This is how tired I was: I was locked on the inside of the inside (read Suicide Watch Unit) of an Acute Psychiatric Crisis Floor.
“They fucking hate me,” Anna said from across the room. “All my friends. I hear them talking about me.”
She waited on her bed, cross-legged, long blonde hair cinched in a tight, high ponytail, fists in her lap, ready to pummel a wall, a nurse, me, herself. Anna was so young, so beautiful in her petulance and cursing and weeping. Ophelia on speed only hers was the naturally-occurring, manic variety.
I wanted to believe her. Surely there was a group of her former friends huddled outside in the parking lot beneath our reinforced Plexiglas window, whispering incantations—Anna, Anna, Fat and Blue. Anna Anna We Hate You—and she could, inexplicably, hear them.
I wanted to believe her when she said, “I don’t belong here. I want to go home. I’m not supposed to be here.”
I wanted to believe her because she, then, must believe me. Tit for Tat.
Really, I didn’t mean to cut up my arm with scissors. You didn’t really need to hold me against you all night in bed because I kept threatening to run outside and throw myself in front of a truck. Really, I’m not supposed to be here.
Her repeated insistence, louder and more hysterical over the next few hours necessitated nurses and orderlies (“Even when I was in my bedroom,” Anna shouted, “I could hear them. My landlord was fucking in on it, too. She tried to fuck with me, following me everywhere. She was in love with me. Always fucking with my apartment, messing with my stuff.”)
Didn’t she know that I was there for refuge, some small spot of time absent from chaos, from noise, from what I left behind? This was what was promised to me, at least in the abstract.
But didn’t I know this was bedlam? That my retreat to silence was only the opposite but equal response to an unrelenting careening around the curves by a disordered mind?
What I did not scream because I would not make a scene (Anna’s scene was both hyperbolic and honest as opposed to my deliberate disappearance from the scene): Please. Please. Please. I need to sleep. I haven’t slept in months. Shut the fuck up. Though this may sound like the exaggeration of someone equally crazy, this was true.
I was in that room with Anna for a reason. For two straight months, I’d been breastfeeding my nine month old son through sleepless nights (his) every hour, and then, because of my own version of Bipolar DeathMatch II, I had been unable to fall asleep between the intervals, waiting for him to wake again (twist, turn, roll, snuffle, snuffle, cry, wail), waiting for him not to wake up again (twist, turn, roll, roll back, silence, silence). So, two months with less than two hours of cumulative sleep a night equaled a nearly psychotic Mommy who was additionally exhausted because she had also been manically? maniacally? running 40 miles a week around and around and around an indoor track like some brutalized racehorse, and gradually and persistently cutting back on the food she would allow herself to eat (sicko reward and punishment system), and, oh yeah, for twenty odd years had been cutting her arms up with scissors and knives and glass and razors.
But unlike Anna and her conniving friends, I had a more pressing problem: six hours since I asked for a breast pump. What I forgot to pack in my obsessively methodical packing earlier that morning. Do I bring my books and the papers I need to grade by the end of the week? Must remain responsible! What about make-up and face scrub and Mango Tango Body Lotion? Must maintain appearances! And naively, what about a razor to shave my legs and armpits? Must not become a hairy, raving Sasquatch while inside because, of course, I was coming back out ASAP.
But the breast pump? I forgot it in the dish rack. Perhaps I couldn’t bear to remember to pack it since I’d never really needed it before. Now, milk dripped, dripped, dripped from under my soaked nursing pads, spilled down my ribcage, pooled in the folds of my stomach.
What I did not know at the time: I was being watched on 24-hour closed-circuit television. Live Fucked-Up Girls: The New Hit Reality Show. Anna and I were under surveillance. A room emptied of all personal effects, our bodies stripped and housed in bland hospital gowns, our feet covered in navy hospital socks, wrists banded in yellow. Two anonymous bodies known only by the risks such bodies pose to themselves.
What did the nurses see on the T.V.?
They did not see any tears from me. Not even when the tsunami of guilt crashed over my head and I started raking my arms under the sheet remembering the night before and my husband’s arms around me, restraining me because I threatened to do what? Or rolled my arm into the slash of light, inspecting the damage from wrist to elbow--I did this, again? (though regretting already that I did not swipe the stray safety pin I’d spotted on the floor of the intake examination room).
They did not see me sleep. I was so tired I could not sleep anymore. No, this isn't true. More precise: I would not sleep . My punishment for arriving Here when I had two children at home, one who needed the now dripping, pointless milk, the other who needed my arms wrapped tight around her tiny, warm body.
What did the nurses see on T.V.?
My fingers tiptoeing over the cuts on my arm.
My head falling to my knees, kneecaps blotting my eyes.
My arm, the good one, trying to staunch the flow of milk which won’t stop.
Milk soaking the hospital gown, the pillow, the sheets, but not the plastic mattress.
My body standing in the shower, my breasts in my hands, squeezing, compressing, my milk, his milk which is running down the drain.
There was no way out from under the indictment: I abandoned my son. How would he ever understand the inexplicable end to my nipple in his mouth, my body beside his? His Momma now gone, simply gone?
On the third day, the breast pump appeared, shrink-wrapped, on top of my pillow. I filled bottle after bottle, what would have filled him. Then tipped over bottle after bottle, spilled all of it down the sink. No more stained sheets and pillowcases.
On the fifth day, I stopped soaking through the pads. Just the sad, reliable law of Supply and Demand going about its efficient, impassive work.
What waste. But what I couldn’t see then, despite the pleas of Christopher and Dr. B., was that I, too, was wasting away.