It’s late on a Thursday night in 1991 when the ambulance brings me into the back entrance and they take me inside. The sound of the door is heavy and metallic clanging shut behind us. They show me to a small bare white room with only a sink, a toilet and a bare mattress.
I curl up on the mattress and can’t sleep the words sticking my haid wrong wrong wrong wrong head and scaring me. stop stop stop stop malfunction lockup lockup lockup lockup lockup … long animal like screams coming from other rooms…terrify me.
He is there “please, please, please, don’t, send, a man, in here!” … I am under the sink and won’t come out and cry; He returns again and again so that is where I stay.
This and the screaming go on late into the night. Several cycles of me sleeping intermittently between the visits where he seems as uncomfortable as I am with his presence there. They keep tormenting us both by sending him in again and again.
Time passes and I can’t stand my teeth. I am tormented as much by them as by the men they keep sending into my room. They just stand inside the door. Out, out outoutoutoutoutoutout!, I scream at him. But they don’t move. When I turn and face the wall quiet he finally leaves.
The next one is just a kid and looks as scared as I am and I feel sorry for him. We just stay in our assigned places till the time has passed and he too is allowed to leave.
I scramble back to my mattress and try again to sleep. Words words words words…the chanter guy comes back and mumbles over the top of them so that i don’t hear them any more.
It must be getting close to morning as the screaming is back. Long wild monkey wails of grief and torment. ”48 hour hold”. I can do this, but then it is the weekend and no one comes; NO ONE.
I am alone for how long; I don’t know. I sleep till I can sleep no more and drink water from the sink. The lights are always on and I can’t tell the day from the night. The screams come and go and I am left alone.
My teeth are making me crazy and no one has been here for a very long time. It is quiet again. I try the door and it opens.
I hadn’t seen anything when I came in. The fear was shutting me down. Now I look out and mine is the first door in a long hall next to the nurses station. A small square room with windows on all sides with the one that has a pass through and a metal vented circle to speak through on my side.
A much larger room surrounds it with lots of chairs and a TV up in the corner high up on the wall.
The floor is brown with a path of cream tiles going all around the outside of the room just one tile space from the walls. No one is out and I think if I stay on the cream tiles it is safe.
I slip out the door and walk that safe path to the window and whisper to the nurse. ”may I have a toothbrush please?” She makes me repeat it and it is almost more than I can do. The tired weighs down on me again and the need to go back to my room.
She can see that it is hard for me and steps out and presses one into my hands. It is cheep, white, and wrapped in cellophane with a small envelope of pink powder.
Suddenly there are people moving everywhere, someone brings me a peanut butter sandwich and chocolate milk I forget to follow the path and let them lead me to a table where I can sit down to eat.
For the first time since I came I realize that I am hungry. I have no idea how long its been since I have eaten. I manage a thank you but other than that we don’t speak. When I am done I ask to go back to my room.
Now there is a problem: The table is in the middle of the room. I don’t remember leaving the white trail of tiles against the wall but am suddenly very anxious about it. Just do it; there is no other way!
I take several big steps and get back to the wall and am breathing hard when I get there. Now I can safely make my way around the room to the corner, turn, then to the first wall of the nurses station, turn, to the corner, turn, to the corner, turn, carefully retracing the path back to my room.
When I step inside I am unsure that this is the room I left. Sink and toilet are in the same place but now there is a cot so that the mattress is up off the floor and there are crisp clean white sheets, a blanket and a pillow on it.
I went to the sink, wet the brush and poured the pink powder into my palm and rubbed the brush into it. I scrubbed and scrubbed my teeth until they returned to their normal state of smoothness.
The sheets smell of bleach and it is such a comfort to slip between them that in moment I am sound asleep… but as I do I get it…They offered me nothing till I made some request. I did something right and this was my reward.
Monday comes and the therapist has me brought to his office. They have extended my 48 hour hold “my behavior is to bizarre, to return me to the general population”. I cry as they take me back to my room. It is clear they can keep me as long as I don’t conform to what they want from me.
I am assigned a psychiatrist. He asks what medications they have given me in the past and I tell him that everyone wants to give me Lithium and that I hate it because it makes me feel drugged. I tell him my Dr’s keep telling me its only a salt and CAN’T do that.
He says IF you need Lithium you feel nothing when you take it, but if a normal person takes Lithium they feel drugged. Finally I feel heard. I have found someone who listens and will work with me to fix this.
He is trying me on some medication. I take it the first few times but don’t like it’s effects and begin to refuse to take it. I get called back into his office and he says he will change it.
Now I am lucid in my mind but my body is stiff and robotic. I feel the drool from the side of my mouth and can only imagine what I must look like. I grieve for what I have become…this shell of a person that can’t function or interact with others in any tangible way.
I get it. I feel angry and tricked. I have a right to refuse but they can do worse. I will do what ever he wants. Get me off this and out of here. I can’t be this anymore.
Once I start to co-operate I am off the locked ward and sharing a room with someone else. My roommate tries to cut her wrist with a safety razor, I am thinking of ways to remove the blade from the plastic but say nothing. She is an idiot.
I ask for something to draw on and am given a rather nice flip book of blank paper and some pencils. I am beyond grateful for the gift.
Now I am required to go to group. There are men in the group. The first day they confront me about my behavior when I was first admitted. I tell them I was afraid. Of what? I say “I don’t know”.
The groups facilitator is quiet a moment like he is thinking about that. Then he says. ”I believe that”. ”I really believe that you don’t know” and he moves on to the next person.
Every day I take my drugs. I go to meals, and to our exercise periods, and I go to group. Other than that I lay on my bed and draw. I think about my children and wonder what they know.
Some how I let it out that i have been raped in one of those groups. I don’t even know when or how. I just know that one day I am in a group with a guy who has been in them with me before and he is talking about “going down to the boulevard and picking them sweet young strawberries.”
I ask him what he means, and he says he picks up underage girls that will trade sex for drugs. I totally lose it then and think I will rip his hair out, I am screaming as they pull me from the room and He is saying “I ain’t the one who raped you bitch! “
That night I am dreaming that I am sitting on my bed and there are lots of pills on the night table. I am sliding them off and taking them one at a time saying “I don’t want to go home”. ”I don’t want to go home”, and taking another and another.
They don’t make me go to group anymore.
I have been in almost 2 months when I am called in for a long conference with the psychiatrist who has been prescribing my drugs. He tells me they are thinking of letting me go home and I break down and cry.
He asks about the side effects of the drugs they have been giving me lately and I tell him that I don’t notice them anymore. I feel good. In fact that this is the first time anyone has given me anything that seemed like it really helped. They give me one months supply of med’s and release me to go home.
For the first three days I am curled up on the couch when I am not asleep I pretend that I am so that I don’t have to deal with anyone, till I realize that no one will push me. I can do what I can and rest when I must.
Finally I begin to do what I used to do. I wake up and clean and help with homework and we learn what it is to be a family again. In a short time I go back to work. At first its clear they are watching me but before long they forget to do so and everything is normal again.
I have my life back and that is more than I ever hoped for just 2 short months ago.