SMILE – or Other Psych Ward Stories (Part 1)

08Jan13
Author circa 2000

Author circa 2000

SMILE

Why?

“Why would you do a thing like that? What is wrong with you?” The officer asks me.  I’m lying on the burgundy, brocade fainting couch I bought through a catalog last summer.  My heart is so slow, like molasses, like mud, slow and sick and I’m afraid that I’m going to feel myself die.  Like each faint beat will linger, stretch out for hours.

I don’t answer.  I don’t know what’s wrong with me.  I just swallowed a bottle of sleeping pills, forty-five chalky pills that stuck in my throat but I forced them down. There’s a note I taped to the front door for Shen, my soon-to-be ex-husband. There’s a broken fifties coffee cup in the sink with orange and brown daisies and a missing handle.

A half hour earlier, Shen was on his way to see New Year’s Eve fireworks in Wisconsin with our kids.  But not anymore.  He’s turned his minivan around towards our old house with the wooden pillars and fancy banister and stairs that are slippery and worn.  He just dialed 911 and the officers are now here yelling at me. Why, Why, Why?

What is wrong with me?  Everything is slow and the paramedics are shaking me.  “Don’t sleep.” And they are wrapping me in a warm blanket and banging their boots against the wood floor, carrying a kit full of bandages and gauze and breathing tubes.  They tuck the edges of the blanket together around my neck like a super hero cape, ask if I can walk, carefully coax me into the ambulance waiting outside with metal doors thrust open like a mouth.  It’s the first time I’ve ever ridden in one.

There are sirens wailing and a nice man in the back who keeps patting my arm and telling me to stay awake that it will all be better.  Spinning lights and slow heartbeats and a note on the front door written in magic marker that says – “I HATE YOU.” It meant to say “HELP.”

You’re Doing Well

“You’re doing well, very well,” the nurse sings.  She’s shoving a Styrofoam cup full of liquid charcoal at me, telling me to swallow it down.  The charcoal will soak up the pills. “You don’t want us to pump your stomach.  Really, this is much better.”

There are doctors and nurses and people floating in and out, but no one asks why anymore.  They just tell me how good I am, what a good girl I am drinking the muddy, thick liquid that is gritty and gross and turns my lips and tongue black as tar.  I am not going to die, I am good, just keep drinking.  But I want to sleep, please let me sleep, I say eyelids so heavy, they are filled with quicksand and cement and I want to sleep.

Not now, little one.  Just keep drinking.  And we’ll fix you up like new. But they’re talking to the guy next to me, the one with the broken leg who keeps moaning.  Don’t worry, we’ll fix you up like new and you’ll never know who hit you.

Never

Never read Catcher in the Rye when you haven’t slept for days, when you’re getting a divorce, when you’re on the heels of a cocaine binge, when you’ve freaked out on your visiting mother-in-law for talking shit about your high energy, fist pounding toddler, when you and your future ex-husband have to pretend like you are sort of together during her visit even though you’ve been dating other people for a year and a half.  Never read it when you are standing on the edge of a cliff, searching for the energy, the nerve to close your eyes and jump. The words will punch, balled up fists against your back. They will pound until jumping seems like the sanest thing to do.

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40 Responses to “SMILE – or Other Psych Ward Stories (Part 1)”

  1. 1 Atypical Midwestern Librarian

    I’d avoid the bell jar as well.

    During my divorce, I downed a bottle of everclear alone and nearly gave myself a concussion drunk. You’re not alone.

    • Well, I didn’t avoid the bell jar. As you’ll see (as the story continues) I spent a few weeks there. But yeah, I know there are a lot of us out there who’ve had similar experiences. Thanks for sharing yours and taking the time to read my introduction. L

  2. Powerful, Lennon. Sensual, tactile, and red hot.

  3. Powerfully written. Now I want to read Catcher in the Rye, since I am none of the things you wrote in your last paragraph. I want to see how it would read to someone on a precipice.

    • Yeah, just don’t read it if life seems hopeless. Those are my words of wisdom. Thanks for checking it out. There will be more parts very soon. The saga continues….

  4. Really great writing here. I like being thrown completely into this intense moment in your life. Looking forward to more.

  5. God. Damn. You are good. And ballsy. MORE.

  6. Lennon I have never tried to end my life. I’ve thought about it off and on during my entire adult life. I probably came closest in Mexico. I remind myself that if I make myself go away then I will miss out on all the answers to many burning questions I have and I feel selfish when I think of suicide.

  7. Thanks for your comment on my blog. This was great. It’s refreshing to read such real writing, that isn’t unnecessarily done up, that lets the story speak for itself.

  8. Holy SHIT you’re good!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  9. Wow! I’ve probably started five blogs, a few websites and started a few submissions for writing contests–all attempting to capture what you have successfully snapped here!! I imagine this was a total writing experience, as it is certainly a total reading experience!! Thank you! Really crisp.

    • Well, a glowing response my friend. I’m blushing. I’ll have to go check out what you are up to now, seeing as we have similar interests in writing. More to come….. L

  10. This is amazing! I have been there too. Never read catcher in the rye and am curious ,but I better pass!

    • Thanks for coming by and checking out my psycho-story! I’ve found a lot of people (which I am really surprised by) are relating to this experience. Yeah, don’t read “Catcher…” unless you are in a very safe space!

  11. 20 OhTemp

    Woah! Did that really happen to you. I know how it feels to be low. I hope your taking care of yourself, and I’m glad your writing your emotions out. That works! Thanks for letting me read your words🍕

    • Don’t worry. It’s a piece I wrote about an event that happened 13 years ago. It’s written in present tense, so it feels immediate. Thanks for checking it out!

  12. I admit reading this my first thought is “well I can see why he’d want a divorce!” and my second is, your poor children… were they nowhere in your thoughts??

    There’s got to be a better way to ask for HELP… :/

    I’ve known more than my fair share of mentally ill / bi-polar / suicidal / addicts and as much as they suffer in their illnesses, it’s truly gut-wrenching to be the spouse, the best-friend, the family member, or the lover, that they drain and use up and burn through, expecting someone else to save them or fix their problems. To the sane individual, the bi-polar or addicts actions come across as never-ending drama queen (or king) antics, that waste not only their life, but yours as well.

    I made a personal decision to “get off the ride” and stop being the unpaid therapist, support-system, 3-am counselor, mood-booster and enabler to their insanity some time ago. If that means someday someone leaves a suicide note behind blaming me for their problems, or lands themselves in the psych ward with slashed wrists because I refused to answer anymore of their “poor-me” time-wasting phone calls, so be it.

    It sounds really harsh unless you’ve been through the other side, and given up years, if not decades, for a person who’s given nothing back. And as a society we treat them, medicate them, provide free services, hand-hold and open doors which remain closed for others who may be even more deserving, and yet they do not (likely can-not) change. So really, what’s the use? Is a human life worth any more than that particular individual values it? Should our resources go towards saving those who do not wish to be saved, while others are desperate and willing to work hard for the healthcare, the education, the opportunities that are limited in today’s world?

    I have a lot of mixed thoughts and feelings about this. But it is odd to me how fashionable it is to be insane these days, from goth fashions to Hollywood movies. Hunter Thomson and Girl Interrupted are a whole lot less fun when you’re left picking up the pieces after them in real life.

    • I thought about not approving your comment, I’ll admit. However, dissenting views should be allowed. I disagree with the whole mental illness is “fashionable.” A bit offended, to be honest. I have been on both sides of the fence, so my perspective isn’t only as a “crazy” that pulls on the strings of others. You are only witnessing a piece of my story, one that is out of context from the whole. (Since I’m working on my memoir, I’m not able to disclose the end, of course.)

      Obviously, being here, writing my story shows some degree of put-together and strength. And I lived through someone, years later, ending their life. Throughout both of those journeys, I never would go as far to say that it’s fashionable to be insane. If you have serious mental health issues, you want nothing more than to make it stop. Sometimes you don’t know how.

      L

      • By “fashionable” I was referring to the current fascination, and obsession with mental illness in our modern society and media, not implying that someone with mental illness has chosen to be that way because it is en vogue.

        There is a lot of evidence to show how fashionable mental illness has become in modern times, from the amount of TV shows and Hollywood movies that deal with various depressed, addicted, bi-polar, multiple-personality, sociopathic, ocd, suicidal, etc characters, to the general permissiveness and openness when it comes to mental illness in our current culture. If we look back to the 1940s, even 1970s, there was a stigma and shame around having a mental illness or being mentally ill. (I’m not saying that is good, just saying how it was.) Now the pendulum has swung so far in the other direction, people are practically shouting from the rooftops all their various psychological problems. They are going on Oprah and talk shows and giving interviews about the most shocking and personal family matters. Whereas in the 1950’s a woman wouldn’t dream of discussing a suicide attempt publicly with strangers, (in the 1950s people wouldn’t dream of even stating that they were divorced in polite company!) now someone could Facebook or twitter that they just tried to kill themselves, and receive hundreds of well wishes in reply, flowers, cards, chocolates, and a ton of attention.

        The problem with that goes back to basic behaviorism psychology – it’s positive reinforcement, and it’s much easier to use and exploit others in a permissive, accepting culture around mental illness. That’s not just my opinion – it’s something clearly evidenced all around us in the popular media. So when the whole country is obsessed with how many times Linsey Lohan can go in and out of rehab and still make millions as a pop icon, when Catherine Zeta Jones broadcasts her recent bi-polar diagnosis to the world, then yes – mental illness has become fashionable, for better or worse.

    • 25 BehindMyBooks

      Your comment is interesting, and I’m going to make an assumption. While you judge this writer as someone who hasn’t “been on the other side”, I would like to guess that you’ve never been in her situation. In fact, I know you haven’t been in that situation, otherwise you wouldn’t have these views.

      I have been in both situations. I suffer from severe depression and bi-polar disorder. I also spent 20 years with a mother who spent more time in hospitals than out of them, and watching her consistently try and die.

      It sucks to be on that side of things. I actually agree that, a lot of the time, it sucks even more than having the illness, especially if you really care about the person. But you have to think of mental illness as what it is, an illness.

      For the most part, people who claim to have these disorders aren’t people who are vying for attention or simply over-dramatic, however it may seem at times. They are people with an actual illness. You wouldn’t look at a Cancer patient and tell them that they are being over-dramatic or selfish, at least I would hope you wouldn’t. It is the same form Mental Illness. Mental Illness is primarily triggered by a chemical imbalance in the brain.

      I’m refraining from saying anything particularly scathing here, because I don’t feel its necessary, but I do think you should seriously consider doing some actual research before you comment on topics which you are uninformed about.

      • I have a degree in psychology and a masters in social work – I am certainly not uninformed about the topic. In fact, my views have changed significantly since working with the mentally ill “in the real world” after college. I would venture to state the opposite, that most of the ‘you poor thing, you’re so brave” type comments on the thread are from those who have not been up close and personal with bi-polar friends, family members and/or parents who have ruined their lives without a moments thought to anyone else’s pain.

        I started off as most of the naive and big-hearted young people who want to rescue the poor / suffering / helpless do, I also thought that people just “didn’t know what it was like” to deal with their struggles, that it was an illness they had no control over, and with the right therapy, with the right drugs, with the right support and compassion, they would get better and live meaningful lives and thank me one day. The reality is, there is no cure for the majority of mental illnesses, in many cases not even a reasonable treatment to manage the symptoms. But beyond that, those with mental illnesses often resort to a pattern of using others as they do not feel capable of doing for themselves – whether that’s through government welfare, the exploitation of friends and family or a well honed “poor me” story that is repeated countless times to get what they want. Let me assure you that having a mental illness, does not relieve a person from having free will, choice and the ability to manipulate others.

        I want to add, that in no way do I mean to accuse Lennonsundance of this, As part of the discussion on mental illness, I am simply stating what I have seen and learned from my experiences. The reason I was originally compelled to comment, is that I was shocked that while everyone showed sympathy for her bitterness over a divorce and subsequent suicide attempt, but no one mentioned sympathy for the long-suffering husband/father and children in this tragic situation. I shutter to think what the children of a mother who abandoned them by selfishly choosing suicide have to deal with for the rest of their lives – the anger, and secret worthlessness they must feel that can never be fully healed. I chose to save my endless compassion for them – because they were not adults, and they did not have a choice. It’s unfortunate that few bi-polar individuals ever take full responsibility for themselves and their actions, or have the wisdom/maturity to regret the pain they have caused others who are constantly left to pick up the pieces… and that’s what I’ve seen all too often.

      • Hmmm…. have you read any of the comments? Most people do have bipolar disorder (or some mental health issues) and have had a loved one who suffers, too.

        I know some people won’t care for themselves. There are people w/out mental illness who do this to, but there isn’t a name for being a jerk is the DSM, is there? Asshole disorder?

        I have more to say, but am overwhelmed by the responses and want to get back with them. I do want to add a few things: just because you “work” in the industry doesn’t make you more informed on how it feels to have mental health issues. I’m a 4.0 student who studied literature. Does that make me Zora Neal Hurston and an expert on southern, black female writing?

        Lastly – my ex-husband and I are best friends. We are not bitter. I was 25 when this happened. Like Ann said, you are only seeing a slice of my reality. I chose to highlight it because I, personally, think it is a finely crafted piece of writing and art. I wanted to share that with others.

        Oh – and by the way, my kids are freaking awesome. Thanks for asking.

    • Yeaaaaaaah……I’ve been on both sides and no. I find this really insentsitive. I also feel that people’s lives with mental illnesses aren’t really ever put before people with physical illnesses. And such people AREN’T themselves looking to be killed but the things which have taken over them are, and thinking it’s a great idea to give up on people and let them die because they have an illness, like any other, is more than a little offensive.

      • Interesting. To me it’s far more “offensive” that people who wish to LIVE are allowed to die, because access to healthcare is limited and a finite resource – but an extraordinary amount of resources, tax payer money and emergency medical care is used and often wasted, for those who are determined to die, and attempt multiple times to end their life – eventually succeeding. Should they be forced to live against their will, when there is little modern psychology or pharmacology can do to stop their suffering and insanity? Do you or anyone else have the right to impose life upon someone who does not want it?

        As I said in my original post, I have mixed feelings about this. It’s obviously a very complex issue, and there is more to a full discussion of the subject and it’s social impact than dismissing something as “offensive” because you disagree.

      • It’s offensive because you’re original comment came across very personally and threatening. You said it wasn’t about “me” per se, but you instantly harpooned in on my marriage and kids. Sorry, but if you want a realistic, thought-provoking discussion, attacking someone isn’t the way to start one.

    • I certainly do not agree ‘ambitionanonymous’. Mental illness as fashionable? Fashions come and go but mental illness and depression have been around forever. Pharmaceutical corporations are who you should aim your anger /frustration with. They push their drugs on anyone who even hints at being depressed and then if the patient takes the drugs they often get worse.

      I am thankful to Lennon for her artistic expression through writing and being so truthful, exposing and funny all at the same time. Not to mention how hard it is for Lennon and some of her readers to go into those dark places again and again. I am of the thought that they and Lennon and anyone who reads her writing get stronger and smarter.

      I know it is scary and it is hard, very hard for those who are close to someone in deep depression. But wishing them to go ahead and just die? That is the type of thinking that supports the pharmaceutical elite Hitler/Bush type of corporate assholes who push bad drugs and crappy food on people who are not aware of how bad the drugs are.

      So please educate yourself and direct your anger at someone or something that might actually do some good. Good luck with that! Being supportive to Lennon would accomplished a hell of a lot more.

      Read this article.
      http://commonhealth.wbur.org/2011/01/whitaker-psychiatry-epidemic

      • Very true Ann. It isn’t easy for anyone to speak out about their own personal past and pain. Art helps. I know some might not like the form of expression or the story itself, but it does start a conversation. I think compelling art does that.

  13. 33 AndrewM

    Responding or commenting to a posting on a blog from someone openly discussing her own mental illness, but not revealing even a single percentage of the actual back story, is opening yourself up to all forms of criticism. But please realize that you make huge assumptions about the writer with only a tiny glimpse into her real self. Broken is just a brief snippet of her life, with so much more before and after. So try to take it for that, a quick glimpse, a moving still life, with very powerful insights into some of the feelings behind the scenes. For Anonymous, you still hold a bunch of anger about the stuff you have experienced in your life as an active but unwilling participant in somebody’s addicted life. Keep working it out. Lennon, keep writing, he said very little with which to argue except the fashionable part. He just can’t hear your own internal sarcasm as you make fun of your own somewhat, okay, totally bizarre behavior. Some of us can hear your voiceloud and clear! And we love you, and always will.
    AndrewM

    • Thanks Andrew. Especially for the fashionable and bizarre comments. Two big compliments, in my book.

      • Writing this kind of material and putting it up on the web is going to invite a lot of different opinions and perspectives, not everyone is going to clap for pure artistic merit and shower you with sympathy – no offense. You’re a great writer, but there is a lot more to the story than the eloquence of the words.

        Since you made it personal by virtue of using your own story, it’s fair to comment using that same story as an example. I’m glad you say your kids are “freaking awesome” now, but I’m pretty sure they didn’t feel “freaking awesome” when they found out their mom ruined the family New Year celebration by trying to kill herself, and ended up in the psych ward against her will. That’s the reality of the story. They should have been enjoying the fireworks with their dad and making happy memories – instead they will forever carry around the scars of a disturbed mother and secretly wonder if it’s somehow their fault, or if she didn’t love them enough to stick around and see them grow up.

        I have counseled those who have survived the suicide of a loved one, and the loss of a parent or a child by suicide is by far the worst. There was no note of regret, or remorse in what you wrote for the impact these events had on your family, and there is none in your comments now. The flippant “freaking awesome” response, is just a sign that you’re not yet willing to take responsibility for the negative effect you’ve had on those around you – most unfortunately the kids who will never know what their lives would be like with a mom who was there for them instead of battling her own demons. And unfortunately this is typical of the bi-polar illness.

  14. This is a very thought-provoking thread and I’m glad I dropped by. I think what AndrewM makes a lot of sense.

    I probably should tell you that I don’t have experience of having to be admitted for mental health issues or of living with anyone who has. I lead therapeutic writing groups for people in mental health wards and pychiatric intensive care.

    Lennon, I think it’s great that you’re writing your memoir – being a big fan of writing I would have to say that! I hope that it will be helpful for you as well as for everyone who reads it.

    Keep writing and blogging! Carol.

    P.S. thanks for putting a comment on my blog 🙂

    • Such a cool idea – the writing group. I know art and expression have really helped channel some of my stress an struggles over the years. How did you get into that line of work?

  15. 38 AndrewM

    Anonymous, you make wonderful well thought out, intellectual comments and responses to the less than inspiring comments of the “audience” and challenge the writer with more thought provoking questions about the impact on her “poor” husband and her “poor” children. But once again, you fail to realize that you know next to nothing about their lives, and assume the absolute worst case scenario for them all. Her husband is a phenominal man, one of the best (Lennon’s words) and her kids are absolutely phenominal. I do know! Everyone suffers personal tragedies, most of the time without any logical explanation or comforting story to accompany it. People experience varying levels of trauma very differently. Some handle the worst of the worst with grace and compassion while others can’t handle the simplest wrongs (at least they are simple to me). The reason for that is because all of it occurs in their heads and in their hearts, and none of us can possibly “understand” what they are going through. I personally have lost my son to suicide and my wife to a terrible illness, and I am certain, that despite your education and your experience in the industry of mental health, you could not possibly know what I am thinking or feeling. Not even a little. You sound very much like you are rather bitter about the loss of innocence you suffered as you got into the mental health field, eager to “heal” only to find that the success rate is incredibly miniscule, at best. It can be very debilitating to lose you idealism so quickly when struck in the face with reality, over and over again. So maybe, just maybe, the discussion is done, and you ought to go forward with your life. Maybe write a book about the experience, start a blog and engage people in an analysyis of a small slice of your life findings. Later. Love you Lennon! Keep writing the story, and let this thread die!


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