Suicidal Squirrels Make Great Pets (or that time I was sent to a psych ward)
Suicidal Squirrels Make Great Pets
(or that time I was sent to a psych ward)
An Essay by Warren Buchholz
The thought that I might kill myself formed in my mind coolly as a tree or a flower.
“Introduction: The Plan”
Two voices spoke softly in a dimly lit and gaudy-decorated room. The furniture was all turquoise, the walls were beige, and the Physician Assistant’s diplomas hung on the wall to the back of her. I kept looking around the room as we silently sat for a few moments.
“Do you have a plan?” She finally spoke.
“Sort of. Kind of. Maybe. Yeah.” The words couldn’t leave my mouth. I was too tired.
“Can you explain it?”
“Uhhhh… pills, I guess. Yeah, pills. I held a bunch in my hand the night before and almost took them all. Like that. I don’t know what stopped me at the last second.”
“So, you’d say you’re serious in taking them?”
“I guess. The plan’s been the same for 10 years. It’s always been pills.”
It had been the same. I never changed the plan. I’d take a bunch of antidepressants and sleeping pills, wait til I was numb, then cut my wrists. I wanted to make sure my death was clean, and that I didn’t have a chance of waking up and being forced to live in a wheelchair for the rest of my life.
“Do you find your reason to die more than your reason to live?”
“I suppose. Yeah. I’m not sure what else to do.”
“Okay. I need to go talk with my colleague really quickly. Will you be okay here?”
I nodded. “Yeah.” My gut told me to leave, but I didn’t.
Being suicidal is not-fucking-fun. It may make for great entertainment (see: Lethal Weapon, Virgin Suicides, Bell Jar, etc.) and may make for some interesting stories. Especially if they’re about squirrels. Like the time a random squirrel jumped into a transformer at a power plant and blacked out the entire university for a couple of days. Or the angry squirrel that jumped into my friend’s bicycle spokes, which flipped him over onto concrete, but they both lived to tell the tale (I’m not sure how the squirrel survived). Or the daredevil squirrel that fell from a power line and into the road. Somehow it got out of the way of being squashed by my rolling machine of death.
I’m telling you, these are great stories to tell at parties. Feel free to use them in your conversations. I know it’s sometimes hard to sustain conversations at parties you didn’t want to go to, so I’m glad to help out in any way I can. But back to the whole being suicidal thing, which doesn’t involve any more mentions of demented squirrels...
It is not fun to experience the lifelessness in your body and the subvert mindset your brain uses to fuck with you to the point where dying actually seems like a reasonable option. Not to mention my brain can mess with me to the point where emotional pain can turn into physical pain, which feels like 20 butcher knives stabbing me throughout various parts of my body for days on end.
That’s my brain. It hates me. And I hate it. We have a strange love/hate, on-again/off-again relationship that sometimes feels like a bad teen soap opera on FOX (see: The O.C., which is a guilty pleasure of mine).
I’ve had thoughts of suicide often during my ongoing 15 year struggle with depression. Most of the time, they are passive and fleeting. Usually thoughts like “if a car hit me and I died, I really wouldn’t mind” or “I wish I had the guts to go through with it” or “I wonder if an overdose is a painful way to die”. I soon became used to having such thoughts that it became my “normal”. Being suicidal became part of my identity. I didn’t know what happiness felt like (still working on that one). I never want to take my own life, but my brain chaos still lurks in the shadows behind those gaudy paisley curtains. It peeks its gnarly head out every so often to tell me it’s always there. It hopes that I’d finally succumb to its charm of dying a death only I would find noble.
The things I’ve done because of being suicidal has caused me heartache and headache:
I give up on everything. I always think "if I’m not going to be around much longer, then why should I put any effort into bettering my life?" It’s why I nearly failed high school and did not pursue the degree I wanted post-high school. It’s why I didn’t try hard in college. It’s why it took me so long to figure out my life to only meander through each day wondering if that’s the last day of my life.
I play horribly depressing music 24/7 (I have a spotify playlist titled “The Mellow and Phlegmatic Playlist”, which is mainly just Sufjan Stevens, Fiona Apple, and Aimee Mann on repeat).
My impulsiveness and risk taking kicks into full gear. I drive fast. I cut myself. I over-medicate myself. I walk into places and neighborhoods I shouldn’t in the hope someone will kill me. I drink more and am willing to try new drugs.
I spend a lot more of the money I don’t have, which leads to debt I’ve had trouble paying back.
I don't care about ruining relationships.
I don't care about anything.
I don’t care about pizza.
A year ago, I felt like I had no more options left. My entire world crumbled around me to the point where I was ready to die. I created a plan, and I let my impulsivity take over. I was soon admitted to a psych ward for a week.
“Goddamn it. They don’t even have Perrier here.” Jennifer searched the vending machine while we sat in the waiting room.
“Sorry. That’s over at Transitions--the other rehab center. I’m too poor to go there.” I continued to fill out paperwork to the best of my ability despite the noise of a busy intake waiting area.
“When’s my birthday?” We’d been sitting in the waiting room for about an hour as I finished the paperwork.
“February. These chairs suck. Who makes people wait on plastic chairs?”
“Oh, right.” I continued to fill out paperwork until I was done. I went up to the counter and slid over the clipboard. The nurse gave me back my ID and my insurance card.
“Have a seat. We’re busy tonight, so it will be a while before you’re taken back.”
“Ugh, I hate this.” Jennifer crossed her legs as I came back over and sat down next to her. “I can’t believe you even need to do this. You could have said no.”
“They would’ve Baker Acted me then. I didn’t want to ride in the back of a police car. I’d rather have gone voluntary. That way it wouldn’t show up on my background check.”
She tried to make herself comfortable in the chair.
“They probably make them plastic so they’re easy to clean.”
I looked around the room. Four other people were waiting. One was curled in a ball, taking up to chairs, with his hoodie hiding his face. The guy across from me sat in a wheelchair and ranted about how long he’d been sitting there and how he didn’t need to be there cause he could quit drinking whenever he wanted to. The woman across the room kept hoarding the phone, trying to call certain people why she was there. The last person went through the doors and onto the other side, which I was not looking forward to.
My mind couldn’t focus on any single thought. The noise from the room mixed with the stress and anxiety of my current situation made me shut down, and I looked down to the ground.
“Are you okay?” Jennifer put her hand on my back and began rubbing it.
“Given what I’m about to go through, no.”
“We should just leave.”
“You heard the psychiatrist, if I don’t show up within 30 minutes, then they’d call the cops on me. I don’t want that to fucking happen.”
She pointed toward the desk. “They didn’t even know you were coming!”
“I’m sure the psychiatrist did call them. It probably got lost in communication.”
“In only 15 minutes?”
“Yeah, that is kinda weird.”
We sat in silence for half an hour. Jennifer was on her phone. I didn’t have my phone on me. The desk nurse collected it along with my wallet. I continued to stare at the floor while the four people around me were slowly taken back.
We were there for another three hours before I was called back to complete my intake paperwork. The nurse led me to this small dingy room, with a desk and two chairs inside. A medical room divider sat adjacent to the wall.
She took my vitals first. Followed by my height and weight. We then sat down together in the room. I began fidgeting with my hands while she got the paperwork ready.
“So, what brings you here?”
“Uhhhhhhhhh--” I had no idea what to say, and I was trying my best to not be my sardonic self. “My psychiatrist made me come here.”
“So you’re voluntary?”
“Sort of. In a sense… it was that or get forced here by cops. Luckily my girlfriend picked me up before they called.”
“Okay.” She got her papers in order. “I’m going to ask you some questions to get a better picture of what’s going on here. In the past two weeks, have you been suffering from a depressed mood?”
“Unable to enjoy activities?”
“Has your sleep changed? Either too much or too little?”
“What one is it?”
I took a deep breath and concentrate the best I could. “Uhhh, too little. I’ve barely slept in three days.”
She continued to ask questions while checking the appropriate boxes. This was normal things that any health care professional asks during intake:
“Have you lost interest in daily life?
How is your concentration?
Any change in appetite?
Any recent weight loss or weight gain?
Are you hearing any voices?
How about racing thoughts?”
I nodded without answering. “Yeah, racing thoughts. Sometimes I can’t stop thinking. It does happen when I take the medication I’m on.”
“Impulsivity or risk-taking behavior?”
“Yeah. I practically screamed at my boss last week; threatened to quit. I usually go like eighty miles an hour down streets. Uh, bought a bunch of stupid shit off of ebay. I guess that’s it.”
“And would you say excessive energy?”
“Yeah. I mean, it feels really good. I like feeling that way. I actually get some stuff done.”
She scribbled some stuff down on the papers and continued to recite what was in front of her. “Do you currently want to live?”
I hesitated. “No.” I couldn’t find anything else to say, so I looked down as I pushed my hair out of my face.
“Do you have a plan?”
“Yeah. Pills, I guess. Yeah, pills. I have like a fucking pharmacy from all the different medications I’ve been on. Maybe wrist slitting. Maybe a combination of both.”
“On a scale of one to ten, how strong is your desire to end your life?”
“How often do you have thoughts of suicide: never, sometimes, always.”
“Most of the time. Especially in the past week.”
“Have you tried to kill yourself before?”
“No--yes. A long time ago. I took pills. Vomited them up.”
“How long ago was that? Uh, 2012.”
“Do you feel hopeless or worthless or both?”
She kept writing notes. I couldn’t see what she was writing. “What do you have to live for?”
I didn’t know what to say. I had to take some time to think about it. “I guess, my girlfriend. My job. My theater I co-own. Yeah, I think that’s it.”
More writing. More scribbling. She finally looked up at me. “Well, it looks like you scored a 19 out of 30. You’re just one point shy of being a crisis patient. Lucky you. You’re not that suicidal, which is actually a good thing. Means you don’t have to go to a different ward.”
I was so confused at that point. Not suicidal enough? Is that a thing? Can someone not want to kill themselves enough? Did they think I was looking for attention?
“I don’t understand why you’d want to die. You have all these things going for you. You seem bright. You’ve got someone who loves you and a career. Why do you want to die?”
No idea how to respond to that. Is being suicidal supposed to make sense? Am I supposed to take these things into consideration and tell my brain the reasons why I shouldn’t die? Hey brain, don’t kill yourself. Everything is sunshine and rainbows.
The paperwork continued silently. My breath shortened as each minute ticked. I was there for over five hours now, and my anxiety only got worse. We continued to talk for another half hour, getting into what led me to the hospital and some of my issues that caused my breakdown.
“Okay. I will need to perform a mark check.” She began to get out of her seat.
“I’ve gotta check your body for marks, tattoos, piercings…” She moved the divider against the door. “Time to strip down.”
I got out of my seat, hesitant about what was happening.
“It’s okay. I’ve had three husbands, two boys. I’m 63 and have been a nurse for god knows how long. Nothing I haven’t seen before.”
Okay. I stripped.
Those came off, and I was butt naked in front of her.
She began checking my body, marking off areas on a chart. She looked at my arm, which was layered with new cuts and hardened scars. “You didn’t tell me you were a cutter.”
“I uh, I told the other nurse on my initial paperwork.”
She flipped through the chart. “Oh, yeah, I see. You can put your clothes back on, but I’ll need your belt and your shoelaces.” She grabbed a plastic jar on the desk. “I’ll also need a urine sample. The bathroom’s down the hall. Once you’re done, you can go back to the waiting room.” She opened a gallon sized plastic sealed bag and put my belongings into it. Once she was done, she wrote my name on it.
When I had finished dressing, she gave me zip-ties to hold my Converse together. “If you’re going to go outside, you’ll need to wear shoes. These will hold them together for the length of your stay.”
I became too anxious to pee by the time I got into the bathroom. The state of the toilet and sink felt like I was in a prison. There wasn’t a lock on the door. The pipes to the toilet were sealed shut with metal plates that were bolted to the cinderblock wall. Same with the sink. There wasn’t a mirror, and the ceiling light was trapped by a mesh cage. A small dirtied wood shelf sat above the sink.
I always sit when I pee, so trying to stand and aim into a cup, nevermind the toilet, became a game like one of those carnival sideshows where if you won, then you’d get a big plush bear. But there was no bear at the end of this game.
When I left the bathroom, I had no idea what to do with the cup, so I held sat back down in the waiting room, next to Jennifer, holding a cup of my own pee.
“What are you doing?” She became grossed out. I couldn’t blame her.
“I don’t know what I’m supposed to do with it.”
“Well, get it out of here. The last thing I need is you pissing all over me.”
“You’re not into that?”
“Fuck off. Go ask the nurse what you’re supposed to do with it.”
“When she comes back.”
We sat silently. I held my cup of pee. For one split moment, I felt at peace with the world, which is weird when you’re holding a cup of your own urine. The nurse then came into the lobby.
I stood up and motioned to her. “What am I supposed to do--”
“There’s a shelf above the sink in the bathroom. Put it there.” She walked away.
“Ah, that shelf.”
“Intake: Two Hours Later”
Jennifer went to get some clothes for me. We didn’t know how long I’d be stuck inside this place. Turned out to be three and a half more hours. The desk nurse brought me a collection of different food from the kitchen to make up as my meal. The man across from me was still lying across three chairs with his hoodie wrapped around his face. The desk nurse came over once in a while to nudge him awake. He startled, sat upright, took a bite out his chicken sandwich, and cocooned himself once more. Rinse and repeat several times throughout the night until he was taken back.
So far, I had seen four drug addicts and two alcoholics come and go. Not once did I see someone battling some kind of mental disorder (I know that addicts have some kind of hidden mental illness, but I couldn’t emotionally connect to someone who was high on godknowswhat).
I dug through the chicken platter to find the things I could eat: rice, stewed green beans, and a strawberry yogurt. I slowly picked through what was in front of me. The desk nurse looked over and asked me if everything was okay.
“I’m a vegetarian. Sorry. Sorry.”
“I’m sorry that’s all we had in the kitchen.”
It was fine. Hunger wasn’t at the top of my to-do list at that moment in time. The desk nurse came around and collected our plates and tray tables. Jennifer knocked on the door, and the desk nurse unlocked the door. Jennifer gave the bag of clothes to the desk, and she sat back down next to me.
“Did I miss much?”
“Uhhh, the guy with the hoodie finally went back. So did the guy in the wheelchair. That was after he tried to fondle one of the nurses. Other than that, it’s turned into a quiet evening.”
We sat in silence. Jennifer took out a book and read. I stared at the tiles on the floor. Sometimes around the room. Back to the floor.
The intake nurse finally came back with a red wristband. “You’ll need to wear this at all times. Hold out your arm.”
I panicked. “Which--”
I held up my left arm, and she attached the bracelet.
“Say goodbye to your girlfriend. It’s time.”
At that moment, I felt like my world had ended. I felt like that pee in the cup. I was alone on a decrepit shelf not wondering where or what would happen to me next. Well, I knew the pee was going to be analyzed to see if I was on drugs and whatnot, but you get the idea.
“I think you’ll like it here. The ward you’re on is one of the better ones.”
Yeah. No. I’d rather have eaten a box of roofing nails. Or have something shoved up my urethra. If I had to pick, it’d have been the former.
The nurse took me down the hall on the third floor toward a set of locked hospital doors. She swiped her keycard, and we went inside. The doors crashed shut behind me.
“Here we are!”
I looked around the common room. Patients scattered themselves about, remaining mostly by themselves. A couple of guys sat at a small plastic table in the back corner of the ward and played cards. The television sat in the middle of the room on the wall next to a half-empty bookshelf filled with coloring books and half destroyed crayones and sat in front of a two couches and three recliners. Behind the couch a few feet away was the main desk where the RN sat for most of their shifts. Patients’ rooms were housed on the outskirts of the common area--somewhere I’d end up spending a shitton of my time in.
“You must be Warren.”
I looked up to see another nurse walking my way. “Yes.”
“I’m going to be your charge nurse for tonight. Nice to meet you.”
I wasn’t sure what to say. My mind was a mess and the last thing I wanted to do was to strike up small talk. What could you say in a position like that? That’s nice? Please stop? Let me out of this hellhole? I want to take your pen and shove it into my neck and watch your face in horror as blood spurts all over in which I end up slipping on my own blood and break my neck from the fall?
“Everyone in the ward is super nice, so don’t be afraid to go up to any of them. I’m sure they’ll come up later to talk to you.” She turned to the intake nurse and signed off on the transport papers. When she left, the doors clicked behind her.
I was now a resident of ward seven.
“Afterthoughts from a Terrace in Denver, CO”
My depression got the best of me. It lied to my face, and I believed it. Four times, and the third time was nearly fatal.
In the hospital, I learned how to cope with my stress and anxiety, but I went through many, what I call, “Little Monsters”, which were a full range of emotions from panicked to self-injurious. But through it I learned that my depression is life-long, and that I will always have to fight the thoughts in my head. I have to continually fight away my inner squirrels as they cartwheel their way toward me with deadly claws like those from a decent slasher film (see: A Nightmare on Elm Street).
Best advice I received while in the hospital: don’t isolate yourself. Don’t keep yourself holed up somewhere with your brain planning mutiny. Do something. Don’t let your thoughts consume you. Cause they will. You know they will. I know they will. I still have suicidal thoughts from time to time, and I continually have to work on not letting my brain manipulate me. I have to keep my mind active on things I like to do because if it don't, then one thought becomes another though, which leads to another, and the next thing you know you’re playing Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon. Only, you know, with your horribly depressing and self-deprecating thoughts snowballing out of control, not of Kevin Bacon. Though, sometimes, depression can lead to thinking about Kevin Bacon. I don’t know why. It just does. Unless that’s just me…
Some things I do to cool the hell down when I know my brain wants me dead:
Drink calming tea.
Call my therapist.
Receive massage therapy.
Take a hot shower (or cold if you’re a masochist).
Smoke medical marijuana.
Plan bank heists then later remember that you’re not smart enough to plan bank heists.
Forget to drink your tea.
Make new tea.
Actually drink your tea.
Keep fighting. Your brain is lying to you. Don't let it win. Do whatever it takes to survive. Take care of yourself. Make tea. Take a shower. Distract yourself. And, of course, if you are in dire need of help, don’t forget that your phone is always a few feet away (unless, it too, is locked in the dishwasher). You're worth it. Your life is worth it. Your brain may tell you differently, as does mine on a regular basis, but you are worth it. Period.
When you are finally able to leave the house, have fun, and as always, beware of the squirrels, my friends. Beware.