The people here are sketchy so I won’t address you directly in case this gets lost. I don’t know what they’ve done to me but I feel like I’m being watched. Can’t trust anyone these days which is partly how I ended up here. Honestly, if there’d been a bottom to begin with and it hadn’t dropped out I’d have had the luxury of making an actual choice instead of throwing myself into this mess. Reactive madness or survival? You know, by some standards it’s considered a miracle. Today it just feels like hell with a view.
They’ve got me in some kind of private room which I’m not allowed to leave. There’re all kinds of rules which they keep in a big book. They gave me a copy when I checked in. Don’t do this. Don’t do that. What a welcome. Apparently I’m supposed to stay in here unless there’s a meeting, then I’m supposed to take a notepad, go to the meeting and pretend to write down things they want me to do between now and the next meeting. This woman comes around every six minutes to make sure we’re all working on our assignments. She came in last week while I was having a panic attack. I tried pretending everything was fine but she wouldn’t stop talking. I felt like I was suffocating so I held my breath hoping I’d pass out or die. No such luck.
It’s not meant to be torture but I wouldn’t call it comfortable either. I mean, the rooms are always too hot or too cold, there’s a vent over my head constantly blowing air and probably germs all over me. It drys out my eyes making me look crazier than they probably think I am. There’s no water or coffee either but the furniture’s ok. We both know I could care less about food. Everyone’s on their own for that but they’ll occasionally throw a bunch of sugary carbs on the dirty kitchen table and make some big announcement like it’s a treat and we should be grateful. Sometimes I’ll go just to see what all the fuss is about but tend to regret it. An absolute crime scene of black plastic platters littered with wilted lettuce and wet sheets of cheese, a half eaten sheet cake, club sandwiches which look as if they’ve been molested and the very worst, greasy bags half full of corn chip shards sitting inches away from graphic mounds of loose salsa. Not a container in sight. God only knows how many filthy hands have been in that bag. I’ll never hear the end of it about my diet but these savages might wanna take a peek in the mirror.
Aside from the futility of eating, I feel restless, pointless, defeated. I mean, is this it? It makes me wonder why I go through the trouble of putting on pants every morning. Even if my clothes are decent my hair refuses to be anything but ridiculous. It’s not like they give us any time to really prepare in the first place and even if there were time who’s it all for, so why bother? Also, no one looks good under these lights; all green and flickering, like a bad Edward Hopper painting come to life. If a sad clown showed up at my door to bum a smoke, I wouldn’t be surprised. It’s enough to make any happy, well-adjusted person miserable.
Looking back I’m almost embarrassed about how I got myself into this mess. I didn’t expect it would solve all my problems but I guess I thought or hoped it would mean something. Or that I’d finally have a sense of purpose, peace, direction. Instead, I feel worse and I’m buried in debt. Why didn’t I just go to Belize or try harder at winning the lottery? It might seem like a no brainer to say ‘who wouldn’t want more than this’ but most people around me look legitimately content. I don’t get it. They like the half eaten sheet cake and molested bologna. The bag of crumbs practically makes their day! Clearly there’s something wrong with me, in addition to the obvious.
After pacing the cage each day, producing nothing, accomplishing squat, having zero fruitful conversations, I’m too tired to attempt anything else. Showering feels monumental. I cry just looking at my toenails and sincerely wish they’d stop growing. The human body is a cage within the cage; indecent, untamable, not to mention deteriorating. Taking care of it is like cleaning an old apartment, no amount of scrubbing will make it any less shabby or more chic. No wonder I’ve completely lost it.
How is it possible to be exhausted from a day of merely existing? Last Tuesday, for instance, I was catatonic for so long my blood stopped circulating and I swear I’d accumulated dust. The worst part is, it wasn’t by choice. I was doing exactly what they’d told me to do.
Other days feel unsafe and truthfully traumatizing. People run screaming through the halls. Alarms go off sending everyone racing in all directions. There are countless intrusions to my room and I’m called on to go here, do this, go there, write that. After those kind of days there are even more meetings followed by special smaller meetings where people cry or get angry and have to say how they’re going to put themselves back together. I’m not allowed to say out loud I think they’re all yoke-less shells. But I think it over and over and over. They can’t stop me from thinking though sometimes I wish someone could especially since I don’t really feel what I think. I just can’t stand another minute being in the presence of the energetic waste. Nothing is happening! Their reactions are justified. I’m the one whose numb.
You’d expect with the exhaustion of merely existing I’d be sleeping like a rock. Another illusion. When I do sleep my dreams are cluttered, metaphoric nightmares of scenes from each day, replaying chaotic futility on a loop. In every dream I’m either making frantic attempts to restore some semblance of order, really giving it my all or else hiding only to be discovered and interrupted by an endless plague of trivial notifications. Ding! Ding! Ding! Followed by the sound of the alarm. There’s no escape. I mean, technically I could sign myself out and find a suitable replacement but aren’t they all the same? Besides, I’ve tried, for years. Trying and trying and trying. When nothing comes from all our efforts we eventually crumble into the involuntary reflex of breathing.
For now I’m finding comfort in writing you this letter which I’ll release into the unknown along with all prior held expectations. There’s a certain freedom in letting go.
Until then, e
This is a fictional piece exploring the parallels between workplaces and psych units from the perspective of a clinician who might be a cousin of Gregor Samsa.