Trigger Warnings: anxiety, mental illness, self-harm, suicide
- At best (at first), it feels like mooching off. There are all these kids in the pediatric ward with oxygen masks gripping their faces like leeches, or their scalps shiny against the fluorescents, or their parents sitting watch in a casually tragic state of exhaustion next to big beds containing little, broken people. And there I am, looking twenty-one though I’m actually not, and I’ve got, wait for it, anxiety. Everybody says they have anxiety. People don’t just say they were in a crash and felt each rib snap under the car door.
- The nurse requests I take my bracelets off my left wrist. It’s just two, but still. They keep me from shredding up my forearms because they won’t come off and I don’t want to stain them red. “What about the leather one? That one will snap off.” “No, it’s rusted shut.” “Just let me try?” “Uh. No, thanks.” Maybe I would strangle myself with my leather bracelet if I could wrench it off, but it really is rusted shut, and I have a positive association with it. Also that’s not the way I’d want to go, eyes bugging out and spit flying like sparks. And I just don’t have enough sleep in the bank to put in the effort or even have the idea.
- It’s a prostate exam for your brain. “Tell me about the waking nightmares you’re having. I’ll eat them up. I’ll go home and tell my boyfriend about them. We’ll make popcorn and he’ll write an award-winning screenplay based on your twisted mind.” It’s complete with small talk, too: “So where are you going this summer? Camp? And you’re a writer? And you have dogs?” Be happy you’re alive, the kind interrogation whispers.
- How can a crash of one’s thought process get fixed in a department generally perceived for its work in a literal crash? Relatively speaking, physical relief comes easy. Maybe I’ve just never been in enough pain to know, but it seems like hot versus cold. If you’re too cold, you can put on a jacket and really warm up within a few minutes. If you’re too hot, you can ask people not to touch you and look for somewhere slightly cooler to lie down alone. (Throw in the fact that I haven’t been able to attempt any rest without disturbing imagery barging into my consciousness, and it’s a mental health emergency!)
- The hospital personnel are the roommates who push you out of bed on Monday morning even if you’re hungover and caught in a monotony bubble. They’ll be late to work because they stuck around to wake you up and make you an egg, and they may resent you for it, may even sit silently on the subway and stew over how you’re a whiny fuck with a nonexistent maturity level, but hey, at least you made it to Monday. The strange thing is, that won’t happen—or worst case scenario, it’s really not your problem if it does. You’ll be moving out so soon that you won’t even get to say thanks or ask how their day was. These are people who really, really like being altruistic, and sometimes that just takes some suspension of belief.
- It makes me a mental patient—and makes me realize that that word doesn’t carry the weight most people expect. It feels light: you’re surrounded by white and gray and muted green and people are kind to you. In your ER pajamas, you don’t feel dangerous—just in limbo. I can now say I’ve wandered barefoot out of my curtained cell, battered toes squeaking against the sterile plastic floor, in search of mere company. I don’t know how much further I’ll wander for that company. I don’t know who gets to see me like this.
- No matter the adventure, the psychological thriller, the action flick that went down and left you emotionally spent, you don’t just walk up to your friends on Monday and say, “Hey, hi, you had a cool weekend? Yeah? Well, guess where I was—the ER! Yeah, I really felt like shit, my parents thought I was going to kill myself. So they brought me to the ER, where I had nurses and a social worker named Lillian and everything! You may have had a nice time drinking lattes and having a grip on your life, but just try and top what I got done.” In a perfect world, it’s probably the normal thing to mention to the people you’re close to, but that Monday, despite the life-changing event that hit on Saturday, I just don’t.
Fran-Claire Kenney is a Queer writer, filmmaker, and student based near Philadelphia. Her work has appeared in Coffin Bell Journal, New Pop Lit, and Wards Lit Mag, and she has been awarded by The Short Story Project. Kenney is on Twitter, YouTube, and probably the couch, as well.
Art by Bob Schofield @anothertower