I didn’t want to go back. I mean I didn’t hate it there but whenever I had to go there it meant it was bad. I didn’t want to be bad again. I’d sworn the last time was the final time. But back I went. They checked me in, gave me my stuff and I went to my room. This time I showed up in the middle of the night. I woke up to my roommate shaking me awake. “Time for a shower sunshine. Rough night last night?” I groggily nodded and got up. Sliding my feet into the stupid flip flops they gave me which would be too large on bigfoot, I moved out the door. I grabbed a bucket filled with packaged everything. Almost a hotel, but way worse; maybe a hell hotel. I hopped into the shower, water this time scalding my skin to the point that it was red. Wall soap and packet shampoo got me clean. A scratchy thin towel dried me off and I dressed in my clothes from yesterday. This wasn’t a planned trip, I didn’t have time to pack. Still half asleep I walked into the pen they kept us in all day. Boring yellow walls and chairs. There was five good chairs but about fifteen girls. All the good chairs were taken. I sat down at a table in a less than stellar chair. The girls around me acknowledged me with small waves and head nods. We sat like this for an hour, the nurses charged with the unfortunate task of watching the insane kids counted us probably twenty different times. “It’s like they think we are going to escape without them noticing.” We all rolled our eyes. “That’s kind of impossible. I swear this place is more locked down than a prison.” We all laughed that time. The morning disappearing with our sleepiness in tow. Finally they did one last count. About eleven of the girls lined up down the hall, walking towards breakfast. The other four of us, each marked by a pink band around our arms were given our food by a cart. Even though at this point I was accustom to this place, this not being my first visit, I itched in my chair, simply dreading the fact that I was here. The day dragged on with forced conversations and thoughts of home. “So why are you here Gwen?” I looked up from my feet. “I stabbed myself.” The people around me all shifted. These girls, some who days ago hearts had stopped for a moment because of the pills they shoved into their stomachs, were unsettled by the fact I had stabbed myself. “And why did you do that?” I looked the woman in the face, this was such a stupid question. “I wanted to die,” I had to refrain from spitting the words at her. Here they watched like hawks how each word was spoken to easier tell if your fragile little mind was healed. The woman frowned, displeased with my answer. “Well why did you want to die? You didn’t just wake up one morning with an urge to stab yourself.” More cringes from the girls around me. “I hate myself, I hate how I feel, and life is pointless. Add that together and what do you get? A suicidal teen who pokes holes in her stomach to run away from her problems.” No one would look me in the eye. The nurse offered me some kind words, “I am so sorry you are struggling and felt that was your only option. We are here to help you, that’s why you are here.” I walked into my room that night, tired and angry. This place, meant to heal me, simply made me angry.
Even though the shower was freezing I felt better this morning. I made it through my first day and felt more comfortable because I now knew the routine. I would be able to leave that room for meals today which was another reason today felt a bit more optimistic. I absorbed in the wall of windows in front of me, a portal to the outside world. It was a sign life was still going forwards, that there was something other than this place out there. I talked and laughed with the girls around me. Smiling more now than I had in months. We went back into that room and sat in a circle. We talked about our problems. Instead of focusing on my own I began to help the other girls around me. It was easier to think about their problems than my own. Though I didn’t want to acknowledge it I knew this advice I handed to the others for dark days, were things I needed to tell myself in dark days. One girl began to cry at the tale our nurse was telling us. It was the story of her life, of how once upon a time she was like us, depressed, hopeless, and wanting to die. That in days long gone she was raped and abused. But with this legend of woe came a lesson, the simple fact that you can overcome the worst. The girl who had begun crying, she was one who heard voices, told us her tale of woe, of how she was raped and stalked. These stories left all of us in tears. We got to use the phones. I called my family and told them bits about my day. The rest of the day was filled with reading and writing, but mostly card games. We all brought new ones the others had never seen. Each person around the table had totally separate lives, each had seen totally different things. But here at the table they all saw the same thing, me dominating in Uno. I sat in a chair before bed, in the dim lighting, mediating. My brain, the stupid thing that got me here in the first place, attempted to get me to worry. I repeated the word happy in my mind. Each time I breathed in I remembered days of happiness. Camping trips with my family. Cooking with my mother. Play fighting with my brother. Hanging out of the car as my friend drove down the road. Sitting across the table at coffee with the most integrating person in my life. My cousin smiling. These people made me happy. I went to bed a better person than I had woken up as. Perhaps I was only a fraction better, but each step forwards was a positive one.
I disliked the mornings. Because of Kitty, the name once so innocent now ruined by my worst enemy. Kitty worked nights at the hospital. She came around at five every morning, cheery as Mary f-ing Poppins waking us up for showers. The lava pouring over my skin was a welcome change from the frozen bed I slept on. Not nearly as awake as Kitty, I sat in that yellow room. As they called our names yet again, I realized I would be separated from my friends. We had bonded over cards, hair styles and a common wish to die. Their names were called and they got pulled away into a different room. The people I sat with now passed their time by complaining about their lives and how awful it was here. The negativity swirled around in my brain. It wanted to get out in scratches on my arm. My brain sobbed for me to demolish my skin, to make it bleed. I, however, am stronger than my mind. The urge to cause myself pain was a way to relive my mind of its pain. My mind is extremely selfish. All this struggling caused me a new kind of pain. Anxiety took over. My stomach was the center of this feeling. Once I tried to carve it out with a kitchen knife. I curled into a ball, rocking. They let me rock. This kind of thing was normal. Here in a mental hospital nothing was weird. I rode the waves of anxiety, I was forced to feel it. Trapped in my own brain, there were only two escapes I could see. Everyone here had seen the same two exits, drugs or death. But here I was forced to sit in it, to feel every aching pain my brain produced. Finally the anxiety calmed. I went to dinner, once again the windows brightening my mood. I talked and laughed with the girls around me. I was the popular kid at the crazy table. That night was visiting. My parents came to see me. I told them about the other girls here, the awful food and how much I missed them. They bought me Cheetos from the vending machine, the only good food I had since I was I there. Cheetos and instant mashed potatoes were the taste of the hospital. We laughed and they told me how I was myself again. They said it was so nice to have their baby back. I had never felt so close to my parents before. I had gone away but I was finally back. Despite the difficult day I had the monster inside me no longer had total control.
Another wonderful morning started with Kitty joyously ripping me from my peaceful sleep. At home I would sleep 16 hours a day. Here they call that a coping skill. It’s how I deal with my problems. I swear I hear the words “coping skills” about 30 times an hour. They handed me another sheet, a goal sheet. I fill one out each morning and again at night. I fill in the blanks with a stub of a pencil which they collect once we are done, so we don’t harm ourselves with them. Walking down the hall in a single line I hate where I am. As much as the people around here were supportive I still wanted to go home. This place was prison like. Always being monitored behind locked doors. I became angry at everyone around me, angry at the place, and eventually I became angry at myself. I was the reason I was here, I was messed up. I was the problem. This wasn’t schools fault, or my parents fault, this was my fault. Once back in the yellow room I gave up trying to help the negative Nancy’s surrounding me. I didn’t really want to get better but I definitely didn’t want to be like how I was before. I was in a kind of limbo of motivation. I simply let my mind drift. It drifted back home, and back to the thing that makes me happy constantly. My boyfriend. He had been in this situation, in these hospitals, before I’d ever dreamed about it. He was the person I relied on to understand what was going in even if I didn’t. To avoid the annoyance of my situation I thought of him. I thought of the last time I saw him before I ended up in here. The nurses had teased me about the hickeys on my neck from the last time I’d seen him. The day drifted by and I went back to sleep on plastic sheets.
I was back with my people the next day; I had switched to the green room. Here the people wanted to get better. Here I could actually open up and start to get better. The scratching had stopped since I got into the hospital, a negative coping skill they call it. I was seemingly better. In this room I engaged, I laughed and cried. Most importantly, healed. In the morning they took us to the gym. It was the first time and god was it amazing to be able to run. We played, we smiled, and life was as good as it can get in a mental hospital. I had a family evaluation that afternoon. My parents came and we sat down with the man who handled my case. We discussed what to do when I got home. Things that made me feel worse and then how to feel better. We talked about what we were going to do about school. It was said I could go home soon, and I was thrilled. That night our nurse told us how much she hated the color of the walls, and seeing as she was our favorite nurse, we decided to cover them. We spent hours drawing. We wrote quotes for future patients. Colored pictures for our nurse. We made valentine decorations, as it was coming up. We made our room a home to the best of our abilities. The project gave me a purpose for a while, something to focus on. The idea of making this place better for the other girls made me genuinely happy. Happy wasn’t something I had been feeling very frequently. We wrote letters to each other. We did a few self-esteem exercises, one of them writing things we liked about each other. These people knew who I really was, these people had seen the real me. The person I had been hiding for so long was now bathing in the light. I was transparent and I finally felt like I could handle life. When we were going to bed the nurse told us a bedtime story. A story about a poor blacksmith who was in love with a princess. We became drowsy to the sound of her melodic voice. In my room I sat up for a while playing catch with my roommate. The insomniac could use a little company I had thought. We joked and had heart to hearts. That night ended well.
We saw our doctor every day. A man who wore too much cologne and didn’t know my name got to decide if I was stable enough to go home. His students sat in chairs watching and taking notes. I was nothing more than a learning experience for them. Simply a teaching tool. He told me days ago I would be able to go home, but I was still here. I angrily asked him when I could go home. He told me we would see tomorrow if I was able to go home. I had been here for six days and I was so tired of it. I wanted to go home. I angrily went through my day only wanting to go home. We spent all day decorating more. That made the day slightly better, but all I could think of was getting home.
It was finally the day I got to go home. I woke up, showered, and did the normal daily routine. But just before lunch they pulled me out and had me pack my things. I said goodbye to all the girls. I put all my things in the bag my mother had brought and walked through the locked doors.
I heard my mother talking to me about the outside world asking me to wake up. I felt sore and groggy. I heard my dad signing papers. I could see a bleary ceiling and I closed my eyes.
I woke up with no Miss Kitty to wake me up, she did not exist. Saw a TV, hear a beeping and felt blankets covering me. I was in a hospital, a medical hospital. I was out of the mental hospital, it had done its job. I was better. I had stabbed myself, I really had felt those things. But I had never really been in the mental hospital. It was all in my head.