By Monday morning I had spoken enough to the other patients/inmates over meals that I now felt known to them and them to me. So when breakfast arrived late I was able to offer to “watch over” their food. To be the food police. They all smoked cigarettes and there are only certain times you can leave the ward to go have them. With breakfast late they were going to miss their breakfast smoke. God forbid! But they couldn’t just leave their food on the table. Remember there was one kid in there, “Shuffles” I called him. Rail thin, tall as tall can be and already he appeared to get double the meals we got but still, it didn’t stop him from stealing people’s food I was told. So I offered to stand guard for Twitchy, Jumpy, Gappy and Dad. And guard I did.
Shuffles and I ate at the same time. As did all the other non-smoking inmates. When I was done eating I grabbed a crossword puzzle book from the book shelves just outside the kitchen and planted myself back at the table to stand guard. It took no less than five minutes for me to notice Shuffles making his way back into the kitchen. He checked the tray holder for extra food then made his way around the table. As he passed Dad’s tray he casually, as if nothing was happening, picked up Dad’s muffin and tried to keep walking. I barked out, “nuh huh, put that back, that is not yours!” He stopped in his tracks, looked at me as if I wasn’t there and dropped the muffin back on the plate. He shuffled his way out of the kitchen now understanding stealing wasn’t gonna happen on my watch. I breathed a sigh of relief when he left, I wasn’t sure how my “no no” was going to be taken.
When the others returned I told them what happened. I explained to Dad that the kid did in fact try to steal his muffin and Dad proceeded to cut the muffin in half, butter it, and eat it. I threw up a little in my mouth. The kid wasn’t all that clean. Had he touched my tray I am sure I would have given him all that was on it. Upon the urging of the others I went and reported Shuffles behaviour to the Nurse’s Station. From that day forward if someone was going to be late for a meal or in therapy the Nurse’s would take their tray into the Nursing Station. I guess this kid was really out of control with his food. It was pathological. I could only imagine what food was replacing in his mind. He was constantly at the fridge eating crackers and jam. He'd open up one of those little two packs of saltine crackers one after the other covering them in jam and shoving them in his mouth obsessively like. All the inmates had actually started offering the kid their extra food instead of placing it in the middle of table to try to stop him from stealing. He never spoke a word, he would just take the offered food and scarf it down.
It was really strange to me how none of the women or older men shuffled the hallways but two young men did constantly. It was very obsessive behaviour. They couldn’t stop themselves. Shuffles only went from his room next to mine, to the kitchen, then the nursing station and back. Baller on the other hand walked every step of the entire place. From one end of the long hall to the TV room where he would sit for the count of 3, to the kitchen, to the patio, to the nurse’s station, and down the hallway again. It was later I was told confidentially (and probably shouldn’t have been) that both boys were schizophrenic and self-medicating with street drugs before they came in. Not only were they sobering up off street drugs but while their schizophrenia drugs kicked in they were hearing voices. The hallway walks were because they couldn’t “shut off” the voices. It wasn’t hard for me to say to myself “things could be worse” upon hearing that. I think we all can don’t you?
Group therapy was cancelled on Monday. I couldn’t believe I found myself saying, “Damn I was looking forward to this”. It was only because it would kill the time really. Group continued on Tuesday and Wednesday. One was led by a therapist, another by a social worker. The therapist lead one actually helped a bit. I found myself learning things and offering up all kinds of wisdom for the others in the group. It’s what I do. I found the therapist saying, “That’s right Nicolle, that’s exactly what I was looking for” more often than not. Yay me! Not only did I know more than I thought but it was good for the old self esteem too. The social worker group was more informational and about all the programs available in the Mental Health Unit for out patients. And addicts alike. The hospital offers ongoing therapy in the group format for mental illness and addiction. I have only been once but will continue to. It’s all one can really find in this environment these days. One on one therapy is hard to come by especially with a psychiatrist.
I found it really interesting to discover that 80% of the world’s addicts are actually suffering from some form of mental illness, whether it be schizophrenia, bi polar, or plain old depression. Unlike the other 20%, the 80% self-medicate their illnesses away. It is very common, more common than not. Think about it, when you are down doesn’t a nice drink ease the pain? 80% of addicts just can’t stop at one drink. What about that show Intervention? Have you watched it? All the people on the show had tragic pasts leading to depression and addiction and/or suffered from some other mental illness. I really took in how tragic addiction is when I was in the hospital, it became so clear how awful a struggle it truly is. I think it’s why it became so easy for me to just stop taking the little pain medication I did take. I wasn’t going to “get there”. Not to where these poor people were. I was able to use that week to just stop taking all the medications I had been prescribed. There were people in there specifically for the purpose of giving up some form of self-medication. Both Dad and Twitchy were in there for pain medication addiction. And I mean in a big way, not simple old 5 mg Percocet pills like myself but 100 mgs in addition to Fentanyl pain patches and alcohol. To look at them both, especially Dad, you would never have guessed that they both found their way into the hospital because they accidentally lost track of how much drugs there were taking. Watching them being weaned off their pain medication was really hard to see. One day they would walk the hallways like they owned the world, smiles on their faces. The next day they would be shuffling along, barely moving their bodies, frowns and in some cases tears in their eyes. You could easily see how quickly these pain medications become a problem. I just got lucky. I had a really strong will power and never gave into the urge to try anything new or stronger. I was just too scared of what I was already taking.
I never did find out why Grampy was in the hospital. I can only assume there was some sort of Mental Illness struggle behind his kind old eyes. Gappy was in there because she was an addict she inferred, not sure of the other struggles in her life, I didn’t ask. But she did mention she wouldn’t be leaving the hospital until she found a place to live so I can only assume she was on the streets. Jumpy had tried to kill herself. For the third time she informed me casually. She suffered with Manic Depression, much like Bi Polar. She was very sweet. I think she’d been in the hospital for a week at least, with a week to go. Considering the long termers in there, I was lucky to be out in the 5 days after I arrived I kept thinking to myself. Cusack was obviously in a ton of pain mentally. He left the Tuesday I was in there but to see his arms. They were just covered in cuts. You don’t normally see a boy cutting, it’s more common in girls. There had to be a lot of pain in that poor boys mind.
By the time I left on Wednesday I considered the girls, Twitchy and Jumpy comrades in arms. Outside of the hospital, I am sure none of us would find the other having anything in common but inside, through tears we found a bond. Twitchy lent me a book from her personal collect to read the size of a car. I managed to power through that bitch in 3 days! It's not hard when you have 10 hours a day to read. Jumpy and I found ourselves playing rounds of cards on Wednesday as I waited to be sprung from the joint. As I mentioned before, it was received with a round of laughs when I shared how ironic I found it that Jumpy and I were playing Crazy Eights in the Loonie Bin. We both found it hysterical. It’s funny how you can be brought together by something outside of your control when otherwise you’d have nothing in common. Our lives were common by one thing, a stay in a Mental Ward. While I am writing about it to you folks to help you understand all about that world if you should know people suffering, it’s not really something I want at the forefront of my mind. It’s not a place I wish to go back to save for the outpatient therapy.
What I learned in the hospital is that Mental Illness is nothing to be ashamed of. And I am not. I spent time in the Loonie Bin and I am okay with that. I needed to. I needed help. My medications were no longer working and had I stayed home I might have tried to hurt myself again. I was not above the Mental Ward, I was just like everyone else in there, suffering. I was in fact lucky to be as well off as I was. On the last day, as I played cards with Jumpy, Shuffles came in all showered and in washed clothes and he plopped down right next to us, looked us in the eyes and said, “whatcha playin’?” His medication had kicked in. He was clean and sober. I wish you could have seen the difference in this kid from even the day before. I had it alright by comparison. The hospital have resources in many cases that can help people suffering with Mental Illness and Addiction that I would never have known had I not gone in. I am going to be taking courses in Mindfulness and Self Esteem that last up to 8 weeks long. I look forward to them and hope that again, I can see I am just like everyone else in there, struggling with my own issues whether I have anything in common with them or not. I am not above anyone and their problems. Addiction is a tricky little bitch and I am very blessed to have had the self-control and will power to not have fallen deeper down that rabbit hole, very lucky. I feel very sorry for addicts, I cannot imagine giving in to that urge. Actually I can, and that’s the problem, I can.
What about you? Ever think how easy it could be to make your problems disappear with drugs or alcohol? Ever worry you are doing that? If you worry, likely you are losing yourself a bit. Look into your local hospital because they likely have a free group therapy with your name written all over it. You don’t have to go all gangbusters like me and get yourself committed. Trust me, it’s not that hard to go to a group therapy class. It’s an hour out of your day, how bad can that be?