I sat in the small room with the heavy glass door, wondering when the hell the man who had been doing my intake would be back. Impatiently, I uncrossed and crossed my legs. I wondered why I was so anxious to get in there. I mean, I certainly didn't know what to expect, but I didn't think it was going to be anything good. If I was lucky, I'd get through the next 72 hours without waking up to someone trying to suffocate me with a pillow.
He came back and notified me I was almost ready to be admitted. Then he left again, but this time a young woman entered the room and halfheartedly searched me, I suppose to see if I was carrying any pills, weapons or anything I could use to inflict harm. After she was satisfied that I didn't have anything dangerous on me, she took away my black bra and the thin leopard-print pony-hair belt I was wearing. I raised my eyebrows, but said nothing. It made sense that a desperate person looking to off themselves could get pretty creative.
The staff referred to the section of the clinic that housed the inpatient clients as “the unit.” I had never needed the services of said unit before today, before I had committed the regrettable error of letting a shrink know I was thinking of doing something “dangerous.” I told the man, Look, if you'd been having crippling panic attacks for months with no end in sight, you'd want a way out too. He didn't necessarily agree, so I was placed under an involuntary hold for observation, officially Baker Act'd.
The woman who'd confiscated my belt and bra led me through a labyrinth of corridors until we reached the entrance of the unit. This was it. I had arrived at the nuthouse. After tonight, I would no longer be a "normal" member of society, one who hadn't been locked up for being insane. Reluctantly, I went inside.
The first thing I saw when I entered the unit was a young woman sitting at a table, speaking loudly to an older, professional-looking woman.
“I’m not hearing any voices anymore. I need to be released from here. I’m moving to California,” she explained. Her voice was surprisingly childlike, almost cartoonish.
I didn’t get a chance to hear the woman’s response. One of the staff handed me some sheets and a blanket to make my bed with, and showed me to the tiny bedroom I was going to share with two other female patients. After I made the bed, I ventured outside my room. Chairs were scattered along the walls and I sat down in the one just outside my doorway, surveying the scene.
There were a dozen or so other residents besides me, most of whom were quietly watching a television encased behind a thick wall of clear plastic with holes drilled into it. There were no seats available at any of the four sofas angled around the television, so I watched from my perch. I had expected mayhem, hysteria; patients frothing at the mouth and being forced into straitjackets as they cackled dementedly. The theater of the insane asylum. Not a bunch of motionless mopes silently watching basic cable.
The girl with the cartoon voice began to circle the room, pulling listlessly at her coffee-colored hair, talking and laughing to herself. I thought I was finally going to see some real life crazy action, but I was mistaken. She simply retrieved a well-worn bible from a bookcase and began flipping the pages as she started another lap around the common room. An older woman began singing incoherently and dancing in place, which seemed somewhat promising. But she grew tired of her own antics quickly, and abandoned them after only a few minutes. I sighed dejectedly in my chair. It was going to be a long 72 hours if the crazies didn't up their game.
I stayed in my spot for the rest of the night, watching for signs of impending chaos. But none came. Until it was announced that we were to go to bed, everyone else was very still, hardly communicating or performing any activity whatsoever. The place seemed like a very large waiting room; everyone in it just passing the time, day in, day out, waiting for some semblance of sanity to come. I wondered how long I would wait.