I lay back in the warm sunshine. The air was cool but as long as the sun stayed out from behind the clouds, I felt deliciously warm and comfortable. There was nothing but the sound of the wind in the trees of the scuttle of the dry maple seeds scraping against the concrete patio. My writing notebook sat unopened on the table next to me accented by the color of the royal blue pen next to it. I glanced at it from time to time as if I was checking to see if I was ready to start. To start on a journey that might mean trouble. Trouble is what got me here in the first place. Place, this wasn’t a place, it was a prison. Prison - why do they put people in prisons instead of letting them live. Live was all I wanted to do, through my pen and paper. Paper was the entrance to my stories. Stories were an expression of where I could go without ever leaving my chair or moving a muscle.
My thoughts meandered as easily as a butterfly might flit from flower to leaf without rhyme or reason. The sounds of the masses of bamboo swaying in the wind were fuel for my imagination, but I enjoyed it only temporarily.
Genius some said. Works of art. I wondered why they felt the need to categorize and rank my writings. I wrote to create a story and my pen was as a musical instrument is to the musician. When it stopped, the story stopped. As long as my hand could keep writing, the story stayed alive.
Breakdown? What did they mean? I wasn’t broken - everything worked fine. Just because I didn’t feel like jumping back into their reality didn’t mean that I was broken. I just had something to finish first.
The sunlight broke away to hide behind a thick cloud and a chill went through my bones. Standing up, I pulled my long hair back out of my face and twisted it into a loose knot. A pathway between some large hemlocks looked inviting, so I tucked my things into my cotton bag and slunk it over my shoulder. The institute was a large place with several buildings stretched across the manicured lawns. I found the grounds almost too boring. Where were the tenacious vines that covered over fallen trees? What about the wild garlic grass that usually grew faster that my lawn at home? No honeysuckle or shiny poison ivy leaves or even the fluffy dandelions or scrawny mustard plants.
Order. Everything was orderly and groomed. Was that my problem? Did I not see or value the importance of order? I liked the randomness of the wild. Why did there need to be so many controls? IO felt like I was an animal - fenced in and not allowed to be who I was. Wasn’t the world a large enough place to allow all of us to live together in the space we each needed?
My mind was clearing as the drugs they used to calm me wore down.
I had signed myself in for treatment, but really all I wanted was a place where I could imagine and write without distractions, while others took care of my physical needs. After several weeks of disappearing from reality for days on end, my boyfriend was convinced me to get some help. I did it to make him happy. His job was taking him away on business for a week and he feared for my safety. When I suggested the clinic, he jumped at the opportunity, glad to think that I was trying to change my habits.
I understood his frustration, I could see reality; I just chose not to embrace it while I was in the midst of creating my story. There was a sense of urgency that pulled me into the stories, warning me that if I stepped away for too long, the story would fade and the characters left voiceless in the silence of the white paper.
He was a wonderful man, talented in his business of financial trading. Usually, he understood my need for finishing my stories as he often worked late or wake early to follow the markets overseas before the official stock market hours would start or finish. The times when both of our schedules coincided with free time were like honey on toast. We were meant for each other. After a class of brandy for me, and a scotch for him, we could talk for hours either in front of the fireplace or out back in the sunken hot tub. Laughing at our childhoods or making fun of people at his work or whatever we felt like talking through.
“Elizabeth!” Jason, the therapist on duty was calling me.
I turned to acknowledge him with a look instead of answering.
“It’s time for group therapy. Would you like to join us?” he asked.
Although I came here on my own volition, I had no respect for some of the therapy that they would try to use on me. The director, Alan Baker knew me from my books and had given me leave to write undisturbed. “No thank you. I think I will pass on that invitation, but thank you,” I answered trying to be polite.
“Well, actually, I really mean that we would like for you to come to the meeting,” he insisted, pursing his lips together rather effeminately, I thought.
“Dr. Baker said I could be excused from any therapy sessions that interrupt my writing.”
“Well, Dr. Baker has left for a week-long conference in Albany so Dr. Cheryl Wood is in charge. She asked me to bring you to the session for your valuable insight.” He was obviously trying to butter me up and I found it irritating. I wasn’t going to waste my time arguing with him.
“Oh, I see. Okay, I’m heading in.” I pretended to be agreeable, “I will stop by my room first.”
He left me as I walked back along the path to the back entrance. I knew I would pass the director’s office on my way.
“Dr. Wood? Hello, my name is Elizabeth Mason.” I held out my hand in greeting to the lady sitting at the desk.
“Hello, Elizabeth. Yes, I am aware of who you are.” Her handshake was cold and unfriendly.
“I’m not sure if you have heard of me but I am a writer and I came here for some time to write unhindered. Dr. Baker excused me from attending the therapy sessions.”
“Well that was nice of Dr. Baker, but while I am responsible, I feel it is my job to extend the therapy sessions to all of our patients, not just the ones that feel like coming.” Her voice took on the condescending higher tone of tired therapists.
I knew immediately that she did not like me and that I could expect no favors from her. I felt my anger rising but refused to give her the credit of annoying me. She had no business being in the health care system with her cold heart. I excused myself quickly to get away from her.
It was then that I first realized that maybe this was not such a good place to be, but I decided to stick it out a little longer for Mark’s sake. The meeting was in a classroom with a high ceiling and fluorescent lights. Tiny windows high on the wall let in the afternoon sunlight in long swaths across the tiled floor. A circle of plain metal folding chairs sat in the middle of the room. Austere, unfriendly, cold, trapped were the words that immediately came to my mind. There were only two empty chairs and I took the one closest to the door. I tried not to make eye contact until I sat down. Then I was that they were all staring at me so I put on a little smile to acknowledge their attention. This was embarrassing. The people focusing their dulled eyes on me needed help, but this was not the way - it couldn’t be. I resisted the urge to run out and reminded myself that this scene would be excellent material for when I got back with Mark. I could just visualize him howling at my humorous description. And that is how I survived the meeting - I pretended that I was in a comedy where the audience was cheering and clapping at the ridiculous remarks, mostly from the therapist.
After dinner at five, I excused myself from the table and told the few people listening that I was heading back to my room. One nervous girl with light thin hair tried to invite herself but I firmly and quietly convinced her that I needed some quiet time. My room was not much different from a prison cell, except that it was bigger and the bars on the window were painted white. Thankfully, my room was not locked.
I pulled out my pad of paper and a pen, settling back against my pillows to write. My mind kept going back to the faces of the people in my therapy session. Had their families given up on them? Why did people on the outside think that by lumping all the folks with problems together with each other was a good idea? And then to drug them up just added to the insult? Was this a vestige of the Middle Ages still clinging on to our society?
My pen moved slowly at first until I drifted into the story and saw it come to life again. Only thirty minutes into writing, a knock at my door interrupted me harshly.
“Miss Elizabeth?” A young African girl with beautiful ebony skin and even white teeth spoke in a British accent, “Here are your meds.”
“But I am not on any meds,” I answered her.
“Dr. Wood prescribed them for you. She said you were upset.” She spoke so kindly with her soft voice.
“But…” I stopped talking and held out my hand. I couldn’t argue with everyone or they might label me. I had to beat them at their own game. I slipped the pills into my pocket.
“Oh no, you have to take them now,” she insisted. “It’s part of my job to make sure you take your medication.”
I hesitated and then realized that I had no plans for leaving my room and considered that some relaxing drugs might actually help my writing. Smiling, I swallowed them down with a few gulps of cold water.
“There you go, honey. Good job,” she said, patting me on my knee. She pulled the door closed behind her as she left and I heard the lock turn.
What! I was getting locked in?
“Hey!” I shouted as I jumped off my bed and ran to the door. The aide saw me through the glass window and opened my door.
“What’s the problem, dear?”
“You locked my door!”
“That’s just standard procedure for folks who are upset. We don’t want to spoil the peace of everyone else,” she explained.
Suddenly I felt my neck muscles soften and then my spine. Grabbing onto the doorframe, I realized the pills she gave me were far stronger that I expected. I turned to make the two steps back to my bed before I fell over.
“Good night, dear. You should sleep well.”
But it’s only six-thirty… my mind argued as I closed my eyes. I need to get out of here…
My eyes opened slowly and I realized where I was. I didn’t quite feel like moving yet, but I could see my door was now open by an inch. Someone must have come in during the night because I didn’t remember changing out of my clothes or placing them neatly on my chair.
Realizing that I needed to get myself sobered up, I stumbled out of bed, grabbed my towel and peaked out the door. No one was in sight, so I left it slightly ajar and went into the shower. The lukewarm water was slightly chilly and it helped wake me up. I dressed quietly and brushed my hair. No one was going to say that I was upset today. I reached for my purse to grab my cell phone, but it wasn’t in its usual side pocket. I knew if I called Mark, his voice would reassure me that all was okay. I couldn’t find my phone. Where could it have gone? Did I use it during the evening? I looked thoroughly around my room - but it wasn’t there.
What’s next? First, they make me go to a therapy session, drug me up, lock my room and steal my cell phone. I turned my back to the door in case anyone passing by might see me in my anger, and looked out the window. I was determined to play their game better than they did; I wasn’t going to let them make a drugged patient out of me, but how? Without my cell phone, I had to rely on myself and therefore couldn’t be drugged. Gradually, I began to take confidence that I could get out if I paid attention to the details. Since the door to my room was open, I figured they must expect me to come out when I was ready. Before I left, I took my purse and placed it in full view of the door, but took out my credit cards to hide in my pant’s pocket. I noticed a little box of breath mints and suddenly realized that at first glance, they looked just like the pills they gave me the night before. I smiled to myself and slid a couple into the side pocket of my sweater.
Hoping to distract them from my purpose, I put on an act of being groggy and sleepy as I made my way down the hallway to the kitchen.
“Excuse me?” I stopped to ask an aide that was approaching me in the hall. “I can’t seem to find my cell phone.” I rubbed my eyes and yawned as I made the statement nonchalantly.
“What room are you in?” he asked. I pointed across the hall at my room. He walked over and did a quick survey of the room. “Nope, no cell phone. Maybe you forgot it at home.” His reply was a little too quick, but I pretended not to care.
“No, I’m sure I brought it. Can I report it to someone so they can check on it for me?” I tried to look endearing.
“Well, all thefts have to be reported to the director - Dr. Wood right now, but she’s not in her office yet.” he answered me.
“You know, it doesn’t look very good on the reputation of this place if the patients are having their stuff stolen.” I wanted him to think I was still under the influence of the drugs from the night before and slurred my speech a little.
“Don’t worry. I’m sure it will show up,” he said. “Why don’t you go down and get some breakfast in the kitchen?”
I followed his suggestion and walked towards the kitchen. I passed the lobby and asked the lady sitting at the receptionist’s desk if she could buzz my out of the front door so I could take a walk. She looked down at some papers on her clipboard and then looked up at me.
“No, I’m sorry. You need to get an aide to take a walk with you,” she replied with a smile. “Would you like me to call one for you?”
“No. I’ll get some breakfast first. Thanks.” Now I knew that they were controlling me and that I needed an aide to help me get out.
A few people were sitting at the tables in the dining area, most of whom I recognized from the therapy session. I chose some scrambled eggs, toast and juice from the ordering window and found a table where I could see the whole room.
“Someone stole my cell phone last night,” I announced it loud enough for most of the room to hear but without looking at any one person. I poked at my eggs pretending to be absent minded.
“Oh, no. That means we have a thief here,” an older nervous lady said.
“You probably misplaced it,” another man said as he scratched his head compulsively.
“No. I know that someone stole my phone. I always put it in the same place and this morning, it was stolen!” I raised my hands for emphasis, as if to say, what’s next?
A college-aged guy entered the room and immediately two ladies spoke up, “There’s been a robbery. Have you had anything stolen?”
“Whatever,” he said as he shrugged his shoulders and went to the ordering window.
“Have you had anything stolen? I asked you a question,” the nervous lady asked him again, this time a little louder. I was pleased that I was raising the tension in the room.
“No. Nothing is stolen.” He spoke even louder than she did.
“Yes. My cell phone was stolen last night,” I retorted as if I were part of the argument. “You probably know who did it, too,” I tried accusing him.
“You are crazy, lady. Leave me alone.”
An aide walked into the room. “All right, calm down,” he said in a deep baritone voice.
“That lady was robbed and then that guy called her crazy!” the nervous lady said in a high-pitched worried voice.
“Let’s use names. Remember James?” he looked at the college-aged kid. “And I’m sorry but I don’t know your name - you must be new,” he said looking at me.
“Elizabeth,” I answered. “And someone did steal my cell phone.”
The room erupted into worried voices again until the aid asked everyone to please be silent for a minute. Apparently, it was one of their tricks for calming the room down because it worked immediately.
“Elizabeth, why don’t you come with me and we will report your cell phone. The rest of you go back to eating your breakfast, quietly.” He added the last word with special emphasis.
I left my tray on the table and followed him out of the room. My plan was working. He led me to the director’s office where Dr. Wood was sitting behind the desk.
“Elizabeth. Good morning. What brings you here to my office today?”
“She claims that her cell phone was stolen,” the aide spoke up.
“Well, that’s not good. Are you sure you didn’t misplace it?” she asked as she looked through a stack of papers on her desk. “Marcus, why don’t you go back and help Elizabeth find her phone.”
“No. I know it’s not in my room. I looked for it this morning,” I wanted to make sure that she knew I was upset.
“All the same, Marcus, would you help her look?” she answered as she looked through a pile of papers on her desk. As I turned to leave the room, I saw her stretch out her arm and place something in Marcus’ hand - my pills, most likely.
My purse was right where I left it in plain view, but it was turned around.
“Time for your meds,” Marcus said holding out his hand to me.
I pretended to not know better and slipped them into my pocket. “No, you need to take them now. It’s the rules.”
“But I thought you were coming down here to help me look for my cell phone,” I asked as I pulled what looked like the pills from my pocket. The breath mints were easy to tell apart from the meds with their slick shiny surface feel. I looked directly at him as I placed the pills on my tongue.
“Now, you can look around and let me know if you still can’t find your cell phone. I really don’t want to be going through your stuff.
“Whatever.” I pretended that I was getting tired already and sat on my bed. “I told Dr. Wood so there’s not much more I can do.”
“Okay. I’ll turn your TV on for you. I’m sure your phone will show up. They always do.” Marcus muttered the last phrase to himself.
I knew then that it was routine for cell phones to be removed from patients’ rooms. I lay back on the bed and pretended to fall asleep as Marcus left. I knew I had some time to kill as they thought they had drugged me and I wanted them to think that I was sound asleep. Instead, I lay there with my eyes closed trying to come up with a plan. I was sure that they had my cell phone in the director’s office but decided that I would just have to leave it there. Maybe Mark could come back at a later date when I was no longer a patient.
I heard Marcus come back to check on me with another aide after about thirty minutes. I kept all my muscles as loose as possible so they wouldn’t suspect me of being awake.
“Elizabeth Mason, twenty-six year-old female, Depersonalization disorder, self-admitted. Dr. Wood notes here: Suggesting patient needs several weeks for therapy of selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, anticonvulsants and opioid antagonists along with cognitive behavior therapy. I think this lady is not going to be too happy when she finds out this diagnosis,” I could hear Marcus reading my chart and talking to the other aid.
My heart rate was going up and I tried to slow down my breathing, hoping that they wouldn’t pay too much attention to me. I was angry and claustrophobic - I had to get out. “Play the game, Elizabeth. Don’t be a patient,” I warned myself. Rolling over on my side to face the wall, I could think better. I knew I had to leave as fast as I could and not worry about my belongings or even my purse. The lady at the desk before breakfast had told me that I needed an aide to give me a walk. Somehow, I would get away during that walk, I just had to.
I actually fell asleep for about an hour and woke up much calmer. The sense of panic was making me sick to my stomach and I didn’t want to blow my chance of walking away today. Without moving a muscle or even opening my eyes, I gave my brain a chance to wake up and breathed deeply. I could see my watch and it was just about noon. Listening intently for a while, I could hear a few voices down the hall, but no one seemed close by.
I rolled over and sat up on the bed. I yawned loudly and decided I was going to play the drugged act even if I didn’t see anyone watching me. My credit cards were still in my pocket and everything else in my purse would have to wait. I slipped my shoes on and slowly walked to the doorway, holding on to the doorframe. Walking slowly, I made my way past the director’s office.
“Heading down to lunch, Elizabeth?”
I slowly backed up, leaning on the wall until I could see her. “Almost. I think I would like a little fresh air first.”
“You will need an aide. Let me call Jason for you.” Dr. Wood picked up her phone and talked briefly. “Okay, he said he will meet you at the front door.”
“Okay, thanks. I appreciate you working that out for me. I am pretty tired,” I play acted, still leaning against the doorframe.
“Jason will take good care of you, Enjoy.”
Funny how she seemed almost pleasant when she thought she had me under control. I shuffled down the hall to the front door. As soon as Jason met me, the receptionist buzzed the door open and we walked into the bright sunshine.
I think Jason was happy to be outside and he chatted easily. When he mentioned that his back was bothering him, he eagerly accepted the couple of white pills from me when I told them they were pain pills that would relax his muscles. We walked around the back of the buildings for about twenty minutes and then headed around the tree-lined path towards the front gate. There was a sturdy iron bench under one of the larger maples and Jason suggested we rest for a second. I obliged, knowing the sedatives were starting to work. He leaned back and shut his eyes for a second after mentioning how much better his back felt. I congratulated him and stood up.
“Hey, can’t you sit for another minute. I am just getting relaxed,” he said with a groggy laugh.
“Don’t worry. I am just going to look at the flowers by the front gate. You can stay right here and watch me.”
I slowly walked down the path, pretending to be interested in the plants until I reached the front gate. Two stone pillars bordered the iron gate and I wondered how I would ever get out. The gate must have been at least ten feet tall. I was in good shape but I still didn’t think I could make it. I looked back at Jason and he was happily sprawled out on the bench. Suddenly, the quiet was broken with the clang of the iron gates opening. I turned my back and started walking back to Jason as my heart beat hard in my chest. This was it! This was my chance.
I waited until the car passed me and then I turned around and ran as fast as I could through the closing gate. I was out! I slowed my pace to a slow jog, as my loafers just weren’t suitable for running. Thankfully, the hospital was close to the busy area of town and I was able to stop at an ATM and get some cash with my credit card so I could catch a bus. By two o’clock, I only had two blocks to walk. I was free and happy as I found the hidden key for the back door and entered my wonderful apartment.
“Hey, honey. I wasn’t expecting you home.” Mark was in the kitchen holding his cell phone. “I just got a phone call from you, but it wasn’t you - it was the institute saying they found your phone. Did you lose it? And why are you home early?”
“Why are you home early is my question?” I asked.
“Cause, their key speaker got sick and I didn’t feel like staying for the substitute.” He walked over and hugged me tight. “It’s much better to be home with you. Should we go get your phone?”
I pulled away, “No. I will never go back there. Can you go back and get my things? They treated me like a psycho, drugged me and locked me up. It was a nightmare!”
Mark laughed, “Just like the movies?” but changed his tone when I glared at him, “Okay, don’t worry. I’m sorry. You never have to go back.”
2016 copyright. Use only with permission.