Nothing is allowed here. There are more rules in this shithole than in
my highschool. No touching, no hugging, no cellphone, no contact, no
writing without showing someone what you write, no shaving, no pencils
in your bedroom (I was already screamed at for this once), no listening
to your own music in your bedroom, no alone time, no expression of
sadness through art. Everything gets ripped up.
I’ve barely eaten in weeks. It’s hard to maintain an appetite when you
do nothing but wander around 5,000 sq. ft. of bland walls with guards at
every door you aren’t allowed to walk into, another reminder of a loss
of autonomy. It’s been weeks of doing my best to perform “being better,”
barely talking, partaking in all activities, never showing how sick I
am. I just line up each morning for my vitals, my new meds, then a
breakfast that comes on a grey, plastic lunch-tray.
I lost the instinct to kneel down and tie my shoe. I’m hoping that
someone will bring me slippers soon because walking around with laceless
Vans is obnoxious and I refuse to be another kid in the psych ward
wearing the same socks my grandfather wore while he was in the hospital
dying. The ones with traction rubber on the bottom, inevitably
Since I’ve been here, there’s been a lot of group therapy. Minimal
one-on-one therapy. I’ve fallen in deep-like with my roommate, whose bed
is just across from me, but every morning I check on her to make sure
she’s still here. A few days ago, one of us was dragged out. I heard the
commotion as she was taken to the ICU after she smashed the mirror with
her hands. There was blood everywhere. When I instinctively ran to the
hallway to see if everything was okay, I was screamed at by the
miserable nurse who probably shouldn’t be working in the Teen Behavioral
Unit. She has a tendency to scream at kids that can’t find enough
kindness in their lives to keep breathing.
My Dad was visiting me when the very large, very strong kid with
behavioral issues got body-slammed by a guard. We happened to be in a
glass room connected to the phone room, instead of the usual
visiting-room. So we watched it all unfold. Something upset the kid and
he quickly became a potential for violence, picking up the red plastic
chair and throwing it at a nurse. I can’t remember his name, but I know
he was struggling.
Some of the most interesting things that happen in a Psych Ward are
dangerous. Or, maybe it’s the day one of the parents brings in a Disney
Movie that we all get to watch. My dad brought in Beauty and the Beast
and my favorite nurse brought us popcorn. We popped at least 15 bags for
the 12 of us there. We all ate it. Even the two girls who just push
their lunches around until it’s time for group therapy. Some mornings we
wake up to be introduced to a new kid who mysteriously came in the
night. When this happens, we can usually guess what they’re here for.
Maggie had a nasty bruise around her neck. Julian’s eyes darted around
the room, watching things the rest of us couldn’t see. Cait cried
through her entire introduction. Nick was extremely groggy and spent the
remainder of the day in his room. This isn’t usually allowed except in
overdose suicide attempts. I spent the first two days in my room.
The only visitors allowed are family members. This is easily the hardest
part for us suicide survivors, especially when the family is the root of
our problems, or just don’t understand our problems. There’s nothing
worse than disappearing from school, none of your friends knowing why,
and planning out an explanation for when you return. The conspiracy crew
of your school will spread rumors that you died. They don’t realize how
close to the truth they are.
What they don’t tell you about Psych Ward kids is how courageous they
are. How beautiful, and kind, and thoughtful they tend to be. You hear
about what dragged them there. You hear about how “crazy” they are, how
deranged they are, how suicidal they are.
We. How we are.
What I can tell you is that Cait sings so beautifully I wouldn’t be
surprised to see her at the Grammy’s one day. Nick helps me write
stories and slips me encouraging notes beneath the table while we sit
bored in therapy. My roommate misses seeing the sunset and talks about
it every day at breakfast. Julian wants to be a movie producer and has
written a full script already, even though he’s only 13. It’s actually
Another thing they don’t tell you is that most of the time, the Psych
Ward makes it worse. With every kind nurse that wants to see you do
better, there’s another one who hates their job, hates you for being
part of their job, and wants you disciplined instead of getting well.
Most of us here just try to “make progress” so that we can go home. Most
of us end up here more than once. There’s nothing more isolating than
not being heard.
I used my hospital bracelet to continue self-injuring. Nick slammed his
fists into the wall, hard but quietly. Cait hasn’t eaten in days. Julian
once leaned over to tell me that he couldn’t sleep because he thinks the
meds were causing even worse hallucinations. I suggested telling a
nurse, and he began to weep. Between his sobs, I could only hear him
saying, “But I want to go home.” I’m not sure if his meds were ever
fixed. None of the nurses came to see why he was crying.
Sometimes, there’s a nurse whose heart bleeds out on their sleeve. You
can feel it. After a while, you grow to love them. Nurse Pamela was a
middle-aged woman with short, thick curly hair and deep purple lipstick
that complimented her skin tone perfectly. She knew all of our names,
our favorite colors, what books we were reading, and she asked to see
what we were working on in our journals out of curiosity and excitement,
not authority. She brought the unlucky kids Christmas presents when they
were stuck here for the holidays. She even offered to do my makeup once.
On the days someone was able to leave, we had a party for them. Usually,
a cake that said, “Best of luck!” or once Nurse Pamela got one that
said, “We will miss you but don’t come back!” It’s always a bitter-sweet
moment. There are people we will miss. Eventually, we all line up to
wave them goodbye, maybe give them a fist bump if one of the strict
nurses isn’t around to tell us about another thing we aren’t allowed to
do. We watch as the Newly-Free patient walks down the narrow white hall
through the doors with the small windows that are usually locked. Two
guards plain-faced and watching us as we watch the Newly-Free leave with
their parents or guardians. Once the rest of us are done being sad
seeing the Newly-Free go on without us, we start to feel a little sad
that we aren’t the Newly-Free. We wonder when our time will come. We
watch the doors open, and quickly shut. We go back to the things we’re
allowed to do.
It was a quiet day when two of my friends found out that I was in the
hospital. I hadn’t eaten the entire day even though the staff thought I
had. My wrist was bleeding beneath my long-sleeved shirt. I could feel
the bags under my eyes, even if I couldn’t see them after they removed
the mirrors from our rooms.
My friends didn’t know why I was in the hospital, so they came to see
me. When they told the receptionist my name, she sent them to my floor
labeled “Behavioral Unit.” Nurse Pamela and I were playing cards when a
security guard walked over and whispered in her ear. We stood up to walk
into the hallway and see out the door’s tiny window. I saw Peach and
Ryan outside the doors, and I was immediately surprised and excited,
followed with disappointment. I’m not allowed to have friend-visitors.
Right. Nurse Pamela looked at me for a few seconds, before taking a deep
“You can say hello, but they can’t come in.”
Ryan asked why I was in the Behavioral Unit and was satisfied with my
shrug as an answer. I told them that I’m technically not allowed to have
any friend-visitors when Peach handed over gifts for me, a blue and
white striped baby-blanket with a little giraffe that said, “Get Well
Soon!” I gave them a quick hug before I had to go back to the 5000 sq.
ft. of white walls and strict rules. Nurse Pamela and I finished our
There must have been a theme that day. My Grandma Janet is one of my
best friends. I often call her GJ. She came to visit me later that
evening. With her, she brought a stuffed elephant. My favorite animal. I
named him Venerandus, Latin for “adorable.” When one of the nurses
suggested that I couldn’t keep it with me because it had beads for eyes,
Nurse Pamela rolled her eyes and GJ asked, “Is this the maternity ward
or the behavioral unit for teenagers?” I was allowed to keep Venerandus
I didn’t stare at the ceiling that night. I slept with Venerandus
beneath my head and my new baby blanket close to my chest. When I woke
up the next morning, I wrote the ten goals I made for myself once I left
the hospital. I wrote a letter to my dad about my history of
self-injury. I ate my breakfast and had a PBJ for lunch. I made jokes
during our free time that even made the miserable nurse laugh.
I went home the following week.