Once I was in the back of a cop car. Hands cuffed at the wrists and my right elbow knocking against the car door like a brass doorknob. My hot faced pressed against the cool glass window, twelve miles between my college dorm and the emergency room of the local hospital. There is a metal gate in front of me, knitted together like a blanket, but harder. The gate separates me from the police officer.
By looking at the cop it’s hard to tell if he actually thinks I’m dangerous. His poor posture leaving him bent over the steering wheel. His, I’m sure, creaking back silent. In fact, the entire car is silent. Save perhaps my anxiety whistling like a tea pot inside my chest and the white noise of an inactive police scanner.
I hadn’t done anything wrong. (Well, expect being born Schizophrenic. That was a mistake for sure.) But certainly, of all the things done wrong in my life, none required handcuffing me like this.
After miles of wet pavement and passing cars, I’m escorted from the back seat to a triage nurse. The automatic sliding doors open like fat arms. My chest is tight under the bright lights of the ambulance car park.
The cop has one hand on my arm and the other on my backpack and all I can think to say is, “Please don’t lose it.”
“Lose what?” The cop asked, speaking over the whirring hospital sounds that met us as we moved through the double door. The murmuring concerned voices and hospital electricity sounded like the wings of insects beating together.
I said, “My backpack,” as the nurse taped a little bracelet on my wrist, “It’s got all my stuff in it.” I allowed myself a glance at the overused bag. Zippers only able to come together tiredly now, worn fabric on the outside, straps tied off instead of adjusted. It certainly wasn’t overfull. I didn’t have much for a twenty-something-year-old kid. It made coming and going easier. It made unexpected removal less unexpected. I looked at the green piece of ribbed tied to one other zipper. The mental health awareness ribbon had, with time, become just a ribbon tied in a knot, formless.
The ribbon was where it belonged: tied to the backpack of the Schizophrenic who was handcuffed in the backseat of a cop car.
The cop looked at me as I was ushered through to a room, “You come here a lot.” He said.
“Yeah,” I said in a tiny voice at the back of my throat, louder than a whisper but just barely.
“Some advice,” he said as he moved to set the backpack on a blue chair by the hospital bed, “cut it out or they’re gonna lock you up.”
My heart stopped and there was a hitching my chest, like ebb of panic attack beginning, “what?” I asked smaller than I had intended.
“I was told last time you were here you tried to hang yourself with a curtain right in the hospital room.” A beat, a breath, angry eye contact between the two of us, “They’ll lock you up for good for stuff like that,” he said and the finished on his way out the door, “they did it to my cousin.”
Sometime later, after being stripped of my clothes and shoes and all of my belongings checked, I laid as still as possible. Voices, like burned book pages, floated ashy at the back of my head. Hallucinations, of spiders pouring out from the corners of my room where the wall met the ceiling, troubled me. A shot of Haldol made its way through my veins like syrup. Longing and sweet and thick.
Tiredly I blinked through psychosis soup as I waited to be seen as by a crisis worker. It would be a long wait, there was a strong chance I wouldn’t even see one until morning.
I laid stiller, catatonia slithering its way across my body. Psychosis, like boa, kept me tight and scared. Hardly breathing. Waiting. Waiting. Waiting.
Somewhere a baby cried, sick with a fever. The trauma room down the hall was prepped for some horrible emergency. Further down an elderly person sputtered on the fence between living and dying, hands shaking too badly to lift a cup of ice water to their mouth. The emergency room was always a whirlwind of pain. I laid still, refused to eat, and moaned in my own pitiful way about the voices as they dripped on me like water.
Waiting. Waiting. Waiting.
Days spin into nights and into days again. Summer dragging on and on. A hot beast by August every year, a threatening season despite its spring relation. By the end of summer, the ground is cracked and dry like the heels of my mother and her mother’s mother’s dry pale skin. Even the birds are tired by the end of August and all the people are angry and hot. But then the days get cooler and the fist of fall hits me on the chest, breaking me open at my breastbone to reinstill my winter bone ache. The blow forcing my lungs to expel very last breath of summer air. The leaves fall from the trees until they are thin skeletons, standing like a relic of another year gone by. Then it’s winter and the tight-lipped holiday season passes by. The ice moves in and we in Maine are buried by seasonal Nor’Easters until we are up to our throats in snow. My skin grows cold and my pale sinew is stretched over the bones of early nights. Wintertime depression moves on me like a ghost.
And before I knew it another year in sickness passes me by.
I think back on it. All my exhaling between my doctor’s appointments. I offer up my white arms for blood tests and I’m poked, prodded and rearranged until I feel unlike myself. Grilled with the same monotonous questions again and again. How are the voices? The pain? The sadness? Do you still hurt all the time? Have your migraines changed? Are you still sleeping too much? Eating too much? How’s your lower back? Do those terrible cluster headaches still wake you in the early morning, covered with sweat? Is your pulse still tachycardic? And that wakes you too when it races at night? How are the hallucinations? Are they still trying to read your mind?
The answers grow in the back the of my throat and are forced up from my stomach, rattling around my mouth like bitter candy in a plastic bag, “I’m fine,” I say and make my next appointments.
Then six months of winter lapses.
Then summer comes again.
Then fall, winter, and spring.
Being chronically ill means being ill forever.