I’ve thought on and off, for weeks, about writing about my mental illness and posting about it here. Part of me wants to get it out. Another part, the self-deprecating part, tells me that nobody cares about my craziness. That it will make me look needy and stupid or, worse, people who are thinking about giving me a job will look me up and see this, and they won’t want to hire me anymore. But I’ve decided I want to write about it. There is so much to say; I have suffered from mental illness since I was five, but I’m going to focus today on the recent issues, particularly my latest hospital stay.
When I say I was in the ‘hospital,’ it sounds euphemistic. It’s like when people make careful references to you ‘hurting yourself’ when what you really wanted was to take a gun and pull the trigger. A few months back I was admitted to a ‘hospital’ and spent about a week there. It was the second time I’d been to one of these places; the first time I was fifteen so I was in the kiddie ward. At twenty-two, I was no longer considered a child. It was a few days before Christmas. I had told my parents that I was going to stab myself. Correction, I told them I that I was planning to call a suicide hotline (I had scribbled down their number on a scrap of paper and put in the bathroom) and if they didn’t work a miracle of Annie Sullivan/ Helen Keller magnitude, I was going to stab myself.
My parents were understandably panicking. They were rushing to get me put in the hospital, and my mom couldn’t find her shoes. I was laughing and laughing. That’s right, my parents were freaking out because I had told them I was going to stab myself in the chest and I was laughing. My inappropriate laughter was punctuated by me shaking involuntarily and telling them they could try, but they weren’t going to take me alive. For the last week I had been on Luvox, a nightmare of a drug that had given me a host of annoying tics. For hours on end I would blink rapidly and bobble my had side to side.
Also, not to be indelicate, but my period was driving me crazy. Oh, I know periods usually drive women crazy. But I would literally become belligerent, suicidal, and depressed every time I had my time of the month. I wouldn’t laugh or have a nice word to say to anybody. All I could think of was what a terrible person I was and how terrible the people around me were. The only thing that made me feel even a little bit better was to listen to my music, but there was a awful dialogue running through my head all the time, making it impossible to focus on any one thing at a time.
Sometimes the ‘voice,’ the self-talk, pretended to be my friend, keeping me occupied for hours with stories and thoughts about my life. I spent hours pacing, just pacing, and hearing that voice play itself out in my head. It talked about stuff that had happened to me when I was a kid. Not always bad stuff. Sometimes it was funny stuff. It talked to me about the novella I had written during a rare good time. I thought about my characters and their individual dramas. It was mostly okay, having this narrative going on. Sometimes it wasn’t cruel. I can’t say it was particularly motivational, but sometimes I felt like I was talking to someone who cared about me, when I was really just talking to myself.
In the emergency room, I veered between total, hopeless depression and giddy, almost flippant sarcasm and jokiness with the nurses. I was there for hours; they didn’t have a room for me and were trying to secure a bed in another hospital. I was on a stretcher ticcing like mad, head just swinging back and forth, back and forth. There had been some family drama involving my brother that I won’t go into here, but we took that drama into the hospital. My brother had told me an awful lie about my father, and the issues I had been having with him hit an all-time low.
The ambulance finally took me to another hospital, and I was actually happy to get away from my parents. I couldn’t stand seeing the hurt and sadness on their faces another minute. I know I hurt them. They say it isn’t about them, it’s about me getting better, but sometimes I think their lives would be easier if I wasn’t in it. I talked to a nurse for a while when I got there, and she drove me crazy. I mean, she was nice and everything, but she asked the same questions 10+ times and I felt like her thirty minute conversation with me could have lasted less than five minutes if she had not had such a circular manner of speaking. By the third time she asked if I was hearing voices, I began to wonder if she had some kind of short-term memory loss.
I almost asked her if the she was asking me repetitive questions as a trick, like job applications like to do. But I didn’t want to hurt her feelings. I found myself saying “As I said before…” a lot, but I wasn’t trying to be rude. She asked me if I was bipolar, because according to her my speech pattern seemed manic. I told her I was OCD and Depression, but I had been considering that maybe I had a milder version of Bipolar as well. She asked me if I was on the Spectrum, and I panicked, because I had heard from a lady at the last hospital that this place might not let somebody with an Autism Spectrum Disorder in if they didn’t feel they could accommodate their needs. I told her I had Asperger’s but it was really mild. I begged her to let me stay, and she said it was all right, she had a son with Autism too. Okay.
I soon discovered that life at the hospital was, if nothing else, inconsistent. A few days into my hospital stay, I collapsed on the floor because I hadn’t eaten barely anything for three weeks. My loss of appetite was also probably due to the Luvox. The nurses said my blood pressure was dangerously low, so they forced me to eat and drink a lot and at one point put me on an IV drip. The funny thing about it was, the hospital had a large supply of ginger ale, which happened to be my #2 favorite drink. It seemed that when I asked the nurses on the day shift for ginger ale, they handed it out unreservedly. One lady practically shoved it down my throat, even if I wasn’t thirsty. When I asked the ladies on the night shift for ginger ale, however, they told me I had to wait until snack time. The trick was getting drinks from the day shift ladies, since there didn’t seem to be much communication between them.
A few days in, and the drugs I was on didn’t seem to be working. I pulled my own hair, beat my head against the wall. I saw the hospital only in terms of how I could hurt myself. I liked the nurses, and all of them became kind of interchangeable in my head, but I hated my social worker. He was smug and condescending and he didn’t seem to know anything about Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, but he pretended he did, with the air of a child playing make-believe who just makes things up as he goes along. He talked about washing hands, and I told him my OCD was pure-O. Huh? He looked at me like I was growing a second head. He treated me like I was a moron, and I finally blew up at him while he was talking to me and my parents. Even my mother, who’s one of the most accepting people I know, said this guy ‘wasn’t the brightest crayon in the box.’
I met a girl at the hospital, my roommate, that I got along with. She was Schizophrenic, and we lay in our beds and talked to each other like we were old friends. She had the habit of oversharing about her problems, and I loved that; I loved being the one to listen to stories about someone else’s crazy life and not the other way around. I will not betray her trust by sharing the things she told me here. I didn’t even tell my parents anything too personal about her. I liked being the one to share her secrets. She got out after only a day or two of us knowing each other, and I was legitimately happy for her, but at the same time sad she wouldn’t be my roommate anymore.
I got on with the other patients at least, and I began eating again, even though I didn’t want to. The meals at this hospital were high cuisine compared to the ones at the place I had been committed as a teen. I started talking about killing myself less, although the impulse still lingered. I spent Christmas there, which was really depressing, what with the television playing those sappy holiday commercials and Christmas music. I raided the hospital’s measly book collection and read two books, plus another that my mom had brought me. It was either that or watch Jerry Springer. I did watch a little Andy Griffith Show and The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, but that was pretty much it. The more I watch cable television, which my house doesn’t have, the more I see I’m not missing much.
When my roommate was there we watched part of this really misogynistic old western on TV and I had her laughing at my commentary on it. Now that she was gone, there was no one to joke with. I liked the other patients. I didn’t have a problem with any of them. When I wasn’t reading (it’s amazing how much reading you can get done when you don’t have the distraction of the internet,) I was writing journal entries on scraps of paper. My parents had told me that they weren’t going to celebrate Christmas without me, so when I was released we celebrated it on the wrong date. It wasn’t so different from what we used to do when my dad had to work on Christmas, but still, I appreciated it.
Now I guess is the time when I tell you what I learned from this whole experience. To be honest, I’m still really struggling. I sometimes wonder if being alive is worth the trouble. I get the worst depressions, depressions where I’m awake only two or three hours out of the entire day and night. Lately, it’s been fluctuating. The first week or so after I came home, I got up early, read voraciously, and picked up the house without being asked. Other days I’m bitter and withdrawn. But my advice to people struggling with mental illness is to keep on keeping on; you might think that your family would be happier and better off if you were dead, but you’re wrong.
I’m not trying to make you feel guilty for feeling suicidal. I’m not going to tell you you’re selfish for wanting to do it, because mental illness is irrational. It distorts everything, like when you’re in one of those fun houses looking in a mirror that makes your body look small and your head look gigantic. There was a time in my life where I felt like I was literally the worst human being on earth. I felt like an aberration, and my fingers were itching with wanting to cut myself, scratch my skin up, pull on my hair. I got that feeling like I was going to jump out of my skin and I couldn’t do anything to stop the panic welling up in me but hurt myself.
But as the song Prison Sex by Tool (a fantastic song about sexual abuse and the cycle of violence, which, although I couldn’t directly relate to, I loved the darkness of and listened to often) says, “I’m breathing so I guess I’m still alive.” Sometimes I kind of feel like I’m living a half-life. I don’t brush my hair, I spend hours crying helplessly. It’s an event if I get dressed in clean clothes and leave the house. Sometimes I wonder if I’d be better off dead. But I promised my little sister at one point that I wouldn’t kill myself. God, isn’t that awful, thirteen years old and worrying over whether her big sister is going to commit suicide in the middle of the night. I’m going to try to get a job, even though my last interview was an unmitigated nightmare. I’m going to try to do good and stay alive. I think sometimes that depression is saying one day at a time, ‘I’m going to get through today without hurting myself.’
Maybe someday I’ll even get recognized for my writing. My dad said the novella I wrote wasn’t marketable, but I guess there are some markets for some pretty weird things. At the very least I could self-publish and try to get noticed that way. Finally, I want to thank everybody who read this post in its entirety. I know it’s long, and tangential, and completely self-absorbed. Thank you. If you have any thoughts on what I wrote, feel free to leave me a comment.