The whiskers of my beard
have recorded the years,
all the lives I’ve lived,
all the sins I’ve sinned,
from the first blood spilled
to the last chill feared.
The whiskers of my beard
"A closed mouth never gets fed," he said, his eyes like those of a dog who’d been beaten for begging more times than he cared to recall.
At seven-oh-four this morning, a crackhead with chapped lips tried to sell my brother and I suede shoes in the Del Taco drive-thru, asking first for two dollars and then for forty-five. I don’t think he ever quite got the concept of haggling.
I overheard one coworker telling another coworker about a family friend who had been hospitalized as a fifty-one-fifty for a suicide attempt. When the other coworker admitted that they were unfamiliar with the code, this is the explanation that they received:
"You never want to be fifty-one-fifty’d. It means you’re like, legally crazy."
At first I was deeply offended and thought up a few choice words to spit back, but I decided to hold my tongue. No one at work knows this about me (unless they read this, then they’ll know), but I’ve been hospitalized as a fifty-one-fifty three times over the past ten years, never for an actual suicide attempt, but for overwhelming suicidal ideation that may have spiraled out of control had it been left unchecked.
While it sucks to be held under observation, I’m happy I spent those periods of time (two to five days depending on the severity of the circumstances) in the psychiatric ward, comfy in scrubs, vitals taken hourly to map the effectiveness of adjusted dosages, watching Dr. Phil and random programs on the History Channel, reading, speaking with others who have had similar struggles, some of whom realized nearly too late that they had more than one option, surrounded by doctors and grandmotherly nurses who legitimately wished to see me recover. It’s really nothing like in the movies and television shows.
Each of the three separate occasions came about because my medications were imbalanced or otherwise not working properly due to major life stresses and the dosages needed to be adjusted so that I could continue fighting for a healthy, happy lifestyle.
If I had not sought help on any one of those occasions, I may have done irreversible damage, not only to myself, but to everyone around me, and that’s why after I thought through being offended at the comment, I was simply saddened to have heard such close-mindedness from someone I see on a regular basis.
It is through careless ignorance that stigmas are perpetuated. Mental illnesses, though often amplified and augmented by traumatic events, have easily treated chemical components that must be addressed alongside regular therapy, and to label those who seek help (or those who are given help only when their illness nearly kills them) as “crazy” creates an atmosphere in which treatment is viewed as punishment.
This is unacceptable. Would you call a diabetic “crazy” for taking measures to save their own life, even if it meant surrendering a portion of their personal freedom to their doctors for a predetermined amount of time? I may be preaching to the choir, but that would be utterly ridiculous.
Anyone who has been voluntarily hospitalized as a fifty-one-fifty knows that there are few moments in life quite so desperate. Until you’ve hurt so terribly inside that you’d rather kill yourself than bear it for another minute, you cannot understand the guilt and fear you feel in that state.
The mental anguish that occurs in depressive episodes can feel closer to physical torture than the average sorts of healthy sadness with which it is too often identified. Just because you’ve been through a break-up or lost a loved one doesn’t necessarily mean you know how clinical depression feels, so please do not project your temporally relative (yet equally valid) levels of pain on to those who have no idea why they’re suddenly filled with the urge to inflict harm on themselves.
I can’t speak for others who have been hospitalized, but I can do my best to explain to you how I personally plummeted to my lowest point on these occasions.
One moment I’d be perfectly okay and then something like a bolt of cold, dark lightning would seize me and wring me dry, turning my own thoughts into missiles of self-loathing. Before I was taught proper coping mechanisms, this sudden change in cognition snowballed, growing stronger with every ounce of doubt the negative thoughts managed to drag to the surface. Then the next thing I’d know, I’d be weeping with such bitterness that I was unable to breathe and the air around me weighed more than lead.
From there, things could quickly get out of hand. The longer these self-loathing thoughts went uninterrupted, the deeper the desperation became. I’d find myself searching for proof of my own value, only to discover it had been stuffed away somewhere out of sight. When feelings of worthlessness kicked in, the rest no longer made sense.
At that point, rationalizations are futile. The more I’d think about the pain, the worse it’d get. My muscles would tighten so much that I’d feel as though I’d been hit by a truck, my teeth clenched, my eyes swollen and puffy. During my usual depressive episodes, this would be the ending point. I’d simply run out of energy and slip into exhaustion. But during those episodes that led to hospitalization, I was given no such reprieve.
After a few hours of convulsive crying, delirium set in. You can call me weak or dramatic, but I honestly couldn’t care less. I’ve felt no physical pain on par with those days. In the delirium, the cold dark returned stronger than ever, feasting on the hatred I felt toward myself, presenting options as elegant as ropes and blades and pills, each more appealing than the last when compared to what felt like an eternity of inexplicable suffering.
I was always able to tell someone else before I had much time to plan, but these “options” replaced the pain with optimism that there was a way out. That optimism is a lie, like trying to fix a computer error by throwing your machine from the top of a building, and along with it comes a certain horror at the thought of bowing out in such a grisly way.
For me, the question that came to mind was always that of who would find my body. Rather than sobering me from the delirium, this question only ever made me feel more broken and inadequate, afraid that even if I made it through that particular episode, what would happen when I was next overwhelmed?
Fortunately, I’ve been surrounded by the best support network anyone could ask for and they’ve always been able to gently point out the flaws in my reasoning and suggest I seek immediate help.
It is because of the stigma attached to mental illness that many give in to the false hopelessness, preferring a terrible death to a life in which others view them as “crazy” for something they cannot control. What would society be like if all those who struggled with invisible maladies were told that they didn’t have to be embarrassed by their sudden, illogical thoughts?
I refuse to believe that such a world is unachievable. Just as a diabetic must take their health into their own hands and seek wellness, so too the mentally ill must be encouraged to hope, accepting that they will not always know best, especially not while enduring such pain.
The truest remedy I’ve ever known for depression is genuine concern from another human being. Even when you’ve convinced yourself that you’re the biggest piece of shit to have ever been born, the love of another can be like a slap to the face, in the best possible way, for it forces you to acknowledge that you have value, at least in their eyes.
I never said anything to my coworker about their comment. I figured it said more about them than it did about the mentally ill, but I still needed to get it all off of my chest, so if you’ve read this far, I’d like to leave you with a final statement:
The code fifty-one-fifty has nothing to do with being “legally crazy.” It is a system that saves lives and often introduces an ill person to their real options, not the stagnate hopelessness in which the stigmatized live.
If you ever feel as though thoughts of suicide are becoming plans of suicide, please seek help. You are not alone and you really shouldn’t give a single fuck about anyone who would label or look down on you for seeking the happiness you deserve.
It’s rather hard to wallow while wearing a Hawaiian shirt, but my mind found a way this morning. Waking before the sun was like wading through molasses, each second more desperate than the last, what little energy I had left spent on affecting a mask. In my depressed imagination, each box I sliced open at work became my wrist, the styrofoam that spilled out blood on my apron. I simply wanted it to stop, but the images danced through my head until they burst from behind my eyes. Still, I thank God I didn’t have to do it alone, my love never letting go, and so I’ll always fight the cold dark, if not for myself, for her.
to be seen
from a middlemost
peak that couldn’t
be seen better
from the mountain’s
a table strewn
with overused little cups,
and intuitive move sets.
Even as fathers
sweep the blood
of their children
from the crowded
morgue’s cold tile
floor, our species must
continue to hope.
The names we give
ourselves and the lines
we draw in the sand
are but mere illusions
that must be swept
away by the wind.
I want to write a book called “Diuretics” in which I propose that all negative emotions, demons, and alien ghosts are water soluble and easily flushed through the urinary system. I’m sure it’d help some people, but I’d mainly just like to convert a celebrity (preferably Tom Cruise) to watch them demonstrate their newfound faith on live television by drenching a talk show stage with their worries.
When one has
slouched for so long,
to be made upright
may require some degree
of initial discomfort.