Thursday, February 6, 2020

Exorcising A Ghost

I started this post back in August of last year. I have a bunch of draft posts, 18 in fact (well, 17 now, assuming I actually publish this now). I get different ideas at different times and when things happen or I feel a certain way. Certainly, some will never see the light of day. I guess that's how the blogging process goes. And this preamble is just my way of saying this is hard to write but feels necessary so that I can move on. Maybe. I hope so.

When I started the draft of this post, I captured just a few words and intended to fill them in with details and fully-formed thoughts. The first words were "movies about mental facilities....are bullshit. if there's a happy ending, the movie is bullshit."

This morning, I awoke around 2 AM. By thunder. It scared me and I'm never scared by thunder. Same thing again near 4. I laid in bed for a few minutes, thinking about how odd it is that I feel afraid of the thunder. One thing I've learned is that if I'm worried about something or thinking negative thoughts, laying there isn't the best thing to do. Negative thoughts are often just borne out of something controllable, like breakfast. Eating breakfast can cure negative thinking. Did you know that? I didn't until relatively recently.

Anyway, I decided to get up, about 45 minutes ago now. It's almost 5 AM as I type this. I can afford to be up since I'm not working today. Otherwise, this would be scary in terms of the amount of rest I'm not yet getting. Gosh, I am rambling and I apologize for that. Unlike movies about mental facilities, a happy ending at the end of this post will not be, again I hope, bullshit. I hope you can stay with me as I ramble.

Things happen for a reason, and as The Fixx sang, one thing leads to another. To fill the time when I'm not working and generally can't engage in many activities for a variety of reasons, I watch TV and movies. I know that's probably bad but it gets me through for now. I'm biding my time as I may have alluded to before. So I recently watched The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel on Amazon. Someday I want to write about that; I enjoyed it so.

Mrs. Maisel lead me to watch the older show Monk because it also stars Tony Shaloub, whom I remember from WAY back on the show Wings. Again, rambling. I'm just on season 1, and an early episode has Monk getting checked into a psychiatric hospital for 48-hour observation after he walked into his dead wife's old home absent-mindedly and got arrested. It's a long story; watch the show if you want to know more. It's not pertinent here other than the fact he winds up in this hospital.

I haven't watched it all yet, and I'm sure he gets out of the hospital at the end and goes on with his oddly eccentric life. No real worry there. But as it goes along, he's actually being set up to be crazier (I don't like this word but I use it because we understand it) than he is by the bad guys. Monk suffers after his wife was murdered. That'd make anyone crazy. And since I like the character, I do not like that he's being set up. Because that means he has to stay longer in this place.

I've been in such a place.

I've been in such a place and that's hard to admit. That period I just typed was REALLY a pause. I've slowed down typing as I'm unsure I want to continue this. And now I pick up the pace again because for some reason, a happy ending as it were, I felt to need to write this at 5 AM on a night where I don't need to sleep because suddenly I was afraid of the thunder. Which is still rumbling outside. I'm no longer afraid. I think I know why I woke up. You know why, also. Blame/credit The Fixx.

It's not a true and factual statement that movies about mental hospitals are bullshit if they have a happy ending. The day I wrote that in August, I recall being agitated by the premise of a movie I had just watched. The very first draft of this post included a listing of a few movies that are along the same theme, including Girl, Interrupted and Barefoot, not to mention one of my favorites that I never have quite gotten over, One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest, but in my recall, I think what started this post in August was called It's Kind Of A Funny Story.

This is a blurb about that movie that I grabbed from the internets at the time:

"You wouldn’t think a movie set in a mental health hospital could be a comedy. However, this well-crafted film tells the story of 16-year-old Craig (Keir Gilchrist) who checks himself into a psychiatric ward because of his depression and suicidal ideation. He ends up staying in the adult unit because the youth wing is under renovation. The hospital is not a scary place and the patients are not portrayed as “mad” or “insane”—it’s a safe place where people struggling are getting help, and using humor as a relief from the serious conditions that brought them there. This Hollywood approach to a psychiatric unit may be more comical than any real-life scenario, but it helps normalize the fact that sometimes people need this level of care."

In the interests of not making anyone else crazy, I'm not going to discuss that movie or any of the others directly. Also partly because I'm bad at remembering movie details and I more remember feelings. I'm haunted by my own brief (it didn't feel at all brief at the time) experience, and this is an attempt to exorcise the ghosts. If only there was someone I could call to get rid of ghosts. Any ideas?? (bad Ghostbusters joke there, I apologize).

How'd I wind up in such a place, you might ask. I don't know that I'm necessarily sane, but I'm encouraged by the fact I might not be that crazy (I'm using this word a lot, considering its one I don't like. But I don't have time to go into clinical evaluations). Here goes with the answer to the question:

I voluntarily let myself be taken to a psychiatric evaluation center because I was worried I was going to harm myself after my anxiety and depression got way, way out of control.

That's it. Other than waking up many nights shaking and crying and unable to rest and being out of control in ways I cannot find the words to properly convey (some writer, eh?), I didn't do anything that bad. I would have to ask my wife which year this was, 2016 or 2017, because I can't remember. The whole period is sort of a blur and I mostly block bad stuff but I can't block this other than forget what year it was.

This is where the happy ending starts to take shape, actually. I just realized that, unlike that night where I woke up around the same time as I have tonight, tonight I am writing rationally about my feelings, instead of being so out of control emotionally that my wife did not know anything else to do than take me to the local hospital, leading to the little "vacation" I am struggling to write about.

Ok, (sorta) quickly. We go to the normal ER in the early early morning, and I'm there for hours and hours as is typical for any ER visit. The same day, by mid-afternoon, I think, I see a doctor who asks whether I need help, and do I feel like I could hurt myself. By this point, I'm very tired and maybe slept some while there? but I am still very agitated. Most people, I hope, don't know what happens if you say you need help and that you might want to hurt yourself. I said yes to both questions.

The hospital then goes into its protocol, making arrangements for me to go on a "72-hour hold". They have to find a place nearby where I can go that has a bed open. I'm put in a hospital gown, my freedom surrendered. My wife stays with me, but I can't be on my phone or anything normal. More hours pass. Late in the evening, a Friday, I'm taken by ambulance to the evaluation center, or whatever it's called. Mental facility. My wife was not allowed to accompany me there. Scary shit, I tell ya.

I'm dropped off in this place, it's dark and late at night, and I sit in this tiny room until they are ready for me. I'm given some shitty food and eat a little. I'm brought inside while they process the paperwork. I sit in my hospital gown on a wooden chair for what seems like forever, then am lead to a room with 4 beds. I'm probably given a sedative and fall asleep in a room with three other men.

Movies about mental facilities ARE bullshit because I don't think they accurately illustrate the fear involved when a patient is actually mostly in their right mind, as I turned out to be. What they tell you there is, just get through it, go to the little group sessions, meet with the psychiatrist, take some meds and you'll leave in 72 hours. 72 hours is three (3) days. Since I checked in late on a Friday, my stay turned into almost 5 days because of the weekend. And immediately, being in my right mind, thoughts go to one thing: getting the hell out of there.

When you agree to be taken to get this "help" you don't realize that it's basically a prison. I had very little dignity, at least until my wife could bring me some real clothes the next day (shoes with no shoelaces and all that jazz). You see people that have real troubles. You realize, "I'm not that bad off, others have it worse."

This facility was a temporary place. People with depression, anger issues, and that sort were mostly who were there. I remember there were a couple guys who weren't so much in their right minds and get shuttled in and out of these places continuously. I remember one handsome young guy, great personality, nice kid. I saw his wrists all scarred up where he had slit them. Stuff like that. An attractive younger lady was there because of her drinking, I believe it was.

There was a guy there with a prosthetic leg that I talked to a bunch. He was a character. I remember him telling me his story: I think he'd tried to take himself out with pills. He told me he had a dog that he'd take with him to a restaurant and the owner would feed the dog meatballs. There was a lot of humanity, and human suffering, all around me. It was not a good time. And it has stayed with me, probably forever.

The stuff you see in the movies and TV, it's kinda accurate, but kinda not really accurate. Every place is different, I suppose, and some might be better than others. I have to remember I was basically in a holding tank to make sure I wasn't going to harm myself before I could get REAL help. I guess the thing that bothers me about the Hollywood portrayals is that, for my experience, they really can't capture the feeling of really being there.

And so often, the patients are portrayed even worse. Real people with real problems are in these places. A lot of people can't help having mental conditions and no one should make light of that. The thing that pisses me off about Cuckoo's Nest is that in the end, they fucked up McMurphy. They took his light away. He treated others like people until they made him not a person anymore. That haunted me before my little "experience" and it haunts me now.

Seeing Monk get railroaded this morning, even though when I take it off pause in a few minutes things will turn out fine, it made me feel almost claustrophobic. I was simply a trans person who didn't know it yet reeling from an earlier job loss and coping badly with a new job that was going terribly. I had no coping skills. My hormones were not right and I couldn't think properly. I didn't know it then, but I'm ok. I am.

I don't know how to end this post, but maybe that's the point I should be making. The ending, unless you aren't in your right mind, as many souls are not, is more up to us than we realize. My story going forward NEEDED to have this pain exorcised. I can't hold it forever. I don't even know if all I wrote here makes good sense, but it's what I have to get rid of. I am hopeful that this writing helps me to move on, and keep the lessons learned. I hope someone who is distraught reads this and it helps them in some way. Those things would definitely be happy endings, and definitely not bullshit.

Thanks for reading.


  1. Hang in there babe. We all love you.

  2. A truly poignant and insightful posting Shannyn. Life is tough enough as it is, and dealing with issues of depression, anxiety and self introspection certainly adds an element of uncertainty to one's ride on this roller coaster of Life. Blogging or journaling is a great method of coping and understanding one's self, I know as I've done the same during tumultuous times in my life as well. Just know, you are not alone and others, friends and strangers (and even strange friends) care about you. Hold on to what keeps you together.


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