Being Better is Hard


My roommate still curled up on the bed: heartbroken and missing her baby. I nestled next to this stranger and hugged her. She leaned into the hug and I think we both felt something intangible in this hug. Two mothers aching to hold their children; we understood this pain too well. I stroked her greasy matted hair delicately breaking up knots and shushing her like rocking a baby to sleep. Through tears and boogers she continued to release the emotions keeping her in bed.

 “Do you want to get home to your baby?”

“Yes.”

“Then you need to get up, take a shower, turn your underwear inside out, and wear these (I gave her clothes). Come to meals, go to group, draw some pictures, and I can manage to find a way to get you some hot cocoa. But you won’t get home sooner laying on this terrible bed.”

I gave her shampoo, broke off a portion of my deodorant bar, and scooted her to the shower. I guarded the door to assure our male neighbors across the way didn’t peek in. She emerged new.

I felt so clear-minded. So confident.  And then the psychiatrist submitted my medication order.  They gave me a medication to help with my anxiety, my nightmares and my terrible backache. I spent the rest of my second day in a trance listening to D shout/sing a blues song he made up. I hardly moved from my chair. I tried reading but the words shifted in and out of focus. I slurred in my speech. Staff took more notes. I went to the second group an over-medicated zombie.

When asked about my disposition I replied “I need to see a social worker.” I rubbed my eyes and forehead in hopes my brain might reorganize with the motion. It remained a jumbled mess. I don’t remember dinner that night, although I’m sure it was another gray, fake meat, powdered potatoes concoction. Everyone seemed worried about me. “I’m ok. It’s just this medicine. I don’t feel quite right.”

Evening med call.

Me to nurse “I don’t think these meds are working. I can’t seem to adjust. How long will it take?” The nurse flips through charts and papers. “Oh here’s why. There are two of you with the same last name and first initial. You took the wrong one. We’ll get that fixed by morning. Here’s the medicine for you to sleep.”

Too high to complain I took the pill again. My roommate wanted to talk. My eyes hung heavy and despite the fact she had my pillow I fashioned one from my old scrubs and my bag. To say I crashed is an understatement.

Day 3: After waiting in line for vitals I immediately went to the front desk. “I need to see a social worker. There’s a list on the board why am I not on it?”

“You can’t see a social worker unless you request to.”

“I have requested to see one since I arrived.”

“Did you fill out a form?”

“What form? “

“You should have been given one at intake.”

“I signed a million forms that night. I’m sure it’s in my file. Please look.”

“I am sorry I can’t check that right now. I’ll let you know after breakfast.”

Breakfast: A woman wearing a wolf shirt with long silver hair sits with me. She tells me about the corruption in her neighborhood and the voices that speak to her.

 I nervously tap my foot “Why the hell do I not have a social worker yet?”

Me to new lady at the desk: “Hi. Did you guys find my social worker request?”

“I’m sorry we just switched shifts. It’s going to take me a minute to get caught up.”

“While I’m in group can you please check for me?”

“Sure can sweetheart.”

Med window:  “How were your vitals this morning?”

“Good. My BP is decreasing but I’m worried about getting the wrong meds. Please check the chart first. My social is…”

“Oh I’m so glad you said something. These were for the other person with your same name. Here are yours. Swallow.”

Group: Blah, blah, blah.

Me: “Hang in there.” Self-talk that’s a strategy. “Hang in there.”

Blonde sliced and diced arm girl: “I am NOT going home today. Do you guys even understand? I am going to be right back here with another gash up my other arm if you make me go home!”  She’s been picking her stitches out.

D: “Baby girl you gotta go home. Not everyone has a home to go to.” (Suddenly I’m more invested. I know this feeling).

Veronica begins to sign her story: “My husband locked me in our home for years. I birthed his children and wasn’t even allowed to see them off to school in the morning. I never had a job or money. I had him and those babies. I escaped that man with nowhere to go and for years I didn’t understand why I missed him. I missed him because I missed home. Living in shelters with only my knitting bag made me feel so inadequate. How can I be a person without a home? I may be here because I didn’t know I was a person. Little girl you go home to your mom and dad. They love you. They spoiled you. You cut your arm because you didn’t get your way. Don’t cut the other because someone offered you a chance to make it right and that scares you. Go home and accept love.”

A new participant raises his hand: “My job as a parent is to be hard on my kids sometimes. I hate doing it. But I’m sitting here realizing that I don’t allow other people to hold me accountable. I drink too much. I crashed my car with my kids in it because I didn’t care about being accountable. (He weeps) How my children survived I don’t know. But I’m here. I hate my life. My past.  My parents. My ex-wife for telling me I had to be this and that. I would have rather died that just listen to them. I would have rather my children die with me than address WHY I’m an alcoholic. Girl I don’t know you, but I think you’re mad at the people telling you it’s time to stop this nonsense and get your head right. That’s not fair to the people who love you. Don’t end up like me.”

The artist: “I try at least once a year to kill myself. I let them shoot electric shocks in my brain so I don’t feel this way. I keep a “mental hospital bag” ready like people do when they are having babies. I’d give anything to be told I can go home and that I don’t need to be too worried. Instead I get sent home when insurance sends a letter and I survive until the next time. I go home to nothing. To no one. And I hang in there until I’m literally broken again.  I use all my medical leave at work. My students see my scars and bandages. You are mad because your mom loves you and wants you home? Are you kidding me? GO home. Go shopping. Quit bitching.”

Me: “I need to see a social worker.”

Group: Why?

I adjust in my seat: I need to get a case manager to help me find affordable housing. I need a home. OF MY OWN. I need appropriate child support. I need on-going access to a therapist to help me problem solve. I need a child care subsidy. I need to find an affordable daycare. I need to work more jobs and find someone who can watch my child while I’m working nights and weekend shifts. I need money to pay my attorney. I need a backbone. I need to deal with my trauma that swept me up and landed me here. I need a social worker. I need a mom. I need a family. I need meaningful connection. I need someone to give a damn. I need to be home with my son—our bond is a protective factor despite all the statistics working against us. I need to trust healing and love.

Knock: “We need to see you.”

“Yes. Me?”

“The social worker will see you now.”

Thank God. The group claps.