(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)