Someone making an unsuccessful attempt to be quiet had pulled me into the place that hovers on the cusp of awake and asleep. A sound, unmistakably familiar yet hard to recollect, prevented me from surrendering back into oblivion.
Sifting through the haze I landed on a memory of my cousin and me stretching the spout of a red balloon that we took turns blowing up. As we stretched and pulled, our hot air would screech its way back out of the spout, creating a high-pitched symphony of squeals that delighted us both.
But it didn’t take long for us to grow bored with this game. The harmony grew dull once the spout became gummy with our spit and clogged with backyard dirt.
The balloon made a sad sound when we threw it into a puddle.
Exhaustion, the kind prescribed by psychiatrists, had found a way inside of me, coiling its hungry hands around my soul. From somewhere in the void I struggled and strained my ears, holding on to this sound and using it as leverage to pull me out of the blackness.
Slowly I became aware of my body, feeling the weight of each pound of flesh and bone that tethered me to the bed.
Opening my eyes, I was struck by how heavy my lashes had become. Blinking moisture back into my eyes I tilted my head, listening for sound, but there was only silence. I watched the shadows play off the walls and wondered what time it was until I wondered why it mattered.
Here it always looked like an artificial twilight until the sun comes up. There was a thick fog that weaved its way through my mind, blotting out the most important pieces of me. It would have been terribly alarming if I could have mustered something inside of me to care, but I couldn’t.
From a distance, I heard footsteps approach my room. They were the rubber-soled quick kind that meant business. Nobody knocked around here. I don’t know if it was because they didn’t want to give us the illusion of privacy or the illusion of control, or either.
She was whispering to someone just behind the door, and from the conspiratorial tone of the conversation I assumed it was a coworker. She left the door open behind her, enabling the fluorescent light to permeate the room and cast a bigger shadow as she approached the bed.
Instinctively I recoiled as she yanked the curtain down its tracks, exposing me to the rest of the room. I glanced around and was relieved to find that the curtains were drawn around the other beds.
“Good morning, Nicole. I’m here to take your vitals.”
The cuff was tight on my arm and she muttered something about low pressure, high pulse, while avoiding my eyes. Something about the way she didn’t look at me when I asked her why I was losing my focus, gave me permission to plant a seed of paranoia in my mind.
“It’s just the effects from the medication the doctor has ordered.”
I mumbled as I hopelessly tried to summon from memory the ever-increasing list of medications I was taking.
She wrote my stats on her hand,
“You’ll have to ask the psychiatrist about that when she’s in.”
I asked her if she had any idea what it felt like to be completely disconnected yet still cognizant.
Would she like me to tell her if my brain would allow me to find my words?
When she removed the cuff she softened and pulled the blankets back up around me, pausing to rest her hand on my cheek.
“Try to get some more sleep, it’s still early.”
She did her best to give me back my false sense of security, gently drawing the curtain closed again before she left.
What I would have given to get out of that bed, pull back the curtain and find myself at home showing my daughters how to chirp a bright red balloon.
I heard a noise from the woman in the bed across from me. I reluctantly left the balloon image and instead found myself wondering if it was a tic that she had always had. Or if the reason she pursed her lips together and then let out the odd bursts of air, had come as a way to redirect pain after she had slit her own throat. Like a suicidal breathing technique helping her through the dying process.
From the other side of the room, a drawer slammed. It sounded as though this woman was intent on making sure every patient was up before the sun. I was angry that I had been placed in the same room as this patient and I allowed myself to fixate on my anger, imagining great destructive scenarios, indulging in the pure pleasure of experiencing an emotion other than melancholy. Satiated for the time being and tired of using only my mind for stimulation, I decided to give in and let the drugs take me into the darkness.
There are many levels of crazy and when I looked at her I was aware of how easy it would be for me to become just like her. She was a constant reminder of what could happen if my perilous grip on reality faltered. I watched her go in and out of somewhere I couldn’t see, her eyes were glazed and she was no longer present. They gave her pill after pill and changed the dressing on her neck, and I stared at the dressing and imagined the wound underneath, it was her eyes that unhinged me.
“Nicole to the nursing station. Nicole to the nursing station.”
My psychiatrist stood with my chart in her hand waiting to walk me to a room for our daily chat. Sitting across from her I nodded at the chart,
“What do you write in there? I haven’t been here long enough to accumulate that much paperwork.”
“I don’t know exactly what to make of you, Nicole.”
She crossed one Armani clad leg over the other and tapped the tip of her fountain pen against her top lip while she assessed me. A wry smirk crossed her lips so quickly that had I not been expecting it I would have missed it altogether.
“I think we’ll continue to increase the lithium. I’m not happy with your levels, and I’d like to add an antipsychotic as well.”
“But I’m not psychotic,” I replied, not at all surprised at that point. I was completely void of emotion.
“They’re used for many things,” she answered.
Standing, she headed to the door, dismissing me with a curt nod.
“Watch your weight, some of the medications I’m prescribing can contribute to weight gain.”
She didn’t wait for a reply and I found myself chasing her down the hallway.
“Please wait, I’d like to talk to you about the medications you’ve already been giving me. I can’t focus, and I don’t feel right. I don’t feel at all. It wasn’t like this before I came here, I’m almost sure of that. I know I came here for help but I can’t recall when exactly that was. There are no more Mondays, no weekends, just morning, noon, nighttime meds, and I am lost in this oblivion.”
I sobbed and fell to my knees in the open hallway of the psychiatric unit. I wanted to go home so badly. I wanted my family. I wanted to feel the way I did before I was sharing a bedroom with a woman who had cut open her own throat. I wanted to feel real emotions again, not to live in a drug induced alternate reality.
“You’re being rather dramatic.”
Shaking her head she crouched down close,
“I’m going to authorize another sedative for you. I want you to take it three times a day.”
We locked eyes as she stood. My breath faltered, hitching in my chest in response to the malice I had seen in her eyes. She turned on her heel and disappeared into the nursing station.
“And we’re supposed to be the crazy ones? That woman is fucking nuts.”
Though her words were passionate her voice was weak—every syllable a painful reminder.
She offered me her hand and I was surprised by how strong her grip was. I lifted my gaze from the dressing at her neck and scanned her lips as they puckered in anticipation of the gust.
Holding my breath I met her eyes, and for a brief moment, there was understanding in them. And then she was gone.