November 18 – 24, 2018
“After meal” on Wednesday night ends, I take my binge writing, drop it off to the woman at the front desk, and ask her to place it in my therapist’s box. I can picture myself lugging my full backpack up the stairs, towing my blanket and a pillow which I begun to consistently carry around with me.
I don’t go back to the community room as I usually do. I take my backpack upstairs where three of the girls are sitting at the table next to the floor to ceiling window. The girls are working on some crafts and journaling.
I sit down at the table and pull out my A-Stage packet. I do my homework from the group that morning and continue to fill out page after page after page, until it is finished. I work on my assignment to write a letter to Little Olivia. I work on bracelets. I work frantically.
I look up at the clock, still writing, and realize that it is 2:45 am. All the other girls had gone to sleep and I am alone, the table illuminated by a single lamp on my right. The TV is still on but I don’t remember what was playing. I had been keeping my brain busy so it wouldn’t be able to slow down and think about any of the feelings that were brought up from this evening.
I hear a night counselor making her way up the stairs on my right. The clock reads 3:00am so she was doing her room checks. She was surprised to see me still awake. “Are you okay?”
“Yes, I’ve just been writing. I can’t sleep.”
“Okay.. well try to go to bed soon, it is really late.” She seems like she wants to make me go to sleep, to be stern. I am not a patient who ever causes any trouble, so I believe she probably trusted that I’d go to sleep soon and I would be okay.
After she checked on all of the patients upstairs, she made her way back down to the nurse’s station. I got up from the table and walked over to the couches. I sit on the couch that the vent blows on directly, keeping me cool. I continue to make a few more bracelets with shaky hands. Around 4:00am I finally put the water bottle down and fall asleep quickly, my body begging for some rest.
I wake up to the sounds of girls going up and down the stairs to start their Thursday morning. I went into my room, changed quickly, and barely made it downstairs on time for breakfast. I walked into the dining room and noticed all of the staff were wearing sweaters and Ugg boots. This made me laugh because it was probably low sixties this day. It was a “cold front” to Florida residents. Meanwhile, my mom told me on the phone this week that it was fifteen degrees in Fayetteville, Arkansas.
A few people told me, “Happy Thanksgiving!” when I sat down at our usual table. I had completely forgotten about the holiday.
I had a session with Liz after breakfast. I sat down on the couch in her office and she said, “How are you?”
“I’m good!” I say with a forced, over-exaggerated smile. She looks both confused and concerned. “What..?” she asks. “I read the writing you put in my box and you didn’t seem good.”
“I’m fine,” I say again. I have no idea why I am reacting like this. I slept for less than three hours and my panic levels are at an all time high. “I felt better after writing so now I’m all good.” Why was I lying?
I doubt she bought it at all. I don’t remember much of what we talked about on Thanksgiving, being so tired and anxious. I told her that I finished my entire A-Stage packet last night and I was almost done writing my letter that she assigned me. “So basically an entire night of avoidance,” she responds.
I feel so exhausted. My mind feels like it shut down again. I feel this weird, artificial happiness. I keep laughing and smiling and trying to make conversation with people. I was trying to make up for my craziness yesterday. I think that I was trying to avoid thinking about the entire day.
Because it didn’t feel like Thanksgiving. My parents were in Louisiana with my grandpa and a few aunts and uncles this week.
I always loved Thanksgivings in Louisiana. My grandma would make gumbo, crawfish squash casserole, shrimp eggplant casserole, oyster dressing, and several different kinds of cakes and pies. Growing up, all nine of the cousins would be there. My cousin Jack and I, born only a couple weeks apart, were the youngest cousins in the family. There were usually at least 15 – 20 people there for Thanksgiving and I don’t have a single negative memory from this holiday in Louisiana. I absolutely loved Thanksgiving and the family time that accompanied it. And I loved time with my grandma, my favorite person.
But this Thanksgiving I was in an eating disorder treatment facility.. The irony actually made me laugh a couple of times. It was sunny and humid outside, instead of cold. There were no beautiful orange and red leaves on any of the trees. There were plastic thanksgiving table cloths on all of the tables. There was no gumbo. No family. No grandma. I thought about her a lot today, wishing she were here.
We have a Thanksgiving lunch with the basic staples of the holiday – turkey, sweet potato, green beans, and a choice between pumpkin and pecan pie. Patient family members fill the dining hall and the tables outside. I sit at a small table with four other girls whose families can’t come visit today.
Some of the girls at this table are really upset. They miss their families and they don’t want to be trapped here for Thanksgiving. I can see how low they are and their teary eyes. I ask if anyone wants to play “contact.” Contact is a game that Kelsey taught me a couple weeks ago. It was a nice way to spend the rest of a meal if time felt like it was passing too slowly.
No one at the table knows how to play so Sarah and I try to explain it to them. We try to make the other girls laugh and keep their spirits up. Another form of avoidance – focus on lifting others up so you don’t have to focus on how low you are yourself. Sarah and I both often enjoyed joking and laughing through uncomfortable emotions.
Families stayed and visited for a while, so the few of us without families there were able to leave the dining room early. Sarah and I went back to our room. She took a nap while I lay there and tried to sleep. My eyes were closed and my body rested a bit, but I never fully fell asleep.
The rest of the holiday passes in a haze. In one of the groups, we play a game, the human knot. All of the patients have to hold hands and then untangle themselves, using teamwork. The second the counselor announced this would be the game we play, I was filled with fear.
I motioned for Kirsten to come over and she knelt down so I could quietly ask her, “Can I come back after we play this game?” Tears start to spill over and my breathing turns shallow. The idea of being touched right now makes my skin crawl. She looks at me and understands. She tries to calm me down a bit. Sarah didn’t want to participate either so Kirsten excused us to go down the hall or upstairs to breath, relax, and come back after fifteen minutes. Again, I felt crazy. Children can play this game but I, as a 23 year old adult, can’t handle it.
For dinner, we find that there are grilled cheeses for dinner. I feel nauseous thinking about this. I ask for a peanut butter and jelly sandwich instead.
After dinner, I sit through another after meal group. I don’t say anything, occupying my little internal shell again. After group I go upstairs and sit at the table again, some girls playing a movie on the tv. I write some more, finishing my Little Olivia writing for Liz. I ask the woman at the front desk to put it into her box.
I continue to make more bracelets. I talk to the other girls. There are others who have had some strong feelings in the past couple of days. It is nice connecting with them, saying some of my struggles out loud. It is so nice when someone listens to your words and says, “That makes sense. I understand.”
As soon as they all went to sleep, I start to panic again, feeling alone. I go into my room to brush my teeth, change into my pajamas, and grab my blanket. My room feels so tiny. I can’t imagine getting into my bed. It is so dark, so quiet. It seems to be shrinking, growing smaller around me as I stand here. I envied Sarah sleeping peacefully in the bed next to mine.
I go back out into the living room and watch some tv. I make more bracelets, sitting at the table next to the stairs. Around 2:00 am, a night nurse, Ellen, walks up the stairs. She comes over to me and reminds me of the time. I tell her that I’m too anxious to go to sleep. I don’t want to go into my room, it feels so tiny and I can’t breathe. Tears are threatening again.
She looks at my hands making the bracelets connected to my water bottle. They are completely shaking, almost vibrating, in panic. She nods and tells me that I am safe here and they do regular room checks so nothing could happen. She reminds me that she will be downstairs if I need anything.
I stay up for about another hour, watching tv and running through the worst scenarios in my mind. I rest my eyes and body, but again, not fully asleep. The next morning, Sarah comes out to wake me up since I never came to bed. She barely touches my shoulder and I completely jump out of my skin. I shield my face and start to hyperventilate and tears fall quickly. She doesn’t touch me again. She tells me to breathe and try and take deep breaths. My body was in such a panicked state while I slept that her light touch sent me into a full panic attack before I was even awake. I apologized, feeling guilty.
The weekend went on like this. Exhaustion, light and nonexistent sleep, panic attacks, and frustration. I kept feeling more and more strung out. I kept receding farther and farther back into my head.