BY CAMERON MTICHELL
Life doesn’t always go how you expect it. Situations rarely turn out as planned. It’s the nature of things. I didn’t expect to be there that day. I didn’t expect to be anywhere.
The room was near the main entrance, one in a row of identical small rooms. It was somewhat cramped, but not the most unwelcome place I’d ever been. A small window gave a view of the hall. Nurses, doctors, and candy stripers rushed about, doing whatever it is hospital staff do during the day. There was a cork board on the wall opposite me, adorned with posters declaring the dangers of various bacterial diseases. There was one comparing the symptoms of the flu with the common cold, though I only remember it because Doctor Wilson had the same poster in her office.
I don’t remember the names of the two women sitting before me. They identified themselves as registered nurses, as if there was such a thing as an unregistered nurse. I skimmed through the pamphlets they’d given me. PORT MOBILE, an acronym for something. It sounded like a team of action heroes in some kids’ cartoon.
One of the nurses, the leader of the pair, spoke.
“We just have to ask you a few questions, to assess where you’re at.” She was pretty, I thought abstractly. With dark hair. Odd, the things you notice about the woman evaluating your mental state.
I don’t remember exactly what questions they began with, but I imagine they were the usual sort: what exactly was I feeling, what made me come in today, was I planning on harming myself. They asked me if I had a suicide plan in place.
I said yes.
The whole time, in the back of my mind, it kept occurring to me that anyone with a little common sense could very easily bluff their way through this interview. If I wanted, I could be back home in my own bed within the hour. The questions were engineered towards a specific model of distress. They wanted to hear me wail about the hardships of life, cry about how I couldn’t “bear it” any longer, and beg them to let me “end it all.”
I did these things. Not because I wanted to, but because they wouldn’t take me seriously otherwise.
One of the nurses asked to see my cuts. I held out my forearm, fresh scabs protruding from the otherwise smooth skin, a three dimensional manifestation of my “state.” She asked me what I’d used to make the cuts. Did it matter? Why was it important which particular belt I was planning to hang myself with?
If one makes it to the hospital, is one truly suicidal? Perhaps I was just an angsty teen blowing a minor existential crisis out of proportion. What would Camus or Sartre think of me? The Myth of Sisyphus was still sitting on my nightstand. I really did need to get around to reading it sometime.
“What made you come to see us today?” asked the pretty nurse.
I told her about the breakup, cringing. How many recently dumped teens did they see every day? I felt a need to validate my feelings. They were not new. The breakup was just the icing on the cake, the latest in a long line of events. I talked about the time I contemplated throwing myself off the Brooklyn Bridge while on a family vacation, and the time I took too many anti-depressants, then forced myself to vomit them back up.
Absurdly, my stomach rumbled. I think Mum was planning on making pasta for dinner. Would the ward let her drop some off? If they did, I hope the drive back to Okotoks wouldn’t be too awkward for her.
I felt sorry for my mother. She was now two for two on suicidal children. I hope she didn’t blame herself.
I know she still does.
I was tired. Why bother with all this? All it would take was a little stretching of the truth, a few choice words, and I could go home. I did it daily, with friends, family, colleagues, giving them a veneer of stability. Why not now?
But giving up control was the whole idea of coming into the hospital, wasn’t it? A leveling with oneself, and with others. The admittance that all is not well. I was at a bursting point. As much as I wished to deny it, something needed to be done about the physical weight in the pit of my stomach. I knew what I wanted to do. Was I really willing to surrender that option to these two women?
A face glanced in through the small window. A woman, with a hospital ID badge clipped to her blouse and a legal pad in her hand. I wondered if she was also a registered nurse. She made eye contact with the pretty nurse, and her eyes flitted across to me. She mouthed the word sorry and continued down the hall.
A young man trailed behind her. His glance into the room gave me a good look at him. He wore a dirty hoodie over a Johnny Cash T-shirt. We made brief eye contact. He looked tired. His cheeks sagged in a manner that suggested a lack of energy, as though the muscles couldn’t work up the effort to hold the mask in place.
Then he was gone. The pretty nurse and her partner glanced over their notes, possibly deciding which question to ask next. They hadn’t seen him. I settled back into my chair, zipping up a dirty hoodie over my Johnny Cash T-shirt.
I often wonder about that young man. I left the hospital the same day I went in. Apparently, the nurses decided my support system at home was as strong as anything they could do for me, provided I immediately seek more intensive counseling and maintain my increased dose of antidepressants.
I suspect it also had something to do with the number of beds available.
Did the other kid have the support system I had? If he was also turned away, what was he going back to?
My struggle continues, but I am learning to deal with it. Some days I succeed, other days I don’t. Contrary to what many believe, depression is not something that goes away with a few therapy sessions and a course of medication. It is a living, breathing thing that I constantly have to fight. I am lucky enough to have the resources and support system to do this.
Cameron Mitchell is a Calgary based writer, currently studying English and History at Mount Royal University. He is a lover of books and thoughtful conversation.