Psych Ward Royalty

I’ve finally been writing all of the stories and memoirs from my past that I’ve always wanted to write, but I’ve just been writing random paragraphs or  even just sentences as they come to me. Now I’m working on putting them in chronological order and cleaning them up. So here’s chapter one, “Psych Ward Royalty”

 

Perhaps I actually succeeded after all, I thought to myself,  and this isn’t really my life now at all– it’s Hell.

That was at least one way to explain how it came to be that I was sitting there in the common room of the Hillcrest Inpatient Psychiatric Unit, tucked away  in a corner by the nurse’s station away from the rest of the patients, in a hard plastic chair that seemed to have been expressly designed for discomfort and punishment. Someone had sat me there to wait while they gathered my files to prepare my intake paperwork– to await the moment when I would officially be an ‘inpatient’ while they prepared the files that would rob me of my freedom and most of my rights– but nearly thirty minutes had come and gone since then and still nobody had come to claim me. You know, looking back and considering all that I really was waiting on, you would think they could have offered me a more comfortable chair.

I had spent those thirty minutes observing some of the other people in the room, although I’m not sure that’s what you could call it. It was actually just a large space that connected the unit’s two wings– the great elbow joint of the psych ward– and served as a combination waiting room, lobby, visitation room, cafeteria, recreation center, and living room all at once, with the nurse’s station looming large and tall at the front of it all.

I observed the people that occupied this space with my vacant emotions ranging vaguely from disinterest to disgust– and underneath all, an overwhelming fear. The people gathered here were a mixed bunch, a few samples of all ages from both genders, and maybe one or two of them seemed like they might almost be as normal as me.. but most of the people I observed didn’t even seem like people at all, but more like ghosts, lost souls, or the exorcised demons of electroshock therapy. These wretches either shuffled around idly in bathrobes and slippers or loose-fitting hospital gowns (one man’s gown brazenly untied, his flat, milk-white ass on parade), or sat at tables fiddling with torn decks of cards or studying Find-A-Word puzzle books or simply staring at the walls, but their faces all shared the same defeated expressions, slackly open mouths and downcast eyes, and even their arms seemed to hang lifeless and heavy from their shoulders. Indeed, seeing so many people without a spark of life between them did little to help take away from my idea that I had never woken up from my experiment at all– that I was dead as well and this was the great waiting room of Hell. Maybe that’s why I’d been waiting so long, after all. It had nothing to do with unorganized files and unenthused staff, but they were simply summoning Satan himself to come and collect me. Certainly that would take some time, and was an honor I should appreciate. And to be honest, after all I’d just been through and the prospects of what lay ahead for me, that almost seemed a more comforting idea.

Hell wouldn’t be this cold, though, I reminded myself.

I shifted my weight in that cruel plastic chair and pulled my thin cotton blanket more tightly about my shoulders. It WAS unbelievably freezing in here– the cold was even seeping through my pajama pants from the chair to freeze my half-sleeping ass. My body gave a shiver and I sighed, wondering when someone would come to process me just so something different would happen. I gave up on my fantasy of Satan and scanned the small crowd in the common room again, looking for anyone who might prove to be a source of company, comfort, or entertainment. Someone else my age who wasn’t either completely insane or completely unintelligent; a nice grandmotherly figure who would look upon me with sympathy and soothe me while I cried; a gruff, smoky, middle aged woman who would be fun to commiserate and bitch with. At my last psych ward, I’d had several such friends, and it was their companionship that had gotten me through. We had kept each other laughing so often and loudly that at times my stomach would cramp up so hard I would end up doubled in half– and in places like these, that nervous, hysterical laughter was the water and air that kept you alive. It was either laugh hysterically or become hysteric. With those friends, my stint in the loony bin felt less like a reminder of my incompetence as a human being and more like a sleepover, and we threw a party in the common room when we were all luckily discharged on the same joyous day… Here, on the other hand, so far it seemed I’d have no such luck.

One of the nurses must have noticed me watching the people and mistaken my disdain for desire. “You can go on and join in with the other patients while you’re waiting, if you want to,” she said to me cheerily, in the tone a second grade teacher uses with a shy new student at recess. I looked at her and she smiled reassuringly, as if she thought I had been sitting there filled with anticipation and excitement, just dying to go join the catatonics in their drooling contest, but too scared of breaking the rules to leave my chair.

I gave her my recently trademarked vacant frown, and the smile slipped from her face for a moment. Just to ensure she didn’t suggest any other cheery socializing, I decided to drop my gaze to the floor and stare at my feet for awhile.

A few moments later, another pair of feet shuffled into my line of view. They were bundled in at least three pairs of hospital industry slipper socks, those ridiculously uncomfortable tube sock contraptions that are scratchy on the inside and covered in sticky strips for grip on the outside, and they had painfully swollen ankles that moved with the arthritic slowness of an old woman.

“Dr. Gabriel…” I heard the voice belonging to the feet croak out, and my face snapped up automatically, surprised at the sound of my name. Was this old woman crazy enough to mistake me for her doctor? My mouth opened dumbly to try and form some line of protest, but she continued to shuffle on past me to the nurse’s station without ever even having noticed my presence.

“Dr. Gabriel?” She said again when she’d finally reached the high counter. Only then did I notice the middle eastern man in doctor’s whites seated there shuffling through a stack of file folders. I noted the name tag on his jacket was printed “Dr. Ab Ghobrial”. Ghobrial, I thought, that can’t even be close to being pronounced as Gabriel. How could you be an inpatient at a psych ward and not know your own doctor’s name? The last time I’d been incarcerated in such a place, each patient spent an hour-long session, every single day, with his or her assigned doctor. I remembered my own sessions almost painfully, but they were crucial to recovery, and by the end of my stay I’d almost come to enjoy mine. I started to wonder if I’d be getting the same kind of program here, but then the doctor finally glanced up, his tan face plain and unremarkable, expressionless as well, and acknowledged her impatiently.

“Dr. Gabriel, could you please put an order in for me so the nurses will give me my tennis shoes? This floor, this floor is so cold on my feet, and with my arthritis my ankles–”

Well, maybe this woman’s just a little too batty to remember his name, I thought to myself. Surely if she thought she needed the doctor to write some sort of prescription just so she could wear tennis shoes, she had to have a couple more screws loose than usual. I never did get to find out what was going on with the arthritis in her ankles though, and neither did the doctor for that matter, because he silenced her with a wave of his hand.

“Yes, Linda, don’t worry,” he said in a heavily accented tongue. “I will put in the order before I leave so it will be processed over the weekend, no problem.”

The old woman named Linda looked as hurt as if he’d just insulted her. “The weekend?” she said in despair. “But doctor, it’s, today’s only Thursday. You mean I won’t get my shoes until Monday? And have to keep walking on this cold floor? My ankles are–”

“The Week End, Linda,” this doctor repeated, in a tone that brooked no more argument (and showed no more sympathy for her ankles). “I am going tonight and will not be here tomorrow Friday. The fastest the order can be processed is when I will return on the Monday. You will have the shoes then.”

I looked back down at my feet, shocked and terrified after hearing this exchange, and wondered just how much would be taken or denied from me. (However, it wouldn’t be long at all before I realized first hand just how little these doctors and nurses cared for the quality of life of their charges.) Looking at my feet, some panicked part of me thought I should go hide my sandals somehow before they were taken from me. Then I calmed myself, remembering that this wasn’t Nazi Germany and I wasn’t a Jew being hauled off to the work camps. Although didn’t they tell the Jews they were being sent to the camps for their own good, too? Even though I doubted my shoes would be taken from me, the cavalier behavior of that doctor continued to bother me. That Linda woman was obviously in pain– I could see that from the moment her swollen ankles invaded my view– and to make her wait from Thursday night until Monday afternoon just for shoes… I had already known from prior experience how three days in one of these places felt more like a week. And the doctor’s face hadn’t flinched once during the exchange, just kept that same look of impatience, waiting for her to go away so he could finish his paperwork. I began to worry if my own doctor would be as uncaring as that one, or if I should end up being assigned to his care myself, God forbid…

I wrapped that scratchy, cotton blanket around myself as tightly as I could, as if it were some cloak of protection, and my body shivered again. Until that moment, I didn’t realize how numb I’d really been, but now the reality of my situation was beginning to sink in with such a horrifying velocity I felt like I would vomit. I’d not even been there an hour, and already could tell I would be resigned to a stay (of an undetermined length of time) of freezing temperatures, bona fide lunatics, achingly dull loneliness, unorganized paperwork, incompetent or irritated staff, uncaring doctors, and to top it all off, I realized as my body gave a lurch and shivered again, it had been days since they’d given me ANY of my meds. I wrapped the blanket even tighter around myself, using all my strength to suppress the need to cry, and wiped the few tears that had gathered with my blanket-enfisted hand.

I don’t think there has ever been a moment, before or since, where I have felt so small.

“Corona?” A voice asked after another few minutes. “Gabrielle Corona?”

A common mistake when my name was read aloud, but this one flared an uncommon irritation– didn’t medical forms have my fucking gender listed next to my name? I sat, stubbornly, determined not to answer until I was properly called…

“Gabrielle Corona?” The nurse asked again, more loudly, with impatience.

…But the few emotions left in me didn’t gather enough energy for defiance. I stood up and wiped my nose. “It’s Gabriel,” I said, sniffing.

The nurse didn’t bother to acknowledge her mistake. She glanced up at me for barely a second from her file. “They’re ready for you,” she said to the stack of papers in her hand. “Follow me.”

I gathered all the courage I could muster, tightened my cotton blanket, and took a deep breath. The nurse had already turned on one foot and began walking without me, so I hurried to follow, and the cheap blanket, clenched with one hand at my throat, trailed behind me in my haste like some cloak of royalty.

That’s me, I thought, Psych Ward royalty.

 

Artwork Friday #1: “Still Alice” in pencil

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So this is my drawing of Julianne Moore in “Still Alice”. Let me give you a bit of a background.

I decided to go see this movie myself. Julianne Moore, in my opinion, is the greatest living actress. Idol, Queen, Icon, she is my star. So I simply had to see the movie. Well it was a terrible idea to go alone.

The movie is about Julianne’s character getting early onset Alzheimer’s disease, and after about 30 minutes in, I started sobbing, and could not stop. Even after it was over, I hung my head and cried while the credits rolled. I crossed the street to my favorite coffee shop, and cried. And then I decided to sketch it out.

See, my grandmother raised me. She was my mother. And she has dementia. She won’t remember my name. She will get lost from the bathroom to her bed (literally just one left turn). All of our photo albums are labeled. And Julianne’s performance echoed my grandmother’s behavior so perfectly. I couldn’t help but sob.

I think Alzheimer’s is the worst thing that can happen to a person. Early onset, in your 50s, like in this film, that’s unimaginable. But I imagine grandparents– they lived life. They grew up, fell in love, made a family, had careers, watched their children grow up and make families, watched their grandchildren be born….. And then one day nobody needs them anymore. One day they just end up laying around the house, useless. And all they have left, ALL they have left to comfort them, is their memories. And Alzheimer’s, or dementia, takes that away. That, to me, is the saddest thing in the world, and it breaks my heart.

Anyway, I know this sketch doesn’t look much like Julianne. Give me some credit, I did it in 15 minutes in a coffee shop. I mainly wanted to capture the look of confusion. Plus, I’m new to colored pencils. I’ve only been using them a few times. So you will see more artwork soon. Thank you, as always, for listening.

Love, Gabe

Mania and Migraines

So yes, my moodswings have totally changed. The rapid cycling I was worrying about has finally burst through the barrier– I am completely manic. Manic. Manic. Manic.

And my fucking god the headaches, I don’t know where the headaches are coming from. They are more than headaches. They remind me of Virginia Woolf, how she had headaches so debilitating she couldn’t do more than hold her head in her hands.

It feels like an old fashioned headphone band wrapped around my head. Squeezing. It’s there constantly, maybe just lightly, threatening to return.

But last night, in a manic rage, I ripped a bunch of books to shreds. Seeing the pages fall like confetti around my room was actually very therapeutic. But the migraine set in afterward. Squeezing my head. 10mg Valium, 200mg Seroquel, 5mg Ambien, and because of this headache I could not sleep. It penetrated my dreams. My roommate woke me up at 5am to check on me, and all I could do the next three hours was lay, hold my head, and cry. I took some ibuprofen and it gave me enough relief to sleep.

But when I woke up today, my God what a fucking state I was in. You couldn’t get a full sentence out of me, my behavior was insane. Dancing and singing, but always the headache in the back of my head.

THIS IS NOT A HEADACHE. THIS IS INCAPACITATING. I plan on going to urgent care ASAP tomorrow morning. Because if this keeps up, I don’t know what I’ll do. I’ve never felt such pain in my life. What do you take for migraines? please help.

The mania doesn’t help. I’m at a loss. I don’t even know what to type…

Gabe

Poetry Monday #1: “Hope Less, Sleep More”

This poem was written in the depths of depression, with just an inkling of hope in my mind. (Circa 2012 by Gabriel Corona)

Hopeless, Sleep More

The practical pair:
Hopeless and Sad.
I keep them around
Cause they’re not all that bad.
There’s a comfort I find there
In being sad.
That comfort, I’ve found,
Well, it’s not all that bad.
Between the sound and the silence,
There’s nothing I lack.
Between the notes and the smoke,
I can finally relax,
Lay my head down and dream
About cocaine and smack.
Cause being hopeless is just
A prelude to relapse.

It might sound sad when I say
That I’m content to remain
Hopeless. But it’s not,
It’s a comforting thought.
That hopelessness, see,
At least to me,
Is a defense mechanism.
A comfortable nest.
It’s not at all like a prison,
It’s a down feather bed.
Where after my days of sorrow and woe,
I can lay down my head, and just let go.
I’m numb;
It’s number.
It’s cum.
It’s comfort.
It’s dumb;
I’m dumber.

If I
Can get through
Today
Without slitting my wrists,
Swallowing pills,
Or jumping off cliffs,
Doing things that can kill,
Taking suicide risks,
Then I guess
That I’m here
To stay.

Anxiety Meds: Pros and Cons

So as I’ve stated in a previous post, my treatment team and I recently decided to change my course of anxiety medications. I’d like to discuss the pros and cons of the side effects, and see if any of you experience the same.

Ativan: I’ve taken Ativan since I was 16 years old. It was always what worked the best. Lately though, experiencing so much mania, it wasn’t enough to calm me down. And by the time I took enough to calm me down it was like– ZONK, it put me in the backseat of my own mind. I was calm, but I felt like I wasn’t really there. Also, Ativan seems to cause a lot of memory loss for me. So we are trying Valium.

Valium: This definitely seems to calm me down much better. And what I love about this medicine is that while it’s calming me down, it keeps me in the driver’s seat of my own mind. My troubles aren’t as worrisome, my racing thoughts are gone, I’m completely relaxed, and I’m still able to see the world through my own eyes. But lately I’ve been noticing these tension headaches after I take it. It feels like a pair of old fashioned head phones, a band around the back of my head that just squeezes. It leaves me holding my head in my hands until some tylenol and caffeine kick in. I really feel like Valium helps my anxiety better than anything, but could it be causing these headaches?

So, has anyone else experienced tension headaches as a side effects of Valium? What are your thoughts?

Gabe.