‘Going Upstairs’: A Few Psych Ward Experiences

Since the blog is ‘Deconstructionally Insane,’ I would like to introduce the reader to the ‘insane’ part. The ‘deconstructionally’ part will soon follow.

There are many, many people who believe mental illness is not real, and that psychiatry is a fraudulent science. For whatever reasons people have to believe such criticism of psychiatry, they will never be able to explain away why, in a lot of cases, psychiatric treatment does work. It is above and beyond my control that my brain does not organically function as the average brain. This does not make me more or less of a person; it just makes me different. Yes, we are all different. Yes, we all have ups and downs. It is the frequency and intensity of my ups and downs that make my psychiatric troubles a medical burden to bear. I am not weak-minded, weak-willed, or lazy. Catch me on a certain day and I have the energy of a five year old. Next week, I can barely get out of bed. And it cycles at varying lengths. A doctor once told me, trying to ‘will’ one’s way out of a mental illness is like trying to ‘will’ one’s way out of high blood pressure or diabetes. The brain is a sensitive organ, and some people’s brains just don’t function ‘normally,’ or in the same way that the average person’s brain functions. Mental illness is affected by environment too. My struggle might have been avoided by a change in surroundings, but it wasn’t, and I have to deal with that. I would like to hope for the day that mental illness no longer has such a negative stigma attached to it, and that when I feel ‘sick’ people will understand instead of pushing me to my limit, which ultimately will land me back in the psych ward, or even worse jail.

Here are some experiences I had being hospitalized before. I don’t like hospitals, I have a mortal fear of needles, and none of these experiences were very positive or promising. Remember that the next time somebody tells you they were hospitalized for a mental illness, or have been diagnosed with one.

“’You’re in my mind/girl I wanna shake ya down/I can give you all the lovin you need/girl I wanna shake ya down/we can go all the way to heaven’”

“I had a dream I was a big time drug dealer.”

“I bet you did.”

“I had money and cars and everybody wanted something.”

“Uh huh.”

I lie there conscious, but oblivious to the concerns of the outside world. And I couldn’t stop singing classic 80’s R&B tunes. For a while, I wondered if I would go back to sleep and not ever wake up. Everybody in the room was sleep. There were like four or six beds separated by light-colored wooden clothes cabinets. I can’t remember exactly how many beds there were because I had just come out of a three-day coma. After I came out of the coma and the dizziness stopped, some EMTs showed up with a sad excuse for a stretcher to transport my rather large self out of the hospital and into the ambulance. I was put in the back of the ambulance by myself. I looked out of the back window of the ambulance, and it was like my past was quietly leaving itself behind me. The road I had traveled probably thousands of times while looking forward out of a car, now rolled from under the ambulance, moving away from me. It almost seemed like the stigma of my condition pushed my past away from me.

I got to the intake, and the EMTs made a little fuss about getting my big behind off of the stretcher. In the process, I heard another patient in intake yelling about how she didn’t need any medication and she didn’t want to go upstairs. Not having any sympathy at the time, I blurted out,
“She needs some Freddy and Jason in her life.”

The EMTs found this statement I made amusing, but for the life of me I don’t know why. After I was down off of the stretcher, I was led into a four-walled room with two payphones, a couch, and a bathroom door. There may have been some chairs, but I took to the couch so closely, I can’t remember if there were chairs or not. And there was a tv hanging up in the corner between two of the walls. Sitting on the couch gave the perfect view.

Then the intake nurse called me.

“Do you do drugs?”

“I’ve smoked marijuana before. But not lately.”

“Have you done any other drugs? Like crack or meth?”

“Oh nooo. I always told myself if weed stops getting me high, then it’s just time to stop getting high.”

“You are so cool.”

I had an interbation while I was in a coma, and told the intake nurse so as a response to some obscure question she asked. I did not know what an interbation was, and thought it was pronounced ‘innabation’. The nurse quickly corrected me by pronouncing it the proper way. Nobody bothered to tell me what else happened during my coma. All I know is I felt like I had been sleeping as usual and had to pee. I had not opened my eyes but was laying in the hospital bed, and after saying ‘uh oh’ because I had to pee, I called out for my dad. I heard his voice and slowly came out of the coma. I had to pee so bad, I instinctively sat up to get out of the bed, but the room was spinning quickly and I had no balance. My dad told me to lay down, the nurse was coming. By the time I got to the part about why I was trying to get out of the bed, the nurse was there telling me I had a catheter hooked up to me and to just pee in the bed. I might have just come out of a coma, but peeing in the bed just didn’t seem natural to me. But I gave it a shot. It worked.

The rest of the hospital memory is mostly gone, except for when the EMTs came to pick me up. Back at the intake, the nurse was finished with her admissions paperwork and told me to go sit in the waiting room and, well, wait. I was waiting on the doctor to come and decide what medication I would be continued on. I dozed off and on most of the night, until I saw the doctor. When I saw the doctor, he asked me some random questions about the medications I had been taking before, and told me he was going to change them all, and for various reasons. My memory fades in and out during the intake process because the process was so long, and I was so sleepy.

After I saw the doctor, I was directed back to the waiting room. I was told, at least I think at some point I was told, that I would be waiting downstairs until a bed was available. It didn’t really bother me. I was groggy and sleepy as hell. At some point somebody brought me a blanket. I don’t even remember if it was cold or not; maybe somebody just being courteous. But I slept and slept until the morning. It was in this waiting room when I had this strange dream.

While I was sleeping in the waiting room, I had a dream that me, Nelly, and Kobe Bryant were doing practice drills in an empty rec center, not unlike one I had been in before in Texas one time. We would do two-on-one sometimes, then sometimes we three would be all on the same team. We just kept switching up to make the practice lively. I guess what was so strange was that there was no talking, and nobody else was in the gym.

Then the dream switched to me and Ludacris riding around in an old school car, I think it was like a ‘70s Riviera. It was dark colored outside and had plush dark blue interior inside. He kept asking me to drive, but I kept telling him I couldn’t. He would drive a little ways, we would smoke a little, then he would ask me to drive again. This happened two or three times before the dream ended. Next thing you know, they called my name to go upstairs.

Looking back, I think it’s weird how all this stuff was going on and I was the last to find out about what had happened to me and how I was going to be treated. I mean like with white people or with aggravated black people, hospital administrators willingly give all information about a patient and the patients’ diagnoses and treatment. But my experience with doctors is always like I’m at the dentist trying to pull the doctors’ teeth. They only tell me enough to get me to quit asking questions, even when clearly my questions did not cover the diagnosis and prognosis in their entireties.

So I had no idea what I was about to go through ‘upstairs’. And my memory wasn’t serving me very well; it didn’t occur to me that during previous outpatient treatment, I didn’t like going ‘upstairs’. Even in previous hospitalizations, as soon as I checked in, I was ready to check out. The three or four hospitalizations I had each lasted at least about seven days. Then I would be released and go back to my outpatient treatment. Suddenly, I had sympathy for the girl I saw at intake the day before.
I was in observation for a week. I didn’t want to do anything but sleep and sing classic 80s R&B. Al Jarreau, Peabo Bryson, Freddie Jackson, Keith Sweat, and maybe some others. I don’t even remember eating, at least while I was in observation. There was a whole hospital operating outside and I didn’t want to be a part of it. I just wanted to sleep.

Then the nurse came to give me meds and take vitals. I don’t even remember having the dream about being a big-time drug dealer; I think I really thought I had been a big-time drug dealer. They say grandiose thoughts comes from the manic episodes of bipolar disorder. This was probably a sign, or otherwise a symptom. All while I was in the observation room I don’t remember eating or using the bathroom. All I did was sleep and sing.

And then I was called names. I was the ‘dirty Mexican’ with ‘bugs in her hair’. Ironically, the same lady who started calling me those names also read Bible verses in bed before we went to sleep, and triggered this one episode. I was yawning, and I covered my mouth with both hands, almost like we do when we sneeze, sort of like putting the hands together in prayer over our noses and mouths. Apparently, she thought I was praying, and said “Praise the Lord!” I snapped back at her, and I snapped so hard the nurses all came over. I said back to her something to the effect of “Hell naw! I ain’t fuckin’ with the lords! Fuck them!” The day room got real quiet and the nurses just looked at me. I walked away down the hallway. I would’ve went into the room, but the doors were closed, as they would be during the times when we were forced to congregate in the day room. So I sat on the floor in the hallway right next to the door. A case worker was walking by and asked why I was there. I told him I put myself on a ‘time-out’ because I had snapped at that lady. Somehow we got into a discussion on race, and I was venting about being black but not looking like it. He told me he was Irish, despite the fact that he was dark-skinned. Then this light-skinned lady came walking down the hallway towards the bathroom, which was across the hall close to where I was sitting on the floor. The case worker said something about how I wasn’t the only person who didn’t look their race, and to take the lady walking down the hall for example. Then he said, “Watch this.” He asked the lady what race she was, and she said, “I’m black.” Then I said, “She think she white!” I know why I said it, but the logic wasn’t very rational, so I didn’t reveal to her or the case worker that I said it because I had only seen her talk to white people since I noticed her presence on the floor.

Back to the bugs though. The reason the lady said I had bugs was because my hair was constantly itching and I would shake the dandruffs out randomly, anywhere, except the dining hall. I’m not that damn inconsiderate. One night, my scalp was itching so bad, I went into the bathroom, flipped my hair over with my head down, and just started scratching and shaking the flakes out. A nurse happened to come in the bathroom and she couldn’t see my face under my hair and asked, “Who’s that under all that hair?” I flipped my hair back and raised my head. She said, “Oh, it’s just you.” They must have really thought I had bugs.

One time, I was just thinking about random stuff like I do. For some reason I was thinking about dreams; probably because I was sleeping so much and having vivid dreams. I didn’t really feel like approaching the patients who were there to talk to, so I went to one of the nurses at the nurse’s station. I had been thinking about a book I read in the library at one of the schools I went to. The book was one by Aristotle, I just happened to read the part about what he thought of dreams. My understanding of this reading is that Aristotle thought dreams are your body messing with your head while you are sleep. So I went to the nurse and asked if he ever read Aristotle. He said no, and turned his attention away. I dug further and asked him if he knew who Aristotle was. He said really forcefully, “I know who I am! And that’s all I know!” I almost cried. I couldn’t figure out why he was so hostile towards me at that particular time, and it really got under my skin. I guess I got all upset and distraught because I was trying to strike up a quick, friendly conversation, but he wasn’t interested.

I was so frustrated about the nurse not wanting to talk to me, that I called my grandma’s house collect, just to talk to somebody. I’m really not sure why I couldn’t call my dad, but he might have been at work or something. Somebody actually answered the phone at my grandma’s house, and accepted the call. I think I was talking to my grandma, and I told her I missed her and I wanted to go home. I started crying as I was telling her about how mean the nurses were and the people, meaning the patients, were calling me names and talking about me. I had just hated that damn hospital, and I couldn’t stand being in there anymore. I don’t remember much else about the conversation, but it didn’t last long, and eventually I got off the phone and went to bed.

There was also the time this new patient came in, and she almost started a fight with me. If it wasn’t for the lady that I gave my cereal to before, we probably would’ve fought. And there’s no telling what type of consequences that would’ve had. We were in the dining hall one day. They call your name to hand out your tray. This new patient heard them call my name, and she was sitting just across the aisle and catty-corner to me. She said, “My name is Denise too!” I must’ve replied real nonchalantly with a “So” or something, because the girl got real pissed and started talking shit. The lady who I had gave my cereal to was sharing a table with her, and said something quickly and in a low voice to the girl, and the girl cooled out. The rest of the time I was there, the lady who I shared my cereal with was always by that girl, especially when me and the girl were near each other. Thank goodness for Lucky Charms.

The dining hall was ripe with incidents. Another incident, silly as it may sound, was when I was sharing a table with this real feminine guy who was always singing the Supremes. Me and him had our trays and were sitting at the table eating, when this guy who looked like Murphy Lee walked up to the table and just stood there. There must not have been anyplace else to sit, and he seemed to be wondering what to do. I asked him, “Are you confused?” and he took the empty seat that was next to the feminine guy. The feminine guy really politely gathered his utensils and tray, got up, and found someplace else to sit. To this day I wonder why the Murphy Lee guy just didn’t go sit wherever it was that the feminine guy had found to sit. Another time I was almost the one to start some shit in the dining hall. I told the people when I checked in that my diet was no pork, no seafood. So whenever the menu had either of those types of food, they gave me something else. One day, a friend of the lady who had started calling me the dirty Mexican asked why I had different food from everybody else. I told her because my diet was no pork, no seafood. Everybody’s tray had a card on it with their name and the dietary restrictions, if I’m not mistaken, because she grabbed my card real hastily, looked at it, then put it back on my tray. I swear I wanted to start something, but real quickly I checked myself, thinking ‘I’m not about to let this crazy bitch get to me.’ So I didn’t say or do anything. I just kept eating.

Then there was the discussion about drugs of choice. I shared a room with the lady that called me dirty Mexican, her friend who looked at my card in the dining hall, and one other light-skinned lady who said she was from down South. This was when I really came to the conclusion that there really were such people as functioning drug addicts. The dirty Mexican lady and her friend smoked crack, and the light-skinned lady snorted cocaine. I was just like damn. Some nerve. Of course, it was being a bit bigoted thinking that somebody was worse off than me because the drugs they did were harder than just drinking and smoking weed, which was all that I did. But I did always think that people who did more than drink and smoke weed were worse off than I was, if for no other reason than they seemed like they were more addicted to their drugs of choice than I was, except not for cigarettes. Of course, in our society, cigarettes aren’t drugs though. And I hope they never will be, because I did eventually hear from a recovering crack addict that cigarettes are harder to kick than crack. I’ve repeated this on a couple of occasions, and most people don’t doubt that it is true.
One of the groups I went to while I was in there was about some topic or another dealing with mental triggers and stressors. There was about seven of us sitting in a circle, and everybody told their stories about what triggered mental crises for them. It took so long, with people telling every detail, taking breaks to cry, hearing feedback from the facilitator, etc… that by the time it was my turn to talk, I just said, “I’m a drug addict”, and left it at that. The facilitator asked if that was all I had to say and I said yeah. I didn’t really feel like getting into the details of how many times I wanted to commit homicide, and how I thought my life was worth more than those I wanted to kill, and that was why I tried to take my own life. I felt like that was one of those conundrums I was going to have to figure out for myself.

Some of my memories about being hospitalized are out of order. I was in and out the hospital so much for a two to three year stretch, that I can’t really remember exactly what time frame it was in which some things happened. All I know is that I was also hospitalized at the psych ward at Ingall’s. I swear I’m not making this up, but I was raped in there. It never occurred to me that a guy with a little thing could rape somebody, but they can. It happened to me. There was this one guy, real small, quiet, didn’t participate much in anything. One night, I was in bed sleep. I was sleeping on my stomach, and I felt somebody standing over me. I woke up, drowsy and groggy, looked back, and the guy was standing over me. I said, “What the fuck are you doing?” He didn’t say anything, and I was kind of loud, plus I had a roommate, so I thought he left. I really don’t know if he did leave, but if he did, he sure did come back. I fell back asleep, starting dreaming, then felt my covers lift up. I thought it was part of the dream, got real scared, and just stiffened up. I was sleeping on my stomach again, and next thing I know, somebody is on my back. I was so shocked; I didn’t know what to do. I don’t know what kind of pajamas I was wearing, but somehow, he got his little thing in between my legs. I couldn’t believe it. I just fell back asleep. The next day, they moved me out of that room and put me in a room that had a camera in it. As if to say they knew somebody was in my room having sex with me, and that I must’ve had something to do with it. I felt so humiliated and embarrassed. I’m not even sure I ever repeated this story, as much as I like to tell my stories. If I did repeat it, I don’t remember.

I met another guy in the same hospital; I don’t remember if it was the same stay or a different stay though, because I went to this hospital a couple of times. He took to me really oddly, and I think he thought I was his girlfriend, at least while we were in the hospital. When we got out, somehow we hooked up. I went over his house, and when I left, I heard hysterical laughter in a high pitched, sinister voice. But it wasn’t him, nobody else was in his place, and his place was at the end of a hall. This was the first time I heard voices. It was strange. It’s so easy to see people and hear their stories in these hospitals, but it’s hard to get to know people. To this day, I’m sort of glad I didn’t get to know him like that. He’s probably glad he didn’t get to know me either.

At the expense of other psych ward experiences, in my next post I am going to begin the ‘deconstructionally’ conversation of the blog. I don’t like reliving the mental hospital.

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