My mom anxiously sits beside me on one of the faded blue couches.
Today is the first day of final exams, I remember. But here I am, sitting and crying uncontrollably in the waiting room of my school’s counseling services.
I am not the normal college student anymore.
I am going insane.
I cannot help but compare myself to the hysterical student I witnessed during my first visit. I ponder my comparative craziness until Cookie Cutter calls my name and gives me his best sickeningly sympathetic smile. Typical. My mom stays in the lobby, but I wish she would come with me. I don’t remember how to speak.
We go to his office, and I sit in my usual chair. He asks me the usual questions, and I give my usual slight nods.
“Are you thinking about self-harming?”
“Are you having suicidal thoughts?”
“Are you making plans to commit suicide?”
“What are your plans?”
“Do you feel unsafe?”
“Alright,” he exhales after finishing my daily intake. “I am concerned for your safety. I think you are devolving, and you need immediate medical attention.” I give another nod, not really listening, not really sure what he’s saying, or what he means, just watching his mouth change shapes, open, shut, open, shut.
“We can take you to the school’s psychiatric ward, where you will not have much to do besides stare at the ceilings and get your meds adjusted.” Open, shut, open, shut.
“Or there is another inpatient facility funded by the state government. Most of my students highly recommend it. It is a short-term—up to two weeks—institution for crisis stabilization. I can check to see if they have any beds available. What do you think?”
His mouth remains closed. I look up to his eyes. He must be waiting for me to say something. But what are we talking about? Oh yes. Beds. Do I want a bed? A bed sounds nice. Plush, comfortable, a safe place to stay forever and ever. Sure, maybe I do want a bed. Or do I?
As I am carefully considering my response, Cookie Cutter scoots himself towards the telephone. He tries his hardest to remain unbiased, to let me decide if I want my plush comfortable safe bed, forever and ever, but I am acutely aware of his personal preference. I just don’t remember if he’s the good guy or the bad guy. Do I trust him? What if the bed has handcuffs? What if they stick needles in my arms and an oxygen mask on my face and turn my brain into mush? That’s a real psych institution…right?
“I don’t feel comfortable making any decisions right now,” I manage to choke out. “Can my mom come decide for me?” I am silent until he agrees.
Cookie Cutter gets my mom from the waiting room, and she sits down across from me, tears silently falling from her eyes. He reiterates the options, and she agrees that the crisis institution sounds best. Both adults fear that I would inevitably rot away in a psychiatric ward. I guess I probably would. The crisis unit, on the other hand, has group therapy every hour from 8:00am-7:00pm, so I will hardly have time to wallow in my everlasting apathy.
It’s like a vacation, they say.
I just need to go away for a while, they say. To hide out, and let the rest of the universe continue spinning, without me in it. And that’s okay, they say.
My therapist calls the institution, and repeatedly uses the term “SI’s,” which seems to catch the other line’s attention. My mom looks confused at the term, but I assume he means ‘suicidal’ something. Intentions? Ideations? I whisper to my mom, to explain what’s happening. Her eyes widen.
Her tears fall harder and faster, enough to fill a swimming pool, maybe even an ocean, and probably the whole universe. My tears stop, as I go into my nothingness. I stare straight ahead, not meeting her gaze.
“Good news,” my therapist states as his hangs up his phone, even though he’s fully aware that nothing is good in my life. “The crisis unit wants you to come in immediately for an interview. Can you get there in the next 30 minutes?”
My mom replies, “Yes of course,” and the next moment we are out the door, on our way. I am crazier than ever, I drowsily realize. And suddenly so, so tired.
My mom and I arrive at the crisis unit. We are entirely underwhelmed by its appearance. Bleak tan walls encompass room after room of desks and underpaid social workers. After a few tries, we find the correct door and enter yet another a poorly lit building, where we meet my interviewer. She leads us to her office, sits us down on a couch, this one a lovely faded brown, and turns on some sort of white noise machine, so no one can hear all of the terrible things I have to say.
The fear of having nothing wrong with me is as deep and fiery as ever, despite everyone’s rush to get me to this “institution.”
- A crazy people jail for crazy people like me
- synonyms: psych ward, insane asylum, padded cell, sanitarium, loony bin, snake pit, madhouse
- antonyms: college, internship, job, life
Maybe this is, yet again, all a fluke. Maybe they’ll send me home with a half-hearted wave and a shrug of the shoulders. Maybe my diagnoses are wrong. Maybe I should remain in nothingness until I reach my dark, nameless, docile grave. No more grief. No more sadness. Just existence. Cool, bare, existence.
This interview-lady is not very bright. She asks the same droll questions as every other therapist ever. My crying phase is long gone, thank you nothingness. I contemplate falling asleep on the couch.
My mom, on the other hand, is a blubbering mess. She, like I, never imagined anyone we knew could end up here, at this kind of place, and certainly not anyone in our family. Certainly not her own daughter. Certainly not me.
I figure my own shock—concerning my inevitable demise—will eventually set in, but right now I’m just rolling with the less-than-stimulating punches. I’m bored. Period. I’m ready for decisions to be made. I’m ready to receive my prison sentence and don my orange jumpsuit.
The interview-lady leaves to consult with the boss-lady, and my mom and I wait, not looking at each other, not knowing what the hell to say or do. I try to think of any time I have ever heard of anyone going to a crazy people hospital. Except all of my examples are from movies or TV shows, because there’s no such thing as real people in real life getting institutionalized.
- “Girl, Interrupted”
A movie with essentially no plotline, but honestly who doesn’t want to see Angelina Jolie submit to her psychopathic tendencies?
- “Silver Linings Playbook”
Bradley Cooper. Yum.
- Some random episode of “Law and Order: SVU”
A psychopath pleads insanity to opt for a hospital instead of prison. Great.
How much better is an institution from a jail cell, anyways?
I’m about to find out.
My brain decides to switch. It wasn’t working mere moments earlier, but now my thoughts refuse to slow down, and they are dragging me behind them, mutilating my body, pulling me faster and faster until my skin falls off and I bleed out.
I’m scratching my skin and yanking on pieces of my hair, like usual, but I’m doing it subtly, so no one notices. It isn’t even really me doing it. It’s them. The thoughts. They make me do everything. They control me. They control my limbs and my actions and my words and my life, I suddenly realize. My mind has been invaded by a deadly virus that grows larger and larger, with more and more thoughts, and I can’t hold them all in. My head blows up like a balloon, and I watch it float away.
Please don’t ever come back.
Interview-lady is back, and she is explaining the issues, oh the issues, concerning my…case? I half-heartedly listen; all I know for sure is that I am in fact getting locked up. Soon. Asap.
Poor Mary, there is no room for her at the inn, the inn being the crisis unit, and Mary being me. Luckily, there is a barn nearby, in the same building no less. This barn is called the acute unit, and it is low stimulation, sure, but I will only live there until a bed opens at the crisis unit. Jesus shall rest easy soon enough.
Except…except…except interview-lady isn’t ready to shut up yet. And so she starts again, explaining, ”usually this would be a good plan to ensure her (hey that’s me!) safety, but we have some particularly tough cases right now. There are only two patients in the acute unit, but one is going through withdrawal, and we don’t want the, um, chaos to stress Catherine,” the formality practically kills me, “more than she already is.”
Apparently going crazy means giving up your right to an opinion, because the lady stares down my mom, and only my mom, when she asks whether I will stay at the acute unit or at “home” (home still meaning the rat-infested Airbnb).
Acute unit it is.
Maybe it will be interesting to watch the “particularly tough cases.” I wonder if being locked in the same room as them will make me feel more or less crazy.
A stroke of “luck” awaits me just a few minutes into my mom’s and my silent car ride “home.” A bed will be open in the crisis unit at 9:00am the next morning! I will stay the night at “home” before being admitted! Great. Grand. Amazing. Best-case scenario.
I, of course, hear all of these thoughts loudly, so damn loudly, excruciatingly, painfully, outrageously, frighteningly. But my mom hears nothing. I am silent on the outside.
The silence of a criminal sentenced to a life of her own personal torture—her brain.
I realize we are driving to the airport. Amongst my madness, I forgot that today is the day my father takes over babysitting duty.
That night, my dad and I watch “Deadpool”—if anyone can make me laugh in this time of sorrow, it’s Ryan Reynolds—and soon enough, I hear his snoring next to my ear, trembling through to my brittle bones. As if I planned on sleeping anyways. I lie awake and consider how exactly I will convince him not to go back to the crisis unit.
Daddy, please don’t make me.
I don’t want to do it.
I work tirelessly to keep morning from arriving—an unwanted guest, a drunk uncle, sloshing vodka all over your clothes—but it ignores me and shows up nonetheless. My dad gets up and gets ready for the day, the day, but he must prompt me to “get out of bed, take a shower, brush your teeth, pack your clothes, grab your jacket: it’s cold outside, alright let’s go; we’re going to have to get there eventually.”
I can’t do this.
I am a decently firm believer in the idea that everything happens for a reason—except for my mental illness, that’s God just trying to spite me—but the fact that our Airbnb resides exactly two minutes from the crisis unit seems absurdly precise. Unfortunately, this also means that we arrive for my death sentence all too soon; we leave at 8:50am and are still 8 minutes early. Probably the timeliest crazy family this place has ever seen.
I judge the woman who lets us into the building and crossly notice that, yes, she does have to manually lock and unlock the front doors. I judge everything about her as we walk to an office to conduct, you guessed it, another interview. I judge her makeup, her clothes, her shoes, her vernacular. This woman is no more insightful or interesting than the rest of them. I sign my name where she tells me to sign, and my dad asks a million questions: “When can I visit?” “When will she see the doctor?” “How does the checkout process work?”
Oh. My ears perk up.
Yes, please tell me when I get to leave; I’d like to start working on that right about now. You see; this is all a practical joke. I am normal, with a normal life, normal friends, normal grades, normal parties, normal drinking, normal kids being kids. Nothing out of the ordinary here, so please move along.
My façade dissipates as she leads me to my room, which has no windows and no locks and no appeal whatsoever, and tells me to say my goodbyes. My dad and I sit on the edge of my bed, and he holds me, and I am silent, but my eyes are filled to the brim, another drowning hurricane ready to destroy me.
And he doesn’t want to be kicked out, so he gets up to leave, but when he looks back at me, with his brief-but-yet-too-long glance, he is ready to grab me and race out of this prison as fast as he can. And I’m ready to go with him.
But I also realize that I have to stay. I need to. I have no more options.