Shared Meals = Alliances

The restless edgy vibe was in the air from the moment of awakening to when I finally succumbed to medication induced exhaustion at night. It was relentless. Pushing hard and making us brittle. A raised voice caused my heart to skip and my anxiety to soar. We all felt it. Everyone moved around with caution. Stepped cautious and aware. Few willing to make eye contact at all. I took to hiding most of the time. I thought I’d be safe from the chaos there. Though isolating would only add notes to the chart and lengthen the stay. I had to stay out on the unit though I couldn’t tolerate the noise. each vibrated off the insides of my skull. richocheting here and there, intensifying each till they became unbearable in number. I pulled pillows over my head to muffle the noise. I resorted to ear plugs all the time. Sure looked nuts but it did cut down on some of the disturbance. I started to take small trips out of my room. just for a little while. Enough to start figuring everyone out. I needed to know where the risk was greatest. If there were any allies to be found. I had to leave my room for that. Figured the safest place to start was the woman who offered a hello when I arrived. She was kind. Depressed and starting ECT. She had questions. I didn’t have the heart to share my true thoughts on the subject. I stuck with “it works for some”, “didn’t really for me” and left it at that. She was a gay buddhist craftsman. I thought they were usually okay? Mindfulness keeping those demons at bay. guess I was wrong. She was tearful and miserable like me. sad. We cried through a few meals together. She introduced me to a middle aged white guy also starting ECT. Same questions. My answers measured and kind. I wanted to tell them the truth. the realities. What they were not saying might happen. Instead I steered the conversation elsewhere. Of home. and family. The mundane. Anything but the ECT. We swapped food and complained. He liked egg whites. I’d eat the yoke when breakfast was a single hard boiled egg and a small muffin. Most patients were hungry and the meals all over the place in terms of size/portion/contents.(one morning a kaiser roll with scrambled eggs/ cheese and a sausage patty the next a single hard boiled egg and the tiny muffin). You weren’t supposed to share food, but we all fell into the pattern of accepting something we wouldn’t eat just to give it to someone else. It created alliances. For the first couple days I was so anxious I could barely look at food let alone consume it. I earned a lot of “friends” by supplementing other’s meals. The chicken sandwich for the massive manic latino guy. Anything left on my plate for the white guy getting ECT. My dessert for the wonderful gay guy always adorned with a head wrap/tee shirt. (Least they gave him that much leeway when they took his mascara). All seemed to appreciate the kindness. They gave me some slack. Even were civil when everything was coming undone. I found myself watching and wondering. Looking at symptoms and scrolling through my brain for all I had learned in abnormal psych. What was I looking at? Some I could see clearly, others I was confounded. Was that mania mixed with something else? How could I assess the risk when most I could not even figure out what was going on with them. I had set aside those I knew were psychotic, to varying degrees. Some fairly coherant for parts of the day others lost completely. I let them be. If they walked in front of me on the med line, or to get coffee I let it go. Though I actually would not have said anything regardless. There were those with a wild eyed paranoid look. Just a little too much whites of the eyes showing. Too much time spent walking the sides of the hall and never getting close. They got a wide berth. I didn’t meet their eyes. I didn’t enter their space, even if it was they who were passing by me. Easiest were the ones that sat still and silent hour after hour. day after day. I wondered what was going on, if anything in that frozen state. Was their mind going at all? too fast? too slow? Was is painful there in the stillness? Was is peaceful? Did they register what chaos was around them? I was left with many questions and no answers as sadly none spoke.
Our small group bonded together. The gay cabinet maker, the middle aged corporate guy, the queen and I. Eventually a young pretty borderline joined us as well. We ate together. Looked out for each other and made sure each were okay. When ECT ended badly each time for the woman we comforted her. When visitors came, time was shared for those without company. It was an oasis within that mess. I can’t begin to guess how much worse it would have been for me without them. I have been thinking much about them and their next month there. I know what they are going through and I wish I could make it better. The borderline went off to the partial program and the queen returned to his home. I do hope they make it. Both had much to offer the world. As I knelt weeding in my overgrown spring garden I thought back over each of the people I have met along my journey. Most I have forgotten, others I remember so clearly. I wonder what happened to each of them. Where are they now? Did they survive? but most of all my mind reminds firmly stuck in the halls of that unit.


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