“Reality is something you rise above.”
A young man, spry, and in a rush, left his post where he had waited next to me for the incoming train bound for Philadelphia. As he passed me, he looked at me through the corners of his eyes and motioned the Sign of the Cross, as kind of a form of protection over me, immediately before the Police showed up, rounded the corner and asked me if my name was in fact, “Elizabeth.”
The train was late as I grinned through my teeth, missing my chance by mere seconds.
Only moments before, my best friend at the time had dropped me off at the train station the morning after her and her daughters went on a mini man hunt through our quaint town, searching for me with flashlights in the middle of the night. I was lying in a pile of leaves at the edge of the park when I heard her daughter yell my name from a distance as a bright light shone on my face, “Liz, do you want to go home?”
The next morning, I was one step closer to this elusive home, finally escaping the confines of southeastern PA. “Do you have enough money for this trip?” She asked me as I wrote down her number before I lept out of the car.
In fact I did, although I was homeless. The night before, I was kicked out of the shelter and I stumbled on a wallet laying on the sidewalk in a dark alley as I made my way to the gazeebo, where I planned to make myself a bed of leaves like I had the night before in the graveyard. Not a soul was around as I opened it up and saw $100’s of dollars neatly arranged amongst cards and personal information. My mind was on fire as I assumed this was a gift from above, and in a manic rush, I grabbed what I needed for a good meal, provisons and a one-way ticket out of town – $60. I dropped the rest and swiftly walked off, never looking back.
Proudly, I boasted, “Yes, I have more than enough.”
Sighing she unlocked the doors and pleaded, “Call me as soon as you get where you’re going.”
I knew the Police were after me, but for what? As one gentleman began speaking to me, it all became clear on two sides of the coin. My plans were either foiled once more by family and friends who assumed the worst, or this was all a big conspiracy to get me moving on the fast track to what I wanted most – Him.
You see, when you’re experiencing my state of madness, it’s quite like walking a razor-thin edge that lies between reality and a dream. You are lucid enough to have one foot in the reality of things, yet you are so deeply entrenched in the delusion of it all while under the influence of what they call psychosis, that you have one steady foot firmly planted in the dream. My mind was a well-oiled machine and played both sides like a one-man-show of a wicked game of chess, where the rules were sprung and broken in the mind of the Mad Hatter, himself.
As he took down my information, the Police Officer noticed my gears turning as I rotated my head back and forth between his notebook and my train that had just now pulled up. He motioned to another to stand guard, as they had been warned that I was indeed a runner.
It became clearer and clearer to me as he questioned me that this was all a hoax. In my mind, I assumed everyone knew the plan, the end of the story and what would happen next, except me – although I was right on their tails. In order not to ruin the surprise, I went along with his little game, calling him sweetheart, sir and dear.
He took down Bryan’s address in New Jersey and asked if that was where I was laying my head tonight. Intrigued by his use of words, I cracked a smile and winked, “Yes, sir.”
“Then where are you two love birds off to?”
“I don’t know,” I scrambled as I tried to remember our last conversation in his basement. “Italy.”
“Wow! That’s a far way off. Nice Christmas you’ll have. Santa’s good to you,” he joked.
“We have friends all over the world,” I said enthusiastically, “and they’re waiting for us.”
“Makes travel very easy then. You’re very lucky,” he smiled brightly as he closed his notebook and motioned to his guard to call Bryan for more information. “Look, here’s what we’ll do,” my eyes widened and my ears perked as I cocked my head like a puppy in anticipation. “We just want you to talk to the doctor for a minute and then we’ll send you on your way to wherever you want to go, okay?”
Delighted, and foiled once more, I cheered, “Yes! You’re a sweetheart!”
By that time, the ambulance pulled up and mental health services swarmed the open doors as I climbed into the back, surely to make a bigger scene for all the spectators.
“How are you, Elizabeth?” It was Alice, a familiar face from a month prior during my first crisis center visit that year. “We just want to evaluate you.”
Playing the tape in my head and fast forwarding to ‘anywhere I wanted to go’, I nodded, “By all means…”
Now caught up with both feet firmly planted in the dream, I had completely forgotten about the phone call I had made to Bryan from my friend’s land line an hour before. “You’ve been 302’d, Elizabeth.”
It was true, I had been suicidal the last few days in a desperate attempt to right the ship in the direction of my selfish desires and one-track mind. And everyone knew. Most cops were alerted in the area already.
However, I was oblivious. That is, until I was surrounded by 3 guards standing around my gurney in the middle of the Emergency Room hallway.
It was still in the game, but I was close to losing this round if I didnt act quick.
In this game, you can be and do anything you want. And that is where the danger lied, as I ripped my IV tube from my ankle, grabbed my bags and made a break for the hospital doors. I had been dupped and I knew it. My wildest dreams turned into a nightmare in that split second decision to run.
I was left bruised and bloody on the gurney after a tried and true fist fight broke out between the guards and I. My rage had finally broke through unholy depths and from that moment on, I didn’t hold back for almost an entire year.
The guards rolled me into a private room, where I met the psychiatrist face to face over a tv screen. Too afraid to see me, they set up a teleconference. In my rage, I threw coffee and orange juice at her face on the tv, demanding they she be fired, to bring my Father and Bryan to my attention immediately and to release me at once. Everything I had hoped for had vanished in a moment, under control and restraint. And the more you restrain a tiger, the fiercer she gets. I even demanded a raw steak to be thrown on the floor and began ripping equipment off the walls.
As a stroke of luck and serendipity, a gal who had also been left homeless, at no fault of her own, was in a gurney down the hall, listening to every altercation between the guards and I, the nurses and I and the lead psychiatrist and I. Horrified from their treatment, she somehow “voluntarily” committed herself to the same psych ward I was destined to be locked in for the next month of my life. She didn’t reveal herself until we met.
I was immediately sedated and transferred to the drugs and alcohol unit, why I don’t know, as I hadn’t had a sip of anything for months. Unbeknownst to me, she was locked into the 302 unit.
My rage reached an all time high and the Drugs and Alcohol Unit when they asked me if I had ingested anything or heard voices. I told them I hadn’t had a drink for months, which was true. They asked, “How did you manage that?” I said, “By the power of GOD!” “very good,” they answer in the dark. Then they asked me if I needed anything and I screamed, “A shot of heroin up my ass!” “Are you hearing voices, Elizabeth?” the main psych asks. “Yeah, yours!”
They were not equipped for my rage after I took the water jugs and threw them down the hallway, so they were forced to transfer me to the 302 unit, where I was introduced to my roommate for the first time, the gal from the local ER who had overheard everything.
I remember softening my anger as I looked down at my welcome card from her – a broken heart drawn with crayon. She understood so much yet knew so little of my story. She told me everything she overheard and told me why she was there. We became closer than blood in the weeks that followed. Nothing bonds you faster than a joint stint in a psych ward. That was when things took a hilarious turn and I can honestly say, looking back on it, I’d have it no other way.
For those of us that still have a sense of humor, there is a silver lining in some psych ward stints.
Comedic Gold, actually.
Aside from the needles strong enough to bring down elephants, solitary confinement and leather straps, forced med changes that lead to involuntary ticks, kicks and drooling, food that tastes like soggy cardboard and boiled cabbage, and the zombie-like dance of the thorazine shuffle … humor can reign. It has to, or we’d really all go insane. After all, laughter is the best medicine.
I had my fair share of stints in psychiatric hospitals that year, but this one, in particular, packed such a punch that a movie could be based on that 3-week stay alone. Can I interest anyone in a sequel to “One Who Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest?”
It helps to have a kick-ass roommate who is just as strictly left-brained as you are right. That fact alone transformed two furiously unstable bipolar chicks into a powerhouse of creativity, proficiency and hilarity, resulting in wickedly well-timed shenanigans that we’d liked to believe played a role in the head psychiatrist’s resignation. After all, that was the goal all along; to not only challenge the system but to annihilate it, one quack at a time … and have fun doing it. She even had NBC on the phone one morning, spouting off headlines for her latest article, highlighting nothing other than the not-so-official Health Stamp of Quackery. I kid you not.
After our morning coffee and caged cigarette break, we’d pace back and forth down what we called the ‘Victoria’s Secret Runway’ in our latest Einstein-inspired hospital fashion gowns (complete with sunglasses and ID bracelets), discussing the projects we’d tackle that day.
Aside from challenging the system at large, we actually did work intensely on finding solutions to the problem. With her business prowess and my creative edge and background, we teamed up in secret to create a flow chart and design for affordable all-inclusive sanctuaries and mental health retreats in the Caribbean and United States that focused on the whole of recovery: Mind, Body and Spirit.
I don’t know how we found the time to be serious in between daily firings, tattoo artistry and escape attempts ..let alone the daily mind-numbing “therapy.” On top of the main agenda, she was hired full-time to fire staff and I was hired full-time to create personal tattoos and drawings for fellow patients. We were both hired full-time to come up with Houdini-like escapes that no one got around to practicing. Blood, sweat and tears went into our shenanigans. One night, I decided to flash drivers as they drove by and my roomie caught me, yelling, “Liz! You have to be more professional about this!” I laughed, flashing everyone, “We’re in a psych ward!”
At some point, we stopped the nonsense and began working on our own personal projects. As I sat at my desk crafting beautiful hand-made books of poetry and short stories for my “Was-band,” she sat on her bed and started to draft actual articles for newspapers detailing medical malpractice.
Somehow during this break, we managed to swap hilarious stories from our manic pasts that had everyone rolling in the hallways; including stories about slinging bibles at priests while poor, lil’ old ladies collapsed in prayer and fear, and smoking hand-rolled cigarettes made of dried grass found in fields in Wyoming that were rolled up in homework due the next day, as wild, angry Buffalo grazed only feet away. We even planned our future weddings and Bachelorette parties with so much detail that we agreed to things like waving around psych ward socks instead of the majestic penis (don’t get me started on the socks and Footloose reenactments). Afterall, both of our future husbands were nuts, too, but I won’t even get into that.
Never underestimate the power of maniacally lubricated minds. They are wickedly creative machines.
One night, we settled down into our beds to just shoot the shit and laugh off the work that day. She did a hilarious impression of a former coworker from the Bronx that called her midday at work only to scream through the phone, “My crotch is on F-EYE-AHH!!!” I laughed and snorted so hard while she kept talkin’ in a hilariously heavy New York accent, that patients and staff came in flocks to see what we were up to this time. I don’t know if popularity is a good thing or bad thing in a psych ward, but we were a hit.
It had been about 3 weeks at that point and our patience for release was running thin. We already planned our Turkey Day charades, complete with Indian feathers and Pilgrim hats, dining room decor and poetry readings round the makeshift campfire. Hell, we even got to Christmas by that point!
We wanted to get on with our plans in real life, but had little cash to pull off such stunts. Despite our work history, we were both without a job. I sat on the bed that night with a dollar bill in my hand. As we sat in silence, I began to read the small print on the front of the dollar bill.
On the dollar bill, in all CAPS, the following words are printed: THIS NOTE IS LEGAL TENDER FOR ALL DEBTS PUBLIC AND PRIVATE.
Read that again, slowly and let that sink in for a second.
THIS note is LEGAL tender for ALL debts public and private.
ALL debts – $1.
There are no asterisks.
I read it out loud over and over again as the sheer magnitude of my delusional discovery sunk in.
“We’re rich!!!!” I exclaimed as I explained to my roommate that someone forgot to proofread the dollar bill. Big mistake, because in my mind, now I could legally pay off not only all my debt, but everyone’s debt … with a ONE DOLLAR BILL.
I went ape shit and decided to scheme my way out of the psych ward by writing a 3-page essay to the head psychiatrist. In the essay, I highlighted the flaws in the system, our plans to establish quality therapeutic care, and the proof that we weren’t crazy. I may or may not have mentioned to say hello to the next President of the United States (me), as my roommate simultaneously read excerpts from, “Dude, Where’s My Country” aloud … but that’s beside the point. On the front, I taped the bribe – the dollar bill with a quick note explaining how this paid for all his debts on one condition … that he’d release me.
Just that night, I was playing scrabble with a terribly handsome staff member, on whom I had just a sliver of a crush. I can honestly say, I think the feeling was mutual. But who knows, tisk, tisk. I said something funny and off the wall as usual and he warned me not to say things like that in front of the Dr. because that’s the kind of thing that’ll keep me in here. I completely ignored his warning because he laughed, because he knew it was true.
I was up til midnight writing furiously as my roomie cheered me on. I slapped it down on the nurses desk and demanded, “Deliver this to the Doctor!”
Swear to God, not five minutes later did gentleman in suits come barreling down the hall to read that letter. It was like a scene from the MIB. One of 4 times this sort of pursuit happened in those 3 weeks, alone. I just rubbed my lil’ evil hands together and snickered. First off, why are there people dressed in suits at midnight?
Next day, the news revealed that Mark Zuckerberg released millions to some cause and the aid looked right at me and said, “Now that’s a hero.” I laughed and said, “I have a dollar, beat that.”
The new, replaced, head psychiatrist pulls me into his office with a witness, which has never happened before that or after. He has my patient binder open to the letter that was already fastened in. He was Egyptian and hot and his witness was one of the gentleman who read the letter the night before, so I was a bit flustered and I knew it was do or die time. I knew I risked a lot writing that and I knew I had to defend it. I was 302’d afterall, and they could have kept me for the long haul. I stood my ground and delivered my roommates research in a sealed envelope. Not even I knew what was in it, but I’m sure it had to do with malpractice lawsuits.
He let me go that very day.
It’s all about the money, afterall. After a while, you learn to speak their language.
I walked out the locked doors, swingin’ my hips with a song in my head: KORMAC – QUACKERY
As for my roomie, she had to stay behind even though she packed her bags and attempted to walk out the doors with me in her Hollywood sunglasses. We had a plan to fly to Cancun for a week of TLC and recovery.
I lit up my ciggie and waited for my helicopter. A van came instead. Didn’t matter because the driver asked me where I wanted to go. I said, “Take me to the airport, because I got a plane to catch.”
I didn’t have a cent to my name. I was a day late and a dollar short. Worth every penny.