Sometimes at night, the nurses came and shut our doors and told us to stay in bed. In the morning a breakfast tray would be unclaimed and left to grow cold on the racks that brought our food to us. Sometimes I noticed the missing person; sometimes I didn’t remember them at all. I didn’t realize what was going on until years later when I attended the funeral of a friend’s daughter who had been on the same ward. But that is a story for later.
I learned things on that ward that I might never have learned on the outside. I didn’t know that people cut themselves, or why. It was usually young girls with their arms bound with bloodstained gauze who chatted animatedly and manically. For the longest time I just looked at them without realizing what they were doing to themselves. One day I asked a girl why she had bandages all over her arms and she told me she had to get the demons out of her body so she tried to cut them out. I stared at her in astonishment, trying to imagine how that must feel mentally and physically. Another girl told me she knew she had snakes inside her and she was trying to get them out. Sometimes there were guys with bandages, but more often than not it was a young girl. Their nurses never left their side during mealtimes when they had the use of utensils. Yet somehow they managed to still cut themselves and they sported their bandages proudly. When the bandages were removed their arms and legs were scarred and I wondered if they would ever heal.
We noticed that whenever anyone took the urge to dress themselves properly and make themselves look good for the day, they were sent home. Inevitably they screamed and cried and everyone got in on the act, not wanting them to leave. I saw people dragging their bags through the door as they cried and held out their arms to their friends and the nurses, begging to stay; scared to be going back out into the real world. It kept many of us in sloppy clothes or pajamas so we wouldn’t get kicked out. We may have been crazy but we weren't stupid.
It seemed safe on that hallway. We didn’t have to accept responsibility for anything or anyone. We let them do to us what they wanted so we wouldn’t be sent home. We were a sad mixture of just about every type of mental illness and we accepted each one mindlessly.
As time progressed, I was allowed to make crafts a couple of times a week instead of going to the group session. I looked forward to this change as it kept my hands busy. Sometimes we went up to the top floor of the hospital and used the exercise room that was there. Some nights they took us swimming on the bottom floor. This made me the happiest. I was the one who went around and talked people into swimming when I learned that if there weren’t enough people going it would be canceled. I have always been happiest when I am swimming and even though it was a small pool, I was content.
I lived in sweat pants and t-shirts and didn’t realize that my medication was putting weight on me. By the time I left the unit I had gained 60 pounds. This was not uncommon at all and everyone moaned about their weight gain. Depression and weight go hand in hand. We got more depressed as the pounds increased, so they increased our medication which put on more weight. I was just another statistic.
D visited often during the week and Cid came down nearly every weekend. When I was taken off ‘close observation’ I was often allowed to go home for the weekend. If I didn’t make it back in time on Sunday evening my bed would be given away and my things packed up. This threat made me nervous all weekend and by Sunday afternoon I would be watching the clock and reminding them every minute of the time. It didn’t matter to me that they were both trying desperately to keep me calm and entertained – trying to bring my mind back to reality. All I could think about was the safety of the hall.
After five months – my doctor released me. Cid and D were ecstatic that I was getting out. I spent a week at home, terrified of everything. By the end of it I had worked myself into such a state that I begged to be taken back to the hospital. I was such a pitiful mess that I never noticed the pain in the eyes of the two men who loved me as they checked me back in to the hall.