The first night my body bled. When the
heavy glass door of the psych ward closed behind me that evening, I actually wanted to check in. The attendant, who seemed to float in a fishbowl behind a thick glass window, pushed a small red button
and the locked clicked. I was in. They
were out. I was safe. This was the
first time I’d ever been to a psychiatric hospital, let alone checked myself in.
I wanted Tim to leave. I wanted him to stay. I wanted to get on with it, but I felt an undertow as well. I
feared they might tell me I couldn’t leave – that this was a “special place” for people like me.
The quiet room is comfortable and calming – pastel paintings, fresh gardenias
in a bowl. I slump into a plush velour chair (“not the “cold vinyl
and chrome chairs of the doctors’ offices,” I think). The clerk is
expecting us. Tim brought me here from Florida where we had been married two
years before on the white, sandy beach of Anna Maria Island. He will protect
me. I know that’s why he’s brought me here. I know my therapist, Lisa, wants me to be safe.
“Welcome to River Oaks Psychiatric Hospital,” the social worker says. She wants me to sign this, sign that. They’ll
check with Lisa on the history of my therapy. “Do you give permission to
treat you?” Yes, of course I do. But no drugs.
That’s my rule. No drugs.
The fading red brick buildings are set amid lofty live oaks draped with Spanish moss. Not far from the hospital, a swamp lurks, steamy, home for alligators, snakes and
birds. Beyond the swamp, a river carries ships to the ports of New Orleans. “We
hope you will feel safe here,” she continues. “We’ll do all
we can to help you feel comfortable. Do you have any questions?”
“This is voluntary, you know,” I say.
“You aren’t going to throw away the key on me, are you? I
can leave anytime I want to, right?”
“Sure you can.”
The intake worker ushers me to the
wing of the hospital where patients with a history of sexual abuse are treated. “They’ll
want to ask you some questions,” she says. “We’ll show you
to your room. You can put your things in there.
No sharps though. No electrical appliances or belts. It’s for your safety and the safety of others. You understand,
don’t you? Other than that, you’re free to have whatever you need.”
Shit, she’s looking through
my bathroom bag. It’s hard to concentrate on what they’re saying. My mind keeps switching to different parts of me. Why do they want a strip search? What will they find? Like so many other times before, I don’t have the answer.
Everyone be quiet!
says Competent One. She
didn’t mean anything by that. She just wants to look in our bag.
Well, we don’t have any razors anymore, says deJo’Lee. Nope, not since you caught me cutting
my legs. If I had one right now, my legs would be fair game.
That’s right, Competent One continues. Now, see, she isn’t hurting anything.
I give them my hair dryer and a belt, and they are sure that I have nothing
that could be used to harm myself or anyone else on the unit.
It’s a short walk to where I’m staying.
The intake worker, psychiatric nurse, and support staff hover around me. Do they treat everyone this way? says Butch. Do they think I’m really weird? Who cares! They can all go to hell if
they think they’re better than me.
“You’re OK,” an attendant says.
“Now you can go to your room. Dinner’s just a half-hour from
now. But your husband will have to leave.”
It’s the first time I’ve
seen Tim cry. It’s because of our relationship that I sought therapy in
the first place. But I feel disconnected from him – unable to be intimate
and share my deepest secrets, unable to tell him what’s going on inside me. I
am disconnected from myself, from my feelings. I want to feel the love
I say I have for him. I want passion in my life.
The closer I get to this intimacy, the more flashbacks I have of my father’s raping me. When I began to break under the stress of keeping my secrets, I found Lisa, a competent, loving and nurturing
therapist. She sees how depressed I am, even when I don’t. Lisa helped get me admitted into River Oaks.
“I’m so sorry I have to leave you here,” he says as he holds me tight. “I wish I could make it all better right now.
I wish they’d never done these awful things to you.”
“It’s all right. I have to
do this on my own,” I say. “Just come and get me when it’s
all over, will you?” Tim hugs and kisses me, and I turn toward the nurses’
I’m losing where I am in time again. I
use all my willpower and concentration to put days – hours – back into place, to know where I’ve been or
what I’ve done. I’m usually successful, but I fear that this day
I won’t remember anything. I feel
safe here. They can’t get me here.
No one can get me here.
The nurse loops the blood pressure cuff around my arm.
As it tightens, I feel my pressure rise. She sticks a thermometer in my
mouth and talks to divert my attention from what she’s doing.
“You have an appointment with the doctor tomorrow for a physical,” she says.
“We’ll be sure you know where and when.”
“He won’t be taking any blood or doing a pelvic, will he?” I ask, jerking the thermometer from my mouth. Why does it have to be a man anyway?
“You’ll be fine. We promise we aren’t here to hurt you,”
the quiet middle-aged woman says. “You’re safe.”
That’s reassuring! If I don’t feel safe for some reason, I guess
I can be my own advocate.
The intake worker hands me a sheaf of questionnaires: “We need
for you to finish these tests before your appointment with your therapist tomorrow, okay?
Can we have a contract with you that you won’t hurt yourself with the pencil?”
“Sure,” I nod.
“Okay, then you can find a quiet spot in the great room to fill them out.”
are people milling around in the great room. Where can I go? Wish it was time for supper. Hope they tell me where to go
to get something to eat. This is sure a long test. It’s really three tests. No wonder they said it would
take several hours to complete.
Well, is everyone ready to fill this thing out? I ask my insides. Go for
it! Who’s going to answer this one on interests? What about mechanical stuff? What do we like to read? Shit! This is fucked!
only get one chance here gang. I’m not sitting here all day while you make
up your minds. Who wants the pencil first?
do!” says Competent One.
I shift the pencil to my left hand. “Let’s see, I know it’s October 1990, and I know what state
the state of confusion!” blurts Butch.
enough! I can’t concentrate if you all don’t take turns like you
always do. We can do this. I know
we can. You’ll all get your chance.
So let’s go. We only have an hour before dinner. Maybe we can get a good start on all this before we eat . . .
right! It’s time for dinner. Just
follow the crowd to the cafeteria. They look like they know what they’re
“You can have anything you want – as much as you want. You have to eat,” says the woman sitting across from me. “It isn’t good to not eat. We watch out for each
in the cafeteria is like sitting in a foreign land. They talk about stuff I can’t
relate to. That’s nothing new . . .
Well, dinner was pretty good. The
servers were pretty nice. Kept trying to get me to eat more. And I got chocolate milk with dinner! That was good. Now we have to finish this test. But
I am so tired. It was a long drive from Florida.
I need to lie down. There’s a meeting tonight though. I hope I can go to bed right after the meeting.
"Sure, you can go to bed anytime you
want,” the staff nurse assures me. “Are you feeling all right? Do you need anything? If you need anything
in the night, there’s always staff available to talk.”
“I’m fine. Just tired.” I make my way to my bedroom on the west
wing. My roommate is already in bed. She’s
had a rough day.
Good, the bed is small. Safe. No one can slip in with me. There isn’t room. The staff will be watching out for
me too. They won’t let anyone get me.
I can sleep now.
1:12 AM. Gotta pee. What’s this? Blood? I must have accidentally cut myself on something.
Maybe a pimple on my butt. I can’t get back to sleep. I think I’ll go to the great room and take a closer look at this blood.
I tiptoe out of the room so as not to wake my roommate and find my way to the great room.
If patients can’t sleep, the path around the outside perimeter of the room is for walking.
My God! Shit! What happened?
Where did all this blood come from? I can’t be bleeding from my
vagina! I’ve had a hysterectomy!
There shouldn’t be blood down there. I’ll get a nurse to check
“Is there a pimple on my butt
that looks like it popped on my nightgown?” I ask.
“No,” the nurse searches
for the source of the blood.
“Shit. How could this happen?” I ask, disbelieving.
“It happens all the time,”
she assures me. “When you truly feel safe, your body sometimes reacts at
a very deep level to the pain that was inflicted on you as a child. It releases
blood or tears or screams from cells that were scared and closed down when the trauma occurred. They’re called body memories. They’re real. You’re not crazy. Let’s clean
you up and change your sheets. Maybe you’ll be able to go back to sleep
in a while. Do you have another nightgown?
Looks like your work here has already started. Do you think you’d
like something to help you sleep?”
“No,” I say.
“OK. But if you need anything, let me know,” she says as she looks
at my chart.
drugs. That is my rule. “I’m
sure I’ll sleep fine...” I say as I walk toward my room. They
don’t know what it’s like inside me. No drugs.
I heard a patient screaming in the quiet
room last night. Her name is Tara. They
keep her there because she can’t be reached. She screams all night. So much abuse. Can’t be touched. Can’t take drugs. Her mattress
is on the floor. The staff takes shifts sitting in the doorway of a darkened
room, watching Tara toss and turn and scream. Maybe soon she’ll be able
to go see her therapist. Maybe her therapist will come to her. I hope so. Listening to her is so painful. She’s helpless in all the pain she’s re-experiencing.
Tomorrow I see Tracey. Nice name. They say she’s really good too. Hope so. I need some relief.
Can’t sleep. Not going to tell anyone about you all though. I keep waking up around midnight. No
drugs. It’s a rule for me. I
have to be in control of my body and mind at all times. No drugs.
says I’m chronically depressed and that I have a chemical imbalance because of it.
Or was it the other way around? Another case of the chicken or the egg. She suggests I start taking Prozac. She
says it isn’t addictive. I trust Tracey.
Guess I’ll do it. Ginger needs it. Hypo wants it. But I can’t tell Tracey about
among the “others” speeds up during this first stay at River Oaks. From
early childhood, I’ve worked hard to make my switching unnoticeable to other people.
While my outside world has been lonely and empty, relationships developed among some of the parts, forming a “system”
of alter personalities. Each new kind of painful experience creates new parts. The personalities that formed inside me as a child knew who was handling things
at all times. Each part has a name and specific job. Some have missions. That’s how “we” all
we have crayons,” says the staff attendant. “Here’s some paper
too. Do you need to talk?”
"No.” Just leave me alone. I just want to be alone.
sit in a small room just off the great room at a table with a tablet of drawing paper and some art supplies. My insides like drawing and coloring.
Okay. We have lots of work to do. No one should bother us here. Okay, I’ve got the crayons in both hands.
What colors do you need, Little Jody?… We have them all... The crayons are too small in my hands…
Why are you drawing that, Chosen One?… What kind of sword
is that?… Why all the jewels?…
Lots of anxiety and fears... We can tell Tracey about this tomorrow... She’s safe… We like her... She has a nice Southern voice, like Harriet.
I know I am safe with Tracey.
I brought the watercolors from Florida
too, if you need those, Nature Girl… Why don’t you paint your
favorite place, Sweetie Pie?.. Yeah, you feel safe there don’t you? Now you all can draw your safe places. Somewhere
to go when you’re feeling scared. Where no one will get you. Why do you always draw eyes in everything, Little One?
Because they’re always
watching us. They know what we think. They’re
You know... Them...
Yeah, this is the first time I haven’t felt like they were watching
us. There must be some sort of electronic device around this building that’s
keeping them from getting through. I’ll bet they’re mad that they
can’t get to us. Hope it’s strong enough to last the whole thirty
days I’ll be here.
Where’d that dagger come from? Why are you drawing something like that? Looks kind of military. Like in those survival movies, Rambo style.
Yeah. They used it
on me. But I don’t remember why.
Anyone have any ideas?
It’s something about the cave.
I want to paint my safe place, says Nature Girl (25). These knife things give me the willies. Too violent. My safe place is on a clearing above the Grand
Canyon. My long black hair can blow in the wind there as I look out over the
beautiful canyon at dawn. There are flowers all around and TuTu is sitting on
the rocks nearby, his soft polyester belly just waiting to be held in my arms. He
feels safe with me in the clearing too.
“That stuffed animal goes everywhere with you,” says the Social Worker. “Is he your favorite? My, what
an interesting painting. And that one is so pretty. Are you an artist?”
“His name is TuTu. I’ve had him for a long time.” Who said you could interrupt me? Us?
Go away!! Time to close up shop gang.
Maybe we’ll do this again later when no one will be around.