People have asked me what inpatient psychiatric rehab was like. I went back inside myself to remember, to feel again what it was like in that place. It’s been six years this month. I find it interesting that the exact dates are lost to me. I know I spent my anniversary and Mother’s Day in this place. My first hours hold the most pain.
The door didn’t hit him in the ass when he left. He was well beyond the door before it clicked closed. He never looked back. I know. I watched. I pleaded. I screamed. I sobbed. He walked away.
I had to try. I had to reach my hand to the doorknob. I had to waste the effort. Trapped. Isolated. Appropriate.
I sought escape. I may have earned this but I didn’t want it. I didn’t want to be in a locked room. I didn’t want a wire-filled window separating me from the world. I didn’t want my daughter to turn 15 without me. I didn’t want my 20th anniversary to come and go unacknowledged. I didn’t want to chew through my lower lip.
Sinking my fingernails into my arms, I turned to catalog my chamber. Do you remember those couches from the 70s? A version of hives erupted if flesh dare touch the brown and orange plaid fabric. A student’s desk. You know the type – those one-armed wooden contraptions from high school. Comfortable if you’re right handed, miserable if you’re a southpaw. I’m left handed. I’m also fat. If I dared sit – which I did not – I’d be vivisected. Would I be rescued if I choked on my own stomach?
Piercing deeper into my arms and lips, I found nothing to settle me. No clock. No books. No magazines. No writing supplies. I’d learn later that pens are instruments of death. Four faded yellow walls. Is yellow supposed to be calming? Orange plaid combined with yellow walls. Calming or nauseating? You decide.
No window to the outside world. No, that’s not strictly true. The security window in the door. That window revealed my new normal.
My normal now required locks, break-free mirrors, bathroom monitors. How does a 45-year old woman take a shit with someone watching? Hairy legs and harrier armpits waited. Steak is hard to eat with a breakable fork. For some reason I never understood, the beds were covered in plastic sheeting. Menopausal women and plastic sheets do not work. Night sweats anyone? Seems to me it’d be easier to suffocate myself with plastic than Egyptian cotton. Maybe I’m just more creative than the other prisoners.
Did I say prisoners? I meant patients. Didn’t I?
Refusing to consider the stains, I paced industrial carpet. I counted each step. One, two, three, four, five. Five steps, turn, repeat. Peering through the window. More yellow walls. More brown-splotted carpeting. I discovered no one. I heard nothing. Bloody lips do smell like iron. I paced for 5,621 steps. How long did that take? Time may be mysterious, but thirst, hunger and an engorged bladder are not. Loneliness takes shape, becomes substance. I’m alone with the most frightening person in my world. Me. Just me.
I may have earned this but I didn’t want it. I didn’t want to be in a locked room. I pleaded. I screamed. I sobbed. No one came.
I was in that room for over 3 hours. Forgotten. As it happens, a young woman attempted suicide within seconds of my arrival and the entire staff focused on helping her and getting her the necessary treatment. It was a Saturday so the staffing was limited and I became a lower priority. Rationally, I understand and I believe the staff did the right thing. Emotionally, even six years later, this event angers me, still lives in me – you see, I can still feel the fear of being trapped in that room, scared of who I was, scared of what I’d be.
There was a phone in the room. I picked it up. It automatically began to ring, and ring, and ring, and ring. The number keys did not work. I found out later that the phone was a direct line to the nurse’s station for that building. A direct line nurses who were unavailable. A direct line to no one.
I’m sure there are many learning experiences here. But, for me, the one that I hold on to is this: do not enter a rehab facility on a weekend or at night. Enter a rehab facility in the middle of the day, in the middle of the week, when it’s staffed with fulltime employees who know the process and can move through it quickly.
I was at an excellent facility. My experience, I pray, was an anomaly. Still, it was my experience and it is haunting.
This is how I remember it. This is not how it was. I know you were in as much pain as I. You did not want to leave me in this place. You wanted to turn back, to rescue me, to take me home and heal me yourself. I never thanked you – but, the truth is, I would not have ever returned if I had not stayed in that place. I appreciate your strength, your courage. Without you in my corner, I would have not survived the before, the during or the after.
I have many memories of my time in rehab. If these help you in any way, please let me know and I'll tell more. I'm not embarrassed or ashamed of this experience. I just don't think of it often but am willing to do so if you'd find it beneficial in some way.
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