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I. Welcome to Two South
I remember the Monday I was admitted as an inpatient to Two South better than any other day of my 17-year-life. My parents woke me up early that day; I had a nice big breakfast and then headed off to my interview. The first thing the woman asked if I had ever had thoughts of suicide.
My mind was racing. What should I say? Should I tell the truth and get the help I need? Should I lie and go home?
My parents’ eyes as well as the woman’s were stuck to me as I said, “Well, um, like…I guess…”
II. Welcome to Level O
After lots of poking and prodding and weighing and measuring and looking for scars and just about everything else they could do to someone being admitted to a hospital, I ended up an inpatient in Two South—the Adolescent Mental Health Unit. The first person I saw was in a hospital gown, had scars up and down his arms, and gave me a death stare. I immediately thought about running (that or wetting myself, luckily neither happened). The second person I saw was a slightly overweight girl in a too-tight hot pink shirt that read, “Judge me.”
Okay, she looks nice for a psychopath, I thought. This place can’t be that bad. The girl explained how that was Luis and told me a story or two about him. He didn’t like anyone at Two South. He came from upstairs. That’s all everyone kept saying. I had no clue what upstairs was, and there was no way of me finding out because I was Level O, didn’t have privileges, and couldn’t talk in free time.
There was this established order in Two South called the Level System. When you arrive, you’re Level O, standing for Orientation. While on Level O, you have no privileges. You sit on the side of the dayroom with no games or comfy couches and sit in silence for the purpose of learning why you’re actually in the hospital. You get a consequence if you talk to people. I learned about that quickly.
A consequence is received whenever you talk on the O side of the room. Or did something really bad, like gave someone your phone number, or other various major no-nos in the Land of the Crazies. Me, the rook of the block, thought that I could sneak in a hushed, “What is upstairs?” to Savannah, the 12-year-old redhead. Dolores, the nurse in the room watching us, immediately turned to me.
“You! Consequence! You think I’m deaf? Kid, I’ve got eyes on the back of my head. I can see everything you do. I’m always watching.”
Dolores creeped me out. I got a consequence because I wanted to find out what upstairs was? I thought that this place was a joke. My consequence was to write a two-page paper on responsibility and how I could use it in my life. Okay. Yeah right. I thought I was in a psych ward, not a fifth grade classroom. And even worse, after my “ordeal” with Dolores the Supernurse, her eyes were stuck to me like glue. Little did I know that that’s how life in Two South would be with Big Brother (or Dolores) always watching.
Monday ended mundanely and I resorted to my room. A few roommate changes were made. I basically just slept through everything and didn’t talk to anyone. Not the best way to get on the staff’s good side.
Tuesday morning I ate breakfast at a table by myself on the O side of the room. It was kind of interesting; the thing about sitting in the Level O section is that you totally overhear everything said in the Levels U and T area.
I forgot to mention, the Levels spell “O-U-T” but according to my orientation packet, “No one has to get to Level T to get discharged from the hospital.” Bull.
Anyway, I was able to hear the juicy gossip about Luis. He was in a gang somewhere, one girl said. Upstairs. Gangs? Another said that he overdosed on heroin and that’s why he was upstairs. Upstairs. Drugs? A tall boy on the other side with long blonde hair said that he was in Two South with all of us because he got in a fight upstairs. Upstairs. Fights? What the hell was upstairs?
The rest of Tuesday was spent trying to eavesdrop and overhear more about Luis and what upstairs was. I failed.
III. Welcome to Level U
Wednesday came and I finally leveled up! Level U—the Understanding Level! There’s this huge thing where you have to give a speech and people have to give you feedback and then they vote. (It’s not that big of a deal. People just vote yes so they can get out of Community Meeting earlier.) I had to explain why I was at the hospital, blah, depression, blah, suicidal thoughts, blah, social anxiety, blah, not leaving bed, blah, blah, blah, I’m in a psych ward and I understand why.
The cool thing about leveling up was that I got to sit on the side of the room with plastic couches and associate with other self-declared psychopaths! I was introduced to the gang: Alex, Trent, Grace, Kristen (but she prefers Kiki), Savannah, Phil, Tyler, Stephen, and finally Andy.
Alex was a lanky boy, of about sixteen I’d say. He had a really whiny voice, as I remember, and whenever he would talk in a group he would bring up the fact that he had been there the longest. It’s almost like he was bragging about it. He was anxious and depressed because he had recently came out of the closet and people weren’t accepting him. He was an inpatient for a week, then an outpatient, but then he came back as an inpatient the Monday that I was admitted because he threatened to stab himself over the weekend. Pleasant, right? We roomed together for about an hour, but when I was brushing my teeth, he decided to walk into the bathroom. The camera in the room clearly saw that there were no boys in the bedroom area, where the camera was, and there were no boys outside of the room, so they both must’ve been in the bathroom, where there was no camera, so they came to the door with a cop making sure we weren’t up to anything. I didn’t know Alex was gay at that point. I mean I have no problem with him because he’s gay. He was a cool roommate. Until he walked in the bathroom on me?
Trent was a younger boy, a big pudgy, who was really nice. I wouldn’t have guessed that he was a rebel who would rather break lamps and windows than go to school. Apparently that’s how he ended up in the hospital though. He was a fan of sports, basketball especially, and couldn’t wait to get discharged so he could get back and play. He was just a playful kid all-around. As soon as I moved up to Level U, he asked if I wanted to play a board game with him. Monopoly was his favorite and he demanded that he was the dog-playing piece. He made me the iron because he thought that described my personality. Thanks, Trent. Love ya too?
Grace had problems with sass. Her hair has been dyed so many times, truth be told I had no idea what color it was at the moment. I think I saw self-inflicted scars but I didn’t want to ask. I imagine it’d be really weird getting asked about that, but in a place full of others who have done it too I guess Grace must have felt a sense of homeliness. And in that sense, I would’ve been an outcast. That’s good though. Anyway, Grace didn’t like going to school, hung out with older kids and her parents didn’t like it so she gave them sass, and she was molested at a young age. When she said that I had no clue what to say, and then to top it off, in typical Grace fashion, she said a joke about it right after, which confused me even more. She was into punk music and looked like she belonged in a punk band. She was the girl who was wearing the hot pink “Judge Me” shirt on Monday.
Kristen is the most annoying creature I have ever met. In introductions at every frickin’ group she whined, “Hi, my name is Kristen, but I prefer Kiki.” Shut the f*** up already. You don’t even get a description. How does that make you feel?
Savannah was the girl who helped me obtain my first consequence, even though it was all my fault. She was the youngest of everyone at Two South and never even got to Level U before being discharged. No one thought she was taking her treatment seriously and she never even opened up in groups. How did she expect to get better? She seemed really excited about going back to school and telling people where she had been, so I think that Savannah worked her way into Two South as a popularity thing. “All the cool kids are in the psych ward!” she shouted. Multiple times. She really acted her age.
Phil was my roommate for the hour before the hour that Alex was my roommate. He was basically controlled by his insane ADHD and acted impulsively regarding absolutely everything. He told me about a time where he smoked an entire pack of cigarettes all at once. He explained how to do it but it was one of those things where I was so tired of hearing him ramble for so long I just nodded along and acted like I was intrigued. He bought it. I kind of wish I remembered how he said to do that though. Oh, funny story: Phil and that idiot Kiki are on the 10 foot rule, which means they can’t be within 10 feet of each other because they exchanged phone numbers and got caught. They both got sent back to Level O late Wednesday afternoon so I didn’t have to spend much time with them on U (thank God). But I still had to deal with them flirting nonstop in every group. Vomit.
Tyler was the male version of Grace. He was such a sweet dude. His ears made me feel uncomfortable though because he had gauges that stretched out his earlobes that he wasn’t allowed to wear at the hospital. No piercings allowed. Strictly enforced. His was a younger boy with short black hair, buck teeth, and anger issues. He was in the gang because he stole his mom’s pills and then overdosed on them in an attempt to get high and apparently throws temper tantrums. I can’t imagine him getting mad though; he seemed really peaceful there. I’d say he was the coolest kid, besides me of course, in all of Two South. He’s tried to teach me how to play guitar. I failed, but whatever. It’s the thought that counts.
Stephen was been an outpatient ever since I arrived. Not sure why he was there. He’s the one with long blond hair that seemed to know what upstairs was. If he weren’t discharged that day I would have asked him about it. I was determined to find out what upstairs was, with or without the giant Stephen with long hair that he enjoyed flipping multiple times per minute. He was the self-declared mayor of Two South and was sort of a role-model for everyone. Too bad he left on Wednesday. He seemed like a great guy.
Andy was the biggest teddy bear Two South had ever seen, I’m sure. He was my roommate for more than an hour. In fact, he was my roommate for about 83 hours. He stuck by me for 83 hours of pure enjoyment. If we were allowed to touch other patients I would give him a huge hug, no lie. He injured his shoulder in a football game and overdosed on his painkillers and alcohol. That’s why he was in the hospital. He was a big guy; I think he said I was a linebacker? My love for sports led to some great conversations…not. He helped me with my own treatment I think. The times that I went back into our room and we just had laugh-fests for no reason whatsoever were the best times I had in Two South and made me happier. We also talked about videos that went viral in our youth nonstop and on Wednesday morning, we started singing the Numa Numa Song in the showers. Consequences were given, but we didn’t mind. It was totally worth it.
I had all of Wednesday to bond with the Level U’s, sans Phil and Kiki because of their mishap and Stephen since he got discharged. It was kind of nice getting to know everyone. Everyone there had interesting stories and I felt like I could relate for the first time since my sophomore year. I may not have been able to relate to all of them about everything, but we all had at least a little something in common, whether it be self-consciousness or problems with parents. It’s always a bit weird just getting thrown into a group of kids and being told, “Okay. Go mingle. Get better together,” though.
When you’re with a group of kids for so long you start to become friends, especially when you don’t have outside contact. The only outside contact was 10 minutes in the morning for a phone call and 10 minutes at night for another call, and those calls could only be to parents or siblings. I usually called my older sister, just because my parents would annoy me with the bombardment of questions and also because the two of us had always stuck together. Where one of us went, the other did too. So when she went off to college and left me alone at home, a lot of my “issues” started.
Late Wednesday night all of us were awoken by a loud siren followed by a “Code orange! Code orange! Security!” Someone new had arrived. Someone new had been attempting to escape. I was excited for the morning.
IV. Welcome to Level T
Thursday morning, breakfast came and breakfast went and we got no news of what happened over night. In Community Meeting, Andy blurted out, “Um, this place could just be making me more crazy and I’m hearing things now, but was someone calling for security last night?”
“Wait…I heard that too,” said Grace. Then everyone started chirping in about how they heard someone, something, screaming in the middle of the night.
“Calm, calm, calm, everyone. There was an issue but everything has been settled,” said Gina. She was a nurse who I had never met before. Four foot three, needing a huge binder to rest her feet on while seated; after that, I couldn’t take anything from this woman.
I also leveled up to Level T, Transition Level, in that Community Meeting. Same thing as before: huge deal, give a speech, everyone votes, blah, blah, blah, the order of this place started to finally get to my head. But I was able to choose a prize from the Level T Bucket. I sported a neon green bracelet that says, “I was caught being good!” for the remainder of my time in Two South. It stuck to my wrist, cutting off all circulation, seeing as it was made for the wrist of a four-year-old. But it was a sign that the staff thought I was getting better. Regardless, Two South needs new prizes.
After Community Meeting and my prize picking, we headed off to our different sessions for the day: art therapy, psychotherapy, music therapy, yoga, etc. I chose to go to yoga for the first time.
We weren’t allowed to wear any pants with strings, so all of my “comfy pants” a.k.a. sweatpants were a no-no. On Monday, I resorted to having my mom bring me as many pairs of pants that fit me without a belt (obviously also not allowed). They all ended up being skinny jeans that I had purchased but never actually worn. Perfect to do yoga in, I learned. Unlike the girls, whose pants stayed put on their legs while they could do all the yoga things, I could not do anything without getting my pants and boxers bundled up and make me uncomfortable. However, once we chose sessions, we had to stay and participate or else we’d get consequences. I decided to deal with the wedgies for the afternoon.
There was one good thing about going to yoga though, and no, it wasn’t staring at girl’s asses. The new kid was there. The one who had to be restrained the night before. Corey.
A tall tan boy of sixteen, Corey walked into yoga late. He glared at Pam, who was leading the session, winked at her, and said, “Now the party can start.” Did he come from upstairs? I noticed that Luis was gone. Did he go back upstairs? I kind of forgot about him. When did he even leave? Did we get Corey in exchange for the Luis that scared me my first day here?
However, yoga ended the minute Corey entered the room.
“Wow,” Andy said as we walked back to our room, “he’s that big of a deal.” I thought about asking Andy if he knew what upstairs was, but decided against it.
The second group I went to on Thursday morning was art therapy. Guess who else was there, and even showed up on time: Corey. Art therapy was the most fun because we got to: talk, even to those on Level O; listen to music; and do arts and crafts! What’s so bad about that? Forget the very real fact that you’re in a mental institution and do the arts and crafts already. That’s what I kept telling myself. Corey didn’t exactly understand why he was in the hospital, and had to be restrained the night he got there. No one knew anything about him other than that. Some girls tried lingering around the Nurses’ Station, but we had no idea what they were taking about. And visa versa.
I sat next to Corey and started interrogating him. “Where are you from? Why are you here? What happened last night?” But I didn’t get a response to any of my questions. Then Karen, the leader of art therapy, asked me to take a step outside.
“Listen, Corey’s going through some really hard things right now. What are you doing messing with him like that?”
“I wasn’t messing with him. I just thought maybe he came from upstairs and if so, he could tell me what it was…”
“You want to know what upstairs is?” I nodded. “Then lets go.”
For the first time in four days, I was leaving Two South. I wasn’t experiencing fresh air, but I was getting off of the unit. I took the elevator with Karen up to Three South: The Adolescent Recovery Center.
“We get a lot of kids from up here. It’s basically a residential sort of rehabilitation, especially for those suffering from drug addictions and eating disorders, but occasionally we send some up here if they’re with us for too long.”
Well, if there was one thing that scared me about the hospital, it was the possibility of ending up in Three South. I saw Luis up there. Not only that, but I saw many other Luis’s. I saw about 30 of them wandering the halls. Three South was definitely less structured than where I was, but after seeing it, I was happy with my structure and fine with the fact that I couldn’t wear a belt.
Karen and I silently rode the elevator back down to Two South and entered the unit once again for dinner. Little did I know that it would be my last meal in Two South.
V. Good Things Don’t Last Forever
In the middle of dinner, over the intercom we heard “Please head to your room and pack your things, then come to the front desk.”
Oh my God. I was going to Three South. Karen took me up there as a preview. I was only here four days though. She said that they only send people who have been here a really long time up there. What’s happening? No. This can’t be happening. I miss my friends. I don’t have a drug addiction or eating disorder. I’m not going to residential. I refuse. I need to get out of here.
Oh my stars! Get me out of here! I can’t go to residential. I’ll miss more school. I’ll miss prom, I’ll miss my graduation…
As I walked out of the ugly dining room that night after hearing that announcement. I shouted GOODBYE for everyone to hear and had one of those cheesy rom-com “let’s run in slo-mo” moments with someone I wasn’t expecting to see there: my dad.
Wait. I’m going home. I’m returning to civilization. I was finally going home!
I was going home to see the people that I loved again. But at the same time, a part of me would miss the gang (sans “Kiki” and her loverboy). I spent four days and three nights. Those little moments that I had with these kids, and all the fun we had makes me think about time.
I can’t change my past. I can’t forget all of the relationships in my life. But I’m open for change. Change, for once in my life.
I’m not perfect. I never will be. But I know I have what it takes to live on my own now. I’m determined to fight. I don’t deserve to feel like this any longer. So my life will be different from now on; big whoop. I’m not going to residential, so instead, I’m going to live. I’m going to eat too much, burp, and never excuse myself. Run, run some more, and someday run a marathon. Go to school, get good grades, go to college, and get a job. Make new friends, get a girlfriend, get married, and have a family.
I’m going to live.