Monthly Archives: August 2013

Ugly Feelings

I still have ugly days with ugly feelings. The kinds of days I don’t want to finish. The kinds of days that I want to finish off with long, elegant tracks of blood inscribed on a choice arm, thigh, or ankle. These are the ugly days where I don’t want to get out of bed. And so I don’t. I pop a handful of lorazepam or olanzapine or whatever’s on hand and I just sleep the sunlight away.

But I don’t wake up to a fresh start. The ugly day follows me, more vividly than a bad dream. It calls me back to bed– but I know better. Another day in bed is another lap on the hamster wheel– it puts off the inevitable. Feeling. Feeling the feelings I don’t want to feel. These are the feelings I decided I could survive. These are the feelings I didn’t cut my way out of. But they are ugly.

And, carrying them around, I feel ugly. They weigh on my underweight and bony frame, another burden to bear– a burden among burdens. These feelings, these ugly feelings, they follow me around like my long dark hair. These feelings make me ugly.

With these ugly feelings in my ear, wrapped around my neck and entwined in my long fingers, no one else’s problems compare. The ugly feelings assure me that no one else’s struggles are as painful as mine, no one’s lot is as unfair.

Like unwelcome guests, it’s hard for me to get rid of these feelings once they arrive. They color my days and make them ugly. Making me ugly. I am ugly, with them around my neck. I’m flat, colorless, backwards glancing, and always on the look out for something better. Something to get rid of these ugly feelings clinging to me.

These ugly feelings, these hideous tendrils of my own creation, are my very own to destroy.

These are the feelings that color my days ugly.


Release: A Temporary Victory

“You’ll never be able to quit doing drugs. No matter how smart you think you are, the drugs will always have an IQ ten points higher.”

That’s what Dr. X told me Monday morning, the fourth day of my first hospitalization.

I was dying to get out. I had already missed classes and a deadline on a project for work. I couldn’t tell the firm the real reason I was late on the assignment– what was I supposed to say? “Sorry I missed the deadline, I was in the crazy house over the weekend.” Not an option.

I had to get out. And to get out, I had to convince Dr. X to sign off on my sanity. The hospital didn’t release people on the weekends, so my Monday morning consultation with my treating psychiatrist, Dr. X, was my first opportunity to plead my case.

I was going to have to clear a high hurdle to get myself out. I knew that Dr. X didn’t like me and that he thought I had a substance abuse problem. And I knew that it would be a tough sell to convince him otherwise.

I spent Sunday night wrestling with overwhelming anxiety and planning my speech. I knew what I had to say to get out; I just didn’t know if Dr. X would believe me. I had been playing the game: smiling at the nurses, interacting with the other patients, taking my meds without complaint, and– most of all– pretending that nothing was wrong. Nevermind the fact that the overwhelming depression that had brought me to the hospital in the first place had not subsided but had, in fact, intensified. On top of that, I had developed an anxiety that spread throughout my body with reckless abandon and grew stronger as my appointment with Dr. X drew nearer. By Sunday night sleep was nearly impossible. I had no appetite but I forced myself to choke down some breakfast on Monday morning to avoid attracting the attention of the nurses.

My speech was ready. I would tell Dr. X that I had seen the error of my ways, that I would stop using, that my depression was gone, and, above all, that I was fit for release. I was prepared to plead my case, armed with the argument that keeping me locked up would cause my studies to suffer, which would compound any emotional distress I may be dealing with. I knew that I would have to explain myself calmly, hiding the unbearable desperation lurking just below the surface of the artificial calm I would have to create to trick Dr. X into thinking that I was sane.

While I waited for my name to be called, I silently agonized and tried not to think about what would happen if Dr. X said no. If things took a turn for the worse, I was prepared to threaten to check myself out– court order be damned. I knew that there was a very real risk that Dr. X would file for a 72 hour involuntary commitment if I checked myself out without his blessing. So I waited in incredible discomfort as the minutes crawled by.

Finally he called me into the little room with no windows. I was greeted with the usual condescension and grim severity that animated Dr. X’s humorless disposition. I returned his greeting with a bright smile and a freshly washed face. He listened quietly as I performed my speech and made my appeal.

But as I finished my monologue I realized that it wasn’t enough– he wasn’t convinced. He knew I was just saying what he wanted to hear and he voiced this to me in his usual grave and condescending voice. He asked me why he should believe me. And then he told me I would never be able to quit doing drugs.

This made me mad. I was shocked– although I should have known better– that he would express such a deep lack of faith in me. He explained his concern that I would go back to using as soon as I walked out of the door and listed off the drugs he thought I was using: marijuana, DXM, xanax, ecstasy, molly, vicodin, and heroin. Heroin. Even though the rest of the list was right, I was horrified. I quickly objected with self righteous indignation and explained that I had never– NEVER– used heroin.

He quickly backtracked and said that I was using morphine, reasoning that the two were the same. I firmly protested– shooting up heroin and popping oral morphine are not the same, not by any stretch of my imagination. I renewed my appeal, whining– but without tears– that I was missing school and that I was ready to get clean. I relayed the story of my friends’ visit and explained that it had been a turning point in my decision to get sober.

By the grace of God, eventually he gave in. But he wanted reassurances that I wouldn’t go back to my old, evil ways. I quickly offered up a release of information, allowing him to talk to my therapist– who I always tried to tell the truth to– to monitor my behavior. It was a big concession. I didn’t want him to be involved in my life on any level whatsoever. But I knew I had to offer him something if I wanted to walk out of that door. And that was enough. He reluctantly agreed to let me go.

Relief is not a strong enough word to express how I felt when he said that he would approve me for discharge. There may be words to describe how I felt but– if there are– they are beyond my descriptive capacities.

I was free.

I was victorious.

And I was ready to change.

I walked out of that hospital into a bright, brisk October morning and swore that I would never go back. I was wrong– and that part comes later. But on that morning in October I thought I had reached my happy ending. I thought the story was over. And I thought I had seen the last of the hospital.

Unfortunately, I was wrong. My story was far from over.

Scared Sober

Sober. I dreaded it. I hated thinking about it. I couldn’t even clearly conceptualize it. I mean, was I supposed to stop doing everything?

Sure, I had drug problems, but, to me, the weed and drinking were no big deal. And I simply couldn’t imagine living a week with no smoking, no drinking, no pills, no cough syrup. Just thinking about it made me anxious.

But I had to do it. Or at least I had to say I would.

And that’s all I was going to do. I was going to say it. Say that I was going sober.

I had to because I was trapped in the psychiatric hospital and I knew they wouldn’t let me out unless I said it. So I said it. But, wonder of wonders, I ended up meaning it.

I was still trapped in that psych hospital hell hole and I knew that to get out of there I would have to convince Dr. X that I was going sober. And this was not going to be an easy task. He had been my doctor at the university and knew all about my drug problems. To prove myself worthy of release I would have to plead reform. I would have to tell him I was going sober.

I resigned myself to the fact that I was at least going to have to pretend to be sober, even to my friends. I would have to lie. I would keep doing drugs but, from thereon out, it would be top secret and completely hidden.

I armed myself and was ready. I wanted to keep doing drugs so badly that I prepared myself to lie to my close friends and tell them– and everyone–I was going clean. The Werewolf would be the only one who knew the whole truth; but we would hide it together, true partners in crime.

I knew I had to say it– that I was going sober. So I did. I told all my inmate buddies, my nurses, my friends on the phone, (not my family, who didn’t even know I was in there) and my visitors. But it was my visitors who made me mean it.

I was lucky to have some visitors on Sunday, after being in the hospital for two days. I had six visitors total, and they saw me in three groups of two. And they all said the same thing. That I looked like shit but sounded great. They told me that, for the first time in months, I was clearheaded. They told me I sounded like my old self.

I was in complete disbelief– I thought I had been myself the whole time. But apparently, to everyone else, I was in a constant drug-induced haze. They said I almost always sounded high (and I usually was), that I could never remember anything (also true), and that now, in the hospital and drug free for 48 hours, I was sharp, clear, and finally resembled the girl they had met two years before.

This scared me. I thought I hid my drug use well. But what scared me the most was that, in many ways, the drugs had made me lose my mind. My intelligence, my brain, my wit– they’ve always been among my best features. I pride myself on my intelligence. And the thought of losing that scared the shit out of me.

It scared me straight. Even more than the horror and boredom of the hospital. What my friends told me actually made a difference and made me change my mind about going sober. I decided to go all in. Armed with the support of my friends and the wisdom of my therapist, I went into my meeting with Dr. X ready to tell the truth.

I was going sober.

“I’ve had all that I want of a lot of things I’ve had
And a lot more than I needed of some things that turned out bad.”
–Johnny Cash

The Game– Or How to Survive in the Psych Ward

The object of the game was to get out by Monday morning. And we devised a strategy to get the hell out.

“We” was me and two girls on the ward who were around my age. I ended up making a few friends after all. Both of them were in their late twenties or early thirties and had kids. One was about eight months pregnant and constantly complained about the no smoking rule; the other looked sixteen but was in her late twenties and was married with two kids. We had all checked ourselves in on Friday, looking for a little help, and had walked blindly into a hell we were desperate to escape from.

We knew we couldn’t get out before Monday because of the check-out rules. Therefore, our unifying goal was to get cleared to leave by Monday morning. ASAP.

We began to treat our time in there like a game. We certainly weren’t receiving any therapy or treatment. (Not including medications, which they handed out like candy. Especially the sedatives, and especially if you were bad). So to us it was all a big game– if you played your hand right, you got out. But if you broke one of the rules, you’d be stuck there for longer.

To win the game, you had to follow the strategy. You had to put on a happy face, pretend to be social, and, above all, you could not mention that you were still horribly depressed and hated everything about being stuck in inpatient hell.*

*The strategy, by nature, is incredibly perverse and that alone is enough to make me sick. I checked in because I wanted help– but going in only made things worse. The experience did end up scaring me straight (for a few months) but that part comes later.

Pasting on a smile at group was the easy part.

The hard part was pretending to be social. The nurses made notes about everything you did, including when you went to sleep and for how long. Staying in bed and missing group or a meal was a strike against you. Sleeping all day was another strike. Even spending the day in your room was a strike.

This meant that, even though I wanted to sleep the weekend away, I had to hang around the common area and pretend not to be miserable. I had plenty of studying to keep me busy so I forced myself to try to catch up on Energy Law in one of the almost-comfortable arm chairs in the common area– even though I’d rather be studying in my shared room, away from distractions. But the absence of distraction afforded by my semi-private room was not worth the strike on my chart, so I posted up in the common area and tried to learn Energy Law.

Above all, crying was not allowed.

Crying got you a big black strike. As soon as the nurses noticed tears they would be marked down in your chart. An ugly black inky reason to keep you there for another day. Crying was a sign of instability, weakness, a symptom of your disorder, the catalyst that brought you in there in the first place. Crying was not okay.

Unfortunately, all I wanted to do was cry. I was trapped in a place I never thought I would be. I was completely isolated from all technology, friends, and any semblance of the real word. I was desperately lonely, I missed my dog, I missed my friends, hell, I even missed school. Every part of me wanted to lie face first into my pillow and sob myself to sleep until it was all over.

This was not an option. Crying was not part of the strategy. And I had to get out by Monday; I would consider no other possibilities. So I learned to cry discretely, and appropriately. It was appropriate to tear up, sniffle, or cry occasionally– no loud sobbing!– during group.

So I learned to hide my tears. I discovered that if I walked casually into my room without a nurse following me, I could sneak in a few minutes of desperate crying before washing up in the bathroom and heading back to the common room, ready to get back into the game.

After all, the object of the game was to get out. And I was getting out.


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