I know that the Payne Whitney psychiatric clinic was named after a man named William Payne Whitney and I know that Payne is not the same as pain but I can’t help but feel that it’s not the best idea to have a name that sounds identical to the word pain in a hospital’s name. It’s inevitable that pain will be experienced in a hospital but this is an instance where we don’t need truth in advertising.
At the Payne Whitney clinic I experienced some of the worst emotional pain of my life. I was enveloped in a cloud of intense, non-stop, relentless, all encompassing misery. I was overwhelmed with sadness, grief, fear, guilt, regret,anger, loneliness and shame. I felt hopeless, helpless and worthless. While I experienced all these intense negative emotions, I also experienced a kind of emotional numbness. I shut down emotionally as a form of defense and as a coping mechanism. I went in to zombie mode as a result of the emotional trauma I was experiencing and as a result of the side effects of the anti-psychotic medications.
I had no motivation to get better because there was no getting better as far as I was concerned. I did not deserve to get better and I was not capable of getting better. This was the end as far as I was concerned. Maybe I would spend the rest of my life in a mental hospital. Maybe I would be released from the mental hospital but if I was not imprisoned by the physical walls of a mental hospital, I would be imprisoned by the metaphorical walls of my mental illness and all the horrible mistakes I’d made. I just couldn’t see myself recovering from something like this.
A few years ago an ex-boyfriend who was angry at me had referred to me on the internet as a piece of human waste. At the time I thought it was a cruel and ridiculous thing to say but now I felt like a piece of human waste.
I’m known for my good memory but I don’t remember much about Payne Whitney. The only thing I remember about the other patients was that there were a lot of Hasidic Jewish men with hats and curls on the sides of their heads. The only interaction I remember having with any of the doctors or therapists there was when a social worker told me that during group therapy she’d seen me picking my nose. When I just shrugged it off she said “Here’s a word of advice: Look around you and observe what other people are doing. If you don’t see other people doing that you shouldn’t be doing it either.”
I have no memory of how I filled my days at Payne Whitney. I just remember the visits my mom made to me at night and a few visits from my dad as well. I remember on election night my mom teased me that Obama was going to lose by one vote. I have this memory of my dad spoon feeding me green beans. That memory doesn’t make much sense because I don’t like green beans and I’m capable of feeding myself but I suppose I was so out of it that I was having trouble lifting a spoon to my mouth and that I had become indifferent to assaults on my taste buds.
One time when my mom visited me she was so stressed out that she started having heart palpitations and asked one of the doctors to examine her. When she would try to hug me goodbye at the end of our visit a staff member would step in and say “I’m sorry, we don’t allow physical contact here.”
My mom brought a friend along on one of her visits. At the end of the visit her friend burst in to tears. “This place is so horrible and it’s so horrible seeing Kira like this” she sobbed.
At one point my mom was offered the option of signing away my rights as an adult and becoming my legal guardian but she did not do it.
I remember getting phone calls from my sister and my godmother. I remember fearing that my sister would speak harshly to me and criticize me but she just said compassionately “I understand that you’re going through a rough time right now.” I remember struggling to think of something to say to my godmother before asking her how her baby was doing. When I had first dropped out of school and my godmother was trying to talk some sense in to me I had helped bathe that infant. Now she was walking and talking.
“The doctors are having trouble diagnosing you” my mother said to me on one of her visits.
“Why don’t they diagnose me with Crazy -NOS (crazy, not otherwise specified)?” I quipped.
We both laughed.
“If you ever write a memoir, Crazy-NOS should be the title”.
At the time the idea of writing about my life seemed preposterous because I would never want to share something so shameful with the world but I agreed that if I ever did write about it I would call it Crazy-NOS.