“Never marry someone you wouldn’t want to divorce.”

I kid you not, someone said that to me not too long ago. I shrugged it off at the time and didn’t even offer a response to the co-worker who offered up that pearl of wisdom. She had– surprise!–just gotten married. But just like “don’t go to sleep angry,” the idea is nice in theory, but it’s a complete load of crap IRL. If I had a dollar for every night I went to bed, not just angry, but hating my husband with a burning hot rage.

But seriously, does anyone enter into a marriage thinking about divorce? No, the answer is no. Ok, so maybe there are a few out there who get to the alter and wonder how the hell they got there. But generally we believe that we are marrying the person we’re going to spend the rest of our lives with. We want to be in the 50% of marriages that don’t end in divorce. When my soon-to-be ex husband proposed to me more than 25 years ago, divorce was the last thing on my mind. Although it probably wasn’t the LAST thing on my mind, I certainly wasn’t asking myself how we would treat each other during a divorce settlement meeting, even as we were separating.

Lucky for me, I got the answer to that question today, whether or not I wanted it. And for the record, it was awful. And I say that as a person who can honestly admit that most of my marriage was wonderful. We were great partners, we had and raised great kids, we enjoyed each others company, and shared too many things in common to list here. Wr were happy and we loved each other. But, while he was, for most of our marriage, a great husband, he is a terrible person to divorce. Just awful.

I suppose it’s Pollyanna of me to expect a civil and respectful divorce. Divorce hurts. And while sometimes it feels like I’m the only one who feels pain of going through this, my logical brain tells me that it hurts him too. It’s human nature that when we hurt, we tend to take it out on other people. We do this whether we want to or not, whether we realize it or not. But it still sucks. It sucks a lot.

Without diving too deeply down into the divorce rabbit hole, let’s just say that today’s meeting with both attorneys and the private judge we’ve hired to mediate didn’t end well. Can it ever end well when a 25 year relationship boils down to a couple of spreadsheets and something called the Dissomaster? Again, no. No it won’t. Did I ever expect that the husband I loved for most of my adult life would call me a liar and accuse me of things worse than the meanest girl in my middle school? No, absolutely not in a million years.

Even though we just hit the two year mark of our separation last week, I still wake up some mornings and forget that I’m in my bed alone. I still read articles and think about how my husband would enjoy them. I have to stop myself from calling him up when I have good news to share and also when I need support during the not so great times. Twenty five years of habits are desperately hard to break. Which is why it stings so very much when the person who knows me better than anyone else, better than I know myself even, throws out accusations that are so hurtful and also so wrong.

Of course I wasn’t thinking on my wedding day about how hard it would be to be his adversary 25 years down the road . Nor did it occur to me when we bought our first home or when all three of our children were born, or when our first child headed off to college. I could never have dreamed how bad it actually would be. But would I do it all over again knowing what I know now? Yes. In a heartbeat. I’ll keep wishing for the impossible though, that we can come out of this and be the friends that we owe ourselves to be.

 

 

 

The kind of crowd sourcing I can get behind

Today is Valentine’s Day. A day I dreaded when I was younger and didn’t have a boyfriend. Then during the 25 years I was with my soon-to-be-ex husband, it was mostly just another day. In the early days of our courtship and marriage, we probably exchanged cards and gifts, but the day gradually came to be a non-event. It mostly meant that our kids came home home from school strung out on refined sugar in all its forms.

Now that I find myself very single and (mostly) without kids in the house, Valentine’s Day is back to being a day that culminates a week long march into dread. To make matters a million times worse, my favorite SweetHearts aren’t available this year. Something about the factory and…. blah blah blah….bottom line: no pink boxes with the heart-shaped window on the front. As a side note, I might actually be the only person who buys those conversation hearts to actually eat them. I have even been known to clean out the stock of them on February 15th so that I can enjoy them until mid-March.

To cheer myself up this year, I bought a big bag of Brachs candy conversation hearts yesterday, hoping they would be a sufficient stand-in until next year when SweetHearts will again be available (they weren’t) and all day I  have been popping them into my mouth like, well….like candy. But are they REALLY candy? I have spent a lifetime of eating the candy that nobody else will touch. Black licorice? Love it, and let me take those black jellybeans off your hands for you. Necco Wafers? Love ’em, especially the black ones…..black licorice-flavored chalk… mmmm. During Halloween season I have to strategically map my trips to Target so that I can keep away from the candy aisle. On those days when my will power is especially low, I casually stroll by the end cap that has the candy corn and, I’m not proud to admit this, but it always means I will have eaten an entire bag of the stuff before I even get to the check out. Am I the only one who loves that Peeps have expanded beyond just Easter time? Highly likely. I’m loathe to admit this, but I probably wouldn’t even turn down a Circus Peanut — you know, those orange, marshmallowy things? I know, I know. I am the bottom feeder of the candy world.

Anyway, I digress. My point today is that I came up with a great idea, well, for me, anyway. It might not be met with much enthusiasm from anyone else, but I’m excited by the possibilities. I’ve contributed to many very worthy GoFundMe pages, purchased a few Kickstarter projects and have made more than my fair share of meals for families needing assistance. I think it’s my turn now. As we’ve already established, I’m single. Very single. Here’s where you, dear readers, come in: I need a boyfriend. I don’t need a live-in boyfriend or anything that committed. But someone to go out to dinner with once in a while, or to catch a movie with. Someone who can add that 4th wheel to the gatherings I attend with my married friends. Certainly someone out there knows a tall, handsome and available bachelor who is dying to date a well read, well traveled and very social 50-something woman….right?

I have given up on online dating. Yes, I know it’s apparently the only way to meet anyone these days. But after the latest date that I thought went great but was told later that there just wasn’t enough chemistry, and after having corresponded with several “men” online who then disappeared from my feed because they were determined to be “unsafe accounts,” I deleted all of my dating apps. I just can’t do it anymore. So, I think I’m going to try to crowd source this one,

I’m not picky, but I’d like my new boyfriend to: be taller than 5’10,” live within 15 miles of San Jose, have kids who are at least high school age, likes dogs, likes to travel, owns his own car and if he doesn’t own his own house, he is at least not still living with his parents or ex-wife. Too much to ask for? I don’t think so. Now get to work and send me some great candidates. More importantly, happy February 14th, whether it’s Valentine’s Day at your house or just a regular Thursday. xo

 

The ups and downs of being alone

I haven’t spent much of my almost 51 years of life alone. Growing up, I mostly shared a room with my sister and also had a younger brother barging into our room on a regular basis. When I went off to college, I had a roommate — both in the dorms and later in apartments off campus. When I graduated from college, I moved back home for 6 months before my parents insisted it was time to head out on my own. I ended up renting a crappy apartment in an equally crappy neighborhood, because it was all that I could afford at the time. The months spent in that dreary apartment were noteworthy for being the first time I had ever been truly and absolutely alone in my own home. I’m not sure if it was the apartment, living alone, the not-so-great neighborhood or all of the above, but I was miserable and hated the entire experience. As soon as I could, I moved out of the apartment and into a house with three other people.

Not long before I moved into that house (that bears an uncanny resemblance to the house featured in the HBO show Silicon Valley — I suspect the neighborhood is the same), and immediately after breaking up with my college boyfriend of three years, I met my soon-to-be husband. Things moved quickly and in fairly rapid succession, we moved into an apartment together, bought a house, got married, had kids and collected a few dogs along the way. As anyone who has ever lived with roommates, been married, or raised children knows, there wasn’t much alone time for me. That was until the day my husband moved out. He had been my longest lasting roommate and we had lived together for almost 25 years.

With two of my children now in college on the East Coast (while I live on the West Coast) and one child spending only a few days a week with me, I’ve had a steep learning curve in managing this new solo lifestyle. After years of imagining something terrible happening to my children, my nightmares these days tend to be related to something catastrophic happening to me and nobody discovering my body for days or weeks. I even imagine the headlines that will appear when someone breaks down my door and discovers my dog sitting shiva beside my decomposing body.

Yes, I have relatives and lots of close and dear friends. But we all have busy lives and don’t keep in constant touch. Of course, many would notice if I was incommunicado for a week or so. But a few days would not set off any warning bells for anyone. And while I do have a job, my schedule isn’t entirely regular and, again, it wouldn’t be unusual for me to not be there for a few days, or perhaps a week. After having a husband for almost all of my adult life and being a full-time mom for 20 years, it’s strange to not have someone who knows where I am every minute of the day. Strange and somewhat scary.

When I first moved into my current home, I was constantly amazed at the joy I experienced in taking up every inch of closet space for myself. And being able to hang anything I wanted on any wall anywhere I pleased. I experienced great pleasure in doing what my heart desired whenever I desired it. Nobody to judge, or even notice, if I spent an entire Saturday in my pajamas, eating ice cream straight from the carton while binge watching The Great British Baking Show. (Purely a hypothetical scenario, I assure you) I don’t have to make lunch or dinner for any other person, except myself — and if some days dinner consists of toast then so be it.

But while I have enjoyed some of the freedom that being on my own affords, I’ve struggled with much of it.  When unexpected things happen, I don’t have that partner to prop me back up and tell me things will be ok. When the bougainvillea that the previous owner strapped to the side of the house with zip ties collapsed and landed with a crash across the entire width of my driveway, I had to figure out how to free my car and saw through the almost 100 year old thickly gnarled branches and haul them away.  It took me a few weeks to get it all done and when I finally did, I felt good. But the moment it happened, I was beside myself. Who would help me? Who could tell me what to do?

This morning when I looked out the window and discovered that my car had been ransacked in the night, I immediately burst into tears. Someone opened up and emptied every single compartment in the entire car and dumped everything in piles on the floor. A few things were taken: a favorite winter coat I left in there because my hands were full when I got home last night, a couple dollars in change I kept in the ashtray for feeding parking meters, and a few things I bought at Target recently but hadn’t gotten around to bringing in the house. So, thankfully, I lost nothing of major value. But my sense of security took a very big hit. I reached out to my not-yet-ex husband hoping for….what? I really don’t know what I was hoping for. But whatever it was that I wanted from him, I certainly didn’t get it.

What happened with my car wasn’t catastrophic by any stretch of the imagination. But in the moments after I discovered it, it absolutely seemed like it. I felt frightened and violated and, more than anything, alone.

The Amazing Disappearing Act of the Middle Aged Woman

I saw my doctor recently, having avoided her for far too long. It seemed like time to make sure my 50 year old parts were all in working order. Also, I’d been noticing the scale creeping up to unfamiliar levels. Nothing drastic, but I wanted to rule out anything serious. As it turns out, my 50 year old body is NOT functioning efficiently. My cholesterol numbers are at a level that needs immediate attention and, in discussing my weight, I learned something new. 

Making my way through the separation and divorce process over the past two years, I’ve learned a lot about stress responses in the body and how cortisol in high levels can wreak havoc on our bodies. What I didn’t know is that it tricks your body into fearing that starvation is a real possibility. So my brain, thinking that I am in grave danger, told my body to store more of the fats I eat. Much those fats were ice cream and most of it ended up in my mid-section. Great. Just great.

Without taking a deep dive into my bodily functions, I will say that being a 50 year old woman is a thankless job. I don’t think I’m the first one of my kind to find herself in a doctor’s office feeling a little out of sorts. Obviously my lovely doctor sees many of us in this category of life: 40ish or 50ish, empty nester (or almost), divorced (or almost) and trying to make sense of all of the above. I know this because she launched into a speech that seemed too practiced to be designed only for me.

With only the best of intentions, my doctor implored me to take care of myself and to enjoy what is finally going to be “my time.” No husband, no kids (well, mostly no kids) and plenty of time to find new passions and new direction. She reminded me that I still have a lot of living left ahead of me and I owe it to myself to get healthy and enjoy it.

Since that day, I’ve been thinking a lot about how not-unique my circumstances are. I’ve found myself as part of a group of women in my neighborhood who are all divorced (most, like me, after long marriages), most are empty or soon-to-be empty nesters and most of us have endured the pain and shame of our husbands’ infidelities. At work a small group of us have formed what is essentially a support group for women going through divorce. We’re at different stages of the process, but share our stories of life in the trenches of family court.

Taking a step back, I realized that the majority of my friends are either divorced or unhappily married, and most of us are searching for purpose in a world that doesn’t always seem to value us. We have almost become invisible and what often feels like dispensible. Many of us lament that we spend so much of our time struggling to adapt to our new lives and new responsibilities. We share stories of bursting into tears when the TV or wifi isn’t working and we can’t fix it. Or when a storm knocks a giant tree limb across our driveway, or the shower is leaking into the basement. We struggle with these things not because we are incapable, but because, for many years, there was a division of labor in our homes and those were things our husbands did. An efficient family is one that divides and conquers household responsibilities. My friends are I now find ourselves trying to figure out how to manage these new jobs —while still doing the things we’ve always done—and the learning curve can be steep.

Adjusting to our new normal, we see that we have become invisible to our former spouses. Those of us on dating sites also experience a particularly humiliating level of invisibility. We swipe on men our own age and never hear from them. Simply put, we are not the hottest commodity Match or OkCupid. When did we become invisible to men — our husbands AND prospective dates? When did it become so common for men to leave their wives just at the time we’re finally getting the space to enjoy our kid-free lives? Why is it so easy for them to stop seeing us, but most of what we see and experience is a sense of deep pain and loss. 

Men aren’t the only ones who have stopped seeing us, we’re invisible to employers too. My circles of divorced women are finding it hard to make ends meet these days. Rare is the job available to a middle aged mom who has been out of the traditional job market for years — many of us have worked over the years but, often, because of our decisions to be the primary caregivers to our kids, we have salaries that were never meant to be the sole support for a family in Silicon Valley.

After my visit with the doctor, I found myself thinking a lot about sight. What we see, who we see, how we see them, how they see us. It’s an odd and disorienting feeling to be living what so often feels like an invisible life. I’ve also been thinking quite a bit about what it is that I see and who I see. In talking to my circle of divorced friends, it’s clear that we all want to be SEEN again. We want someone to SEE us and accept us as we are. To see —and appreciate—the wisdom we’ve gained in our many years on the planet, the strength we’ve built up, our man y accomplishments, big and small, and that we raised kids who have become pretty special adults. So maybe we need to zoom out our narrow view of our circumstances and start seeing the larger, wider, fuller picture of our lives. Perhaps we need to see more of what we have and less of what we don’t.

In an interesting case of life imitating art, my yoga teacher instructed us to experience this morning’s practice with our eyes closed for the duration of the 90 minute class. While we all wobbled and struggled through poses that are so familiar with eyes open, our teacher read aloud the poetry of Mary Oliver. Oliver, who passed away last week, somehow managed to eloquently voice what so many of us feel. She made poetry accessible to those who don’t necessarily enjoy poetry. She made us see things that we didn’t realize we were seeing. Olliver asked us to reframe how we view the world so that we can see and experience it in all its beauty.

As I stood on my mat this morning, eyes closed and struggling to find balance, a feeling of gratitude came over me for the gifts that surround me every minute of every day.  As I open my eyes each morning the decision to see those gifts is mine.

 

 

Someone I loved once gave me a box full of darkness. It took me years to understand that this, too, was a gift.

 

Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?

—Mary Oliver

Definition of a Mom

For the past 21 years when someone asks about me the first thing I tell them is that I am a mom. I’ve started to wonder lately if perhaps I need to come up with a different answer.

I always prided myself on being one of those moms who didn’t talk of their children constantly. I had other activities, I had both mom and non-mom friends, my husband and I spent time with our children and also out together or with friends. The kids were my life, but also not.

And when my husband became the typical Silicon Valley start-up guy, I spent more and more time with my kids. He would be traveling or in VC meetings on a pretty regular basis. And he would remind me often that start-up hours were not 9 to 5. When he was home, he would share in many of the every day activities of parenting. The thing was, he just wasn’t around much.

So I was the one who made their breakfasts, lunches, dinners — sure, most of it was peanut butter & jelly and mac & cheese, but that was all I could get them to eat. Two of my kids were what they called back then “spirited children,” and these days are given more specific diagnoses. I was one to pick my battles, and so I fed them what they would eat and let their rooms become disasters that I would do my best to stay out of.

I was also the room mom for three different classrooms, was on the PTA and school site committees, I made cupcakes for entire classrooms on birthdays and put together holiday and end-of-year holiday gifts for teachers. I did all the laundry and kept the house as neat as one can expect to do with 3 kids and two dogs.  I was the go-to person for everyone. Even my husband would default to me in matters of the kids, the house and where to find (fill in the blank).

I’m reasonably intelligent and I knew that I wouldn’t be needed by everyone forever. And, full disclosure, I didn’t always enjoy being nearly so *needed* every minute of the day. But I saw the progression of my kids becoming gradually more independent as an opportunity for my husband and me to be able to spend more time together. We would be able to travel, we could head up to Tahoe at a moment’s notice and stay for as long as we liked. We could go out to dinner, have dinner parties, finally move out of the suburb that we chose because of its schools. I saw all of that as the finishers’ medal you get at the end of a marathon.

But what happens when the marathon gets cancelled, due to unforeseen circumstances, just as you are about to cross the finish line? Did all those miles count for anything? If there’s no medal, what do I get to show that I did, in fact, run all those miles?

Two of my kids are home from college for the holidays and the other is out of school and finished with school and marching band obligations for the time being. I should be thrilled to have all my kids home. But instead, I’m learning that the “radical acceptance” my therapist and I have been working on, is a much more elusive goal than I initially thought. When they’re home, but all staying with their dad, or  doing things as a family — minus me, of course — it hurts. We throw around the word literally way too much, but it *literally* causes physical pain when all my children are together and having fun without me, while I sit at home alone. This was not what was supposed to happen.

My youngest is here with me today because I insisted on picking him up last night and bringing him over. This morning I asked him if he needed any laundry done. He told me he would do it himself. Those were words I longed to hear from my kids when they were young. But this time all they did were remind that I’m not needed anymore. My kids are doing just fine without me. They all work and have money in their accounts to go out to eat whenever they want. If they need something they buy it, instead of asking me to get it for them. All good things, certainly. Great things, in fact. And things that I hoped for back when things were different. But it’s different. This was not how things were supposed to be.

It’s like the old saying of the tree in the forest…..am I still a mom if nobody needs me to do mom things anymore?

When depression takes a seat at the holiday table

I’ll take a break from recounting my tales of the psychiatric hospital to talk about a time that has always been tricky for me and is now even more so: the holidays.

My parents divorced when I was very young, so feeling emotionally torn during the holiday season is an experience I’m pretty used to by now. During most of my childhood I lived with my father and stepmother. In the beginning, we lived a two-hour drive from my mother, then later we moved 2 hours, and a very treacherous drive, further away. If I was with one parent for a holiday I was missing the other, because there was no going back and forth between the two homes. So, unfortunately, no matter how much fun I was having during a holiday celebration, that joy was always tinged with a little bit of sadness and longing.

I ended up marrying a man whose parents were also divorced — though, for what it’s worth, he was an adult when they split. After we married, holiday planning was akin to a chess match when it came time to coordinate where we would spend the holidays. We had to decide between the homes of my mother (my farther had dropped out of my life by this time and that’s a story for another day), my  mother-in-law and my father-in-law and his wife. Throw in my sister and my husband’s two sisters, and figuring out where to go was a herculean feat, to say the least. Once again, the fun of the holiday was tempered with that ever present sadness and longing for the family members not there with us.

I hoped my children would never have to feel this way when the holidays rolled around. But these days I live with constant guilt and shame that this is exactly what has become their reality.

This year was my first Thanksgiving without my children and the sadness was unimaginable. This was despite the fact that I was fortunate enough to have received numerous invitations and was able to be part of two wonderful celebrations — one with dear friends and one with my aunt, uncle and cousins. And although I had a fantastic time, I couldn’t shake the feeling of loss from not being able to share the holiday with my children as I had every year since my daughter was born 21 years ago.

But beyond missing them, picturing the entire day my kids would be experiencing was excruciating. I could imagine the day in vivid detail because it followed the same script as all the others before it. And for 25 years I had been an integral part of that day and very much part of the family and the traditions we created together.

I knew that up in Tahoe the night before Thanksgiving my husband would be making the same 3 delicious pies he makes every year – probably listening to The Big Night soundtrack. In the morning he would start preparing the turkey. My father-in-law would arrive in the afternoon to watch football — I can see him there on the couch with his glass of wine. Later on, my sisters-in-law would arrive with their in-laws and appetizers, side dishes and wine in hand. They would likely have a banner that my niece made and a table would be moved into the living room to accommodate the large group. With a fire in the large fireplace, there would be lots of lively conversation, lots of laughing and lots of drinking late into the night. All of it nearly identical to the years before it.  The difference is this year I’ve been erased from the day, erased from the family and, if I’m honest, it feels like I’ve even been erased from the minds of everyone at the two tables.

It hurts like a sucker punch to the gut.

We hear from friends, co-workers and on social media how much there is to be grateful for at this time of year and how wonderful it is to be together with loved ones. This is true of course — maybe even more so this year with the terrible fires ravaging our state and the many who have lost their homes, their belongings and their lives. Which makes it that much harder to feel terrible. I DO have much to be grateful for, there is no doubt about that — it’s just so hard to muster up that gratitude on a day when all I can feel is loss. Loss of a family and all the traditions that go along with being part of that family. And knowing that it all continues on without me makes me feel like I never mattered to begin with.

I made it through round 1 of the holiday season. I’ve got a few more rounds to go. I know I’ll make it through — not unscathed, though, and not without experiencing a deep sense of grief and loss. For so many the holidays are truly the greatest time of the year and I’m happy for those who can experience the magic of the season. But it’s worth pointing out that there are so many of us who are doing our best to just survive these last two months on the calendar. If you are one of the lucky ones who enjoy this time of year — I don’t want to take away one bit of that joy. I just want to put out the idea that no matter what we do or how hard we try not to, some see this time though a different lens.

We are here. We long to be seen and heard and, most of all, understood.

If you know someone who is suffering right now, reach out. Say hello, let them know you’re shining of them. Offer up an invitation to coffee or lunch or dinner. Or just let them know they are seen and they are heard, and that you understand.

 

Fear and loathing in the psych ward, Part 2

Here’s part 2 of my dreadful experience in a psychiatric ward. If you haven’t read part 1, you might want to go back so this makes more sense….

I sat down on my tiny bed that was bolted to the floor, next to my nightstand — also bolted to the floor — when Susie (not her real name) the nudist from a few minutes ago, walked in, and, again took off all her clothes. I watched in horror as she walked towards my bed and sprawled out ON TOP OF ME. Bewildered, I calmly told her this wasn’t her bed. Without missing a beat, and without opening her eyes, she went back to her own bed and opened her legs spread eagle in my direction, graphically demonstrating to me her preferred waxing routine. I ignored her, hoping she’d stop. Thankfully, a nurse appeared in our room and told Susie to get dressed. She helped Susie into her shirt and turns to get her pants. Immediately, the shirt comes back off. This goes on for a few minutes until, finally, Susie is fully dressed.

A little while later (time feels very non linear in Sequoia Unit) Susie walks up to the nurses’ station and takes off her pants. Everyone comes out of the activity room to watch.  Sherri (Also, not her real name. Actually, let’s just assume that from here on out, all names are made up), realizing that I’m terrified by my roommate’s antics offers to let Susie have her private room and she would move in with me. She didn’t “feel safe” in her room since it was too close to the emergency exit. Thank goodness for Sherri. A nurse comes in and fully sanitizes the vinyl-covered mattress and puts a sheet and a thin blanket on it. Sherri tells me that our toilet is clogged and then goes to inform the nurses. Just a quick note to say that the bathroom has a “door that is just a vinyl panel, secured with velcro that is no taller than a public bathroom stall door.

Back in my room, and with nothing to do, I looked at my discharge paperwork from the hospital. Tuns out it wasn’t discharge paperwork, it was an “Involuntary Patient Advisement” which declared that I had been 5150’d. Under the line, “we believe this to be true because…”  and, in quotations, it read, “you’re going through a divorce, upset and overdosed. Several prescription pills (Ativan, .5mg about 30 tablets) with alcohol to end yourself.” Wait, what? I don’t even HAVE 30 ativans — my doctor very specifically only prescribes them 15 at a time. So, yeah, I call bullshit on that. “End myself?” Really?? Look, I apparently said and did a lot of things that night that I don’t remember, but I’m pretty sure that I said nothing about “ending myself.” If I wanted to “end myself” I sure as hell would have come up with a more grammatically pleasing way to state it. You can accuse me of a lot of things, but I would never say anything as clunky and ridiculous as “end myself.”

I marched down to the nurses’ station and insisted I speak to a doctor to explain that I did not, in fact, attempt suicide and, more importantly, would never say that I wanted to “end myself.” For some reason, this seemed very important to me at the time. I was told that the doctor was suffering from a migraine and they would let him know I wanted to speak to him, but it might not be until tomorrow. I asked if I could see a social worker. She was gone for the evening. Fuck. Dread started to set in when I realized I was essentially trapped in Sequoia Unit. And my toilet was still clogged.

I asked the nurses what I was supposed to do. “There are coloring pages in the activity room.” I’m 50 years old, I don’t do coloring pages, unless it’s an artsy adult coloring book and I have expensive, fancy markers. “Are there any books?” I asked. “No, but there are coloring pages.” “Is there paper so I can journal?” Hallelujah! They have journals! “Can I have a pen, please?” I was handed a short, dull pencil — the kind you get at miniature golf. “Can I have more than one pencil?” “Come back when you need another one.”  Great. 

In addition to a lot of weird habits I have, I am addicted to lip balm. It’s a thing, you can google it. In the loony bin (which, now that I’m distanced enough from the experience, I can call it that. It’s the only way I can really cope with the experience. And I fully accept that I am loony and please don’t tell me I’m discriminating against the mentally ill….I am mentally ill) chapstick is not allowed. I really can’t think of any logical reason for this, but it’s a rule in Sequoia unit. When I asked for chapstick, they gave me a miniature-sized one — like smaller than I ever thought possible. I think it was about and inch and half long. The nurse told me I could use it while at the desk but had to give it back afterwards. She would put a label with my name on it and I would have to come ask for it whenever I needed it. After asking for it five times in the span of 30 minutes, the nurses started pretending not to see me when I approached the desk. Once, when using my chapstick, Susie showed up and started yelling at the unit’s psychiatrist, calling him, inexplicably, a “fish head” and insisting they give her back her belongings, since she was “ready to go out for the evening.” When they refused, she yelled that they were “holding her diamonds and pearls hostage.” The distraction was the perfect opportunity for me to casually walk away with my chapstick in the pocket of my paper shirt. 

I’m not sure what medical reason dictates that windows of a psychiatric unit be blocked from natural light, but there was a thick film on all the windows on the unit. I cold tell whether it was day or night, but had no idea if it was sunny or overcast. There were also no clocks anywhere on the unit, except at the nurses’ station. It really felt like I was in prison. And I was terrified. 

I arrived on the unit after dinner so they gave me a decently tasting turkey sandwich and water. Then it was time for medications. I received my typical dose of antidepressants, an ambien so I could sleep and then a muscle relaxer. I explained I didn’t need a muscle relaxer since I was not in any pain. The nurse kept pushing it towards me. I refused, but then she handed me a Gabapentin. I told her I didn’t need that either. She wasn’t giving up as easily on that. “Take it, it will help you get better. It’s for your stress.” I was finally able to get away with just my regular meds, but was confused and alarmed by the attempt to over medicate me. I started to suspect that they preferred the patients to be somewhat sedated. It certainly looked that way

Thankfully, the Ambien did what it’s supposed to do and I slept through the night, despite the fact that the room — and, actually, the whole unit — was kept at a bone-chilling temperature. 

I woke up in the morning to a nurse who needed to draw some blood and take my vitals. I had not idea what times it was, because, no clocks. Afterwards, I went to the nurses’ desk to get my chapstick and was handed my my breakfast in a to-go container with a paper cup of cold decaf coffee. Breakfast was also cold and unappetizing. It includes a bowl of Raisin Bran, but I’m only given a plastic fork to eat it with. Great, I thought, at least I’ll lose weight while I’m here. And my toilet was still clogged.

After breakfast a nurse announced to the unit that it was time for the art activity and we would be making beaded bracelets. With nothing better to do, I followed the group to the door of the unit. A nurse stopped me and informed me that I was confined to the unit until I had been there for at least 24 hours. With a sense of dread, I realized this was really, truly prison.

There was a phone on the wall in the hallway that was for patients’ use, but I didn’t have my cell phone and I stopped memorizing phone numbers in 2005. I was feeling panicky and claustrophobic, I needed contact with the outside world. When the phone was finally free, I tried a few numbers that I thought might be my daughter’s. On the second try, I reached her….yay! She and her brothers were fine and happy to hear that I was okay. My daughter and 18 year old son were planning on coming to visit that evening during visiting hours (visitors had to be 18 or older so my 15 year old would not be able to come) and would bring me some clothes. Most importantly they said they could bring me a sports bra. I couldn’t wait until that visit! Visiting hours were 7pm to 8pm, I had no idea how I was going to make it that long.

Lunch is served, again, in a to-go container because I’m still not allowed to join my unit in the cafeteria. It’s some sort of teriyaki chicken breast with rice, but since I’m only given a plastic spoon, I’m not able to eat much.

At some point during the day, I don’t really know when because time is a tricky thing in Sequoia Unit, I meet with Dr. Sharon. He seems nice and I learn that he lives in New Mexico and commutes to the hospital each week. He seems overwhelmed and it’s not surprising considering there are 22 of us listed on the white board at the nurses’ station and he is overseeing all of our care.

I talk to him and he believes me when I tell him that I did not attempt suicide. He understands but is still concerned at my combination of Ativan and wine, telling me that it could have stopping my breathing. He’s worried that I still have access to more pills. After a few minutes of talking, he explains that this may not be the appropriate place for me and that he thinks I would be better off keeping the appointment I have scheduled for the next day with my therapist. He also tells me that it was wrong to have confined me to the unit and that after our meeting, he would release me from my unit restriction and  I would be able to meet up with the rest of the patients in my unit for “patio time.” During our conversation he kept apologizing for his pauses as he was still suffering from a migraine. Finally he said, “you really don’t belong here and I’m going to fill out your release paperwork and you can go home tomorrow at 9am.” I wanted to hug dear, sweet, overworked, migraine suffering Dr. Sharon!

Ok, I’ll stop here for today and will continue my story another day. Thanks for reading.