This time the bed was comfortable. Those three inches of air– contoured directly to the weight of my body– stood between me and the deplorable, painful, and despicable excuse for a mattress that lay atop my bed in the psych ward. I didn’t mind the plastic awkwardness of my savior– a beige institutional blow-up mattress pad, ugly as sin but beautiful to me in its unexpected comfort. It wasn’t much to look at, just an ugly blow-up mattress pad, but it stood between me and my foes: the parody of a mattress beneath it, the sleepless nights induced by the painful pad, and the pain– the constant dull ache in my back begot by a college injury and exacerbated by lying on the naked mattress. The pain didn’t stop at my back, it radiated down through my hips, passing through my knees, and ending at my ankles. Finally, the magnified pain of my problematic back at the hands of the evil, unedited mattress was over. The glorious mattress pad, begot by sympathy from an intake worker in the psych unit, was my savior.
Although confined to the mind-numbing boredom of the inpatient psychiatric treatment center– the crazy house– I had finally found a silver lining: sleep. Pain-free sleep. And for me, the power of sleep cannot be overstated. Sleep is my refuge, my break from the real world, an escape I indulge in at the expense of productivity and the mundanity of being awake.
But sleep can be dangerous to an inpatient experience, especially when the goal is escape. The desire to sleep the days away and to avoid the mind numbing boredom of daily life on the psych ward dangerously conflicts with the dream of release.
The eyes of the nurses are ever-watching, their hands are ever-moving, taking down the notes of your life. They monitor how much you sleep. When you sleep. What activities you avoid. How much you eat. Whether you eat. They take a note whenever you start to cry. When you come to group. What you say. When you miss group. And why. They know where you are at all times, pens and pencils constantly at work, logging your life in inpatient care.
That’s why sleep is dangerous– it makes you look bad in the eyes of the doctor. A patient who sleeps all day is a depressed patient, they’ll say. A patient who is not improving. A patient unfit for release.
Therein lies the battle. To sleep or not to sleep?
It was not my first rodeo– I had learned how to play the game in these psych wards. So I chose to sleep appropriately. A short nap after breakfast was acceptable– I seized these moments. Turning in early didn’t raise any eyebrows– an 8:00 pm bedtime was fine by me!
I slept judiciously, savoring the sweet time with my beloved mattress pad. I got up for breakfast, went to group, interacted with the other patients, went to snack and meals, talked with the social workers, hung out in the common room, and refused the temptation to engage in any crying breakdowns.
I was playing the game; I was going to be released. And my friend, my comfort, my savior– the ugly, plasticky, beige blow-up mattress pad– was going to get me there.