i spent at least five hours in a locked, white room with an observation camera and padded walls last night. luckily for me, i wasn’t there for my own dark reasons, and i was in the company of friends. unfortunately, i was there to support a friend who is struggling, trying to find out why his brain is seemingly broken and his body is betraying him.
i was there with his girlfriend and my other friend, who is one of his best friends. i have known that he’s been having a rough go for quite some time and we’ve been in close contact — i’ve received some late-night calls, talking to him when he’s walking around walgreens, wired and manic. i understand these things, and i believe with everything in me that part of my lonesome, terrifying, depressing journey the year i was diagnosed with manic-depression was all to serve as fodder for my upcoming service to people i would meet.
ditto on all the subsequent years of trial and error with meds and continued mixed episodes and going through doctors and just navigating and negotiating the world of mental illness and the systems and side doors of trying to get better. i have to believe this, otherwise i would start to think that i have a punishing god; or at least somewhere on the spectrum i would think i have a god who is apathetic or just doesn’t want to see me succeed. i don’t really know which is worse. probably the god who doesn’t give a fuck, because if i had a god who wanted to see me suffer, at least he’d be showing an interest in me, right?
existential digression aside, it was such a strange thing to watch him in his moment of trial and surrender. i just prayed that the doctors who would take care of him would get something right. that they’d get him stabilized fairly quickly. that they’d get the whole picture and really listen to what his girlfriend and i had said about what *we* had seen happening to him. i prayed that he’d be able to let go of some of the obsessions that he had — about school and work and having to still get things done — and be able to know that it was time to get well. that he’d come to peace with the idea that he was, in fact, ill.
honestly, that’s still something i struggle with. that i have an illness. that i have a chronic fucking illness — in my mind, somewhat akin to diabetes. it’s just not going anywhere. i have to constantly keep it at bay with a regimen of meds or hardcore life alterations or both. and even then, i seemingly can have flare-ups from time to time. it’s disappointing and heartbreaking sometimes. it makes me frustrated and irritated and sad, depending. on a bad day, i can get to “why me?” but when i really pull back, it makes me grateful that i can be there for my friend when he needed me.
i will say that i have always been distrustful of authority — medical authorities, in particular. people who want you to wait here, or sit here, or not let you in here. people who try to keep you out or cut you off or want you to do things a certain way. i’m sure it stems from all the years of my dad being in hospitals, being sick, being so little and not being able to do anything about any of it. although, even as an adult, i see how helpless people are. how they feel so meek and mild and unable to advocate for themselves — the patients’ own families get shut out, confused, feel like they can’t or shouldn’t ask questions or stand up for themselves.
so, i always get a little jacked up in hospitals. but i also always try to keep that singing, ringing energy i have somewhere on the back burner. see, i also know that you can’t outright belligerent, either. it’s like i’m in a movie and i’m trying to spy — sneak — get things/intel/information. you have to know when to make your move or when to put on the charm and when to get crazy up in there. mostly, you keep the crazy down and the charm high. i always feel like i’m putting one over on people, because i kind of feel sort of crazy in hospitals; like you can never get what you need, so you always have to be scheming.
and the fact of the matter is, no matter how paranoid that sounds, a lot of times, it’s true. there’s some ridiculous protocol that makes no sense. there’s some stupid rule that just is crying out to be broken. there’s something they’re asking you to do that just is worthless. that they *know* is worthless, but they’re doing like a robot, as if they’ve forgotten how to think for themselves. i’m always on the lookout for these things.
one of these things sort of was getting put in this room last night. if my friend had been by himself, i could see putting him in this locked room — you’re busy, you can’t watch people. but, there were three of us with him. but, we all got to get locked in there with him. and the minute we walked in there, i felt like we were in some sort of LOSTian room. somewhere, people from the Others or the Dharma Initiative were watching us.
at one point, my friend’s girlfriend (also a friend of mine), sort of put her head back and bumped her head on the wall — she noticed that her head wasn’t encountering a hard, concrete wall. she sort of tested her theory again by bumping her head against the wall again. nope, it kind of had some give. subtly bouncy. mildly … padded? aaahh! weird. we had no clue that it was, and we all assumed if you were in a padded room, it was so much more obvious than this. there were all sorts of strange silver faceplates in the wall that seemed awful ominous to me. what were they hiding/covering?
my friends were convinced that there was no audio to their video, but honestly, i wasn’t. however, we were pretty fucking hilarious at times. that was the absolute joy of it all. as per usual, me and my recovering alcoholic friends covered the gamut — serious talks about mental illness, joking about our mutual friend’s romantic dilemma, talking about our run ins with sugar-free candy, describing a typical day in a psychiatric ward (me), discussing scientific “happiness literature” (my friend), going over potential hilarious scenarios that we could act out between us and the hospital staff (me and my friend who was there to visit), my friend who was there to visit running out to various convenience/drugstores to get us rations while we waited, and doing a whole lot of laughing. lots and lots of laughing.
at one point, i read from the big book. at one point, we talked about movies. at one point, we talked about procreation (literally — having kids to carry on genes). at one point, we talked about casinos. at one point, we sat quietly. at one point, i was laughing so hard about having diarrhea, the kind of laughter where you can’t even breathe/make a sound, that i banged my hand on the wall and they thought we needed to be let out.
it was so much different than the day i checked myself into the hospital, beaten, broken down, tired and confused. it was 10 in the morning vs 10 at night . i took a bus there; they drove. it was late spring; this was mid-winter. i was all by myself; he was surrounded by friends. i hadn’t yet gotten sober; he’s been sober 7 years. i had an ex-boyfriend and no support network; he has a live-in girlfriend and a support network that’s deep and wide. they knew i was manic-depressive; technically, they’re not quite sure what’s wrong with him yet. my obsession was that i was convinced people were talking about me and hated me; he just wants to make sure he gets all of his work and schoolwork done.
our similarities are that we were at the end of our collective ropes; we couldn’t manage to fix ourselves anymore, and we couldn’t go on living the way we had been. we couldn’t see fit to walk through life in the state of mind we were currently in. i don’t think either one of us were standing right next to the door of suicide, but i think we just were wanting to turn off the world for a good long while. while sobriety is the very best thing that ever happened to me, spending a week in that psych ward was the first step toward that journey.
however, i’ll tell you this: now that i’m sober and stabilized, i have no desire to go back. there’s something about not being able to get out of somewhere upon immediate desire that is beyond disconcerting. sometimes, it’s the best solution to a dire situation, but i find that i will take whatever means necessary to avoid that situation in the future. if you’ve never been in a situation like it, you won’t know what i’m talking about until you do. my experience was by no means terrible, but it’s something i will absolutely never forget.