“Welcome to Nobel Hospital. We are glad you are here. Or we should be. Because we are here to help. And you are hiring us to do just that. Keep that in mind from now on because that may be hard to remember once you have fully arrived at the experience you are about to have.Your journey has just begun.”
Checking in at The Front Desk
“The concierge is out, so I will help you. I am a desk clerk. I probably have a different title, but that is basically what I am. I may have this job because I have an interest in the mental hurting and healing of others. Or I may just have a family to support and bills to pay and found the job on “Indeed.”
“My name is irrelevant. But I only make $8 an hour, and I may go home from my shift before yours begins, so try to keep your expectations of me low. I am not a licensed therapist and I don’t play one on TV.”
“First, let us have your ID and Insurance Card. Put them in that little opening on your side of the bulletproof glass there. Thanks.”
“Next, step through that door. That is where we screen people before we ‘[bring them back.’”
“Now, once Grumpy Guard has finished searching you, taking your belt, your shoelaces, anything sharp, except the pain that brought you to us and depending on the size of his piles, some of the very slight amount of dignity you may have left, step through the solid core steel door to the inner sanctum.”
“Pay no attention to his callousness to the fact that you wanted to die and came to us for help. He could give a shit. He has a bitching wife at home, bills to pay, and I suspect, some really bad hemorrhoids.”
“Next, we are going to take away your personal items that you have brought from home. Your clothes, shoes, any makeup, whatever you brought. We will give them back. At some point. We need to be sure that what you have is not potentially harmful to you or others.”
“So just take this clipboard please. And write as if your life depends upon it. And it kinda does. The forms will ask you to say what stressors have brought you to us today, what substances you might have ingested today, what made you take that whole bottle of lithium when you have a promising career ahead of you and are months away from a Master’s Degree.”
Be thorough. Be honest. Don’t leave anything out. Because your miracle may rest with just one set of the many eyes that will read your words during your stay.
“What HAS brought you here today? Was it the food? The ambience? Or your broken heart that caused you so much pain that you hurt so much to be awake you tried to go to sleep. Forever.”
In my many experiences in several psychiatric locked facilities, I think the majority of the people who work there do want to help people heal. Just keep in mind, they, like you, are all human. They have families. And stressors. And addictions. And mental illness of their own. In fact, some of them may be in as much or maybe more pain than you are in. So be mindful. Because hurting people are on both sides of the nurses station. The bulletproof glass. The solid core steel door. I don’t think Grumpy Guard woke up at age 4 and said, “When I grow up, I want to be a jerk to fragile people in my job as a security guard at a hospital.” Hurting people hurt people.
“And then, just wait. It may be an hour. It may be several hours. You may see some things you can’t unsee. You may feel more worthless than you thought possible when your 20 year old daughter who brought you here looks to the counselor with despair after filling out your paperwork for you because you cannot function well enough to put pen to paper and leaves you for what you feel like is a habitual abandonment of the one who you love the most.”
My daughter was three weeks old when she first lost her mother to mental illness.
In her 23 years since, I have had well over a dozen stays in several psychiatric facilities. From Oklahoma to Texas to Virginia. I hope I have been an example of someone who goes for help when they think they need it.
“By now, you have likely been assigned to a room. And possibly a roommate. And if you are lucky, you have received your belongings. Unless Grumpy Guard, (let’s call him GG from now on, cuz he will be back) has not had a chance to search through all of your belongings. In between bathroom breaks to apply his preparation H and call his wife to say what he wants for dinner.”
“There is good reason for the searches of your belongings before there is a determination as to what you can and cannot have with you. You may not fully understand why a person can’t have a product like makeup because it has some alcohol in it.”
“Or why you can’t have your eye shadow because there is a tiny mirror in the compact. These are all valid safety measures taken by us as we take your physical safety and the safety of those around you seriously.”
“Because while you may think you have the greatest pain in the room, there are others around you who are in their own exquisite agony. And they may be creative enough to try and get to your makeup mirror or alcohol infused cosmetics to try and relieve their pain.”
Yes. people really do hurt that much. Pain is ambitious.
You see, hurting people are not just suffering. They are creative. When a heart is broken enough, a tiny makeup mirror can also be broken. And used as a weapon of mass destruction.
Because when one person cuts themself to bleed, to feel, to not feel, to bloodlet, perhaps to let all of the blood escape, that is a mass destruction.
What? No, that is wrong! The very definition of mass states in large numbers.
Okay, I’ll take the debate. Let’s unpack that. A person is in enough pain that they are willing to break a compact mirror in shards and cut the very vessel that carries them through life. Let’s say they succeed with their bloodletting. They let it all go. The pain. The blood. The very life juice in their body.
Yes. They are dead. Our society calls it suicide. But this is just one person. Where is the Mass in that?
Well, if they are Catholic, maybe they suffered great injury where Mass should have been safe.
Were you affected when Robyn Williams hung himself? Did you join the masses who felt shocked and saddened at the loss of such a gifted joy bringer? Millions of people did. Millions are a mass. And I would rest my case, but I have more to say.
When I was 11, I was in the 7th grade. 1971. Happy as a clam. Living in Illinois, bowling every Thursday, about to hit puberty.
One day, my mom sat me down. She told me that my cousin was dead. He was 14. He had taken the family shotgun and shot himself in the head. This was the first I had heard of the word suicide. I was told there were drugs involved.
My 11 year old brain had just learned that a person could make themself die. On purpose. And that drugs were dangerous because sometimes people could use them and then make themself dead.
And my cousin, who was the oldest of three, who was a talented and creative and sensitive and funny young boy, was gone. Forever.
And this was just the beginning. In the 51 years that followed to date, I would come to know suicide well enough.
On the way to “Your Unit”
“These are the beautiful grounds of Nobel Hospital. See the fishpond to your right? Beautiful. Right? You will get to go there. And once you have become a ‘resident’ here at what is likely to be a 3 to 10 day stay at “The Spa”, you will want to go there. Because beauty is healing. And you need that.”
“To your left, you will see the swimming pool. Weather permitting, you can enjoy the healing powers of the sun and some of your fellow travelers here. I recommend it.”
“We even have basketball. The ball may seem very heavy as most things in your life right now clearly are. Don’t worry. There is a child in all of us that still likes to play H.O.R.S.E. Let yourself play. And move. And breathe. And even laugh. These things are all medicine for which there will be no charge and no side effects.”
“There is sidewalk chalk too. Use it. Do it. Express. Draw. Create. It is in you. Just like when you were a kid. And that kid is still in you too. Let him or her out to play. That is part of being fully alive. Believe it or not, it isn’t too late for some of that.”
“And down the way there, you will see our 18 hole golf course under construction. We are trying to come up with a way to use Nerf clubs and balls so as to provide a safe experience when you get teed off.”
Once on the Unit
“Now, strip. No, we aren’t asking which cut of steak you want for dinner. Yes. We are going to have you strip. For a search. No cavities. That is for your dentist to look into.”
These nurses are usually quite nice. They will weigh you. They will measure your height. And your demeanor.
And they will take your blood. But not all of it.
Just remember. Everyone here is human. And everyone has things going on in their life. And some of them could easily qualify to be your roommate.
There will be groups to attend. I recommend them. Some of the group facilitators are really gifted. They speak from experience, making them both capable of and giving of both compassion and empathy. They bring helpful tools to be used when you return to the outside world.
“And remember. Trust the process. You get out what you put in. So if given the choice between sitting in your room staring out the window with the heavy rubber curtain out at the helicopter pad of the “regular” hospital or laying on the tiny bed with the lifeless pillow, Go down the hall. To the T.V. room. Or the group that is going on.”
“Don’t be alone with you. Not right now. That likely is part of the reason you have come to need us. You have spent too much time alone. In your head. Allowing those thoughts of how worthless, unlovable and hopeless you are to grow. Like weeds. In a garden.”
“Or maybe you have been hurt by a person. Maybe you have just learned all in one night that your husband of over 20 years has been paying for sex for six years and drinking all the while you are thinking he is sober and happily married to you and that his head bobs up and down at the dinner table because he has jet lag. After all, he travels all over the world.”
“Or maybe you have suffered yet another loss. You have already lost a husband to disease or addiction, children to violence because of their demographic in life. And now, the death of your dog, your last companion proves more than you can bear. “
“Or a father who has killed himself has led you to relieve your own pain with opiates and now, in your early thirties, you need help to save your own life because your addiction is out of control.
If you have a substance abuse problem or alcohol problem, and if you are fortunate enough to be where there are those who bring information about twelve step recovery into the unit, check out what they have to say.
You may just find your answer there.
Your Room/Roommate/Fellow Travellers
“Now let’s take you to your room. You are likely quite worn out after checking in for wanting to check out, so let’s see who we have for you to share your nights with.”
Looking back, I have had several roommates.
One was a young woman of 18, who had been in serious abuse with men from a young age who was certainly facing a hard road when she got out.
Another young girl in her thirties. She was bright and creative. She would come to groups practically juggling all of her colored markers and coloring books that she was using to cope with her second round of opiate withdrawal after the suicide of her father.
Another bright young woman with an unusual name that I got really good at mispronouncing, but who I had a great connection with, as we were both “frequent fliers” of a sort in that we had both darkened the doors of several psych wards. Much like inmates, we would steal off to the corner of the group room on breaks to laugh and discuss our observations and experiences before and during our current stay.
She was a few months out from her Master’s Degree, having taken an overdose of her lithium, the very drug that gave her brain the capacity to function well enough to get that degree. I surmise God has big plans for her because on paper, she should not have survived that toxicity. And survive she did. Only to get that Master’s Degree along with a new life complete with a happy marriage and a career in non-profit.
Another who, upon entry to the hospital, the nurses asked me to “show her the ropes.” Well, there were no ropes, that was not safe, but you get my drift. They wanted me to encourage her, knowing that by encouraging me to encourage her, I would have some sense of purpose or value, which I was lacking upon my own arrival.
I told her “You are going to do great here.” Today, she is engaged to be married, building a home with her fiance and sporting a tattoo of the words “You are going to do great here.”
Proof that I mattered in the life of another human. Because of the words I said. That is a good feeling.
But I also made some poor choices over the years in choosing friends from the hospital which affected my family at home.
I asked one friend to come and live with me and my husband and daughter, who,was not even 10 at the time. This woman who I cared deeply for took 40 Restoril one night, trying to kill herself. Right down the hall from my daughter’s room. Thankfully, she lived. But when I imagine the trauma my daughter would have suffered around that…
I met another good friend while in Dallas for some care for my horrific depression and grief after my mom died in 2011. (Turned out there was a lot of grief there, but that is not in the DSM, so they just called it depression. Which was unfortunate, as I elected to have shock treatment. Which doesn’t fix grief. More on that later.)
I was also hurting from a lonely, unhappy marriage that had yet to be put out of its misery. So having someone to engage in joy with filled a void that I had had for many years.
She was a bright, young, broken hearted woman of 40 something who had tried to kill herself after her divorce. And she and I became friends. I was there for two weeks for an outpatient program and I stayed with her and her sweet dog Sophie as a guest in her home. We laughed, cooked steaks, watched tv and I helped her hang pictures in her charming bungalow home where she had just moved near SMU.
It was Spring when we met.
In July, I reached out to her. Could not get in touch. I contacted her mom only to find that she was finding Sophie a new home because my friend had succeeded in leaving this life at her own hand. And my heart broke.
All gave me compassion. For human suffering. All gave me gratitude. In hindsight. For what could have been my life. Or the end of it.
You may feel like you have found that best friend you have never had because, let’s face it. There is no sorority or fraternity called WTD (Wanting To Die) in which you can meet, socialize and feel like you belong. And we all need to belong.
Remember. None of us come here for the food. (Although the chicken tetrazzini is mighty tasty. And those ice cream bars are to (not) die for.)
But take caution in forming “fast friends” where you have come to get help to find a reason to live. For there are those here who have tried to die several times before and some will leave and succeed. And there is nothing you can do. But stay alive yourself to honor them.
My First Time At Nobel Hospital
My first time at Nobel Hospital was when I was 37 years old. I had just experienced the miracle of bringing a life into this world.
It is my estimate that from the age of 37 to the age of 58, I had been in some kind of hospital setting for some kind of treatment for mental agony or food dysfunction around two dozen times, give or take. I lost track. I do know that upon my last (and by my intent, FINAL stay,) the opening line of the doctor assigned to my care was, “You have been here 7 times in 7 years.”, so you see, the accounting of these facts might require a forensic CPA. Suffice it to say, I have done my time.
Three weeks after the birth of my daughter, I wanted to take a life out of that same world she had just come into. Mine. My brain chemistry went to hell in a hand basket. I wasn’t sleeping. My thoughts were terrifying. And out of control. I was under siege.
The day my daughter was born, all of the happy mothers and some of the fathers were gathered around for the baby bath training class. I remember about 6 or so of us with our spouses and new bundles of joy. As I recall, all of the moms got up to bathe their babies at the nurse’s instruction. Except me. I could not get out of my chair. I felt paralyzed. And I had no interest in bathing my baby. Or anything else really. It is a bit of a blur to recall.
We were sent home. I had read the book “What To Expect When You Are Expecting”. And beyond the baby, what I was expecting was the possibility of the thing called Postpartum Depression. Because I had had such prevalent depression from the age of 13 up to the age of 36 when I became pregnant.
I had told my OB/GYN of my concerns when I first became pregnant. It would have been prudent to do so. And it would have been partly on him to see to it that in the event of my “coming down” with postpartum depression or psychosis, he would be accountable to help me so that my baby had a healthy and safe mother to be with. That was not the case. So with that I should change OB/GYN to OBO/AICMMIOT (or #oncethebabysoutandicollectmymoneyimouttoo).
You might recall the case of Andrea Yates. The woman who drowned her five children in June 2001 after suffering from postpartum psychosis after the birth of her fifth son. She was convicted of murder which was later overtuned and she is now living in a low security mental health facility. When I saw that story, my daughter was just over three years old. While America ranted and judged and “vigilant-eed” at her, hungry for a witch to burn at the stake for her actions, I knew her sickness. I remembered what, for me, my husband and our baby was the year from Hell. Postpartum. Because I had survived it, albeit on a much smaller scale.
As I was trying to be with my daughter at home, I became sicker. The sleep deprivation of the late night feedings. The crying baby. The strange and annoying voice of the woman on late night talk radio while I sat in that glider rocker all the girls at pregnant mom swim classes had raved about, trying to get my baby to latch on, (latching on for me was like trying to snap that tiny snap at the top of the back of my dress in the dark with no fingernails), all were taking their toll.
I was beginning to know firsthand why child abuse is a thing. Why people shake their babies.
The thoughts showed up. In my head. Uninvited. I did not act on them. But my brain chemistry was a fucking shit show and there is a reason sleep deprivation has been used to torture prisoners of war.
Because it will make you crazy.
I wanted nothing more than to breast feed my daughter. And to be connected to her. But while I had expectations of months of being her milk machine, losing the baby weight and gaining the much needed connection between me and my child, instead, I found myself standing in my kitchen. Obssessed with thoughts racing at such a pace that I found myself gripping my center island in my hands, thinking, “If I do leave a suicide note, what will I say?”
What I really needed was to be there for my new little baby girl. Who had just had a lovely 37 week vacation floating peacefully in relative darkness and quiet, with her foot wedged between my third and fourth ribs, only to find herself pushed out into fluorescent lights to the charge of a mother that was somewhat incapable of meeting her basic needs.
I had a home health nurse with me who was trying to advocate for me that I could use her so that I could heal at home with my baby. She was like my personal assistant. She got it. She knew I was in Hell between my ears and she was picking up the slack.
I could not handle too much sound or light. And I could not have visitors. She put notes up in the house saying to keep the TV off and the lights down. The sleep deprivation from the night feedings along with my already irregular brain chemistry had become the perfect storm. It was as if I experienced all sensory things tenfold. Light. Sound. Smells.
Sadly, I was not supported to care for my baby and heal at home as I should have been.Our healthcare system is run by insurance companies, where Satan is in charge and they told my home health person that if I was in such need of her services that they felt I should just be hospitalized.
That was the world my innocent child had arrived in in 1997 in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
In Europe at that time, they were advanced in their preparation and ensuing care in the event of these episodes where the mother is rendered ill by the very body that has just produced the miracle of life. They even had husband’s and support members of the family involved in caring not just for the newborn child, but for the newborn mother.
They say when you fly that the mother needs to put the oxygen mask on herself before her child in the event of an emergency. Well this poor baby lost her mom to mental illness at age 3 weeks because the oxygen was running out at her house and mom needed some air to breathe.
So off I went. To the place I have since come to know too well as “The Spa.” Also the Pink Palace. In fact, the psychiatric hospital is a part of the “regular” hospital on the same campus. Had I known I would have ended up in “The Spa” on the day my daughter was born, I would have just had them roll me down the one driveway where they treat all of the other body part ailments and up the driveway where their house specialty was the contents of the human head.
My psychiatrist at this time had been astonished at how well I had done in my pregnancy.
In fact, when, after him treating me medically over two years for bipolar disorder, (later found to have been an erroneous label,) I walked into his office a woman of 36 announcing that I wanted to have a baby, he urged great caution in making my decision to do so. Because what would be required was that I be taking off a slew of psychotropic meds (sounds like tropical, but not so much a beach experience for me, unless you count the beached whale experience of my bloated carcass after 2 years on the drug lithium which for me caused a flatline personality on a blowfish puffy woman with a whole lot less hair than God intended…)
Once off all meds, including a 16 year run with birth control pills, I was pretty fertile, the boys DID swim, and I had a bun in the (maiden)Bunn oven.
Pregnancy was interesting. I hosted that little alien to her heart’s content. Spent the first trimester in bed. Not eating. Or smelling much. In the way of food. I could hardly swallow anything. The mere smell of food made me want to hurl. I had morning noon night sickness from Hell. Finally, after 10 pounds of weight loss, and a two month steady diet of “Days Of Our Lives” and “All My Children,” I was admitted to the hospital for severe morning sickness and dehydration.
But that was just the first trimester. I came back swinging and eating in the second. I was on fire. And was happy. Happy. Happy. No depression. Much like prior to the onset of my first menstrual cycle at age 13. Coincidentally (?I think not.) The same time my moods began to go to Hell. Definite hormonal component to my story here.
I was working a temp job part time. Had thick ringlet curls. Ate everything that I wanted. I felt amazing.
Then the third trimester arrived. (Today, I am in my third trimester again. Only for MY life. It’s how I see it since turning 60. Mom made it to 88 so…)
This is where the ropes course for sleep deprivation begins. She now has kicked up her heel or heels or all pointed limbs that can be used to dig into my ribs. That is where she liked it. And that is where she parked it. I, on the outside of all of this, made love to my body pillow, which went the length of my body for about four feet and around which I gave it my all to contort myself into whatever human pretzel shape would accommodate some damn sleep. Not much success here.
So, I would wander out of the bedroom and into my blue gingham recliner in the living room, where I would obsessively read The Bible. Not THAT Bible. The one for expectant mothers in 1997 which was the book, “What To Expect When You’re Expecting.”
All the girls were reading it. The girls from my pregnant mom’s swim class, where I had hung out in the health club pool for the second and part of the third trimester leading up to baby day.
THAT was an education. There were five or six of us. ALL first time moms. ALL freaking out in the locker room, sharing our “baby parasite and what it is doing to our bodies” stories. Such a comfort. Community. That is a good thing. But their stories about their loving nurturing baby doctors were not MY experience. If I could go back, I would have changed that. But that is hindsight. Right?
One of the girl’s was expecting twins. I saw her months out after hers were born. Walking through the Flea Market. Looking dazed and not amused, pushing that stroller that had her outnumbered two to one. It was more fun in the pool. Said her face.
That book was my go to. It told me how I could carry a jar of pickles with me in my purse so that if my water broke in public, I could drop the jar of pickles and say, I don’t know, “Sorry, my pickle jar fell out of my vagina and got your floor all messy?”
I did not have a mother from whom to glean anything. I mean, mine had popped out three kids, but frankly, she wasn’t really into the maternal thing and to be fair, I never thought to ask her about what it was like for her. In any event, I felt fairly alone in regards to having the loving nurturing mother to go to and draw from. That was not the mold she had come from.
I dug through the placenta to find the manual for how to be a mom and do all of this by the way. Nothing. I was on my own. In so many ways.
My Last Mental Health Hospitalization
To summarize, I was in and out of the hospital three times for nearly 30 days total .
When I was released for the third time in February 2018, after nearly a month I told the doctor. “I have to do this on the outside.” they had given me all of the tools. Three times in and out of there adding up to nearly a month.
They were an acute care unit and they needed the bed and I needed to leave that nest. One where I sometimes wonder if I didn’t say the right things to get admitted so that I could get away from my unhappy life, go where someone who didn’t struggle to plan a menu or eat could make sure I was fed, where I had a roommate because at home, my husband had moved across the house out of husband status and into official roommate status in the guest room and to be fair, I did not put up a fight. We were over before we even got started. Didn’t even consummate our marriage on our wedding night. I digress. The doctors agreed and I was discharged in February 2018 for what I hope is the last time I will ever see the walls of a psychiatric hospital again.
My Life Today
And now, it is September 2020. In what I like to refer to as the year of perfect vision. For me, it has been just that. In February, I got a clear vision that God wanted me to look into relocating from my home for most of 50 years in Tulsa, Oklahoma to the Emerald Coast of the Gulf of Mexico. Destin, Florida, to be precise.
I came here for the entire month of February to be certain that my heart’s desire was in direct alignment with God’s will for me. I had made moves based on my will more than once and at the age of 60, I did not want to do that again. So I rented a tiny cottage three blocks from the beach at Miramar Florida, Destin’s answer to a superb suburb, where I acted as if this were my home. I did not buy alot of souvenirs. Or eat out alot. Or go on fancy boating excursions. Instead, I cooked fancy dinners at home for me and my soul. I watched “Eat, Pray, Love”, and I painted pictures and made art. I took long walks on the beach every single of the 29 mornings, taking photographs so that I could bring the beach with me when I returned to Tulsa.
I went to a meeting with other sober seeking souls every morning at 8am, finding my tribe to end all tribes of my 35 years sober. I knew this was it. I was home. These were my people. When people asked me where I lived, I happily replied, as more was revealed of where God wanted me for his purposes “I’m glad you asked. I moved here to Destin on Feb. 1. I will remain here for the entire month at which time I will return to Tulsa, fulfill my lease commitment, launch my 22 year old daughter into the world and then I will return home. Here. In Destin, Florida.”
And I did just that. My daughter is on her own and on her way. And I am living the dream in my third floor one bedroom roomy lofty apartment a mile from the beach, where I have been home since August first. I have a new fur baby girl named Miramar and I have many friends in place as well as new ones showing up every day. At the pool. In my building and at the beach. Where I continue to go. Every morning. To watch God turn on the lights.
I don’t see me ever again darkening the doors of another mental health hospital, but out of respect for a brain chemistry that I cannot control beyond a certain point, if any of my many tools in my kit fail me, I will go for help as that help is why I am still here. All of the pain that took me to check in for wanting to check out, has subsided for the most part as a result of doing the things that have been recommended. I eat well, sleep, exercise, pray, meditate, medicate and I do things for others. And as long as I continue to do these things, a day at a time, I have every faith that all will be well. Even when things may not seem or feel well in the world, I know from experience that they can be well inside of me. And for that, I am eternally grateful.
So if you are reading this and you are in any way relating to the pain I have shared, but feel hopeless in the present tense, get help. Because so far, in spite of your pain, at this very moment, you are a 100% success. At staying alive. And some days, that is enough.
Suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem. Whatever it is. Don’t believe those thoughts. You are hurting because your pain is asking for your attention. Please give it that.
Call a trusted friend. And if you don’t have one, call me. (918.813.6983. Lucinda) Because if you have read this far, you will have an idea that I have been there and I am on the other side. Let me encourage you. Keep looking forward. Whatever is plaguing you right now will one day be just a speck in your rear view mirror.
And if you don’t have someone and you still want to die, I am not going to ask you not to. Or try to save you. But I am going to ask you to just have one more conversation. Make one more phone call. Reach out one more time or maybe for the first time. Because I can tell you, for all of the suffering my thoughts and mind and brain chemistry have caused me, if I could believe listening to one person who is done with this life could help that person want to keep going, then I will know I have not suffered in vain.
I may not know you, but I love you.
And if not me, make that last call to these people who will not judge you, but who will instead just listen.
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline