Sorry for the unexpected hiatus. As noted in my last post, wandering is not always fun, and life has been a little challenging lately, which has kept me from blogging and continuing to share my story.
This section is going to have some gaps because it’s going to cover my time in the hospital, and I could literally write (and might do so) a whole book on the experience, so I’ll just be sharing the highlights here.
I’d hoped Julie would be able to stay with me for a little while, but they make her leave nearly as soon as we walk in the door.
“We have to take her back and get her checked in, so say goodbye.”
I can’t tell if this place feels terrifying because I haven’t slept, because my only conception of a place like this comes from fictional books and movies, or because of the horribly early hour indicated by the particular way the light slants through the windows of the lobby.
The attendant leads me through a door. It automatically locks once it closes. Trapped. They say I’m here voluntarily, but at this moment, I don’t believe them.
He takes my bag to inventory its contents and hands me a pair of scrubs in exchange.
A pair of women approach me.
“I’m Lisa, this is Jen. We’ll be doing your skin check.”
I’m too exhausted and in shock to ask why it’s called a skin check and what that entails.
They take me into another room, not an exam room, almost a conference room, and ask me to take off my clothes and change into the scrubs.
Now I get it. Skin check.
Lisa flips open a folder with my name on the tab.
“Do you have any tattoos?”
“Four of them.”
“Where are they? Can you show me?”
I show her my tattoos and she documents their location on a diagram of a body in my chart.
“Do you have any self harm scars?”
“I’ll need to see those, too.”
I pull down the top of my scrub pants to reveal the red and purple marks that stripe the tops of my thighs.
Without a word, she documents them, too.
Jen sorts through the clothing I’ve just removed sorting it either into a brown bag or into a stack on the table. I struggle to find the pattern for what goes in which pile.
Jen hands me the brown bag and shows me to my room. 17. I have a roommate for now. She’s appears to be asleep on one bed.
“This is the Adult Care unit. They should be moving you to Daybreak soon.”
Jen leaves, and I’m as alone as I will be for the next 72 hours.
I tuck my bag of belongings in the corner and lie down on the empty bed and pretend to be asleep. I struggle to keep the bottom sheet on the bed as there’s no elastic to hold it in place.
After some time, a technician comes and calls my name.
“If you want to get your stuff together, we’re going to get you transferred to the other unit.”
I get up and grab my untouched brown bag and follow him to the nurses station. I sit down in the only seat open, which is next to a bald man with a neck tattoo. He turns his head toward me.
“I’m Doug. Who are you?”
“What are you here for?”
“Oh. I’m just having a hard time.”
“Yeah? A lot of people here are.”
“Why are you here?”
Doug launches into a detailed history of his mental health, his physical health, why he has his tattoos, and how the police are out to get him. I nod along as he speaks, unable to do much more.
Before Doug is done speaking, the same technician comes to get me.
“Good luck, Chelsea.”
“Thanks. You, too.”
The technician takes me through another set of self-locking doors, or maybe the same set of doors, and into more monochrome hallways.
We walk in silence and arrive at yet another set of self-locking doors. It will be days before I see doors with regular handles on them and that you don’t need keycards to open.
The Daybreak unit is much more relaxed than Adult Care. Not all of the other patients are wearing scrubs. There are books and puzzles and tables with crayons. It looks like a large daycare.
At this point, it’s nearly noon, I’ve been awake since yesterday morning, I have had enough of people, and I just want to sleep.
A new nurse approaches me. Sheila.
“Hi, are you Chelsea?”
“Let’s take you to your room.”
She starts walking and motions for me to follow.
“You’ll be in room 9 with Audrey.”
We arrive at the door and Audrey is on the floor doing push ups. She appears to be about eight months pregnant. She says a quick hello and continues.
Nurse Sheila walks away, so I climb in bed to finally get some sleep.
Before I can even win the battle with the sheets on the bed and their lack of elastic, another technician appears at the door.
“It’s time for gym.”
“Okay. I’d really rather stay here and get some sleep, if that’s okay.”
“Okay. But if you don’t, your record will reflect you did not participate in group.”
Translation: You’re going to look like you’re not getting better and they’re going to keep you longer.
I hold back the glare of death so I don’t burn this woman alive and peel myself out of bed.
I shuffle down the hallway behind her, all the while wishing she would trip.
I get in line with all the other patients on the unit like children going to recess. Once we’re all accounted for, the awful tech leads us to the gym.
“What do you all want to do?”
Badminton. I will soon learn that the answer is always badminton.
The techs put up the net and all of the other patients grab rackets.
In my haze, I find a chair and sit so I can watch.
A charismatic middle-aged man walks past me, spinning his racket.
“I’m Joe. What’s your name?”
“Aren’t you going to play, Chelsea?”
“No. I’m just going to observe this time.”
Since they changed my medications, I’m tired all the time. The mirtazapine makes me sleepy almost instantly and keeps me tired until it’s time to take the next dose. I walk around in a fog for most of the day.
Nurse Sheila stops me in the hall as I’m walking laps to check on me.
“How are you doing? You seem to be sleeping a lot.”
“I’m just adjusting to these damn meds. They make me so tired. And I’m just ready to go home.”
“We can talk to the doctor about your meds in a day or two. Let’s give you a chance to adapt to them. As far as going home, you might be here a while. What got you here?”
“I’ve just had a lot of hard things. And people are awful and not to be trusted. People are the worst.”
Nurse Sheila nods and listens as I talk and pauses when I finish.
“Let me tell you something. You’ve been through some hard, hard things, but I’ve been around a few more years than you. Looking back at some of the things I’ve been through and how long it took me to overcome them, I’ve had to learn this.
“Don’t let them take ten years from you. Don’t let them take what you’ve got coming. You’re going to do some great things. You seem really sharp and driven, and you’re going to do some great things. Don’t let those people take that. You can do this.”
By the time she’s done talking, I’m crying. I know everything she’s said is true, but it’s just so hard to remember when everything feels so heavy.
I don’t feel like I can carry the heavy things anymore. But I know I can.
When I walk into the community room, Rachel is sitting on the couch with her hands over her face. She has two brown bags sitting on the floor next to her with all of her stuff in them, but she’s still wearing scrubs, so she must not be going home.
“What’s up, Rachel?”
She takes her hands off her face and looks at me.
“They’re sending me back to Adult Care. I hurt myself earlier.”
She nods and puts her hands back over her face.
When they started counting the silverware, I understood why and how they sorted my clothes when I arrived. Anything that could possibly be used to hurt oneself or someone else with was put in storage. Shoe laces. Bras with underwire. Pants or shirts with drawstrings or elastic. Any jewelry or other metal.
I’m suddenly grateful I wore slip on shoes.
Like I said, these are just some of the highlights.
Let me know if you want to know more. There are stories of interactions with doctors and counselors and technicians that check on rooms every 15 minutes and a whole lot of badminton. Every day there was badminton. And counting of cutlery after meals and waiting for the times we get to go outside.
There are truly so many stories to be told, and one day I’ll tell them all.