[Trigger warning for frank discussion of mental illness.]
A typical day at the hospital started out with going to a cart in the hallway where a nurse gave you your meds in a little paper shot glass. Everyone tilted all of their pills into their mouth in one go, chasing them down with water, of course. If everyone took one pill at a time, it would take all morning.
While I was waiting to take mine, the youngish man in a ball cap in front of me said, “I wanted to talk to the doctor about the one med. It’s having some sexual side effects.” Embarrassed for his lack of privacy, I wandered away to look out the window. He might not even have cared. No one had many secrets. One girl still had stitches in her wrists from her suicide attempt. People talked about all kinds of things in the morning group, where Marcos encouraged us to set a daily goal.
The same guy in the ball cap – I learned later he was a construction worker – said, “I’m going to try not to cry today.” One woman said she was going to try to stay awake all day. Later in the meeting, she fell asleep, and the girl next to her shook her shoulder: “Donna, you’re not meeting your goal”¦” Everyone laughed. We were all on a bunch of new drugs and lots of us would nod off during the day.
One afternoon brought art therapy, which was really just sitting around coloring and painting like children. I liked it all right. On another day, we went to a session of relaxation and stretching in the room that was sort of like a gymnasium, but carpeted. The instructor told us, “First let’s all just walk once in a circle around the room.” As we did this, the hipster guy said to Tom and me, “Yeah, I don’t feel crazy now at all.”
I learned that Tom, the friendly, handsome, preppy kid, was in fact deeply fucked up. He was shaking alcohol and drug habits, his relationships with his girlfriend and his family were disintegrating, he was suicidal, and his sense of self was so tenuous that when another patient made verbal sexual overtures, he was unable to tell the guy he wasn’t interested. (When I found out Tom’s harasser was convicted of raping a boy in the past, I told the doctor about the situation, and the rapist got moved to The Dark Side.)
There wasn’t anything to do in the late afternoon before dinner, and I asked my doctor if I could teach a poetry class, which I do sometimes at my company. He surprised me by saying sure. The class was a little rougher than usual since I didn’t have books or handouts, but people still seemed to enjoy it, although one fell asleep. I knew one Langston Hughes poem by heart, so I wrote on the board so we can talk about it:
Wave of sorrow,
Do not drown me now;
I see the island
Still ahead somehow.
I see the island
And its sands are fair:
Wave of sorrow,
Take me there.
On Tuesday night, we had visiting hours. A few of us hung out in the TV lounge waiting for people to arrive. “Once a bunch of people are here, we should go out and act really crazy,” someone said.
Tom said, “Maybe we could sing them a song.” We brainstormed some lyrics. I suggested, “And I’ll walk around and pet people’s hair.”
I was thrilled to see my husband Gill, who had brought me all the random things I’d asked for over the course of several phone calls, and one of my best friends, who brought me flowers. We found an empty room to sit and talk. My friend left a little early and Gill and I went back to my room and lay down together on the narrow twin bed, although he’s a big guy and I’m not small either. We just lay there holding each other until visiting hours were over.