In January 2016 I suffered a bout of psychosis on par with that of my earliest breakdowns. Due to self-stigma I tried to present as “normal”, but this particular experience led to consequences which required emergency services and inpatient care.
This three-part series is meant to illustrate my state of mind at the time. Any misperceptions during my stay were due to the symptoms of my disorder. I mean to cast no aspersions. Each individual responsible for my care did their job to the best of their abilities. I am grateful for their kindness, and have the utmost respect for them and their profession. ~HBJ
Not sleeping for two days was taking its toll. The clock on the wall of my cell let me see the start of three. Five a.m.—the tenth hour of my stay, and the fourth since the restraints were removed and I was wheeled down to this holding area.
Triage was a memory now, replaced by silence punctuated by screams from patients lodged in equally tiny quarters. Windowless rooms, painted gray, the color of fog, of blandness and mire. My eyes felt brittle and burnt from crying. Suddenly the door opened, and light from the hallway poured into my room. A woman introduced herself as the staff psychiatrist. I was on my last rinse through the sorrow of psychosis when she asked me how I was doing. I thought the waterworks had dried up. I was wrong.
Tears flowed as I poured my story out to her. Demons, stolen children, cannibalism, Good and Evil. No food, no sleep, the fear of lost teeth. Rush hour hit-and-run, David Bowie’s murder—I couldn’t stop sobbing for the stories, image after image tumbling out of my mouth like so many bees and buckshot—the Mad Hatter on freon, trapped in a razored cage.
She asked if I’d been hearing voices. “Yes,” I replied.
“And what do they say?”
I answered without emotion, repeating sums on a math quiz. “That I killed David Bowie for stealing my thoughts. That I’m not real. That I’d be doing everyone a favor by killing myself.” Hollow. Empty. Still willing to die.
She tried not to cry along, but something struck a chord. Once composed, she asked if I’d be amenable to medication. I told her that I’d been on a very low dose of lorazepam for the better part of a year and had grown accustomed to fighting anxiety through its effects, however subtle. She suggested something stronger, a regimen of clonazepam and risperidone. I was so worn down from fighting to keep one toe in the pool of reality that I acquiesced and dove all-in. I heard my teddy bear Murphy breathe a sigh of relief. “It’s about time,” he whispered, in his Paddington best.
An hour later an orderly came around. I stood up for the first time since being admitted and almost lost my knees to the woozy. The pills went down like dreams for dessert, and I went back to bed and waited. For what, I wasn’t sure. More waiting, I suppose. Not napping. How could I? That hallway light was brighter than the sun, piercing as sharply as the wailing screams of the patients yet unmedicated.
No sleep had become the New Sleep. I’d reached that point where I didn’t care. Not about sleep, or screams, or my breakfast of cold pancakes and juice-box grapeness. By this time, my teddy sat at the edge of the bed with me, both of us child-sized, befitting the mushrooms Alice wasn’t touching. He turned his head to the ceiling and stared at a faded poster of a garden, some ersatz attempt at brightening the room. “Real flowers smell better,” he said. I told him real pancakes didn’t taste like wax.
The day wore on. I think the label read, “Caution: May Cause Drowsiness.” More like slow-motion ennui wrapped in sofa cushion batting. Sit. Stand. Tuck in the sheet. Fluff the pillow. If I’d had a light switch on my side of the door, I’d’ve been flicking it on and off for something creative to do.
“Lunch” came. A lukewarm hotdog with a ketchup pack and room temperature chocolate milk. So this was noon, hour seventeen. Shackled by boredom and time. A clock that didn’t tick. Silence punctuated by suppression. The smell of the food permeated the room, the only sensory input besides the now occasional post-med hollering.
There was a knock at my door. A giant of a man, mustachioed and ponytailed, like some Wild West hippie Santa Claus in blue scrubs and sneakers.
“How’s our quietest patient?” he asked. “Still not sleeping? I figured that Klonopin would’ve knocked you out by now.” More smiles and big-heartedness from the professionals on this floor, miles away from the Viewless Garden, save for that pointless poster. “Well, young man, you’ve got a call. You’ll have to come down the hall to take it. Phone’s just across from the nurses station.”
I followed Sgt. Pepper down a mile or two of grayness. How far away was my bear? “Can I go back and get Murphy?”
“Of course you can. We’ll keep your therapist occupied.”
My therapist! On the phone! The outside world coming to me through the bygone magic of the rotary dial. Big, blue, hanging on the wall like overripe heavy metal fruit. Was it made of steel, this ancient technology? Apes at the Monolith threw shinbones and shouted. Murph dangled from one hand, the other cradled the receiver.
“Henry, hi! How are you doing?”
I couldn’t believe it. I was hearing her voice. Hour twenty-two, and for a few short minutes I wasn’t alone. I answered all blank, though—hollow, not real. Still pondering death. “I have Murphy,” I guessed.
“Are you in good hands?”
“I have a Beatle for my nurse.”
“Well, I have good news for you. They say they’re going to release you soon—a bed freed up at another hospital.” And that’s where I left her as I drifted toward every scentless flower in every senseless painting taped to every seldom ceiling in every cell in this ward. “You’ll be staying for seven to ten days and receive around-the-clock care. They’ve been working on this while you napped.”
“Not napping. Just me and Murph and some terrible food smell.” Then I whispered, “There are people in here like the Joker and Harley Quinn and they keep yelling and scaring me with all the cartoon threats, but I sorta don’t care because I have drugs in me now.”
The nurses signaled to me to finish, so I just hung up and walked back to my cell, Murphy slung over my shoulder like a sack of raggedy bear. Two hours later we’d be wheeled off the wing and onto a prayer, in an ambulance across town to the next facility, my third stop in the longest day of my life. I’d found faith where there was none, and hope would be mine. I hugged my bear and allowed myself to sleep.[to be continued]