Notes from the Psych Ward

Written in Advocate Illinois Masonic Hospital, Psych Unit 631, January 24th-February 6th, 2012
by Po, Editor-in-Chief

she doesn’t emerge for days but i make her be my friend because she’s young and gay and she goes to [redacted college],
has a lip ring and a hot girlfriend named hayden and thinks everything here’s bullshit.
i make her come sit with us at meals
i make her sit with me in my poetry nook
and give her crush and she reads it cover to cover. but
i can’t read her, and i stop asking because i just can’t care right now.
i know she’s anorexic by instinct and i make her confess to that but we leave it there.
i’m not too worried, she’s small in a dyke way but not skin and bones.

queen joe has a million silver hoops in his ears, nose, and shows me some pictures:
the tall white one is my husband, the short black one is me, he says. i laugh.
joe is the nicest of anyone in here, patients or staff.
i give him a drawing i made and he wants to get it framed.
it’s nothing, made with markers on paper but it’s beautiful in its own way
and i’m trying to restrict judgement.
i know i could paint him a six-by-three-foot oil on canvas but
we’re here
so it’s just markers on paper.
i’m also able to believe it’s beautiful
because queen joe is art incarnate.

we’re sitting in art therapy; told to shout out colors.
i’m sitting across from max, who’s studying fine art at [redacted college]. he’s a real artist.
i shout out a few words to annoy him – chartreuse! eggshell! – but i can’t believe we’re both sitting here during this while the other patients argue about the different connotations of the color red, get sidetracked into talking about the bible, their favorite foods.
i can’t believe we’re both here but at the same time
i can tell other people can tell
we’re both a little crazy.

i just kept saying “yo” to him in the hallway
until one day i was talking to valerie by the ice machine and he quietly said “yo,” in my direction.
now we walk the halls together
i make him go all the way down with me, back and forth.
he thinks he’s god or something. a god. i don’t know.
he punched one of the nurses. paul. i’m not scared, i know he’ll never hurt me.
he has a tattoo of the eye of horus on his right bicep
and when we’re all walking together, likes to call me and jasmine his “two bitches.”
when benny leaves i cry.
annie doesn’t get it.

we’re sitting in this group and joel’s talking about taking your meds. “handling moments differently.”
joel has plants in his office. a shit-ton of plants.
it’s interesting how people are people, no matter what they do.
“think it out,” he says.
he looks at me writing this. i tell him i’m taking notes.
i mean, i am.
sometimes i say hi to joel in the hallway even though he doesn’t work with me, valerie does.
it weirds him out, i think, but hello: this is the psych ward. get used to it / i’m sure he’s seen weirder.
joel is wearing a bright orange pin that screams, “WAGE PEACE!”
i tell him i want one.
really i just want to die.

god she’s a pixie
she’s on speed and coke even when she’s not
dresses up like tinkerbell and all of her visitors are dealers in sunglasses with stringy hair.
i get along with them, no surprise. i have the same sunglasses as one.
she’s tiny and talks so fast
she’s always hungry
she’s wildly obsessed with our friendship, tells me she’s never had a friend who was a girl before
sex, drugs, rock’n’roll, she says.
elsie elsie elsie
god she’s a pixie

as we all walk the halls, i stand under the glowing red exit sign in the middle of the hallway.
picture me, standing stock still. arms raised.
i don’t have illusions of grandeur, i just want to get out of here.

the pale, naked tree branches outside the window.
still white christmas lights wrapped around trees, railings, fire escapes. unsteady and rusty, the fire escapes, but still beautiful, strung with white lights.
i need a fire escape for my brain when i think about you.

they woke me up at 6:15 to take 3 vials of blood.
i hate it when they (they=anyone) take blood from me.
blood is sacred.
stop carting away a part of my soul.

in other news, the psych ward is still the psych ward.

the simon & garfunkel cd we were listening to before i was in here, a “best of” compilation – my mom said she remembered the order of the songs, twenty years later. she knew what song was going to come next.
they’re playing that exact same cd during this therapy session. it makes me laugh.
nothing’s changed but the setting, it seems.
sometimes setting changes everything.
sometimes it doesn’t.
i still believe in the former.

jasmine is beautiful, my mom says.
i see stuck, or confused. also beautiful, it’s true.
jasmine cries when she leaves, hugs me tight and i’m surprised.
presses a note into my hand and on it she wrote I LOVE YOU
i miss her, immediately, when she’s gone.

my soon-to-be roommate (i don’t know this yet) walked by my door a few days ago, talking to a nurse.
i was at [redacted hospital] until i swallowed a razor blade, she said.
i can’t even start to think about that.

she suggests mary daly’s meta-ethics of radical feminism while we’re in the tv room.
she’s half-heartedly watching the screen with the rest of them, i’m writing poetry, max is playing the piano with his fingers in the air but not pushing down on the keys, making no sound.
how does she know me so well? i was her roommate for one night, before they moved me across from the nurse’s station, but she doesn’t even know that until i tell her; she was asleep the whole time.
i give her a pair of my yoga pants when she leaves. she was admitted in no clothes.

i could sit here like a corpse all day
while he plays piano
while he plays a funeral dirge

mike i love more than anyone else
for reasons i can’t understand
he’s bipolar
severely depressed right now
i sit next to him whenever i can and
he promises to call me when he’s out
but i don’t think he will.
mike i love more than anyone else
for reasons i can’t understand
and i don’t think he knows this
but he might

i have no thoughts. i am so numb. numbness of emotion is like a brick wall.
bad metaphor, po.
you’re not a good writer. get over yourself.

what if nobody ever heard you scream. what if you had to see their face, open mouths and clenched jaws and squinty eyes.
what if screaming was soundless.
what if pain was more personal.
in the hospital, pain isn’t personal. pain is everywhere, pain is everything that brought us here and keeps us here.

i want to write something about the physical makeup of pastels. how they crumble.
i want to parallel us to pastels.
i’m on too many pills to do this now.

they’re excellent at giving out pills here. xanax, ativan, klonopin. ambien, trazodone. haldol, even, a few times when i’m really panicking.
they don’t give me pain meds, though. i ask for opiates.
even they’re too smart for that.
i’m just so tired from all these pills and my heart feels weird.
my heart feels dizzy.
i can’t tell how much i like this or dislike this.
i don’t know anything.

anything anyone writes in here is bullshit
or else
it’s the complete truth.
that’s my line – something witty and controversial
and trying to find the truth
and sad sad sad
and always from the inside out.
rarely from the outside in.
that’s the truth – whatever we say is our truth.
jesus christ. the narcissism.
i could write and write and write and this whole book would be full of shit.
the real truth is your deepest hurt.
the real truth only comes out when you’re sobbing, not when you’re benzo-zombied out of your mind.
fuck you hemingway.
i can’t tell if poetry is more true in bars, coffee shops, hospitals, a dorm room bed.
all of the above, i guess.
writing in the hospital is the same as writing in the bar. every other line is me writing about how my writing is shit.

so many people here are so, so sick. i can’t tell if it makes me feel better or worse about myself.

i scrawled “i am in the psych ward” in black pen on my ankle.
just, you know, as a reminder.

the day before i’m set to be discharged, i black out in the shower, twice. i tell them only once.
staff proceeds to freak out – vitals, ok, but an internalist and then neil and swami?
later in group i start feeling weird so i walk out
and collapse right outside the door.
you could see your head just hitting the ground in the doorway, annie says later.
after the second time staff really freaks out – celeste sticks me in a wheelchair and i get a one-on-one sitter. again.
then later an x-ray, cat scan, ekg, eeg.
i was supposed to be discharged today.
it’s a fucking riptide of disappointment.
as if it’s my fault.
when they make me stay in the hospital past the discharge date
i think of breaking my contract, cutting myself
in the shower, bathroom, under the covers.
the covers are so thin here.
i have the broken wooden tip of a pencil, a toothbrush, and a felt-tip pen.
with this new occurrence, my depression comes back fearlessly.
i can’t stand broken promises, broken plans, broken glass.
the tendency to cut myself comes from any/all of the above.

who was the first person to commit suicide?
how did they do it?

in the morning, the hospital rises at 6 am. i want to fall asleep but can’t, it’s amazing the power of sunlight as interference.
enter something richard wrote about light, us interfering with it. the poem visible world.
life goes by too slowly to catch, sometimes.
you think i mean too quickly but no, slowly. like the cotton pieces in the air during summertime.
don’t blame it on speed, blame it on sunlight.
i don’t have another line for this.

all i want to do is sleep. all i ever want to do is sleep. or party. nothing in between.

the mirror in my third room in the hospital is warped.
maybe we should only use warped mirrors.
you’ll never really know what you look like.
something about honesty.

he shaved a toothbrush down to pick and sliced his arm open yesterday.
when did you start cutting, i ask him. yesterday, he smiles.
i almost cried and he said, it makes me feel better.
duh, you asshole.
i love you now stop it.

your body is the last plank
on the last ship on earth
at the edge of the world.
your body is the last plank
and it’s taking all my strength not to walk it.

like michelle wrote.
any of us.
i’m a pillhead in all black, 60’s sunglasses, clutching a starbucks cup of ice water.
it sounds chic and it is, sort of, except for the fluorescent lighting and limp veggie burgers and the bible screamers.
what am i really. what are any of us, really. i know i write that over and over but it’s still constantly true.
like the frequency of writing “i want to die” in these journals.
too often. still true.
too often still true.



  1. Wow.

  2. shoshana says:

    get published.

  3. just reread this- wow all over again.

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LANDFILLS is a grassroots literary, arts and culture online collective based in Chicago. All work is original, except the featured images that accompany text posts (which are blatantly stolen from Complaints should be directed to Po via Twitter.
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