A thin veil shrouds the twenty-four hours after my stomach pumping (Food for Thought, Part VI). I remember a hazy snippet of green scrubs mumbling something; my parents, crushed, talking to a white lab coat. I signed some papers. Someone tried to explain them to me. What I can piece together follows: None of the private mental health facilities nearby could take me. In my parents’ minds, state facilities resembled giant prisons filled with neglect and rape. Out of the question, the hospital could send me there over their dead bodies. So my parents signed me out Against Medical Advice, into their protective custody and on the condition that I would enter an intense counseling program. I signed papers agreeing not to attempt suicide again and that if I did, nobody could sue the hospital.
I slept a lot over the next few days as my system tried to recover. My parents received instructions on keeping me as safe as possible at home: No internet, no phones, no visitors until my new counselor approved them. No closing the bathroom door. No driving. No preparing my own food. No belts. I found all this ridiculous, I didn’t want to hurt myself. Yes, I took the pills on purpose, but I didn’t do it to die. I don’t know why I took them. No, I’m not crazy (newsflash: I was.)
Mother finally found an intensive outpatient program (or IOP) at a nearby hospital for me. I understood that it looked like I’d tried to kill myself. I needed to jump through some hoops to get my life back. Piece of cake, I thought. I’ll show them I’m not crazy, I’m not going to try anything stupid. It never even occurred to me that I might need to investigate what caused me to take the pills so that it wouldn’t happen again. I pushed the whole thing out of my mind as something that had happened to me, outside myself. I didn’t really do it. I boxed the whole experience up neatly in denial and taped it shut.
I easily complied with all the rules, ate whatever I got. I spent a week or two high as a kite. I read an explanation once that when depression culminates in a suicide attempt, it sometimes resets the brain’s chemicals, resulting in a euphoria-like state. This state can end suddenly, resulting in another attempt, or wear off gradually. By the grace of God I experienced the latter. I felt kind of like a happy robot for a long time. I could do what I needed to without much thought or personal responsibility. Run the program. Jump through the hoops. No thoughts of what I’d do with the rest of my life after, just comply. Go with the program. Get life back, whatever that meant.
How fitting, I thought as I entered the cold, gray facility that cold, gray morning. The lobby seemed cheery enough: pale yellow walls and burgundy carpet, green chairs, art, cheery lighting, plants and polished wood. Large, beige steel doors with skinny windows, metal mesh between the glass panes. A card reader and number pad beside them. Looking through the doors, I saw a cold gray hallway with sterile tile floors and white hospital chair rails. People in wheelchairs, slippers, and drab robes, pushed by sterile white orderlies. Fluorescent lighting. I didn’t want to go there. It looked like the kind of place that eats you alive and never spits you out. I shuddered and looked away.
The receptionist looked pleasant enough. She smiled sadly at me and handed me a clipboard with several forms on it. Some of the questions confused me. Eventually I got through them all and returned them to her. I sat down and waited. Studied the billows of my giant white tee shirt over my stomach and sweat pants. Studied my shoes. A man with a clipboard came and called my name. He smiled, shook my hand firmly, introduced himself as Dr. Smith. We turned away from the big metal doors (OH THANK YOU JESUS) and went down a long, yellow hallway, around a couple of bends, and finally entered his corner office.