I hope you don’t mind a little free-form, brain dump interjection into this victory month. My depression has been pretty bad this week, probably because I’ve had the week off work and didn’t set up any structured activities for myself. Depression makes me introspective when I’m not completely numb, and the following passage is something that has been on my mind a lot this week.
When I was in the hospital, sitting on one of the couches in the common area drugged into slightly less of stupor than many patients around me, I wondered how I had gotten there. I mean yes, I told someone in the ER that I went through a time of wanting to hurt and kill myself, and no, that is not normal, healthy behavior. I replayed the events that led up to my hospitalization over and over and over again in my mind.
Each time I watched that inner movie, I was more impressed by how thin the line between healthy and ill is; how easily someone could cross over almost without warning. Like the patient in the adult ward with me who paced quickly from one end of the common area to the next nearly the entire time we were awake. One day after he heard me roommate threaten to kill me, wearing 3 of my shirts and 4 pairs of pants (bra on the outside), and he heard me yell at her in tears to leave me alone, he came up to me and asked me if I would join him in a prayer for safety later that night. I told him I appreciated him reaching out, and I thanked him but said no. Later that night, as he speed walked his laps around the room, for exercise, he said, he stopped in the corner of the room where the tables and chairs were. He was quiet and smiling, then he suddenly picked up a chair and threw it as hard as he could into one of the women’s rooms (empty, thankfully).
The nurses and technicians told us to go to our rooms and shut the doors, and they called a “dangerous patient” code over the hospital-wide loud speaker. Feeling like I’d rather be hit with a flying chair than shut a door behind me and my delusionally homicidal roommate, I reluctantly joined her in our room. As she prattled on about some potted plants she had at a house she used to live in, I thought about the other patient, the chair thrower’s snap. By all outward appearances he had his shit together. He was health conscious, kind in his way, soft spoken, obviously intelligent. He went a milimeter over the line between healthy and sick, and he felt his only option for getting what he wanted was throwing a chair.
I also watched the nurses and technicians doing their job, and was haunted by the thought, This is usually my job. I’m usually the one calling the shots in my job, treating the patients and negotiating with them (yes, animals will try to negotiate their way out of treatments just like humans, only in a different language) for their treatments, maintaining discipline to protect the patients from themselves. I recognized the staff’s responsibilities as ones I felt myself when I was on the job. I am used to being the stable and reliable one my patients and doctors and coworkers count on, but now I am just another patient. Someone else is telling me where I need to sit and how I need to act. Someone else is in charge of keeping me safe from myself.
How did I get here? How did this happen?
Everything that was familiar had been stripped from me, along with everything that was important to me. I had no freedom. I had no choices. I had no visitors. I didn’t even have real underwear – they gave us these mesh netting pieces that counted as underwear.
On the other side of the coin, I had a place and a life and a job to go back to when I was released, and I had hope of being released. All of that was more than a lot of the other patients had. I heard many of them swapping stories about various homeless shelters they had stayed in, and things that had happened to them while they lived on the streets.
I’ve never had to survive on the streets, I had someone waiting to pick me up and take me back to our house. I had a house, a career, family and friends who love me…and I still ended up in the hospital. Mental illness does not care who you are or what you have to lose when it attacks you. I may not have been as sick as the people in the hospital with me, but I could have been. I still could be. The line between us is so thin and nearly invisible.
In the days when my depression feels the heaviest, I think about that line; about how I’m skating right along it, swerving from one side to another all day long. I haven’t had the urge to pick up a chair and throw it at anyone, but I’ve seen how quickly healthy can slip. All I can do is take it one day/hour at a time and keep holding on tight to the people and things that help me maintain my balance.