My roommate pulled a bent cigarette out of his pocket at around 10am just after breakfast and lit in the kitchenette using the toaster as his lighter. The nurses let him smoke half of it before they threatened to place him in solitary. I had arrived around midnight the night before after a 24 hour hold in the acute psychiatric care unit; that dim and windowless prison of a holding unit for those who are waiting for a bed. We didn’t meet until the next morning when I woke up to find him sitting upright in his bed staring at me. He was in his mid-40s, shorter than me, about 5”6. His eyes were a vacant blue and his gut was noticeably swelling from years of uninhibited alcohol consumption.
“Who the hell are you?” He said with a coarse rural drawl.
“I guess I’m your roommate.” I replied as I sat up. I was still wearing my work clothes. A pair of black dress pants and a long sleeved chambray shirt that smelled of stale alcohol and tobacco from two nights before.
“Well, shit. I hate havin’ roommates. Fuckin’ nurses.”
After breakfast that morning I would walk into my room to find my roommate stumbling out of the bathroom sniffing profusely.
“You need to crush your meds and snort ‘em. Works faster.”
Later that week, my roommate went AWOL. Rumor had it that the police found him intoxicated on the hospital’s front lawn.
This was my induction into Unit B2. We nearly resembled a dysfunctional family reunion. Everyone couldn’t help but act like they had known each other since childhood. When everyone wasn’t yelling at each other, appropriate conversations would typically consist of comparing eating disorders, relapses, and suicide attempts over breakfast.
“So, what brought you in here?”
“I tried jumping in front of a bus when I was almost blacked out drunk.”
“I relapsed and threw a roller skate at a cop.”
“I thought that I was the Druid reincarnation of Jesus Christ. Fuck…”
“I swear, if you ask me that again, I will rip your tonsils out.”
I had been brought in to Hennepin County Medical Center’s Acute Psychiatric Care Unit at 11:38pm on July 29th, 2011 after a drunken failed suicide attempt. Major depression had been a constant in my life as far back as I could remember. The lead psychiatrist in my unit, and old well-read Irishman who I would debate absurdist philosophy with rather than discuss why I was there in the first place, felt that my depression was not primarily chemical but existential in nature, a tension between who I was mentally, emotionally, and physically, as though the lines that would typically give a stable human being definition had run together in my own life. He referred to it as dysphoria but I received the official diagnosis of a form of chronic depression known as dysthymia.
The night in question is still a blur. I had been drinking heavily the week prior and planning out exactly when and how I would end my life. My original intentions were to wait until after the holidays, after my little sister’s wedding, after I had sold the majority of my possessions and burned my journals. But after a night of binge drinking, I lost all control. I remember seeing a bus racing down the street directly in front of me. Had I been standing in the middle of the road or on the sidewalk? I wasn’t certain. At some point I had collapsed in the midst of a panic attack. A group of people had surrounded me and suddenly I was hunched over shivering in an alleyway. I was in the back of a squad car and ambulance had been turned away. And suddenly, I was in the middle of a barren cell shivering and wrapped in a blanket.
“You have to let me out. I have to be at my fucking job in 6 hours. You can’t fucking keep me here!” I screamed at the nurses.
“Nathan, you are drunk and you screamed at a police officer to get out of your way so you could jump into oncoming traffic. Do you remember that?”
I did not.
I sat down in a small lobby area with some cushioned benches and watched Law and Order SVU. Arguably, it not the most appropriate distraction for the cook next to me going through heroin withdrawal. It was not his first time in the hospital, nor was it the first time he sat in this specific unit. He kept asking me questions in between intense bouts of cold sweats.
“WHAT PART OF I DON’T WANT TO FUCKING TALK ABOUT IT DO YOU NOT UNDERSTAND?!” I screamed at him after he asked if I would be calling my family.
My adrenaline kicked in and I launched myself from the couch across the room and repeatedly slammed my body into walls. All that I wanted to do was leave. All that I wanted to do was forget about this night and go on pretending for the next 8 months that everything was alright and follow through with disappearing forever.
“LET ME THE FUCK OUT OF HERE YOU STUPID BITCH! LET ME OUT!”
“Nathan!” The nurse shouted as she immediately stood up from behind her station to suddenly standing right beside me. “I swear to God, if you do not calm down right this instant, I will call in security, shove a needle in your ass, and make sure that you can’t say another word for the rest of the night!”
For the next few I minutes froze and didn’t say a word. I just stood there and stared back at the nurse. The look in her eyes told me that I was just an annoyance to her that could be dealt with swiftly. More than likely I would just be another story she would rehash with her coworkers over drinks next weekend. Slowly, I made my way back to the bench, and began to sob uncontrollably. The cook put his hand on my shoulder. I felt completely powerless. I had forfeited all control of my life and lacked any and all hope.
“You’re going to make it. Maybe you’ll be here again someday. But for right now, you’re going to be alright.”
As far back as I can remember, I had dealt with a severe emotional and mental imbalance. It was far too easy to sink into complete despair. But as the days began to turn into weeks, I learned that the cook was right. Although there are still times when I feel that I need to be completely broken in order to begin the process of healing, however long that may take, however many restarts, I will be alright. I might collapse at times under the weight of my own self destruction again and again. But I learned during those first 24 hours that I have the ability to pick myself back up again and I will be alright.