It was clear to me the moment the doors to the older girls unit locked behind us that something was off. This wasn’t the same good feeling I had when we came to visit a month before. Everything seemed a little darker, a little more uncomfortable, and a lot scarier. My mom and I sat at a plastic round table next to the nurses station while they took my vitals. At another table close by a girl with a brain injury sat in a wheelchair trying desperately to get her hand to stop shaking enough to bring her fork to her mouth. I was confused and horrified by the sight of her. I knew that there were patients with more serious disabilities at this hospital, but weren’t they supposed to be in a different building? The nurse who was supervising her seemed impatient and annoyed with her inability to eat faster and kept yelling at her to hurry up. The only indication that she had heard was her now furrowed brow, which in my head proclaimed, “Back off bitch can’t you see i’m trying here!” And to that I psychically responded, “You tell her! take your time! Now tell me, where the fuck am I???”
All of the other patients were at lunch in the cafeteria. Only people who needed to be monitored ate meals on the unit and I had been informed that I would be joining my new housemate at every meal for the first three months of my stay. I wanted to run out the door and lock myself in the car until my mom agreed to drive me back to New York. This was a mistake. It had to be.
Once my vitals were done, my mom and I went to my room to start the inevitable moving in process. I still hadn’t met my roommate, but could only imagine what I was in for by the amount of stuffed animals that covered her bed. My mom started to put tape on the pictures I had printed out of my family and friends and hung them on my wall. My sad attempt to help her ended when I fell into a heap on the bed hysterically crying, begging her not to leave me in this place. She felt it too. Something wasn’t right, but we had no other choice. After two years of fighting and proving to the insurance companies that this was where I needed to be, well, this was where I needed to be. I honestly can’t remember a moment in life where I felt so scared. I was nineteen years old and practically throwing a full blown tantrum begging my mom not to go. But like me, she had no choice, she had to leave.
When I was a kid my parents tried to send me to sleep away camp, twice. Both times I called them to come and pick me up. Being alone in unfamiliar places was not my idea of fun and this was no sleep away camp. I didn’t understand what had happened between when we had visited and now. We had had so much hope after that trip and for the life of me I couldn’t remember why. My mom stalled leaving as much as she could. I think she was just as nervous and uneasy as I was about me being in that environment. When she couldn’t put it off any longer I cried like I just found out my dog had died. She reassured me I was strong and could do this. She reminded me why I was there and maintained her confidence in the help I was about to get. And then, she left. I was devastated and terrified. Nothing she said made me feel any better and all I kept thinking was, I’m not gonna make it, there’s no way.
Right before she left, the rest of the girls arrived back from lunch, including my roommate who came trudging into our room wearing a pink t-shirt with kittens in a basket plastered on the front and matching pink shorts. She was fifteen years old, from West Virginia, had a thick southern accent that I could barely understand, and looked and acted like a giant toddler. Every night to put herself to sleep she would listen to the same country song on repeat at maximum volume through headphones that she’d strategically place around her neck. I can’t tell you what the song was because I’m pretty sure my brain registered it as a traumatic experience and blocked it out. It was beyond me as to why they would make a fifteen year old my roommate -- that is until I met the rest of the unit. It quickly became clear that they put us together for the sole fact that we were two of the only people not admitted for behavioral problems. I had just committed myself to six months of living in a community filled with court ordered patients with no sense of boundaries and an immature, sometimes violent idea of how to get attention. Having a country song seep into my dreams every night stopped seeming so bad real quick.
Before even having a chance to deal with the abandonment I was feeling from my mom having left, the staff called everyone out of their rooms for community. Community, is a less therapeutic version of group therapy where everyone gets together says briefly how they are feeling and airs grievances they are having with other patients. It is also where new people are introduced, a.k.a. me. Refusing to attend a group, especially your first group, sets a really horrible tone for how you will be treated for the rest of your stay. All I wanted to do was lay in bed in a puddle of tears, but I knew I had no choice but to make my swollen, red, tear streaked face, look as normal as possible and drag my ass out there.
I could feel all of the girls eyes on me as I walked into the circle to sit down. Before my butt could even hit the chair, a girl not much smaller than myself, looked at me, started laughing and shouted, “OH MY GOD SHE’S SO BIG!!” My heart stopped. I was in complete shock. Either no staff member heard it or no one cared (and either of these options are completely plausible) but no one said anything. I held back my tears. I was the oldest patient by a few years, but these girls terrified me. They had hard lives and came from hard places and I knew right away that these were not people you wanted to fuck with. I blinked my tears back, looked down at my feet, and waited until it was my turn to speak. Every girl shared, some unwillingly, some routinely. “My name is blank, I’m from blank, and I’m a patient here because of blank. Today I feel irritated.” And then the next would go, all until it got to me. Barely anyone looked at me while I spoke. My voice sounded meeker than I had ever heard it sound before. “My name is Sara, I’m from New York, I’m here because I have an Binge Eating Disorder and I’m Bipolar. Today I feel sad.” The end. After community I went straight to my room where I pretty much spent the rest of the night crying, pretending to unpack, and attempting to avoid my chatty roommate’s absurd questions.
The next morning I woke up to an aid knocking loudly on the edge of my bedroom door screaming - or at least it felt like screaming - that it was time for breakfast. I thought for sure I was in some sort of really messed up nightmare and wanted desperately to go back to sleep so I could find my way out of it. I couldn't even comprehend the reality that it was my choice to be in this situation.
After throwing on clothes as fast as I possibly could, I quietly walked back out to the tables by the nurses station and waited for my food tray. Everyone ignored me. The girls were cautious of this new quiet fat chick entering their population and it was too early to tell if I was going to be a handful for the staff. My tray came, egg on one side, fruit and cereal on the other. Shockingly, I wasn't the slightest bit hungry. I didn't even want to open my mouth, for fear that if I made any movement in my face I'd slump over onto the table in tears. But having been in a treatment center before, I knew the game, so I forced myself to eat. As long as these trays were being made for me, everything I ate would be carefully recorded. Anything left would be considered non-compliance, and would target me as a problem patient. After breakfast I went straight to the nurses station and obediently took my medicine. The best way to survive in a hospital is by following the rules, and I would be following every rule in the book no matter how stupid it was.
About fifteen minutes later I ran to a nurse and begged her to unlock the bathroom for me. Did I not mention the bathrooms were locked? I barely made it to the toilet before I started to violently puke. I had no idea what was going on. Was this nerves? Stress? Anxiety? Did I get food poisoning from those god awful eggs? Nope, it was incompetence. Turns out they had messed up the dosage of my pre-diabetes medication. It took them almost half the day and me running out of groups to go throw up every five minutes, for them to realize what had happened.
At first they acted like I had done something wrong. Like I was purposely throwing up just so I didn’t have to attend arts and crafts. When they finally realized their error, there was no apology. Just an explanation and the solution of hooking me up to an IV with medication in it to help stop the nausea and having me go to bed.
You aren’t allowed to close the door to your room unless you are on lockdown (which is when someone throws a code -- i.e. is being violent and needs to be restrained. An everyday event on the unit). So while I was in bed, on my first full day, after spending a good six hours throwing up, I listened as the nurses and staff members laughed and did impressions of what I sounded like puking. I could not believe what was happening. Where the fuck was I? What kind of place was this that its staff would make fun of a girl who had just spent the better half of the day with her head in a toilet due to their mistake? This was the last straw. When I felt better and had a chance to finally see my therapist, I would plead my solid case and catch the first plane back to New York. Chestnut was not for me. I didn’t care how much pain my family and I went through to get me there, I was done.
Later that day when one of the women involved in this incredibly inappropriate act took me to see the doctor, I confronted her about it. She looked at me dumbfounded. How could I be so upset when they were just having some fun? The fact that it was at my expense never even crossed her mind. Or maybe she was just surprised about getting caught. I can’t remember if she ever apologized, but I dropped the issue. If, God forbid I did end up having to stay, this was only day two of a long six months, and the last thing I needed were the people in charge of my well being to be against me.
So now I'm in another hospital and I hate it. I've fought so hard to get into Chestnut. So much money and energy has been put into it and I was so happy to finally get in and now I'm here and it's such a disappointment. The staff on the unit are just mean. I was sick my first day from a medicine they gave me and I was throwing up all day and the staff just made fun of me and like did impressions of how I sounded. Except for me and like one other person It's all behavioral people here. I hate conflict and controversy. Everyone makes fun of each other and call each other fat and gay and shit and make up names for people like Jello. I'm miserable and I want to go home.