Dispatches from the psych ward: A Walk

When you’re in the midst of suicidal depression, you wouldn’t think that something as insignificant like boredom and monotony would get to you. But when you’re inside the psych ward, it somehow gets to you in a way that is more profound. The psych ward isn’t like it is on TV. There is no group therapy sessions, there’s no one-on-one with a therapist, frankly, you’re lucky if you get to talk to the psychiatrist at all.

They do the intake, pump you with pills, and leave you to stare out a window.

The only sense that you get that any one cares at all is when they’re performing medical tests, but even those lack bedside manner. I have foggy memories of being woken by nurses drawing my blood for lithium levels. They couldn’t be bothered to do the humane thing and wake me up. Instead, I would wake, bleary eyed, semi-stoned by sleeping medication, mid blood-draw. Sometimes I was too fucked up by medication and would fall back asleep, dreaming of vampires with their daggered teeth sucking on my arm.

bird cage

Image courtesy of Gratisopgrahy

Of course I had brought books with me to the hospital — I don’t go anywhere without something to read. But the meds or the depression, or both, made it impossible to read. I would spend several minutes staring at the words on the page, watching them dance around before giving up in frustration. Besides, when people are screaming or arguing, concentrating on a story isn’t possible. Ever the writer, I also always have a journal with me. But just like reading, writing was just as fruitless. I tried writing about being in the hospital, it could be fodder for a novel someday, but the words just wouldn’t come. It was like a mental damn had been put between my brain and the pages.

Everything felt so damn pointless.

After several days of trying to read and write, I finally gave up. Sleep was the only thing that made it feel like time was passing in the hospital. So, my goal was to sleep until they decided I could go home, but even that was taken from me. Inevitably a nurse on her rounds would rouse me.

“You can’t stay in bed all day, you know. Get up!”

“Why? What’s the point?” I asked. “There’s nothing to do.”

“You could socialize with other patients. You could start a board game with some of them.”

I rolled my eyes, pulling the scratchy, over starched hospital sheet over my head.

“Well you can’t stay in here.” She pulled the blanket off my head and practically pulled me out of bed. She guided me to the red, faux-leather chairs that lined the hallway. They all faced a wall-to-wall window that looked into a small courtyard. It was double sided glass so that we could watch people coming and going outside, but they couldn’t see onto the ward. There was a nurse eating lunch in a gazebo. “I don’t care if you sit here all day, but it’s better than being in bed.”

And so I sat there, staring out at the window, thinking about how much I hated her, this place, and my illness.

“It’s time for the nature walk,” the nurse who had roused me from bed announced. She had gotten me out of bed, but I was not going to go on a nature walk. Who were they fooling anyway? We were in the middle of a suburban city, the only nature was Lake Ontario and it was a cesspool of toxic sludge.

“I’m not going,” I replied, without looking away from the window.

“Why not?” She asked.

“I don’t want to.”

“Well, there’s nothing wrong with your legs so you’re going.”

“I thought these activities were voluntary?” Ha! I caught her there. These activities were supposed to be completely voluntary but they couldn’t force me to do anything I didn’t want to do.

“You are expected to participate and if you don’t it will be noted.”

Ah, the dreaded, this will be put in your file for the psychiatrist to use against you argument. Thinking on my feet, I said: “I can’t go for a walk. These meds are making me dizzy and I’m afraid I’ll pass out.”

“Stop lying. You’re going for the walk.”

“I’m not lying.” It was a total lie. but I wasn’t being argumentative just for the sake of arguing with her and making her day as miserable as mine was. Although, I knew some people in here who used to bother the nurses because it was about the only fun thing to do in here.

The reality was that I was terrified of running into someone I knew. The hospital was right on Lake Ontario and the boardwalk. It was inevitable that the “nature” walk included walking along the water. Hanging out by the lake was what everyone my age did. It was a beautiful spring day, there would be hordes of them. What if I saw someone I went to high school with? How would I explain the hospital bracelet and the group of weirdos I was with?

“When you see the psychiatrist, you can tell him about the meds making you dizzy, but I think the fresh air will be good for you.”

I sighed. It wasn’t in my nature to be argumentative and between the depression and medication, this was all the fight I had in me. I conceded and joined the group that was getting ready to leave.

The psych ward was on the first floor of the hospital and we had to walk through the main entrance to get outside. We left the ward, following a nurse like a gaggle of ducklings following their mother. Another nurse brought up the rear. I could feel the judgement as people entering the hospital stared at us, wondering where our little rag tag crew came from.

We walked down a slope and through a parking lot to get to the boardwalk. I had been here so many times with my friends, eating ice cream, laughing and shoving. My current boyfriend told me he loved me in this very spot. There was a compass painted on the ground and if you stood in the centre and spoke, your voice would echo back. I don’t know why they had made it that way.

I look ahead and see a woman walking her dog. Anxiety creeps into my body. What if it is someone I know? I slow my pace and move away from the centre of the compass where the rest of the group was testing out the echo. I face the rocky shore, pulling the cuff over my hospital bracelet and watch the water.

Virginia WoolfIt is still early spring and despite the cold wind, the sun is warm on my face. The fresh air making the stench of the hospital a distant memory.

As I watched the water hit the rocks along the shoreline, all I could think of was Virginia Woolf’s suicide. With rocks in her pockets, she walked into the River Ouse. Leaving a note to her husband that read, “Dearest, I feel certain I am going mad again.”

The landscape transforms before me and I can see Woolf walking into the depths of the water. She looks back and her face is my own. I can feel the frigid water of Lake Ontario soaking through my clothes. I hold the heaviest rock I can carry in my hands. The current carries me like I weigh nothing into the middle of the lake. Between the weight of the rock and my clothes, I am drowning.

And then I hear the voice that wakes me from my fantasy, “You’re straggling behind Marisa.”

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