psych unit sleepover

BY DELANI VALIN

I can’t eat. There’s a pile of mashed potatoes and a pork chop in front of me, but they taste like the aftermath of a dental surgery – like blood. My mom and sister ask each other routine questions about work and movies between mouthfuls. I watch them and begin to cry.

After a few glances in my direction, they resume their conversation. This too, is part of the routine.

Images of knives, of bathtubs, and of pill bottles float in front of my eyes. And as I think of the terrible things I might do if left alone, something becomes clear: this feeling isn’t going to go away—not on its own.

I head downstairs to my bedroom to put on my most comfortable clothes: slim black sweatpants and a polka-dot t-shirt. I toss a notebook and a pen in a bag. I hear my mom come down the steps and knock on my door.

“Are you okay?” She asks.

“I need to go to the hospital,” I tell her.

She doesn’t argue. This has been a possibility for weeks.

“I’ll be in the car when you’re ready,” she says.

As I walk over to the hospital’s reception desk, I’m struck with the perverse realization that I’ve been humming the Bee Gee’s “Staying Alive”. I shake the morbid disco out of my head.

“What seems to be the problem today?” The receptionist asks.

I struggle, “I’m afraid, because I want to die.”

“Are you on any medications?” She asks.

“No.”

“We’re going to check your vital signs, and then a nurse from the psychiatric unit will come and find you.”

I nod, and after getting my finger squeezed and my blood pressure taken, I sit down with my mom.

She speaks to me, but I don’t hear her. I think about how much I would rather be here for a broken bone, and I realize that I’m ashamed.

“Delani?” The nurse asks. She wears light blue scrubs, has short blond hair and no makeup. She’s young, maybe five years older than me. I start to cry again.

“You haven’t had a great day,” she says, as we walk towards the psychiatric unit. I shake my head.

We reach a heavy locked door, accessible only with a code. Inside, there’s a booth protected by panes of glass—the nurses’ station. To the right, there’s a corridor with different room numbers affixed to half-open doors.

The nurse leads me to a large common area overlooked by the nurses’ station. There’s a television playing food-related programmes. There are several green vinyl armchairs, and tables with blue plastic chairs. In the back of the room, there’s a small kitchen with a fridge and a tap.

“Sit anywhere you like,” she says. “And I’ll need to take your bag from you.”

I give her my purse and choose to sit at a table with my mom, because there is a man wrapped in a sheet seemingly sleeping in one of the armchairs. I don’t want to wake him.

“I’m glad we came,” my mom says. “Now you can get some real help.”

I realize that I’m shaking.

We are soon called into a conference room where a psychiatric nurse hands me a checklist.

“Just fill this out, and we can talk about it after,” he says.

I glance at the list. There are questions about suicide, about how I would do it and how much thought I’ve put into it. Next I have to jot down the pros and cons of dying.

“It’s hard,” I say.

My mom nods.

The psychiatric nurse comes back and we discuss my answers. He tells me that it’s actually a good thing that my suicidal ideations give me anxiety, because it shows I am scared to carry out a serious action.

“Even so, due to your history of self-harm, we’d like to keep you under observation until you can meet with the psychiatrist.”

“Okay,” I manage.

“Let me show you to your room.” Yet another nurse leads us down the corridor of half-opened doors. “You’ll be in number four.”

I step into the room. There’s a cot with a thick blanket, a single flat pillow, a nightstand with a lamp, and a blue plastic chair. My mom sits on the chair as I appraise my bedding.

“That pillow is flatter than a pancake,” she says.

I laugh, and then my laughter turns to tears.

Eventually she leaves, telling me she’ll be back in the morning.

Alone in the room, I take in more details. The window, despite us being on ground level, will not open more than a crack. There’s nothing on the ceilings from which to hang tied-up sheets. The garbage can, I realize, has no plastic bag. They’ve thought of everything. I wonder how many hospitals had to get it wrong before any of them got it right.

The nurses at the station refuse to give me a pen to write with. They print out documents on a few mental illnesses that I can read.

“You don’t have to stay in your room if you don’t want to,” a nurse tells me.

“It’s okay, I have a headache right now.”

“Oh, I’ll give you something for sleep if you want,” she offers.

“Yes.”

“Do you want to shower? We have some shampoo and soap. I can give you a toothbrush,” she says.

“No, I’m fine.”

“You don’t want to brush your teeth?”

“I’m okay,” I say. The act of brushing my teeth requires me to be in close proximity to a mirror, something I can’t bear.

I take the sleeping pill and curl up in my bed. In a strange way, being here feels cathartic, as though everything in my life has led up to it. With this thought, I fall asleep.

In the night, I wake a few times because nurses open my door and peer in with a flashlight. It reminds me of when my dad told me he used to check on me in my crib to make sure I was still breathing. The invasion of privacy is disconcerting and comforting all at once.

In the morning, the curtain-less window floods sunshine into my room. I hear doors opening and closing down the hall, a janitor washing the floors, a woman screaming in an adjacent unit. I’m groggy, but ultimately the urge to urinate forces me to get up.

I stumble into the common room in yesterday’s outfit and a thin pair of socks.

“Do you want a robe?” It’s a nurse I haven’t seen yet; they must have had a shift-change.

“No, I’m alright.”

“Your breakfast came in, if you want it.”

“Okay.”

I sit at the same table I chose yesterday, and struggle through a muffin, an apple, and a slice of cheese. I’m surprised that there’s a warm mug of coffee, before I realize by reading the meal slip that it’s decaf. Of course it is.

As I’m eating, it occurs to me how good it feels to have someone make and bring me breakfast. Even though the hospital kitchen makes hundreds of these, this one has my name, and it feels as though someone cares.

I watch as the janitor tries to leave the unit. The door won’t budge.

“I’ll get that for you,” a nurse laughs. “It’s a bit like Hotel California in here. You can’t leave.”

They both laugh and the janitor waves goodbye.

A girl shuffles in from the sleeping quarters. She wears hospital-issued pyjamas and her nest-like hair is piled up on her head. Smears of eyeliner surround her eyes. She complains about the light, says she has a splitting headache.

“When can I go?” She asks the nurse.

“You need to see the doctor first,” the nurse tells her. “Yesterday you didn’t even know where you were and had to be brought by ambulance.”

The girl sighs and starts picking at her muffin, then looks up at me.

“Oh my God!” She says, “Are you alright?”

“Me?” I ask.

“Yes, I mean no offence, but you look terrible.”

“I’m okay.”

She nods, wide-eyed.

“Can someone turn the lights down?” She yells.
At long last, the psychiatrist calls me into the conference room. I sit down across from him. He’s exactly what I imagined he would look like, with short grey hair, glasses, and a checkered shirt.

He has a file in front of him. I assume it’s mine.

“So tell me what’s been going on,” he says.

For the fourth time, I talk about my suicidal thoughts, my persisting sadness and anxiety. I tell him about my depression, and I say that I suspect there’s more to it.

“Like maybe I’m bipolar?” I ask.

“I don’t see much evidence for manic phases according to what you’ve said,” he tells me.

“But I did have that one summer where I was out meeting new people, talking a lot, and being really active.”

He doesn’t bite. Perhaps this is actually what normal people feel like all the time.

“I think what you’re experiencing is more along the lines of Borderline Personality Disorder. Do you know what that is?”

I do, and I don’t like it. Every single thing I’ve ever read about BPD is negative, blames the person for their ailment, or paints them as a demanding witch.

“But I don’t have angry outbursts,” I counter. “And I don’t have problems with my relationships; I’ve been with my boyfriend for almost three years.”

“But you have had troubled relationships in the past. And you don’t need to fit all of the criteria in order to fit the diagnosis.”

He folds the folder closed.

“I’m going to start you on Effexor today,” he says. “It’s an anti-depressant, so it will help with your low mood.”

“I’ve already tried some anti-depressants, though.”

“This one is different. It’s works with different neurotransmitters.”

“Oh,” I say.

“But one thing: don’t ever stop your medication without medical help,” he says. “The withdrawals are so severe… anyways, you’ll see, if you stop.”

“Can I look it up first?” I ask. “I want to know the side effects.”

“We’re going to give you the first dose today. We’ll give you a fact sheet after you take it.”

He stands and opens the door.

“After you,” he tells me.

I get up and walk back into the common room.

Soon, a nurse hands me a little goblet with a pill inside.

“You’re to take this one today and for the next week, and then you’re to double your dose,” she tells me.

“Can I please look up the info first?” I ask.

“I have the fact sheet right here. You can have it after you swallow.”

I hesitate, then take the pill and swallow a sip of water.

“There you go,” she says, and hands me the folded piece of paper she was holding.

I read the facts and am dismayed about the side-effects: dizziness, loss of appetite, nausea, heartburn, shaking, etc..

“You can go home now,” the nurse tells me.

I get my bag back from the nurses’ station and one of them buzzes me out the door. I walk back home feeling dizzy, hoping I won’t need to go back. So far, I haven’t.
Delani Valin is a 25 year old author who lives in a sleepy Canadian valley. Apart from writing, she enjoys vegan cookery, indoor gardening, and petting dogs. She has previously been published in Soliloquies Anthology, and Portal. She blogs at dualmindguides.wordpress.com. 

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3 thoughts on “psych unit sleepover”

  1. Delani, you’re so strong. I’ve been keeping up with your blog for a bit now, and just want you to know you inspired me ever since I saw your name on the Portal magazine. Having mental health issues is rough, but it doesn’t mean we can’t accomplish anything.

    Liked by 1 person

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