“On a scale of one to ten, how are you feeling today?” the nurse wondered.
“I guess a nine. I’m feeling fine,” I replied.
I confidently strolled toward the girls in the adolescent unit. They stared at me quizzically.
“I'll be out of here in the matter of a couple days,” I bragged.
“How’d you do it?” the girls asked jealously.
“The nurses have seen a ‘complete turnaround’ in my mood.”
“Bulls**t! We’re all still a f***ing mess, and that includes you.”
Those words rang in my ears. I was a mess. After the sexual assault, the loss of my closest friends, and a lifetime of depression and anxiety, I was a mess.
“No really, I'm doing great!”
The dishonesty spilled easily out of my mouth. I had become so accustomed to this falsehood.
Every morning, I arose to the humdrum walls of my hospital suite, surprised. “How did I end up in such a place?” I thought. I felt like an outcast there. The patients seemed so broken, many of them struggling with addiction or abusive parents, and my “problems” seemed miniscule by comparison. The air was thick with the smell of teen angst and hand sanitizer. Nurses worked around the clock, constantly admitting new patients and discharging others. Although I felt out of place, I was somewhat relieved to know I was not the only one my age experiencing the self-destructive pain of mental illness.
Between meals, art therapy, and group sessions, there were plenty of opportunities to talk to new people. Many of the patients gave me tips on how to “get out” of the hospital quicker.
“Be on your best behavior, and tell the nurses you’re feeling much better.”
Everyone seemed more focused on leaving than getting help. I knew I needed help desperately, but still I listened to my peers. Everyday felt like a countdown, leading up to the day I would be able to go back home. I waited impatiently.
The whole experience felt like a competition to see who could “escape” first. Finally, when the day came for a girl to be discharged, she treated it like her victory lap for surviving yet another trip to the hospital. It all seemed so backwards. Recovery felt almost out of reach. Almost.
It wasn’t until a new roommate moved into my room that I started to feel my own personal victory. A petite redhead stepped foot over the threshold of our suite. Her smile was infectious, and her eagerness, refreshing. She sat on the bed across from mine and looked me in the eyes with sincerity.
“I’m Grace. I know a lot of people here, but you seem to be new to this.”
“Yeah. This place takes some getting used to,” I responded.
“I get it. I’m just excited to have another chance.”
“Another chance?” I asked.
“Another chance to better myself. If there’s one thing I’ve learned in all my visits to the hospital, it’s to not listen to all the voices around you. These kids think they’ve got it figured out, but yet they still find themselves back here time and time again. I would know. I used to be one of those kids.”
“What do you mean ‘one of those kids’?”
“You know, those kids who deny themselves the opportunity to recover. They feel like the world is out to get them, when in reality, many of the people in their lives are desperately trying to get them help. They just don’t know how.”
“Sometimes this place feels like a punishment though.”
“Far from it. This place is a blessing, but it takes a willing patient to realize that.”
That same night, I tossed and turned atop my mattress. I contemplated the wise words Grace had told me earlier. That was the peer of mine I would listen to from then on out.
My usual 8:00 AM group session started off with Mr. Terry, my favorite social worker, asking us what we hope to get out of our time at the hospital. The teens shouted out typical ideas like, “Coping skills, friends, etc.”
I thought about the question thoroughly. And when Terry’s eyes met mine, I replied, “I hope to uncover a healthier me. I want to be ‘one of those kids’ who does recover.”
Grace glanced over at me and flashed that infectious grin.
For my first time at the hospital, I felt like a winner.