This is one in a series of posts I’m calling “Snapshots of my Depression.” These are memories of times in my life when my mental illness manifested itself in one way or another.
This story starts where the last one ended. I was in the Student Health Center at Muhlenberg College, thinking that I had come down with a nasty cold or something. I’d heard that mono was going around, and I so I went to get checked out. The nurse in the health center checked me out, and then asked, “Have you been under a lot of stress lately?” I thought I ought to be honest, so I said, “Well, I did try to kill myself a few days ago.”
And so it began.
The nurse said, “Stay here a minute. I’ll be right back.” She looked very concerned, and left. Was it something I said? She came back in a few minutes, and asked me to follow her. We walked over to the other end of the health center, the counseling center. I was led into the office of one of the counselors. I sat down in a chair opposite his desk. I don’t recall too much of the conversation now, but what I remember is this: after confirming with me what the nurse said, we kept talking for a while. Only after we had talked for a half an hour about suicide, depression, etc., did he share with me that because I attempted suicide, I had to leave campus, and I would not be allowed back until I had a doctor’s note that said I was no longer a danger to myself or to others. He told me that he had to call my parents to pick me up. I was shocked and appalled. I wasn’t looking for this. I was just trying to be honest with the nurse. I muttered something under my breath. The counselor misheard me, and apparently thought he had an opportunity to “break through to this troubled kid” or something, because he said, “Motherfucker? Yeah, you can call me motherfucker. That’s fine.”
I corrected him. “That’s not what I said. I said, what the hell.” I was there for another hour, until my mother arrived. I don’t recall if the counselor and I spoke during that time or not. I just remember thinking that this was ridiculous. I was not asking for this kind of help. I did not need this kind of help. Why the hell did I say anything in the first place? There had to be a way out of this.
There wasn’t. My mother arrived. We went to my dorm and got some clothes and things. I assumed I’d be home a day or two, get the note they needed, and be back by the weekend. I tried to figure out how to let my professors know. (I didn’t trust that counselor to do it.) Luckily, my advisor was in his office, and he was so gentle and concerned. I was really surprised about this…why was it such a big deal to everyone? But I appreciated his concern, and his promise to contact all my other professors.
My mother and I went home. I have no memory of the conversation in the car. It can’t have been fun. By the time we arrived home, it was dark out, and my father and sister were waiting for us. Everybody was quiet. Nobody was really sure how to react. My father said that he’d been in touch with an acquaintance of his who was a counselor, and she urged him to get me to First Hospital Wyoming Valley in Wilkes-Barre that night. So we went. I can’t recall if my sister came along, but my parents drove me up to the hospital that evening. I figured that a psychiatrist at the hospital would sit down and talk with me for a bit, and then refer me to someone else near my college. No such luck. Instead, he convinced me to reluctantly admit myself. (I found out later that he would have sought, and likely received, a court order to have me committed had I refused.)
They took me upstairs to the adult ward. Even though I was only seventeen at the time, they put me in the adult ward because I was in college…they thought I’d feel more comfortable there than in the pediatric ward. (They were probably right.) I was shown around the ward…the common room, the telephones, the therapy rooms, the group therapy room, and the bedrooms. The only trouble was there wasn’t a bed available in the adult ward at that point, so even though I would spend my days there, I would be sleeping in a different area of the hospital. (As it turns out, in a room with three other men, one of whom snored like a dying jackhammer repeatedly being brought back from the dead. Bedtime was not pleasant.) Apart from being taken out for bed, I would not be allowed to leave the locked ward at any time, because I was on “suicide watch.” Most of the patients ate in the cafeteria, but my meals would be brought to me.
I was scared. I did not want to stay there. This is not what I had in mind when I spoke so freely to that nurse in the college health center. I hugged my parents. They promised to come the next day during visiting hours. Then the door was locked. I am sure that I cried.
Next time, I’ll talk about the eleven days I stayed at First Hospital. As bad as that first day was, it got much, much better. I’m looking forward to writing that post…this one was the hardest one yet for me to write, and I’m glad it’s behind me. The emotions of that day were so powerful, and they’re still buried deep within me.