“It’s getting very Girl, Interrupted up in here.”
“Oooo, yes!” says Sarah, stretching her lithe body on a cheap yoga mat. “You’re the quiet one, so I guess that makes you Winona Ryder, and makes me Angelina Jolie.”
I laugh. “Do you really want to play the part of the sociopath here?”
“Hey, you’re the one that chased a bottle of aspirin with a bottle of vodka.” She pauses. “You’re not that bad, are you?”
A hollow laugh escapes me. “No.” That arrow struck a little too close to the mark for my taste.
She stands up, all bone and sinew. I feel like could throw her over my shoulder, run off with her, and not be worse for the wear. She bounces about the room like an elastic that’s been twanged. Her springy limbs stretch out in all directions, arching her back to crack her bones.
“I think the Valium is kicking in. My muscles are all loosy-goosy. It’s so nice!”
“Ah, I see they gave you the good stuff. They won’t even give me a damn Ativan for my anxiety.” I sigh heavily. “As soon as you get the ‘druggie’ label stamped on your head, it’s all over.”
“Well, that’s no fun,” her high-pitched voice trailing off towards the end. “What are they giving you for anxiety, then?”
“Some bullshit antihistamine. I’m basically popping Benadryl. It doesn’t do shit.”
“Then why do you keep taking it?”
I pause. “Actually, I’m not sure. I suppose it’s force of habit…”
A knock on the door. It swings open, a mild-mannered blonde lady in scrubs peeps in, flashes us a saccharine smile, and then closes the door. We barely notice the brief intrusion. If I got startled every time a nurse did her rounds, I’d leave here even more neurotic than before.
“Ugh, I need my Adderall! I’m, like, freaking out here.” She forces herself to sit down, trying to wind her brain down for just a moment.
“I can’t believe Adderall calms you down. That shit would have me bouncing off the walls like a bottle rocket.”
“Well, I have ADHD, so stimulants calm me down.” It’s interesting how quickly a struggle with mental illness will suddenly turn you into an amateur physician, a self-proclaimed expert on drugs and brain chemistry.
“I should probably consider getting out of bed, getting out of this room,” I say, lying back on my bed, eyes shut. “If the nurses tell the doctor that I’ve become a recluse, I’ll never get out of here.”
“Come! Let’s go for a walk!”
“The fuck where? Up and down the hallway?”
“Yes, come on!” Her skinny arm grabs mine and peels me off my bed.
“Oh, fine. I suppose it couldn’t hurt to make an appearance.”
I glance around the room, all neutral colors and stiff sheets. Blunted edges, sharp-free. Sighing, I slip on my shoes and follow Sarah out the door.
It takes us less than two minutes to exhaust the walking distance of our living space. This hospital shrinks your universe down like nothing else can. We can’t go outside except for two designated walking times throughout the day, and the walk is limited to hospital grounds, under constant supervision. I had seriously doubted that anyone had ever tried to make a run for it, but my mother told me that’s exactly what my cousin Jimmy did when he was hospitalized for his schizophrenia years ago. The mental image of my cousin furiously trying to outrun hospital nurses with his beer belly hanging out still makes me laugh.
After several more laps of our microcosm, the walls start closing in. I was a bit listless before, but Sarah’s hyperactivity is rubbing off on me. The frenetic restlessness that precedes anxiety sends electricity shooting through my nerves. I start looking frantically for something to do, someone to talk to, anything. I find John sitting in one of the TV rooms and sit down next to him. He turns to me, his strong features and square jawline lit with unspent energy.
“Hi Erika! Done running around with the rabbit?” His eyes, wide with mania, look at me so intensely that I can hardly stand to look at him.
“I just can’t handle this place anymore. I’m going to start clawing my way out soon.”
“Any word on when you’ll be leaving?”
“The doctor says I’ll be staying the weekend, and leaving Monday or Tuesday.”
“Ah, that’s probably when I’ll be leaving too! I’ll make sure to come find you before I go – I’m gonna miss you the most.” His kind face breaks out into a smile.
“Aww, that’s sweet. I’ll miss you too…” I’m a bit taken aback. For much of my stay here, I’ve been the main audience for John’s war stories. He works (well, worked) as an emergency paramedic, a job I don’t envy in the slightest. He suffers from PTSD as a result of the sights he’s encountered on the job. That, on top of his bipolar disorder, have made it basically impossible for him to continue doing his job.
“Oh, and did you hear?” I say. “I’m bipolar, too.”
“Oh, is that what the doctors have decided?”
“Yup. I’ll just add that to the list, I guess.”
“But you don’t get manic, do you?”
“Not really. But the doctor says I have episodes of hypomania – it’s a step below mania, but shares some of the characteristics of mania. For me, it’s anxiety and impulsivity.”
“Oh.” The fire in his eyes dims down a bit. “Well, do you buy it?”
“I’m not sure yet.” I’ve had so many diagnoses thrown at me over the course of the past year, that it was hard to say what I do or don’t have. First there was major depression. Then borderline personality disorder. Then generalized anxiety disorder. Then rapid-cycling bipolar disorder. Then dysthymia, otherwise known as double depression (because one depression just isn’t enough!) And now bipolar type II. At this point, I don’t even know why I bother asking. I’m not using the information. It has all blurred together and become relatively meaningless. Whatever disorder it is that plagues me, it’s really averse to clean categorization. It keeps squirming under the microscope, never letting anyone take a clear shot of it.
The thought drains the energy from me. Maybe I should go back to my room. I give John a somber smile and slink back into my bedroom. I lie back on the bed, staring at the ceiling, thinking about everything and nothing in particular.
Maybe Sarah is right. Maybe I am just a girl interrupted. Maybe I’ll find that this whole experience was just brief turbulence on an otherwise smooth-sailing flight. I suppose only time will tell. I close my eyes, focusing on that explosion of colors and shapes that lurks behind your eyelids, and try not to worry. It doesn’t work very well.