Saturday, February 16, 2019

Chalkduster: The Diagnosis

They wheeled me away. I had no idea where I was going. I knew, deep inside, that I had to relinquish control. My desiny was in the hands of...I didn't know who.

Again, God bless them, The EMTs performed their magic. It was a long ride, at least an hour. And the whole time, someone was next to me, involved in a meaningful conversation. My son, my teaching, my regrets...

By the time I arrived at Green Hill Hospital, in a city that straddled New York and Pennsylvania, I was acually calm. I had no control over my fate. Chalkduster, the mother and teacher and daughter and sister and friend was shoved into my baby toe. What was going on with my brain?

I was in the Behavioral Health Ward in an unknown Hospital in an unknown city. There were two pay phones for patient use, my own bed in  room with an empty bed, and a jolly Scottish nurse who gave out meds. At the time, the situation was ludicrous to me, despite the fact I had written a suicide note to my twelve- year- old son only 24 hours prior. It certainly had the bottoming-out feeling.

I was offered a blanket and a clean hospital gown at Green Hill. I remember coming in through the doors that would lock behind me, but I was greeted by a nurse that was so goofy and friendly that I momentarily forgot where I was.

He, we will call him Lenny, had a mouthful to say. And tons of vital signs to take. My BP was elevated, as was my heart rate. When I peered at the screen, he stepped in front of it.

"Don't pay attention to those numbers, sweetie, they don't define you at the moment," He brusquely checked something on is clipboard and patted me on the shoulder. "It's snack time".

It was about 8 pm. I was starving, Lenny gently led me, clad in a cotton hospital gown and the pants I came in through the ambulance what felt like a lifetime ago, to what appeared was a gathering space for patients.

My shoulder-length hair was dirty. My face burned and I wanted to know how Noah was doing. Nonetheless, I was placed, alone, amongst the rest of the patients.

"Look, It's the new girl!'  "The fuck she do to her face?"

I smiled, figuring it was best to be positive. This was rock- bottom, wasn't it? Plus, I was hungrier than I'd ever been in my life. A young, round, beautiful girl with coffee skin and extremely short hair bounced up to me and introduced herself. I timidly offered my name.

She snatched a red jello-o off the table, which was laden with saltines, graham crackers, and apples. The jello-o seemed to be the coveted treat, and this one wanted me to have it. And it was delicious. I finally started to relax. I looked around me. The other patients were smiling through my medicated haze. I had a feeling I had lucked out that there were no more beds in the previous hospital, and that I was in a decent place. But it was still a mental gotta call a spade a spade.

I had arrived in the evening and missed dinner, so I filled up on more jello and graham crackers. I padded up to the nurses' station in my grippy socks and asked, "When will I see a doctor?"

"First thing tomorrow morning, my dear." He was so friendly I couldn't help but smile. Even smiling hurt my face. Suddenly, I felt heavy all over and very, very tired. The florescent lights were turning hazy. I nearly lost my footing. I started to cry. "I feel funny"

Lenny came around the desk and gently led me to my room. "It's the meds, hun. You aren't used to them."

"What did they give me again?" I couldn't remember the names of the medications the jolly Scottish nurse had given me. I felt as though I was underwater. Everything was muffled.

"Haldol. It is normal for you to feel this way."

No, it's not. This is anything but normal.

As Lenny tucked me in, I started to cry. Like a small child I said, "I'm scared, Lenny. I don't know what's wrong with me. I miss my family."

"Honey, remember. Keep it simple. With every problem, there is always a solution. You can call your family tomorrow. They can come visit you. You will get used to the meds. And first thing in the morning, you're gonna see the best Psychiatrist in Green Hill, and he will figure out how to help you."

"I'm broken." My face and my heart were aflame.

"No, honey, you are not. You are whole. You're you, and we are going to help you figure yourself out." He patted me on the shoulder, turned off the light, and left me alone. The Haldol drifted me into a heavy, deep sleep not one minute later.

The next morning, after a huge breakfast that I'd inhaled like never before, I sat in front of Dr. Burns. After answering what felt like a hundred questions, he pulled a fat book off the shelf.

"This is the DSM-5. It's the psychiatric diagnostic manual we use to diagnose mental illness in our patients. Actually, it's what all psychiatrists in the U.S. use." He flipped to a page in the middle and placed the book on my lap. In front to me was a list of emotions and behaviors. It read, Borderline Personality Disorder. 

"I don't want you to just think about how you have felt recently. Think back as long as you can."

I studied the list. It described a self-centered, over-sensitive, over-emotional person who had no identity. "I don't like this list." 

Abandonment issues, early childhood sexual trauma, loves to be the center of attention, difficulties in relationships, lack of identity.

And those were just a few. Other items on the list simply described a person I didn't want to know.

The doctor looked at me kindly. "The list doesn't define you, They define your disorder
And your disorder doesn't define you, either." Apparently, nothing defines me here.

That was really confusing to me. "Doc, so many of these apply to me. It's difficult not to define myself based on this list of symptoms."

"Through Dialectical and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy,  balanced with the right combination of meds, you can...and a full and healthy life. But I'm not going to sugar coat it. Recovery is hard work, If you want to survive this, you have to apply yourself."

I nodded. "I will do whatever I can."

But the doctor had more bombs to drop. "Borderline Personality Disorder is not your only diagnosis. Based on your symptoms and the answers to my questions, your diagnosis are: Bi Polar type I, PTSD, Major Depressive disorder, and Generalized Anxiety Disorder, and, as we discussed, Borderline Personality Disorder."

The Bi-Polar diagnosis hit me hard. There was mental illness on my mom's side of the family. I knew that Bi-Polar was the new name for manic-depressive. And I had seen in my life, what the disease can do to people. My son's father, the abuser, as also Bi-Polar.

I shakily rose from my chair. "Thank you, doctor. I have to go now, Too many disorders for me to handle at the moment."  Shit, I'm just one big dis-ordered human being.

I ran out of his office, down the hall, and to my room. I frantically searched for a closet, but there was none.

Nowhere to hide.

I hid behind the door and curled into a ball.

I was truly broken, and at that moment, I felt utterly unfixable.

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