Mental Illness: a psychological pattern or anomaly, potentially reflected in behavior, that is generally associated with distress or disability, and which is not considered part of normal development of a person’s culture. – Wikipedia.
Mental Illness: FUBAR- Tally Baker
2 ½ months after admission
“I’m not going!” A shrill, familiar voice pierces my ears as I walk by Candy’s room. Candy runs through her usual morning routine, screaming the same thing over and over again as orderlies coerce her out the door and into the medicine line. Though the screaming can become quite painful, I find it strangely comforting. In a world where things seem to be unreliable, unpredictable, and chaotic, Candy’s morning tantrums remained as constant as the sun rising. Therefore I treasured them—weird, I know.
As I walk past room after room, I hear patients, or clients as the good doctor likes to call us, begin to stir. Most are not in a hurry, after all where do they have to be? The med line, the cafeteria, group therapy; none of those things are going anywhere, so very few of them bothered to rush. No, those of us here at Mercy Psychiatric Facility are just trying to make it to the next minute, and sometimes even that feels like too much.
“Morning Ms. T.,” Zeke, one of the orderlies, smiles at me. Zeke is another reliable part of my messed up life at Mercy. Every morning, without fail, he’s waiting by the med window to say “morning.” He stopped prefacing it with the word good after the first greeting when I sort of screamed at him. “What the hell could be so good about another day that I have to get through!” I admit that it was rude, and any person in their right mind would not yell at a large man over six feet tall, with hands big enough to crush a human skull, but then, when I arrived at Mercy I wasn’t in my right mind. Since then I have learned that though Zeke is massive, he is a big teddy bear. His skin is so dark that when he smiles his teeth nearly glow and his eyes are warm and soulful. He has a Mississippi accent that reminds me of blues and muddy water.
Despite my outburst, Zeke was unfazed. He just grinned at me with his kind eyes and nodded his head, as if he understand so much more of the world than I ever could. I haven’t yelled at him since, even on the worst of days.
It’s hard to believe that over two months have passed. Two and a half months ago I had been falling apart on the inside, and the brokeness had finally caught up with me, leaving me to explode onto anyone in my path.
“Morning Zeke,” I actually felt like smiling this morning and, as instructed, tried to grab that tiny victory. Dr. Stacey was continually harping on me to claim the tiny victories. I’m still wearing long sleeves, but then Rome wasn’t conquered in a day.
“The tiny victories are the ones that really matter,” she says over and over again. And deep down I know she’s right. Those victories over the everyday challenges that we face, things that a normal person wouldn’t even bat an eye at, are vital to someone like me; someone just trying to keep breathing.
I walked up to the med window and stared down at the nurse sitting behind the glass. Her out of the bottle red hair is piled up on top of her head like a basket full of bird nests. One too many layers of makeup coats her face. Sheila has been the med nurse at Mercy for ten years, or so Candy tells me. Candy also tells me that Sheila has been known to help herself to a Xanax from an inattentive patient’s pill cup. She smiles up at me as she hands me the little white paper cup that holds the key to my sanity. I take the cup and stare into it, counting the pills, not only to ensure myself that they are all present and accounted for, but also to ensure that the pills are indeed the ones that the doctor says that I am supposed to be taking. I have the colors of the pills memorized. If one of the colors is missing from the rainbow of drugs, Shelia and I will have a nice talk about how dumb it is to mess with a crazy person’s meds.
Five pills, they’re all there, staring silently back at me. I hold the cup to my lips and tip my head back, pouring all of them into my mouth. I chase the pills with a swig from the cup of water sitting on the counter to wash the them down. I take one more sip before I open my mouth and allow Sheila to see that I had indeed swallowed the pills. She nods and waves me on, already gathering the next patient’s medications. Out of the corner of my eye I see her hand quickly dart forward. I turn my head just in time to see her snag one of the little blue pills from one of the cups. I don’t think. I rarely do, I’m kind of impulsive like that. I slam my hands down on the counter right in front of her and begin yelling, “STRANGER DANGER, STRANGER DANGER!” Why those particular words popped into my head, we may never know. Shelia jumps and the pill falls from her hand. Her eyes shoot up to mine and I give a subtle shake of my head. The commotion behind me is keeping Zeke busy. Just a side note, if you ever need a distraction in a mental hospital, just scream, for some reason it’s like a howl to a pack of wolves and the crazies all feel the need to join in. I lean forward close to the opening of the window and I hold her gaze. “If I ever see you doing that again I’ll cut off your thumbs so that you have no way to pluck one of those little pills from the cups.” Her face pales and I try to feel bad that I’ve sort of come across as a little psycho, but then I remember that I’m in a mental hospital, so psycho is sort of expected.
After I fill my tray with my standard breakfast, peanut butter and butter toast, I take my usual seat in the far back corner of the cafeteria. I’m sitting for less than a minute when the chair across from me is pulled out from the table. Candy sits down across from me with a wicked grin on her wrinkled face. Her light blue eyes dance with humor and childlike delight.
“You got out of it again didn’t you?” I ask with a smile of my own.
Candy nods at me victoriously. “I told them from the beginning I’m not doing group therapy. I have no need to pour out the ugly details of my messed up life so that they can all foam and slobber at the taste of my wretchedness.”
“Gee, tell us how you really feel Candy,” I tease.
She gives me a confused frown, “I just did. I would use more colorful language but I’ve been warned by the doc that if I don’t tone down my potty mouth then I will be losing privileges.” She lets out a humorless snort. “I pointed out that there are a few things wrong with their way of thinking. First off, who the hell uses the term potty mouth to refer to cussing and what privileges do they honestly think we have in this nut house?”
I have to laugh. Only Candy could get away with talking like that to the doctors and nurses and whoever else came into the line of fire. You see, she is a permanent fixture at MPF; she has been deemed by the courts as unfit for society. As such, she gets away with a lot more than the others do. It’s not like they have a whole lot of options as to where they can send her, no other facility would likely take her.
“What was the good doctor’s response to your inquiry?” I ask her.
She shrugs. “Who knows? I was already closing the door behind me when she started talking.”
As I swallow down the last of my orange juice I see the familiar glint in Candy’s eyes. That glint was the one that usually meant there was mischief brewing in her wacked out mind.
“So what’s on the agenda for today?” She asks me as she rubs her hands together.
“Well, unlike some people, I have to go to group therapy and then I have a session with Dr. Stacey.”
Candy groans. “Ahh, come on, ditch group today.”
I shake my head at her. “Can’t. I only have one month until school starts and I need to get my walking papers by then.”
“But it’s sooooo boring when you aren’t around,” she whines.
I can’t help but laugh at her. Candy, a sixty year old woman, whining like a ten year old.Shouldn’t be funny, but it was.
“So let me get this straight,” I give her my best are you freaking serious face. “You want me to skip group therapy and risk having my sentence extended because you get bored without me?”
“Just when I think you might not be the sharpest tool in the shed, you go and surprise me with your shocking astuteness.”
“Glad to know that I can still shock you, you crazy old bat,” I tell her as I roll my eyes.
Candy lets out a loud cackle. “What’s it going to be Pinky?”
I wish I could tell you that her nickname for me annoyed me, but truthfully, I found it endearing. She had started calling me Pinky the minute she met me because of the pink highlights in my hair. Candy was known for her nicknames, she said it was the only way for her to remember people. I think she just likes to annoy them.
I groan. “Fine, I’ll play hooky with you, but this is the last time.” I’m such a sucker for a crazy old lady with the inability to entertain herself.
Two hours later I find myself hiding out with Candy in one of the quiet rooms. Really, it’s an isolation room for the patients who get a little violent, or a lot violent. The “administration” seems to think that if they call it the quiet room then it won’t seem so sinister. It amazes me how often the staff mistake crazy for stupid. I can tell you for a fact that some of the most intelligent people I have ever met are off their rocker, bat mess crazy.
Candy had swiped some racquets and a racquet ball from the exercise room. We are playing, and I use the term playing very loosely, considering Candy has planted her butt on the floor and is sitting cross legged. Really I’m running around hitting the ball while she simply reaches out every now and then, when the ball is in her reach, and gives it a good whack.
“Did you hear we’re getting a new inmate?” She asks me.
“Oh yeah? What are they in for?”
“Apparently she tried to off herself and her son found her.”
“Damn,” I mutter. “That had to be tough. How old is the kid?”
“Well I wouldn’t call him a kid. He’s eighteen.” Candy grunts as she reaches for the bounding ball. She smacks it hard and I have to dive out of the way to keep from getting hit in the head. Of course she finds this funny as all get out.
I give up chasing the stupid ball and take a seat on the floor across from her.
“Candy, how do you find out so much about other patients?”
“The walls have ears,” she tells me in the creepy voice she likes to use on the more paranoid patients.
“That’s just freaky; don’t say crap like that.”
She chuckles at me as she shakes her head. “You scare too easy.”
“That or you just do demented, possessed old lady a little too well,” I counter.
”Hello Clarice…,” she growls in response, grinning all the while.
I lie back on the ground and look up at the stark white ceiling. The clinical florescent lights cause me to squint my eyes and the white walls and white floor don’t help. I don’t understand how they could expect a person to be calmed in a room so uninviting, where you felt more likely to be probed and dissected rather than be soothed. But then I’m just an inmate, as Candy likes to call us, what do I know?
“So when does said Schizo arrive?” I ask her.
Candy looks at her wrist. She doesn’t wear a watch, yet she has an uncanny knack for knowing what time of day it is.
“Any minute now, want to go be nosy?” The familiar gleam is back again, dancing in her pale blue eyes, which are surrounded by aged skin and drooping eye lids.
“Nosy is your middle name, not mine,” I remind her.
Candy clucks her tongue at me. “You’re middle name is smart ass, seems to me you have me beat.”
I stand and hold my hand out to help pull her to her feet.
“That may be, my old friend, but your maiden name is Bush. I don’t think it gets much worse than Candy Bush.” I laugh just as hard as I did the first time she had told me her name.
She swats my backside as she walks past me and mutters. “Ungrateful brat.”
“Oh, make no mistake, Ms. Bush, I am very grateful my name is not Ca,”
“Not another word, Pinky,” she cuts me off with a snap of her fingers.
I laugh again as I follow her out the door and down the hall towards the new patient exam rooms.