn’t really need to go in there to come up with a plan I had wanted to go through with for months before attempting suicide, but I needed to. I needed to know I wasn’t truly wrong for feeling the way I did: validation. I needed to know I would be okay, without being judged. And while I was terrified of the people I would meet inside such an unsavory place, I met some of the most fascinating people that have made such an impact on my life. You watch with these innocent and wide eyes at these people who are far worse than you are and it gives you a new sense of being. Your life isn’t that bad. Your mind isn’t locked up somewhere inside you and you don’t remember your name. You don’t go from Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde at the blink of an eye. You don’t scream all day and all night because you think your skin is on fire when you’re sitting perfectly still in a room all alone. Watching this, knowing that you are not as bad as you thought, completely changes you and you learn to be stronger, smarter.
You want to live happier because you don’t want to live in a small room, hair knotted and greasy, shoes loose on your feet because you have no laces and pants that have no zippers or strings to hold them up on your hips.
You choose to make a change, because you can help it. So, I did.
I left that place that day a brand new person and I looked out the window at the orange, red and purple sky as the dusk set in and night quickly fell. I closed my eyes, felt the wind upon my face, and embraced the freedom of being healthier than those locked up within themselves, lost and incredibly alone. Yet, the edges of my mouth turned upward, almost deviously, into a coy Cheshire-cat like grin, as I plotted my escape that would soon follow this experience.