At the very end of last summer, the blackest, darkest time of my life, I spent a few days in a mental ward. I guess most people would consider it rehab if they wanted it to sound normal or not so bad, but in reality, it was a mental hospital. I did something that definitely qualified me to be there, so I took it in stride.
Here is a snapshot from that experience.
In a mental ward, there are very few things to do. You go to group meetings, see a psychiatrist, eat in the cafeteria, and go to some kind of recreation, like the gym or bingo. You only get to do these things if you meet all your marks. For instance, day one, you aren't allowed off the floor. No cafeteria, no gym, no bingo, nothing. You have 24 hours to prove that you understand and can obey the rules. I did that. Longest 24 hours of my life, or close to it anyway.
I'm the type of person who releases a lot of stress and emotion through physical activity. I play hard and I love it. I went outside on the ward smoke breaks every 2 hours, even though I don't smoke, just to see the sun. There was no fresh air since everyone was smoking, but whatever. I could sit there in the sun and close my eyes and just be, no thoughts, no feelings, no nothing. Just the warmth of the sun on my skin.
Day two I was able to leave the floor on the supervised activities. The first night we headed to the gym. It was right next to the eating disorder wing, which I didn't understand, since those girls had no energy anyway, right? because they weren't eating, right? Shouldn't it be near to the people who really need that physical release of tension? Aahh, anyway, there were basketball hoops and yoga mats to choose from. I played basketball. The first thing I realized was that there was music playing; a local alternative rock station was blaring. No music is allowed in the ward, so this was an added bonus of being off the ward.
The group in the gym was co-ed and the females immediately gravitated to the yoga mats. Bo-ring. The males grabbed basketballs and started shooting around. I grabbed a basketball, too, without even thinking about it. I knew the exertion would be good for me. I started shooting and laughing (wow, that was big) with the guys. It was great. I felt so much better running around, chasing the ball. I don't know why the hospital doesn't schedule physical activity every day, but they don't. So after 30 minutes, back to the ward. Back to my room to shower and lay on my bed staring out the window.
The next day we headed to the gym again, less people went this time. There was one guy, Joey, who was friendly and funny and we started playing one-on-one. I had connected with him in group where he was sharing things about how he's so funny and makes people laugh, but that it's all fake. On the inside he's drowning. I could totally relate. Anyway, we had this 1-on-1 basketball game going just for fun, and the radio was on. Foster the People, Pumped Up Kicks came on, although I didn't know that was the name of the song at the time. Being the goofball that he is, Joey started dancing when he had the ball right before he made the shot. Not good dancing, just messing around. It was hilarious! I almost forgot where I was and why, lost in the moment, lost in the game. The song, the goofy dancing, and knowing that this person is just as scarrednas I am, burned an image into my brain, a negative that I take out and look at every time I hear that song.
Joey was there because he put a gun to his head. An unbelievable intention if you met him anywhere. He comes off as a funny, charming guy. I may not have had a gun, but the action with the little blue pills was the same. The connection that was made between us, two people who laugh to keep from crying, is a sacred thing. For the rest of my stay, Joey was around. We sat in the hallway late at night and talked. It wasn't a romantic connection, but one of suffering, of mental battles, of understanding, hearing your own thoughts and feelings come out of someone else's mouth.
I don't know what happened to him. We didn't exchange information when I left. That wasn't the kind of place you want to make lasting relationships, I think. He was there indefinitely and wanted to be there until he knew he could make it when he left. We didn't get to play basketball again. Just that once, but it was unforgettable. (did I mention that I beat him? Yeah. I did.) I hope he's still out there. I hope he never falls into that dark pit again. I think of him every time I hear that song, Pumped Up Kicks. I heard it tonight while I was doing dishes. Suddenly I had this picture in my mind of Joey dancing around with the basketball. Funny how music can remind you of things that lay quietly for a time.