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.

I woke up screaming last night. No one came to check on me. Fell back asleep and got an immediate flashlight beam to the face. So clearly I had my nightmare at the beginning of my 15-minute check. My dreams are out of control. Waking up sweating or screaming or my personal favorite trying to scream but my mouth is paralyzed and won’t open so I just sound and feel like I’m covered in duct tape. The topic of said dreams?? Losing my job. You know the dreams I’m talking about – showing up to work and my code doesn’t work, getting to work and not knowing how anything works, getting to work and no one knows who I am. And I know this is not something that would never happen, it still leaves you trying to breathe all the oxygen out of the air and a pit in your stomach. The worst dream was when I asked my co-workers to pick the new person or me and they picked the new person. There is a wall and I’ve clearly hit it.

Today a new person sat down at my table. We start to talk. Really talk. He’s the first person I’ve spoken at length with about being in psych care. He’s been here a few times, well, here and a few other places. Much like many of the other folks here. More fuel to my “I’m a fraud” fire. He asks me about groups and why I’m not going. It’s hard for me to answer. Part of me says “I don’t like talking about my shit in front of strangers” but this is LITERALLY what I do for a living, so the argument has no legs. He lets me know that you get points for going to groups – the “man” is always watching and if you go to groups you get to go home faster. I’ve decided not to believe that. Which is totally smart since he’s the one that’s been here and I’m new, but I digress.

One of the questions you get asked here by the other patients is “did you come through the ER”? When you answer no, you get a knowing look. It’s hard to just walk through the doors of this hospital. 98% of the time you have to go to the ER, tell the people you feel you need to be checked into a psych hospital, get checked out by a doctor you don’t know, and then be transported in a fucking ambulance and brought in on a stretcher. The thought of having to do any of these things and any of these things alone was making me reconsider going. I had never been in an ambulance, I was in an ER once, I had a full-on breakdown with my therapist when she told me this is the way it had to go. They were able to advocate for me walking in on my own and I’m so thankful, because I don’t think I’d have gone otherwise.

We continue to talk. He is kind, with a soft voice. He’s calm even though I know his brain isn’t. It was one-on-one therapy, just in a different form. We didn’t have to be in a small room off a hallway of other small rooms with understated decor and decorative pillows to do some therapeutic work. It was just real talk with a veteran of the system who is showing his scars and giving actual definitive answers that are hard to come by here. I don’t know how I’ll ever be able to thank him for what he gave me today.

715 and I’m already in full-on panic attack szn. I really want to just cry. Cry like a toddler. Loudly. Screaming words. Just let all this anxiety, panic, fear out into the ether and let it go. However, you can’t do that here. Even if you go in your own room and shut your door everyone would hear. And then, a MHW would come. Then your nurse would come. And everyone would see it and I just can’t have that. So I hold it in. Why am I like this?

730 – Check in with the weekend doc who CLEARLY has better places to be. It’s just a stopgap for the weekend, she has to handle a good portion of us but really doesn’t know us. However, I’m in a clear state of distress so she asks a few questions and says “hope you feel better” and moves on. Oh my gosh, forgot about this part. She blamed my shaking on the coffee in my cup – we don’t get caffeine here. But that’s cool. Weekends are a challenge here. I can’t blame them for the staffing issues, but you need to realize you will be on your own Saturday and Sunday and find productive ways to use your time.

745 – All the lights come on. It’s like when the plane is landing and you’ve been sleeping. Jarring as hell. One of the other patients came to say good morning. I asked him if he slept well (he’s not a good sleeper) he said he went to bed at 11 (which is huge) I gave him knuckles in celebration. Continuing to help others and not myself. But it made me feel good to make someone smile.

Every morning we look to see who isn’t here anymore. Maybe they’ve gone home, to another ward, to the ER. We usually find out at some point in the day, but we all miss the space they used to inhabit.

811 – No morning med call, no vitals call, no breakfast call… it’s like they are trying to incite a riot.

910 – Sat down at my table. Another woman came and sat with me and we started that awkward small talk you must endure to get to a real conversation. My nurse came and sat down with us and we began a conversation. We bounced from traveling to suicide to restaurants to transition to fear to laughter to boys. It was magical and not planned, not in the fucking art room – it was real talk. She gave us ideas on how to deal with depressive thoughts upon our return to the real world. I feel so much better.

PRO TIP FROM MY NURSE: When you get home from work every day park your car, leave your stuff in it, walk up the street, down the block, along the beach, whatever works for you. This resets your brain so you know you’re done with work and the bad mood that came home with you is left on the pavement. You’re welcome.

I have a new superpower. I can tell you exactly who is coming down the hall just by the sounds their shoes make. Or the way their pants sound as they walk. It’s not something I can put on a resume, but I’m pretty proud of it.

Shuffle, Shuffle “Ah Jesus Christ” Shuffle Shuffle – he just makes me laugh.

The thing missing here, and it’s almost too obvious to mention, is the lack of human contact. It’s something sorely needed when you spill your life, your worries, your heart, your dysfunction, your fears – and you find someone who understands you. We are stuck inside, but we are also stuck away from each other. You can’t hug someone after they yell or scream or cry. You can only sit and look with worry & love in your heart and hope they can feel it.

200 – Porch time! This is where we sit on a porch. But it’s outside and surrounded with green grass and flowers and if you ignore the locks on the doors and the nurses in scrubs you might think it’s just some friends sitting around playing cornhole. Yep, we get to play cornhole. If you don’t look too hard it feels normal and I am filled with joy.

My day ends with a gift. Arts and Crafts are very big here and surprisingly it’s mostly the men who are sitting at the tables coloring, painting, puzzling. I’m not sure if they are working their demons out through construction paper or trying to cover the pain in paint, but they sit there for hours. One of the patients here I have come to care for deeply. We always go on walks together, I’ve even had a meal or two in the caf with him (I eat in my room most times). We talk about the things you talk about in here – anything that has to do with why you’re here – and I just enjoy his company. Today he brought me a gift. An origami vase that he made with a shampoo bottle and his beautiful origami. He spent an hour with a plastic knife making the opening for the vase because we don’t get sharp things here. I mean who does that?  He does.  And for the first time since I got here, I feel untroubled.