I’m back after a two week stint in the psych hospital. Mania plus suicidal ideation (plus a small cut and a burn on my forearm) apparently got the best of me. Which evidenced itself, in the hospital in a combination: lying in my soothing white room on my white sheeted bed, wishing I could die because I was unable to feel anything anymore—neither joy or pain. Alternately, pacing the hallways, religiously counting off one hundred laps, two to three times a day. Somewhere in between the two, I reached a sort of détente: dissolution of ambition and imagination.
The first few days are lost to me. Mania knocked flat on its back by a new combination of drugs: Lithium, Zyprexa, Remeron, Wellbutrin, Klonopin, Vistaril, and Trazadone. I have a fleeting memory of my friend Jennifer visiting me, my mouth stuffed with the cotton of meds; she gave me her Burt’s Bees chapstick (since it felt like my lips were peeling off). Then there’s a flash of my parents’ visit; my mother generously offering up a six-pack of Diet Coke—not realizing that caffeine was banned. I drank one anyway, even when a nosy fellow patient tried to remind me of the rules. Beyond that? Nothing. Kerry as slug.
The doctor finally realized that my garbled speech and inability to form coherent sentences might be the result of over-medication. So dosages were lowered and I began to emerge from my haze. This is when the pacing began, the obsession with counting off the laps. At one point I was walking so fast and furiously that a doctor poked his head out of a room and asked me to stop as I was interrupting their meeting. So I waited for the meeting to break up and resumed: thirty-three, thirty-four, thirty-five, ad infinitum.
The eating disorder barged in, too. Every day, for every meal, I ate the exact same thing: two yogurts, one small cup of cottage cheese, and an assembly of sliced cantaloupe, grapes, and strawberries. Even this felt like too much, so sometimes I’d skip a yogurt or skim just the top of the cottage cheese.
The other patients? Most of them took wide latitude with the meal offerings each day, ordering double meals and desserts, their trays precariously full. Mine, in comparison, looked like the meal of some crazed ascetic. One patient, a recent Bosnia émigré, inhaled both the hospital’s meal, and then an hour later when his boatload of visitors arrived, ate a second home-cooked meal, replete with fruit and cake and chips and and and. Secretly, IT was proud of me, proud of my resistance. That extra cookies leftover from someone else’s tray? I declined, even though they looked good to my hungry self. That cherry cheesecake I ordered as a challenge to IT? Purged.
Slowly, slowly the mania subsided and now I am home, buffered by my retinue of medications, feeling placeless, feeling like I have lost my words, lost myself. Am I too low? I know that one of the descriptions the doctor used in regards to me was anhedonia: the inability to take pleasure in things that were once pleasurable. Today, for instance: I shuffled around the house, collapsing on my bed, staring at the walls, listening to my kids laughing, listening to my husband rattling around in the kitchen while he made pomodoro sauce from the tomatoes we picked yesterday and all I could think was, simultaneously: I don’t belong here anymore and How do I find my way back inside joy? And how do I do it when I am stuck inside a depressive inertia? Everything seems insurmountable, from feeding and bathing the kids to feeding and bathing myself. Squirting toothpaste onto my toothbrush feels is a herculean task. Getting dressed? A monumental necessity.
But I’ll do it because I want to live. Which is why I went to the hospital in the first place. Before the crisis, as a preemptive strike against IT. Now I need to summon up the reserves and carry on, one hour at a time, impatiently of course, because I am also counting the time I’m losing to IT—the hours and days and weeks and months and all added together? Years. The joy that I’m missing out on. The laughter with my kids. The pleasure of a big meal with my husband—foie gras, tagliatelle, seafood risotto (not in that combination). A me that is brave and bold and brimming with imagination and overflowing with words.