This page details the long and, sometimes, twisted series of events that led me to my diagnosis and from there to the start of my blog. It’s been a long and quite winding road but I’m on my way to recovery. This page is dedicated to the story of how I got here.
He walked into the bar, in a striped long sleeve shirt in spite of the June humidity. Summer in Louisiana is brutal. Temps in the upper 80’s and humidity at nearly 80% on a good day.
I met him briefly earlier that day, my friend* and I lounging in pool chairs and drinking cream soda and rum. But when he walked into the bar he caught my eye in a different way. I was visiting my friend and she’d told me about him before. I knew he was from Michigan, had a tendency to get rowdy, and used to have a coke habit. I also knew that she had been interested in him.
*(although she doesn’t get the credit she deserves in the following paragraphs, it’s important note that she is my most loyal friend, who has put up with me when no one else would, who has listened to me cry about the same thing 6 nights in a row, who has stood steady with me through out the years. She is the truest friend I have, with a heart of gold, when she lets you see it; a mind as sharp as a razor; and a capacity for compassion that she never will give herself credit for. So, she is awesome.)
But that didn’t stop me from talking to him while my friend was distracted, playing pool. I know, I’m a bad person. I do enough self loathing on my own, so no need to rub it in. Although he was in Louisiana as a chemical engineering co-op, he told me he had applied to dental school and was waiting to hear back.
The bar had one bathroom inside and a line longer than we could wait for. My friend and I didn’t and couldn’t wait. The bar had a courtyard where the band was playing. Along the back of the yard there were a handful of Port-a-Potties.
It was a risky decision.
They had been sitting in the sun all day and the humidity didn’t help the smell. These port-a-potties weren’t the kind that were well maintained. The kind with toilet paper on the floor, although you’d be lucky to find any in the dispenser; no hand soap; and with a smell that can’t scarcely by described let alone recreated.
We decided to be brave and picked the only open one. We both climbed in, sharing it, as drunk girl are wont to do, holding our breath and our noses.
“Do you still like him?” I anxiously whispered.
“Well…. he’s a friend … and nothing’s really happened…” my friend said, haltingly.
“I like him.”
“So is it ok if I go for it?”
Silence. A long pause
“Well let’s just see who goes home with him tonight,” my friend reluctantly suggested.
The challenge was on. It wasn’t really a fair fight. My friend was distracted and beholden to other co-op friends so I was able to him alone– I had no obligation to entertain the rest of group. In the end, it wasn’t really a challenge. We had instant chemistry. I asked him about my friend.
“She’s just friend.”
I sealed my victory when slipped out of the bar, en route to one of those classic, new found crush, drunken make-outs.
I left for Chile a week later.
I was gone for 6 weeks but we Skyped almost every night. We planned a visit for when I got back in the States. He found out he got into the dental school of his dreams.
A college English major, I had already decided to go to law school. My plan was to take a year off, earn a little money, then go to a southern school, hopefully for free. He changed my plans. He convinced me to apply to the same school, which happened to have a top ten law school, and forgo my year off.
They say hindsight is 20-20 but, damn, I wish I knew how this was gonna shake out before I left for Chile. But I didn’t have the benefit of hindsight and I walked straight into what would become the worst years of my life, squinting and near-sighted.
I was always too near-sighted to see the ugly bits under the far-sighted but beautiful imaginary future he designed for us.
We did have some good times, the summer of 2010 may be the best of my life so far. We didn’t fight, we were together everyday, we were happy.
If I knew that the first boy who told me “I love you” would break my heart so badly, I would have been more careful. But I didn’t know and I waltzed blindly with his dreams for us swirling in my mind. My eyes were closed and I was dancing. So I never saw the cliff until I had waltzed my way off; at the last minute he must have opened his eyes, seeing me with mine closed, ignorant of the fall I was about to take. He watched with eyes open as he let go of my hand, letting me fall into what would become a deep depression while he stood on the edge and watched, safe, and unharmed.
When he broke up with me I cried for days. I didn’t see it coming. I still don’t know why he did it, my best guess is he got cold feet. Hindsight tells me I should have seen his selfishness; his love for himself trumped all. He was scared and so he pulled the rug out from me, lead me to edge of the cliff, and watched me fall.
I had to up my anti- depressants, which I started my senior year of college, because I couldn’t handle myself after the break up. It helped. But it wasn’t until I got angry at him that I began to truly heal.
It doesn’t matter what the last straw was. But it broke the camel’s back and finally, finally I got mad at him. I got angry, so angry I needed an outlet to burn off the heat of righteous indignation and rage that finally had been unleashed and that radiated out from me. It fueled me and I started running, in a few months I would make it through my first marathon. I would never have crossed that finish line, or have made that race, if I hadn’t finally gotten mad at him.
Running started to heal me. I ran out my rage, which scarcely could be repressed as I lived each day that summer in the same town as him, I was there because of him and I was angry. The town I ran laps around fueled me, a reminder of what he had done to me, as my anger raged.
Fire truly is cleansing. My anger and my running got me through that summer, helped me cross the marathon finish line, and started to heal me.
At this point, I wouldn’t have wanted a hint of hindsight. If I knew what the fall would bring me, I never would have made it. I wouldn’t have wanted to. My nearsightedness is what got me through those months, but that’s a story for another time.
The fire in my soul healed my broken heart and I was finally able to stop crying, stop thinking of him, and walk, not looking back, out of that awful summer of 2011 and into my second semester of law school, unaware of what the next year would bring me.
Hindsight. Sometimes it’s good we don’t have it. Would we ever dare to brave the hard times, even if it meant losing the gold at the end of the rainbow? Maybe I would have liked a glimpse of it when that boy walked in the bar that steamy night in June. But I didn’t have it. So I waltzed, nearsighted and ready, into his life. And he into mine.
Once I started to get over the Ex, my summer depression started to lift. As it got closer and closer to the start of school, my mood lifted correspondingly. I stopped going to bed at 7:00 at night (although whether that counts as “night” is debatable, especially because it didn’t really get dark until 9 at night anyway). My marathon training started to pick up and I started to get faster and stronger. The once daunting and stomach-sick, nerves inducing 10 mile runs became challenges I was increasingly eager to take on. I stopped spending so much time in bed, looking out my window on the second story of the house, wondering what would happen if I just let myself fall out.
And then it was time to go back to school. I’ve always liked going back to school, and being in school in general. I’m an extrovert and I thrive around people. At least I used do. But by the time school started again I was feeling pretty good. But I hadn’t forgotten about my despairing depression that occupied the majority of my summer. I was already on the maximum dose of my antidepressant and I wanted to see if adding in something like Abilify would keep the darkness at bay, and maybe something like Xanax for my anxiety, if I was lucky.
I trotted into Student Health and saw the doctor who had been renewing my antidepressant script and asked about adding on something new. Apparently, as a general practitioner, she wasn’t supposed to mess with meds that much and so she sent me upstairs to the Counseling Center.
The Counseling Center*. I had avoided counseling and therapy up to this point and I had absolutely no desire to start now. Apparently at my school, in order to see the psychiatrist, and thus get meds renewed or tinkered with, you had to be seeing one of the counselors in the Center.
(This is the same Counseling Center from “A Warning.” At this point in my story I had no idea how bad my experiences with the Counseling Center would become, but that part comes much later.)
I went through the intake process, which consisted of a very long and comprehensive computer test designed to identify problem areas so that you could be paired with an appropriate therapist. I stupidly answered the drinking questions honestly but lied about my drug use, then limited to occasionally smoking weed, not trusting the confidentiality agreement to keep me out of trouble.
At this point, I was still drinking. A lot. I was that girl who always got too drunk. I couldn’t go out and just have a few, I got drunk-ass wasted. Luckily, I usually wasn’t a crier. Unfortunately, I had a tendency to get pretty aggressive and confrontational. I rarely black out completely so I usually remembered my stupid escapades, although sometimes the details of who I had offended the night before escaped me. I was also a make-out whore. Not a real whore, I was very good at keeping my legs closed, which made me a very effective tease. I was careful to avoid going home with any of my make-out targets, which certainly kept me out of a lot more trouble. By the end of my first year of law school I had made a name for myself as a party girl.
Answering the drinking questions honestly was not such a great idea in the end because it freaked the counselors out. After filling out the computer portion of the intake, I met with a counselor for an initial, sort-of-diagnostic session. After the session, where the counselor would get a feel for my issues and corresponding mental health needs, I was told that the counselors and psychiatrist met and assigned people to counselors. They tried to pair you up with someone who had experience with your unique brand of issues.
I ended up getting paired up with the counselor who did my intake meeting. I actually liked him and it was a good match. Although I still wasn’t thrilled about being stuck in counseling, he did a good job with me and made the whole charade a lot less painful. We got along well and he was from the same area in the South that I am. He was pretty troubled by my alcohol use and wanted me to do an alcohol assessment with one of the drug and alcohol counselors. I didn’t think I had a real problem, and the assessment sounded miserable, so I refused to schedule one.
As school started to get underway, my mood started to lift exponentially. I was out of the snares of my depression and was happy to be alive, trucking onward at an increasingly feverish pace. I attributed my good moods and occasional hyperactivity to the marathon training. I was running tons of miles a week and I was sure that an intense and lasting runner’s high was responsible for my mood.
Not that I minded. I felt like my old self again and it was great to be in a good mood almost all of the time. I kept drinking and getting wasted drunk on the weekends. As the semester progressed I started getting more promiscuous. Which, in retrospect, should have been a red flag. My spending also started to get out of control. I’ve never been great with money but online shopping started to become a real problem. I already owed my little brother two grand and I was putting everything on credit cards that I couldn’t afford to pay off.
I started getting really hyper. I had too much energy for school. I couldn’t sit still, some part of my body had to be moving. I’d always been on the hyper side but this was much worse than usual. At lunch I was talking too fast for my friends to follow and I felt like I needed to run laps around the law school just to dispense with some of my energy, even though I was still in the middle of marathon training. My long runs were steadily approaching the 20 mile mark but the running seemed to do little for my boundless energy. One night I was so hyped up that one of my friends thought I was on amphetamines. And at that point I was more than a few drinks in and had smoked at least a bowl. Two depressants in my system and I was carrying on like the energizer bunny.
It didn’t take that long for my therapist to put two and two together. I went to therapy every two weeks and one Tuesday in October I arrived at my appointment and he pulled out one of those bipolar test/questionnaires. The kind where they list symptoms and you check off the ones you have. If you check off a certain number, like 5 out of 9, then you’re “bipolar.” Well, I checked off a bunch of them. Sleeplessness was one of the only hypomania symptoms I wasn’t having. I’ve always been a big sleeper and I’m thankful for that– I think that’s kept me from getting flow-blown, psychotic mania.
He told me I was probably bipolar. The psychiatrist agreed. They put me on Lamictal and told me to stop drinking. They took my Celexa down to a really low dose– they both agreed that the high dose I was on probably triggered the bout of mania.
And that was it. For awhile anyway. I didn’t tell my parents or my brothers. I told my close friends but the diagnosis didn’t change much about my life.
But I didn’t really believe I was bipolar. I thought it was probably a mistake or coincidence that my symptoms matched up. I’d known people who were bipolar and I didn’t seem like them at all. Sure, I was self destructive, spent all my money, had a heightened sex drive, racing thoughts, started wild projects I’d never finish, and was dangerously impulsive. But that was just the way I was. Surely they had confused my personality for the disorder. I had no problem with my depression diagnosis. I knew I was sad, didn’t have any reason to be, and had no problem taking a pill everyday to rectify my faulty brain chemistry. But to me, being bipolar didn’t seem like a simple brain chemistry thing, the way I had characterized my depression. It felt bigger, serious, and, most importantly, not like me.
I’ve finally started to accept my diagnosis but it would be something that I would wrangle with and resist. That day in my counselor’s office I was in denial. But once the fight began it would rage and burn and nearly pull me down with it.
The Descent and the Werewolf
My true descent into madness began in November of my second year of law school. Of course it involved a boy, with me it always does.
I met this one at a bar. I think I’d seen him at school one time before. He’s 6’4″ and over 200 lbs, built substantially, none of that skinny shit. I think I’d glanced him for a brief second when classes were changing. As a tall girl, tall guys always catch my eye.
We met at the bar. I saw him from across the bar, tall and easy to spot over all the little heads. At this point, I was quite the social butterfly. Still hypomanic, better because of the Lamictal but still pretty far from even keeled. I had perfected my brand of picking guys up at a bar, usually to pass off to a friend. None of my friends really like being the first to approach a guy but I have no problem with it. At the time, I was thriving in groups. I would spot a group of guys, start talking to them, and then bring them back to my friends for them to pair off with.
I wasn’t getting him for my friends. I don’t remember if he was with a big group but when I walked up to him, it was to talk to just him. I had no interest in his friends, I wasn’t trying to wrangle them back to my group. I was getting this one for myself.
He wasn’t the easiest conquest. He’s quite good looking and is aware of it in a matter of fact way. Not obnoxiously arrogant about it but quietly aware. There’s something sinister about him when he smiles, especially when he’s growing out his facial hair. The more-than-a-five-o’clock-shadow look suits him. I have no idea what I said to him when I first went up to him. I don’t really remember what we talked about. I do remember him telling me that his major in college, he went to Berkley, was something like Sex and Women. I guess that should have been a warning sign. I didn’t get the impression that he was a great guy, but he was cute and interesting. A year behind me in school–but three years older– and from California, he was exotic enough for my purposes.
I didn’t mean to sleep with him. I don’t know why I decided to bring him home but I did. He told me at the bar he didn’t smoke weed but when we got back to my place it was apparent that he had more than a little experience with it. I’ve never been good at telling when he’s joking or lying. I don’t know why. I just can’t read him. He’s somewhat of an interesting subject to me– I don’t really understand him but he makes for fascinating study. And I think he felt the same way about me. We were interested in each other but from a distant, objective vantage point.
But we had chemistry and it was easy to forgive myself for bringing someone home after I’d resolved not to. We exchanged numbers but none of the standard pleasantries the next morning. We both thought the other was weird and had no qualms about making that clear.
I knew after that night that he was bad news. That first night that he stayed over, after I’d picked him up at the bar, I had a dream about him. There was some story line involving the Ex and my new partner in crime but I couldn’t remember the details. But I did remember that in my dream he turned into my a werewolf. For some reason this stuck with me. Occasionally I’ll have an extraordinarily vivid dream and it will stick with me throughout the day, unsettling and sometimes unpleasant. I couldn’t remember the details of this dream but I remembered the part about the werewolf. I place a high predictive value on my dreams. Sometimes, in a way, they’ve come true. The night before the Ex broke up with me, I dreamt it. I woke up the next morning, relieved it was just a dream. Later that day he broke up with me over email. I’m sure there are great reasons for this occasional premonition; I probably sensed it before on some level and that weaseled its way into my dream, warning me.
I knew the werewolf meant something bad. I was right but I didn’t listen. I still don’t listen when it comes to him– the Werewolf– never mine but always with me. I’ve gotten better about saying no to the bad ideas but not about seeing him.
If I’d known what would happen because I got involved with him, I’m sure I would have done it anyway. He was bad news for me, and still is. There will always be something devilish about him and it will probably always be hard for me to resist him, even though I know how bad things have gotten when I’m involved with him. If I hadn’t met him I probably wouldn’t be writing this now. He was part of all the trouble that got me into this. But given a second chance I’d do it again because there’s something about him that bewitched me, starting that night in the bar. I met him when he was human but eventually we both descended into the madness together, transforming from man to wolf.
Howling at the moon.
No Love but Lots of Other Drugs
My time with the Werewolf was never really about romance. This needs to be emphasized, it was never about romance and I never wanted it to be. It’s always been what I like to think of as a mutual fascination coupled with great sex and a common lust for drugs. We’ve never said “I love you” and I never want to. I’ve outlasted his numerous girlfriends, sometimes more than one at a time, with me on the side. We’ve always managed to weasel our ways back into each other lives. We’re both bad for each other. We’re enablers. And we love to do drugs. Not a good combo if you’re trying to stay sober– or even sane.
In the middle of my hypomania I started to experiment more heavily with drugs. I’d only ever smoked weed before I met the Werewolf. I’d taken some Xanax and smoked up with him a couple of times but that was about as scandalous as I’d been. One day we were making plans to smoke, and he told me he was trying to get morphine. Morphine. I was initially apprehensive but then I thought about it for a few short minutes and jumped on board. Impulsive and flippant about consequences, it sounded like an adventure. At the time, I didn’t realize how serious morphine was. To me, it just sounded like a good idea.
The Werewolf has the best house for doing drugs. In the spring of my second year of law school, the Werewolf bought a house in town. The house was a perfect drug den, neighbors were too far away to smell the smoke or complain about the music. We had the freedom, glorious freedom, to smoke in the living room, not cramped in the bathroom like we had to be at my apartment.
The house is not in a particularly good part of town. So the Werewolf adopted a big dog. Half pit and half sharpei, the dog is quite handsome but muscular and intimidating. There’s no mistaking the pit in him, even through the squished sharpei face and sharp yellow-green eyes. He’s a handsome lad and not many people would want to mess with him–not with that jaw. It locks down with massive force at whatever unfortunate item or creature that’s caught in it. Having the dog helped make up for the neighborhood. And the Werewolf is a pretty big guy, so not many people would come at him anyway.
He made me go with him to get the morphine. We were getting it from some townies, the chain of acquaintances beginning with his eccentric, gay, 30-40-something year old neighbor. I have no clue where this guy’s income comes from. He said he doesn’t work and that he plays video games all day. His house is clean and decorated in an unassuming 70’s retro-style. He’s stick skinny and has a thing for the Werewolf, who has made it clear that he is straight. Which may be part of the reason he keeps me around, to serve as a continuous reminder to this clan of gay, morphine-dealing and aging, townies.
We got to the house where the guy with the goods lived. “Guy” is the wrong word. These were men, older men, approaching 50-60. We awkwardly walked into this house of strangers, two dudes living together, both gay but not together. We walked in and, looking around. It was just like walking into a great-aunt’s house. Or a doll’s house. The place was clean but positively overflowing with knickknacks and doilies.
We walked into the bedroom of the guy who was selling us the morphine. It took awhile to really take the whole scene in. The guy was obviously pretty sick. Like ill. Sounded like he at least had some kind of emphysema going on. His walls were adorned with Boy Scout honors, special knives, and the American flag. He was a vet and there were various markers of this through out the room. He had a computer station that had at least 3 monitors. There was no place to sit in the closet of a room, so we awkwardly sat on his single bed, the Werewolf’s gay neighbor making syrupy and unnatural small talk and working his way towards the deal. We ended up paying two dollars a pill, dirt cheap– especially for the dosage we were getting– and popped them before heading back to the Werewolf’s house.
Morphine is my drug of choice. If I could spend my life feeling like I did that first night we took the pills, I would. We’d been smoking weed throughout the evening so there was no risk of that pesky nausea that so often accompanies opiates.
As the morphine hit me, I lay in the Werewolf’s bed, an incredible feeling of warmth washing over me and coming to rest deep in my stomach, where it radiated throughout my entire body. There was trippy music playing in the background and I was blissed out. Lying there, I heard voices for the first time. We’d been talking about me getting off my meds and getting back to my more creative– and more dangerous– self. The gentle voices were in my head but they seemed somehow external. Almost as if they were coming from the wall I was staring at in the dark of the Werewolf’s bedroom.
“Come with us,” they called in soft voices.
“You don’t need the meds anymore. Just get off them.”
I shook the voices out of my head and went back to dreamily enjoying the sensations and pictures passing through my mind in body.
The voices came back.
“Come with us,” they crooned, voices soft again.
“It’s better over here.”
“Come to the otherside.”
“It’s better here.”
I knew they were talking about killing myself. But the voices didn’t disturb me. I considered their offer seriously. Obviously, I ultimately decided that living was preferable to dying right then. The funny thing is that, at the time, the voices didn’t disturb me. They were a natural part of the warm morphine landscape. My pain was gone, I felt amazing– relaxed and with a pleasant itching warmth coursing through my veins. The voices were just part of the experience.
I told the Werewolf about the voices and he laughed at me, standard operating procedure, and told me that I was the weirdest person he knew. This was not news to me. I heard this from him on a regular basis but I didn’t really believe it. He did his undergrad at Bezerk-ly; there was no way I weirder than some of the crazy hippy chicks he surely met during his time there. We spent the rest of night, high as kites, talking about the world and ourselves and the universe. I eventually fell asleep for a few hours but he stayed awake all night, itching. I tried to ignore the nagging itches and fell asleep for a few hours while he watched me, itching and envious. Soon enough I’d learn to indulge and enjoy the itching. But that night the itch didn’t seem enviable so I ignored it and avoided scratching, knowing it wouldn’t take many scratches until the full blown body itch would burst out.
Morphine was only the beginning. It remains my favorite as I’ve made my way through the gambit of drugs with my friend and sex partner– but never lover– the Werewolf. Morphine is still my favorite. It’s one of the few drugs that, if offered to me right now, I’m not sure I’d be able to resist. Of course the drugs were bad for my brain chemistry and bipolar brain, but I tabled that discussion for another time. Now was the time to experiment and I went all in.
Morphine was quickly followed by ecstasy and we, in our infinite wisdom, decided that combining the two and adding in a full fledged bender– was a good choice to make. In fact, we perfected the bender.
- G and the Werewolf’s Guide to the
*this Guide was written by two, high tolerance, crazy-ass users. DO NOT ATTEMPT. Seriously, don’t, it’s dangerous.
** If you’re going to attempt the perfect bender, do it with someone you get along with and like to have sex with.
1. Assemble all the necessary drugs in generous amounts (Morphine, ecstasy, Xanax, weed)
2. Buy Alcohol, preferably Champagne. (It’s easy to drink at any time of the day and easy on the stomach)
3. Smoke weed
4. Pop a morphine
5. Pop the champagne
6. Let the party begin
7. Take ecstasy
8. Smoke weed
9. Listen to music and chill
10. Take ecstasy again.
11. Go lay in bed with sweet music and get touchy. For hours.
12. Smoke more weed.
13. Chill and enjoy begin high until the sunrises.
Then, on Saturday at sunrise
1. Try to sleep.
2. Take Xanax
4. Sleep/try to sleep for 2 more hours.
5. Get up. Order food.
6. Have champagne
8. Smoke weed
9. Watch TV/lay in bed and chill for two hours
1. Smoke weed
2. Rent a movie
3. Pop half a morphine
4. Watch movie
5. Leave the house to run errands, preferably on foot.
6. Smoke weed
7. Take morphine
8. Lie in bed enjoy begin high. Preferably with sweet tunes. For three hours minimum.
9. Get up and do things. Like clean up the big mess made by last night.
11. Smoke weed
12. Get food
13. Take morphine
14. Retire to bedroom for the night.
15.Turn on sweet tunes.
16. Itch. all night.
1. Take a Xanax and some Advil, maybe Tums
2. Get few hours of sleep.
3. Wake up.
4. Order Food
5. Smoke weed
6. Eat Food
7. Watch TV
8. Smoke Weed
9. Lay in Bed
10. Smoke weed
Around 7 on Sunday
2. Party over.
3. Sleep for days.
During the spring of my second year of law school, the benders were close to bi-monthly. It didn’t take me long to run my way through molly, coke, benzos, muscle relaxers, uppers, opiates, and DXM. There is only thing that I’ve ever been offered and refused: methadone. I made a “Do not EVER Do” List. Which consisted of: Heroin, PCP, Meth. Not all the drugs stuck with me. I don’t like uppers and coke doesn’t really do much for me.
I came away from experimentation with some favorites. Morphine. Also, smoking weed, opiates, ecstasy and molly, and a benzo for my anxiety.
Those were my favorites. And because I was having so much fun I didn’t think what I was doing was a problem.
Well, it turned into a big problem. I thought I was in control of myself, sure I was isolating myself from friends and trying to hide my escapes from my roommate, but that didn’t mean I had a problem. I managed to make good grades that spring, in spite of my heavy drug use. It would be months before I encountered anything like a “consequence” because of my drug use. So I didn’t think I had a problem. I wasn’t like those people that had problems. I didn’t have a problem. There was no problem with my drug use.
I was wrong. Very wrong. Hindsight is 20-20 but I think that even if I had the benefit of hindsight, I still would make the same choice. The pull of the drugs was just so intoxicating.
Falling in the Fall
The Werewolf and I slowly started to wear each other out with drugs. But that part comes later. After a semester full of freedom and binges I came home for summer for the first time in years. I did not adjust well.
In some repressed part of my personality lies a control freak. This monster had a full revival when I came home after my second year of law. It had been years since I’d lived at home. Suddenly, I was sharing a bathroom again. I didn’t have control over the thermostat. My mom was washing my clothes because she didn’t have time to interrupt the constant cycling of laundry to let me sneak my clothes in on my own. Well, the control freak burst from me violently within days of my return to my roots. I was unhappy and uncomfortable living at home, I was surrounded by people who knew the girl who left home six years ago, not the girl standing in front of them six years later. I had forgotten what it’s like to live somewhere where you actually did have to look nice to go to Walmart because you’ll certainly see at least two people you know each time you go. I had forgotten what it’s like living in a small town on the Mississippi Gulf Coast.
My brain rebelled. I panicked. I gave myself a day to panic and to frantically try to re-plan my career, to get out of the South even though it was where I thought I wanted to be. Going through the exercise soothed my anxiety. It gave me a few days to assure myself that I was doing something to control my future, that I was in control. I.was.in.control. After a few days passed I began to adjust, I started to relax, and I started to remember why I wanted come back to the South.
I only had to do six weeks at my parent’s house before I moved to the New Orleans area for my second summer job. My life was instantly better. I had freedom and control over my domain. I had a cool roommate, who owned the house and kept it immaculate. I got along well with his girlfriend, a family friend. My panic abated.
Weeks earlier I had gone to visit my friend in Baton Rouge. I couldn’t get any drugs, not even weed, and I freaked. I got too drunk, then I became psychotically frustrated at our inability to procure drugs. I didn’t want to be drinking, I wanted to be high. In my drunkenness I let myself get upset by something menial and the uncontrollable crying began. I called the stupid crisis center aat my school because I desperately wanted to talk to my counselor. He wasn’t on duty. I was clearly in distress, unable to stop crying long enough to be understood, but the crisis line was not able to provide any help. I gave myself a few scratches and eventually passed out.
But that changed once I moved to New Orleans. I had access to some drugs and I was busy at work. I started training for the Chicago marathon, with an aggressive new goal looming. This was the beginning of the downward spiral that would end with my first hospitalization. Confident my old knee injuries were healed, and forgetting about my substantial back injury, I changed shoes and my stride as I began to train for the marathon. As time went on my back got worse and worse. It got so bad that I had to see the chiropractor 3 times a week. Eventually, and inevitably, I burst into tears during one of those meetings because I frustrated didn’t understand why my back wasn’t getting better. I’m 24 years old, I kept thinking, I shouldn’t be having these problems. My chiropractor stopped what he was doing and sat down.
“You have to stop running.”
I initially thought that this was not an option. After all, I’d been training all summer and, now back at school, the race was within my reach. But my back never got better. So I stopped running. I didn’t even show up to the marathon. My mood took a decidedly sharp turn towards what would become a debilitating depression. I stopped running but my back kept getting worse. It was painfully uncomfortable sitting through classes. My back constantly hurt. The hurt ranged from a constant dull, achy pain to an intense, sharp pain that accompanied every left footed step. I was constantly in pain and my back wasn’t responding to treatment. I had to stop working out because everything I did hurt my back. Without the exercise endorphins, I sank deeper into my depression. I started sleeping 13 hours a night. I took long and unnecessary naps during the day. If I missed just one dose of my bipolar medicine I would be prone to random crying jags, set off by nothing at all.
This scared me. I felt crazier and started to worry about my sanity in earnest. During one particularly bad crying jag, brought on by folding towels, I started to wonder if I should I think about inpatient treatment. At the start of my third year of law school I’d been functionally “kicked out” of counseling. I was told that I needed more help than they could give me, ie needed therapy more than once a two weeks. They sent me off with a reference, leaving me to my own devices to find a new psychiatrist. Upon discharging me they “highly recommended” outpatient rehab for my substance abuse. I declined.
But getting kicked out of counseling made me feel crazier. The crying jags didn’t go away. I was sleeping too much and had no energy to go to class and take care of my work. Every time I started crying for no reason, I thought more seriously about a brief jaunt in inpatient treatment. I sunk down deeper into my depression. The Werewolf wanted to take a break from drugs and me. I was on my own and this made it worse.
Then I discovered the substance that would break the levee, causing my depression to breach and drown the last bit of sanity that I was holding unto. DXM broke the levee. My depression and my crazy drowned my sanity. The DXM nagged the little sanity I had left.
And then the levee broke.
And then I checked myself into inpatient treatment.
Cough syrup was the greatest. It was relatively cheap, legal, and easy to get. I didn’t have to wait for townies to sell the Werewolf and I morphine or go to my super sketchy drug dealer’s house. I just drove to CVS. At first I was careful to be discrete with my purchases. I made sure to convincingly cough at the check-out and bought cough drops at the same time. I rotated between drug stores so the cashiers wouldn’t start to recognize me. It took awhile for me to muster the courage to buy two bottles at the same time. I would go to two different stores if I needed two bottles. I was also scared that someone would question me. Didn’t you get this last time? Two bottles? You know there’s abuse potential for this, don’t you? The only thing I ever got asked was for my id. And that was rare. Towards the end I was comfortable enough to boldly buy three at once, defiant and ready to snap at anyone who dared to comment.
Ironically, I had never tried cough syrup until one of my innocent, not-even-pot-smoking friends gave me the idea. Moreover, she would be horrified if she knew that she was the reason I got into cough syrup. I started to feel sick in a class that we had together and she offered me her cough syrup from when she was sick earlier that week. “Be careful, it made me really loopy.” Instantly, I was interested. I asked her what kind it was and I started scouring the internet for info about getting high on it. It turned out that you couldn’t really get high off the kind she had, there wasn’t any DXM in it. However, I quickly learned about Robitussin and was glad to find that they make it in capsule form now. The first time I got high off of it (I really was sick that time) it took me less than a whole bottle (~300 mgs) to get high. And I loved the high. I’ve never found anything dirty about it and at the time I was fascinated by how high it got me, something that was so easy– and legal– to get. I had a new drug in my arsenal.
My friends hated it. At this point, I had already started to hide some of my drug use from them. They all knew I was a stoner but not all of them knew that I was involved with anything harder– and the ones that did certainly didn’t want to hear about it. I learned how to hide it from them. How to overcome the outward forgetfulness that often stopped me in the middle of a sentence, unable to finish, or even remember, what I’d been saying. I was more cognizant of keeping my eyes alert but not too wide. I avoided talking at length to mask how out of it I was. And I definitely avoided standing. I’m a magnet for the floor when I’m on that stuff. I was so high one time that I fell down and as soon I was on the ground I couldn’t, for the life of me, figure out how I’d gotten there.
I started the binge around Monday or Tuesday of fall break, when we had a full week off of school. I usually (tried) to devote the time to studying and outlining for finals. I had gone to visit the Ex and that hadn’t gone well– although I did a considerable amount of molly while I was there. I left in a bad mood and was back in town by early afternoon. I think I just started smoking when I got home, even though it wasn’t even five o’clock. I was in fuck-it mode. I popped some lorazepam and got a bottle or two of cough gels. Hell, I even had a cocktail or two and I wasn’t even drinking then. I got high all by myself and had a fabulous time. I woke up the next morning and had my hands into the stash by noon.
This was not good for my physical or mental health. DXM interferes with mood medication and exacerbates mental illness– a double whammy for me. By Thursday evening my friends were concerned. I was crying for no reason, fucked up all the time and I struggled to keep myself upright when I peeled myself off the couch to walk across the room.
I checked into inpatient treatment for depression that Friday evening, still high as a kite from ingesting copious amounts of DXM, and crying like my dog had just died. And, I soon found out, it was not at all like I had imagined/hoped it would be.
The Institution on Saturday
I woke up to a girl screaming bloody murder in the middle of the night. I could tell it was coming from the other ward and, fortunately for me, it wasn’t my roommate, who was fast asleep and not bothered by the screaming at all. I, of course, was horrified. It was bad enough that I was sharing a room with a stranger, but I was actually scared of being around people that crazy. I was still pretty fucked up at this point (when I checked in I was high as a kite and not coming down any time soon) so it wasn’t hard for me to fall back asleep.
This was my first inpatient hospitalization (little did I know, it wouldn’t be my last). It’s the worst hospitalization I’ve had, and probably because it was my first. By the second go-round I’d resigned myself to the system. Before I checked in, the idea of checking in somewhere for a few days had been nagging at me, and the nagging got louder as my unprovoked crying jags became more frequent. I had been crying for almost 12 hours by the time they brought me to my room in the hospital, around 7:00 pm on a Friday. It was Fall Break and my roommate was gone for the week. Most of my friends were out of town or working on an appellate brief for moot court, which I was not involved in, and the Werewolf and I had decided to take a break from each other (and drugs). We’d been going pretty hard for a few months and the binges were getting progressively longer and more intense. I was fine with the break from him, but I felt no need to cut myself off from everything. I just learned to do drugs by myself.
The hospitalization did not meet my expectations. Looking back, a few of these expectations were silly and unrealistic. (For some reason I thought I’d have my own room, that there would be someone assigned to tend to me, and that it would be a nice little break from the world, where I could catch up on school in peace.) Not only did I have to share a room with someone (who actually turned out to be a pretty great roommate: not loud, slept normally, and diligent hygienically) but the “bed” that I was supposed to sleep on was not a bed. At least it shouldn’t have been.
Everyone complains about shitty hospital beds and futon pads etc., but when you sat on this thing, this sham of a bed, it felt like a park bench. With a mattress 6 inches thick and nicely rounded, it deceptively looked like a satisfactory institutional bed. But that mattress was not satisfactory. I don’t know how they make those things but that mattress was solid. It was incapable of being bounced upon because the mattress had no give– it was like a block of wood. The bed was easily made tolerable with a thick cushion pad. But you had to get special approval from your doctor to have one, because the pads were for people with back problems. Luckily for me, I actually did (and do) have a back problem. Unluckily for me, I couldn’t get one of the pads because, by the time I was sober enough to realize that the bed was a problem, it was Saturday. And on the weekends, everything comes to a halt and nothing gets done– not even simple, infuriating, administrative procedures. There are no scheduled activities, the doctors do not come and, worst of all, you cannot leave.
This was a problem I had not anticipated. By voluntarily checking myself into a psychiatric hospital, I assumed I’d be free to leave. And I wanted to leave. I woke up the next morning and by the end of breakfast, I was sure I was ready to go back home. Unfortunately, that wasn’t how things played out.
I was woken up around 7:00 am (how I ever managed to sleep on that bed is a mystery) when a nurse opened our door and announced that it was time for “breakfast and vitals, and then group.” I did not really know what this meant, but it didn’t seem like it was optional. So I got up. Breakfast was in the main room of the ward. Although it was a really big room it was the only one the ward. There were a couple of 6 person folding tables surrounded by folded chairs, all strung together towards the back; a few couches and recliners near the entrance, facing the 40″ rounded screen TV; some bookcases full of paperbacks, mostly vapid romance novels and bad fiction; and videos– not DVDs– video cassettes that you could play in the VCR under the TV. There was also a nurse’s station off to the side and a craft room that was kept locked. I sat as far away from everyone as I could, avoided eye contact, and waited until a nurse handed me my tray. I took off the lid to assess it’s edibility. Outlook not good. I’d gotten some “coffee” before I sat down and promptly learned that it was decaf. It was bad enough that they only had powdered creamer, but the caffeine-less coffee was just unbearable. It was bad enough to be stuck there with no phone, no internet, no computer, no drugs, no alcohol, no cigarettes–and so the decaf only coffee just made me feel shitty. Breakfast was a bust.
I was surrounded by strangers, all either nurses or fellow ward-mates. I glanced around to scope things out, trying not to stare at anyone. Not very many people looked super out of it, and almost everyone else looked either sad, content, miserable, or barely awake. And we all looked pretty rough. It was a general consensus that the food was inedible but certain people found certain dishes more tolerable than others. So trading began. I tried to stay out of it and was antsy for information about how I could check out. I picked at a few things on the tray, ate the fruit, put the lid back on, and took it back to the cart.
Since I got done early, one of the nurses came around to take my “vitals,” which included temp, blood pressure, that thing they put on your index finger, and questions like whether you’ve had a bowel movement in the past 24 hours. I was pretty confused about why they were taking these, it wasn’t really explained, it was just something you submitted to. He made some notes and rolled his cart away to the next patient.
We were instructed to wait at the table after we’d finished eating so we could get our meds and start “group.” “Group” meant getting a worksheet (the same one every morning), having quiet time to fill it out (and your “goals” for the day), and then sharing your paper out loud to everyone. My goal was to go home and I started crying when I was reading mine, not such a good move when you’re trying to convince people you’re sane. After everyone went, we turned the papers in and we were free. The next time for assembly would be snack time– yes, snack time– at about 10:00 am. All of this was technically optional, including meals. You could just sleep all day and that would be fine, as long as you woke up to take your meds. But staying in bed all day was not a good move if you wanted to go home soon. The nurses watched you all day and everyone was assigned a specific nurse, morning and night. Your nurse gave you your meds, checked in with you about how you were feeling, and they were the person you were supposed to go to first with questions or problems. And the nurses keep track of what each person does, all day, and they make notes about their impressions of our moods and improvements (or the opposite). This means that to get out, you have to appear happy and sane at all times, even if you’re feeling neither happy nor sane, because the nurses keep track of what goes on and the doctors consider the reports seriously.
The Formula for Release: Go to Group, meals, snacks + Take only one nap a day (preferably a short one) + no crying (even if you really need to)+ engage socially and positively with other ward-mates + act happy (even if you’re far from it) = Release aka Freedom. There’s a problem in there…..
On top of that, there was not a lot to do. If you didn’t want to sleep all day your options were: watch TV (basic cable and the channel had to be agreed on by everyone who wanted to watch)(it usually ended being something lame), read a book from one of the book cases (if you weren’t lucky enough to have your own, or to have had someone bring you your own), play one of the raggedy board games (not a popular choice), play cards, stare at the walls, go out into the hall and talk on the phone- at one of the two designated phone stations–(but not for more than ten minutes!), journal in one of the little notebooks provided, or color. Yep, color. I ended up doing a lot of coloring. If I wasn’t in my room crying, in my room sleeping (still miraculous with that atrocity of a bed), or making frantic, crying phone calls to my therapist and friends, I was coloring. Out of all the options, coloring was my best choice. I accepted and resigned myself to the fact that I would be spending my days coloring for hours just to pass the time, and I just colored.
The ward had a respectable collection of markers, crayons, colored pencils, and coloring paraphernalia. There were two baskets of magic markers (the skinny kind and the regular), boxes of Crayola crayons (the good ones), and an assortment of–sharpened– colored pencils. Pens were harder to get. There were also stacks of big children’s coloring books– the good kind, with Disney characters or dinosaurs or the Easter Bunny. My favorite though was the stack of black and white, psychedelic-style, patterns/outlines printed on white computer paper. They were perfectly geometrical yet trippy and had the perfect amount of space between the lines and shapes for coloring. Before I discovered those, I’d been doing an intense, geometrical yet abstract, page sized doodle. These are my specialty. Ideally, they can’t be completed in one sitting and involve pointed interest to detail. They’re weird but also weirdly soothing for me and at times I do them compulsively.
I quickly switched to the patterns once a fellow patient (inmate seems more accurate) showed me where the stack was neatly arranged by the window and pointed out the cool pattern ones to me. Completing one of these, and making it look respectable, involved some planning before the actual coloring could began. I, of course, wanted to make a respectable one. The good ones were taped to the wall with the other colorings that had also been singled out for this special display. Once I’d judged the size and intricacy of the pattern I had chosen, I knew it was going to take more than one sitting to complete. Perfect. I selected my colors (I had already considered my color scheme and decided that I would use most of the markers in completing mine), cleared of a swath of the table, and settled into my activity. The activity I would use to pass an entire weekend’s worth of time.
And that’s how I managed to spend an entire weekend just coloring. My first weekend of inpatient treatment at a psychiatric hospital.
I did not belong there. At least that’s what I thought as I was sitting at the long table for breakfast, my first meal at what I, perhaps rudely, call the crazy house. I know it’s terribly politically incorrect, but it’s the label that makes the most sense to me. “Inpatient treatment” is probably more accurate but it subtly masks the truth, the truth about how awful it is to really be in one of those places. And being there is awful. “Inpatient treatment” sounds like something you get after major surgery, not somewhere you go when you get majorly crazy– which is what it really is. So I call it the “crazy house.” Mental institution works too but I prefer crazy house, political correctness be damned.
Unfortunately, I did belong there. Looking down the table, I tried to assess the damage. Scanning the faces of the others who actually got up for breakfast at the ungodly hour of 7 a.m.– an ungodly hour for a student anyway, especially one who hadn’t been to class before 10 a.m. in a year– I tried to evaluate their level of craziness. Some of them were in blue hospital scrubs. Not necessarily a full set: some wore only the top; others, only the bottom. There was one old man in a hospital dressing gown, the kind that ties in the back but not tightly enough hide what should be hidden. I made a point not to find out whether he was wearing anything underneath the gown. There were others, like me, wearing sweats or normal clothes. Upon closer inspection, some of them looked quite ordinary, though sad.
I found out that the old man in the gown — who looked 70 but was probably somwhere is in his early sixties– was an alcoholic who’d tried to kill himself. It was not his first time in treatment. It seemed, based on the snippets he revealed in “group”, that he had been scraped off the cold floor of his rock bottom and brought into treatment, maybe as an alternative to jail. The circumstances were unclear. But, of the group of us, he seemed to be in the worst shape, at least phsyically. He joined our ward–the depression ward– after first being admitted to the substance abuse ward and was still going through the alcohol withdrawal symptoms and was usually ill. Despite this, he had a simple but surprisingly cooperative and somewhat positive attitude. It seemed like he’d gone through all this before and he might have known that this was going to be one of his last chances to get it right and get himself together.
There were a few other patients that appeared to be about the same vintage of the old man, and from there the ages were scattered from middle age to, what appeared to be, sixteen. I later found out that the girl I thought was sixteen was, in fact, twenty nine and married with two kids. Other than a twenty year old boy, I was the youngest on the ward.
The twenty year old boy was from Mexico and had only been in the States for a few years. His English wasn’t great but he was very chatty and always smiling. He was always at the coloring table with me and was not content to color in silence, which is what I preferred. He told me he’d tried to kill himself by overdosing on his cousin’s Valium. He arrived about the same time that I did. After they let him out of the hospital he was immediately transferred to our ward in the crazy house. Aside from that bump in the road he was very positive about his future– and his odds of getting out once the weekend was over.
I was determined to leave as soon I saw the psychiatrist I was assigned to, Dr. X. Breakfast had been enough to scare me straight and I was certain I was ready to leave, the sooner the better.
After we’d all picked at our breakfasts and returned our bland trays to the bland beige carts they’d arrived in, I was informed that it was time for “group.” I didn’t know exactly what that meant but I suspected that it would be lame and useless. It was not useless, as I later found out. The nurses, always watching our behavior and taking notes to report back to our psychiatrists, took group seriously and our responses and behavior during group were a factor in the formula that determined our release.
“Group” happened after breakfast and then once more after the last “snack time” of the night, around 9 p.m. (Yes, snack time. Complete with graham crackers, pudding cups, and applesauce.) During group we filled out a worksheet, the same worksheet, morning and night.
In the morning, we used the front of the worksheet which predictably asked us to desribe “how we were feeling”. The front page also required us to list our “goal” for the day. After that, we had to list three specific actions we would take to help ourselves accomplish that goal. There was a place at the bottom of the front page of the worksheet where we were supposed to list any “issues” we had in the previous 24 hours, describe any discharge plans we had, and write down any concerns we’d like our doctor/nurses to be aware of.
At night we filled in the other side of the worksheet, stating whether we had met our goal and how we felt about achieving/not achieving it. And then we went around the table and “shared”, the nurses watching, ever vigilant.
After we’d completed the morning portion of worksheet, we went around the table and shared. Meaning we went around the table and, one by one, read off what we had written. There was a tad too much oversharing in the realm of GI troubles for my taste. We read our goals and issues for all to hear while the nurses watched closely and took notes. My goal was to leave as soon as I’d met with my doctor. I didn’t make it through my sheet without crying. Not a good move with the eyes of nurse-hawks on me, pens in hand and scribbling notes in my chart. Strike One.
After we’d all “shared” we were free to go. Free to go back to sleep, to lay in bed, to wait to be seen by the doctor (although I would soon find out that the doctors didn’t deign to visit with their patients on the weekends, leaving the unpleasant task to their nurse practioners), or to engage in one of the few “recreational activities” that were available to us. (Click here for details of how few activities there really were).
I anxiously asked the nurse 20 questions. When would I been seen by my doctor? How long until the doctors arrived? What if I wanted to take a nap, would they wake me up when it was my turn? Should I just wait in one the armchairs in case they forgot to wake me up? When could I go home?!? I was not a happy camper and I was nearly bursting with anxiety and nervous energy while I sat quietly and waited for my name to be called.
I didn’t like the doctor they’d assigned me to, Dr. X. He was the university’s psychiatrist– the only one. He thought I was a drug addict and at the beginning of my third year of law school he, and my counselor at the school’s counseling center, had decided I needed “more help” than the university’s counseling center could provide. And so they farmed me out to a community provider. Luckily for me: 1) I was on my Dad’s insurance and could afford to see someone outside of the univeristy and, 2) the therapist I was referred to was by far the best therapist I’ve ever had. (Unfortunately, when I graduated and moved back down South I couldn’t take her with me…still searching for someone to replace her, which will be very difficult.)
I was apprehensive about seeing Dr. X. When I checked in, he had me put on a low dose of Norco because he thought I’d be in opiate withdrawal. Once I found out that this was why I was being given those pills I started refusing them. I was not, in fact, going through opiate withdrawals because I was not, much to Dr. X’s surprise, a heroin user. This man had been my psychiatrist for a year, had been told about all the drugs I’d done or been doing– and heroin was never on the list– but he nevertheless pegged me for a heroin junkie. (Nothing against heroin junkies, I just know I would never last on that stuff. Because I would die. I like opiates too much, have very little self control, and so I suspect that I wouldn’t last long.) To cut him some slack, which I am loathe to do, the man is the sole psychiatrist for a university of ~12,000 students, including grad students like me, AND he was in charge of the facility that I had checked into– which was not affiliated with the university. Again, this speaks volumes about the inadequacy of the university’s counseling center. (For more on that delight, click here)
I sat in one of the almost-comfortable arm chairs in the common area and jangled my legs until my name was finally called. But I was not greeted by the familiar, smug face of Dr. X. I didn’t recognize the man who guided me into the little room with no windows. Apparantely patient-doctor conferences happened in this little room, just big enough to fit the round table and four chairs surrounding it. The man explained to me that he was a nurse practitioner and that Dr. X didn’t come in on the weekends.
I didn’t know whether this was good or bad news for me. I didn’t like Dr. X and I suspected he didn’t particularly like me either. So I thought I might have a better shot with the nurse practitioner.
I was wrong. I instantly told him that I was ready to check out and go home. He did not agree. He informed me that they usually don’t do “releases” on the weekends. And even if they did, he said he didn’t think I would get cleared to leave because of “substance abuse” concerns.
I started to panic. I absolutely, positively, had to get myself out of that place. I’d been there for a little over 12 hours and that was all I needed. I had been scared straight. I would stop doing drugs forever if they would just let me out. I had to get out of there.
I started to beg. Not a good move. He didn’t budge and took my desperation as a sign of weakness, indicating that I was not fit for release. When I saw that my efforts were unavailing, I lost it. Strike Two.
I started crying and told him that if they didn’t let me out that day then they had better pump me full of Xanax if they wanted me to make it through the weekend. Another bad move. He dug in and told me to calm myself down. I was informed that if I threw a full tantrum I would have to get “a shot”, i.e. being forcibly sedated, and then my chances of getting out by Monday would be nil.
I couldn’t handle this information so I got up and left without saying anything else, but sobbing hysterically as I went. I ran straight to my room to cry my eyes out. On my way there I walked right through the middle of lunch, crying hysterically in front of everyone in the ward, trying to get back to my room so I could throw my tantrum in the semi-privacy afforded to me by a room with a door that shut but would not lock. One of the nurses called out to me as I went streaking by, “don’t you want your lunch?”
No. I did not want my lunch.
It was going to be a long weekend.
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.
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.”
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.
I had it down to a science. I knew what stores sold it, whether they sold a generic, whether they sold it in soft-gel form, and whether there was a self-checkout I could use.
I knew the differences between brands and knew flavors I could tolerate. I learned to avoid the extended release formulas unless I wanted to double it up with the ordinary, old fashioned release kinds.
I knew which ones had extra ingredients like acetaminophen, guaifenesin, and sudafed. I preferred my DXM unadulterated.
I even knew what doses I needed to take to get to my desired high. And I knew the differences between the high plateaus.
I had whittled my cough syrup use down to a fine art.
I didn’t go back to cough syrup right away. After my release from the crazy house, I was sincere in my sobriety. I met with my drug counselor and made a plan. I worked with my therapist to develop coping mechanisms to get me through the drug cravings. And most importantly, I announced my new sobriety to my friends and the Werewolf.
The last bit was the hardest part; it made me squirm. Announcing my sobriety meant accountability. My friends were invited to act as watch dogs, policing me and keeping me from the ever-dangerous relapse. I hated being watched like this under any circumstances, and their lectures became more than tiresome.
Telling the Werewolf was the worst of all. It meant that our benders would be over: a thing of the past to day dream about nostalgically in sticky classrooms, sober.
I was never “completely” sober though. I worked with my therapist and together we developed a realistic plan to start me on the road to the old fashioned, strict, and– in my mind– boring sobriety.
So for me, “sobriety” meant I was allowed to occasionally smoke weed, drink in moderation, and take any pill I was prescribed (which included high doses of benzos, amphetamines, and opioids). This was clearly at odds with the common conception of “sobriety”.
For me, sobriety was ugly. It meant abstention from the hard drugs I was doing: the molly, ecstasy, morphine, vicodin, and– most importantly– my beloved DXM, conveniently and legally available at your local drug store.
Even though I was still allowed to associate with my minor vices, going “sober” was hard. The drug cravings were hard to ride out. I often had to sit at the table with my hands tucked under my thighs, watching the seconds pass on the 15 minute timer. If the craving didn’t abate in those 15 minutes, the timer was reset and the rhythmic tic tocs resumed.
I really did want to go sober. I missed my drugs but, during those the first few weeks after my hospitalization, I was able to get through my cravings by reminding myself of how awful my hospital stay had been– and how easily I could end up back there. Especially if I backslid my way into DXM.
DXM is a double-edged sword for people dealing with mental illness. Not only does DXM nullify the effects of mood stabilization drugs, it goes farther than that– DXM actually magnifies the problems of mental illness, digging you deeper into your diagnosis each time you use.
And as time passed, I started to forget why being sober was so important. The memory and shame of my hospitalization began to fade away, as did my convictions. Why was going sober so important? After all, I was high functioning even when I was using. But, most damning of alI, I was bored. Boredom will always be a trigger for me. And DXM whisked me away from that unbearable, self destructive boredom.
The days rolled by and my convictions slowly began to fade away. Three short months after my release, I was back on the cough syrup wagon with no end in sight.
I started to backslide.
BOREDOM IS DANGEROUS
I cannot handle boredom. It’s one of the reasons I’m on Vyvanse, a wonder drug that turns my boredom into productivity without the twitchy Adderall side effects. Boredom is also one of my drug triggers– it makes me want to use. And, most dangerous of all, boredom gives me bad ideas. And my bad ideas are generally very bad. I.e., weekend long benders, getting unwarranted tattoos or piercings, visiting ex-boyfriends, and, the subject of today’s post, hooking up with a notoriously bad-idea guy friend.
He’d been hounding me since we first met at the beginning of my 2nd year of law school. He was a transfer. He was obnoxious, kind of sexist, and had a way of pissing everyone off just by existing. Charming, right? For some stupid reason, (perhaps the product of another bored day) I was friends with him. He was overly sensitive and occasionally spread shit about me– kid could not keep his mouth shut– but I’d usually forgive him, get over it, and we’d go back to our dysfunctional friendship. We fought on a regular basis but this was never truly injurious to our stupid friendship.
Sometimes I felt bad for him. He didn’t realize that most people didn’t like him. And he tried too hard– especially to be liked, and especially by girls. Despite being somewhat attractive and mildly fun when you got to know him, his terrible girl-getting strategies meant that most girls just thought he was creepy. And he hated being called creepy. Even though he was pretty creepy at times.
Why I was friends with him is a mystery, but all of it is certainly attributable to some form of my bad judgment. At the beginning of every semester he would try to hook up with me. And I would quickly rebuff his advances. This didn’t really damage our relationship, and maybe that was one of the many red flags I should have noticed.
But at the beginning of our last semester of law school, his efforts to hook up with me took a serious turn. Usually, after I said no a few times he would stop. But this time, it was not so easy to shake him off. I think he was determined to get me to hook up with him before graduation. He redoubled his efforts and wouldn’t be turned away. He started to get angry when I scorned his advances, leaving me drunk and angry voicemails. His texts got explicit. And so we fought a lot. And I spent a lot of time and energy thinking of new ways to say “no fucking way”.
But over spring break I got bored. And this boredom proved to be deadly. No one was in town, the Werewolf and I had been taking a break from each other, and all I had to occupy myself with was cough syrup. I did manage to do some pretty crazy art– my gravatar is a product of that spring break cough syrup binge. But at the time of the deadly and injurious boredom, I was trying to resist the cough syrup and behave myself. Which resulted in immense boredom.
On this fateful day, he was being especially persistent. And, for once, I listened to that little voice in my head that said “why not.” And so we hooked up. Not something I’m proud of and it was certainly not something I told many of my friends. It was a terrible move and I knew that I would be subject to some harsh criticism and heavy judgment– and bewilderment– by disclosing my stupidity.
The nature of this bad decision was a problem. We made plans to see each other after the spring formal– aka law school prom. This was about two weeks away. Again, my reasons for agreeing to this and willfully consenting are still a mystery to me. All I can blame it on was the crushing boredom that animated my life that spring break.
In the big scheme of things, this bad decision– I had made worse– shouldn’t have been a big deal. But it became a very big deal. It created the perfect storm, a storm that would erupt with my temper at the end of my law school prom. A storm that would land me back in the hospital. And a storm that cost me some very good friends.
You could say that this was the straw that broke the camel’s back. And, in a way, it was. Although it was not a great decision, true to the form of my boredom-induced decisions, it shouldn’t have been a life-ruiner. He wasn’t someone I would get attached to; it was something to be ashamed of– and that should have been it. But that wasn’t it. That straw broke the careful, shaky, and precarious balance of my sanity and drug use. And when it broke, it wasn’t pretty.
But that’s what boredom does to me. It just makes things ugly.
In the chain of events that got me here, writing this blog, the Explosion is probably the heaviest link. It weighs down all the other links, pulling them closer to It– the Explosion.
The Explosion is the only name for it, no other title describes what happened as aptly, as poetically, or even just as plain old accurately. The Explosion is why I’m here, where I am today. But for the Explosion, this blog probably wouldn’t exist. And that’s enough to explain the heaviness of this link in the twisted chain of events that got me here.
I have a temper. An explosive one. Just ask my brothers, who were the unfortunate objects of my rage many times growing up. Because it’s so bad, I’ve learned to control it. And so it very rarely comes out; once a year is the unfortunate average.
When my temper explodes, it’s all I can think about. I become obsessed with the object of my anger and become determined to punish. The punishment is important. I calculate it to inflict the most damage, depending on what would hurt the victim the most. I balance it against risk to myself– I don’t want to catch any heat from my scheming. My temper is dangerous.
And on the night of law school prom, my guy friend that I stupidly hooked up with was the target, the victim, and the source of the eruption of my mighty, evil and dangerous temper.
Admittedly, there were a lot of bad decisions on my part that led up to the Explosion. Still on a break from the Werewolf and with a distaste for the chore of drinking, I wanted to get fucked up for the dance. Smoking weed wouldn’t be enough, I needed something harder. So I got 5 ecstasy pills from my dealer and took them by myself. Taking E alone was certainly a different experience than the usual sex bender that accompanied the popping of those pills with the Werewolf. I danced all night and was in a pretty good mood, anticipating a promised rendezvous with the guy friend at the end of the night, so I didn’t have to worry about going home alone.
Little did I know, those shitty E pills were cut with PCP, a drug which is on my Do Not Do list (along with meth and heroin. It’s a short list). This definitely contributed to my fiendish temper Explosion and to the events that flowed out as result– which landed me in the crazy house for a second time. On involuntary psych hold. But that part comes later.
The other factor that made me explode was the stupid agreement with my guy friend to rendezvous post prom. He texted me before the dance not to “touch him” or appear to be interested in him during the dance. We were trying to keep our stupid hook up a secret for many good reasons. So I didn’t notice the red flag that was waving right in front of my face.
I behaved myself and slyly ignored the guy friend while silently catching his attention with my fabulous dress and to-the-9′s get up, complete with a salon up-do. I was hot.
Predictably, at the end of the dance he told me he couldn’t meet up because he had to get up early to take a train to Chicago. I exploded. It must have been a combination of the bad ecstasy, the long promise of rendezvous being broken, and anger at myself for landing myself in a situation where he could reject me. My pride was assaulted and my temper flared wildly. I erupted with a tide of a scathing tirade that I poured over the guy friend. But that was only the beginning.
He needed to be punished. My friends thought I was crazy. I was certainly crazed. After I finished verbal abusing the guy friend– to a pulp– I went home to scheme. I decided that the best punishment would be for him to finally know how everyone felt about him. How we all thought he was creepy. How the girls were only nice to him out of pity. How all the guys thought he was a douche; his own roommate hated him. I reached out to other girls that he’d discarded and prepared to mount my assault.
Unfortunately, the explosion of my temper really made me crazy. I stayed up late that night, watching the hours tick by until the sun came up and 8:00am flashed on my computer screen. I had stayed up all night. Staying up late was dangerous for me, I need my sleep to stay sane. Lack of sleep for a bipolar brain leads you down the winding road to psychosis. And I was usually a sleeper, averaging 10 hours a night and easily doing 12 when time permitted.
I stayed up for 48 hours, just getting crazier. I couldn’t sleep. So I started dosing myself with my lorazepam to break the sleepless cycle. But that story comes later– the story of how I landed myself back in the crazy house.
The Explosion wasn’t deadly but it was incredibly destructive. It made me crazy, I burned bridges with friends I thought I’d never lose, and it set me up for my second stay in inpatient psych treatment– a true nightmare.
The Explosion is a heavy link in that chain, that chain of events that got me here, the chain that wrapped itself around my neck and nearly cost me my sanity. The Explosion is the heaviest, deadliest link in this twisted, ugly chain. Fuck the Explosion.
1 LORAZEPAM, 2 LORAZEPAM….55 LORAZEPAM, MORE!
“I’m moving out.”
“What did you take?”
She was not pleased. And neither was I.
It was two days after law school prom and I hadn’t slept in 48 hours. Accustomed to 10 hours a night, was unacceptable. I tried everything– melatonin, smoking green, having a few drinks. All to no avail. So I got desperate. Kept awake by my anger and an accidental ingestion of PCP– ecstasy can be a dangerous drug– I resorted to more drastic measures.
I was home alone and my roommate was working late– I didn’t expect her back before 10 pm. Searching for a solution to my sleepless problem, my mind drifted towards my lorazepam. I was– and still am– prescribed 3 milligrams of the delightful controlled substance a day. Relying on its sedative powers, which would surely be accelerated by the few drinks in my system, I delved into my purse and popped 5 milligrams. The tablets were quick dissolve and I placed them under my tongue to ensure quick delivery of the drug into my system. Then I sat on the couch, watching some vapid television, and waited for the pills to work their magic.
No luck. Half an hour later, I was just as awake as I’d been before. I popped 5 more. Still no luck.
After ingesting about 15 milligrams, 5 times my daily dose, I started to lose the few shreds of discretion I still possessed in my sleep deprived state. When I was up to 20, I was still awake. I started researching overdose amounts– not to kill myself but to ensure the opposite, that I wouldn’t kill myself. The internet wasn’t particularly informative but I gathered that it was pretty difficult to OD on lorazepam alone. To be sure, I texted the Ex, a fourth year dental student with a good working knowledge– scholastic and experiential– of pharmaceuticals.
“How much lorazepam is an overdose?”
Ten minutes later I got a call from my best friend.
“What are you doing?!” Her angry voice sang into my drugged ear.
“Watching TV. What are you doing?” I probably slurred.
She had gotten a call from the Ex, who told her that I was trying to kill myself. I assured her that I was not. She asked me what I’d been taking. I low-balled her my dosage and told her I was, and would be, fine. She was not pleased but, being 1000 miles away, she had to take my word for it.
In a few short hours I had ingested what remained of my bottle of pills. I was up to a whopping 55 milligrams. At some point I had decided to finish off the bottle. 3 milligrams a day is a fairly high dose of the stuff. And taking 55 over the course of a few hours was pretty much unheard of.
And then my roommate came home. She could tell I was pretty out of it– I was draped lazily across the couch and my condition was hard to hide. Tired of putting up with my constant drug use, which had accelerated with each week that I backslid away from my promise to stay sober, she told me she was moving out.
We exchanged some unkind words and she stormed out of the apartment. I stormed off to bed, finally tired enough to get some sleep.
But I wouldn’t get the rest I so desperately desired. As soon as turned the lights out and sat on my bed, seconds away from pulling my feet up and myself under the covers, I was greeted by angry, glaring flashlights and the authoritative voice of a policeman.
“Ma’am, you’re going to have to come with us.”
My roommate had called the ambulance. And before I could protest, I was on my way to my second hospitalization.
This one wasn’t voluntary.
“I’m fine, I’m fine, I’m FINE.”
No one would believe me. I was able to walk without assistance, even though they did their best not to let me, speak with only a slight slur, and recount exactly what had happened. They took my vitals at the hospital and everything came back normal. There was no administration of an antidote, no pumping of my stomach. I was fine.
Unfortunately, no one would believe me. Scared by my ingestion of an ungodly dose of a controlled substance, the authority figures I was beholden to chalked my behavior up to a suicide attempt. Which meant I was headed straight for the psych ward, on a 72 hour involuntary hold.
Back in the place I hated the most, the place I swore I’d never return to, I was irate. One angry phone call to my roommate later, I was done. I knew my situation was bad but I never dreamed it would get worse.
She moved out.
I had taken 55 milligrams of lorazepam.
And everyone was done with me.
THE SAVIOR IN BEIGE
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.
I played the inpatient game.
I got up for breakfast, stayed for group, refused the temptation to nap and pretended not to hate every moment that passed. I stayed friendly with the nurses and avoided tantrums. I took my meds with a smile and feigned interaction with the other patients. I was on 72 hour psych hold and I knew what I had to do to get out.
I had been committed.
And I wanted out.
I patiently let the days pass. I didn’t make any phone calls– there was no one to call. Everyone was tired of me. The overdose, the 55 Ativan (aka lorazepam), just bolstered their position– I was out of control and needed help. And they were tired of helping.
This time I had no visitors. Long gone was the popularity I enjoyed during my first hospitalization, a mere seven months earlier. Back then, I had so many visitors that they had to sit outside the visitation area, awaiting their turn to chat with me for 30 short minutes.
This time I expected no one. When visiting hours rolled around I kept my head down and focused on my doodling, trying not to cry. Trying not to remember why no one wanted to see me. Trying not to think about the paucity of support that awaited me on the other side.
I waited my 72 hours without complaint. The food was just as bad as the first time. I was just as bored during the days. I was just as lonely during the nights.
In spite of my protests, I had once again been assigned to Dr. X. After my third night on the psych ward, and upon the expiration of the 72 hour hold, I met with Dr. X to discuss the possibility of my discharge.
I was more than apprehensive– I was terrified. Terrified that he wouldn’t release me. Terrified of the power he had over me. Terrified of what he knew about me.
We sat down.
I explained how I managed to land myself in the psych hospital again after swearing that he would never see me return. I was prepared for the worst. This was the man who told me that I’d never be able to quit doing drugs, and that no matter how smart I thought I was “the drugs would always have an IQ ten points higher.” I wasn’t optimistic about our meeting.
“Well Genevieve, I believe that if you had wanted to kill yourself, you wouldn’t have done this.”
I was shocked. Dr. X was never in my corner. He always thought the worst of me and took any and every opportunity to remind me that I was a drug addict. I was prepared to go to war to get him to release me. But this time I didn’t have to.
And he was right. I would have done something besides choke down those 55 Ativan if I had wanted to end it all. An opiate OD, wrists slit in the bathtub, poison ingestion– all of these were stronger candidates.
Because if I had wanted to kill myself I would have chosen something strong enough to get the job done. And for some reason, Dr. X knew this about me.
So he let me go.
The game was over.
“Don’t talk to me. Don’t email me. Seriously, I mean it.”
I was released from an inpatient commitment at the psych hospital three days before my 25th birthday. And after I got out of the hospital things didn’t get better. They got worse.
After calling an ambulance, my roommate called my parents to tell them that I’d OD’d on my prescription medication and was back in the crazy house. And from this, they inferred that I had tried to kill myself. Not the case. In spite of my explanation to the contrary, my mother insisted on driving 16 hours to spend my birthday with me.
And thank god she came up. After I got out of the hospital I witnessed the mass exodus of my friends. My roommate moved out. Two of my closest friends– friends who had taken care of me and checked me into the hospital that first time, friends who I’d taken care of during their rough patches, friends who I thought would never leave me– left me. They became the vipers. Vindictive for an unfathomable reason, they set out to punish me. And on the morning of my birthday, I woke up to the email from her; the email telling me ”Don’t talk to me. Don’t email me. Seriously, I mean it.” So we stopped talking.
Other friends left me because they “just couldn’t handle” me anymore. This was a line that became all too familiar to me but never lost its cutting edge. There’s nothing like being told you’re a burden when you need support the most. The things they said still hurt with the distance of five months. And there are some lost friends that I still miss, whose abandonment of me I will never understand.
My birthday table was remarkably empty. Usually filled with 12 chairs or more, this time we needed only a few. Two good friends and my mother joined me for my birthday dinner. No one else showed up.
In the end, I was grateful that my mother, who I had a history of not getting along with, made the long drive to come see me. She sat beside me at my birthday dinner, drank champagne with me in my lonely apartment, and was surprisingly and amazingly supportive of me. Famous for her righteous indignation, this time she channeled it towards my fight. There was someone on my side.
This was the beginning of the fallout– the loss of good friends, an empty birthday table, and a lonely apartment– all of these were the beginning of some bad times. Those days, the ugly ones, are still a part of me, attached to my ankle like a ball and chain, a bitter weight that I carry with me as I go. I’ve learned that you can think you’ve hit rock bottom, only to discover that you’ve still got a ways to fall. And that fall fucking hurts.
This is the fallout.
To be continued….