Category Archives: Laura’s Story

Chapter Twenty-Seven: Reignition

Written Summer 2012

Silent hours unfolded as I devoured the words, a symphonic consciousness crescendoing as door after door of new awareness opened inside of me.  It was May, 2010, and I was alone in a Vermont hotel room, as I’d let my parents know they should go on without me to meet my sister and her friends for dinner to celebrate the end of their junior year in college.  Skipping a social event was nothing new to me by this point; in fact, my family had grown to expect it.  The inevitable, “How have you been?  What are you doing in life?” had become too much to bear in social situations, those words a stab in the gut, their sharp ferocity leaving me aching for hours afterwards.  The only answers I had to offer were entirely tied into my identity as a person with mental illness— Bipolar disorder and Borderline personality disorder, specifically.  Indeed, it had become all I was.

How have I been, you ask?  You’d really like to know? 

I have not been well.  In fact, over the last ten years, I’ve been getting progressively worse, and these last four years in particular have sent me further down than I ever thought was humanly possible.  In this time, I’ve thought about dying on an almost daily basis, the thoughts invading me with the force of a powerful army.  For whatever unfortunate reason, I failed at trying to kill myself a year and a half ago, and I’ve been stuck in the same life ever since.  To be honest, the only thing that’s kept me going are these thoughts of death, which I know is waiting patiently for me when I finally decide life is too much, and that my mental illness is too severe.

I’m currently on six psychiatric medications, each of which I’m told serves a very important purpose— Lithium for my mania, Lamictal for mood stabilization, Abilify for my mania and mixed episodes, Effexor for my depression, Ativan for my anxiety and to help me sleep, and Seroquel when I’m overwhelmed with thoughts of suicide and need to sedate myself quickly.  They’ve never worked, ever, and I’ve been told that I’m very treatment resistant.  Although they keep upping my doses, I’ve only gotten worse.

I don’t remember what it is like to not be medicated, to not have to pour the pills out into the palm of my hand every morning and every night and swallow them down, a residue of bitterness left at the back of my throat.  I’ve been on them consistently for ten years, and on and off for three years before that, so I have had a relationship with them since the age of fourteen.  I’d imagine I’d feel naked if I went anywhere without them.  They have become my security blanket, although I’m no longer sure what they’re keeping me safe from.

So, you’d like to know what I’m doing in my life?  Well, I went inpatient on a locked psychiatric unit in New York back in February of this year after coming really close to killing myself.  I guess you could say I was glad I asked for help instead of going through with the suicide, so that I could give life another shot, although there are moments when I’m not so sure.  That hospital discharged me to a substance abuse day program at the same Hospital on the Hill I went to back in 2008, up in the Boston area, after my suicide attempt. That program didn’t go so well, and I was kindly escorted by hospital security back to that locked unit, where I spent a little time.

Since leaving that unit, I’ve been spending my days— five days a week, usually from 9AM until 4PM— at the hospital’s Intensive Outpatient Program for Borderline personality disorder.  I go to groups, individual therapy, and to the occasional meeting with my treatment team, which consists of seven doctors, social workers, and psychologists who meet about me first and then invite me join them afterwards so that they can tell me what I need, since I have no idea what that is, myself.  It’s always hard to wait patiently on the sofa beneath the old mahogany paneled walls in the hallway of the Administration Building, staring at that closed door, knowing that they’re talking about me in there, but I’ve been told this program is the best in the country for treating Borderline personality disorder, so who am I to say anything?

I’ve been staying with my aunt and uncle in the suburbs of Boston since leaving the inpatient unit because I can’t handle living alone.  I dread the nights, when I am faced with myself, my racing thoughts, and my profound self-hatred, and I watch hour upon hour of Law & Order or South Park on my laptop until my Ativan carries me into deep, dreamless sleep.  Waking up every morning to shower, dress, and go to treatment is a challenging task, because I’m still not sure I really see a point to all of this, since I’ll have these issues for the rest of my life.  Other than my fellow patients at treatment, and the people I see nightly at meetings I’m attending to help me stay sober, I have no friends, because it’s too exhausting to put the front up that I’m anywhere near being normal.

I’ve never really thought about working towards a career, as I stopped thinking I had it in me to be successful long ago; it also didn’t help that doctors have always told me to be sure to set “realistic expectations” for myself, given the severity of my Bipolar disorder.  I’ve haven’t thought about getting into a healthy relationship with a guy because I stopped thinking I deserved it a long time ago, and when I look around at people my age who are getting married, having children, excelling at work, and settling into homes, I am utterly perplexed.  I sometimes wonder if I’m really an alien among these healthy, happy, functioning human beings, as I am constantly disoriented and profoundly confused by this thing called life.

Is that a good enough answer to your question?

With that as my truth— this massive secret of who I really was— I couldn’t bear to pretend any more, to diligently weave fabrications with acute precision, vigilant about getting straight which story I told to whom, and when.  The contrast between the person most of the outside world probably saw me as and the person known by my family and by the countless psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers, and mental health workers I’d come to know over the decade I’d spent in shrink’s offices, day programs, partial hospital programs, and locked psych wards, was too stark.  Tonight, however, these concerns hadn’t even crossed my mind.  Alone, hidden underneath my usual baggy sweatpants and hooded sweatshirt, I had stayed behind for a very different reason.  I simply couldn’t stop reading.

In the past few years, the vast majority of the books I’d read were of the young adult genre, and the only times I’d read at all were during stays on psych wards, my debilitated concentration coming together just enough to make a meager attempt here and there at breaking up the monotony of being on a locked ward.  My hands hadn’t held a piece of non-fiction since college, other than a failed attempt at Malcolm Gladwell’s The Tipping Point while on the Short Term Unit of the Hospital on the Hill in 2008.  I simply couldn’t absorb the words, my eyes going back to the beginning of each paragraph three times before I could move on to the next.  And here I was, caressing the red dustcover, while my eyes, hungry fiends after years of starvation, digested each and every word of this book I’d accidentally discovered earlier that afternoon.

I’d been wandering around downtown, baffled by the normality and carefree happiness that was everywhere— families excited for summer and proud of their accomplished college grads, yellow labs in bandanas panting in the heat, children in matching Patagonia shorts.  When I chose to go out in public, which rarely happened anymore, I couldn’t help but analyze the humanity I’d become so separated from, studying it as if through a glass observation window, fantasizing that one day I’d get so good at pretending I’d maybe have a shot at becoming like everyone else.

At the sight of a bookstore on the next block, my heart flittered; rooms of books were one of the few spaces that provided a temporary sense of relief and escape.  I’d trace the spines of soft covers with the tips of my fingers, pulling them out here and there to push my thumb through their pages and inhale the sharp smell of crisp new paper, and imagine myself reading them at home in a comfy chair by a fire, a warm blanket on my lap, a cup of tea at my side.  This scene hadn’t existed beyond the confines of my mind in a long time, and I wasn’t sure it ever would, but just the thought of it was enough to let me sigh a deep sigh.

Perusing the shelves, I came to the newly released books, which lay flat on an unfinished cedar display shelf, their covers shining bright under fluorescent lights.  As my eyes scanned the images, I locked eyes with a face looking back at me.  His eyes peeked out from just above the author’s name, and I was sure I saw pain in them.  The top of his bald head was separated by dotted lines, which carved the skin up into designated sections, each labeled with one word.  My jaw dropped as I read them.  I knew them well, better than most, probably, and some of them I said aloud to myself every day.

Tegretol, Lamictal, Prozac, Klonopin, Wellbutrin, Risperdal, Zyprexa, Xanax, Lithium, Ritalin. 

Pharmaceutical drug names for medications that treat mental illness, two of which I had.

What is this book?  I thought to myself, heart pounding, as time slowed to a halt around me.  Everything on my visual periphery fell away, until the book was the only thing left in my line of sight.  I felt a powerful sense that this was predetermined, that this was meant to happen.  I hadn’t felt something like this in a long time.

These words— these accumulations of letters arranged strategically by marketing divisions of pharmaceutical companies— marked the destiny of this man, whose eyes were searching for mine, and I realized in a profound moment that I was looking at myself.  I now understood the ache I saw, for I had it too, and eight of these ten drugs— two of them in my blood stream in that very moment— had been shaping my own fate since the age of fourteen.  I had no idea what the book was about, but without a thought, I had it in my hand, got into the check out line, paid, and went straight back to the hotel.

A few weeks earlier, I’d mustered up any inner confidence I could find to raise the issue of coming off my psychiatric medications with my psychopharmacologist, Ben, who was one of the doctors on my treatment team.  Although he initially pushed back, he was willing to listen to me.  I told him that since getting sober, my life on the outside had gotten a little more manageable and that I sensed a slight forward momentum, something I hadn’t felt in as long as I could remember.  Although I still had no idea of who I was and loathed the person I saw in the mirror, there was something inside of me that had ignited, something deep in my gut that told me if I was ever to have a shot at putting together the scattered pieces of who I was, I had to come off of my medications.  I was tired of wondering, “Is it me, or my meds?” any time I thought a thought, or felt a feeling.  I was tired of feeling like I was turning my agency over to these inanimate pills that had ruled my life for over a decade.  I was tired of the side effects, of the lethargy during the day and the insomnia at night, of the sense that I was separated from the world around me and completely disconnected from any sense of my self.

I simply couldn’t go on this way any longer, and had become ready to begin what I was sure would be the most difficult journey I would ever face.  I was ready to discover who I really was, beneath the stacks of prescription sheets that had been ripped off and handed to me and the tens of thousands of tiny capsules and pills that had dissolved into my bloodstream over all those years and shaped me into the person I had become— a zombie, and a total stranger to myself.

Just weeks after this conversation with Ben, who had told me gently that we could reassess the topic in a month’s time, I was holding a book that carried a message I had been completely unaware of until that very moment.  I had accidentally discovered Anatomy of an Epidemic, and it was about to transform the way I saw myself, my Bipolar disorder, my relationship to psychiatry, and my future.

Chapter Twenty-Six: Reaching the End, and Making a Start

Written Spring 2012

A deep blue blanketing of 1AM sky envelops my car as I sit in my parents’ driveway in February 2010, pondering my next, last move.  I have just driven home in a blur from someone’s house after a typical night of self-destruction, racing along the winding, backcountry roads of the town I grew up in, a primal scream emerging from somewhere deep within me, ripping at my throat as it pushes its way out and makes my eardrums ring.  My desperate desire that a deer leap into the road, smash my windshield, and crush me to death has been left unfulfilled, and I’ve now realized for the second time in my life that a future of inner peace and contentedness is just not in the cards for me— my bipolar disorder is just too severe, and it’s in my hands to do something about it.

I stare listlessly into the encompassing darkness beyond my windshield, my guttural screams now quieted by a wave of deep detachment from myself.  As tears push themselves from the corners of my eyes and roll silently down my cheeks, I sense only pervasive nothingness.  In the past year, I’ve been swiftly spiraling down the drain of existence, drowning myself slowly and leaving the few people I’ve not yet pushed out of my life floating safe and sound on the surface above, despite their attempts to help me.  With this combination of hopelessness and isolation fueling a desperate urge to escape myself, I’ve now placed alcohol at the center of my universe, which has officially become smaller, darker, and emptier than it’s ever been before.  The time seems right to complete the job I’d left unfinished two Novembers ago on the rocks in Maine, and to do it right this time.  I feel a sudden surge of motivation.

With my heart pounding and eyes widening, I feel paradoxically alive with anticipation that I’m finally about to go to sleep forever.  The same familiar relief I felt that November day starts to creep back in, and I can feel my heart beating harder in my chest with a sense of confidence in this decision.  I once again feel nostalgia for what my life had been a long time ago, knowing that my last breath will take place in the house in which I grew up, and that I’ve come full circle, the beginning now becoming the end.  With my parents out of the country and my grandmother asleep in the guestroom upstairs, I know I’m in the clear to ransack all the pill bottles in the house and meet my fate.  I have surrendered.

Suddenly, however, I notice my hands moving to my pocket to retrieve my cell phone, my fingers dialing a number I recognize.  The phone is now at my ear, ringing once. Why am I doing this?  Twice.  Why can’t I hang up?  Three times.  I feel possessed, aware of what is happening to my body but mentally paralyzed to make it stop.  Four times.  All of a sudden, my father’s voice, roused from sleep, is on the other line.

“Hello?”

Without my permission, my throat and mouth begin to formulate words.

“Dad, I’m scared I’m going to kill myself.  I don’t know what to do.  I’m in the driveway at home and if I go in the house I’m going to die.”

I sense fear in the changed tone of my father’s voice, but also firm determination.

“Laura, you’re going to be OK.  Can you drive to the hospital?  Go straight to the hospital.  You’re going to be OK.  I’ll stay with you on the phone.”

I hear the engine start, baffled by how that could be until I realize that my hand is on the keys turning the ignition.  I watch as this hand, which seems to be on a stranger’s arm, shifts the gears into drive, and now a foot down below slides over from the brake to the accelerator.  After watching the car make a three-point turn, I find myself sitting in the driver’s seat of this vehicle that is now leading me out of the driveway, my hands somehow on the steering wheel.  I feel confused, as I am making no conscious decision to do any of this.

Ten minutes later, I found myself walking through the sliding doors of the local emergency room with tears once again streaming down my face.  This time, however, they felt different.  I felt them on my skin, tasted them on my tongue, watched them stain my shirtsleeve, for I was now actually crying— deep waves of emotion, both uncomfortable yet vaguely familiar, had begun rolling through my body, gushing over the high tide mark and beyond the steep dunes that had built up and blocked me from myself for so many years.

I told the first nurse I saw upon stumbling through the doors, bleary eyed and emotional, that “I’m here because I’m going to kill myself if I go inside my house.”  It didn’t matter to me that I sensed the subtle disgust in her rolling eyes as she sat me down to measure my blood alcohol content.  It didn’t matter that the rest of her colleagues in the otherwise quiet ER— a group of strangers who knew nothing of my past, of my pain, my loneliness, or my desperation— may have been judging me, because I felt, for the first time in a long time, something stirring deep within me that mattered more.  It didn’t come from my mind— not from a thought, a calculated decision, or any sort of cognitive process— but rather from something visceral, something primal, a force residing in the very fabric of my being that couldn’t be put into words.  I felt something ignite inside of me that awakened a feeling I couldn’t remember having had in a very long time— that I was going to be OK, and that I didn’t have to die.  I didn’t how this was true, or why this was true, just that it was true. 

I was escorted to the hospital’s small psychiatric floor to wait for transport the next day to the same psychiatric hospital in Westchester County, New York, to which I’d gone for my first inpatient stay during the fall of 2004.  Over five years later, and feeling more desperate, afraid, confused, and profoundly sad than ever before as I tried to go to sleep on the starchy sheets and plastic mattress behind the glass walls of the observation room, I now held onto a strange, new awareness that was faint but graspable nonetheless— awareness that I would have a future.  This sensation was so foreign to me that I did not yet realize I’d felt my first glimmer of hope.  It was all I needed to make my start. 

Chapter Twenty-Five: “Paranoid Android”

Written Spring 2012

It is Christmas Eve of 2008. I am leaning against the kitchen counter of an old friend’s house, arms tucked tightly across my stomach, as I observe crowds of people from my past, bottles of beer in their hands, filling the air with laughter. I see that they are relieved to be carefree and happy among friends, without a care in the world for the next few days of vacation before they go back to their adult jobs and their adult lives. I am baffled by the normalcy of twenty-something adulthood I see around me, and wonder if I’m wearing my duplicity on my sleeve. I feel perplexed that these friends share the same age as me yet have taken such a profoundly different path through life. Many have stayed in close touch over the years and know each other like brothers and sisters; I, on the other hand, have emerged unexpectedly as a blast from their past, a familiar face before them that they don’t realize is concealing years of accumulated secrets from time spent in the black abyss of living incommunicado.

The biggest secret I carried that night was the previous month of my life, which began with my failed suicide attempt in the end of November and ended just days earlier, when a pair of legs, apparently mine yet feeling foreign and clumsy, walked me off the locked psychiatric unit I’d been on for the month of December, two strange hands swinging awkwardly at my sides like they’d forgotten what their purpose was, and I followed my parents to their car to be brought back to the real world. As we pulled down the hill and out the gates of the storied psychiatric hospital that had housed me all this time and worked hard to assure me I was stable, I wondered what emotion I was meant to be feeling. I felt blanketed by numbness, left with only a faint cognitive sense of what emotions were supposed to look like from what we’d talked about in our daily groups on the unit. They had become encapsulated little units— ‘happy’, ‘sad’, ‘angry’, ‘anxious’, and so forth— and I no longer felt them as visceral parts of me but instead as discrete, strange phenomenona that felt synthetic and contrived.

And there I was, a smile— not too big, not too small, but just right— painted on my face, alive on my twenty-fifth Christmas Eve. It was a night that carried distant memories of my sisters and me as pajama-clad kids, our eyes glimmering and hearts pounding with childhood excitement as we carefully placed cookies and cocoa on the living room mantelpiece in anticipation of Santa’s arrival and then sprinted upstairs to listen to our father read us The Night Before Christmas. Had that little girl, a person I couldn’t believe I once was, known she was to become me, all those years later, she would have remained convinced it was a nightmare. If these people standing around me at this party saw through me and learned that less than a month before I had been intubated, lying in a coma on an ICU in Boston, I was sure they wouldn’t have believed me. I wasn’t sure what to believe, myself, as I felt no feelings about it one way or the other.

Standing in the kitchen, I felt like I’d emerged from a blackout and was unsure of how I’d gotten there. The day before, a sudden surge of electrifying motivation compelled me to reconnect with these friends, most of whom I’d barely seen since leaving for college seven years prior. I called them, said something excitedly along the lines of, ‘I’m back!’ and there I was, at this party, the night before Christmas, as though I’d leapt through space and time from the last one of these parties I’d been to years ago without anything happening in between— no psychiatric diagnoses, no psychiatric medications, no psychiatric hospitalizations, and surely no suicide attempts.

In their minds, I’d moved home for some normal reason— to save money, to look for a job in Manhattan, to get out of Boston. Disoriented and rudderless in the sea of my mind, I wasn’t sure of anything other than the fact that I had a chronic mental illness and was told by doctors that I couldn’t be trusted to function independently. I had information about myself that these old friends were entirely oblivious to, a twisted truth of what I’d become since the time they last saw me that lay safely in the dark, disturbing recesses of my mind. I wondered if there was a part of me in denial about what had happened in the last month. The rest of me, which I was more connected to, felt a strange sense of pride about what I’d done, as though I maybe could become a modern day version of a character in Girl, Interrupted. I wasn’t sure why I felt this way, and understood intellectually that it would be considered by anyone in her right mind to be irrationally distorted and insane to be proud of such a series of events, but I felt it nonetheless.

What the hell am I meant to say when people ask what I’ve been up to these last several years? The truth would cause someone’s jaw to drop. Maybe I want this? Maybe I want to be seen as someone absolutely crazy, certifiably insane, and enigmatic? 

I couldn’t wrap my mind around these things, but what I could see, plain as day, was that my life— every minute of the prior several years of my life— had become shrunken and shriveled, settling on a cold, lonely orbit around my bipolar diagnosis that had pushed out anything resembling health and normalcy. What could I possibly have to say that anyone could relate to? How could I possibly have shared any experiences in common with them? While they were spending their twenties building friendships, dating and marrying, cultivating expertise in their chosen professions, and learning how to live and thrive independently, I had been expending all my energy on getting through another day of living life, an incredibly challenging task that I seemed to have missed the instructions on and that felt more like I was suiting up for a battle than anything else.

Any relationships I’d had were built around escape from ourselves— into the other person, into the bottle, or into isolation. Any jobs I’d been hired for I’d eventually quit, whether because I’d taken ones I was over-qualified for due to fear of failure and found myself resentful of and self-righteous about, or because I couldn’t be reliable at work as a result of my hangovers and emotional jackpots. Any ‘fun’ I’d had was chemically induced. I held no pride in any accomplishments, no confidence in or sense of my ‘self’, and no conception of a future. I realized that I had nothing genuine, meaningful, or healthy to offer these old friends into whose lives I’d suddenly repositioned myself.

And, like a person getting back on a dusty bike that’s been found in the back of a garage after years without use, I slid back into one of the old roles in my repertoire as though I’d never stopped playing it. It was the ‘Laura’ I played during my adolescent summers of drinking games in our parents’ basements, train rides into New York City for concerts and clubs, and cruises around town in cars full of Phish and pot. It was the ‘Laura’ who was always up for another round at the bar or another late-night adventure after a party. It was the ‘Laura’ who was disillusioned with society in the stereotypically angsty adolescent way, and who could talk a post-modernist talk with the best of them, taken, of course, with a grain of salt.

This time, however, I had much more to hide, and it required an extra burst of mental energy that only alcohol could give me. Like magic, I found a bottle of beer in my hand that Christmas Eve, and felt motivated to play the part with ease. I was more convinced than ever that the only thing residing beneath my facade was brokenness and dysfunction. How could there be anything else when, just days earlier, I was locked up from myself with a hospital bracelet sealed around my wrist, colored markers and construction paper to keep me occupied, and an hourly check-in from a clinician to make sure I was safe?

I blended myself into my old group of friends in Connecticut as though I’d never left all those years ago. My memory of that November day on the rocks in Maine a month earlier remained ever-present in my consciousness but drifted aimlessly, like a message in a bottle, corked and thrown to sea. I maneuvered my way through that year like an android, indistinguishable from those around me, feeling nothing, having no agency, but playing the part of ‘human being’ to perfection. I would go on this way until that corked bottle holding my undeniable past made its way back to shore, carried by the currents of my mind’s inevitably raging storms. I would find myself once again at a place of desperation, only this time I would take the right fork in the road. I would find the light for the first time, and start my way towards it.

Chapter Twenty-Four: Off the Meds and Out of My Mind

Written Winter 2012

During my first few days on the locked psychiatric unit of the hospital on the hill in early December 2008, I counted the passing minutes mostly from my hospital bed, incapable of eating or drinking.  Because of my suicide attempt a week prior, my medication regimen of Lamictal, Lexapro, and Klonopin had been abruptly terminated to prevent further organ damage from the overdose.  My body was experiencing intense withdrawal and my mind had accelerated into overdrive without the medications it had adjusted to over the prior seven years.  On my second night on the unit, after shuffling to the nurses’ station with my walker to get my nightly Ativan— the benzodiazepene they’d told me would help with the withdrawal— I was asked how I was feeling by my nurse.

“I f-f-f-feel like my mind is in fast-forward m-m-motion right now, like I c-c-c-can’t speak fast enough to k-k-keep up with my thoughts,” I spluttered to the nurse as I watched her hands get a small plastic cup of water and push the pill out of its sheet and into my hand.  I realized that it wasn’t just my thoughts that were moving in fast-forward, but the visual stimuli my eyes perceived as well, as her hands had flashed around and left trails of color behind them.  I wondered if I was beginning to hallucinate.  I could feel my arms twitching uncontrollably, and wondered if I’d done something permanent to myself.

“Well, without your medications, which you can’t take right now because of what you did to your organs, your bipolar disorder is really active, Laura.  Clearly the med regimen you were on before your attempt was not working, so your new psychiatrist here will find a better combination to treat your condition.”  Attempt.  I noticed how the word ‘suicide’ had been gently removed, leaving behind the general ‘attempt’.  “She attempted to traverse the mountain.”  “She attempted to break the high-jump record”.  “She attempted to kill herself.”  I contemplated why she had said it in such a generic way.  I furrowed my brow as I wondered if she thought I’d half-assed it for attention, that I really never wanted to kill myself, and, in a panic, realized that I wasn’t sure whether I’d said this thought out loud or simply thought it.  “Time for your vitals, Laura,” she said, and walked away from the window.

As I shuffled along the glass windows of the nurses’ station and around the corner to the pleather armchairs where patients had their nightly vital signs taken, I was struck with a renewed sense of defeat.  I remembered when I’d once had a swipe card to the locked psych unit in the Boston hospital I’d done research in for those few months back in 2006, when I’d stand on the inside of the nurses’ station, placed right in the center of the Panopticon, and look out through the glass for potential patient recruits for the study I was working on.  With the snap of a finger, my mind ripped itself out of that memory and plopped me back in the present.  I knew I’d never be on the other side of that glass again, that I’d always be the one observed and monitored.

How did I get here— to this very chair I am now sitting in, to this locked psych ward, to this identity as a person who has a case of bipolar disorder so severe that simply a week without psych meds has made me this manic?

I had never experienced thoughts ping around my mind as quickly or as intensely as this before; I had never found myself stuttering because I felt so much physical energy shooting through my body, just below my skin.  It was so intense that I worried I might blurt out incoherent words or even uncontrollably fling my arm out and hit something.

“You’re still really orthostatic, Laura,” the staff told me after I had my vitals taken sitting and standing and I felt an intense a wave of lightheadedness swoop over me.  I sat back down, looked at my feet, and then up at the whiteboard on the wall next to me, where my name was listed along with those of the other patients, a ‘1- no sharps’ and ‘15’ next to my name— I was still a level 1, not allowed off the unit and not allowed access to anything sharp, and I was still on 15-minute checks.  I was in no place to be given increased privileges.  In fact, I didn’t even want them.  I wanted people to look at me and see just how crazy I was.  I’d wear it like a badge of honor.  It’d be the one thing I could have pride in.  Look at me as much as you want.  Stare at the bruises on my face, document my manic symptoms, and eye the old scars on my arm and hand.  I am as crazy as you think I am.

was bipolar.  It was all I would ever be.

As those first days passed, the sheets I woke up under in the morning ceased to be soaked with sweat.  The headaches decreased slightly, as well as my dizziness.  I gained enough strength in my legs to be able to shuffle the halls without falling over, and left the walker in my room.  I began to eat saltines and basic foods, and started to spend more time in the dining room with the other patients, despite the fact that I had nothing to talk about other than my failed ‘attempt’.  The more people asked me about my bruised face, the more anger I felt.  When other patients tried to tell me that they knew what I was going through and that they’d thought about it or attempted it themselves, I wanted to scream, ‘NO!  You don’t understand!  You only thought about doing it.  Or, if you did try it, you called someone right afterwards to tell that person what you’d done.  I actually wanted to kill myself!  I did everything humanly possible not to be found!  I wasn’t doing it for attention or dramatic effect!’

I still carried no regret in my heart for what I’d done, for I had yet to cease believing that I was destined to go through the motions of living a life that would never know happiness or inner peace, a life that would only disappoint family and make everyone around me miserable.  I wanted to scream at the top of my lungs, ‘I didn’t want to be saved!  I didn’t want to wake up!  It is a big mistake that I am here!  I don’t understand how the hell I didn’t die!  I don’t want a second chance!”  All of these thoughts, however, remained in my mind, tucked quietly away from my fellow patients, and I focused only on making sure that anything I said to others remained thoughtful, considerate, and calm.  I believed, in my heart of hearts, that I was sicker than everyone else and that there was no sense in trying to explain this, as they couldn’t understand.

Around this time, the psychiatrist who’d been assigned to me on the unit and whom I saw for ten minutes a day, Dr. L., determined that I was ready to be put on my new medication regimen.  The brief time that my body had spent free from psychotropic medications, save the small dosage of Ativan, was ending.  I was glad to know that the intense mania I’d been experiencing during these days off my meds would be stopped once and for all; I felt like a rabid animal that needed to be put out of its misery.

I fantasized about the idea of feeling comfortably numb, of muzzling the neuroses that raged ferociously in my mind, and without death as an option during my time there, numbness was the second best escape.  What happened once I was discharged, however, was a whole different story.  I held onto faith that I’d have my freedom back to do what I wanted with my life— to my life— when the hospital deemed me well enough to leave its locked doors.  However, despite making the firm resolution upon my arrival that I needed to get out of the hospital as soon as possible in order to make my failed ‘attempt’ a success, I soon slipped into a comfortable routine on the unit and within a matter of days found myself thinking there was no real sense in leaving any time soon.

I discovered what life was like in a time warp.  The minutes dragged themselves past like legs in quicksand, and I quickly stopped distinguishing between hours or even days, mostly because there was no real need to.  I knew it was morning because I’d be awoken by staff for my medications; noontime because the door to the dining room would be unlocked; and the evening, not because it was dark outside, which I wouldn’t have even noticed because I rarely looked out of the windows, but because patients started to congregate by the nurses’ station for nighttime meds.  There was always a subtle excitement in the air during that time, as though we knew it was finally considered normal and not symptomatic of depression to go pass out in bed in deep, oblivion-inducing sleep for a chunk of many hours.  ‘Normal’ people slept at night, and it was my chance to feel like I was doing the same thing as everyone else outside the confines of the hospital.

With the new medications in my system, my crisp, sharp, intense thoughts and feelings quickly dulled, my body and mind felt less tense, and I began to sleep through the night.  I felt detached from myself, insulated from the intensity of what I’d been feeling and thinking while off the meds, and I realized that maybe living with my fiery mind wasn’t as intolerable as I thought it was.  I grew to find comfort in my emotional discomfort— it wasn’t as though I was feeling happier, healthier, or more motivated; rather, I just stopped engaging with myself and became a passive, paralyzed observer of what I was feeling and thinking.  I glided through my days like a car on autopilot, unsure of who or what, exactly, was behind the wheel.  To be honest, I couldn’t have cared less about figuring out the answer.

The unit ceased to feel like a hospital and started to feel like a home that had everything I needed, from its own dining room with endless sugar-free hot chocolate packages, granola bars, and instant oatmeal, to its art room stocked with markers, non-toxic clay, and colored construction paper, and to the little gazebo just outside the doors where patients with level 2 or 3 privileges could get fresh air every few hours if they so desired.  As my days on the inside accumulated, the distance between me and the world beyond the hospital’s gates grew longer and longer, and the life I’d had on the outside felt more and more unfamiliar to me— from the job I’d been working and would need to quit, to the boyfriend I’d been dating and would need to break up with, and to the aftermath of watching my family begin to heal the psychological wounds I knew my suicide attempt had inflicted upon them.  Here, I only had to concern myself with whether there was maple sugar oatmeal in the pantry and enough mandalas in the art room to color in with markers.  Here, I was too mentally ill to be considered responsible for anything or anyone, including myself.

In a brief matter of time, I had settled myself right into the rhythm of the unit.  I stayed on as most of the patients around me came and went— we were on an acute, short-term unit, after all, and its purpose was to quickly stabilize patients and send them on their way.  A perverse pride slowly crept into my sense of self as I realized I was now an old-timer on the floor.  When I was moved to a two-person room on a different hall that was further away from the nurses’ station, a part of me felt insulted.  More than that, if the staff thought I was stable enough to not need constant supervision, this meant I was stabilizing and ‘getting well’.

I wasn’t sure what ‘getting well’ meant, but clearly my treaters thought it was something I was accomplishing.  If I got well, that meant I’d have to leave.  If I left, I’d have to enter the real world, and this was an environment that now felt foreign to me.  I’d gotten good at living on the locked unit, and had no idea how to leave it behind.  Other than drawing pictures, painting heart-shaped boxes, and molding small animals out of non-toxic clay in the art room to put on display at the nurses’ station, I had no expectations of myself on any given day.  I could sleep when I wanted to check out from my reality and not feel guilty for missing commitments, eat microwaveable oatmeal when I was hungry, and go straight to the lavender-colored room with the rocking chair when I needed to check in with my assigned mental health worker about how I was feeling.  That was my day, and I’d grown quite accustomed to it.  The real world beyond the gates of the hospital now loomed ominous in my mind.  Facing family, facing work, and facing my old reality now felt out of the question.

I was sent to the locked psychiatric unit in the beginning of December determined to get myself out as quickly as possible in order to complete the task of ending my life.  By Christmastime, I had emotionally disconnected from the fact that just one month earlier I’d made a near-lethal attempt on my life, and I was ready to move home to Connecticut with my parents, begin a partial hospital program at the same psychiatric hospital in Westchester County, New York in which I’d stayed in 2004, and leave my life in Boston behind.  I wasn’t even sure what I was looking for anymore, as though I’d once known and still had a faint glimmer of it on the tip of my memory that I just couldn’t retrieve.  My parents picked me up on my date of discharge, the fresh air abrasive on my lungs as we walked to the car, and we headed home to the house I’d grown up in.  Looking out the window, I was sure that somewhere inside of me I was feeling something about all of this.  I felt relieved that I was now safe from the anger, the sadness, the confusion, the guilt, and the desperation, and it was thanks to my new med regimen that I’d been assured was the right one.  Luckily, the rabid animal I’d become during my time off meds had been put out of its misery.