Sleep eluded me. Up and down. Up and down. I walked the full length of the hamster cage again and again and again watching the hour hand on the clock edge toward midnight. From one set of locked double doors past the men’s rooms on one side, around the curved employee desk, down the women’s rooms past my room by the other set of locked double doors. Back to bed. The bed was surprisingly comfortable for a three-inch mattress on a plastic bed frame bolted to the floor. Sleep would not come. Back to pacing. Up and down. Up and down. Back to bed. I repeated this pattern for hours (at times wondering if I really was crazy) and then finally surrendered.
I walked to the nurse’s station. “Hi Dana, what can I do for you?” It was the kind nurse, the new one – the one who didn’t give me the false smile that faded as soon as she turned away and the cheery Kindergarten teacher voice. No, this nurse was an angel. “I need something to help me sleep.”
This request was rare for me. I hate taking medication. But this time, the benefit outweighed the risk.
I hadn’t slept well since admission. Who knows why? The psych ward brought with it a state of constant alertness. It could have been a side effect of the new medication. It could have been that I was missing my children. It could have been the fact that I was locked in what was essentially a large room with people with known anger issues, and I was sleeping in a room that didn’t lock with a complete stranger who snored like a chainsaw felling a forest. It could have been the knowledge that I was being watched and assessed constantly as they tracked how much I ate and how much I slept. Who knows?
She smiled, scanned my armband, and handed me a pill. I winced and asked her if she had 80 more back there. I was only kind of joking. It’s the kind of thing you are not supposed to say in the psych ward. She frowned, shook her head, and said, “I have them, but I’m not going to give them to you.” She cared. I could see that she cared. She leaned over the half door, looked straight into my eyes and then through them into my soul, and implored, “Dana, hold on to what is real.”
This woman was the first person that I met who was invested. Don’t get me wrong, most of the people who worked there were kind and dedicated to their jobs. But this woman was different. This nurse made eye contact and talked not like she was trying to pass the time, but like she was trying to help. I at once had a glimpse of what mental health care should or could look like if the perception were different. If instead of treating disorders, we treated people.
My eyes were dry, but inside I wept the tears I could not shed. I swallowed the pill. Back in bed, sleep came quickly. It was the sleep of the dead: dreamless and empty.
Light The Darkness,