I was quickly processed into the new looney bin. (Er, I mean “theraputic center”. It’s amazing how society loves tinkering with names to make a place seem like something else entirely, doesn’t it?). Signed a few papers and was assigned 28-B for a bed and a red wristband for identification. The color indicated which category of crazy they thought I was. Seemed a little weird putting a blood-red bracelet on someone’s wrist after attempting suicide, doesn’t it?
But yes, every suicide-watch patient wore red and that included my sole roommate. He slept most of the time. Also? He slept. Yeah, so I didn’t have any real scintillating dialogues with him except when he revealed that he’d driven into his girlfriend’s house while on heroin and meth, which I found interesting because that didn’t sound suicidal at all. It sounded more like attempted murder. He had an accent so maybe I just wasn’t understanding correctly, but I didn’t have to worry about it because hispanic nurse after hispanic nurse would barge into our room every 5 minutes (sometimes less) to make sure we hadn’t tried to gauge our eyes out or something. I reasoned that they could probably space out these check-ups a little more, being that it takes time to bleed out. Odds were good somebody in the nuthouse would start going nuts at the sight of any blood. One thing for sure, it definitely made jerking off next to impossible.
I said “next to” for a reason.
Tuesday morning I stayed in bed until it was time to eat. I can’t deny that the food was mostly exceptional… the french toast and bacon especially were near-restaurant quality. Shortly after, I was promptly called over the loudspeaker to see Dr. Schlector. I had no idea where he was, but once shown I felt like an idiot. His door was labeled “Red Team Doctor”, aka The Suicide Doc. He was nearly as horizontal in size as he was vertically, the sad combination of being a very short and a very fat man, a man who surely had his own orbit. He had a scraggly beard and wild, unkept hair. He frankly looked more like a mad scientist or even a patient.
He asked: “Were you drinking? Have you ever been admitted to a facility before? Have you ever been hospitalized? Do you want to hurt yourself? Do you want to hurt anyone besides yourself? Have you previously attempted or considered harming yourself? How are you feeling right now? What happened exactly?”
The only question I heard was, “How soon do you want to get out of here?”
So I answered, focusing on the acknowledgement of my depression so as to avoid looking like I was in denial, but dodging any admittance of attempting suicide or even thoughts of it. In order to get out I needed to play it cool. The last doctor was a fucker and I didn’t want to start off on the wrong foot with this new one. Despite my best attempts at misdirection and avoidance he concluded that I would be there at least until Friday. Wait, Friday? The 72-hour hold expired early Wednesday afternoon! What was this quack smoking and where could I get some? And WHY did his name have to sound like one of those creepy ass doctors that inhumanly ran experiments on Jews in Nazis Germany?
He explained that the 72-hour hold could be extended to 14-days or even 30 in some cases. If I were not consenting, he said I’d be entitled to a hearing in which the facility would contest before a Judge that I was a danger to myself and incapable of making a rational decision. I couldn’t hold my tongue after hearing that and promptly told him that there’d better be a hearing not one minute later than the expiration of the 72-hour hold because I would sue for every single minute that I were illegally held beyond that time. Still, it seemed strange to me that he was so adamant about going to such lengths to keep me there. I asked him why and history repeated itself.
“I talked to your father…”.
That’s all I needed to hear. It seemed increasingly probable that my father wanted that court hearing to happen so he could hijack the role as medical proxy. Extending my hold would buy him plenty of time to fly out here and take the reins. I suspected this while at the previous facility, but the fact that he was keeping tabs this closely and this quickly after my transfer and continued to apply such aggressive influence made me feel more confident that my concerns were hardly the result of paranoia.
In high school, a bully had assaulted me because I’d called him a jerk… after he’d destroyed my math homework. Yet when staff intervened, Dean Genzer (another fuck up) wanted to suspend us both “to be fair”. I protested the ridiculousness of this solution and there was a meeting held with Genzer, my father, and I to discuss. She claimed I had called the bully a “bagel” and speculated that I must have been making fun of his weight. I explained that I simply didn’t curse and had lobbed a harmless insult (not really an insult) to lighten the tension. Which was true. She then said I had called him a “jerk” and my father turned to me and said, “Wait, you didn’t tell me you called him a jerk…”. He abandoned any defense and I was promptly suspended for a day. This lack of support carried on throughout my life, including instances with much higher stakes and legal repercussions including homelessness and an easily avoidable state prison term. No matter the consequences, he consistently would side with anyone that opposed me. I’m often stubborn just as he is, but I eventually concede a point if I am in fact proven to be incorrect or flat out wrong. I can be convinced of an opposing argument if the reason and logic behind it is sound. My father, on the other hand, never wavered.
Bottom line, he’s the type of person that (with rare exception) never had my back but would gladly stab it and twist the knife. I had very good cause to believe he was attempting to do this again.
I pointed out that I hadn’t spoken to that asshole in nearly two years, so he was hardly a reliable authority on my more recent state of mind. Who was he to judge? Even if I were suicidal, what right did he have to assume a psychiatric facility would be the right solution? It’s not like I was being diagnosed with schizophrenia or bi-polar disorder or anything along those lines. Attempting suicide was a foolish decision, I cannot deny that, but that didn’t necessarily make it a crazy one.
I left the doctor’s office feeling like shit. Our meeting had ended with me declaring that the longer I was in a facility for crazy people the more likely I’d be to assimilate into my crazy environment. I told him that it was already worsening my depression, but all he would do was write a prescription for for my mild-OCD, which had nothing to do with my depression and had gone untreated for nearly ten years because of how mild it was. I’d slipped once or twice and gone back on Zoloft in the past, as I knew the signs and always sought treatment when even the possibility of it getting out-of-hand presented itself. The last minor slip was in 2005, so it had been an entire decade since I’d last been medicated. The idea of him prescribing medication also concerned me because uptake inhibitors take two weeks to take effect and he had mentioned wanting to “observe the results”. This, to me, indicated his expectation that I’d be a patient for some time. I told him I had no interest in medication, that I hated big phrama meds, and preferred the cleaner, natural route of medical marijuana… but then thought better and realized it would be to my benefit to play along. I’d been so resistant and defensive already, albeit rightfully so, but I could see how that might play off as me as being difficult and ultimately work against me. This was a game of give and take and I couldn’t argue my way out of the facility so I took the hit and conceded that medication might be a good idea.
I walked out of his office feeling uncertain. I’d expected to be released on Wednesday and returning to work on Thursday, but now it looked like I could be stuck for weeks. I’d be unable to afford my rent due to the lack of income, potentially lose my job, and even worse my mind if I were to stay in this place any longer. Between the food being drugged (to make patients sleepy), to my father’s attempts to pull the strings, to the doctors and nurses treating me like a crazy person when I was probably the sanest and most intelligent among them, was all making me extremely anxious. The condition of being held against my will was also giving me flashbacks of my traumatic experience in state prison, which all but certainly gave me some level of PTSD. Yet at the same time I had to disguise my distress because any hint of a symptom would be noted and make my situation worse. I had to be as normal on the outside as possible.
I decided to focus on a different strategy: stop fighting and start feigning cooperation. That’s what Dr. House did in the Season 6 opener of House, though it took him much longer to realize that it was the most effective method of getting what he wanted. So I attended a lame arts and crafts session, an informative rules and regulations meeting, and went outside to read. By attending, I mean I stopped in for a few minutes… just long enough to get my name on the sign-in sheets. It was how they monitored sociability and level of depression, to see how well we would adjust after being released. All I wanted was to do was curl up in bed and sleep until my imprisonment was over, but no. For the second time in my life I had to be a professional fraud to gain my freedom back.
Three patients and myself were at the arts and crafts event, the only option being to construct a beaded necklace. Oh, what emasculating fun this would be! I opted to read a an in-depth article about Billy Crystal and Josh Gad’s new show, The Comedians, instead. Across from me sat a lovely dark-haired Russian and a very short black dude that reminded me of that talentless piece of shit, Kevin Hart. He asked her where she was from and she replied with a thick accent, “Why do you ask where I from? I am American, that is where I am from. Why everyone ask me? I am HERE, you prick! Fuck you. I can’t deal with you.” She got up and moved to another seat. The black guy made a fish face that said, “Ooooooh-kay…” without saying a word. He was utterly dumb-founded. Between his idiocy and her fiery response, I couldn’t help but let out a laugh. She glanced at me and smiled. Oh, she was definitely trouble, the type that I find most difficult to resist. But I’d already put in my participation time, flirting wasn’t practical, and I already had a girl on the outside that currently monopolized my interest, so I opted to leave. I needed to stay focused. On my way out I managed to find a novel buried under a pile of out-of-date magazines which gave my mind the reprieve it needed to pass the time while still attending these silly “events” and getting the participation credit.
Did I mention there was a vending machine, pool table, and air hockey? Except all of these were coin-operated? Yeah, this place advertised itself as fun but it was just another for-profit center for taking advantage of the mentally ill. Oh, America…
I briefly popped into the TV viewing area. It always had some kind of boring game or talk show on, but Dr. Oz had a segment about identity theft that seemed genuinely interesting. Plus I had the room to myself, making it oddly peaceful. Of course, that’s when one other woman just had to come in and join me, much to my chagrin. She was a little overweight with solidly average-looking features and a very chipmunk-esque face.
She abruptly confided without a segue that she’d been a prostitute since age 14, insisted she had lost all interest in sex because of it, yet declared that she wasn’t wearing any panties. I looked at her and she bit her lip, telling me she was feeling a little wet. Jesus, were all the women in this place as horny as they were crazy? It seemed like it. I took that as my cue to leave the room, refusing to put myself in a potentially problematic position. Throughout my time there she seemed the most interested in my current state of mind and asked more questions than staff, leading me to wonder if she secretly was staff. It would be a smarter way of getting real information out of the more clever patients, right? I didn’t entertain that thought for long, but I did make a point to be very conscious about what information I did or didn’t reveal to fellow patients.
Later that day I was called back to see Dr. Schlector. He had three women in the room from social services, one of whom I’d be meeting with later one-on-one for a second assessment. They asked very few questions and I didn’t understand what was actually achieved by the meeting, but I reiterated calmly my lack of suicidal ideation, my lack of prior hospitalization, and repeated the more-favorable variation of what had transpired. My guess is that they wanted to see if my story shifted, but I remained carefully consistent in both facilities. Any slip would surely be exploited.
Fortunately the social worker I later met with was fantastic. She questioned me quite a bit, studying me closely. You could tell she’d been well-educated about the various tells of a lying person, so I was conscious of where my eyes darted while relaying my fiction-coated tale (a glance to the creative side of the brain indicates falsehoods and invention while a glance to the other side results from recalling genuine memories). I’d taken my share of psychology courses along with my own research to know the signs of a bluff. I couldn’t let her catch me in a lie, not with this much at stake. Whether it was my convincing answers or my very-much-sane demeanor, it won her over.
She recommended my immediate release pending Dr. Schlector’s approval and even agreed to obtain and charge my iPhone from the property room so it could be ready for when I got out. To put it simply, she was a peach! It was nice to finally have someone recognize that I didn’t belong there. I was still a little concerned about Schlector, who still had the final say, but recalled what he’d told me when I’d first met him: “If I let you go now and you went and killed yourself, I would feel terrible!” It was obvious all he cared about was liability and his ability to sleep at night rather than the actual patients, so with the social worker relieving him of both I expected he wouldn’t put up much of a fight.
I was right.
I did still have to spend one more night before finally being released on Wednesday, though still slightly before the hold expired. Once I’d gotten the good news I was able to relax better, read more, and exercised in my room. I didn’t attend any more “events”, but I did make a point to interact with more patients to make the most of the unique experience.
A standout was a lengthy talk with a short white guy who, for whatever reason, believed me to be related to the CEO of Dreamworks (an interesting insight being that it does happen to be one of the companies I’d most love to work for). He told me how he’d been a model in Peru for two years, how he knew Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, and other crap that I took with a grain of salt. Why? Because he wandered up and down the halls all day, swinging his arms wide and taking awkwardly stiff steps, muttering to himself in two different voices about bacteria and cell structures. He might have been brilliant at one time, but it appeared he was now suffering from schizophrenia. I mean, I do character voices and sometimes talk to myself as well, but if you do that in a psychiatric facility… that’s self-defeating. And his inability to see that suggested he lacked control over it, suggesting it was more of an involuntary condition than a voluntary demonstration of talent.
While I was smiling and nodding to his nonsense, the Russian chick walked by. She saw an opportunity to fuck with another patient and she didn’t know many people that appreciated her subtle, abrasive sense of humor. It was a good opportunity for her. She leaned in between us and said, “Hail Hitler! I love Hitler!” The patient’s eyes grew wide, taking her completely at face-value. “I love Hitler because HE LOVED GOD,” she added with vigor, maintaining a serious expression. He was rendered speechless. She walked away, stopped, and turned around. She wasn’t done with him yet. She winked at me, as if to say “now watch this!” and said to him with the utmost sincerity, “Hitler also wrote amazing rap music.” The patient turned to me, and shouted, “Holy shit! Did you know that shit? I didn’t know that shit… holy shit! HOLY SHIT!!”
I was definitely going to miss that Russian firecracker.
I decided to end my experience in a looney bin on that high comedic note and spent the rest of my evening reading and went to bed early. I made one quick stop in the TV viewing area to again absorb what it was like socially to be a patient in such a place and heard one comment that resonated: “Yo, ever see One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest? We’re living that shit, man. This is it!” Indeed, I thought.
The next morning I stuck to reading, distancing myself from everyone. I was about to leave and saw no point in attempting to bond with people I’d most-likely never see again. The Russian, I later found out, was sobbing hysterically in her room. I and one other patient that she’d apparently connected with were both being released and she was suddenly facing the fact that she would be the one left behind. I think it dawned on her that she’d entertained these doctor’s long enough, as I overheard her shouting at a nurse to let her go home, threatening to call 9-11 to report herself as a hostage. Heh. I think she was actually pretty sane, probably only in need of a little anger management counseling or something. Either way, I resisted the urge to comfort her or even say goodbye. I didn’t want to reciprocate her interest because if she thought for a minute that it was mutual she’d have that much more reason to be depressed at my departure. Better to let her cry it out now and get over it than to give her even a hint of hope, especially since I didn’t have access to her medical chart to truly know how stable she was.
A few hours later… I was finally free!
A handful of patients saw me quietly exiting with a nurse out the side gate. One female patient, who had insisted I was the late-Paul Walker, said mournfully, “Aw no, you leavin us, Paul Walkah? But you just got here!”