The UPS box sat innocently at the end of the walkway. I didn’t think much of it as I went about my day. I was expecting a delivery from the vet supply warehouse. When I finally had a free minute I carried the box to the quarantine barn and opened it. There in the plastic bags were pale yellow gowns. I felt my mood rapidly shift. My upper lip pulled back ever so slightly. I wondered to myself why I found these plain yellow gowns so offensive. I quickly unpacked them and shoved them into the dark corner of a trunk, hoping never to see them again. I didn’t give those pale yellow gowns another thought.
Just a few months ago I was talking to a close friend. She counsels at a private high school and had a student suffer an acute manic episode. She went on to describe that the girl proceeded to take off her clothes during the intervention. My mind immediately found its way back and settled on the time I got naked.
It was when I went away to school that I first started having major issues with depression and anxiety. By my second semester I was spending much of my time in my closet and was barely functioning. The school decided I should start seeing someone. I would go each week and see a psychiatrist. It started with valium. A lot of it. He prescribed valium like it was candy. I took it, as ordered, whenever I felt any anxiety. That helped the anxiety, but my mood became more depressed. I know now, it probably wasn’t the best choice of medication. Then came trilafon. That just made me feel like a zombie. I couldn’t function and became more depressed. But it shifted my mood into a weird, anxious, edgy place. I was irritable and nasty. I could only think of suicide all the time. I finally had enough.
I grabbed all my meds, and believe me, I had enough to sedate an elephant and took off in my SUV. I drove for hours, I had no idea where I was going, or what I was doing. My body just kept urging me on, my mind would not stop. Occasionally I would see a tree and think, just go right, just turn a little bit, that one is big enough. But something stopped me. I could not bring myself to drive into a tree. Given the fact that I was driving between 80 and 100 mph, it would have most likely been fatal. As the hours wore on, I finally grew tired. I could not drive another mile. I pulled into a rest area and pulled out the assortment of pill bottles. One by one I counted the valium by making neat stacks on the center arm rest by the light of the dash-board. I had more than 100 valium, and a lot of trilfon. I stared at my neat little rows. My anxiety grew, and grew. I was shaking, but remained still and watching those rows. With my heart racing I took a handful of valium. I let my head rest back in my seat. I knew I couldn’t bring myself to take all those pills. I didn’t know what I wanted. I was so conflicted. The months of thinking about suicide had left me worn out and exhausted. As the warm lovely effects of valium wrapped itself around me, I let my mind drift. I just wanted to sleep. I wanted peace and quiet. I wanted a place without suffering and anxiety. A place with no expectations and stress.
My head snapped up, taking with it a long string of drool. I was disoriented and panicked. Where was I?, what had I done?. I glanced around. In the pale light of morning I read the sign posted beside the rest area. I was a long way from home. I remembered with horror the long night of driving. The urging of my head to wrap my truck around a tree. I knew in that moment I needed help. I needed help beyond the placid man the gazed at me with limpid eyes each week and handed me more drugs. I needed something more.
You are probably wondering what this all has to do with a plain yellow gown. I’m getting there. My first visit to a psych ward lasted a few days. It was my next visit that I earned my pale yellow gown. I was out of control long before I was handed that gown. I was anxious and irritated. Angry and raging. By the time I was given that gown and told to put it on, I was ready to kill someone. That someone, was me. They had taken away every possible means to kill myself. I stood in a plain box of a white room, staring at the walls. My fingers traced the seams of the door and the windows, there was no way out. I paced back and forth, working myself up with each pass. Obscenities poured out of me so strongly, it sounded like I was speaking in tongues. I was irate. All I wanted to do was die, and here I was in a quiet room, wearing a yellow paper gown. After a long while the shades were dropped on the observation window. They had grown tired of my yelling, and pacing. It was as if someone had slapped me. Rather than becoming calm, this act of shutting me out only wound me up further. I banged the window, and stomped at the floor. I wickedly kicked the plain mattress pad that lay in the middle of the room, like it had insulted me. All the sounds were muffled by the thick white walls. Nothing I did made me feel any better. I grew more angry by the minute. I looked down at the pale yellow gown. It too infuriated me. I grabbed the hem and peeled off a small two-inch piece. I felt my anger subside just a fraction. Rip, another piece, and another. With each piece I set free from this horrid yellow thing, I felt a little calmer. I ripped away at this damn gown. Little yellow petals of paper falling around me. I was surrounded by this pale yellow halo. I continued till there was nothing left to rip, nothing left to rid myself of. And in that moment I stood triumphant, naked before that window. It wasn’t long before I heard the staccato patter of heels on the linoleum floor outside the door. It opened, and they stood before me. A veritable herd of people. It was no matter to me that I was naked, I had won. I had beaten the damn gown. I remember their wary looks and sideways glances to each other before they entered the room. I didn’t know it yet, but I was about to be subdued and restrained. It isn’t something the average person ever thinks about. It isn’t something you ever want to see, or experience. In that moment, I was about to lose. I didn’t know it yet. I squared my shoulders to them. I hurled words of anger like spears. I shook with rage as they calmly entered in an orderly fashion. It was just a split second before I was surrounded. Each person had a vise like grip on my arms and legs. Of course, this just made me all the more infuriated. I bucked and pulled against this horde. I flailed and cursed. I spit and growled. They wouldn’t beat me. In the blink of an eye I was on my back. Thick leather restraints were coiled around my arms and legs. I wouldn’t rest, I would not go gently. They added restraints to my upper arms and legs. I glared at them, panting now in exhaustion. I saw the nurse come in. I didn’t;t know she had a syringe until she jammed it in my thigh. With a triumphant twitch of her chin she turned to the others and said “that ought to shut her up”. The youngest of the mental health workers looked down at me, “nighty- night”. They each filed out in a single line. The door slamming behind them, the lock snapping with a dull metallic thud. I saw them behind the glass talking amongst themselves, as the blinds snapped shut again. In that moment I felt awash in utter sadness. Exhausted and alone, more alone than I had ever felt in my lifetime. Maybe more alone than I will ever feel again.