I should be dead … and not in a, let’s make an ironic statement kind of way … I really should be dead … and if you think typing that statement on to paper hits home … saying it out loud is ten times more potent.
Have you ever had a bully who continually follows you through every facet of your school career? They start out in elementary school stealing your lunch money, middle school they’re stealing your bike, high school they’re stealing your girl. I had one of these, Paul, he made my life a living hell from age eight to eighteen. Constantly stalking me as I got off the bus to walk home and pushing me in the bushes, hurling insults and rocks. Entire sections of my neighborhood were off limits for me to walk or ride my bike down, and the worst part was that I had a paper route and delivered to his house, so every day I would be flung off of my bike, papers destroyed, and virginity taken …. well it felt like that at least. My bully was my prison wife. It was so much like prison that he used to pass me off to other bullies in the neighborhood if he got sick or just tired of kicking my ass, so even on days when I thought I had a brief respite, not a fucking chance. I’m also pretty sure cigarettes were exchanged. Paul was awful, to the point that I’m still mentioning him now.
We’ve all been in dark places in our lives, low points in an otherwise tough life, be it from lack of money, bad life experiences, or asking a girl to marry you on the night of Sept 12, 2001 and realizing a year later that maybe this may not have been the best decision. I’m not any different, but I would like to give you some advice … don’t attempt to commit suicide … just don’t … using 75 Excedrin PM’s … because I’m still here. It was kind of weird though because after I did it and woke up the next morning I wasn’t upset that I had tried and failed, which is kind of a standard joke. Ha ha, you failed at the only thing you couldn’t fail at. Ha ha ha. No, I was just happy that I tried something new. It took 2 more attempts and 175 more Excedrin PM for me to realize that I either needed help or a gun, and there wasn’t a 2 week waiting period for help, so I checked myself into the emergency room for what would become a month long stay in the mental ward.
Now the first night in the ward is a very relaxing experience. I got a really nice night’s sleep and woke up the next morning to a nurse gently waking me up. I can however, tell you that when I opened my eyes and see the huge crux of all of my childhood anxiety, Paul, remember him, gently waking me up, I nearly pissed myself. I wasn’t in the best state to begin with and here I am, trapped in prison with the bane of my pre-teen and teen years gently waking me up. My first thought was, shit, I succeeded. My second thought was, the much worse, shit, I failed, but they decided to bring hell up to me. This is now the male nurse who will be helping me to get better. Jesus Christ. Also, this was definitely compounded by the fact that I came to realize that the kid I was scared to the point of tears of is now a fucking male nurse. I was bullied by a male nurse.
One of the biggest misconceptions about people who get checked into mental hospitals is that they are all nuts and should be treated as such. Everyone I met while inpatient was either someone who needed a leg up after a traumatic experience, someone who fell apart and broke down due to stress, or someone who just needed a break for a bit to sort themselves out. People who were in mental institutions are not social pariahs, and if you take the time to understand them, you may find something in common. So, the next time you walk by the bald guy on the street corner talking to himself while intermittently asking you for change … just keep walking, I was inside with Jimmy and he is fucking crazy. Jimmy was one of the last full lobotomies that they really ever did, and he tried so hard to be like the Indian Chief in Cuckoo’s Nest, only he wasn’t silent and when he tried to throw a chair through the window to help an escape, well let’s just say that they have better, more bouncy glass nowadays, and Jimmy knocked himself out.
You become institutionalized very quickly and start to try and become close to people that you would never be close to on the outside. And these friendships are strong and lasting, because you have something in common with someone for once. That guy who they just brought in strapped to a gurney who tried to take out two cops, three firemen, and himself, well he’s just like you, and you will find yourself having long, meaningful conversations as he struggles against his restraints because he is so happy to have someone that understands and just wants a hug. In all honesty, I said this with a joking tone, but it is so true. You find yourself identifying with the human race as a whole. The older businessman, who drives a Jaguar, who had a nervous breakdown due to the stresses of work and life, who otherwise on the outside, wouldn’t give you the time of day, drawing the most beautiful flower in art therapy class and posting it on his door like a trophy. The 16-year old heroin addict, who just sits there and shakes until they give her the next methadone treatment, but through all that pain plays a game of chess, because she’s around people who understand what it’s like to be different and need help. The mother of three who is having Electro Shock Therapy, or ECT, for the first time and, even though it is working, the fear that is in her eyes every time she has to go for another treatment is because she doesn’t always remember her kids right away when she comes out … well … that one was always rough.
However, the worst place to make lifelong friends is on the suicide ward … you mean to keep in touch, but you just don’t after you get out.
But, the best place to do arts and crafts is on the ward, you have so much free time to make whatever your heart desires … as long as it doesn’t involve scissors, string, glue, sharpened pencils, or anything sharper than a crayon. So, I guess it’s just a great place to color.
Groups are an interesting thing, they are all mandatory and vary in theme. The one I found myself in, strangely, was the addiction group. I’ve never been addicted to anything in my life, my 27 long boxes of comics, 4 bookshelves full of graphic novels, 450 video games (most of which I haven’t finished), and 1.7 Terabytes of downloaded British Television … doesn’t help my case in the least. But when it came to drugs or alcohol, well that is something I never found myself hooked on. But they put me in the group anyways. We went around the table and explained what put us in the hospital. I was in there with hardcore drug users, crack addicts, 25-year alcoholics, heroin … cocaine … someone took a page out of the 70’s and was addicted to Angel Dust. These were now my peers, my compatriots. When it got to me, I said that I didn’t know why I was in this group, I had only taken over 350 Excedrin and Tylenol PM over the course of a week … I was a suicide risk, not an addict. Everyone went silent and stared at me, I thought they were going to laugh. No one did. The person closest to me breathed in sharply looked me in the eye and said, “Wow, man … respect … I shot heroin every day for a month once, but what you did … man you should be dead … they airlifted a girl in once who took 25 Tylenol PM … just … wow …” I got a nod of disbelief from everyone else around the table that I was sitting here talking to them at all. Group was a bit different from that point on, I always got the best seat in the room, new people would be whispered to as the old guard pointed at me and shook their heads in disbelief. I was the Silverback of addiction group 101, and strangely, that feeling was … addicting.
The best thing about being inside, surprisingly, is the food. You can literally order just about anything you want to eat, as long as it is listed on the little menu cards that they give you at the beginning of the day, is able to be made by a hospital kitchen that’s used to pushing out bland food for people who can’t deal with any spices during recovery, and is mass produced for about 500 patients a day. I’m not selling it well. Okay, the best thing about it is the food that your loved ones bring you. My mother brought in a steak and cheese and pepperoni and bacon and salami and ham and BBQ sauce sub that I was seriously concerned would put me back on suicide watch. Actually, the food isn’t half bad, there’s a selection of items that you always have. Peanut butter, crackers, jelly, etc., basically everything that you would get for free on a table at Denny’s was ours to combine and make culinary masterpieces, such as peanut butter and crackers, peanut butter and jelly and crackers, and crackers (plain).
These are just a few moments out of a million that I am glad to share with anyone who wants to know more.
When I got out, I was put into an outpatient program at a well-accredited hospital to ease my transition back into the world, that didn’t necessarily feel alien, but was different nonetheless. In this program I learned a ton of techniques to help me get through the hard times that I knew were going to occur down the road, at my parent’s house … they lived down the road. There was a class titled, Challenging Automatic Negative Thoughts, which strangely, I was the first to let them know that the acronym for that class was CANT. We had another addiction group taught by a two-pack a day smoker, I mean, I’m still a danger to myself, but now I smoke as well. Once again, the people you meet here are amazing, genuine people. When you get someone stripped of all of their supposed status in the world, you get reality. In this strange locked-in world, I experienced reality for the first time in my life. Reality is scary and beautiful and strangely, a lot like high school, the outpatient hospital had lockers and alarm bells and someone always stole my lunch money.
When I got out things were still bad. So bad in, fact that, I had anxiety so bad at one point my doctor prescribed me two medications that interacted with each other and made me lose an entire week. When you are normal and lose a week of time, medical professionals call that a coma. When you are inebriated and lose a week, alcoholics call that a really bad bender. How bad was my anxiety that the doctor felt it was in my best interest to forget an entire week, and why that particular week, was he going to rob me? I never did find out the reason for it. The best thing about this was that I forgot I saw The Hot Chick with Rob Schneider, the worst thing about this is that I forgot I saw The Hot Chick with Rob Schneider and saw it the following week and it still sucked.
I learned a ton from my time in the darkness that brought me so low that I tried to end it. I learned that my liver is amazingly resilient, I learned that when you see someone at their worst, sometimes it’s their best, and I learned that even though I should be dead, without it I wouldn’t truly be alive.
Josh Poirier performs comedy in and around the Boston area and produces the show, Interesting Points, based off of British Comedy Panel shows, which gets at the heart of what makes someone interesting. Also co-produces Tight Five, an improvised stand-up show. Both of which have met with great success both from a critical standpoint and audience. Always looking at different ways to gain insight about others through comedy, he believes that everyone should take more time to better understand the people in their life, be it friend, family, or foe. You never know what you might learn