In a group, they all laughed. It didn't take much to make them laugh, and once they started, it escalated within minutes, growing more out of control, as if they were trying to outdo each other in their maniacal hysterics.
I lay on my right side, staring at the gray wall in front of me and listening to them cackle and howl, their voices echoing through the day room. Even in the throes of my breakdown I knew the difference between them and me -- I was depressed; they were insane.
How did she get there?
, you might wonder. I was hospitalized after a suicide attempt in 2005. I was 27 years old. I woke up one Sunday morning and decided I was done; I slashed my wrists with a razor and hoped to die. Instead, I ended up in the psychiatric ward of Beth Israel hospital.
After a call to my sister, the EMTs barged into my apartment. They wiped the blood from my body, put me in restraints and away I went. I was violent, I was out of my mind, and for the weeks leading up to that day, my friends and family said they couldn't recognize me. I wasn't the girl they had known their entire lives; I was something -- someone -- else. I was broken, defeated, and I was succumbing to the depression with which I had been diagnosed when I was a kid.
Actual psychiatric wards are not like they appear in the movies. Your roommate doesn't look like Angelina Jolie, nor is there some Randle Patrick McMurphy hero type trying to organize a fishing trip for the floor. Instead, there is a distance that is kept, an invisible wall used as a divider among the patients, as if to say, "I'm not crazy. You are."
I watched the Bag Lady get locked up my first night in the hospital. She was a 6-foot-tall, balding woman who carried a pink straw bag all over the unit. What I gathered from her interactions with the staff was that she was a frequent guest in the ward. She lounged on the couch in the day room like something out of a Renaissance painting, as if she were waiting to be hand-fed grapes. Her skirt was hiked way past her knees, her legs spread in preparation of seducing whatever might walk past.
Bag Lady was constantly threatening a hunger strike. She'd yell it randomly, like she had just learned the term and was unsure what it meant -- the way a child makes her first tentative attempts at using the word "no." Her threats would get her restrained and, once in restraints, her pink bag would be confiscated, leading to a (highly contagious) screaming fit.
All it took was one person to fall apart and the other patients would quickly follow suit, scared to miss out on the hilarity. I, too, felt the need to scream along, because it seemed necessary to partake so as to blend in with the others. I never did though; I just continued to stare at my patch of wall.
No one on the floor seemed capable of keeping up with daily hygiene. My roommate, Frances, didn't own a toothbrush. It was as if death lived just behind her larynx, seeping out in its foulest forms every time she breathed. She was a woman in her 90s who thought she was 23. She spent the majority of her day hanging around my bed introducing and reintroducing herself to me. Every time she asked me my name I gave her another character from an F. Scott Fitzgerald novel; by the time I was released, two weeks later, I had exhausted every one of his heroines and moved on to Salinger's Glass family.
Frances was kind enough, but often forgot the bottoms of her scrubs. Several mornings she was ushered back into our room by a nurse reminding her that she needed to be fully dressed before going into the day room. Again, she'd tap me on my shoulder to ask me who I was, like a broken record without anyone to fix it.
Everything seemed to be on repeat in the hospital -- a systematic recorder that played the same segments over and over again: the ringing pay phone that was always for a patient named Lisa; the Jamaican nurses discussing what they tink of dis and tink of dat; Seymour, unshaven and wild, streaking the hallways and announcing he was about to do so before leaving his room; and the inevitable sobbing of Lisa as she pleaded with someone named Angel to get her out of there. Occasionally there would be a blip in the tape signifying a change on the ward -- a new patient, someone's breakdown, or an actual visitor. But all I could do was lie there and stare.
It's hard to explain to someone who's never suffered from some form of depression the nothingness that comes with feeling dead inside. Even a trained professional who has never experienced it can't fully understand the feeling. There are no accurate words or flowery euphemisms to describe it. There is no gray area; it's simply dead
. Since I was unable to communicate the reasons behind my actions, my team of doctors decided I should be kept in the hospital for 30 days.
After this suggestion, I called my parents. I began to cry for the first time in months. I feared 30 days evolving into 60, then 90, then, eventually, my being a permanent fixture like the Bag Lady or Frances. As I cried softly into the phone, a patient named Susan began to circle me. She counted the tiled squares beneath her feet, "Toe one, heel two, toe three, heel four ..." I hushed her, but she ignored me.
"Quit it!" I snapped. "I'm on the phone! Get some f**king manners!" A nurse came running over to inquire why I had just yelled. I hadn't yelled since the Sunday I was brought to the hospital; in fact, I had barely spoken at all. The nurse told me to calm down and led Susan away, but the damage was done: I was yelling in a loony bin -- I was finally one of them. After my outburst, my parents drove down from New Hampshire and demanded I be released into their custody. I checked out of Beth Israel the following afternoon.
For a long time, I kept this part of my past guarded like a dirty secret. It's only been in the last year that I've come to an understanding that my depression is an ongoing struggle, and that I'm not alone in that struggle. I've accepted my fate as someone who is going to have ups and downs; I understand that my depression is more than a side note, but rather a fact of who I am. I've ripped apart my thesaurus in an attempt to find a word that will satisfy or at least dignify the state of my brain, but there are no words. I'm simply a work in progress and, realizing that, I feel I'm halfway there ... although I'm still unsure where "there" is.
Amanda Chatel is a freelance writer and the snarky lass behind The Angry Office Manager – a sometimes inappropriate, and mildly offensive blog that was once about her former office manager days, but has evolved into a ranting and raving of this and that. She is a frequent contributor to The Gloss, Untapped New York, and writes the music column "Neither Here Nor There" for Sick of the Radio. She lives in New York City with her dog, Hubbell.
More on depression on AOL:
-- How I Finally Got Over My Mother's Death
-- Natural Ways to Beat the Blues
-- Common Myths About Depression