Exactly a year ago, I was in the hospital, in the adolescent psych ward, weighing less than 100 pounds, and feeling miserable. I’ve been thinking about my time there a lot lately. It’s sort of like the way that you press a bruise: You know it will hurt if you push it, but you do it anyways, preferably repeatedly.
The whole experience was horrible. They counted our spoons and cups at mealtimes, the doors locked with both keys and magnets, and there were no windows. Once, desperate to see the snow, I climbed onto my bed and pushed back the curtain to a tiny window that faced the airshaft. Across the shaft, a woman with tangled white hair looked back at me manically with her faced pressed to the window. I held her gaze for a terrified moment, petrified that I was looking at a reflection of myself forty years from now. Then, a nurse knocked on my door, and I slipped down onto the bed.
The floors were painted cement or cold linoleum, and the walls were a horrid sea green. On one wall of my room there was a poorly spray painted Taj Mahal. I would stare at it for hours while lying in bed. I fell asleep after the evening nurses switched shifts with the night nurses, and woke when the night nurses switched shifts with the morning ones. As you lay in bed, you could watch the hallway through the small window in your door. Every fifteen minutes–I was told–a nurse walked by to write on your chart, and I would try to count the hours. There were three hours between bedtime and the switching of shifts and three hours from the next switching of shifts to being released. Time didn’t exist there; there were no clocks; there were no watches. All we had were the nurses walking past the doors.
The meals came in white boxes. I would sit facing the wall, ignoring the screams of the other children, and sip water slowly. They would keep me in the dining room until I had eaten half of my box. So I would sit and move like a snail while a young nurse watched me. My protracted meal let me avoid the dreaded “Therapy Workbook Hour,” which involved filling out endless how-I-feel charts. They kept me from the bathroom for two hours after my meal. They took my box, my cup, my utensils as if they were valuable reference books in the library. You could borrow them momentarily, but they were always snatched back.
When you cried, a nurse took you down a winding hallway, where you could hear children screaming and sobbing, to a tiny room. The room, a closet really, had no heating, no chair, no window, and was covered in laminate wood paneling from the floor to the ceiling. I would lie in there for long stretches of time until a nurse would come to fetch me. If you cried when you saw the psychiatrist–an awful Indian woman with no sense of empathy–you were banished; if you cried in the large room, you were banished; if you asked the wrong question at the wrong time to the wrong nurse, you were banished.
I spent seven days there. I never felt so impossibly different and strange in my life. Looking back on those memories, I feel the way I felt after nearly downing an entire bottle of Lexapro and Tylenol; fearful and full of a sick satisfaction. It was that week that convinced me of my oddness. I worry now that all others see are these peculiarities in me, or they don’t care to even recognize them at all. My identity, once built upon scholastic achievement, has shattered.