Author: Effy Redman
Posted on: The New York Times| November 26th, 2017


It’s late morning on a balmy September day. I try to summon the will to run from the bench where I’m sitting on Broadway and dive under the massive wheels of one of the trucks roaring past. Which section of my body, I wonder, should I hurl beneath the tires. Where would hurt the least, and soonest erase my suffering. I clutch my cellphone, hating its potential for rescue signals.

After nine or 10 trucks pass me by, an unkempt man in his mid-50s sits on the bench beside me, plastic cup of lager in one hand, half-smoked self-rolled cigarette in the other. He looks me up and down and grins. Go away, jerk, I think to myself, shooting him an icy glance. Leave me be.

“Are you waiting for a date?” he persists. “What are you doing?”

I want to kill him, but my resolve switches. I stand abruptly and head for my apartment, where, I calculate, I have enough medications stored to off myself. I ponder what to say in my suicide note. My phone rings: my mother, responding to the please call me asap message I had texted her. “What’s going on?” she says.

It is my mother who insists I call my therapist and my mother who, upon my therapist’s urging, drives me to the emergency room.

“Can’t you think about how it’s a beautiful sunny day?” she says once I’ve checked in and changed into a hospital gown and scrubs pants. I tug at the neck of my cotton gown, which chokes no matter how much I loosen the ties.
‘“I just feel utterly hopeless,” I say. The depression is a silent, slow motion tsunami of dark breaking over me. I can’t swim away from it and don’t believe I can survive its natural withdrawal. That’s why I am here.

This was over a year ago, and I’m still alive, thanks primarily to mental health care professionals and the passage of time. Over the course of the past decade, I have struggled with the exhilarating highs and excruciating lows of bipolar disorder, or manic-depression. I’ve spent a cumulative nine months living on psychiatric units.

All these units were locked down, regulated, sterile. I ate food off hard plastic trays with soft plastic cutlery. When the medications I swallowed in front of policing nurses behind their grimy desks caused my skin to flake into dead orangish chunks and hang from my face, I stole mini-packs of butter from the patients’ fridge and used it as a moisturizer. I hid the foil-and-plastic wrappers in a drawer with my hospital-issue white gauze underwear, which bulged slightly at the crotch, an accommodation to those patients who were male.

I have stared out windows for hours; a person trudging down the treeless street excited me as a major event. Between events, I named the landscape’s components in my head: single yellow line, grass, ugly rock, rakish slope toward road.

The unit I am on this time is all grays and beige and stale air. The doctor prescribes lithium, supposedly the bipolar miracle drug. I take the button-size white pill dutifully with endless Dixie cups of brackish fountain water from the nurses’ station. Yet, my depression continues.
The second bed in my room, which sits unfortunately close to the hallway’s clamoring communal telephone, is empty, and each morning I wake to a nurse asking, however gently, to take my blood pressure. The hospital’s red brick walls, visible through my window, remind me of my early childhood home in England, of churches and moderate antiquity.

A week in, during dialectical behavior therapy group in the cafeteria, I see a tall woman about my age with long dark hair and warm but haunted brown eyes being gently seated in the plastic-upholstered two-seater across from me. She has blackish bruises around her mouth and nose. She sits as though her spine is a column of brittle ash. Earlier that day, she’d attempted suicide by lithium overdose. My new roommate.

She wakes each morning an hour before me, making her bed with meticulous care, smoothing each wrinkle from the absurdly white hospital blankets. As she puts the finishing touches on her outfit and starts arranging the cushions brought by her husband from home on her bed’s pristinely smooth surface, I drag my sweaty self out from under the three, four, five blankets that fail to keep me feeling warm through the night. I make my way to the industrial-gray bathroom, splash cold water on my face and drag a hospital-issue black comb through my hair.

By the time I emerge, my roommate is sitting on the edge of her bed, her hands clasped in her lap. I look guiltily over at the knot of wadded white blankets and sheets on my still-damp bed.

“How are you?” she asks.

“Fine,” I say.

She looks away.

The nurse arrives to dress the wound in her neck, the result of where she had intubation for emergency dialysis after her overdose. I can’t see the wound, but she has complained that it means she cannot wash her hair for three days, the hair she keeps swept into braids or up-dos, always impeccable.

I flinch as the nurse swabs ointment onto her neck, then covers the area with a gauze pad before walking out. My roommate looks up at me, her eyes wide with concern.

“If you ever want to talk,” she says, “I’m here to listen.”

“Oh, thank you,” I say, thinking I could never possibly upset this girl with the impeccable hair. “You can talk to me, too, if you like.”

We sit there not saying a thing for five minutes or so, fussing needlessly with our bedclothes, glancing occasionally at one another. There is a small, subversive pleasure in our enactment of the opposite of therapy, in which you’re directed to speak your troubles without any real option for silence.


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