April 22, 2013

Notes from the Asylum VII

One of the philosophies driving the treatment at the facility was socialization. Isolation is not good for mental health, and so interaction — not just in group therapy but even in times of recreation and relaxation — was one element of care. I am, by nature, an introvert and a loner, so this didn’t sit well with me. But I had no choice.

I already wrote about Jordan, but before I finish my own asylum story I thought I’d introduce you to some of the other damaged minds sharing the ward with me.


I couldn’t sleep last night, so I am sitting in the common room way too early, drinking coffee. Another early riser came into the room and introduced himself. Lake: tall, skinny, older black man with a goatee (all white) and glasses. Uses hand lotion before shaking hands (ugh). Lake appears to be the positivist in here. If he’s depressed, it doesn’t show in the way he moves about the place. Spring in his step and all that.

Lake is also the only other person I’ve seen in here so far journaling at all. He sits as a desk in his room and goes between his journal and copy of the Bible, writing stuff down. Later, he will sit in the common room and go over his notes. So, religious type. Might explain the positive attitude.

Lake, like Jordan, knows “the trick to getting out of here,” despite only being in his third day of a stay. It’s all about keeping your cool, playing along with the schedule, and taking whatever pills they offer you. So says Lake, so says Jordan. It’s apparently an open secret: smile, schedule, and swallow!


Maria: Older black woman, shuffles around like it’s an effort. Mumbles a bit. Stopped by long enough to pour a coffee and mutter that it was time for her to do her hair and get dressed “so’s I can feel better about myself.” And then she shuffled off, leaving a dirty water cup behind. She didn’t say, but I suspect she’s been here beyond her state mandate.


My roommate Mario was finally upright enough for a quick introduction. Black, bald, thirtysomething, almost certainly detoxing. He’s always cold, he says, and wears a blanket on his shoulders when he isn’t in bed. Which isn’t very often.


Just had a conversation with Mario, the one who sleeps all the time. Turns out he’s here running a racket. He was pulled in on a drunk & disorderly, and he has warrants out. So he began screaming that he was out of meds and hearing voices. He had been here before, apparently, using the same trick to get out of an arrest. And it worked! He’s here instead of jail.

They have him on the serious shit — the shit that stops people from hearing voices — so no wonder he’s sleeping all the time and cold whenever he’s awake. Those pills are not kiddie stuff. After a few days he says he’ll claim he no longer hears the voices, and he’ll be let out. Hell of a way to avoid jail time.


Group therapy was about what I expected it to be — a lot of mopey sharing followed by some vague positive sentiments. Learned a lot about people, though.

Omar threw himself in front of traffic. Maria was beaten & sexually assaulted as a child; Maria had her Social Security cut off; Maria is pretty messed up. Brad has a temper issue — smashing things; Brad has no friends and co-workers he doesn’t like talking to; Brad’s best friend is his wife; Brad hates “feeling like a paycheck.” I can really relate to Brad. Jordan claims PTSD with events in his past. Lake is really good at hiding his issues.


While I was sitting here writing, Mike came in. Over the course of our conversation, I learned that he’s pretty much a dick. He’s openly racist, described himself as “a skinhead” and “75% racist.” Why only 75%? Because “some of ’em ain’t so bad, and it’s not right to lump them in with their kin; there’s white niggers too, you know?” [I didn’t.] He also has a history of suicide attempts and the wrist scars to prove it. I’d probably want to kill myself too if I were a racist shitwipe.

What would the racist shitwipe do if he knew he was talking to a transgender? Probably best not to dwell on it (or find out).


Just had a talk with John P. Not sure if I mentioned him before. He’s tall with big grey hair & really short arms. He reminds me a little of both John Denver and John Lennon. He’s seriously depressed, and he has back pain, and he truly walks around as if being upright is an effort. His speech pattern is hesitant. His memory for names is not good. He’s a nice guy.

We talked about discharge & suicide, and I articulated to him some things I’ve been meaning to write down. Like, suicide is not something I will try again; like, Robin really does not love me anymore; like, I am prepared to move on. He agreed that moving on was a good thing (and kept insisting that maybe I could hook up with a student now — kinda creepy).

We also debated whether or not suicide is a selfish and/or cowardly act. That’s the standard line, but I don’t know if I buy it. Selfish, maybe, but cowardly? No. I was too cowardly to throw myself over that rail, not brave in my failure. Suicide is taking ultimate control of your life, in a way the ultimate empowering act. It’s why I support assisted suicide; there comes a time when one’s quality of life is not worth continuing. On that overpass, I think that my emotional quality of life was so low that it almost seemed not worth it. But now I need to move on.

That’s not everyone, but it’s everyone I wrote something down about. It was an interesting cross-section of humanity; it seems no one is immune to depression and self-destructive thoughts.

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  • I agree with you about the nature of suicide. It is not at all cowardly, but it IS extremely selfish. When you are in enough pain to contemplate/attempt suicide, you can’t see anything but your own pain. You can’t comprehend anyone else’s pain or feelings. It took me years to understand how my harming myself really affected my partner. I was just too blinded by my own pain. Now I have promised her not to do anything without telling her first; that way she won’t be taken by surprise.

    Now that you’re past your crisis, it’s time to consider other people’s feelings again.

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