It kind of made me nervous to go back to school. Even though the first day was a month ago, it was as if it were happening again. I worried about what people were going to ask me and what I would have to tell them regarding my two-week long absence. As I walked down the hallway towards my primetime, I caught a glimpse of my friends who were racing towards me, getting ready to embrace me in a hug. I hadn’t seen them in a week.
“That wasn’t too bad, I thought it would feel longer than that,” Nathan said.
“Don’t worry, we’ve been really mean to Olivia while you’ve been gone,” Rosie said, referring to my best friend turned biggest enemy. It was two weeks ago when she told me she couldn’t be friends with me anymore.
“I’m just kind of done,” she said with a sigh, looking into my flabbergasted expression with what seemed to be little remorse.
“How can you just say that,” I struggled to choke back tears, “we’re best friends and we’ve been best friends since freshman year. I can’t help what I’m going through, it just kind of piled up and happened, and I’m sorry if that’s a problem for you.”
“I know we’re best friends,” she said in the parking lot at school, “but I just can’t handle this anymore. I know you can’t control it, but something is clearly wrong with you and I don’t want to help you anymore. My parents think it’s ridiculous that I’m still friends with you through all of this.”
“But, I told Meredith everything. I did exactly what you wanted, you’re supposed to be my friend and you’re ditching me for people who have treated you like shit because I’m sick?”
“You’re not sick, you’re just stubborn. I really don’t want this to be hard for us, I have to go to work.”
And she left me there, in the middle of the parking lot, sobbing. I vaguely remember driving around crying after I left the school, not being able to bring myself to go home because I just wanted something to happen to me. I eventually pulled over and called my mom, was taken to the hospital, and then a children’s psychiatric hospital. The inside of the lobby reminded me of The Shining, which believe me was quite promising. So was the girl behind me, talking to no one but herself.
“When you’re in acute, you don’t get cell phones, television, books, visitors, or your own room, do understand?”
The assessment nurse was firm and taking no bullshit. After all, it was approaching ten o’clock, and I doubt she wanted to hear about my afternoon.
“I just want help. Is that too much to ask for? I’m in therapy and it isn’t working, my friends hate me, I’m not going to college because my grades are terrible, can’t I have one thing work out for the better? Can you do your job and make that happen?” I swear, that actually came out of my mouth. Upon being discharged, I would find out that my diagnosis included severe psychotic episodes, including being convinced I had no friends, failing grades, etc. Luckily, despite being psychotic, I was sentenced to partial hospitalization: school for crazy people.
My mom could barely handle when I told her I had been self-injuring and needed help. She was even angry when my counselor and I told her I was suicidal.
“Meredith, you don’t understand. I can’t tell her, she’ll just be angry. I don’t want to tell her.”
“Jackie, if you don’t tell her I’ll have to, and I’d rather it be coming from you. If you want a referral to a psychiatrist, we have to tell her.”
“I just wish this would all go away. Why is this happening to me? I’m a senior and I’m stuck being miserable with parents who hate me for it while everyone else is having fun. I’m probably not going to get into college, and I can’t even want to have fun because I just want to not feel bad.”
“We’ll tell her together.”
Months later, Meredith revealed to me her impressions of my mother when we told her and said that she felt weird because my mom was so defensive over something that wasn’t her fault.
“She seemed irritated, like this was just another thing to be added to the to-do list that she didn’t feel like dealing with.”
When I went in for my first day at the hospital, no one was angry with me. In fact, they actually asked me how I was feeling and made me feel like they cared. I could get over having to call everyone “Miss” and “Mr” [insert first name here] as long as I was actually being heard. But then I had to leave the real world of my social worker’s office and enter the locked, “time-out” room laden, bare world of the actual hospital. Sitting in the classroom, tears burned my eyes as anger seeped through my every pore. I was being punished for my friend hating me. Punished! These kids were scary, intimidating, and nothing like me. I felt like a child sitting on the girls side of the room while the boys sat on the other. We lined up for lunch. Lunch was inedible. People talked to me and I didn’t want to talk back. I pretended I was mute.
Kids came and went throughout the week, and we were used to being treated like shit by one of the nurses who relieved our group leader, Mr. Jeff, when he ate lunch and left to smoke. She specifically loved calling out one boy named Nick for his father being a “lazy, selfish, and shitty father” for not being able to get Nick his ADHD medicine that was prescribed by our doctor.
“His insurance isn’t working or something, it’s not my fault; I’m ten!”
“That’s a load of bullshit. Tell your dad to be responsible.”
She was a bitch and made me so angry I could cry. I had never seen someone treat kids so poorly. She complained about hating her job and wanting to quit when a severely autistic boy, Ryan, joined our group, wreaking havoc all along the way. He would start fights with another kid, Dakota, and both would wind up in time out rooms. One time, Dakota was so infuriated that he began throwing the plastic chairs lining the wall outside down the hallway. No one did anything about it.
And as I look back now, I realized nothing was really done about anything. I could have sat there crying or screaming or jumping up and down and nothing would have been done. I would just seem normal, no one would even wonder why I was going insane because I already was, so what was the point? When I had blood drawn at the hospital, the nurse asked me why I was there, distracting me from the discomfort that would soon overwhelm my arm, as if what I had done to it wasn’t any worse.
“I’m depressed,” I replied, even though I really didn’t know what was wrong with me. I had self diagnosed myself with many assorted illnesses, all of which were incorrect matches, but just a demonstration of how delusional I was.
“Yeah? Me too. Almost everyone is, so why don’t we grab some coffee and bitch about our problems, huh?”
I could have cried had Mr. Jeff not been there holding my hand as my blood sample was drawn. How dare she belittle my problems? Afterall, I was pretty convinced I was a borderline schizophrenic at the time. But once she was finished and bandaging me up, she said,
“Listen, I know I was joking around earlier, but please take care of yourself. Don’t do anything bad, because we’re going to help you.”
I asked Mr. Jeff if I could use the bathroom (which didn’t have locks) and cried because that was the first time anyone said anything like that to me. We had drug and alcohol counselors who came in and everyone shared their drugs of preference. Girls younger than I was were sharing how they would mix cough syrup and Sprite in order to get high. Most of the boys stuck to weed. When it was my turn to share my addictive habits, I told them I didn’t eat because I hated myself. I took pills that weren’t mine because I couldn’t bring myself to actually kill myself all at once. I cried because I was so ashamed and even the boys with chains and all black clothing comforted me. It felt good to be listened to.
I don’t think I would have said anything to Olivia ever again if it weren’t for a story shared by a girl named Alexa one day during group therapy about her friend struggling with self injury and depression.
“What did you do last night?” Mr. Jeff asked Alexa in his routine of asking us about our night, our medication, and our goals while taking notes.
“Well, I went home, had dinner, did my geometry homework, and then sat on the phone with my best friend trying to convince her to tell her parents something.”
“Tell her parents what?”
“Well, she self injures and two nights ago she cut really deep by accident and says it still really hurts and looks really bad and I’m worried it’s infected,” her voice shook.
“I hate to say this, but if it’s been a couple of days, if it’s going to be infected, it probably already is.”
“I’m just so worried about her. I don’t want anything to happen to her because she’s my best friend and I need her still. I can’t picture losing her, but it’s like she doesn’t even care that she means so much to me because she’s being so reckless,” she sobbed.
“She probably knows you care, but just doesn’t know what to do with your care right now because of where she’s at. All you can do is be the best friend you can, and support her as much as you can. Try talking to her again tonight and let her know that she needs to tell someone, not necessarily her parents, but someone who can get her cut taken care of, okay?”
The whole time, I felt an epiphany regarding my life. I was the girl and Olivia was Alexa, and for once in this entire thing, I finally understood how Olivia must have felt. I didn’t want her to worry about me to the point where I consumed her every thought. However, talking to her, having her shun me again, proved that she didn’t let me consume her thoughts; she didn’t worry or care. She was selfish. Didn’t she realize what I had been through? Just yesterday I was signing a contract with a list of elementary level goals while my parents signed a similar one promising to keep medications and potential weapons locked away at all times and to not leave me home alone.
When I originally shared in group therapy what triggered me coming there, they were astonished to hear that my best friend would do such a terrible thing. And even though they all had been through physical abuse, sexual abuse, and everything under the sun, that part of my story was still a big deal to them. Though they were all younger than I was, not all the kids were awful. Nick was so sweet and my closest friend while I was in there. He looked up to me and often shared in groups that he aspired to be as smart as I am when he’s in high school. A boy named Thomas always asked me to tell him how my day was going, and he made sure I had a smile on my face. A girl named Alyssa was only a year younger than me, and despite attempting to overdose the week before, had the best sense of humor, causing the two of us to become quite close.
I guess that’s why I can’t help but think about those kids every time I think about my future in psychology. I really cared about them. And even though they have anger issues, behavioral issues, trauma, and whatever else, they still feel emotions not just for themselves, but for others. I left the hospital with a diagnosis of Major Depressive Disorder and Generalized Anxiety Disorder, both with severe psychotic episodes, but also with perspective. The friends from school who checked in on me every afternoon were the ones who mattered, not the ones who ditched me. Also, even though I constantly perceived my problems as too small to be problems, they were still problems.
And I remember waiting for the big diagnosis that would be the answer to all of those problems, and meeting Dr. Farris for the first time and thinking that he would prescribe me something that would automatically make everything perfect again. But that perfection never came, and the perfectionist in me screamed and threw fits at how everything was out of place now. I was “stuck in therapy” while everyone was having fun, and it took a long time to learn that I wasn’t a ruined person just because I needed some extra help organizing my brain and coping with how shitty life can be. I wasn’t a failure because my life didn’t match the blueprint my perfectionist had drawn for me at the beginning of freshman year; I was the best I could be, and that was okay.
I constantly think of a conversation one of the girls had with Mr. Jeff during breakfast.
The girl had asked for plastic knife to spread her cream cheese onto her bagel, and he told her to think about where she was and why we didn’t have knives. And as I sat in my car, I thought again about where I had been. Bathrooms with no locks, “mystery lunches” in white boxes, sterile smells, numerous nurses, one amazing psychiatrist, chairs being thrown, medications being prescribed, everything; everything happens for a reason, and I never believed that to be more than a saying until now. I want to reshape therapy and psychiatrics and make sure bitchy nurses aren’t verbally abusing patients and that best friends don’t misunderstand the issues at hand. I don’t want parents to be able to use psychiatric hospitals as a threat to their kids. I know how it feels to be the one laying in the chair, uncomfortable, with anxiety induced acid reflux, struggling to tell a stranger your problems.
It’s fucking hard, and it should be easier.