When I was discharged from the mental health care facility in November of 2011, the walk from the front of the building to my sister and brother-in-law's car was a sequence of steps I'll never forget. Everything felt slowed down; the breeze and the sunshine were things I hadn't experienced in a week. It was sublime.
I almost didn't want to turn my cell phone on. Going a week without one made me realize how nice it was to not have something to constantly turn to whenever I was feeling bored/awkward/anxious. Of course, there were no distractions in Acadia, the facility where I spent a week.
I've often written about my struggles with depression, including the suicide attempt that landed me in Acadia because of the disorder. There's nothing to hide, really. From what I've experienced, mental disorders remain mostly ambiguous in our society, thus leading to a healthy ignorance on the subject. That's understandable, considering there are things concerning my own multiple disorders that I also remain ignorant of.
While being open with my struggles, I haven't really written much about what being in Acadia was like. I'll not speak of it at length here, for I fear that that would take far too much time. Instead, I'll merely mention a brief summary of some of the things I remember most.
Acadia wasn't a prison, but it was a place where I had no choice but to face my demons. After I was admitted the night of Halloween in 2011, it only took me one night to realize how little my problems seemed in comparison to some of the things I saw in there. Sadly, I realized that there were people who would probably never leave that place.
I remember patients talking about Acadia as if it were a destination for vacation, resulting in multiple voluntary check-ins. We had a woman who would strip naked and wander into different bedrooms in the compound, trying to sneak into bed with both males and females. She was also a kleptomaniac, and I can still see her flipping through the Bible and scribbling incoherent lines on every page. I recall another woman slinking under the table in a panic attack, unaware of where she was or what was happening. We had a heroin addict racked with withdrawals who seemed dead on his feet wherever he went. Nurses would come by every 30 minutes to check on you. They'd peek into your bedroom, scrawl something on a clipboard, then disappear. This happened even when we were asleep. The white cinderblock walls, fluorescent lights, and plastic feeling pillows made for a lack of comfort even in one's own room. The food was awful, the schedule strenuous, and the days long.
Despite all of this, I seem to remember many of the good things. After sitting down with a few other patients close to my age, coloring Halloween-themed pictures with crayons was the most therapeutic thing I'd done all week. We'd all push our tables together at lunch. After a while, the adults started to emulate this action, bringing a sense of community in a place for people who had scorned community. I had my bible, and friends and family visited daily. One of the nurses said she'd never seen one person receive so many letters. They even let my sister bring my guitar by, letting me play for the other patients - which, if you know anything about me, you'd know I despise playing for others. The day after my admittance, I sat at a table across from my sister during visiting hours, weeping about how lonely Acadia was. By midweek, when a group of my friends came to visit, I was sharing tales and cracking morbid jokes. I had found my medicine. It was in the other patients.
After checking out, a fellow patient (we remained friends afterwards) recommended that I read a book called It's Kind of a Funny Story by a guy named Ned Vizzini. She said "You'd love it, because it's pretty much exactly your life."
Of course, my curiosity was piqued. She let me borrow it. It was an easy and short read, so finishing it was no problem. More than that, she had made a relevant point when she stated that the book possessed parallels to my own life. The book follows a 15 year old kid named Craig, who - after the pressure his parents put on him and the application process to get into a highly competitive and prestigious school - checks into a mental health care facility in Brooklyn. I won't spoil the book, but he meets a girl, makes some friends, goes through some healing, and the book ends pretty happily. I can live with that, given that all that pretty much exactly happened to me. However, I'd advise you not to date someone you meet in a mental health care facility. You've been warned.
It wasn't long after that I found out that the book had been made into a film, starring Emma Roberts and Zach Galifianakis. So I asked for it for Christmas that year, enjoying it nearly as much as the book.
It was the first time I had ever read a book/watched a film that I felt was speaking directly to me. I know people say that all the time, eager to impart their revelations about a song they heard on the radio or whatever. But I mean to really know exactly what the author was trying to get at. There were sentences and scenes that were so precisely in line with my owns thoughts that I began to fear I was guilty of thought crime.
Every once in a while, a film/book like It's Kind of a Funny Story will come along and make me think about my struggles with depression in a deeply introspective way. It happened with Perks of Being a Wallflower and The Silver Linings Playbook, the former reminding me of my struggles with suicidal thoughts and the latter casting light on bipolar disorder, something that I had later been diagnosed with. Even though I had seen It's Kind of a Funny Story before either of them, I speak about it now because of a recent event.
A few months ago, the author of It's Kind of a Funny Story, Ned Vizzini, killed himself. He was 32, and he left behind a wife and a son. After hearing the news, I didn't know how to respond. Here was a person who had championed the battle against depression, connecting with thousands of young adults and teenagers with his wit and words, drawing from his own mental battles. Ned pretty much wrote It's Kind of a Funny Story after his own stay in a Brooklyn based hospital. I had felt a connection with this man that I had never met because of the similarities in the battles we were both fighting.
How were people supposed to react to his death? The man healed many with his words, and I do him little justice in the few paragraphs I've written here. The truth is, I remember being afraid. I was afraid that the message would get lost; that the last thing people would remember about someone who had taken up the pen against depression is the fact that he succumbed to the very fate that he was helping others to avoid. It wasn't fair, and it didn't make sense. But that's the thing about depression - it doesn't make sense, unless you yourself have it. Even then, good luck trying to make sense of why your brain acts the way it does. Perhaps this will help:
What I took away from Ned's book and my own stay in a hospital was that - among many things - there were a lot of things that I still wanted to do before I died. There was way too much life to live, and a failure during one of the most turbulent times of my life didn't give me an excuse to bow out. Pills helped, but not nearly as much as coloring pictures of scarecrows with people my age who had also flirted with suicide did. I had to learn the hard way that I was more than my mistakes, more than my past. Going forward would be a celebration of everything there was to gain, not what I was leaving behind. And for these things, I'll forever remain thankful to people like Ned Vizzini who help get the word out about what it is to deal with the enigma that is depression.
I have much to be thankful for. I've often mentioned in my posts that I've tried to kill myself a few times the past few years. After back to back attempts in both 2011 and 2012, I feared what 2013 might hold. In October of 2011, I tried to kiss my wrists with Wolfgang Puck kitchen knives. In September of 2012 - not even a year later and newly transitioned to Seattle - I took my entire bottle of antidepressants, resulting in a stay in the ER and a triage center. In 2013, you know what I did?
I'll tell you.
In 2013 I lived. My niece was born. I went on my first retreat for church in years. I watched some of my best friends graduate from college. I watched friend after friend get engaged. I got to see my new niece for the first time. I learned how to change a diaper, strap in a carseat, make a Formula bottle, and assemble a stroller. I saw a ton of concerts. I traveled over a thousand miles to see a friend get married. Friends moved away, new ones moved in. I got a tattoo, my first smartphone, and did my own taxes. I got to see every single member of my family, spread across four states. I met my fiancee.
And I didn't try to kill myself.
Tons of terrifying things happened in Acadia. I don't think I'll ever feel as isolated or alone as I did in the week I spent there. But that's not what I remember most. More than anything, I remember the healing and the conquering of fears. The same goes with the past few years of my life. So many wonderful things have happened - I couldn't let the bad consume me even if I tried.
I've vowed to never again scare my family or friends by threatening to take my own life. Some of us fight as long as we can, until we can no longer fight, and then we seek peace. I like to think that's what Ned was seeking when he took how own life. I'll never understand what people think suicide will solve, but I'll also never forget what it's like to be in a place where you think it solves everything.
So here's to a 2014 that remains free of losing the big fight, a fight that Ned fought for years, hoping that his readers would never give in to the weight of depression - a weight that will never go away. It's never actually a funny story and it's almost always unfair, but it's a story that needs to be told.
Help me tell it.