Psych Ward Intake
(ALL NAMES CHANGED)
Dr. Dapirsky had very hairy legs, which she kept under beige nylons. The nylons made her calves look like hairy bank robbers, accessorized with orthopedic shoes. She had long, wiry gray hair parted down the middle, dark eyebrows and round wire glasses. She reminded me of a very eccentric kindergarten teacher, one who might eat only boiled eggs for lunch. Dr. Dapirsky was a children’s psychiatrist, who I’d seen since high school. I was pushing my luck seeing her at 19, but finding a psychiatrist for adults wasn’t exactly at the top of my priority list, and she was still covered on my parents’ insurance. Her office had board games stacked up against one wall, a colorful wire track table you’d normally see in a pediatrician’s waiting room, and several flourished, official looking degrees that shined behind glass in filigree frames. They were hung very, very high up on her wall. I remember thinking to myself that this was a smart move. Why go to school for 8 plus years, only to have your diplomas smashed by an out-of-control 8-year-old?
Today’s visit was not planned, I made it a necessity. I avoided looking her in the eyes, focusing instead on the boxes of board games past her shoulder: Candy Land, Life, Yahtzee. I wiped snot on the sleeve of a comically oversized sweatshirt. Robotically, Dr. Dapirsky holds out a tissue box for me. It was official: my superpower was getting others to hold out boxes of tissues for me.
“So, tell me why you’re here today,” she asked gently.
“Well, I was having thoughts about dying,” I shifted my knees over each other, “It’s really because I’m just a complete disappointment.” Dr. Dapirsky stared at me, so I explained, “I dropped out of school… I have no job… the only thing I have going for me is my fiancé, but even then I basically attacked him last night-”
“What does that mean, that you ‘basically attacked him’?” Dr. Dapirsky clipped the end off of the sentence like an over-zealous game show contestant.
“Well, not like charged or punched him, but like I hit him… kicked him…. and bit him… and headbutted him,” I paused. I was becoming aware that this didn’t sound good. I hear the scratching of her pencil on the yellow legal pad. I kept going,”he was trying to hold me down, but like, I was kind of asking for it, I tried to run outside naked.” I let out a nervous chuckle, and quickly pantomimed a cough into my sleeve, “so like, he was kind of trying to save me from… myself.”
“What was he afraid you would do?” she perched her face on her hands and leaned in towards me, the legal pad pinned underneath her elbow onto her knee. I quickly replied,
“He thought I was going to run into traffic and get hit by a speeding car, and I tried to tell him that we live on a tiny suburban dead end street… And it’s 3am! The roads would be completely clear!” I recoiled, surprised by my own spastic body language, and transformed back into the cross-legged and cross-armed bundle of lumps and limbs I arrived as.
“Why did you need to run into the street naked?” she asked almost automatically, which prompted more involuntary chuckling from me.
“Well, the goal wasn’t to do it naked, but I was naked at the time, and I wanted to do it right then to get away, so I wasn’t going to have enough time to grab clothes and then put them on. I guess maybe I would have just grabbed shoes. But I would not have put them on until I was outside. And what did anyone care that I was naked? It was 3 am, remember?? No one would see me. And if they did, let ‘em look. Who cares if I was naked? Everyone gets naked sometimes. I was just upset while I happened to be naked.”
“Why did you need to get away?
“Because I just wanted to go to sleep,” I pleaded as I remembered the whole draining experience, “we’d been fighting since midnight, and I was starting to get a bit exhausted, you know?
“What were you fighting about?” I paused and shifted in my chair again, recalling nothing but static,
“…I actually don’t remember. I only remember that I wanted to talk about it in the morning and just let me fuc-,” I caught myself; a child psychiatrist probably wouldn’t welcome my profanity as much as I peppered conversation with it. I resumed, “and just let me sleep, but he said, ‘we can’t go to bed mad,’” I scoffed incredulously, “I just don’t believe in that simplistic theory! But he really does love me; he even talked to me about our future children and that instantly snapped me out of my plan to escape. That means we’re really in love, and that we’re really gonna make it.” My eye blurred with grateful tears, and I winced, showing my teeth as I attempted to stop the overflow. Dr. Dapirsky latched onto the new topic,
“Your… fiancé told the nurse that you threatened to hurt yourself.”
“Like cutting? No. I don’t cut myself,” I was proud to have at least this source of pride. Dr. Dapirsky wasn’t convinced,
“Jennifer, he said that you threatened to jump in front of a train.” I immediately cringed and launched into my defense,
“Ugh… that just means I thought about it. That it would be easy, maybe even easier than fucking up every single day! Sorry! Sorry I said ‘fuck!’ God. I wasn’t like ‘You know what would be cool? To kill myself, haha! Yeah, that sounds like tons of fun!’”
“Jennifer. This is not something to joke about,” Dr. Dapirsky straightened up into an accurate rendition of the Lincoln Memorial.
I paused again to absorb the importance of the situation, “…I know. It’s just that I feel like everything is falling down around me. I’ve been looking at everything and it just seems like everything can kill you, or that you could kill yourself with it.”
“Like knives,” I immediately responded. I clarified: “Ok, so every house has a bunch of knives, right? And I just kept thinking, how much force would it actually take to grab the giant one in the butcher block and just… shove it into your ribs?? Would you have to avoid your ribs or something? Isn’t that like a Japanese tradition? But I mean, that’s only the kitchen, and there are other rooms in the house. And there are so many other houses, and other buildings, and then nature, and oh my god there are some scary things out there!” I heard the pencil scratching again. Oh, shit, that was definitely not the right thing to say, I thought to myself.
“Jennifer.” Dr Dapirsky punctuated the conversation.
“Yyyep,” my snarky angst sputtered through my teeth.
“You know what we have to do, right?”
“I have to change my medicine again, right?” I answered in a very faint sing-song tone.
“Well, first, you haven’t been taking any medication for… two weeks? Is that right? I sheepishly replied,
“Yeah I just forgot once, and then twice, and then I was fine. So I kept going.
“Unfortunately,” Dr Dapirsky hesitated slightly, “we have to take you to a facility where we can restabilize your medication.” I sighed dramatically.
“Really? Is that really necessary?”
“Very much so, and you will be leaving right from here.” I realized then I didn’t have anything helpful, or at the very least entertaining, with me.
“Can I at least stop at my house to grab some stuff?” I was instantly desperate.
“I’m sorry, no. We’ll be taking you there. But your fiancé can bring those things to you after you get there.” She then paged for a nurse to stay with me while she made arrangements.
The nurse arrived wearing white and pink Hello Kitty scrubs and a matching stethoscope holder. It looked like she was decked out for Take Your Daughter to Work Day. She half-smiled at me with a tiny wave, as I sat pouting in my signature “limb-and-lump bundle” stance. I imagine she was probably praying I wasn’t secretly a jack-in-the-box runner. No one ever wants to deal with that.
Eventually, two other nurses in cartoon-themed scrubs joined to escort me through the hospital. I felt eyes from every waiting room watching this twisted circus parade, with “The Amazingly Depressed Jen” playing the part of the Dancing Bear. The theme continued when we mercifully reached the triage room as they sat me in a chair meant for the morbidly obese to take my vitals. It felt like sitting on a giant adirondack chair at the county fair, only closer to the ground and without the seedy carnie taking my photo.
Before I was shipped off to Padded Walls R Us, one of the nurses went over my psychiatric affidavit with me:
“Year of birth?”
“What year is it?”
“Who is the president?”
“Bush.” The nurse eventually dove into my damning statements, or “the plan,” as it would forever be referred to:
“So it says here your plan was to go in front of a train, or-” she looked at the words with no expression, “…knife?” I felt like I was suffocating in sand. I couldn’t remember ever being this mortified, and I’d be a Dancing Bear a million times over if I could only erase that single word from my record.
“Yes,” I admitted, just as three EMTs arrived with a bright red gurney. “I have to be taken in an ambulance?” No one answered me. Well, how else did I think I was going to get there? “I can just walk to the ambulance,” I said, “I’m not going to fight you.” All five people in charge of containing me murmured different, pleading explanations, saying anything to generate my peaceful compliance.
After I was strapped down to the gurney, I was wheeled out of the hospital the same parade route I came with the Nurse Brigade. I squeezed all the muscles in my face as tears of shame and failure streaked down my face. “Do we have to have the siren on?” I ask the EMT buckling the restraints closest to my face.
“No, we’ll keep the siren and lights off for you. No one will know we have anyone inside.”
“Do you know how long they’ll keep me there?”
“It’ll only be a day or two.”
Unfortunately, the humiliation didn’t end with the ambulance ride. The EMTs wheeled me into the facility, up the elevator, and right into a small room with two beds and two particle board nightstands. The EMTs, all male, fidgeted as they launched into a spirited discussion of the Bruins’ weaknesses in the power play. Finally, two female nurses joined the group. Both of the nurses were Caribbean, one was round and smiling, the other was extremely tall and looked bored. Both had perfect, gorgeous deep brown skin. They unfastened all of the straps holding me down, and the round nurse spoke to me with the thickest accent I’ve ever heard, and asked me to do something. She was smiling, and warm, but I had no idea what she was saying.
The tall nurse translated: “We need you to put your clothes in this bucket, and we need to make sure you aren’t hiding anything.” She sounded even more bored than she looked, clearly she was used to following the round nurse around. All three EMTs then faced the wall, while I undressed in front of the nurses. Now I was naked, the nurses were checking me all over, and they asked me to spread my legs wider than my hips and jump up and down. My face and ears got hot; my throat felt stuck together. The round nurse noticed that I was struggling to hold back my tears as I jiggle-hopped up and down, barefoot on the cold vinyl floor. She waved her arms and spoke more, what I assumed to be, sentences. Confused, I looked to the tall nurse for the English version.
“No need to be embarrassed, this is just a formality,” said the tall nurse, as she eyed her manicure. I piled my clothes into the square pink basin, put all of my jewelry and my cellphone into a small ziploc bag, and they handed me some light blue scrubs to wear. Before I could ask, the nurses both explained that cellphones were not allowed in the ward, and there was a pay phone I could use instead. I was still confused, but after hours and hours of forced companionship, I was exhausted. They finally left me alone in the room with two beds and two particle board nightstands. Rather than explore my temporary residence, I curled up under the scratchy blanket, and immediately fell asleep.
I woke to the round nurse speaking to me as she hovered over my face. I didn’t need any translation; it was clearly time to wake up. I looked around for a mirror but didn’t see one, so I stuck my thumbs in my mouth, and wiped them under my eyes and smoothed the flyaways in my hair back into the ponytail I slept in. I stuck my head out of the swinging door and looked down the hall. I saw the tall nurse and two elderly female patients together on the couch staring up at the TV (bolted to the ceiling) and entranced by a soap opera, two men playing a game of cards in slow motion, and a younger girl, probably around 18, working on a very elaborate art project. I was surprised to see someone around my age here. I moved closer to the common area, and I could see that she was working on a stop-sign sized bead mosaic of a horse. She had small piles of beads in six or seven colors placed around her workspace, arranged around a repurposed peanut butter jar that had “TAMMY’Z BEADZ!” drawn in green glitter glue where the label used to be.
“Lottie!” Tammy called, “Can I please have my tweezers now? I did everything else and now I need my tweezers to finish.” The round nurse, Lottie, seemed to chirp as she walked the tweezers over to her, with a sing-song warning that only my instincts understood.
I shuffled over to a coffee stand in the corner of the common area, wearing my hospital socks with chevron-patterned rubber on the bottom (so I didn’t accidentally breakdance, I assumed). I pumped the carafe of coffee into a small styrofoam cup, and noticed a small wheeled bookshelf with some beat up, yet totally readable, paperback books. I scanned the selection and didn’t see anything I had ever heard of. Then I spied one familiar title: Heart of Darkness. What the fuck is this doing here? I picked up the book and flipped through it: Dicks. Dicks everywhere, including the inside covers. Grotesque, over detailed, erect dicks plastered on each page. I closed the book and placed it back on the bookshelf: not my problem. I glanced back at Tammy and her art project, as Lottie closely supervised her tweezer use. She was wearing children’s pajamas instead of scrubs. Come to think of it, she was the only patient I’d seen not in scrubs so far. She playfully tapped her feet, which had fluffy brown puppy slippers covering them, with a pink bow on the left pup. I looked closer, and her ankles looked kind of purple and slightly shiny. I gazed at her arms, her arms were shiny and purple, too. So was her neck. My stomach lurched as I realized that this girl was covered in deep, purple, puffed-up scars. I couldn’t handle this. Do I really belong here?
I nestled myself into the vacant far corner of the couch just as the soap opera ended and the news began:
“BREAKING NEWS: Has Britney Spears finally hit rock bottom? The singer, more recently known for her hard partying ways, was spotted last night in a California hair salon shaving her own head! We have Fox25’s resident psychiatrist here with us for more on the starlet’s apparent breakdown.” “Well, it appears to me that the singer is suffering from bipolar disorder, as she’s displayed these characteristic up-and-down behaviors for about a year now. It’s unclear where her career will go from here…”
I had to stop listening. Of course Britney Fucking Spears had to shave her fucking head the same fucking day that I went in for inpatient hospitalization.
Jennifer, 29, is a spa manager, freelance makeup artist, and writer from Boston, MA. She was diagnosed with bipolar I at 15, and is currently writing a memoir about her journey with mental illness and how it affected those around her. @jennifer824