Forgetting the Seclusion Room (Another Chapter in the Chronicle of Crazy)


(To read the post that precedes this, click here.)

I don’t remember arriving at Parkside Hospital, a psychiatric facility in Tulsa, Oklahoma; neither do I recall anything about the admissions process.  I don’t remember how my Maltese Lizzy came to be kenneled at the vet’s office, who took me to the hospital or if it’s possible I even drove myself.

Indeed, it’s these gaps in memory that I remember most. And this fact of forgetting remains my ongoing issue with memoir.  How does one memoir without memory?  How does one write the empty space where the story should be?

These gaps complicate the writing process, and the effort to fill in the details, to flesh out the facts, force me to depend on journals I kept at the time.  For example, the night I so unceremoniously removed the carpet from my living room, the night before the hospital admission I allude to above, I described an intense sense of alienation and confusion:

I know that other people must not experience the world in the way I do, because if they did, the world would be a very different place and I wouldn’t feel so strange—so marginal—so near the edge and falling off.  I have a kind of hyper-consciousness that nearly drives me crazy.  I feel driven.  I feel haunted.  I feel so alone in my experience . . . . I feel out of control and at the mercy of my own mind . . . . I’m so alone and so afraid . . . . I feel like a bad human being—like I’m just not good at it.  I feel like a failure.

I can’t control my thoughts.  I think thoughts I don’t want to think.  I feel out of control.

I feel like I can’t be true to myself and live in this world, like I want to wear bones on my clothes—on the outside pinned to me.

I don’t remember anything about this bizarre urge to “wear bones,” but skeletal fashion statement aside, I also don’t recall the particulars of this admission to Parkside in March of 1990.  However, by the time I left Tulsa in 1995, I had been admitted to this same facility any number of times and do recall a few facts about the place.

The building had three floors, for example, and a basement—the first an intake unit and small lobby, the second a locked but moderately restricted unit, and the third a locked but highly restricted one.

I was admitted to the third floor.  I remember a day room at one end, 4 dormitory style rooms at the other, and a hallway connecting the two. The hall had a nurses’ station along one wall, an elevator on the other. 

With windows along two walls, the day room was large, filled with square wooden tables with white Formica tops, four chairs at each.  We patients spent most of our time in this open space: played games, watched television, ate meals. 

The patient rooms were bare and barrack-like.  With a partition down the middle, two beds on one side, two on the other, each room also contained two desks and four small wardrobes.  Bathrooms, one per room, boasted, a toilet and shower stall, not to mention a metal mirror above each sink—no glass allowed, lest patients break it and purposefully injure themselves.

Behind the nurse’s station was another hall that was locked and off-limits to patients.  Here were a number of seclusion rooms, each with a single bed bolted to the floor in the center of the space—each equipped with 4 point restraints—wide leather cuffs that strapped wrists and ankles to the bed.   I spent time alone in these rooms when I was particularly distressed, but only once in 4 point restraints. 

I walked the hall between these dorms and day room, repeatedly, regularly.  The antipsychotic medication made me restless, so I paced, feeling the walls with my palms, an effort to comfort myself, to calm the cacophony of crazy that worsened every evening. 

One nurse was kind and would sometimes walk with me, attempting to reassure me, to lessen the aloneness, to quiet the chatter in my head, the echo of children’s voices saying senseless, sing-song rhymes.

But mostly I walked that hall alone, alternately fighting and forgetting a psychosis that whiplashed between extremes of nothingness and nowhere.

(to be continued)

39 thoughts on “Forgetting the Seclusion Room (Another Chapter in the Chronicle of Crazy)

  1. But what you do remember is so very poignant and striking. It sheds light on something that needs rays of sunlight in order to expose itself : mental illness. We will all benefit from reading your riveting prose about this experience, and only love you more for it. Keep it coming, Kathy, it’s lovely and heartbreaking at the same time. The making of a best selling memoir, I have no doubt.

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  2. I agree with Deanna. I don’t think the facts matter, unless they matter to you. I mean, if you want to know how you got there that day, they must have a record of who signed you in. But, do we need to know? It seems to me that you are chronicling the minute by minute chronological order of your illness, but rather the journey into and out of a world that many people experience without knowledge or know without experiencing.

    This description is haunting “I walked the hall between these dorms and day room, repeatedly, regularly. The antipsychotic medication made me restless, so I paced, feeling the walls with my palms, an effort to comfort myself, to calm the cacophony of crazy that worsened every evening. . . ” all the way to the end.

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    • So true–these details don’t matter. However, I find it hard to construct an engaging narrrative without the usual narrative details. Does that make sense? It might be a matter of skill that I will acquire in the process. It just feels more diffiuclt than it should. I’m finding my way, and indeed plan to get copies of medical records. Good to know this piece works. Thanks, Lisa!

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      • I get that. But, I think you are incorporating enough narrative details. You may have to adjust a little as you merge things together, unless you decide to do the shorter bursts in kind of a blog format. But, for example your post yesterday leads easily into today’s post. Allow me to show you:
        “A rug literally ripped out from under me, I was hospitalized the next day at a state psychiatric facility, where I walked the halls and fingered the walls for weeks, as all around me sentences bloomed into branches, branched into sound, into music, into color, a dazzling display of crazy.
        I don’t remember arriving at Parkside Hospital, a psychiatric facility in Tulsa, Oklahoma; neither do I recall anything about the admissions process. I don’t remember how my Maltese Lizzy came to be kenneled at the vet’s office, who took me to the hospital or if it’s possible I even drove myself. . . .” and the story goes on.
        (By the way, this might be the kind of stuff to help each other on in the group thing).

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      • Interesting. I meant this to follow up on the last post. Sara asked me what I was going to write about after that post, and I said I didn’t know. She said, “Well why don’t continue where you left off.” I immediately said I couldn’t, because I couldn’t remember any more. So, she suggested I try writing about not remembering what happened next, and that led to this. I managed, so I may be more concerned than I need to be.

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    • Thanks, Terri! I’m so relieved that this worked. If you look back at my comment exchange with Lisa, you can read my explanation about why I worried so. Sorry to bring you close to tears, but it was a very sad time. I appreciate your reading, Terri!

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  3. This story is engaging and tugs at the heart even with missing gaps. In fact, those could serve as a narrative device, representative of the lost memories and terrifying confusion that must have gripped you. I think it just makes your tale all the more real.

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    • Now, this is a really good idea–a really good one, Mark. Thank you! I hadn’t even considered the possibility that it made the story feel more real–but I can see how that might be the case. I appreciate this suggestion (about using the gaps as a narrative device) more than I really know how to explain! Thank you!

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  4. I agree with a lot of what people have said. Even under the best of circumstances, we create our own reality and we are selective in our memories. Two siblings experience the same event and remember it in different ways. The power in any recreation of events lies more in the writer’s ability to convery the feeling, the emotions, the awareness that accompanied the event. You do that in a very powerful way, and there are certainly enough details to build a framework.

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    • It’s good to know you think I have enough details around which to build a narrative. I feel so strangely ungrounded in my telling of this story–like I can’t tell at all what’s enough and what is not. So this is valuable feedback.

      However, Renee, I must thank you again for your original posts on memoir, as they gave me the clarity to get started. I can’t tell you have much I appreciate them and YOU! Thanks again, my friend!

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    • Wow, Charles, it amazing to hear that you are “awed.” That tells me that I’m communicating, that I ‘m getting my message across, that I’m actually sharing my expereince rather than just writing about it, if that makes sense. Thanks for this feedback.

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  5. Beautiful recall…I think you are recalling what you are meant to…to “find” it all would be to strip it of “you”–a hide and go seek game where, truly, each lost bit is NOT meant to be found.

    It’s the ghostly bits, the fog of confusion and forgetting…that make it real–both for you, and for us, reading along.

    (Next to normal…had to say it, lady.)
    jane

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    • I love the image of hide and seek! It really is like that. And the notion that some pieces aren’t meant to be found is profound–not to mention true.

      By the way, Sara is going shopping today and promises to pick up Next to Normal for me.

      Thanks, Jane!

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  6. What an interesting topic! You raise a bunch of fascinating points.

    a) Many people (me for example) tend to be more interested in what goes on inside our own minds than out in the world. Sometimes this makes us look crazy, distant, or checked out. And it makes it harder for us to describe the world.
    b) Writing has many many benefits. Writing helps us get in touch with our feelings and thoughts. And because story writing requires some description, it can help us get in touch with the world around us too. Not a bad expansion, since we have to live out here in the world anyway.
    c) Many many memoir writers, including me, find that writing the memoir is itself a journey, and during the journey we can increase all sorts of writing skills, language arts, understanding of story, and gradually increase our specific memories of situations. I don’t know how it will work for you but this improving grasp over the past is a very common benefit of memoir writing.
    d) As a reader of stories, I am interested in the physical environment, not in exquisite detail, but just to help me put myself into a place. A scene in which a woman meets her future abusive husband in “Crazy Love” by Leslie Morgan Steiner took place in a subway or bus. That image of meeting your future spouse on a public transport interests me. I don’t need to know exactly what the advertisements on the walls said, or what the person across the aisle looked like. I just want the salient details. Since memoir writers are story tellers, we try to help our readers visualize our situation.
    e) I consider memoirs a “psychological genre.” Memoir readers are interested in what makes people tick, so you are in the sweet spot of memoirs, in my opinion, attempting to share an inner landscape that is different from the reader’s, and hence has the appeal of the exotic.

    Thanks for the thought provoking post.

    Best wishes,
    Jerry Waxler
    Memory Writers Network

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    • Thanks so much for reading and taking the time to comment. It’s interesting what you say about memoir helping one improve a grasp on the past. I found as I wrote the piece above, I began to remember more. This is actually encouraging.

      I hadn’t thought of memoir as a psychological genre–that fascinates me–and, yes–put me in the sweet spot of memoir writing.

      I enjoy your blog and benefit from the insight you share. Thanks for stopping by. I hope you’ll come back.

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  7. This is amazing. I truly got a sense of the hospital and the confusion and loss you experienced as you tried to make sense of what was happening to you. I agree with the comments above me…the missing memories aren’t necessary to capture the poignancy and sheer depth of feeling that I believe you’re trying to express in your memoir. In a practical sense, those missing memories are like the line breaks in a story, a transition from scene to scene.
    (And I also agree with Lisa…this is totally the sort of thing we should help each other with in the group thing.)

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    • Fascinating what you say about the missing memories being like the line breaks in a story. I suppose it could help with pacing. I’m so pleased this is working for you so far. Yes, you and Lisa are correct, this is the kind of thing the group could help with. Thanks so much!

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  8. Great writing, as usual. The metaphor about wearing bones is really powerful.

    It’s so interesting, although terrifying for you, I’m sure, that you don’t remember the events surrounding your admission to the hospital. Was there anyone around later on to tell you who actually dropped your dog off at the kennel? (For some reason I can’t stop thinking about that particular part of the story!)

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    • I know what you mean about the dog getting to the kennel. I suppose I could track down someone who might know. Otherwise, I can get medical records from the hospital, I assume.

      It’s also interesting that the bone metaphor worked for you, as I had considered omitting it–thought it was just too strange to include. Sometimes we just can’t know what willl work and what won’t. Guess sometimes I’m just too close to the material.

      Thanks for reading, Heather!

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  9. Wow!!! It’s very obviously from your recent posts that you have found your writing voice. I agree with all the other comments you’ve received – this is the start of your memoir. It’s publishable material. There may be days when you don’t feel like or can’t write, but don’t worry about it if there are, because it’s in you. When you start writing you leave the rest of us in the dust!

    I can understand that you’d like to write the facts as accurately as you can. Given that you do have memory problems, this might not always be possible. As long as you don’t go on Oprah later and pass it off as the gospel truth, but make sure that people understand that this is what you remember of it. I have had instances of “lost time” which I can’t remember at all, and it’s really scary isn’t it?

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    • Thanks so much, Lisa. I hope it’s in me. It is an enormous amount of work to keep at this day after day, but I suspect it will pay off in the end.

      About losing time–I have a poem about this, but, yes, it’s terrifying! Sorry to hear it happens to you. It sounds like you have an amazing story to tell too. Your writing even in these past few comments communicates so much! And I don’t ever remember reading a migraine memoir–not that you should write one neceessarily–it’s just a thought.

      Thanks for reading!

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      • Yes, I have been through some pretty dark times too, though nothing like you have obviously.

        I have had several people suggest I write something about the things I sometimes experience when I’m having migraines. I don’t think I’d have enough material for a book though, and I’m not sure it’s something I’d want to post on my blog. As you know I like to keep that all light and frivolous! 😉

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  10. Sorry for the late reply–we got slammed by some tornadoes last night. I’m perfectly fine, though–our little town was gloriously spared.

    But I wanted to say that you’re not alone in not being able to remember everything all the time. There are times I look back on old blog posts or even older handwritten journals and am baffled–did I really go through that? Did I really think those thoughts? Have those feelings? And it’s not a sense of awe that I experienced the things…it’s literal shock that I did because I can’t remember it.

    I have Alzheimer’s very strong on my mother’s side (both her parents and all the parents before them), and sometimes I worry that my forgetfulness is a sign that one day I’ll lose all my memories. That’s why I write. Not necessarily to try to recover the lost memories but so that when they’re all gone, I can live them again by reading.

    I think your memoir (and don’t let this limit you or define you–this is just my observation) serves the tri-fold purpose of 1. reconstructing lost/buried memories, 2. “dis-covering” the mystery and stigma surrounding mental illness, and 3. offering a bridge to recovery for those suffering from any and all mental anomalies. It doesn’t have to be perfect or an exact representation of the facts as they happened. This is not an autobiography. This is a memoir. By its very nature, it will rely a great deal on memory, and all memory is flawed. That’s just human.

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    • Yes, it was bad last night across much of the South. Are you in Alabama?

      At any rate, I think you are very right about the things my memoir could accomplish. I’ve had similar goals–so it’s good to have this confirmed.

      You are also correct that this is a memoir and not an autobiography–and that memory is flawed–very flawed at times.

      So glad you all survived the storms in one piece. There were a tragic number of lives lost last night!

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      • Thanks, Kathy. We’re relieved, too. I’m just now starting to hear from my in-laws who live closer to the storm’s more damaging areas (and, yes, I’m in Alabama :)). As far as I’ve heard, they’re all fine. Some power outages–we have an aunt and uncle (Robert’s) who won’t have power until Sunday. But they live within driving distance of help (especially Robert’s parents), so I guess if they need it, they can crash for a couple of days. A tornado apparently touched down about a mile away from my brother-in-law, which is terrifying, but we’ve heard from him. He is perfectly fine. Thank goodness. The death toll keeps rising, which makes our situation all the more relieving…but I’m also mournful that others weren’t so lucky. I just e-mailed my students, offering condolences to any who may have suffered a loss…and asking any who may need it to contact me so we can come up with a plan for the final (it’s not scheduled to take place for another week).

        I think all of us here are stunned and just trying to figure out how we can help the people we claim to “hate” during a normal football season. It really puts the game of rivalry into perspective.

        Anyway! About the memoir, your memoir. I attended a creative writing conference once when I was in undergrad, and I went to a panel on memoir writing by a woman who had actually published one…and I can’t remember her now. Oops. Anyway, she said something that really surprised me. Apparently when her family and friends read portions of her manuscript before it was published, some of them were highly critical of the way she represented some of her more painful recollections. She told us, the panel attendees, that she had consulted her old journals, conducted interviews, and read old newspaper clippings while writing her memoir. She said she just had to come to terms with two facts: 1. the human memory is faulty in everyone, and we have to forgive that flaw in ourselves and in other memoirists, and 2. no matter how much research she could have conducted, her own perception and interpretation will necessarily be skewed and biased. She told us that if we were to ever embark on writing a memoir, we would have to conduct the necessary research to jog the memories, but that we would always come up against resistance in our interpretation of the “facts.” One of my dear friends always says that there are three sides to every interaction: 1. what I think happened, 2. what you think happened, and 3. what really happened.

        You can only do the best you can do to negotiate those interpretations and represent them as objectively as you can. But at the end of the day, they won’t be objective, and that is okay. If there are gaps, I think Tori is shrewd to point out, those gaps themselves speak volumes and lend to the desperation and confusion throughout your experience.

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      • I’m just so relieved you all are okay, Amanda. What a scary night!

        About the memoir–Yes, I am fully prepared for complaints and objections and disagreements. I’ve indicated repeatedly what I’m doing, and I think there’s some sense of nervousness on the part of some family members. I don’t expect disagreement so much on the details, as objections that I should be telling the story in the first place.

        Have a great weekend, Amanda!

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  11. I think the missing gaps, the details that weren’t important to your brain at the time (i.e. Not as worried about who is driving the car as you are about the place the car is taking you) are important in really conveying where your mind was at throughout this process. The gaps help your readers understand the messy parts, that mental illness caused a disorientation. There can be a whole lot of story without the whole story!

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    • Great point, Tori–you could even say there’s a whole lot of story in the hole in the story! I guess, it’s true that it communicates how disoriented I felt. Thanks for pointing this out————————

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  12. Pingback: Asylum Seekers (Another Chapter in the Chronicle of Crazy) | reinventing the event horizon

  13. Hi Kathy! I’m FINALLY getting around to reading and commenting on some of these older posts. (I can’t even tell you how much I miss being able to catch up on your writing on an almost-daily basis– reading your memoir-in-progress was truly a highlight of my mornings!)

    Anyway. I completely agree with the earlier comments that suggested using your memory gaps to your advantage. These empty, negative spaces and blockages tell us *just as much* about the experience of mental illness as the positive, super-detailed recollections do. (I’m using “positive” and “negative” in the artistic sense– background and foreground vs. the “good/happy”, “bad/sad” sense.) Finding a way to wrangle with these disruptions and gaps in your memory will make your narrative all the more compelling and interesting!

    This is great stuff, Kathy. I can’t wait to find a few more precious moments here and there to catch up on your other posts! 🙂

    Miss you,
    Dana

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    • Gosh, Dana, it’s so great to hear from you! Good to hear you agree with the others about memory gaps working for me. I know this is a busy time of year for you all, so I so appreciate your taking a few minutes to stop by. I miss you too, dear Dana!

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