At first glance, the psychiatric ward looked like any other hospital floor, just kind of crappier. The furniture was older and most of it was mismatched. My roommate had a side table with drawers while I only had one of those wheelie tray things they serve your meals on. On the other hand, I had a hospital bed that adjusted automatically with buttons, while hers was so old it adjusted with a weird sort of hand crank.
The ward was too nondescript and bland to feel haunted, but ghosts were everywhere. The wall above my bed was covered with bits of Scotch tape and vague, faded squares of whatever had once been displayed there. Photos? Artwork? A manifesto of some kind? Another wall was covered with doodles of interlocking triangles and arrows pointing at the centers.
By the sink, the outline of where a towel rack used to be. On the ceiling, the empty track where a privacy curtain once divided the room. The closets had both empty brackets for clothing rods and gouged-out hinges for doors. There wasn't even a toilet paper holder in the bathroom; just a weird metal cubby for the roll to sit in.
All the trash cans used paper bags instead of plastic and the only utensils in the kitchen area were plastic spoons.
I kept wondering if all those adjustments had been made before the ward became the ward, or if the dangers of plastic trash bags and toilet paper roll holders were discovered later, when the determination of a suicidal patient exceeded someone's expectations.
A very morbid thing to think about, I guess, but at the time it felt felt like a very normal thing to think about. I'd fold the hospital gown I used as a nightgown in the morning and stare at the empty brackets in the closet like, huh, yeah. That one seems pretty obvious.
There's a throwaway exchange in Lady Bird where the mother says something to her coworker on the psychiatric unit about about being attacked by a patient with a pencil, and that they're going to have to go back to only allowing felt-tip markers or crayons. It reminded me of when a fellow patient asked if she was allowed to keep a pen she found in her nightstand, or if it was considered contraband. A nurse said technically, yes, but then admitted that it was a pretty arbitrary distinction, since "you can do the same amount of damage with one of those little pencils, if you really wanted to."
My favorite spot on the ward was the row of chairs by the windows in the common room. They were the only windows that you could actually see out of, and the only place where the sunshine was allowed in. (A highly problematic setup for a patient population that could desperately benefit from some natural Vitamin D, but whatever.) I'd claim a spot first thing in the morning to read or write, and tilt my head back from time to time to feel some filtered sunshine on my face. Another girl would usually join me and roll up her sleeves and pant legs and we'd make a joke about how the staff should really be allowed to take us out for walks, preschooler-style, where we all had to hold onto a rope or something.
"No rope for the crazy people!" someone else would chime in, and we'd all laugh at our terrible gallows (badumching!) humor.
I wasn't suicidal on the ward, or having any of the thoughts or ideations that previously plagued me from time to time, but I remembered what they felt like. A desperate sort of psychic pain that eats you alive from the inside, all tinged with a heavy and doomed sense of inevitability. Simply existing no longer feels like something you can just do -- or at least isn't a commitment you can see making long-term. Eventually your fight-or-flight response goes completely haywire, and suddenly bridges or oncoming traffic or pills or rods in the closet aren't just bridges or cars or medicine or a place to hang your clothes. They're simply escape routes.
Every day I sat in that chair in the common room and grappled with the enormity of what I'd done. I scribbled on random pieces of paper and cried in front of strangers and dutifully took whatever they handed me in the little paper cups. And every day, as I strained to catch the last of the sun as it passed over the building, I felt grateful to be there, in that weird drab little room where the furniture all had rounded corners and no sharp edges and there were multiple signs begging people not to throw liquids into the paper trash bags. I was grateful because I'd escaped.