Eerie. I guess that is the best term to describe how I was feeling. I followed the nurse through four sets of doors. At each one, we waited for someone on the other side to open it. At the last door, all I could see was darkness and a simmer of light through the tiny window. When the door opened, I saw a table with a huge luminous light shining down upon it.
” Take a seat please.”
I sat down and began to be hammered with a thousand questions, while paperwork was shoved down my throat. I signed my name so many times that I had never been surer of who I was. “Here you go, sweetie”. The nice nurse handed me the dull brown clothes resembling potato sacks. They were three sizes too big, the sleeves reached my knees and I struggled to keep my pants up everywhere I went. It was so dark, they directed me to my room with ease as if they had night vision. The cell had no windows, just slits in the wall. The door to the bathroom was just foam and the Velcro struggled to stick. There was no water in the toilets, the shower would turn off every 10 seconds to make sure we did not drown ourselves. I laid down on the bed, which did not deserve such a title, it was plywood with a slender foam top layer. I threw a thin blanket over my body, shivering while thinking to myself, “How did I end up here? How did it get to this point?” I did not sleep that night.
Before I knew it the lights came on and my door was flung open. I assumed it was time to shower and get ready for the day. After I finished, I came out of my room and saw all sorts of characters. I grasped my food and as I walked towards my seat, I saw a guy punching the air with his eyes closed, making noises and hitting the wall. “Go sit down Solomon”. He opened his eyes and I saw an expression of pure anger upon his face. He walked past, focusing his gaze on me and then sat directly behind me. Two minutes later, someone tapped on my shoulder. I hesitantly looked back and realized it was him, smiling holding a piece of scratch paper. I grabbed it and he sunk back into his chair. I unfolded the paper and read:
I looked back and awkwardly smiled, not knowing what else to do. As I ate, I slowly become more comfortable and started to process my surroundings. It took me all of five seconds because there was not much to observe. The walls were so white, the lights reflecting off of them were slightly burning my retina. The walls were like a desert of bleach white sand and the floor would have looked identical without the striations. There were a few chairs and couches scattered around us. The only details that caught my eye were the hundreds of books and coloring pages they had set out for our amusement. “Alright everyone, time for class.”
There were about 20 of us, all from different backgrounds with different stories to tell. We went around the room and said what we were grateful for. When it was Solomon’s turn, he said: “I’m thankful for my wife” and glared at me. Later in class, he got up from his seat and walked about 15 feet to where I was sitting. He then preceded to try and kiss me on the lips. I didn’t know how to handle all of this. It was very unsettling even though I knew he had serious psychological issues. After all, we were in a mental hospital.
Later that day, I used my ten minute phone call to contact my mom to tell her what all had happened. Suddenly, out of the corner of my eye, I saw Solomon run out of his room completely naked. He ran around in a circle until the nurses and doctors were able to capture him. They forced him to put his clothes back on.
After the fiasco, he began to have conversations with me. At first, he actually appeared to be fairly normal and kind. He would just talk about the army and how he missed home. Moments later, he shared with me that he was Jesus Christ and that his doctor was going to euthanize him. He said it was okay with him because he would be reborn. He said all of them were going to hell and we would be saved. It was like his computer caught a virus and began to malfunction. When he started to break down, he threatened to kill people and would burst into flames of anger causing eight people to try and restrain him. He never was like that with me though, he always very amiable. One day, he plopped down next to me and communicated that he had begun to rewrite the bible and even let me read some of it. The content didn’t make much sense but he had great grammar and a vivid imagination. I concluded that he had not always been like this and I imagined what he was like before he was there.
It turned out Solomon had psychosis from overdosing on Ecstacy and his doctor believed it was only temporary. In fact, the last thing I heard, he was back to normal and doing just fine but that is not always the case. I learned a lot about severe mental illness from Solomon. He believed every thought he had was real, but his mind had begun to turn on itself. I also became very grateful that I was not in his shoes. Anytime I feel down, I think about Solomon and acquire an appreciation for every moment of sanity I indulge in.
After each class, I would become severely homesick and miss my friends and family. I did not like being left alone and having to listen to my thoughts. I had no cell phone which provoked more anxiety within me than I would like to admit. I mean when was the last time any of you went weeks in a new place while being painfully depressed, cut off from everyone you knew and loved with no cell phone?
Without this distraction, my thoughts would run rampant. I began to really analyze my reason for being there. The reason I stopped taking my bipolar medication abruptly which caused me to be on the verge of a mental breakdown and possibly suicide. I even had a plan, I wanted to die. This thought seems unreal to me now but honestly, my mind was broken and I needed to be there to fix it. Although I had so much anxiety when I first arrived, it soon became routine and I started to be able to stop thinking and start listening. Instead of thinking about how much I wanted to leave, I listened to see what I could learn from other people, the classes, and therapy. There were a few other eccentric characters in my narrative that really stuck with me.
I will begin with the girl named Olivia.
The word beautiful would not do her justice, she seemed fictitious. Her eyes were bright jade and her faultless smile was a radiant shade of ivory. Even though she was wearing “the potato sack”, you could tell she had an admirable body. The characteristic that intrigued me the most was how noiseless she was. She sat alone and mumbled to herself and in class, she was always reserved. On my fourth day, we went around the room telling each other why we were there and she finally spoke.
Olivia told us she had a daughter around the age of two. Her eyes illuminated and a slight smile swept across her face. She proceeded to tell us how she had been sexually assaulted for most of her life because her drug-addicted mother had no money and needed her fix. In the next stage of her story, she had become louder and emotional, with a few tears slowly sliding down her face. She ran away at 14 years old and moved in with her aunt until she was old enough to join the military. She suffered from severe depression, schizophrenia and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. One day, while on deployment in South Korea, a higher ranked soldier tried to rape her. This time she was able to escape and get someone to help her.
After that, she said she began hearing voices in her head. The Army sent her back to Texas and she was reunited with her daughter and aunt. The voices had begun to intensifying every day since her arrival back in America. They told her to kill her daughter. She was able to stop and admit herself into the hospital. She spoke of the love and devotion she had for her daughter and how she felt like a terrible mother. Her pain inside began to physically manifest on the outside and she said she could still hear the voices at that very moment. I was depressed and felt my mind turning against itself, yes. I could not compare my situation to hers at all, I just felt sorry for her. I wanted to help her but I knew I couldn’t. She further motivated me to get better and learn from this experience. I would definitely say I matured exponentially from the day I set foot in that place to the day I was liberated because of experiences like that.
My parents were both in the military and do not speak about their experiences much. I never really knew all of the things that went on during deployments and why so many soldiers would come back with PTSD or kill themselves. I became more aware of the horrors by speaking to someone who had experienced it first hand and was willing to share it with me.
He was a soldier with severe PTSD and was admitted for threatening to kill someone while he had his weapon in his hand. He was very quiet too but we made a connection before I even knew any of this. He was about 27 years old and had two children and a wife. We laughed, talked about completely normal topics until the day he gave me his journal.” I want you to read this. These are some things I have never told anyone. They say I should write it down. I want you to read it.” I asked him if he was sure and he nodded. I took the composition book into my room and read it before I went to sleep. He spoke about seeing people in his unit getting blown up in front of him. One second they were there, then they were just red dust. He had to watch some of his coworkers who were more like brothers bleed out in front of him, their limbs forty yards away from their bodies. I couldn’t imagine going through this, it sounded surreal like a film. After that, I thanked him for sharing his story with me and began to spend much of my time alone, reading and writing. I began to realize how much I loved writing as an outlet. Within the confines of those walls, I was disconnected, with no outside distractions. I did not realize how loud the world was until I was no longer apart of it. I learned to stop being scared of my thoughts and found comfort in others trauma. I don’t like how that sounds but I honestly began to realize my life was not that bad because of their turmoil. This epiphany wasn’t a cure, I was still severely depressed, but I knew it could be worse. I didn’t feel completely hopeless anymore. My original plan was to let life run me over. The experience caused me to see the light at the end of the tunnel and I was able to jump off of the tracks in time. I would not have done anything differently. I am so grateful for that experience and this explanation does not do it justice. It was terrifying, liberating and lonely. It was exactly what I needed.
P.S. No real names were used when describing my real experiences for privacy reasons.