by Grace Stevens
I remember it vividly: sitting in the locked storage closet upstairs. It was early in the morning, and I had a geometry test that day at school that I dreaded the thought of taking. In my sophomore year of high school, my overwhelming school, hard classes, and overloaded schedule all caused me to reach the point where I was too scared to go to school. I just sat on the cold floor and looked at my phone, not sure what my course of action would be. I didn’t consider the consequences of my parents finding me, stupidly assuming I would stay in that closet for the rest of my life. My heartbeat and breathing would get faster each minute that passed as it got closer and closer to 7:15, the time I’d have to leave for school. Each minute, even each second, seemed like ten years. I felt like a statue, frozen in place, afraid to move a single inch.
Eventually, 7:15 came. I started to hear footsteps come up the stairs. I turned off my phone and just sat in the dark, motionless. I held my breath, needing to be as silent as possible. I heard the footsteps pass me but knew it wouldn’t be long until they returned. I could hear my mom calling my name. She was probably furious with me since she had to take me to school then go to work, and I felt terrible for screwing up her schedule. After a while of my name being called and hearing the turning of doorknobs (as this was not a first-time occurrence), I finally heard the shaking of the storage closet doorknob.
“Grace, are you in there?” she asked, still loudly rattling the doorknob.
Of course, I was in there. Why else would the door be locked? Nonetheless, I stayed silent.
“Come out of there. You need to go to school.”
I still didn’t respond. Maybe she would give up and leave if I didn’t answer for long enough.
“I know school makes you anxious, but you can’t just avoid it for the rest of your life.”
I mean, if I never went, I’d never have to worry about it again. I wanted to ask if I could skip but had already missed several days from pleading to stay home and did not think I’d get away with another.
“You already missed enough days of school. You have to go,” she said, not even giving me the chance to ask. The calm and gentleness in her voice turned to impatience and annoyance. “Let’s go. You’re going to be late.”
“I can’t,” I whimpered.
“I can’t go. I hate it there…”
“We all have to do things we don’t like. I don’t love my job but still go to work every day.”
“I’m too scared…” I said, my voice getting shaky and tears forming in my eyes.
“You sound like a child. If you keep acting like a child, I’m going to treat you like one.”
I went back to not responding, not even knowing if I could manage to get a response out.
“I don’t have time for this! I need to get to work! If you don’t come out of there by the time I get to one, I’m calling your dad to break this door open.”
“Don’t!” I begged but knew it wouldn’t work since she reached the end of her rope.
My eyes widened as she counted down: 3… 2… 1. I didn’t move. Maybe she would get so angry that she would just leave. I was so terrified of the world outside that I would rather my mom be infuriated with me than come out of the storage closet.
Then I heard her yell, “Russ, can you come up here?”
I quickly stood up and opened the door. The fear of my father’s anger outweighed my fear of confronting the world outside. “Okay, I’m out. I’m out. Just don’t get dad involved.”
“Well, at least you’re changed. Let’s go!” In a fury, she turned around and started running down the stairs. She looked to the top from the landing to see I hadn’t moved and wasn’t about to move. She facepalmed, defeated. “What am I going to do with you?”
I immediately felt incredibly guilty. I got the sudden urge to apologize, run to the car, and go to school, but I couldn’t back down. I thought of going to school with my failing geometry grade, my handful of missing assignments, and my overly outgoing classmates, and knew I couldn’t do it anymore. I couldn’t go.
My mom continued hysterically, “What are you going to do? You refuse to go to school. You refuse to listen. What do you want?”
“I don’t know…” I mumbled. “I want to go to the hospital…”
“Why? So you can hide from your problems?”
“No, I just… don’t think I want to live anymore.”
She became silent. I couldn’t tell what was going on in her head. She still seemed angry but hearing my confession made her more level. She finally said, “Then let’s go.”
I watched as she walked down the remainder of the stairs. I was still in my school uniform but didn’t feel like changing into something else. I knew I should pack but didn’t know what to bring, just following my mom down the stairs. I got what I wanted but still felt defeated. Had I really won? Should I have just shut up and quit arguing? I grabbed my backpack like it was a normal day and went to the car, pretending if I did everything the same as usual it would seem like nothing was wrong.
I sat in the passenger seat of the car, freezing. It hadn’t been heated, and it was nearly December, snow on the ground from the night before. My mom was already there. She didn’t say anything to me. I just wanted her to talk, so it could be less awkward, but I just suffered in the silence. She started up the car, and we were on our way. The hospital was only fifteen minutes away, so I wouldn’t have to be uncomfortable for too long. I felt slightly better once the car warmed up.
We arrived at the hospital, and it took us a while to get in since it’s a struggle to get into immediate care without a physical injury. After a good hour of waiting, I got called in to a room.
“Why are you here today?” the doctor asked kindly.
It felt strange to say: “I’m scared for my life…”
I knew she could tell something was wrong, even though I was too embarrassed to say anymore. I needed help so had to tell her what I needed. After explaining a little bit more about how I was considering ending my life, I was put in a patient room on the first floor. It was small, containing nothing more than a bed, a couple chairs, and a TV hung in the corner. I didn’t know why, but they had to run some physical tests, and I had to change into a gown. I would be transferred to a different hospital because the one I was at didn’t have an inpatient unit.
The waiting I endured in that little room was the worst I had ever experienced. I laid in the uncomfortable hospital bed for six hours, in an agonizing state of hazy unsureness. The doctor would leave and return. I fell in and out of sleep. I would occasionally watch whatever old show was playing on the TV. I didn’t know what it was called but remember the graininess and laughs of the studio audience, as if they were laughing at my situation. I was honestly, though, too tired to be upset. The worst part was my parents staying there with me. Presumably, the presence of my parents would be comforting, but they made it all the worse. My mom ended up taking off work to wait with me, and my dad eventually came, too. They had no sympathetic, comforting comments that everything would end up fine. Rather, they scolded me, angry at me for making them miss work. They said, “Are we such bad parents that our child is in the hospital?” and “Where did we go wrong?” as if I wasn’t right there. They blamed themselves for how I “turned out” while blaming me for putting them in this situation. I ended up feeling bad for them, thinking it might have been better if I never asked for help in the first place.
When we had arrived at the hospital, it was early in the morning, and now it was late in the afternoon. At last, the doctor came in and told me the new hospital was ready. For some reason, I had to be brought out on a stretcher into an ambulance. I thought it would feel odd to be stretchered out when I could walk perfectly fine and to be driven in an ambulance when my parents could drive me. A part of me was embarrassed because I associated these things with physical injuries but had no injury. Despite my disliking of the idea, I did what was asked of me and resisted the urge to panic as I was strapped down to the stretcher. I just watched the people and rooms go by as the paramedics pushed me away. They lifted me into the back of the little ambulance, and there was no one in there except a paramedic and my mom. I had never been in an ambulance before and didn’t know they were so confining. I began to feel a sense of dread as we got closer to the hospital. I wanted to go for my own safety but had no clue what it would be like, and I wouldn’t have my parents with me. I cried the whole thirty-minute drive.
The hospital towered over the buildings near it. We went to the entrance used for emergencies, and I was pushed to the elevator, where we were raised to the fourth floor: the inpatient unit. After some winding hallways, we entered a small hallway that led to a large room. One area of the room looked like a lounge, where adults of varying ages sat. There were a couple small tables and some couches, a TV on a table against the wall. A wall blocked the lounge from the other area, which contained a large round table, and next to it, a few chairs in front of a TV. No one sat at the table. One more area was a counter where nurses sat, typing on computers, with rows of small lockers behind them. I was brought to the area with the round table and was finally released from the stretcher. I sat down with my mom and a doctor who went through tons of information with us. A nurse offered me food, but I wasn’t hungry, despite not eating yet the entire day. My mom told me to eat, though, so I ate since it wasn’t much food. I barely listened to the doctor speak, just eating my diced pears, everything sounding far away. What I did catch was that there was an adult and teenager section, and the two sides weren’t allowed to interact. I was the only teenager. After the doctor finished talking, my mom had to go, but I didn’t want her to. After both of us cried, and she told me that I would be okay, she left, and I was taken into a small room for inspection. The nurses asked for physical information like my height and weight and checked my body for any signs of self-harm. They questioned every sore or mark, and I would tell them, “That’s always been there,” or “That one just kind of showed up one day.”
Next, they showed me the bedrooms. There were three different rooms with two beds each. Since I was the only patient, I got to choose which one I wanted. I chose the first room and just laid on the bed, tears spilling down my face. I was completely alone and didn’t want to do anything, not even knowing what there was to do. I was still in the gown, which was completely gross and sweat-filled since I had been wearing it for so long. I wish I had clothes, but my parents couldn’t bring them until the next day. After a while, one of the nurses told me to come out and pick my meals for the next day. I didn’t want to, continuing to sulk, but wanted something to do. I went out to see food and ate my first actual meal of the day. I wanted to go explore the hallways connected to the large room and see where they led but found out they were nothing except conference rooms and the adults’ bedrooms. I had already seen most of what there was to see.
I didn’t do much for the rest of the evening. I looked at the schedule for the next day. Everything was detailed and planned out: I had a wake up and bedtime, and there were activities every hour or so. I noticed and became excited for the “work time,” where I would be allowed to use my phone and do schoolwork. I was also finally given back my clothes that I had changed out of for the gown earlier that day. I couldn’t have my schoolbag, though, as they didn’t allow me to have anything that could be potentially used for self-harm. They had my medication for me at the counter with the nurses, and they had to watch me swallow it. Then I went to bed at the time they asked.
I woke up to a nurse at my bedside.
“Good morning,” she said cheerfully, despite it being 6:30.
I sat up, too drowsy to figure out what was going on. Next to her was a rolling machine with a bunch of medical supplies on it.
“I need to get your blood pressure really quick.”
“Nothing’s wrong. It’s just hospital protocol.”
I raised my arm and let her wrap the sleeve around it. Then she left once she had her results, placing something on the edge of the bed. I assumed it was time for me to get up and stepped out of the bed with little energy. I had no hygenic supplies to get ready with so just put on the clothes I was given the night before and the pair of non-slip hospital socks that the nurse put on my bed. I went to the round table to see a breakfast tray, and my stomach growled as I had barely eaten dinner the day prior. I scarfed down the food then went back to my room to lay down, as I had nothing else to do except sit at the table, which I felt awkward doing since I was still alone. Soon, a nurse came in and called me to do an activity, which ended up being a worksheet of questions. One popped up that I didn’t know how to answer: “Why are you here?”
That’s a big question. Did it mean why was I in the hospital? Why was I put on earth? The second option was kind of out of my control. I lot of things led up to this, from the school stressors to my distorted outlook on life. I didn’t want to write all of that down, so I just wrote, “Stress.” The questions also revolved around me and my interests so that the workers could get to know me. After I finished the worksheet, I got to meet some of the nurses that worked in the teenage section. There were a couple female nurses and one male nurse, who were very kind and friendly, but I can’t remember their names. Then it was work time, where I got my bookbag. I looked at my homework but did not accomplish much as I only had one hour. After, my parents arrived with a week’s worth of outfits and hygienic materials. I had missed my parents greatly even though I saw them the day before. I tried getting them to stay as long as possible, but there wasn’t much to talk about after only one day. They left, and I sat bored again at my table. Eventually, something piqued my interest: a girl coming in on a stretcher. She was short and had brown frizzy hair. She looked young, and I thought I might be getting company. I ended up correct as she was introduced to me and led to my bedroom to be my roommate. All I remember about Lucy is that she would occasionally cry once we were in our beds for the night, and she was easily excitable and sometimes refused to participate. I remember once in one of our group discussions she ran to the corner and did not engage until warned by the nurses to stop “making a scene.” Despite us forced to be together all the time, we did not talk too much.
The days in the inpatient followed a ritualistic schedule: we would wake up, eat breakfast, do an activity, work, eat lunch, do more activities, eat dinner, and get free time before medication and bed. The activities usually consisted of things like worksheets, art, and group discussions or were teaching sessions about topics like coping mechanisms and types of medications. The activities took place in the various conference rooms, and we would go to our round table for free time. Despite having a TV, we were rarely allowed to watch it. Therefore, my free time was usually spent slowly coloring a Pikachu ripped out of a coloring book. I would also write the book I was working on, which was online, but since I wasn’t allowed my computer until work time, just wrote on sheets of note paper that I was given. The first few days followed like this for Lucy and me until two more girls arrived, one tall with straight black hair and the other tall with blond wavy hair.
“Hi, I’m Madeline,” the girl with black hair said to me when we first met.
“What year are you?”
“I’m a sophomore.”
“Cool. I’m a junior. How did you end up here?”
“Relatable. I tried taking AP Calculus… Worst decision of my life.”
I laughed a little. “I tried Honors Geometry.”
I remember Madeline the most from the hospital because we grew close from our similarities: we both took our schoolwork too seriously and had become dangerously burnt out. Unlike me, she was a math whiz, not interested in writing but still open to read the parts I had written for my book. We didn’t even talk a ton but would always provide each other encouragement and company, and I wished she had arrived earlier so we could room together instead of her and the blond girl that arrived with her, Rachel. Despite my fears that Madeline would drift away from me and grow closer with the other girls, it was still always the two of us together.
Despite me now having company, my days in the inpatient grew weary over time. I was incredibly homesick, my daily phone call from home not being good enough. I longed to see my dog, whom my parents told me looked sad without her snuggles and long walks. I also felt very cooped up: the worst part of the inpatient was not being allowed to leave. I desired fresh air and sunlight, only getting to look out the window in my bedroom, which we couldn’t even open. The daily ritual grew tiring and monotonous. I was sick of needing my blood pressure taken every day and learning information I had already been taught. I could only color Pikachu and write my book for so long without getting bored. I also grew socially tired from being around people all the time. Madeline was fine, but it was hard with Lucy and Rachel, whom I had a hard time interacting with. All of it wasn’t bad, though, as the activities with the nurses were helpful in improving my mental health. Some highlights were the weekends, where for example, we got to play Uno and were allowed to pick a movie to watch on the TV. I was dismayed that the others chose to watch Shrek, but after got to watch my pick, White Christmas. I watched it by myself while the others played Uno again. We also had yoga early on a Saturday, where we watched an old yoga instruction video, and I was the only one who decided to participate.
I would look forward to meetings with the doctor and social worker, who would visit every few days. They would evaluate me and see if my medication was effective, but more importantly, decide if I was ready to leave the inpatient or not. I would again and again be disappointed as they thought I needed more time, not yet having a plan for when I left. I thought I felt better, but it was most likely because of how badly I missed my family and having a bedroom to myself. After a little more than two weeks, though, I finally got cleared. The social worker and my parents decided I would be put in an outpatient program, where I would do similar activities but get to go home every night instead of staying in the hospital. I would miss the nurses and Madeline but was ready to go, feeling mentally healthy enough to leave. I packed my stuff and said my goodbyes.
I waited by the elevator for my parents. It opened, and they appeared. I ran into their arms, overjoyed to see them. I had talked with them over the phone, but it wasn’t the same as getting to embrace them and tell them in person how much I loved and missed them. I walked through the hospital with them to the exit, proud I got to walk this time, unlike how I was stretchered in. We got outside, and I took a huge breath of fresh air. It was snowing, and I held my palm out to catch the flakes in my hand.