A Little Night Music Please
By Jeff Gifford
My Life Comes Full Circle in a Psych Ward
Caught a little depression with some anxiety on the side, is what I thought when I got diagnosed. It can’t be too bad. They make medicine for that. Yes, my grandmother had horror stories of ECT treatments, crying bouts, and long hospital stays. Sometimes getting out of bed was a struggle with her depression, she claimed. I always thought of my grandmother as a true drama queen.
My physical health took a nose dive in my late 40’s. I was diagnosed with a form of liver disease. I missed a lot of work due to numerous hospitalizations. When I was 50, I was told I no longer had any sick time left, and I would lose my job.
I had worked twenty-five years as a librarian. I earned my bachelor’s degree in biology and my master’s degree in library science. It was all I knew. It was my whole life. Now I would need to face foreclosure, move in with my father, and even go bankrupt.
These are days of uncertainty, and uncertainty is not good for people with major depressive disorder. It did not take long for it to begin its ugly course. Countless days were spent on the couch unable to move. The sound of the television annoyed me. I craved silence while I remained paralyzed. “Did I bathe?” I wondered. I couldn’t remember the last time I bathed.
I had turned into a lifeless vegetable, and had it not been for some good friends and family, I probably would have starved myself to death. My energy was depleted.
The feelings started to come back. It was like every neuron woke up and fired at one time. This was the worst part. I felt everything. Everything I had been repressing, the fear, the anger, my job, my life, everything—went into high gear.
I had never suffered agoraphobia before, but it was starting to settle in. I just did not want to leave the couch. I did not want to go anywhere, or even see anyone. Feelings just raced through my head, most of all fear. I craved the former numbness. It was safer there. This was eating at me, bit by bit, hitting me in heavy waves.
I do not remember the entire ride to the hospital. I do remember the police and the ambulance driver arousing me. My father said he called. The police found the empty bottle of pills. The next thing I remember was being escorted into a room where I was processed.
Processing occurs to match the correct group of patients together for effective therapy. I am told I will go to the fifth floor in the morning when there is an opening. The social worker assures me this is good news and not to be frightened.
That night was like no other I can recall, or care to repeat. It was a night of howls and moans and screeches that slowly waned past the midnight hour. Eventually, all that would be left was the laughing, street talk of the hospital workers.
I stare at the wall long enough to begin hearing the howls and moans growing in volume again. Soon it will be breakfast time. I am escorted to the dining area. I am touched to see a mentally disabled man in a wheel chair being taken care of by some residents. They make sure he gets his nourishment. I do not know his name. He is unable to talk. He needs special care. His clothes and hair are dirty.
Visiting hours are announced on the loudspeaker. Typically this is the time when hospital patients receive guests or talk to members of their clergy. Not here. Visiting hours go unnoticed in the television room or talking on a communal telephone. Credibility and cognition are wrongly assumed lost by those on the outside of these walls.
I am told to get my belongings, because I am going to the fifth floor. This is the area of the hospital designated for high-functioning mentally ill patients. I can even shave, provided I have a hospital employee onlooker. I still cannot wear a belt, however. Not until I have gained a certain degree of trust. That would take more time.
Days are filled with group sessions and games. Yes, believe it or not, “Pictionary” and “Jeopardy” are very therapeutic for this soiree of madness. It teaches us to be people, not illnesses. We aren’t two schizophrenics, three bipolars and the suicidal librarian. We are just ourselves, playing games, watching television, talking, interacting. Nothing much.
While I am waiting for my ride back home, the nurse smiles at me and hands me my belt. I put it on with newfound respect. Respect for a powerful disease and respect for my grandmother who got through it.
I wonder what has become of those I had the privilege to meet in the hospital. One of the hospital rules was not to share contacts. Still I think of their names and their faces. I say prayers. I hope they do so for me as well.