“This is all because of me right?!” my mother was frantic as she drove me to the hospital. “If I wouldn’t have split from your father this wouldn’t have happened. Oh God, that video I showed you about teens dying in car accidents last night…you can tell me that it’s my fault. Oh God, I’m so sorry.”
She spoke in such a distressed tone as the world she had just finished putting back together fractured into an even more terrifying disarray. And there I was in the passenger seat, too scared to move, too scared to even speak. I had to tune out her ramblings because while her world was falling apart, mine had just been utterly destroyed. “I’ve let her down. I’ve let everyone down,” I remember thinking.
Before I knew it we were at the hospital and I was being ushered out of my mom’s car. My dad was there. He was crying. He never cried in front of me. I felt like crying myself, but the tears wouldn’t come, instead I felt nothing at all.
The rest was a blur of neutral colored hospital walls and uncomfortable furniture in waiting rooms. What had felt like the most urgent car ride in my life led to this: waiting, endless questioning, and trying to not make eye contact with my mom.
And just like that I was whisked away to a closed off ward, all ways of communications gone. I couldn’t even see my parents for the next 24 hours, I couldn’t explain to them why this had happened. I was stripped of my school uniform and underwent a full body exam. Cold gloved hands prodded my thighs, “Did you do that to yourself?” “How did you get this bruise on your knee?” “Please turn over anything you have on your person that you could harm someone with.” Everything felt foreign, the thin, baggy “clothes” I was given to wear, the group of laughing teenagers playing cards that suddenly went quiet as I entered the room, and all of the eyes tearing into me, trying to figure me out.
I’d had so many nightmares of being thrust into a mental hospital against my will before. Terrible images of being strapped down to a hospital bed, of being put into a padded room and secluded from everyone. While the real deal certainly didn’t live up to these fantastical ideas my mind had conjured up in the darkest hours of the night, it was almost just as scary. Eventually the nursing staff was finished with me. A cute boy asked if I wanted to join them in playing a game of BS. I said nothing and just walked down the long hallway to my room, found my bed, curled up in the thin sheets, and tried to fall asleep on the lumpy mattress.
It got better from there, but that whole week I spent there felt like a never ending nightmare. I learned to talk about my feelings and “cope” with things, everything you’d expect to be taught to a room of teenagers in a mental ward who wanted to kill themselves. And I learned to laugh again. In fact, it was very rare to not hear laughter at any given moment, especially when we all gathered together in our free time. I learned to play blackjack better than my fifth grade teacher who practically lived in a casino and I mastered my poker face while I was at it. Most of all I remember the utter deprivation of human touch. I remember breaking down in a corner and crying in front of everyone, but no one was allowed to rub my back and tell me it was going to be okay. I watched people come without being allowed to introduce myself with a handshake and I watched them go without being able to hug them goodbye. I spilled my guts to twenty or so complete strangers. I became closer friends to the other patients than I was with some of my actual friends at school. And then I never saw them again. That doesn’t mean I wouldn’t be back though.
“You have to stay with me!!” my mom shouted, completely forgetting to pay attention to the road she was speeding down as she drove back to the mental hospital. She sounded like she was underwater or maybe at the end of a tunnel. I couldn’t keep my head up or my eyes open. I felt myself going in and out of consciousness.
My mom yelled, “We’re almost there, honey. You have to stay with me, we’re almost there!” And then there I was, back in the same situation I found myself in two months prior. A familiar building with the same nurses and same dull colors. Once again surrounded by new patients to help me learn to laugh again.