Today I went for a jog.
As I wrote in my previous two posts, I’ve recently had more knee trouble than usual and even discovered that I’ve been living with a fractured knee-cap. Well that explains a lot! I’m able to get around–I guess the clicking in my knees should have been more of a concern than it was. But long and difficult activities bring on pain in my left leg. It often radiates from my hip to my ankle in waves. But sometimes a girl just has to run…I have an amazing brace that I’ve had for a few years that has never let me down, although I’ve just recently finished paying it off. It seems however that my entire life could be summed up in these words: running on a broken knee.
I don’t pretend to be ignorant of my depression. I know it’s there, it’s always been there. In a way its dark, overbearing hands are a comfort to me…mind you they’ve never brought me chocolates or anything. But I’ve grown stronger to bear it over the years and some days it goes unnoticed. I do spend a lot of my time in deep thought and worried about the future but that doesn’t always bring my depression into the mix. No he’s keen to stand on the sidelines with a beer waiting for the worst possible moment to get close to me.
But on this jog, I wondered why was it that I was applying force to something that had already broken. What was it for? The vanity, the exercise, the need to be outside? Weren’t there other ways to be thin and beautiful? (No really, I’m asking; email me if you have a list). These thoughts opened floodgates in my mind on my half an hour run. What else had I pushed, or had life pushed, to the point of fracture? And then, without meaning to, I started to remember things that I’d rather forget. They too had popped up like the green ghosts of Christmas past at the end of the 6th Star Wars movie. They were there to watch me come apart at my broken pieces and fail.
So, instead of letting Obi-wan and Vader pick me apart I’m here to tell you something I never thought I’d so candidly and publicly speak of. When I was sixteen I attempted suicide. Obviously, I was unsuccessful. The only success to come out of it, was that I had confided in a friend the day before what I was going to do. Thankfully, she told her parents who called mine and I was busted. I was taken to the emergency room where I was admitted and committed to the pediatric psychiatric unit at MUSC.
I’ve experienced a lot of physical pain and discomfort in my life. But I’d happily experience all of it in consecutive order than relive a single second of the night I was committed. Two years ago I was almost killed by the world’s most venomous jellyfish who’d stung me over 1/4 of my body. I’d gladly going square dancing with that mofo in order to never experience that night again. I couldn’t look my family in eyes. I couldn’t speak to them, console them, or explain to them what was happening. Instead I blindsided them and wrecked everything.
What I was most thankful for, oddly, was that I couldn’t leave. I was involuntarily committed meaning that I had to put in enough time to convince a staff of medical professionals that I was not a danger to myself or others. Ultimately this meant that no one could get to me. I was allowed visitors but only my sister came and even she only came once respecting the time and space I desperately needed to digest everything that had happened. We tried to have a conversation but I don’t remember much of it. The one friend called me on the phone while I was there. She told me that no one at school knew except our other best friend who was beside herself and unwilling to speak to me at that time. My classmates were told I was violently ill, which rang pretty true. I’d ruined everything and because of this I was so happy that no one could reach me. I was alone.
The problem was I wasn’t where I wanted to be. Yes, I was away from the consequences of my actions but I was confined–jailed. There were bars windows, the bathrooms were locked, me and the other patients were to have little contact, and we were never unsupervised. I remember distinctively talking to another boy on my hall about our lives outside of the ward. It never occurred to me that the nurses were listening and when it turned personal, i.e. “what’s your last name, I’ll look you up when I get out of here,” the nurse all but flipped us over and smacked our butts like bad children. We were not to share personal information. She pulled me aside and scolded me “you don’t him! You don’t know why he’s in here.” And with that she sent me back to my room to stare out windows that had never been opened.
Eventually I did learn about him. His name was Drake, he was a year or two younger than me. He’d come in the same night that I had. I remember it was 2 am when I first saw him. The police brought him in, he was bleeding from the forehead. He never saw me, they tossed him a room and I didn’t seem him again for another day. He wasn’t crazy, or suicidal, or anything. His mom had gone on a bender and attacked him. The police were called but they didn’t get there before she’d managed to rip the toaster from the wall and hurl it at his head screaming she hated him. He didn’t have any other family and the state wasn’t sure what to do with him, so they left him there. When I told him why I was there he was bewildered “but you seem so normal,” I remember him saying. This would go on to be the description of my life.
“Yea, why would you want to do that to yourself?” Chris chimed in. Chris was younger than both of us and a lot smaller too. He was on the ward because…for a lack of a better explanation he was angry. He said he didn’t understand why he couldn’t contain himself or why he got so angry at the little things but during his stay there, he never stopped smiling. Chris and Drake shared the room next to me and at night would tap the walls pretending I could understand their coded messages. I’d tap back like we had already established a language of knocks only the three of us knew. Perhaps it wasn’t a real language but it helped me sleep at night knowing that across the wall there were two strange boys who desperately needed to know I was still there.
My own roommate shared the room with me only for one night. She was kind and we bonded in the early hours of the morning I arrived. Her arms were so scared she looked kind of like a tiger or zebra. I remember her father couldn’t look me in the eyes when they came to pick her up. We’d become friends by then. Her mother was polite and kind and packed up her things while Sarah played with her baby brother. And then they were gone and I again was alone in a purple jail cell.
I’m recounting vivid details that stick out in my memory of the days I spent there. Bur most of it is a blur. I was medicated and I was seen everyday by a psychiatrist who asked me stupid questions. I remember not answering them for the first couple of days but this got me a higher dose of medication, less free time with Chris and Drake, and another day added to my stay. So I eventually started a dialogue with the doctors giving them what they wanted to hear. That I was a misunderstood, confused, and dramatic. That I hadn’t really meant it. That I was okay. On the last day I and my family were called in for a family session. I honestly don’t remember any of it. What I do remember is that my mother had brought a stuffed bear. I concentrated on squeezing the bear until I could feel the seems of its neck rubbing together under my fingers. And because I was so uncomfortable and concentrating so hard on that I don’t remember the session. But I was ultimately, released. My parents left letting my sister drive me home and get me settled in the house without my parents under foot (which I am still so grateful for). I said good bye to Drake, Chris had already been released a few days earlier. Drake was here indefinitely. I remember being somewhat heartbroken for him. He assured me he’d be okay and that he’d come for me when he got out. That’s the last I ever heard from him. Wherever he is, I hope that it worked out for him. And it if didn’t I hope that he was able to rise above it and be something greater that what bore him.
I, in turn, was assigned to a therapist and forced to continue sessions for 6 months. I was also prescribed Prozac which has blurred a lot of the memories that surround my stay at the institute. Surprisingly here we are 8 years later, med free, working with a counselor, and I’m not sorry that I didn’t go. I’m not sorry that I was unsuccessful, that I was committed, that I was watched, probed, loved, knocked, and let go. It’s all fodder for the memoir. It turned out to be the foundation that I built the life I now lead. I don’t mean this to be some sappy inspirational novel. I never said that I’m cured, I never said that I don’t continue to dream of what it would be like to end it. I still suffer from my lurking friend Depression and have since been introduced to his close friend Anxiety. I am still cruel to myself. But all of it, all of 2008 really gave me perspective. It helped me out of the dark hole I’d dug myself into. And it helps everyday to wake and believe that that’s worst it will ever be. I hope that for the rest of my life that’s the lowest I’ll get, that’s the hardest it will be, and that everyday after that one will be easier.
I’ve always wondered if he remembers me. If he finds himself in the quiet thinking back on his days in the institute when he was a teenager. I wonder if he worries about me or wonders how I’m doing. Maybe this is how the universe works. Every person that unintentionally steps into your life sends you warm wishes, light, and love on your journey. How I find myself sitting thinking about someone I knew for less than 72 hours, hoping that everything worked out for him. And how I hope if there ever comes a day that he does think of me he sends me the same wishes.