2 North, The Looney Bin


February, 1996


My husband drops me off. I'm going to be evaluated while he runs a few errands. He'll come pick me up when he's done. I walk up to the reception desk and introduce myself. "Oh yes. Someone is on their way to talk with you. You can wait in this room. Would you like a soda?" I accept the receptionist's offer and receive a Diet Coke as I'm led to a room to wait. Silent tears start to stream down my face as I replay the events of the day.


It started with an overseas call to my mother June. "I have to leave my family. All I do is cause damage." I had been in the grip of the Blue Meanies for months. I've been lying to my husband about what I do all day, which is hide and panic. He thinks I'm working full-time and making good money. Sadly, I've been dodging and scrambling. Working six hours a week at a law firm, writing myself check after check from their Trust Account, waiting to be caught. I unplug the phone so it doesn't ring off the hook from creditors. I have our mail put on vacation hold so I can weed out the NSF checks that are being returned with hideous fees. It's exhausting, smiling through the lies, waiting for it to all come crashing down. "I'm horrible, terrible. I don't know what's wrong with me. I can't stop. This isn't fair to my family. I'm toxic. I destroy everything I touch. The only way to save them is to remove myself."


"Why do you do this?" asks June. "You're such a lovely girl."


I walk, haggard and makeupless to the law firm. I go into the office of the most compassionate attorney. "I'm a split personality." I tell him. "I thought I had this under control. I'm so sorry. I just realized I've stolen thousands of dollars from you." I'm not a split. Just out of my mind. The Blue Meanies have been running amok. I'm looking for an out.


While I am confessing, June is not getting an answer at the house. She calls my doctor's office and tells her I'm suicidal. I'm picking up my son from kindergarten when my doctor tries the house. She calls the police, who are on my front lawn talking to my completely-in-the-dark husband when I arrive home with my son. "Are you suicidal?" an Officer asks me. No. "Are you taking anything for depression?" Prozac. "Have you taken it today?" Yes. Satisfied, they leave. I tell my husband we need to talk and take my son to the daycare he went to the year before. "I'm having a breakdown." I say to the woman who runs the place. "Can you take him?" She does.  No questions asked.


My husband is beside himself. He got a panicked call from June at work and rushed home only to find me gone and police standing at the door. He is concerned about my mental health, but not knowing of my recent exploits, thinks my mother may have overreacted to a bad phone call. If she isn't overreacting, he wants to know, why I'm reaching out to her instead of him. The phone rings and it's my doctor ordering me to 2 North for an evaluation. I tell her I'm fine but she says she will get a court order to commit me. She tells me it is much easier to get out of 2 North if I go in voluntarily than it is if I'm court ordered in.


So here I sit. In a small, white room. More like a cell than a room. And oh My God, it is actually padded. The walls are fucking padded. They think I'm a crazy person and have put me in a padded cell! The room is totally empty. Nothing to hurt myself with. The door is propped open, so everyone walking by can see me, Crazy Woman, sitting on a padded bench in a padded room, heaving silent sobs as the reality of my situation sinks in. Up until now I have been in Full Crisis Mode. Calmly picking up my son, assuring my husband and the police that everything is perfectly fine, my mother just blew things out of proportion. Now I have nothing to do but sit in an empty room and Think. Fuck! Finally the shrink arrives.


I hear myself talking. What am I saying? Better pay attention. "Please help me. My brain is breaking. I really believe my family would be better off without me. I would have had a better life if my father had left earlier or killed himself. I don't want my son to grow up with me. I want my husband to find a good wife." The shrink gives me a choice. I can commit myself to the Looney Bin voluntarily, or go home and the police will come to my house with a court order, and put me in the back of a waiting ambulance for my child and his neighborhood pals to see. "My husband will be back soon to pick me up. Will you tell him where I am?"


I am escorted to the North wing on the hospital's second floor. We go through two sets of locked doors and I am deposited on another padded bench. This bench is not in a cell, but in Crazy House Proper. I look around. To my right, a nurse behind a safety glass wall. To my left, a plastic table covered in crayons and coloring books. A large, white-trash looking guy comes at me. "I'm Bob." he says very loudly. "You having boyfriend problems?" he shouts when he sees I'm crying. A nurse comes to my rescue, "Bob, she's new here. She's scared. Go away and leave her alone." Bob assures me I'll get over the guy and asks the nurse to unlock the payphone. He wants to call Princess Diana.


How long do I have to sit on this bench? I hear muffled screams from some not-too-far-off room. It goes on and on. I am scared. Is this it? They leave me on a bench and walk away? I smell something. I look up to find an old man in a hospital gown, soiled diaper around his ankles. What the fuck am I doing here? Isn't there some middle ground? Something between out patient counseling and being locked up with people who call dead princesses and shit themselves? A nurse asks me if I want anything while I watch the old man being cajoled with a candy bar to go get his diaper changed. "You mean like a sandwich?" I ask. She laughs, "No, not a sandwich. Something to help relax you." YES PLEASE.


My husband comes and goes and I am drugged to the point of being oblivious. I am considered a threat to myself, and my overnight bag is searched. I'm shown a bed and introduced to my roommate who has just come out of a sixteen day coma induced by the massive number of pills she swallowed trying to kill herself. No matter where I go in 2 North, I can't escape the screaming. It's constant. Each scream sounds more painful and full of anguish than the last. I have no desire to socialize, so I stay in my room and read. I go to the required group therapy sessions which are held in a room with a bulletin board. The board is dedicated to famous people who have battled mental illness, with 8" x 10" glossy head shots of Kurt Cobain, Judy Garland, Earnest Hemmingway, Vivian Leigh.... I find it cruel that they've chosen people who met such sad endings. They might as well just post a sign that says, "Don't expect to get better or live much longer." The screaming. The screaming. How can anyone stand this?


My husband surprises me on my second full day at 2 North with my son, and a pass to be let out for dinner. I am horrified that he has brought our boy to this awful place. "You're his mother. He loves and misses you. He needs to see you and know you are ok." When I return from dinner, there is another roommate to meet. She's too hoarse to talk. She's been screaming for 72 hours straight.


The truth spills out. My husband is devastated. Spinning. Reeling. Working two jobs, going to school, caring for the house, pets, and of course, our son. Frantically trying to borrow enough money to pay back the lawyers so they don't press charges. He does not want me to leave the family. He wants me to come home and get better. It will be ugly, but we can put it back together. Start again.


After three days full days in lock up he comes to me and says, "The doctors say you're not participating. Would you make a goddamned fucking lanyard or color in the lines so they will let you come home?" That night I help plan the Valentine's Day Dance, and they let me go the next morning. No follow up care, but a big fat prescription for Ativan which I am addicted to soon enough.




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