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.
“Maybe there’s a way out of the cage where you live
Maybe one of these days you can let the light in
SHOW ME HOW BIG YOUR BRAVE IS!!”
– Sara Bareilles
What is brave? Is it the firefighter who rescues the child from the burning building? Is it the soldier who fights in a foreign country? Is it the policeman who takes a risk every time she responds to a call?
But it’s so much more too. Brave is anybody who has overcome adversity, who hasn’t let it turn them to the dark side, who takes one step forward every day despite chronic pain, sick children and relatives, mental anguish, abuse, or even just the stress of everyday life.
Brave is me.
I didn’t used to think this, and sometimes I still scoff at it. I’d never climb a burning building, or volunteer to fight a war, or try to bust a drug ring. When scared, I tend to run in terror, scream and shout. But then, so would many people. But all of us, deep down, have bravery. It’s just not the exciting kind found in the movies. I think Sara Bareilles says it so well in her song “Brave”.
“Everybody’s been there,
Everybody’s been stared down by the enemy
Fallen for the fear
And done some disappearing,
Bow down to the mighty
Don’t run, just stop holding your tongue”
Brave is the kid who goes to public school, who struggles with subjects that are hard, with teachers that are sometimes cold and harder, with fellow students who unleash cruelty at anyone who is different. Who do these things even home life gets tough as well.
Brave is the husband who goes to work everyday even when he hates his job. Who does his work even when his boss does nothing, and does his best. Who fixes his wife’s car, goes to get her prescriptions, and takes care of their children, his job, and everything else when she has to be gone. Who supports her when she cannot support herself.
Brave is the mom who recognizes when she can’t do it by herself anymore. Who risks the stigma of mental illness by admitting it. Who leaves the husband and children and goes into a scary hospital to get medicine and counseling, though it breaks her heart and her wallet to do so. Brave is the mom who writes about it on a public blog.
I am that mom.
“And since your history of silence
Won’t do you any good,
Did you think it would?
Let your words be anything but empty
Why don’t you tell them the truth?”
When I got home from the hospital, Thing Two and I talked.
Me: I only went away so I could be a better Mom.
Thing Two: You already were.
Maybe so, because my kids sure are amazing. But now I hope to be even better. I have another chance. I’m giving it all I have.
And if I can, so can you.
“Say what you wanna say
And let the words fall out
Honestly I wanna see you be brave
With what you want to say
And let the words fall out
Honestly I wanna see you be brave”
First of all, I want to thank all of you for your kind words of encouragement. I finally took a step toward my own wellness this past Tuesday. I checked myself into the mental hospital, or, as I prefer to call it, Camp Loopy.
Because it really was kind of like a summer camp for kindergarteners, if said camp took place mostly indoors and every door was locked. Later, I may try to tell in more detail about the three nights I spent there, but for now, I’m going to go with a top ten list.
Top Ten Ways a Mental Ward is like Kindergarten
1. Circle Time: We went to “group” where we played show and tell and some of us were kind of obnoxious about it. I once had a Kleenex box pointed at me in a threatening manner.
2. Walk in single file. We walked in single file lines to the cafeteria and the hospital staff had to count us to make sure no one got lost. I proposed a game of hide and seek while the staff wasn’t looking, which the staff didn’t think was so funny, but my fellow Looneys did.
3. Use your imagination. We were told to relax and picture ourselves on a sandy beach. One Looney who was a veteran said “Like Afganistan?” with an evil smile.
4. Cut and Paste. Once we cut rocks and diamonds out of paper – rocks for the hard things in life, diamonds for the good things. One guy just glued his whole page to the black paper instead of cutting the stuff out. I wondered why I hadn’t thought of that. We didn’t get to keep the safety scissors.
5. You get to color. One guy colored a picture of Tinker Bell, and asked what color to make her dress. I said red because she’s kind of a tramp. He agreed and added red lipstick too. Then he gave his picture to one of the techs who actually hung it on the wall.
6. There were stupid rules. Like no keeping food in your room, even if the other people (it was mostly men) ate like hogs and all the snacks in the common area went fast. One tech dude stole my graham crackers. I wasn’t happy.
7. Keep your hands to yourself. No touchies here. This was not Mental Mingle.
8. Meltdowns. You could usually count on someone crying or throwing a hissy fit.
9. No cell phones allowed. Everyone had to share the phone but no one limited their calls. And yes, kindergarteners have phones now.
10. Time Out. Since you can’t leave, you’re pretty much always in detention.
Anyway, I’m still working on recovery, so bear with me a while yet. But the skies are looking better. Especially since I can see them now.