I was awoken at 6 a.m. and told to get in line for the showers. They had these little baskets with our names on them in the day room that contained shampoo/soap, as it was a dual acting cleanser, a comb and some lotion. We were given a towel and waited our turns to get clean. This was not the usual beauty regimen that I had grown accustomed to. No conditioner was given and as I had long hair, I knew it was going to be a tangled mess. The shower/bathroom was very institutional. It was big and cold and while I had privacy, there was an aide waiting just outside the door to the bathroom. I tried to rush because I knew others still had to take their showers, but I was thankful for privacy, even if there wasn’t a lock on the door.
We were shuffled downstairs (as many were doing the Thorazine Shuffle) into the cafeteria to eat our breakfast. I didn’t know where to sit, so I sat down at a table with people I recognized from my unit. I was in the adult step down unit, but there was also a geriatric unit that was in the cafeteria eating with us. There were moans and chatter and it was all overwhelming. I tried choking down some powdered eggs and sausage, but soon gave up and gave my leftovers to one of my table mates. The best part of that meal was the coffee–it wasn’t good coffee, but it was coffee and felt familiar.
After the meal, we were given 15 minutes in the courtyard for outside time/smoke break. It was sinking in that my experience was going to be like someone who was in jail. At least, my personal white, middle class self’s prison. I stayed to myself and enjoyed the sunshine outside in the courtyard. It was narrow and long and overlooked a nursing home that was also owned by Dr. Teeth (my new psychiatrist who owned the hospital in which I was currently imprisoned). It was depressing.
Speaking of the smoke breaks/outside time, these were given four times a day. Fifteen minutes after each meal and once after the evening wrap up. You were given one cigarette (if you wanted it) by one of the aides – I think they handed out Dorals, and you were allowed to smoke and socialize with the other people on your unit. I was a smoker, but I hadn’t had a single cigarette during my suicide/Tylenol watch and I was not going to give them any ammunition to count against me at this new place, so I didn’t partake in the cigarettes. I was there for the fresh air. No one was any the wiser.
I clearly remember four people that I was with me in this hospital. Socks, Ben, Germaine, and Brutus. (I have changed the names to protect their privacy.) Each person was a character and enlightened me on different aspects of what I was facing being on the inside. This was unlike anything I had ever experienced before and I felt guilty for all the privilege and opportunities I had been given/experienced in my life thus far.
Socks: She was a firecracker and I didn’t trust her. She was volatile and loud and demanding and was not complying with anything that the staff was telling her to do. I was afraid of her. At this point, I was 5’9″ and weighed 112 pounds. I was a skeleton and all my clothes were hanging off me. Socks was busomy and heavier and a force to be reckoned with. At one point, she wanted me to give her my bra. Ummm…no. I was going to be keeping my bra. Plus, it wouldn’t have fit her and the aides told her so, but she was determined to have my bra. I hid in my room away from her. She kept on trying to claim my clothing as hers. She would ask me for XYZ and I would tell her no. Finally, she asked for a pair of my socks. They were blue and had colorful stripes on them. I gave them to her when no one was looking. She left me alone after that.
Germaine: He was a white guy who befriended me and kind of showed me the ropes. I’m not sure if he had been in this type of situation before, but he seemed to know what was going to happen and what was actually going on. He wore these boots that were lace up, but they had taken his shoe laces away for safety reasons and he shuffled around as best he could in his heavy boots. I remember thinking that he must have been very uncomfortable in his shoes. He taught me to keep to myself and not give away my diagnosis to others. Also, he had an understanding of the dry erase board that had a list of all the people in the unit and where they were going after their stint in the mental hospital. I don’t know how he knew, he just knew, and reassured me that once I got out, I was going home and not to jail. I hadn’t done anything to put me in jail, but given my fractured mental state, I was worried that I had committed some heinous crime. He was a constant friend and I trusted him. We had a mutual friend outside the hospital and that kind of bonded us together. We actually became Facebook friends after my stay in the hospital, but I ended up un-friending him due to my husband’s encouragement and my extreme paranoia. I didn’t want to be connected to anyone who knew my secret.
Ben: He was “special”. I don’t know if he was drugged out of his mind or he had a developmental problem or both. He was sweet and quiet and part of me wanted to help take care of him. He seemed really lost, but I have no idea what he was like in real life. I remember that he had very dry skin and I was playing “Mother Goose” and encouraged him to put lotion and Vaseline on his arms because they looked like they were about to crack. I felt really bad for him, but his mom would come visit him and that was encouraging.
Brutus: He was a force to be reckoned with. He was powerful and appeared to know who he was in personality and psychosis. I have absolutely no idea why he was in the hospital with us, but I do know he was on the list that was to be arrested by the state after his release. I singled him out as my protection. He had the potential to be violent, yet he never was. I befriended him by giving him my left over food and bribing him with granola bars. I think he started to want to sit by me during meal times because it meant he would get more food. I’m not entirely sure, but I think he might have been homeless prior to his stint in the mental institution. I do know that I liked talking to him. It made me feel dangerous.
There were no other women on my unit with the exception of “Socks”, and she was scary violent, so I hung out with my band of misfits. I had eased into being a part of their group, and I felt like I was buying my protection, but it was worth it and made me feel safe.
The food was terrible and was set on a four day rotation of what was available to eat. I remember eating tuna salad (at least I think it was tuna) sandwiches, grilled fish with canned mushy mixed vegetables and rice, and some sort of goulash. The food was miserable. Because I was so underweight, I was given a serving of Ensure with every meal. I would end up drinking that and not eat the meal that was presented to me, which meant more food for my posse, but the aides quickly caught on. They stopped giving me the Ensure during meal times, instead saving for an after lunch snack in the day room. They watched me closely when it came to my intake of food.
Group therapy was a joke. We were forced to sit in a circle and talk about our feelings and how we could make our lives more positive and fulfilling. I feigned participation because my goal was getting out. I remember having to make a vision board out of pictures we clipped out of magazines – it was stupid. But, I knew it was one of the keys to the puzzle of getting out. We also had group therapy with a psychologist, but I don’t believe any progress was made there. Therapy was kind of a blur to me.
Dr. Teeth met with us for a total of ten minutes each day. He would ask us questions that I can’t remember and up our meds. I always asked him when I would be sent home. He continued to adjust my medication, leaving me in a zombie state after each meeting. I was still quite manic, though. Drugged and manic. It took away my danger to others.
I felt safe with my band of brothers, but I wanted to go home. I was trying desperately to figure out Dr. Teeth’s game so he would release me, but they seemed to keep adding days to my stay. I was always met with a, “Let’s see how you feel tomorrow”. To this day, I have no respect for Dr. Teeth. He is there to make money and cares little about the care of his patients.
Visitation happened every day in the evening for about an hour and a half. My husband, mother, and sister were religious about coming to see me. I wasn’t always very nice to them, as I was angry at them for locking me away and I was still extremely confused about the diagnosis I had been given. I was light years away from being able to say, “I have bipolar disorder”. I wanted to see them, but when they arrived, the visits seemed pointless. I often sent them away before visiting time was over. I am certain this behavior stung, but I was angry and it was easier to just be around my band of misfits. However, I would have been even angrier if they hadn’t come to visit me. Looking back, I am glad they were fighting for me and came to visit. I also feel major regret for how I treated them.
I spent a total of six days at this facility. I was still manic and didn’t entirely understand the gravity of my diagnosis. I wasn’t better, just drugged, but I wanted to resume the life I had with my husband in New Orleans. I was released to the care of my husband and mother. The first thing I did after I was released was take a bath and shave my legs, as there were no razors allowed, unless you wanted an aide watching you as you showered. I never took them up on their offer to watch me, therefore I felt like a hairy beast. After my bath, I went for an epic walk by myself, but I wasn’t getting the same kind of work-out high that I had received prior to me being taken to the hospital.
The real work was just beginning and my extreme paranoia had yet to set in. I was glad to be home but I didn’t realize that things were just going to get harder from here…