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Rereading the Journal I Kept in a Psych Ward as a Teen Taught Me I Have Never Been in the Mood for Bitches

"Ralph looks like a gopher. This place sucks. I might as well be burned on a pitchfork."

by Zoë Klar
Jun 22 2015, 7:30pm

All photos courtesy of the author.

A few years ago I found the journal I meticulously updated during my 13-day stay at an adolescent psych ward. I was 13 at the time, on a combination of medications (an SSRI and multiple mood stabilizers) and was having an adverse reaction to one or more of them. After meeting with my mom, my psychiatrist told me the decision was made to hospitalize me so my medication cocktail could be adjusted quickly and safely in a controlled environment. I obviously wasn't thrilled at the prospect of being hospitalized but I wasn't surprised by their decision. It was something we all had talked about previously and part of me felt like I was just biding time until we were out of options.

The hospital was about half an hour north of where I grew up in Westchester, New York. I remember the intake process taking an extremely long time so I was actually relieved when it was time to go into the ward itself.

I don't remember much of the experience and I put off reading the journal for a while. I was scared that it would unearth emotions I didn't feel like dealing with, or make me remember something I've been repressing for the past ten years.

I recently reread it for the first time and luckily, my fears were unfounded. Parts of it feel completely unemotional, like an outsider wrote it, reporting on day-to-day experiences at the psych ward and how weird everyone else is. There are of course other moments where my emotional instability was glaringly obvious (see above, where I go off on some guy named Kyle and then talk about tongue twisters). The tone suddenly shifts from that of a mundane, judgmental teenager to an angry, unpredictable mess of a human over the span of one sentence.

I wrote constantly, thinking it would help pass the time or aid in my healing in some way. Journalling four times a day in a place where very little happened made for a redundant and sort of uninteresting read. The word "bored" appears on every page at least once, and most pages feel like an exact replica of the last.

The inside cover of my journal has a diagram of my childhood bedroom, which I decided to have painted a color called "Nacho Cheese Orange" while hospitalized. I wish the doctors had shifted their focus from my medication to interior design decisions for just a moment to tell me me that painting my room bright orange was likely an uninformed decision.

The following page has a note from my brother.

"Don't show this to Any1,.. I hate your Dr...Get Better soon, I love you so much, & get the hell out of here so I don't have to come back. Love you so much. Your Dr = Nurse Ratchet"

It would be another three years before I read One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest so his literary reference was lost on me, but based on what I knew of my doctor, I figured Nurse Ratchet was a healthcare professional whom I would not like and at some point condemn to hell.

Days 1 - 3

There was no honeymoon period. The first entry was written on the afternoon of my first day there and within hours, I immediately hated everything: my surroundings, the other patients, my psychiatrist. To make matters worse, they were serving fish for dinner, which I described as my "worst enemy." I always hated fish and I took it personally that they would disrespect me by serving it for dinner my first day there. It seems I was having trouble making friends, but I had no problems complaining about and insulting my fellow psych ward cohabitants. "Ralph looks like a gopher. This place sucks. I might as well be burned on a pitchfork." I never lost sight of what truly mattered, how much I hated the hospital. I mainly disliked that they burped a lot and flirted with each other. I was jealous of the relationships they had with each other and how comfortable they were with their surroundings.

I knew I had at least eight more days ahead of me and was completely convinced each day would tirelessly drag on like the last. I was right, but the first few days were by far the hardest. Nearly everything I wrote was about leaving, visiting home, or missing my mom.

Days 4 - 5

"She likes Good Charlotte. Gross! I'm definitely gaining weight from the Risperdal."

I finally started adjusting to my new environment and communicating with the other people there. I started writing less about how much I missed my mom and more about the people there and what activities we were doing.

I was moved into a room with two girls who were also there for medication changes. I liked one of them named Rachel, whom I described as "on suicide watch but Jewish." We quickly became close, partially due to our shared hatred of our third roommate. The only reason I gave for disliking her is that she liked Good Charlotte and only ate seaweed. In all fairness, the seaweed thing was pretty bad and I still don't eat sushi because of her, but that doesn't quite warrant calling her a "piece of shit."

Days 6-7

I never laid out a concrete reason for why I hated my psychiatrist so much other than "there's just something about her that pisses me off." This quote does provide some insight though. "I told her I was getting better at controlling the man in my head." (The "man in my head" was the way I described the behavior I felt I couldn't control.) "She said 'if a two-year-old told me that, OK, but you're 13 and should know better.' She is just mean to me." All of my negative feelings were justified when she decided to extend my stay by ten days to further adjust my medication. This was during a now-infamous family meeting when I told her she should "go to hell." I stand by what I said, though I probably shouldn't have screamed it at her and it definitely didn't help my case that I was ready to be discharged.

Following the meeting, the entries are extremely angry and filled with borderline death threats to my psychiatrist. Rachel was also discharged, which was deeply upsetting to me. I wrote about when other patients left and not really caring because I hated them anyway but I was notably sad about Rachel. I was clearly moody and upset but wrote about making an effort not to seem that way and lie about feeling better. "There's no reason I can't be depressed and bipolar at home. If I could get better, great. If I get out of here sooner, even better."

Days 9-10

"I'm not in the mood for bitches right now."

I went back to trash-talking the other patients in my journal and after a few days of good behavior, I was finally granted a "pass," which meant I could participate in gym and eat in the hospital cafeteria with patients from all the other wards. "Gym" wasn't exactly the reward I was hoping for but I concluded it was still nice to get outside even if it meant exercising.

The hospital was directly across from the shopping mall I went to growing up and I could see it on the walk to the gym. Most of the mall was obstructed by trees but the glowing facade of the Cheesecake Factory was in plain view. "I've never been to the Cheesecake Factory but Rachel said their salads are good. She's never had their cheesecake." I would've done just about anything for a Santa Fe Salad in that moment but instead I had to go play dodgeball with my fellow patients. In my journal I refer to seeing the Cheesecake Factory multiple times, as though it were some kind of beacon representing freedom and the outside world.

Days 10-12

On the morning of Day Ten we had a meeting about relationships that I decided didn't "correspond with me at all" and I shouldn't have to be subjected to an hour of fixing other people's problems. The light at the end of the tunnel was my seventh viewing of Zoolander, which I watched with my new roommate after Seaweed was discharged.

By Day 11, I was only journaling once or twice a day. I had a home visit and saw my "Nacho Cheese Orange" bedroom for the first time, which seems to have been an exhilarating experience. I felt my room makeover represented a new beginning; I definitely didn't want to go back to a little girl's room after this experience. Now, I'd probably pick a more stabilizing and less food-inspired color to represent my future.

That afternoon when I met with Nurse Ratchet, I learned I'd be going home in a few days. After that meeting I concluded that my psychiatrist was "much better than I thought. But still a bitch."

Day 13—Last Day

I was definitely relieved to be out of the "crack den" but it was difficult, nearly impossible, for me to return to my life as a normal 7th grader after the two weeks I just had. I felt bombarded and overwhelmed by the questions the students and teachers asked me when I returned to school. Despite my efforts to normalize my situation, the experience left me feeling alienated and unsure of myself. I finished that year but to my disappointment, my emotional state didn't magically fix itself. It would be another year or two of therapy programs before I felt somewhat stable and about another four years before I could watch Zoolander again.

Zoë Klar is on Twitter.

Tagged:
mental health
Journals
Vice Blog
psych ward
zoë klar
Re-Reading Journals I Kept in a Psych Ward
Blasts From the Past
One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest