Anonymous Story (VIII)
"I Am Forced to Have Hope for Them"
I am alone, I thought. I am alone and dying and nobody knows.
Banging on the door of the blue-padded “Quiet” Room. It wasn’t quiet because it was calm; it was quiet because nobody could hear the screams, and even that wasn’t true sometimes. I screamed, slapped my open palms on the door, did whatever I could, whatever I thought would make the most noise so that they would hear me.
Please. Please, hear me. Please. Let me out.
Not until you’re calm. If you’re not quiet… 10 minutes and we’re coming in. How am I supposed to remain calm when I am locked inside a room and no one can hear me? But they were responding to what I was saying. Selectively. I was being ignored. When I came to this realization, I slid down the wall, head in my hands, and tried to make myself cry. Crying emotional tears releases oxytocin and endorphins. Crying dulls pain. Crying self-soothes. Crying improves mood. Crying is good. And I couldn’t do it. So instead I turned to my hands, arms, and ankles. That didn’t draw enough blood, so I kept digging.
I remembered that I was given to the system with mild suicidal ideation and self-harm, and left with a warped personality and a shattered mind. Something about it had changed me. I never would have acted like that at home, or anywhere else. Here it was different.
But before, I thought that I would be better in two weeks.
I didn’t feel comfortable talking to my parents about my suicidality, so I spoke to the school. The weekend before, I had used the biggest knife I could find, about the size of my forearm, the knife we used to cut through watermelons, to cut myself so deep that I would bleed out and die. I wondered: how many seconds would it take until I felt lightheaded? How many until I pass out? How many until my heart stops?
The school sent me home, said I could not come back until after I had been evaluated by a professional. Later, I discovered that the school had misinterpreted me. Both the school and my parents had heard that I was worried I would cut too deep in the future. No, I wasn’t. I was worried I’d try again and I was worried that I would die because, at that time, I still had motivation to stay alive for my family, my friends. To see my cat to the end of her life, to help my sisters with school or exams or gossip about stupid things that only mattered when I was with them, nowhere else. But I had been gaslit for so long by my abuser that I questioned my own memory. Did they think I was lying because I was? Did I make it up for attention? The memory of myself staring at a cut that was no longer bleeding heavily because I had staunched the bleeding with toilet paper and my own fingers, reached adipose, the fat in my thigh that kept me alive in more ways than one. Was that even real?
I thought I needed to go to the hospital. Because hospitals make people better. They cure people when they are sick and mend broken bones, take pictures of brains and remove tumors from bodies, they are the epitome of modern day science and medicine. But they did not cure me.
I arrived at the hospital and stayed for six days, and I remember that the people there treated me well. A loud security guard with a protruding gut told jokes and made me laugh, a kind sitter with beautiful braids took me outside and let me shower, and an intelligent nurse printed out information on an interesting subject in a packet for me when I left. I was visited by my parents regularly and they brought movies, food, and the conversation I had been lacking. But they were also hurting. I was in the hospital and they were outside. And they still were optimistic that I would be back in two weeks. After four, they started to lose hope.
I transferred in an ambulance with two kind EMTs who (don’t tell my parents) were probably the coolest people ever. The M&M team. One of them was in a band from what I remember, they both liked the kind of music I did at the time. They made jokes with me while I waited to be checked in, even though I was in a hospital bed and they were standing tall above me.
Everything was going well after two weeks in the program. I had stopped self-harming almost completely and I had begun to feel stable enough to go home. We were having discussions about discharge within the next few weeks. I was so excited to go home and see my family, go on walks outside, put on fresh clothes that I wanted to wear. Then, the family holidays began to approach and myself and the rest of the unit grew homesick.
I saw a girl punch, elbow, and kick a staff in order to escape, watching, wide-eyed, from five feet away. She was dragged into a room, sedated, and restrained.
One afternoon, the nurses ushered us into our rooms quickly, told us to stay there. The people who were not permitted into their rooms went into a separate room together. A boy was dragged through the hall screaming, high-pitched, at the top of his lungs. “KILL YOURSELF!”
He has been in the system, in and out of programs, since he was ten. He is now fourteen years old. Some people tried to take his advice while others, like me, waited, frozen, in their beds until it was over. Once he was out of the hallway, staff opened the halls. Anyone wishing to move to the central area could do so, so long as no one lingered in the halls. I moved to the common area, away from the noise, and they shut the doors. I could still hear his pounding on the door and his screams. They gave me soundproof headphones, but his shrill voice carried and resonated in my ears. I didn’t know that this was what it meant to be in a hospital, and I didn’t expect myself to end up in that boy’s place by the end of the month. I never threatened anyone, or became violent, and that’s probably why I never got shot with the sedative other patients tried to put a funny spin on: “booty juice,” they called it. I never laughed.
I started getting more suicidal. I wanted to suffocate. I wanted to end my life so that I could leave the hospital, because, then, in my eyes, there was no way out. I didn’t want to live anymore because I wasn’t worth it. I was hurting my parents with these medical bills, the pain of me being unable to come home. I sat in a corner with my face red, my eyes suddenly too tight in their sockets, hands tugging and unwilling to let go. I would never let go. A staff member came and sat with me, to talk to me. She did not yell for help when she saw me and she did not force me to stop.
She told me that I should stop because it triggers other kids on the unit. She said that she knew it was “a rush” to engage in behaviors like this, that it felt good, that the attention is nice from parents and staff, but I wouldn’t be getting any because I needed to learn a lesson. I wouldn’t be getting any attention unless I stopped on my own. She wouldn’t help me, nobody would, if I was going to keep asking for attention in ways like this.
I was bleeding when she came to talk to me, and she noticed the bandages littering the floor, yellow, and the blood clotting on the ground, red turning brown.
“Are you the one that likes to see the blood?”
Looking back on it now, that doesn’t seem all that terrible to someone reading. The way she spoke to me was harsh and made me feel as if I were nothing but an immature, attention-seeking child. She stopped me when my eyes started tearing up.
Another time, I was wearing bandages up and down my arms and on my hands, with two bandaids on each finger except my thumbs, where there was only one each. I was not allowed to wear long sleeves at the time, but the nurse on staff apparently wasn’t aware. She told me to put on a long sleeve shirt so I wouldn’t trigger the other patients. I complied and then I found myself in the corner alone attempting to end my life.
After a while, I stopped trying. It never worked, they always found me. Later, I researched it and I found that it was extremely difficult to die from that. No one told me. I was put on more and more restrictions until I wasn’t allowed to wear long sleeves, wasn’t permitted any plastic cutlery, wasn’t able to go outside, wasn’t able to be in my room without a staff watching my every move, and I didn’t know that what I was doing does not work. The statistics are low.
Then, after Thanksgiving, I didn’t eat for (x) days. I ran on the treadmill as a pastime, but also to burn fat. I had skipped meals before, but never days of eating. Before the hospital, I would weigh myself every morning and every time I showered with the scale in my bathroom that is now gone, and I would binge eat with no control. That had been happening since the beginning of the 9th grade when a boy threatened to rape me and I wanted to make myself thin and invisible, a boy who then got suspended for a mere week and kicked off the soccer team for two because the season was ending. The hospital staff didn’t know that and I didn’t know it was a problem until I went into eating disorder (ED) recovery, so I assumed the staff thought this was something I was doing for attention and took advantage of them ignoring me. I only stopped eating for three days and I ate normally after that for a couple of months.
The program wasn’t all bad, though. I made some friends and watched them receive the care they deserved and needed, then get sent home in the amount of time considered “normal” there. One friend did not. They were another case that this hospital did not know how to handle. We grew very close and shared inside jokes that none of the other patients could relate to, one being the “sad corner,” an area towards the front of the unit where you momentarily became invisible. Unlike heroes with superpowers, we used that invisibility, that hiddenness, to hurt ourselves. I would go alone, and this friend would approach me about it later, I would do the same for them. But one day, after lunch, I followed them.
They were retching, then gasping for breath. Vomiting on the carpet.
I panicked. Ran to a staff member. Hyperventilating. Breathe, breathe, breathe. I couldn’t. I asked for their help. She said there weren’t enough staff to help them. No one could help. They left them there in the corner because there weren’t enough people to help.
Then, when I started feeling better and moved to a long-term facility, I had hope for the first time in a long time. Two weeks later, that hope was ruined. I had started self-harming again, my self-consciousness was coming back, especially with so many new people. I fell into an eating disorder so severe, the program I was at dragged me into an ambulance and restrained me. I went willingly the second time, or as willingly as I could with a promise of another restraint if I didn’t.
My psychiatrist at long-term told me that I was going to kill myself, my clinician asked me if I was doing this because I wanted my teeth to rot so that boys wouldn’t like me, he pulled up pictures of models and asked if I compared myself to them because of their beautiful legs and thin waists and perfect features. He asked if I was doing it because I was so used to punishment from my abuser that I was punishing myself. He asked if I wanted to die and this was the easiest way to do it.
The staff would not follow my plan, would not lock my door, would not lock the bathroom, the psychiatrist made a disgusted face when I told him I had thrown up on the floor of my bedroom, and whoever was monitoring security footage was ignoring me as I emptied the contents of my stomach onto the bench at the end of the hall. I was grateful for all of that then. I was grateful for them ignoring my eating disorder because I thought that was what I needed. Then, they threatened to take me out of their care and place me in an eating disorder treatment facility because they could no longer take care of me. The staff refused to follow my treatment plan, and the facility could no longer take care of me. The eating disorder got so bad that they sent me to another hospital, after I had not eaten or drank fluids for (x) days and had severe orthostatic hypotension from longer stretches of not eating or drinking. I grew dizzy when I stood up, limp when I moved, nauseous when I ate. The nurses told me my heart could give out. I was cold. My feet and hands felt like ice, then my legs. I became numb. This was when I was dragged into a cot in an ambulance and restrained with straps of tough fiber and fighting, weak but shot through with adrenaline, to escape.
When I arrived, a nurse told me that they needed to draw my blood every day until I was stable. She told me that I could go into a coma because my body wasn’t used to the sudden influx of electrolytes. I had an IV in my arm at all times and a pulse rate monitor taped to my finger for twenty four hours. The nurses woke me up in the middle of the night to take my orthostatic vitals. I drank PhosNaK with cranberry juice because I was peeing so infrequently that it hurt to urinate. I had ketones in my blood and urine, they could smell it in my breath. My arms were a tapestry of black tattoos I had drawn in pen of two words to “motivate” myself.
I was on re-feeding protocol and in the beginning, refused to eat. A sympathetic nurse gave me ten extra minutes after I could not finish it, and that is what kept me from being tubed. I am lucky that she gave me more time.
The second time, I had not eaten in almost a full (x) days, and they sent me home in twelve hours. I sat in the hospital bed with an IV sticking out of my vein with my arms, again, decorated with black ink. They told me I had to order dinner, so I ordered a salad. I ate most of it with my mother before I left. Afterwards, I learned that they would have tubed me if I didn’t eat.
We fought for discharge from my long term program. My psychiatrist and clinician wanted me to be in an inpatient eating disorder facility where I would inevitably pick up more behaviors and continue living away from my family. Eventually, they let me go home.
I got better. I went to an outpatient eating disorder program or met with my nutritionist four times a week, received therapy and psychiatry where I was weaned off of a depressing medication. I felt better.
Then, I was admitted to the ER after taking more than enough of my antidepressants to kill a grown adult. I hallucinated for one and a half days straight, but they pumped me with an IV full of a medication that made me forget almost all of it. They kept me on an EKG to make sure I didn’t have a life-threatening seizure.
The room was covered in a mask of shimmering transparent portals, and whenever I looked too closely, an invisible man whose head scraped the ceiling would reach out and attack me. I heard sharp, whining voices telling me to kill my mother, singing in my ears. The room moved up and down like I was in an elevator, whenever I closed my eyes I saw skeletons outlined in red specks reaching towards me, my mother grew old and withered into a gaunt face with skin-and-bones hands before my eyes.
I stayed in the hospital for two weeks after the medication wore off, fighting to not be sent back inpatient. Inpatient destroyed me before and it would not happen again.
Then, I was admitted to a program that stayed honest with me. With kind staff, educators, nurses, and patients who wanted to get better. I learned skills to help me get through tough times, I discovered that my brain can do miraculous things if I believed that it could. I got better in two weeks and then I went home, feeling the best I had felt since 5th grade.
I was admitted to seven hospitals and went to three residential/in-patient facilities in the span of a year. I have ridden in six different ambulances in my lifetime, but some of my friends have gone through more. Been to more hospitals, been held down in more restraints, been strapped to more beds, been taken to more facilities in more ambulances. Some of them are still there. Some of them have gone home happy. Some of them have died.
I know now, from hearing others’ stories, that there is no one “best” therapeutic program. I had heard that my first inpatient program was said to be the best. People who go stay there for two weeks and then leave for better places. I did not get home until almost seven months later, and that was with more severe problems than I started with. There is not one “best” therapy because everyone lives differently. Everyone has a different story. Some people suffer while learning DBT, some people thrive. Some people are motivated by living in an inpatient facility, some lose any semblance of personality.
I am forced to have hope in the system for them. I need to hope that the system can change otherwise the people stuck there are helpless and hopeless. They are not lost causes, they are not objects to be placed in a facility that will ignore and abuse them, they are not “too sick” to be helped. They are people with families, friends, loved ones, pets, partners, and children, not animals to be dragged through hallways by their hair or mannequins to be tossed around with no regard for their humanity.
Mental illness is easy to refute, simple to ignore, and painless to mistreat if you don’t care about the bigger picture. It is not as easy to treat as a cough or a broken leg and it is easy to pretend it doesn’t exist. Mental illness exists. We exist, and we need better help than what we’ve been getting.
I am forced to have hope in the system for anyone who the system has failed, but also everyone who survived and thrived. Even for the people who may not know or understand but can sympathize, even the people who don’t believe in ADHD or PTSD and need the education about mental illness that so few receive. Mental health impacts everything.
I am forced to have hope in the system for them.