I was in a small room across from a desk in a small office without any windows. The office was not specific. The desk did not belong to anyone in particular. There was nothing in the room that would indicate this was an office in a psychiatric ward at a hospital. There were no scales or any sort of medical apparatus in the room. There was only a desk with a chair behind it and a chair in front. There were a few posters on the wall, which were more like pharmaceutical advertisements than anything else.
Near the door, which was wide opened to the hospital wing, there was a clear plastic shelf with pockets for different pamphlets about depression and mental illness. Most of the pockets were empty. Some pockets on the clear plastic shelving were cracked—perhaps as a sign of age, or maybe the plastic trays were cracked as a result of a meltdown or mental skirmish from an uncontrollable patient.
Outside the office, the corridor was like a corridor in any hospital one could imagine. There were patient rooms, which were numbered, and spaced out along the hallway with lightly stained wooden doors.
The overhead fluorescent lighting was brightly lit in a row of fixtures down the middle of the ceiling. There was the calmly announced requests for a doctor or nurse on a P.A. system to ring through the secured section of the hospital.
The white tiled floor was shiny and waxed clean. There was a line of dark blue tiles that bordered along the sides of the floor and butted against the two-tone walls, which were painted a soft blue at the bottom half and white at the top.
As I waited to be seen, an older man dragged his feet down the hallway. He wore a flannel robe over his pajamas. The old bearded man dragged his feet down the corridor with the sound of his slippers scuffling along the floor.
The older man was doing something known to those in the psych ward as the Thorazine shuffle. This meant he was heavily mediated and he was kept that way to keep the old man from being harmful to himself or to anyone else.
I waited for what seemed like hours to be met by a middle-aged, soft spoken man. Though he appeared to by somewhat young, this man’s hair was salt and peppered. He wore gold, wire-rimmed glasses, a pair of comfortable slacks, comfortable shoes, a dress shirt, and a white lab coat with an I.D. tag pinched to lapel by a silvery little clamp.
He was a man without an accent. I assumed he was from someplace in Middle America. He spoke nicely, and greeted me politely. But carried a clipboard—and I always hated speaking to anyone that carried a clipboard.
“I hope you weren’t waiting too long,” the doctor said before introducing himself.
“No,” I answered, but that was a lie.
The doctor asked, “Do you want to tell me why you’re here?”
“Not really,” I answered.
“Do you know why you’re here,” he asked.
I nodded my head.
All I kept thinking about was the smell of the ward and its overwhelming aroma of cleaning solutions they used to mop the floors with. I kept thinking about the sound of tones that came over the speakers for the P.A. system.
I thought about the sad old man in the flannel robe and pajamas as he drooled and shuffled down the corridor.
Then I thought about all the people I knew. I thought about the friends I had. Or better yet, I thought about my so-called friends; the ones that were friends with conditions. I thought about the life I lived and my regrets. At this moment above all, however, all I thought about was my rage and the marks around my neck.
I wanted to curl up somewhere and hide but there was no place far that the rest of me couldn’t follow. I wanted the world to stop—but it didn’t. I wanted the thoughts to go away. I wanted the pain to stop and I wanted the inner voice to leave me alone.
“I’m not staying here,” I told the doctor.
“Who said you’d have to?” he asked.
“I’m just telling you right now. I’m not staying here.”
The doctor was well mannered. He was good at what he did. Although I became panicked, he remained calm—even when I was too excited, the doctor remained calm. He smiled politely. On occasion, he wrote down a few notes on his clipboard.
The doctor explained, “Well, I can’t help you if you won’t talk to me. And if you don’t talk to me, I can’t let you leave here.”
I quickly interrupted him. “I’m not staying.”
“You might not have a choice.”
I told the doctor, “You’re not putting me on flight deck.”
I warned him as if I was tough enough to sway the doctor’s decision.
Flight deck is another name for the psychiatric wing of a hospital.
As calmly as he could, the doctor informed me, “You tried to hurt yourself. And the law says, if you try to hurt yourself –then we have to protect you.”
“It’s really just as simple as that,” he said.
Again, the doctor asked, “Why did you want to hurt yourself?”
All I kept thinking about was waking up on a cold tiled floor in a bathroom. I thought about that first moment of realization. I thought about the noose that let go of my neck.
I woke up on the floor and realized that I was still alive.
In spite of my efforts; I survived myself.
In truth, I cannot say if I wanted to die as much as I wanted to find a way to put the Earth on pause.
In all honesty, I cannot say if death is what I wanted; I can only tell you I wanted the world to stop. Only, the world never does.
I wanted the thoughts in my head to stop spinning. I wanted the fear in my head to go away. I wanted to feel, “Normal,” instead of feeling as if I never fit, or even belonged.
“You have to talk to me, son.” said the doctor in an assuring voice
As calmly as he could, the doctor informed me, “You have to talk to me. Otherwise, I can’t let you leave.”
How do you talk to someone in a white lab coat with a clipboard?
How do you tell someone your true feelings if they have the power to lock you up?
How do you speak out and say the things you never dared to tell anyone?
How do you talk to anyone when you’ve always kept the deepest, darkest truths hidden behind a closed mouth or lying eyes? If everything was always pretend and life was forced or coerced; if I always hid behind an image like a shield to protect myself; how could I be honest now that I had nothing to hide behind anymore?
How do you look someone in the eye when you’re used to wearing a mask, only, now the mask is gone?
I thought I was crazy . . .
I saw the world as a chess game. Everything was a move. Everyone was a piece and whether they were a pawn, rook, knight, bishop or queen—everyone moves to close in on the king.
This is not to explain that I saw myself like a king; however, this is to detail the laboring concerns behind my depression. Everyone had an angle and everyone was out to get me
Deep down, I thought everything was a joke. Everyone else was in on it and sadly, I was either the sum of one or two things; either I was the last to get it, or worse, I was the punchline.
This is why I was tired . . .
I was tired of moving pieces on the chess board (so to speak) .
I was tired of feeling so raw, so crucially misfitting, and so inwardly weak and frightened. When the decision came to put an end to it all, I had to move quickly.
Before my visit to the hospital, I was a patient in a drug treatment facility. As a result of a poor behavior, I was confronted by my peers in a group counseling session. In a word, I felt humiliated. My lies were exposed and my manipulation fell short. After 45 minutes of confrontation, I stormed out of the group session and made my way to my bedroom.
“I’ll show them,” I said to myself.
In order to move forward with this; I had to let the anger consume me. Otherwise, whatever small glimmer of hope that remained could take away or cancel my decision to end this riddle we choose to call life.
I saw my anger like a chemical reaction. I took off in a sense. When the rage set in, I chose to feed from it. The reaction was as volatile as a matchstick when it ignites after being struck against the side of a matchbox. The flame was on. Now all I needed to do was have the courage to go through with it.
I had these thoughts for so long.
I thought this was me.
“It’s just who I am,” I thought to myself.
“This is just me.”
How could I tell someone else what I thought?
How could I explain myself to a man with an Ivy League education, diplomas, a good job, and probably living in a nice house with a few kids, a two car garage, and a beautiful wife? More importantly, how do I tell him that I was terribly afraid and deep down, I thought I was crazy?
The doctor asked, “Do you know the difference between you and crazy people?”
He told me, “Crazy people don’t think they’re crazy.”
He told me, “You’re not crazy, Ben”
then he asked, “But don’t you think it’s time you give yourself a break?”
The doctor explained, “The rest of your life can start right now, Ben.
All it takes is a decision on your part.”
Of all I remember from my time in treatment; I remember this line most.
The rest of your life can be different.
All it takes is a decision . . .
I was so young and so desperate to live that dying seemed to be my only option. I wanted to feel as if I belonged. I wanted to feel what everyone else felt.
I wanted to smile like others did. I wanted to see things the way I assumed others saw things.
In my case, depression is like a film that covers over me. It mutes color and distorts laughter. It rearranges facts into images that I misconstrue and make into some form of terrible catastrophe.
In my experience, I can see when the depression is coming. I can tell when the feelings are about to come my way. Or as I explained, I can tell when the matchstick is about to strike along the side of the matchbox. And for my own wellness; I’ve had to learn how to avoid this process.
Once a match strikes, it burns. There is no other option. My depression works in a similar way. I didn’t stay in the hospital. The doctor allowed me to return back to my treatment facility where I finished my 28 days of drug rehabilitation.
I am sober 25 years now. I still handle my depression and I still continue to take steps to keep the matchstick from striking against the side of the mathcbox (so to speak).
The rest of my life was different from that point on
And all it took was a decision . . .
Suicide is not the answer