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They're Coming to Take Me Away (haha)

Updated: Dec 13, 2020

***TW/CW: overdosing, suicide, rape, PTSD, depression, anxiety, mental illness***

I have officially hit rock bottom.

A week ago, I found myself in an emergency room in Berkeley in the late hours of the night. I spent 14 hours in a hospital bed with a security guard sitting outside of my room and nothing potentially dangerous in sight; I was declared "high risk" of hurting myself or others and put on a 51/50 hold, meaning I would spend the next 72 hours in a psych ward.

Earlier that evening, I found myself scrolling through a page on Instagram dedicated to sexual assault and harassment allegations against a fellow Berkeley student, someone I had been acquainted with at the beginning of my freshman year. This predator, Alejandro, had DM'd me on instagram prior to coming to Cal, and his aggressively flirtatious and excessive messages made me uneasy. After learning that he had also been DMing my roommate in a similar fashion, I promptly blocked him and forgot about his existence. But reading through these posts and the detailed accounts of his attacks, I spiraled into a place I tried desperately to hide from within my mind. I read accounts so similar to my past rapes that I found myself reliving the moments of my own assaults, hearing my "no"s and seeing the warm, animalistic body on top of me despite my discomfort. I could feel his breathing on my neck. And in my panic, I refused to call my friends for help, feeling like an unnecessary burden upon both myself and my loved ones. So I took my pills––almost twelve times my usual dosage––seeking an escape from the out-of-control thoughts in my head. My depression and PTSD had consumed me.

But as soon as the pills hit my tongue and slid down my throat, I knew I had messed up. I quickly googled the proper dosage of my medication and its side effects, and then I frantically texted my roommates to come help me. I sat beside the toilet for what felt like forever, trying to force myself to puke out the poison I had willingly put inside of my body. My roommates drove me to the hospital after my eyes had dilated to an abnormal size and I was so dizzy I could barely stand. My heart slowed and my brain fogged. The pills had made their way into my system. I walked into the emergency room alone, forced to relive my worst nightmare over and over again.

The last time I had been to an emergency room was after my first rape. I remember walking in with my mom and my best friend, sobbing uncontrollably. A doctor rushed me into a room and drew my blood, his sad eyes looking down upon me as if I was his own daughter. I remember the fear and pain I felt and the constant supervision of countless nurses while my mother sat dutifully at my side. It was hell. This time was different: I was alone, with no one to hold my hand or offer me words of comfort. The doctors were rude and matter-of-fact, telling me that I was suicidal and refusing to give me my phone to call my mom. A security guard sat outside, watching me like a mass murderer just waiting for the opportunity to strike again. I was isolated and terrified. They hooked me up to an EKG system and monitored my heart rate, drawing blood every once in a while and checking my blood pressure every thirty minutes. I was forced to drink an entire bottle of activated charcoal, a thick, tar-like substance that made my insides churn with every gulp.

Fourteen hours later with little to no sleep, they wheeled me off in an ambulance and transported me to the psych ward for my 51/50. They took all of my possessions, made me sign away my soul, and gave me a bucket full of toiletries –– a small toothbrush, toothpaste, a comb, hospital socks, spray on body wash, deodorant, and alcohol free mouthwash. If I wasn't crazy prior to entering the ward, boy would I be by the time I left.

I roomed with a girl around my age who had tried to jump off the Golden Gate Bridge. We sat in silence for a minute, until one of us dared to break the discomfort and introduce ourselves. But I was exhausted after my ordeal and promptly fell asleep, sleeping for over twelve hours in an effort to escape my surroundings. For the first time in months, I didn’t have nightmares. Maybe it was the unknown medications they forced down my throat; maybe my own fear challenged the common flashbacks that plagued my subconscious. But I dreamt of my friends and my bed and my home. In my loneliness I held onto the only thing I knew would get me through the next few days: the people I love.

A nurse woke me up at 6 AM and poked a needle in my arm to collect my blood. I felt like a lab experiment. Breakfast was at 8 AM promptly, and I sat amongst an eclectic group of mentally ill folks ranging from 18 to 80. I befriended my roommate and another girl who had been in the emergency room with me the night before. She had overdosed on sleeping pills after drinking herself into a despair unfathomable. Over the next 48 hours we became each other’s source of optimism; we had gotten there together, we would leave there together.

We had group therapy three times a day where we talked about our feelings, learned coping skills, and did arts and crafts geared towards the youngest of minds. I felt out of place amongst the rest of them. They shared stories of the voices in their head and their deep, debilitating fears; some of them had been in there for weeks, others months. People roamed the hallways muttering to themselves and violently shaking their heads, while others sang loudly at the most inappropriate times. But regardless of their mental state, these people were the kindest, most understanding, most giving folks. Their earnest search to find inner peace and destroy the demons in their head inspired me to try my hardest to heal. The empath in me wanted so desperately to help each and every one of them, but I knew there was very little I could do. So I settled with kindness and genuine conversations; I gave many of them a friend when they had very few people in their lives rooting for them.

I learned a lot about the struggles with mental health and witnessed an intensity of depression that I had never felt myself. I realized how the stigma against mental health not only worsens those feelings within people struggling, but it also permeates deeper into our society than we even realize. The overworked, understaffed, and underpaid nurses did all they could to help everyone in the ward, and no matter how hard their lives were, they walked onto our floor every day with a smile. The accommodations were not conducive to healing, and the vomit-colored walls only worsened any negative feelings you may have had about yourself. You’re left questioning your own grasp on sanity. I heard horror stories of other mental hospitals from some of the people there, where the patients were left sleeping on mats on the floor and treated like animals. Mental health is just as important as physical health, if not more so. Until our society can realize this, there’s no hope for proper healing. I’m lucky to have gotten out when I did; any longer and I would have lost my mind.

While the hours felt like years and the lack of stimulating activities left me longing for any form of distraction, my brief time in the mental hospital gave me a new sense of understanding that I had never before experienced. I was lucky in this sense –– many others around me were stuck deteriorating as the doctors tried to understand their illnesses. But for me, taking that brief step away from reality into a timeless and surreal dystopia provided me with a perspective I hadn’t seen before. I could finally look at my life from a comfortable distance. I could finally sort through my demons and connect the puzzle pieces to the central cause of my depression and anxiety: PTSD.

After talking to a social worker and a psychiatrist twice, I was able to end my 72 hours after two days, and I walked home with an intensified gratitude for the many things and people in my life I took for granted. And then I cried.

I can promise you this, you will never find me anywhere near a psych ward again.

Stay safe; stay healthy. Remember your worth.

xo, Juliette

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