My time in the youth ward was brief, and in reality only lasted a few short weeks. I don’t have much recollection of arriving there, only the ambulance ride over with a very sweet EMT. And the nurse who was managing my intake was very gentle with me. Maybe it was all just a facade but everyone upon entry seemed to genuinely care. However, as soon as you’d made it through your first night and had been inducted, the orderlies came out. And they where a bit brash and mean. I imagine they also did time in the adult ward, which is quite a different place then the youth section. A lot more intense and demanding, with the potential to be dangerous.
The goal, or treatment plan for every kid there seemed to be to just continuously keep ourselves busy. Maybe that’s where I first learned the fine art of distraction from the disturbing or emotionally exhausting things around you. ( This is something I now recently have come close to mastering.) We all had a similar schedule to follow for every hour of the day, seeing therapists and having group counseling sessions. They spent time trying to teach us different mechanisms to dealing with our feelings, and creating mental ” Tool Boxes ” to keep us from a return trip to their lovely facility. The general idea here seemed to be that we where all ” Depressed .”
Every night before bed, they had us all sit at a little round table in the middle of the ” Group Room.” Here we would journal, and wouldn’t be allowed to leave the table or finish journaling for a set amount of time, normally an hour. This was probably the worst psychotherapy ever, because we where all aware once we went to bed, the clerks and psychiatrists where going through our writing to check our progress. Every single kid there B.S.’d there way through that hour, either making themselves sound worse than they where just for the shock value, or pretending like they had ” Seen the Light,” because they just wanted to get out of here.
Everything in the rooms we retired to really where white, just like in the movies. White sheets, white pillow cases, white walls and bars in between the glass panes of the single window. Nothing else besides a camera in the corner of the room, and a camera in the bathroom. I remember laying there on my sleepless first night watching the red light blinking in the corner of the room and thinking, the poor person that got stuck watching room monitors for their entire shift probably should be right in here with us.
Everyone was required to sleep with the doors open. Everything there felt so sickly sterile and empty and cold. Nothing said, youre safe youre home, everything said Antiseptic and Anesthetized. Really, it wasn’t a good environment to promote psychological healing, and more over made you sort of feel worse because you really could feel totally insane in a place like this.
I didn’t once felt like I belonged there. I knew full well that every sadness I was feeling was legitimate and had been built up over time by a lot of pain and misfortune I knew I was not responsible for. No, it had just happened to me. And that sort of exploded after it came to a head, which really seemed inevitable for anyone walking in my shoes. My reaction, reckless impulsiveness, was maybe not an appropriate reaction. Maybe it trended on the side of over dramatic and unstable. No, it was not a normal response, but then my whole situation leading up to my stint on the unit was not normal. For 2 years everything had just been unstable, and angry and violent, and well, messed up. No one was raising me, no one was nurturing me or helping me through these rough times which are often hard enough just for kids adjusting to their own changing bodies for heavens sake. I was solo, but not crazy, and had every reason to be ” Depressed.” Angry and depressed.
And I think most of the children that where there with me ( Because really, we where all just children) where the same. From the same Broken Family type, the same solitary backgrounds with unmet needs, and all ” Latch Key Kids.” They weren’t crazy, they where lonely, and the lonely made them incurabley sad.
Even now I don’t see how my stay in that hospital helped me deal with a friends suicide, or how abandoned I’d felt by my own family. I went through a cycle there that started on my first night that was as follows: Feeling of total devastation and non stop crying over my loss, until I had cried myself into exhaustion and dissociation from myself and my surrounding and everything just felt numb. I was absolutely jaded by the sterility of my surroundings, my paper gown and the stigma that comes from being a child and knowing you are in a place for crazy people. It was like being in a dream, everyone talking but through handkerchiefs. Sounds where dulled, colors only representations of something else, I knew where I was but had trouble believing it. Then I was just angry that I was there all together. My friend was not in this world anymore, and the people here treated me like a juvenile delinquent, and utterly dysfunctional. My parents had dumped me here because they didn’t want to deal with me, and the whole reason I ever got to this point to begin with was because no one was dealing with me. I didn’t even exist aside from being a source of problems and target for screaming and abuse…and finally I was just bored.
Sick and tired of watching self help books and listening to self help tapes, and sitting in on group therapy sessions where everyone was just skirting their real issues so they could leave, pretending like they where all better. The board games where a punishment now. Everything was placating the will of the house therapist and what his personal standards where for any of us to be making sustainable progress. When I finally got in to see him face to face, he looked at me and said, ” Why are you here? ” And he hadn’t meant it as what had I done to get me here, or what was I feeling I needed to be here for. ” You don’t need to be here. Go home.” And I was sent out of his office. The same day I went home, taking with me from the whole experience only a half dead fern that had been passed from new resident to new resident for the last few months. It was a farewell present from ” Night Terror’s” who was still having fun messing with the orderlies every night. I wonder how long she stayed there and what happened to her? Where might she be at now, 17 years later? I never saw any of those people I was with ever again.