Artwork by Amaya Mikolic-Berrios / North by Northwestern

Content warning: This story discusses suicide and mental health crises. For support, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255.

14:00. This looks like a jail, I thought to myself. Except, instead of bars there was a wall of glass. The other three walls were pastel periwinkle and bare, except for an intercom and a hair that was stuck to the paint. I was sitting on a cot in the middle of the room with a thin blue blanket wrapped around me, trying to hide the fact that my too-big scrubs kept slipping and showing my naked side.

Across the room was another glass wall with all the staff in it. They were more entertaining than the TV to the right of me that was playing Friends, “The One with Ross’s Wedding.” There was Mike, the muscular guy that let people in and was typing away at a computer. Pete was filling out documents when he wasn't scurrying back and forth sterilizing supplies. Then Jess was clipping papers to a board and putting gloves on. She came to my cell and opened the door, which made a sucking sound as though the room was vacuum-sealed.

“I’m going to ask you some questions,” she said and crouched down in the corner. I would have offered her a seat on the bed, but somehow that seemed inappropriate, as though I shouldn’t be the one taking initiative. They were standard questions for the situation, I suppose.

When did it start? A month ago, I replied.

Has it happened before? Yes.

What did you do then? I tried…I couldn’t.

Have you tried this time? Not yet.

What’s holding you back? Family–no that’s not true. I’m too tired to try again.

Does the idea scare you? No.

I wonder if she thought I was a lost cause then. Her brow was knitted with worry, but her black eyes remained impenetrable.

Ever since preschool, I’ve had a habit of wringing my hands and rubbing my fingers when I’m stressed. That probably didn't help the look of things, since by the time she left the room, my hands were all red and scratched up. After she left, I had nothing better to do than watch the staff and other patients while absent-mindedly slipping the hospital band on and off my wrist. I chuckled to myself that it would be easier to hatch an escape plan. It felt weird to laugh — even silently — in a place like this.

I looked down at the grip socks they had given me to put on. They had little smiley faces on them and said ‘perfect paws’, which I thought was weird. Ironically, they made me smile a bit. In their contrived attempt at optimism, the ridiculousness of their infantile joy in this hospital was enough to distract me. Happy socks, I thought. I slid them back and forth across the linoleum tiled floor so they would make squidgy noises. They were pulled all the way up to try to hide my unshaven legs.

Jess came back and explained what was going to happen next. Jess was nice. Jess was normal. I think she cared.

15:00. Two people came into the hospital wing through a door I hadn’t noticed before, opposite the one I had come in through. The blond woman was wearing a lab coat and holding a very professional looking notepad; I didn’t pay attention to the guy that was with her. They talked to Jess for a bit, then came toward my room. I got all tense. I figured the guy would stay outside, but he came in with her. She introduced herself – I think she was a doctor or specialized nurse or something, and the guy was a med student that was shadowing her. I didn’t look at him.

She began asking the same questions as Jess. I glanced at her and saw that her pupils were only tiny pin pricks within her icy blue eyes. They startled me, so I looked at the bottom of the wall in front of me where the metal bar had its white paint rubbed off and dust had accumulated. She finished her questions, and I hadn’t even teared up, though my voice was shaky at times. I thought that they would leave, but then she turned to the med student and asked if he had any questions.

His voice shook me out of my intent stare at the wall.  I looked at him for the first time. He asked "good" questions. I know I was a case study for him – practice – but he didn’t need to make me feel like a wounded animal. I wasn’t a person anymore; I was reduced to a textbook example. I shrank more into my blanket, crushing my hands between my knees until my knuckles turned white.

They finally left and I thought I would start crying. Instead, I just felt numb. It wasn’t me anymore, this wasn’t happening to me anymore; I was just a girl and they were just people and I was somewhere far away.

15:30. Blonde lady and the med student left. Finally. Pete came out with a cup, and I knew what was going to happen next. For the fact that it was completely empty, the bathroom was huge.

Like a jail. Just a small metal toilet with a roll of toilet paper balanced in a crack in the wall, plus a metal sink with knobs instead of faucets. The sink was wet so it obviously worked, but I couldn’t figure out how to get the water to come out. Nasty, but I’ll blame it on my disorientation.  

Walking back to my room, I saw they had brought another woman in, and she was completely still on the bed with the blanket slouched around her. We probably all looked like that, like zombies with deadness in our eyes. I knew I looked like shit, but at least I had remembered to take off my eyeliner before leaving so I wouldn’t have a mess all over my face.

Jess came back after a bit. Adolescent psychiatric ward, a few days, medicine, side effects, immediate assistance, long waitlists. “Let me think about it.”

I didn’t want to go. Would anyone? We’ve all seen the movies; places like these are how you get haunted or murdered. But she had a point about the medication. It would take forever to get some if I left now, what with psychiatry waitlists. When Jess came back, I asked if I would be able to do school while I was there. She didn’t know and called the director of the ward to see.

16:00. A round man with glasses came in. He had a lab coat on that looked more like a chef’s uniform than a psychiatrist’s, complete with suspicious stains on the front.

“I hear you’re the smart girl who wants to know if school is permitted at the facility,” he said while folding up his glasses. “We cannot have schoolwork while you are there, but don’t worry, I’ll make sure all your teachers understand that they cannot penalize you for missing assignments.”

That wasn’t the issue. Jess would have known what I meant. She understood how much worse I would feel if I couldn’t keep up with work. I kept trying to explain, but I couldn’t. He said I would have to stay here the night before I would be moved to the ward at some point the next day. No way in hell. He left with a sigh that said I had wasted his time.

Nothing to do but wait now. I lay down on the cot, no longer caring who or what had been on it before me, and let a tear dribble out. I watched the digital clock change, 16:36, 16:37. They had it in military time since there were no windows to tell if it was night or day in there. Pete came in, and I shot up as though I was trying to hide that I had been resting.

“Is it ok if I draw some blood?” he said. He had a big plastic watch that dwarfed his thin wrists. I’ve been through this countless times; he didn’t have to tell me which arm, or to make a fist, or to release my hand. Usually, I don’t look as the blood comes out, but this time I did. I guess I didn’t care enough to get squeamish.

I lay down again and waited. Jess had told me I would get discharged that night.

17:00. Another lady came in through the side door of the hospital wing, and she looked so odd that I figured she must be a patient, until she came into my room.

She was very tall, augmented by her clogs with four-inch wooden heels. She wore an olive-brown, ankle length tube skirt, and a real mink stole fastened just so. I watched her manicured hands as she pulled out a cutesy notebook and pen. On her eyelids were stripes of white glitter and her eyelashes were about an inch long, extended by willpower and two bottles of mascara. Her eyes transfixed me with a captivating horror.

“I hear you’ve just been having a horrible time!” Her artificially sweet voice rang out and made the room shrink. She craned over me while introducing herself, and I felt like a toddler.

Her tone never wavered and each question made me hate the world more and more. “Are you going to kill yourself?” That will be forever stuck in my head in her saccharine voice. It echoed in my mind until I whispered a defeated, “I don’t think so.” She finally left, but the phantom reverberations of her speech made me feel emptier than ever, like the cheeriness of her voice had sapped the last reserves of my energy.

18:00. I was impatient now. I wanted to get the fuck out. I wanted my comfortable sweats and real shoes and I wanted to forget that any of this had happened. But I had to satisfy myself with watching Pete highlight things in my discharge packet and Jess pack up so I could go home.

Mike opened my paper bag and took all my clothes out. Finally I could change; I felt like I needed to rub out the shame from wearing those scrubs. No shoes, those were a clobbering hazard probably, but I honestly didn’t mind the happy socks so much. They made me smile in a sort of cynical way.

18:07. Pete gave me my discharge papers, I signed them and Mike escorted me out after taking my discarded scrubs and happy socks. I was kind of sad to see them go. In those four hours and seven minutes of shame and paralyzed tears, they were the only thing that gave me any semblance of feeling. I wish I had asked to keep them.