I am currently writing a book about one of my most traumatic and difficult struggles with depression. It chronicles the events surrounding a suicide attempt and subsequent hospitalization. Here is the first draft of the first chapter:
CHAPTER 1 Admission
“Marble-heavy, a bag full of God” –Sylvia Plath
The cop dropped me off at the emergency room. Not the normal ER that you’ve been to, this emergency room was high security, locked doors, and handcuffs. There were no beeping machines, no smell of antiseptic or citrus Pine-Sol. There were no I.V.s or hospital beds even, no medical staff running feverishly in figure-8s to keep up. Unfortunately for me, there wasn’t even a TV on the wall in my room, with those three channels showing weather, reality car-mechanic shows, and cooking, which might have bored me to death any other day, but today, I thought, I’d kill for.
Maybe the alcohol contributed to my confusion, but it was so quiet and bare, I wasn’t entirely sure it was a hospital at all and wondered if the police officer hadn’t accidentally dropped me off at some dorm-style Motel 6? As far as I could see, there were no more than two or three other patients in the wing and they were just napping in the lounge—no sign of treatment, no syringes in their inner elbows, no interaction with the staff. They just laid there in the recliners passively letting the TV rain on them like beached whales with blankets. The nurses, behind thick glass, were laughing and chatting—So aggressively paying me no attention that I wasn’t sure I was even there.
I was still drunk and wasn’t sure if my disorientation was due to my inebriated state or if this really was a strange place (Was the red head who’s sleeping on the recliner a nurse or a patient? Those are scrubs, but surely a nurse wouldn’t pass out in the lounge?).
I went to rest in my room. There were no windows in the building, so I wasn’t entirely sure if it was time for bed or I was just exhausted from being so historically drunk for so long. Instead of one of those $10,000 hospital beds that incline and decline, lift your legs and roll large balls through the mattress every ten minutes so you don’t get bed sores, my bed is a small thin mattress, or maybe a large thin pillow, atop a short plastic box with no corners to speak of.
The police officer had taken my possessions, including my cell phone. Fortunately, I’m allowed to use the hospital’s phone to make as many calls as I want. Unfortunately, in 2015, remembering the phone number of someone you love is a lost art, and thus, permission to use the phone, a wasted privilege. In addition, the hospital’s phones are landlines, next to the nurses, in effect nullifying my number one reason to call anybody in the first place: to complain about how much this facility and its staff suck!
It turned out, the staff wasn’t so bad; They were nice enough to search my imprisoned possessions for my phone, so I could retrieve a number. The process takes about an hour for each number, but what else did I have to do? I called a few key people, one from each group of friends and family, so as to make as few calls as possible, to let them know that I am, indeed, alive.
“Hey dad, just wanted to let you know I’m fine.”
“Sarah, hey, I’m at the hospital just south of…”
“James, you should be the first to know…”
“What’s up Jeremy? Yo, I was wondering if you can tell our landlord that my rent is gonna be a little late? I’m not sure when I’ll get back to the house.”
My buzz had begun its descent. I was still drunk, but now I was also hung-over. I was sliding from painfully bored to painfully spasmodic. I wasn’t sure if one day had passed or two. I had drunk so much the past few months that my liver was weak and aching. At first I had accumulated a flush tolerance to alcohol—I could out-drink a sink. Eventually, I had gone full circle, overworking my liver to the point of paralysis. One drink became enough to have me drunk for hours, and, as many as I had drank… I was dying to see how long that would do me.
When my first visitors arrived, the nurse informed me I had been there for four hours. I sailed into the visitors’ bay, still three sheets to the wind. Ashley was my ex of nearly 10 years, off and on, all together. She was who called the police, who, in turn, brought me to the hospital.
Sarah’s nickname in high school was Casper because her skin is so pale. Since we met, during freshmen orientation, 18 years earlier, her hair had been light blonde in high school, red during the summer after graduation, brown in college, and for the decade we were lovers, black, at my behest—hair that was so straight and brightly black, like streams of obsidian fireworks shooting down her back. Sarah and I were exact opposites in everyway possible: I liked steak and bacon; She was vegan. I like spicy foods and beverages; She liked white rice. I backpacked through other continents sleeping in decrepit hostels and alleys; she wouldn’t go anywhere out of the country and wouldn’t even think about staying anywhere but a nice hotel. She didn’t particularly like drinking; I couldn’t live without a buzz. We were an odd couple, but we did have one thing in common. We love each other with the ferocity that a pit-bull loves a steak bone.
Katie is a very old friend from college. She is a miniature Latina with tiny tornados of curly brown hair and a strong personality who isn’t afraid of life. She feels as comfortable in a mob, fighting the police in protest as she does in the yoga pants and multicolored Air-force 1s she was wearing, like she is as comfortable discussing the virtues of democratized agricultural models as debating who was more ill—Tupac or Biggie?
The room was just outside the safe zone, on the regular side of the hospital’s double doors. I was anxious about seeing anyone I know and forgot to smile as I entered the small beige room they’d been waiting in. I looked at them a beat, walked over, and sat in front of them. I was in pain and I was numb, not just at this moment, but for a very long time. In front of me was Ashley, the person who had called the cops, who would not let me end my suffering. She took away my salvation—yet, she immediately visited me and told me she loved me, that she couldn’t live with me gone—If I felt anything at all, it would have been ambivalence.
Sarah: “How are you? You look tired. I called your dad. He said he’d call you.”
Me: “Yeah, I talked to him already.”
Katie: “The nurse that let us in, said we can bring you stuff. I could get you some magazines. I’ve got a whole pile I need to do something with. I bet there’s not a whole lot to do in there.”
Me: “Yeah, that’d be good.”
Sarah: “ Are you alright? You seem really out of it. Did they give you some drugs or something?”
“No”, I said, annoyed, “I’m fucking depressed. I’m in agony. I can’t sleep, or eat or have three thoughts without one of them being a fantasy of bashing my head over the brick wall, and it’s so vivid and pulling that I’m not sure I can stop myself from doing it. I’m afraid of my own body! I don’t know what I’m gonna do to myself. Every second, every piece of my body is wracked. I can hardly walk. The only drug I’m on is Dying and I can’t fucking stand it!”
Leading with tears, Sarah inhales, deeply, and begins, “I’m so sorry….I wish there was something I could do for you. Is there anything I can do for you? Anything. Is there something I can do for you, Phil?” I hate to make my misfortunes anyone else’s problem, but I can’t help but be honest here; I didn’t have the energy to formulate a fairy tale.
I took leave first; If they had left first, I would have been alone, until the nurse came back.
I continued playing musical chairs between my room and the lounge, neither upset nor relieved that I was once again alone. At “Lights out”, the nurse was nice enough to give me a sleeping pill. I am an Insomniac; I never could sleep well in the first place and these withdrawal symptoms made falling asleep like trying to whisper a locomotive to a halt, without brakes. All I could do is think: I should have finished. Then I wouldn’t have to endure this. I’m going to die in here now, a slow, excruciating death by liver failure. Why the fuck…? I couldn’t slow down my train of thought enough to jump off and roll out. It wasn’t until 6 a.m. or so that I had finally sunk into sleep, a few minutes before the nurse came to wake me up for breakfast. She insisted I get up at 6:15 because the police would arrive soon to take me to the next hospital, one with a more indefinite admittance period.
I tried to figure out how to get out of bed. I was used to sleepless nights, but it had been a sleepless week. A cocktail of drugs, withdrawal, and no sleep had me in a mildly hallucinatory state. I had to vomit. Most people throw-up if they drink too much alcohol. I throw up when I haven’t had enough. My body’s physiology floated on a steady river of alcohol and when that stream got too low, my blood vessels remained stagnant. I’d have a shot when I woke up. I would bring a bottle of Minute Maid orange juice to work everyday, half vodka, to drip, like an I.V., incrementally throughout the day. Then, once home, I’d really be cooking with gas.
I hadn’t had a drink since yesterday, so there was nothing I could do to stop myself from vomiting. The staff saw me throwing-up in my bed, but kept passing, bored. They weren’t surprised. They’d seen me many times before, in other people’s bodies, faces.
Just getting out of bed is a whole production, but the nurse informs me that I must eat and get ready as soon as possible. My cadaver is useless; It takes nearly 5 minutes to traverse the lounge to my tepid breakfast (Lounge? Really? Like they’re handing out dirty gin martini’s while Sinatra serenades the shaking psychos choking down possibly plastic eggs). After chewing for a half hour, I finish a bite of toast, realizing this is the first food I’ve eaten in 3 days. Like a vegan, pigging-out on eggs and bacon for the first time in years, my body wasn’t ready for food; I became ill immediately and shivered back to my room, watching the door for police.
Every 15 minutes, for four hours, the police were 15 minutes away. I begged for a Xanax or a Valium, anything to stop the incessant itching and sweating, anything to let my dry skin heal and my moist clothes dry. They won’t give me a single pill—that’s for my next doctor to decide. So Where the Fuck Is He! You wake me up at 6 in the morning, after mere minutes of sleep, and hours later, not a single goddamn word!
Finally, my escort arrives. The head nurse assures the officers that I am “good and well behaved”. We drive across town to the next hospital and head upstairs to the psych ward. Admission takes forever, so I lay on the floor with the blanket I lifted from the previous hospital for a nap on the thin blue carpet. Of course, I am in too much pain to actually fall asleep. An hour of tossing and stressing had carried me to the nurse’s question, “Ready to see your room?” But before I’m allowed to see my room, I must strip naked for the staff to inspect my body for rashes that may cause the next outbreak.
I’ve been in hospitals before, more than any thirty year-old should. Besides the many broken bones from skateboarding in my youth and the four or five trips to the emergency room for a heart attack (which all turned out to be anxiety attacks), when we still lived together, Ashley was diagnosed with breast cancer and it wasn’t unusual to walk these sterile halls 3, 4, 5 times a week.
I was the only one in the ward in paper hospital clothes. Are all those people in the dayroom visitors? Who are they visiting? There’s not a single person in a gown or paper jump suit? Hoodies, jeans, shoes, socks that slip… I’m not ready to see real people, so I walk down the hallway to my room. The far wall has a hand-painted quotation on it: “A Journey of a Thousand Miles Begins with a Single Step—Lao Tzu”. My room had neither a lock nor a handle on the door. It just swung back and forth like the wooden saloon doors from an old western. There was nothing to do there, so I braved the dayroom. There were stacks of board games—Sorry, Monopoly, Candy Land, Cranium, etc. There were books, but all the intense or really good ones were missing—it was all pulp fiction and young adult. In the corner stood a cart full of colored pencils, Crayola crayons, construction paper and Elmer’s Glue. The lone TV had two English channels and four Spanish. Several puzzles laid, half finished, around the room on various tables and that’s when I realized I wasn’t in a hospital. I was in a day care.
My buzz from yesterday was finally completely gone and without alcohol on my side, all this was too much to take in. It had been months since I had been liquorless and every one of my nerves were exposed and being drilled—a root canal without anesthesia. Every individual object in the room was vibrating violently, all at different frequencies. The lighting was piercing and loud, a bully of a light. My heart pumped more blood than my arteries were built for and I could feel a pressure throughout my body from the inside, out. I realized, I might die and began to voice my mantra repeatedly, at the expense of looking foolish in front of these strangers: “Most people can’t, but I can. Most people can’t, but I. can. Most People Can’t. But I Can!” By sheer miracle, my doctor had just filled an order for my detox regiment. A nurse hands me two brilliant little pills, which I took with haste, spilling half the cup of water down my chin onto my paper shirt.
Valium latches to the same receptors as alcohol, so I got my first fix since my suicide attempt. I stopped twitching in excruciating pain, stopped sweating. I’m not exactly sure what I felt like—Not happiness or ecstasy, just numbness, a feeling I’m used to, a feeling I’m good at. And for the first time that week, I slept. I slept with a lion’s commitment. I slept with the deadness of space and the nothingness of numbers. Like a jui jitsu master, I was so aggressively yielding that I finally won a battle with my malicious mind, by succumbing to it.