Depressed is an overused term. I could remember all of the times high school students used the word whenever their favorite television program would end, or, even worse, their favorite latte syrup discontinued after the holiday season. Few can understand depression’s grip on a person’s life. I did, though.
My thoughts wandered as I stared off in the hollow space that filled my personal jail space. I suppose a hospital administrator believed that white painted walls gave patients a feeling of cleanliness and peace. For me, these walls only echoed the blank state my future was headed in. The television screen broadcasted melodramatic telenovelas as the mission staff — my new babysitters — rotated shifts. We stuck to small talk, often stopped by the countless disruptions of medical staff, or my sporadic naps.
One afternoon, an unexpected visitor confidently walked in my room with a yellow legal pad in hand and gently requested everyone to leave. The tall, slender woman had long, straight black hair pulled back with a pair of chopsticks and appeared to be in her mid-forties. She wore black business attire with hints of burnt red to match the chopsticks in her hair. She extended her hand, introducing herself as the hospital’s psychiatrist. My eyes widened at the word “psychiatrist,” quickly writing her off as a doctor for crazy people. I was not crazy. I wanted to ask her to leave, but in prison I had no option. I knew that she was there to ask personal questions to me, so in a matter of seconds, I had to begin my internal assessment:
“How honest should I be?”
“If I give her too much information, will I be sent to a psych ward for the rest of my life?”
“And if I am honest, how much medication will she put me on?”
“And if I am honest, how much medication will she put me on?”
I already knew the hospital placed me on a psychotropic. I became uncertain as to whether I was thinking clearer or slowly losing my mind. So I made the necessary decision from my assessment:
“I’ll hide any unnecessary information from her.”
My muscles tightened as I watched my temporary sitters walk out of the room. She started by asking me about what had occurred on the night of the overdose. She wanted to know what I heard and why I tried to commit suicide. In agony, I wanted to scream, “It wasn’t my fault! It wasn’t my fault!” But the words did not come out. I cleared my throat and mumbled, “I heard a man tell me to take the medication, so I did.” The psychiatrist took notes while simultaneously nodding and letting out an occasional, drawn out “Mmm…” as I revealed tidbits of information here and there about the recent attempt on my life.
“How long have you been depressed?” she questioned with a Costa-Rican accent. I was grateful that our verbal exchange was not in Spanish. My limited Spanish would not have allowed to me to fully indulge my inner thought processes, nor did I have the mental energy to do so.
“How long?” I tried buying time by repeating her question, in hopes of avoiding the conversation.
“Yes, how long?” She nodded and smiled slightly as she passed the question back in my direction.
I loathed mental health professionals. They psychoanalyzed every word as if they had the key to a person’s inner soul. In my opinion, doctoral degrees held little value. Instead, people like us, the broken ones, were the ones who held true to our feelings and thus also held the keys to why certain actions were taken. We took action based on our beliefs, even if that meant swallowing a bottle of pills.
The silence sat between us as she waited for a verbal response.
“The depression started my senior year in high school.” As soon I said the first word, I regretted it, but one sentence led to the next until I finally disclosed my sexual orientation. “I’m gay. And I hate it.” The discussion on sexuality was brief. Desperation overtook my heart as I silently prayed she would have the answers to fix me. Reorienting my sexuality was the only way to make my depression and suicidal ideations stop. Instead, our conversation immediately changed topics. She drove the discussion and I sat there, merely as a captured passenger.
Reorienting my sexuality was the only way to make my depression and suicidal ideations stop.
My mind wandered as the psychiatrist drew small images on her legal pad, discussing the cause of depression—a network of different chemicals going to random body parts or organs. Why was she trying to explain this to me? I could only conclude my brain chemicals had a rave, stopped working and passed out somewhere in my head, and I ultimately ended up here. Apparently, those dopa-sero-neo-nothings laid stagnant inside my brain. Or maybe, those dopamine’s caused a ruckus like teenagers running loose in the city, while their parents slept the night away. She may as well have been speaking in Spanish with all of her fancy medical terms, because I couldn’t understand the language the psychiatrist used.
I questioned the medical legitimacy regarding mental illness. Could medication be an answer to regulate what seemed to me to be a lot of mixed theories? How is it humanly possible to really know what is happening on this micro-level inside a person’s mind? Why couldn't they just pull out a few test tubes of brain fluids to measure those dopa-sero-neo-whatevers like they test river water for contamination? More importantly, her theories didn’t offer me any solution to my sexual orientation. The commander was right; we, the flamboyant ones, will all be damned to hell.
The psychiatrist ordered an EEG—a harmless test to measure the electrical activity of the brain. A nursing assistant disconnected the wires attached to my chest. The electrocardiogram started to beep and the assistant quickly turned it off. The colorful wires would have to wait until I returned. The nursing assistant guided Jacob, one of the rotating babysitters, and I to the imaging offices. Jacob pushed me down the corridor away from my prison cell and made small talk while the nursing assistant guided us to our destination. Jacob tried to engage me to ease the uncomfortable journey down the plain corridors. I mumbled something and he didn’t like that. He never liked my mumbling.
“Nate… Stop mumbling!”
The smirk on my face was a flashback to his continuous frustration over my inability to enunciate, especially when I was overtired which could be at any point of the day. It lightened the emotional ride down the breezy corridors.
The nursing assistant left us with another hospital worker. She spoke a few words in English to explain what would happen. I took a deep breath and nodded at the end of the instructions. She began to strategically place gelled electrode tabs on my scalp, then connected wires to the tabs, pushing me to become the psychiatric patient I was doomed to become. Jacob commented on the craziness of my spiking hair, and I smirked, trying to relax my muscles as the technician gave me further instructions. I breathed at different rates, looked into flashing lights, and eventually fell asleep at some point.
I woke to the technician disconnecting the wires and removing the gelled tabs. Jacob grabbed my arm and helping me back into the wheelchair. Obscure, unreal lights flashed in the horizon as a constant reminder of what just occurred. Gel spots left residue on my scalp as bits of my wild, untamed hair flowed as I was wheeled through the corridor. I rested my head on my hand, seeking to hide my face from being seen. I was just the latest nutcase in a long line of many in this hospital. A previous, short-term hospital job reminded me that hospital personnel usually grew curious as to why patients are admitted, regardless of whether a patient was in their care or not. I, for one, did not want to be an easy read for those who passed by.
The short journey exhausted me, so I napped after washing the gel out of my shaggy mane. The psychiatrist showed back up at some point during the day. She celebrated that the EEG showed no damage to my brain. Lucky for her. I’m sure she had less paperwork to complete. For me, if my brain functioned normally, then could the faceless commander actually be real? I kept the question to myself. Unfortunately, Lexapro and Zyprexa became my new pill friends to help the dopa-sero-neo-nothings pump themselves into normal action instead of their extended after-party hangover. After a brief conversation, she left me to walk into the hallway to briefly update Hope about her findings. Then as Hope re-entered the room, Jacob exited to return to the mission base.
The machine monitoring my heart hollowly beeped matching my lost cry to fix my sexual orientation.
Hope smiled as she tried to affirm what the psychiatrist conveyed to me. There is nothing wrong with mental health medications. She took a small dosage herself. A daily dosage could be likened to a daily vitamin. I breathed deeply, trying to reorganize the stigma I had against psychotropic pills.
Somehow, the conversation steered toward the issue of sexuality. The psychiatrist noted to Hope that today’s culture allows youth to rebel by declaring their homosexual orientation like one excessively drinks, smokes, or is sexually promiscuous. It’s an attention-seeking act which we, the youth, pushed onto society. I knew Hope did not necessarily believe all of this because her brother once lived in the gay lifestyle. The machine monitoring my heart hollowly beeped matching my lost cry to fix my sexual orientation. I reminded myself that a suicide attempt, at least mine, stems from a deep, unrelenting self-hatred, not a youthful rebellion suggested by the psychiatrist. Yet, here I was, trying to sustain some kind of physical reality and emotional stability, despite the rebellious state, the psychiatrist believed, I put myself in.
Her attempt to explain sexual orientation was more life-condemning than life-giving. I began to retrace every confusing memory around my sexuality from my childhood to now in rhythm of fluids flowing from an IV into my right arm.