It’s been over a month since I made the pilgrimage to the psych hospital for an evaluation. My emotions have settled down a bit and I’ve had contact with all the practitioners in my life who require a visit after such an incident. I’m also able to write about it with a caustic and a wise ass dark humor that I lacked in previous weeks. I suppose on this matter too, I’ve found my voice. I should know by now that given enough time and perspective, I usually do find my voice.
The prompting incident was another perfect storm containing all the ingredients for me to “drop my basket”. In Rebecca Wells, Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood, Vivian Abbott Walker has a breakdown and is hospitalized in some asylum for months. She won’t discuss the issue for a long time but eventually coins a phrase to describe her mental collapse where she hallucinated, beat her children all the while forgetting how to chew food and pee in the toilet. Months later, she finally confides and describes to her Ya-Ya’s how she “dropped her basket”. In the absence of a better term, I’m going to borrow hers.
In a 6-day rampage of unmanageable BPD symptoms, gross lack of familial support and triggers out the whazoo, I finally consent to let a friend drive me to one of several major hospitals in St. Louis for an evaluation. I had nothing to lose. I had been crying for days, couldn’t remember when I’d eaten last, only slept because of the inordinate amount of anxiety medication combined with several other chasers of alcohol, Vicodin and Benedryl. It was a sure-fire combination to collapse into something resembling sleep but a losing combination in terms of maintaining equilibrium and optimal functioning of the body. Unconsciousness is the desired state for me when I’m so grossly triggered finding my reality irretrievable. No matter how many DBT skills, prayers, affirmations, walks in the woods, music and every other distraction skill I applied, nothing was working. I was scared shitless and needed a person. A real, live, breathing person to sit with me while I piggybacked off of their energy and found my center once again. And to make matters worse, I had been left alone for 5 days, scorned for the burdensome person that I was which was the tipping point to my basket drop.
This is the truly horrible part about Borderline Personality Disorder, which I probably have as a result of early onset trauma. It forever changes how our brains work and makes us a scary group of people to be around causing this paradoxical conundrum where even though your loved ones don’t want to hold onto your psyche at this particular moment, its about the only thing that actually works for me. The DSM, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders from the American Psychiatric Association classifies BPD with a list of symptoms that the candidate will have at least 5 of the 9 listed. And even though, there were many symptoms, BPD related or not, swirling around in this muck of 6 days, it was one in particular that probably defines most of my issue of that time. #1 on the list is “frantic efforts to avoid real or imagined abandonment”. Yes, my efforts were frantic. I called pretty much everyone I knew in person as well as sought out online friends and even a guy standing outside the convenience store smoking in an effort to make some physical, face to face contact with someone. Pretty pitiful, huh? And yes, my abandonment was real AND imagined, I had both to contend with. And damn, I didn’t do well and definitely “dropped my basket”.
Enter Cindy and Kathy, my two saviors of the weekend. They sat with me one night until I felt well enough to be in my house alone. They brought food and conversation and did a fabulous job of distracting me, giving me some solid ground to stand on. That lasted one day before I was back in the muck; crying, not eating, mixing meds and smoking cigarettes, a habit given up over a decade ago. When, in 3 more days, I still hadn’t emerged whole, it was Cindy who declared it time to go for an evaluation. I didn’t argue, just packed a bag and grabbed my insurance card and off we went to the psych unit of her choice. Now, it sounds like I’m gonna start doggin’ on the state of psychiatric options and hospitals in general, which I’m not. For at this particular moment, I was damn grateful that I lived in a city where I had an actual choice of which one to go to and that I had insurance to get in the door. There were certainly patients in the waiting room who didn’t possess the golden ticket of primo insurance that I had, which made me cry even harder.
I was led down and around several corridors which I realize later put me way in the back of the ward in some sort of lockdown room. I was asked to undress into paper scrubs which is a far cry from the old paper gowns that didn’t close in back. My clothes were taken from me and within minutes a team of interns with a doctor arrived in a hysterical entourage of tall, rolling, podium like things with computers mounted on top. When they were speaking to me, all I could see was the back of the screen, not their faces, which made them look like a team of rectangled shaped droids with lab coats and feet. I found this really amusing and wondered if this would qualify as real or imagined abandonment. Let’s just say, given the situation, a friendly pat on the arm or some eye contact would have gone a long way. After giving them all their pertinent information, I was then left alone and I mean left alone. I didn’t see anyone for hours until I peeked out and told the nurse that finally looked up from her desk computer screen (Is there a theme here?) that I had to go to the bathroom, could she point the way? She promptly walked me back into the room and opened a low set of cabinet doors which popped out a toilet seat. She assured me that it was much more convenient for me to pee in this little toilet in the wall than to have to go down the hall but I knew better. This was the upscale version of a jail cell. My bladder and I made peace with our given situation as I didn’t feel that as I was shoeless and in paper scrubs in a lockdown room, that it just wasn’t a good time to fuss. I settled onto the exam table, curled in a semi-fetal position, pulled out my iPod from my purse (which by the way, still was in my possession and contained several prescribed controlled substances) and began to listen to my relaxation tapes. More hours went by but again, I had my entertainment and a potty, so I was pretty good. The nurse had given me a cup of water and a few graham crackers from her stash of snacks. Plus I’d seen a few people who seemed relatively caring and I felt a sense of relief that if nothing else, I was among people.
Then, whack. As I’m achieving a blissful state of relaxation and calm, thanks to the tools I brought instead of what was offered, the door slams open with the salty, seasoned veteran of the social work brigade. Now again, you think I’m gonna complain about her but I rather liked her. She took one look at my iPod declaring it a weapon of mass destruction and exclaiming how I could hurt myself with that. She took it really well when I told her if I wanted to do that, I would have done it in the three hours prior. Out she went to scold the graham cracker nurse then charged back in with her exasperated intern following behind. “Are you suicidal?”, she asked. “No, I’m Laurel”, I replied as I extended my hand to shake hers. This didn’t faze her as she went on to rapid-fire questions faster than the intern could write them down. The poor thing didn’t have a robotic scooting computer podium, so I slowed my answers down to accommodate her pace. No, I didn’t harm or cut myself. No, I haven’t harmed anyone else. No, I don’t abuse alcohol or drugs. She proclaimed me fit to go home unless I opted to stay for the accommodations of graham crackers, tap water and the potty in the wall. I declined and called another friend to please come get me.
Another hour later, I was given my iPod, my clothing including my bra which apparently posed a huge threat of strangulation to me here in the hospital. I will have to draw some stern boundaries with that brassiere when I get home to never threaten me like that again. The nurse presented me with my bill for the day and asked how I wanted to pay. I told her that in my despair and turmoil, I hadn’t even considered that to which she replied that I could mail it back with payment. A hundred dollar day that could have been spent at the day spa with seemingly better results. I’m thinking a massage and a pedicure.
Again, I will practice gratitude that a clean, well staffed, teaching hospital was available to me. If I was more chronic, the doctor explained, this might be the place for me. Since I’m fairly functional with an acute crisis, under the care of a psychiatrist and therapist, there aren’t services there for me. In other words, there isn’t a place for those of us in between. One must be out of control, harming themselves or others and pose a huge threat to society before the psych hospital is the place to be. OK, now I know that. But I still wonder where then, does one like me go? Where is the tribe of caring people who will help soothe the ravaged soul, bring tea and sing and rock me until my jangled self comes together. Shouldn’t there be such a place? I rely so heavily on myself for self nurturing and awareness but accepting my circumstances and limitations prompts me to always have a Plan B. I’ll keep looking, it has to be out there somewhere. At least, I know now where it isn’t.