What follows is a multi-part story from my journal about my ten-day experience in a hospital that focuses on depression and anxiety and my participation in my healing. The people I met, the food I ate, and the treatments I utilized.
THE JELL-O REVOLUTION
Weekends are not fun here. It’s legit the wild west. Staff is at a minimum and they aren’t the weekday folks. There are hardly any groups, and the groups that are happening are more craft-based as opposed to psych based. There are, however, many many walks. Because there is nothing that breaks up the monotony of the hallways like a trip outside.
I was going to sit in bed and feel sorry for myself today. It was raining when I woke up (rain really fucks with my head) and I figured other people spend all day in bed so why can’t I? I mean, isn’t that what being in the crazy house is all about? But instead, I got up and decided to shower. It’s just like quarantine in here – you wear the same thing for days on end and showering is something you simply don’t do on any regular basis. So, showering is a win – just like it’s a win for you out there in your house! One thing about this level of anxiety is that it smells. A smell that is new. A smell that is gross. A smell I’m gonna get rid of. So, to the shower I go.
You must plan your shower like you plan Christmas shopping – every step meticulously planned and everything you’ll need lined up like Rockettes. As I’ve mentioned a hundred times already, they check you every 15 minutes. You don’t want to have a check in the shower. If you don’t plan well and get your first check when you start your shower you’ll most certainly have a second check before you’re done showering and on the second you have to show your head and hands to the Mental Health Worker who will open the door unannounced. So, as the man says, proper planning prevents interrupted showers. I think this is how criminals plan bank heists – it’s all about timing. So I put all my things in the shower – clothes, shampoo, soap, and “towels” – and I wait. The MHW comes by and checks me and then begins a full-on race to complete the job in 15 minutes.
A few things about showers…
- Bring your own stuff. The full-sized things. Not travel size bottles filled with products you never use. You want to feel as normal as you can, and yes, shampoo can do that. Lotion makes you smell like you. It’s small, but it’s important
- The “towels” are towels in that they are made from cotton and they once were absorbant but now are paper-thin and scratch skin more than dry it.
Clean body, clean clothes, a shitty cup of coffee – LET’S START THIS DAY!
Someone played a card game at “my” table last night. There is a notebook that was left behind showing the rules from the game. It’s some kind of game where you slap some cards, there are combinations called “sandwiches” and “marriages” – no idea what it means but looks like it was fun. And most likely loud, but I didn’t hear a peek. Perhaps I’m getting used to sleeping here.
Also in the notebook are lyrics to a song about Peter Pan written in perfect ombre colors. It feels like a story that’s too personal for me to read so I put it down.
8:30 Vitals and meds! Breakfast is just too much for me right now. So crackers and apple juice it is. Lining up to get crackers and juice makes me feel like I’m in Kindergarten. My sister said, “if you line up like Kindergarten, you eat like you’re in Kindergarten.” Truth.
9:00 I’m sitting reading at my table. I am next to a room that houses a very delicate human. I feel very responsible for him. He is on 5-minute checks. FIVE. This is enough to drive me to distraction, but I can’t imagine what it must make him feel like. Every five minutes. Sometimes he calls out from the room when he needs something and I run to the nurse. Every sound has me on alert. It’s silly but I need someone to help – that’s just what I do.
10:30 LAUNDRY DAY! Here’s how laundry goes down. You bring everything to the laundry room in the paper grocery bag afforded to you by the staff. You have to ask permission to have someone unlock the door and the door then must remain open. Inside the small room that smells of lint and detergent are bags and bags of clothing. Each bag is labeled with things like “women’s S & M shirts” “men’s jeans” presumably to pass on to others who might not have been so lucky to have packed. It’s heartbreaking to meet these folks who only had the clothes they were in when they were (brought by friends, brought by police…) brought here. I’m really lucky.
11:00 Let’s talk meds for a minute. I’m not going to lie, about an hour after I take an Ativan I’m transported to a place where thoughts are soft and the worry falls away. It gives me the ability to stop. I never stop. I don’t want this to sound like I’m stoned, but for someone who is constantly on edge, the softness is nice. In the real world, I could do things like meditate or enjoy the ocean and say “this is so relaxing” but in truth, the rapids stir up inside of me containing thoughts shaped like needles demanding to be heard. So this tiny pill could be a game-changer. But I still feel like a drug addict for “needing” them. I continue conversations with my nurses about these feeligns and they continue to assure me I do need them and I wouldn’t get them if I didn’t. I’ll battle with these feelings for a while I think.
12:30 Things run off schedule on weekends. Breakfast is late, vitals are late, lunch was late… Structure is all we have in here and shouldn’t be fucked with.
So remember that time when I talked about taking walks and not wanting to be the horse up front? Welp… all it takes is 48 hours.
I’ve started picking flowers on our walks and putting them in a styrofoam cup in my room. It makes the room feel a little less like a hospital room and the lilacs make the room smell a little less industrial. Sort of.
There are people here in so much pain I can actually feel it. I wish I could take just a part of that pain away from them. I know that’s why we are all here, really, but they seem smaller than the rest. I want to hug them every day, but there is no hugging in the time of COVID, so I just think about it really hard and hope they feel it.
It’s hard at times not to feel like you’re in a cage. I mean, you are. It’s hard at times not to feel like a dog. I mean we get walked like dogs. Can you go out and breathe some fresh air right now if you want to? I can’t until tomorrow at 2. So, there’s that.
3:10 Let’s talk about shaving. All razors are taken from you when you check-in. So if you want to shave you have to ask permission, the MHW will give you a single blade razor and some shaving cream and you can shave. With the curtain pulled and the door open. Now, this is probably the most embarrassing thing I’ll ever say out loud, but I have hair that grows on my face and I have to shave it. I’ve tried everything before you ask. So I was thankful that the mask covered many sins, however, there came a day where I could no longer stand it. So, picture the above, but having to explain what you wanted to shave and you had to do it with the door open. Awesome.
PEOPLE, IT IS PIZZA NIGHT!
6:15 The food here isn’t bad, it’s just very cafeteria-y. But today – TODAY was pizza day! A joyful day that we talk about in the halls. One of the MHW was like “the pizza is gross” and I said “please don’t take away the one thing we have today” smiley face. And today, the desert was Jell-O with whipped cream. In my life, I’ve never been so excited. However, by the time I got in there she was wrapping up and putting the jello in the fridge. I looked around and saw that no one was eating said Jell-O. So I said, “I’m gonna take the Jell-O out and have some”. Apparently, if the food worker is in the cafeteria they have to serve the food. So I gave her a small stack of styrofoam bowls to fill up with the red jiggly goodness. She looked at me and said “are you having a party?” to which I said to the room “who wants Jell-O???” and hands went up all over the room. I looked back at the nice lady and said “yes.” Everyone got Jell-O. Everyone got whipped cream. Everyone, for one moment, felt very normal. And I was very happy.
And in here… a moment of happy is like getting upped to first-class – something to be super excited about. So I take a minute and live in it. I remember how this feels and how I feel and how I want to bottle this. So now when I’m feeling blue I think of red Jell-O and even if just for a moment, I’m happy.