Getting Happy... when you wish you were dead
Today is the end of the seventy-two hour commitment. Technically, they have to let me go tomorrow, but that’s Saturday. The people who do the release paperwork don’t work weekends, so they have to get it done this afternoon.
The person responsible for getting the paperwork done is a social worker named Lynette. She’s a nice lady. I haven’t participated in any of the therapeutic activities that go on each day, but I’ve talked with Lynette and Dr. Lozano.
Lynette came to me in the morning to talk about being released, but she had another option in mind. She had asked me to meet her in the dining room, and was waiting for me when I arrived.
Lynette is a small lady; about five foot one, with a cheerleader’s physique. She was always cheerful when she spoke, and listened well. Her main function is helping people connect with resources and family when they leave Silver Cross Hospital. Since I had neither, and was there unwillingly, mine was a problematic situation. “Hi, Conrad. Are you looking forward to leaving today?”
I, on the other hand, was not generally cheerful when I spoke. “Hmmm… Let me think for a second… I was sent here against my will, and imprisoned without cause. An assessment with which Cosmé agrees, and I’ve been kept here so the people who screwed up and sent me here incorrectly can’t be sued.
“Yes, I think you could say I’m looking forward to leaving.”
I sat down across a table from Lynette while I spoke. She had a file folder with her that held notes about me.
“Conrad, I know you’re not happy about being here. You’ve made that clear, and I understand why you’re angry. I’d be angry, too, if my freedom were suddenly taken away.”
In other circumstances, I probably would not have listened to what seems like drivel. But Lynette was mostly straightforward with me, and always willing to come clean if I called her on something.
“If you want to leave, we’ll get your paperwork done and you can go today. But I’d like you to think about another option. Can I tell you what I’m thinking about?”
My eyebrows came up at the suggestion of another option. I knew in my gut that the only thing she could be considering was me staying longer. That was not something I was particularly open to, but she was attractive and nice.
“No, I’m not particularly interested, but okay, go ahead and tell me. I’ll listen.”
“What I’m thinking is that Christmas is just a few days away, and you’ve said you don’t much like Christmas. There’s also the fact that you don’t really have anywhere to go. Now, I know this isn’t the best place in the world, but there’s a fairly nice Christmas dinner, and I’d feel a lot better knowing you’re here.
“Would you consider staying until after Christmas?”
I said I’d listen, and I did. Now I was thinking about what she had said. It was December, and leaving would only put me back at PADS. Most of the places where I was spending time each day would be closed.
“Okay. I get what you’re saying.
“I stay here, and I’m warm, have a roof over my head, and three meals a day. I get it.
“But this place is set up to treat people like kids. We have to do things to your timetable, and when I don’t cooperate I get warned that a bad note is going to be made in my chart.” I was on a bit of a roll already, and let out some of my frustration for a system that claims to help, but is only idiotic.
“And what’s worse is you do things that are incredibly stupid and dangerous. I’ll even give you an example.” I can’t imagine Lynette was happy about what I was saying, but I give her full credit for genuinely listening.
“You won’t let anyone have a pen. Why I don’t know. Instead, you want everyone to use a pencil. Now, what is incredibly stupid is that you use the short, golf-style pencil. Have you ever really thought about that?” Lynette shook her head, and I continued.
“Here are a bunch of emotionally distressed people. People who are very unhappy, and who might be thinking about hurting themselves or someone else. And here is the medical establishment, in its infinite wisdom, equipping those people with an ideal concealed weapon.” Lynette was surprised by this idea.
“You’ve never thought of that, have you?” I picked up one of the pencils that happened to be on the table. I leaned forward and held it in the palm of my hand.
“Here you have a nice, pointy object. And when I close my hand, it disappears, doesn’t it? So down the hall I come, pencil hidden in my hand, and before you know it, I put my thumb over the end to hold it firmly, and can tear out your throat in seconds.
“If I were you, I think I’d prefer a pen. At least that can’t be hidden so easily. And if you want to stick with pencils, I’d be using those big, thick, red pencils they give out in grade two.
“That’s just one example, and you want me to stay here.” I put the pencil back on the table.
“Even with being warm, sheltered from the elements and meals, why should I? You folks think you’re here to help, but you’re not. You’re just going through the motions and don’t even realise it.”
“Wow. I haven’t thought about the pencils that way before. You’re right. They could be quite dangerous. I’ll mention it, too, but I’d appreciate it if you told this to Dr. Lozano when you see him next. It’s something worth thinking about.” She paused and was looking at the pencil.
“Conrad, you’re right. I don’t have a reason beyond my concern for you over the holidays. I’d like you to seriously consider staying until after Christmas.”
“I have thought about it. I’ve been thinking about it since you mentioned it, and I have an answer.
“I’ll stay… but I have conditions. You meet them, I’ll stay.”
Every other patient on that floor was there because they wanted to be there. They had signed themselves in, and had asked for help. They followed direction, and participated in the group activities. Even though the doors are locked and you can’t leave, a place feels less like a prison when you can sign yourself out. A patient offering to negotiate was new for everyone.
“Obviously I can’t promise anything, but I’ll do my best.”
“That’s fine. I understand, but this is where I’m at: You folks meet my conditions, I stay. You don’t, I’m gone. So here it is…”
I started talking, Lynette started making notes, and my guess is that we were both thinking very quickly.
“Being here is of no use to me at all if I can’t keep working my book. That book is my next step in healing. It’s my way of closing old wounds, sorting out what I’m responsible for, and what I can do something about. So if I’m going to stay, I want access to my book. I want to be able to work.
“Now, what I’d really like is for you to let me use my laptop, but I doubt that’s going to happen. I want you to ask, but I don’t expect that to work.
“What I do need are my notes. There’s a binder full of notes in my backpack that I can work with. The outline for the book is there, and there are lots of notes on the Kickstarter that I can work on.
“And I want a pen. Stop treating me like a child. Let me use the pens and highlighters that are in my backpack. I have those little post-it notes for bookmarking pages, let me use those. And I want my bible. I don’t claim to agree with God on everything that’s in there, but there’s lots of wisdom in its pages. And I take comfort from reading it.
“That’s what I want. You get me access to my notes, let me work on my book, and I’ll stay, otherwise I’m just wasting time.”
I sat back in my chair and waited for an answer. Lynette thought for a bit, then gave the beginning of an answer.
“This is an unusual request. You’re right about the laptop. They’re not likely to agree to that.
“I agree with what you’re saying. It makes sense for you to be working on something while you’re here, but I can’t just say yes to this. Even Dr. Lozano can’t just say yes. The head nurse has to approve something like this. So here’s what I’ll do…
“I think this is a good idea. I’ll talk to Dr. Lozano, and we’ll talk to the head nurse. I can’t make any promises, but we’ll have an answer for you in a couple of hours.”
Lynette was back with an answer just after lunch.
I was the first psychiatric patient in the history of Silver Cross to be given access to personal belongings during their stay. I didn’t get my laptop, but they let me have my notes, pens, highlighters and post-it notes.
Their return conditions were that I work on my notes in front of the nurse’s station. They didn’t want me taking all that stuff off to my room where other patients might get access to a pen. I was also given access to my journal. And Lynette asked me to make an effort at attending some of the group sessions.
This makes me happier than I’ve been in weeks. it feels good to have someone work with me instead of against me.
This is from a journal entry on Christmas Eve:
Over the last few days, I've put a lot of effort into looking at what happened during our marriage. My effort has been focussed on ACCURATELY writing down what happened, taking responsibility for what I have done AND what I could have done differently, and being clear about what Maria did WITHOUT assigning blame to her.
I think we will be divorced. Maria has her heart and mind set on this, and I am now willing to move in that direction. My intention is to obtain legal help so I'm correctly represented, and let Maria have the divorce.
I made the effort to attend some of the group sessions. It was a more positive experience than I had imagined, and I got to know a little more about the other people on the floor.