I am not sure of how long I was hiding behind that door. Thoughts and memories were flying through my mind. Was I really the person described in that DSM book? Had my prior actions and decisions in my life hurt the ones I love the most?
I tried to remember a time in my life where I was the happiest. When I did the most good for others. Still curled on the floor behind my bedroom door in the Behavioral Health Ward of Greenview Hospital, I forced myself to remember such a time. That way, I wouldn't be the horrible person described in that DSM book under Borderline Personality Disorder and Bipolar Disorder Type I.
I forced myself to remember when I was keeping this blog, teaching Middle School in The Bronx. I simply felt so proud of myself and my students. We were at Lehman College at the Bronx-Wide Poetry Slam Competition, and my students had just taken home the Gold, Silver, and Bronze for our School, beating the High Schoolers by a landslide. I remember noticing the roar of the audience when the winners were announced, two hundred students from my school sitting behind me, cheering in the way only kids from The Bronx can. It was a time in my life where I was being intellectually and emotionally challenged, and I thrived on the quick pace and the high-energy level of the job. I'll never forget the looks on the faces of my students as they received their medals. They had learned to express their emotions through poetry, and then competed to win for our school. I'll never be right there again.
But I must, must, MUST be able to feel that way again.
My thoughts shifted to....worse places. The dark room with the little window that I had just come from the day before. The dark days when my son's father abused me and the struggle that followed after I left. I tried to remember a time when I wasn't anxious at all. Digging deep into my memory, past my childhood, I couldn't remember a time when I didn't suffer terribly from fear. Oh God, I was broken. What if I was breaking my family? My breath came in quick gulps of air.
I curled myself deeper into a ball on the cold, tile floor of my hospital room. I felt awful, like a complete failure. Suddenly, every perceived negative thing I'd done in my life became huge. Plus, I looked like a leopard attacked me.
It must have taken awhile before I noticed the had reaching out to me and a tall figure before me.
It was Lenny. And he was dressed....as a priest? I was so startled I jumped off the floor. "Hi, Lenny. I had no idea you were...."
"A Preist? Yes, I am. I have two very closely intertwined professions. Are you all right?" They must have been looking for me. "The doctor told me wheat happened." Lenny shook his head. "I know. That's hard. First mental health diagnosis is no walk in the park."
"Wait...how do you know?"
"You are here to focus on you. Don't worry about me. I'm a multi-faceted priest."
I actually laughed out loud, and Lenny laughed with me.
I decided right then that I liked Lenny, that he was a good person, not a fake. He was well-rounded and compassionate. He did not judge me, or tell me how I should or shouldn't feel. He did not push God on me. He just listened, and responded appropriately.
He steadied me gently in his hands. "It's lunchtime. You don't want to miss today's special. Chicken Alfredo," That didn't sound bad. I was so fucking hungry.
"Lenny? Do you think I'm broken? Do you think my illness breaks people I love?"
"No, no my dear. You aren't broken. You don't need to be 'fixed'. You can't be fixed. You can learn to cope with your illness. You can treat it with therapy and medicine. You can learn how to control your thoughts and calm yourself down." He grinned and patted me on the shoulder. "I have confidence in you, Teach." Ah, my nickname. When you're locked up in the hospital, it's easy to acquire these.
I managed a smile. "How long am I going to be here? When can I see my family?" It still wasn't real, all of this mental hospital business.
"You will be here for as long as it takes. Your doctor will decide your release date and he is going to track your progress here. The more you participate, the more open you are to sharing, the less resistant you are to treatment, the sooner you leave. Visiting hours are daily from 5-7, and you can't have more than two visitors at a time."
I balked at the thought of an indefinite stay here, so I heeded Lenny's warning. Just be good and do what they say. No more hiding behind doors and running out of doctor's offices. "Okay," I said. "I think I can do that." No more freak-outs.
Just as we were going to leave together, Lenny gently grabbed my arm. "Acceptance," He said, "Is the key. Accept your illness as a part of you. As if it were a moody, unpredictable friend. Accept that you are here, don't fight it. Accept you for you, and you will learn to love yourself."
"Father Lenny, how do you know I find it difficult to love myself?"
"The scratches on your face, dear. Stop punishing yourself for perceived failures, and move on."
I decided I was going to take Lenny's word for it. The reality was, I was once a successful teacher in one of the most famous cities in the world, and now I sit, medicated, behind locked doors. The reality was, my brain was very, very, ill and I needed treatment. The reality was...I had to let go of my son, the boy, and accept my son, the teenager. The reality was, upon leaving the hospital, I was about to be homeless because I couldn't pay my rent.
The reality was, I needed help, and a lot of it. And the sooner I accepted that, and reached for that help, the sooner I would get better. The sooner Noah would have his mother back, and my parents would have their daughter back, and my friends would have their friend back.
At that very moment, in that hospital, a tiny piece of my darkness was pierced by the light of hope. And it came from a man of God Himself.
"Lunchtime," I said as brightly as I could. "Why am I starving all the time?"
"It's the medication. There could be worse side effects. You need some meat on your bones, anyways."
I plowed forward to satisfy my hunger with Hospital Chicken Alfredo at 11:30 in the morning. It was time to take my life moment by moment, or I wouldn't survive.