On November 29th, 2016, I drank a little too much after weeks of darkness and swallowed all of my mood stabilizers – That’s what they give you when you’re so crazy you sometimes forget your own name. I don’t remember that night very well. All the events are out of order and jumbled. I don’t know if that’s from the pills or the wine or if I dissociated again. I’m swallowing all my pills with a glass of wine. I’m on the phone with my roommate. I called her? She called me? I’m falling asleep in the car; My roommate yells at me to stay awake. Everything is spinning and my eyes are tired. Some girl has my phone. She’s texting my best friend? She’s texting my mom? My roommate has my phone. Where is my purse? My roommate offers me a Xanax; her friend yells at her because “more pills? Are you sure that’s a good idea?” The nurse tells me to drink up. My mouth is filled with a chalky, thick, black liquid. I wake up in a chair. Nausea overwhelms me. I throw up all the darkness. They tell me I have a phone call… It’s already 7 AM? They offer me breakfast, and I give my bacon to the woman next to me. She’s crying. I’m watching Law & Order on the small TV behind the glass. I remember thinking, is it a good idea to be playing a show about murder and rape in a psych ward? Is this even a psych ward? Where am I? I wonder if the nurses know that this show always makes me feel sick. Finally the bus with the metal bars pulls up and I’m brought out in a wheelchair. I remember it felt like I was in a prison van, on my way to a life of orange jumpsuits. I remember thinking I was being punished.
I hoped, foolishly, that that would be the end of the story, the end of my misery. I was wrong. Instead of choking on my own vomit peacefully in my bed, I was stripped of all my belongings and thrown into a bedroom beside a nineteen year old girl who had kicked a pregnant woman in the stomach. She had a gash in her forehead from where she’d banged her own head into a brick wall. I use the term “bedroom” lightly because it was more like a cell. The beds were made of wood bolted to the floor and a plastic mattress about two and a half inches thick. There were no windows and the lights were dull. The bathrooms had to be unlocked by an attendant so I wouldn’t drown myself in the toilet, which was honestly starting to sound appealing. I wasn’t allowed to have a pencil, so I wrote in the journal provided by the guards in purple crayon. I had to be careful not to write that I wanted to die because the nurses checked. In fact, they checked every hour, slamming doors behind them as they traveled from room to room to make sure no one had strangled themselves with a piece of string. But that would be absurd, we weren’t allowed string.
Never in my life had I been more suicidal than the day after I attempted suicide. Hospitals are meant to be places where you feel safe, where you heal. This place was a black hole filled with the most unsettling demons allowed to walk the Earth. Patients wandered the hall in their hospital gowns, scratching away at their skin and trying to rip the monsters out of their throats. At night, the walls were filled with soul-shattering screams and the hauntings of hourly check-ins. I faded in and out of sleep under a magic spell they called Remeron. Mornings were filled with dry eggs eaten with sporks and apple juice in a plastic bowl. The days were long. I’d never lived in a place where the days were so long. I spent three whole days in that freezing Hell they called a hospital. (They wouldn’t allow sweatshirts because zippers are evil and hoods suffocate). Aside from my homicidal roommate, I was the youngest in the unit, and apparently the only one who didn’t enjoy watching informercials for twelve straight hours. So I sat. For seventy-two hours I sat and stared at the ceiling, thinking never again would I attempt suicide and fail.
That was the root of the problem, the focus on the fact I’d failed rather than the fact I’d tried to kill myself. I thought that going inpatient would mean group therapies, counseling, medication… Instead I was locked away from society and left to rot. In three days I saw a doctor only once, for about fifteen minutes, just for him to give me a diagnosis I’d already been given years ago. It wasn’t until the second day that I was given access to the medication I’d already been prescribed, and there was never even so much as a mention of therapy. That place made me feel worse than I had when I’d decided to take the pills. So I lied. I told them it was an accident. I told them I’d just had a bit too much to drink, and that I promise I’ll watch my drinking! I lied through my teeth and was released back into the real world on the third day.
I would love to tell you where I was and expose them for the truly wretched place they are, but I can’t. I was never even so much as given the name of the hospital. I’m sure if I dug through the stack of paperwork I was left with I could find it, but I left all of that with my charcoal-covered hospital gown in a dumpster a few miles from my apartment. Kids die every day. More kids end up in hospitals from wanting to die every day. I know not every hospital is like this, but enough are, and that’s a huge part of the problem. I was lucky to have an incredible support system after leaving that prison, but not everyone is. According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, there’s no accurate number for how many people are institutionalized for suicide attempts, but in 2015, 494,169 people visited a hospital for injuries due to self-harm. That’s almost 500,000 people that could have been helped, yet there are still on average 121 suicides per day, and for every suicide it’s assumed that there are twenty-five attempts. That makes over a million suicide attempts per year. Over a million people that need help, and if any of them experience hospital visits like mine then they sure as Hell aren’t getting it. It’s hard for us as individual people to go up against numbers like that, but that’s exactly why we all need to. It can be something like volunteering, donating money for prevention research, or even something as simple as just being there for people. Just be kind, be open, and be here. It’s not that hard.
National Suicide Prevention Hotline: 1-800-273-8255
Inspired by a piece written by a beautiful friend about her time in an institution and dedicated to those we’ve lost in the last year. Rest in peace.