So last time, I spoke to you guys about my first few days back at Camp Loopy which is not that fun cause they don’t even give you t-shirts. I think unit t-shirts would be awesome, you know, like in Harry Potter. I could have been in Schizoloren if the magic hat I talk to daily said okay. I’m getting off topic already.
Anyhoo, last I left you they’d just decided to transfer me from the geriatric unit to a new unit (bye bye Huffledafts) because clearly my anxiety was getting better too fast. One thing I’ll give them – the head nurse fought for me to stay. They like to hoard the “good patients”. I didn’t fully understand what that meant until I got to the new unit.
I know a lot about mania. My brother has bipolar depression, which can cause a person to swing from lows to wayyy too highs. Not that he can’t be annoying (he is a brother), but he does take his meds so he’s usually okay. I hadn’t actually witnessed a person in full blown mania who did NOT need meds thanks so much. Then I met Mandy (names changed to protect the looney). Or rather I heard her before I even got there.
Oh. My. God.
Mandy talked. And talked. And talked. I don’t think she ever shut up except for the rare times her entire body gave out and she slept for a few precious minutes while we tiptoed around her and said “She’s kinda cute when she’s sleeping.” But otherwise, she was talking – loudly. Yell-speak I call it. Every single word was shouted. Try to imagine this for a few minutes. Now imagine it for 2 days. Yeah. They don’t usually send you somewhere with the apparent intention to drive you even MORE insane.
She was also very active, like a child who had just downed 5,000 pixie sticks and a few dozen Monster drinks. She danced, she sang, she ran around the room, she swung her head around like a head banger. And if that wasn’t enough, Mandy was religious, so we also got mixed-up Bible thrown at us every few seconds. “Amen,” she said. “No Ah-men. No, A-men. AMEN!!!”
Mandy was a pretty young woman. She reminded me of this ice skater who was so beautiful, graceful, and mercifully silent. But not Mandy. She was as active as a speed skater on speed, if said speed skater yelled Bible verses. Come to think of it, some of those street corner preachers could have picked up some tips from her.
I’m pretty sure I lost more hearing from her in those two days than I did from the infancy of my each of my two children. Occasionally a nurse would yell “Mandy! Shhh!” and she’d sit down, hold up two fingers in a peace sign, and yell “Sorry, sorry! Peace out!”
One might think I could have escaped from her by going to my room and closing the door. But nope, because I roomed with the Grinch. The Grinch was mad. Always. About absolutely nothing. And boy did she let you know. She slept with a glass of water in her hand, and both nights woke up cursing and howling, shocked that there was water in her bed! This usually happened around 1 AM. No sleep for YOU, Alice!
At least I didn’t room with Mandy. God have mercy on that poor woman’s soul. Her roomie seemed incredibly laid back. Maybe they dosed her with a lot of meds. I hope so. Mandy’s completely unidentical cousin was also in the same unit. She looked apologetic a lot. We felt sorry for her. I can only imagine the family reunions.
Now why didn’t they make Mandy take her meds? Cause they can’t. They can’t force you to take anything, nor can they restrain you unless you are an imminent threat to your life or someone else’s. No, for the real stuff you gotta go to a state facility. Our hospital is a holding pen for these people – for up to six months. Yup. Six months with psychotic people who can barely be controlled. She’d already been there a few weeks when I got there. How those nurses, techs, and counselors stayed in their jobs I will never, ever know. I think I’d be shoving pills down Mandy’s throat. After tying her to some railroad tracks.
But I digress. Group meetings were completely useless since she could not stay down for more than a few seconds and was constantly interrupting then saying sorry and interrupting again. Also the Grinch was always griping about all us annoying Whos and how she was HANDICAPPED and couldn’t walk (though she’d walked into the room) and that the staff were total jerks. She couldn’t figure out why no one leaped up to help her.
At one point, the Grinch and Mandy got into a shouting match and I shamefully admit I was waiting for them to duke it out so maybe we could call the police to take them away. Also it would have been entertaining. We had little entertainment since they never let us go outside or get exercise in spite of telling us in Group that this relieved depression. No fresh air for you!
I reached my breaking point about 1 AM the morning of my release day. I was up waiting for them to change Grinch’s sheets and dose her with enough stuff to make her go back to sleep. Mandy was shouting, as usual, and I turned and yelled “MANDY! BE QUIET! I NEED TO SLEEEEEEP!” She blinked at me, shocked. “Oh, I didn’t know I was being loud!”
One of the nurses must have seen the deranged look in my eye so she sat down with me. She asked me the usual questions.
Nurse: Do you feel suicidal?
Nurse: Do you feel homicidal?
I looked right at Mandy.
Nurse: Moving on . . .
She finished her checklist and helpfully talked me down from my tree. Mandy was headed for state lockup – they’d luckily found her a spot. Maybe because the staff threatened to quit in mass? I would have. I still don’t know why they couldn’t have found her a nice padded room of her own somewhere far, far away from the rest of us. But then, her presence did tell me that there is no real escape from life. The crazies are everywhere.
So Mandy left at 4 AM the same day as my departure. Hello, Silence, my old friend. So that gave me about five or six hours of actually enjoying myself a little before being unceremoniously booted out of the ward. But I did make friends. They say in wartime, soldiers become very close. It’s the same in the crazy ward. I met one woman in particular that I still text. We and a few others laughed a lot while we were there as we talked about all the patients and their quirks. One of them pointed out:
“Hey – I just realized we’re the mean girls of the mental unit.”
Why not? You take your perks where you can. This crazy story has a happy ending. I got a pill – a teeny, tiny little pill that has been an absolute miracle. I also experienced a little bit of the old Jewish tale “It could always be worse.” I have true compassion for those with mental illness, even Mandy (when she’s far away from me) and frustration at the lack of decent care for them. I hope one day we can build more and better facilities around the country, because it’s not just a few of us out here. There are more than you know, living day to day, undercover.
It’s time for us all to be able to come out into the light.
Okay, this is Alice being somewhat serious for a few minutes. Canvas of the Minds is a blog with multiple authors that seeks to remove the stigma from mental illness by talking about it freely. The authors, including yours truly, are not experts, except in our own experiences. In other words, we all have a touch of the nuts. And we want to share! No, wait, we want to let other people know that it’s okay to share. That’s better.
Because there are more of us than you think. It’s not all confined to places like Wonderland. We have way more than our share here, though. I keep trying to get the Hatter to take some meds or at least go see a shrink but he keeps saying “Not during tea time!” Of course, it’s always tea time, which means he can never seem to get any help. Instead he hides away with the March Hare and that stupid Door Mouse and they all act crazy together and no one knows about them unless they are unlucky enough to stumble upon their tea party.
It wasn’t a fun party. There was all this “new cup, move down” crap and we never got to drink any tea or eat any sweets because the dorks kept starting over again, or jamming the mouse in the sugar bowl, or celebrating unbirthdays or just smacking the crap out of each other. In other words, it’s like most family dinners, only this one never ends.
The sad thing is that it could end, or it could at least get better. But there’s this stigma out there. No one wants to admit they are good in the mentals. You can have Cancer. You can have heart disease. You can have a broken leg. And you can freely take medicine for all of these. People are willing to be nice and bring you food and talk to you about your troubles. But if it’s a mental illness? That’s a different story.
Then you’re making it up. Or you could do better, if you’d just try. You know, pull yourself up by your bootstraps. Quit being sad! Now! Get off the ceiling you aren’t Spiderman! Now! Stop it, stop it, stop it already!
Strangely enough, this sort of therapy rarely works. Because, you see, people with mental illness already think they’re lazy. They already know there is something off about them. They are already frightened. And often they don’t know why they’re sad, or why some random thing has caused tears, or why they managed to tile the roof in one night. It just is.
But because of these reactions, people suffer in silence. Because of these reactions, people take their own lives. And then people wonder. She always seemed happy. What went wrong? He pretended, that’s what. She acted like everyone expected, that’s what.
But we can change this. We can talk about it more openly. The more people know about something, the less likely they are to fear it. And the more encouraging people are, the more likely someone with mental illness will feel brave enough to respond, to leave the tea party, at least for a little while.
So that’s why I have this badge over there now. I don’t just blog about mental illness. More like you can just kinda tell I’m nuts by reading what I write. That’s another thing people don’t realize. So many artists, writers, and other creative people suffer from this stuff. I’m not sure what the connection is, but I do know that if we don’t hold out a life line, we’re going to lose some of our most gifted people, and the world will be less than.
I am fortunate in that I have a great support system. I have enough income that I can afford medical treatment. Not everyone has that. But you can be that someone, just by being willing to listen. Or read. Check out this blog, or let someone else know about it that could use a little help. Just knowing you are not alone is sometimes enough to help you get through the night. And if you suffer from depression or even just the occasional blues, you can also come here or to many of the blogs listed in my blogroll (that is always evolving). Laughter is a great medicine. I hope I make some of you laugh, and for a while, forget about the tea party.