In the book of Genesis, God makes Eve from the flesh
Of Adam. He names her, describes her with the hebrew
Phrase Ezer Kenegdo. The wise ones who translated
The book had no words in English to equal Eve’s description.
In their foolishness, they picked “helpmate.”
That is not what this phrase means.
The closest anyone has come is “She who is over
And against me.” Ezer is a name of God as one
Commands and protects. Kenegdo is one who rises
Up against and meets another where they stand, equal.
There is a hint of threat and dominance to Eve
The ancients twisted the words to hide.
I understand them. Eve was the rock Adam would break
Himself against. The one, who digging for his strength
Would break his arms and legs while he laid tied,
Helpless to a wheel. In the depths of his pain
She would command him to stand, and he would.
My one who stands over and against me.
You are the chisel to my bare stone, cutting
Away what hides my truth. You hold my greatest
Fears and deepest agonies within your delicate,
Fickle. Fickle in the way a child holds a moth.
My love for you is the love that moth holds
For the light that sets its wings aflame
And burns its fragile frame to dust.
You break me. Shatter me like glass
And expect my parts to reassemble
Themselves. In this way, my Ezer,
You find the strength I hide even
There are few things that form a definitive milestone in one’s life quite like an extended stay in a Mental Hospital. So much pop-culture has explored this mecca of self discovery, but you may not realize that many of the Girl Interrupted/Cuckoo Nest films depict a world a little more idyllic than what actually awaits the mentally wayward. Besides the lack of attractive Hollywood talent, here are some of the more shocking truths that await you.
- You will most definitely get fat.
Any effort you have put into fitness leading up to your vacation from sanity is about to get blown straight to hell. The quality of the food varies from one facility to another, but considering they are serving cafeteria style fair to a likely unruly bunch, its gonna be full of carbs and all sorts of fatty, buttery, butt busters. I can’t say with 100% certainty that their goal is to constipate you, but prepare to not poop for at least a week. Add in the fact that a great deal of comfort will come from vending machine sodas and candies and you have a perfect storm of bad health decisions within reach in a confined space you cannot escape.
And for added punch, your medication is gonna fluctuate, which opens the door for all sorts of metabolic shenanigans. Which leads us to…
2. You will be pulled off your meds, only to be over medicated like a member of Pink Floyd.
This sounds awful, but from a medical stand point it makes sense. Most of the people in there with you are simply struggling with a meds issue. People grow resistant to their medication and eventually spiral out of control. The best way to make adjustments to one’s chemistry is to detox and start from a blank state. Add on to the emotional damage an extended period of faulty meds can wreck on the brain, and the best way to bring a person down from such lofty heights of delusion is to flood their brains with artificial calm.
People are often very belligerent and in a menagerie of irrational thoughts. The first goal of treatment is getting patients to ATTEND treatment. Sedated patients are typically much more passive and cooperative. It can be a recipe for relaxation and involuntary acceptance of one’s surroundings which is great if the thing that sent you to the loony bin was anxiety. But for others there is also the possibility of uncontrollable gas and dry body parts that are otherwise supposed to remain moist.
Regardless of the side affects, you are going to need this period of “I don’t give a f*%ck,” because despite what you might believe.
3. This is not a damn vacation.
I was under the impression that the mental hospital would be a place of isolation and calm. I needed some quiet to put myself back together with the aid of constant therapy and a feeling of security. Nothing could have been further from the truth. You are jammed in there with a throng of people just as, and likely even more messed up then you. You will share your living space with bi-polar depressives, paranoid schizophrenics, panicky Alzheimer patients, and even sufferers of alcohol and heroin withdrawal.
The last one threw me for a loop. There were two halves to my hospital. One ward handled mental illness on it’s own and the other was devoted to drug rehab. Modern medicine typically looks at drug addiction as a MENTAL health problem, so after detox, addicts will filter into the mental only ward to explore the root of their problem.
Every single person you meet in this facility will trigger the ever living shit out of every single mental hangup you ever nurtured. You will flow with hate and break like glass on an almost hourly basis. It is unrelentingly awful. And you know what? That’s the whole point.
Those breaking points are your opportunity to actually explore and identify the irrational parts of your psyche. You won’t get better in a sheltered and peaceful environment. You must be led to the source of your dysfunction, or in this case constantly bombarded with it like a soldier storming the beach at Normandy. Once you realize this, you can begin to engage with your therapy and take an honest look at yourself. You may even leave with a few new, interesting phobias. To this day I get horrified at the very sight of balloons due to an exercise involving a volleyball style exercise where a fellow patient thought the balloon was his father and constantly slammed it into my face.
You need to come to this realization quickly as well because…
4. Your time is short.
Before I went on my “mental vacation,” my father told me it would be the biggest mistake of my life because they would never let me out.
Good God he couldn’t have been more wrong.
Mental health treatment costs money. The olden days where people would just lock up the feeble minded and relegate them to the “ward of the state” status is over. Your stay is often dictated by the whims of your insurance. Better insurance means a longer stay. The need of care isn’t really the true barometer for the amount of treatment you receive. The average stay in my facility was one week, so it was important to come to Jesus quick if you wanted to get true benefit.
Lastly, the duration of your stay has a positive benefit. My dad also thought my reputation and life would be ruined with the label of mental illness following me around forever. That is also thankfully false. I kept my job and suffered no consequences due to my care. If anything, my workplace was more than happy to keep up the slack while and went and glued the broken pieces of my mind back together.
To close out this piece, if you need psychiatric care GO! Regardless of the specifics to your facility, or the insurance qualms, or the comfort of your bowel movements, the benefits of treatment are real. I can attest firsthand that nothing gets better without some form of treatment. Don’t hesitate, get the help you need.
For more check out my memoir detailing the experience and learn of the circumstances that landed me in psychiatric care in the first place!
My memoir is almost done, and I am thrilled to share the introduction! Writing this book has stirred up some strange and awful emotions, but it has been well worth the struggle. I won’t say I am proud of this work, but it has been struggling to escape my mind for years. Now that it will soon erupt into the world, I can sit back and say a dream has come to fruition. My greatest hope is that someone will understand the extremes a mental illness at least a bit more. I hope that they find some new well of empathy to draw. God knows we are in short supply as of late.
- * *
Much has been written about the effects of major depression on one’s cognitive capabilities. To summarize, they diminish in some fairly shocking ways, though the fact that they diminish should surprise no one. I have wrestled long and hard with the stories contained here, not just in their shocking content, but even their veracity. I have long had a bad habit of embellishing things that happen to me for the purpose of milking those experiences for more dramatic effect in the telling of the story. I think all story tellers do this in one form or another, but I believe it vital to disclose some suspicions I harbor for my own memories.
To keep this somewhat short, let me get right to the point. A major milestone of this journey is disputed. I remember my sons suffering awful digestive issues in their very first years. I remember losing sleep, crying through nights and accepting that both had feet planted on death’s doorstep. These memories are as real to me as the keyboard recording my words. They are tangible with sights, smells, touch, and dreadful sounds that still drive me from the peace of sleep. I have written pages and pages of poems and other material cataloging these experiences not only to share with others, but to try and better deal with the horrors myself.
Just recently, my wife informed me that none of this ever happened. There had been problems with their stomachs and it caused more than a little discomfort, but the intensity of these memories are apparently misplaced. The specifics, my memory of actual things said and nights spent in dread are almost completely denied. For me the story is true and the past is something that we shape as our lives twist through life’s harrowing course. My wife doesn’t have the best memory in the world, but her vehemence in denial leaves me cold and shaking with doubt. Afterall, my sickness is one of the mind. I descended into a place where thought fails, collapses into the confusion of fantasy and wanders amongst the fears of things that never were.
I caution the reader that this is the story of a time when the boundaries of dreams and reality blurred. I am honest. These things happened and the people in the facility were real. The names have morphed through the years and the order of events is somewhat scrambled, but it is a truth I defend. At the very least, I like to tell myself sometimes that the Mandela effect is real and we all cross a few rogue parallel universes from time to time. If it didn’t happen exactly as I describe it, it probably happened to another David somewhere in the cosmos. That logic helps me sleep.
For the record, James Frey did nothing wrong. At least in my universe.
It has been a struggle resurrecting my ambition and even summoning the strength to put these words on paper, to tell my story of a journey into the belly of our mental health system. To be committed is an experience wholly unlike anything else that I have ever endured. I am thankful for the lessons I learned, but even more thankful it’s over. One of the tech’s at my hospital told me the world would be much better if everyone suffered a nervous breakdown at least once. At least there would be more empathy for those struggling with minds that don’t behave. My hope is that this work opens these doors and gives us all a chance to lose our minds, at least temporarily.
Contained here is only the first part of this story. I stayed in the facility for more than a week and the real work of self care didn’t begin until day four. Just as Allison said near the end, we can’t begin to reassemble ourselves until we shatter completely. That moment is still incoming. But for now, lets dip our toes into these tumultuous/ hallucinogenic waters.
No no don’t call the authorities. I’m fine I promise.
Well at the moment anyway.
There are tons of articles on the web exploring “risk factors” for suicide, ranging from middle age, race, mental health conditions, psychiatric hospitalization and of course past attempts. The amount of boxes I check on these lists is simply staggering.
It can leave one overwhelmed with a sense of impending doom. You start adding up a 10% increased likelihood from one category, to a 5% increased likelihood in another category and when it’s all said and done you sit at a 75% chance of offing yourself because a parking ticket broke your mental back.
And yes I know that’s not technically how the statistics work, but damn if it doesn’t start to feel that way.
Then you factor in the constant visages held over dying family members as the years drag on and on with their endless procession of suffering loved ones crying out to God as they slowly drown in their own viscous sputum. You start to think, “when I get that far gone, maybe I’ll just put a gun to my head.” You think this not necessarily because you don’t want to suffer the indignity of the end, but more to spare the ones you care about watching a hollow shell just wither away.
You think of your wife opening the bills years after they plant you in the ground. Imagine her sitting at the table as your teenage sons play video games and skip showers. They have started to curse and even though their mom begs them to stop they just go right on. She can’t keep the accounts straight. She can manage them, pay them, but it’s the constant stack, the dividing and sorting that keeps her awake and makes her eyes sink into their sockets.
You realize that just assuming you will die of bowel cancer is grim. You have a family history of that. The percentage points just tick up and up as you finish off a three musketeers bar and a bag of doritos. You are diabetic. The end will likely be blind and helpless.
You joke about this with friends and colleagues. You casually include “when I commit suicide” in normal conversations. When they gawk at you like your pants have fallen to your ankles, you laugh and talk about the statistics. Gallows humor is funny right?
It’s not funny. They are unsettled by it. They walk away with a grim frown and likely report you to someone who is mandated to follow up.
You are not suicidal. But the reality of it, the seduction of it as a solution to awful realities lying in wait offers a morbid comfort. It’s there. The idea sits on the edge of your brain and assures that no matter what, if it gets too bad you can always just check out. Don’t obviously. At least wait until you can get shit straight and tell someone what you are planning. Be of sound mind and body and all. Don’t be stupid. Don’t cause more pain than you have to.
Maybe don’t bring it up in conversation so much. And for God’s sake don’t fucking blog about it.
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