several times a week i go to the gym. i have been working out regularly since august 2015 – one year and four months after my first hospitalization. before i got sick in 2014 i never exercised. i hadn’t run a mile since fifth grade. now it has become necessary for me. not only physically, but mentally too.
i fill my water bottle up and go a treadmill right in front of the mirrors so that i can look myself in the eye. i put on the “recovery” playlist that i created, crank up the pace and begin to move. as soon as i start to run my thoughts go back to the time i spent in the hospital. while i don’t often talk about it, my experience as a patient on a psychiatric unit is never far from my mind.
the memories run around inside of me. so i run to let them out. one step, one mile at a time.
i run for that moment, that tipping point when i knew i needed to admit myself. that i was no longer in control of my emotions or my actions. i felt myself slipping over the edge and had nothing to grab on to, nothing to break my fall.
i run for the intake interview, when i was asked in a dozen different ways if and how i was planning to kill myself. i run for my mom who was sitting next to me, listening to my answers.
i run because we couldn’t wear shoes with laces. or necklaces or bracelets or ties or clothing with drawstrings. in case we tried to choke or hang ourselves.
i run for seeing my name, AMY MARLOW / MAJ. DEPRESSION, GAD, PTSD, written on a big dry erase board by the nurses station, surrounded by other names and diagnoses. wondering how it was possible that my name had come to be on such a list.
i run for my first day in, when i walked up and down the halls for hours and hours. crying, shaking violently, wringing my hands. literally unable to sit still. crawling out of my skin with anxiety.
i run for my second day in, when i curled up in bed and sobbed into the smell of my husband’s tee shirt, wondering how my life would change because of being admitted. because of admitting how bad it really was.
i run for the smell of the hospital. my stomach turns at the thought of it: slightly stale, overly humid and no fresh air. somehow that smell underscored how trapped i felt, how i couldn’t seem to find an open window or take a deep breath.
i run for the morning check ins, when all of the patients gathered together and one by one, on a scale of 1 to 10, had to share how suicidal we were. i run for saying out loud to a group of people for the first time ever that i was struggling with mental illness.
i run for how we stood, like ducks in a row, three times a day, to take our meds from little white cups. there were no labels on the medications and we had to take them, no questions allowed. we threw the pills back like downing shots at a bar and then had to open our mouths and lift our tongues up high so the nurse could be sure we actually swallowed.
i run for the supervision we were under. for the safety checks every 15 minutes on every patient. lining up like prisoners for roll call whenever we left the unit – three times for meals and, if we were lucky, once for a 15 minute recess outside.
i run for my first roommate, who was covered from her neck down to her feet in angry red cuts. some bleeding, some crusted over. crisscrossing every inch of her skin, her scars were the product of years of self harm.
i run for my second roommate who arrived in the middle of the night, barely hanging on after a suicide attempt. at first i didn’t understand why a nurse stayed by her side and followed her closely wherever she went. the next day i learned, with profound sadness, that she was on “one-to-one,” meaning that she was so actively suicidal she couldn’t be left alone for a second, not even to take a shower.
i run for the woman who woke us up one night, her screams ringing down the halls. “MAKE IT STOP, MAKE IT STOP, GOD DAMMIT MAKE IT STOP.” and suddenly, it did. whether she was given a shot, or placed in restraints or isolation, i’ll never know. i lay in bed, tears streaming down my face and wondered if that was where i was heading, if this was the first stop on a long descent into psychiatric hell.
i run for the three minute meetings with the doctor. waiting for the verdict on what medicine i would be given and how long i would have to stay. there was no time for encouragement or questions or understanding – all i was given were the doctor’s orders and i had to swallow those too.
i run for the friends i made, for colby and kat and colin and michael. people who, despite being at their own lowest lows, managed to reach out to others. to offer a smile, or a joke, or just a few moments of silent companionship.
i run for the only good part of my day: visitation. when, like magic, my mom and my husband would appear on the unit. for the 45 minutes of hand holding and words of encouragement. their presence offered me a flicker of hope in an otherwise starless sky.
i run for the endless, twisting fear. i run for the heavy, suffocating sadness. i run for the jolting anxiety and the blinding uncertainty. i run for the complete lack of hope and direction. i run for the endings that the hospital meant in my life. and for the possibilities that were born out of so much suffering.
i run for me. for the me who was brave enough to go in. and stay in. and walk out. and then do it all again a second time. it was part of my journey and i had to travel it, every step of the way. sometimes i wish i could but i can’t go back, i can’t undo it.
what’s done is done.
so i look at myself and run. and run. and run. and run.