On a '5150' Hold in the Psych Ward


I didn’t know what “crazy” looked like until right now. I’m watching myself have a nervous breakdown, half-naked, in front of a mix of friends and strangers.

This isn’t good.

I’m crying and writhing around on a bed. I’m screaming and hitting myself. My fists are balled up, white with fury. I’m holding onto pills, lots of pills.

This isn’t good.

People I know and don’t know try to calm me down. I don’t listen. I just grip the pills and continue to scream and cry. I look different. I look wild. I look like a Jack that’s just popped out of its Box.

A voice says the ambulance is coming.

This isn’t good.

I wake up in the hospital. I’m tired. My brain is sizzling and my throat is splintered. I am happy. I am laughing. My best friend is here. She looks perturbed. I look at her, relieved, like “Well, I’m glad that’s over!” It’s not. She leaves and I’m left wondering why I’m here. I close my eyes.

I wake up in a small, cream-colored room. I’m sat at a table opposite two women. They are stern, wearing navy blazers, and asking me why I tried to kill myself. I’m confused. I wasn’t trying to kill myself. I was trying to make it stop. They question me for an hour. I tell them I can’t answer any more right now. I’m tired and not able to think straight. They stop and diagnose me with borderline personality disorder.

I’m taken to another room. It has a bed and a small desk. A stocky, black lady called Angela tells me to remove my clothes. I’m still confused. 

“Why?”

“You have to shower.”

“I have to go home.”

“You’re on a 5150 hold. You have to stay here for the next three days.”

“I’m not staying here. This is a fucking nut house and I’m not fucking crazy!”

“How about you shower first and we’ll talk after?” 

“I’ll shower first, then I’m going home.”

I wait for her to give me some privacy. She doesn’t. She leads me to the shower. It’s more of a wet room. The walls are lined with small, dark blue tiles. There’s no curtain. There’s nothing but a faucet. Angela stands in the corner of the room. I turn on the faucet and let the lukewarm water run over me. I stare at Angela.

“This is ridiculous.” 

She says nothing then hands me a small bar of soap. I half-heartedly rub the soap over the tops of my arms and nothing else. I will not wash my genitals in front of a stranger. I turn off the water. Angela hands me a towel. I dry off and we return to my room.

There’s a hospital gown on my bed. This is what I wear now. This is my uniform. I put it on and begin to cry. Crying turns into screaming. I want out. I’m not crazy. I’m normal and I want to go home. 

A short, white lady with red hair comes into the room. She tells me her name is Nina and hands me two pills. Ativan. I swallow the pills and continue to cry. Nina leaves, and I turn to Angela. 

“Where am I? Why am I here?”

“You’re in a psych ward. You’re on an involuntary psychiatric hold because you’ve been deemed a danger to yourself on account of you attempting suicide.

“I wasn’t trying to kill myself! I don’t know what I was trying to do. My brain was melting out of my fucking ears. I was trying to save myself.

I cry harder. After a few minutes, the Ativan takes hold. My tears come to an abrupt stop. I don’t know what time it is, but it’s dark now. The only light is the light coming from the hallway that shines through my always-open door. Angela is reading a trashy magazine. I stare at her. I study her face. She must be in her early 40s. She looks like she’s seen some shit.

“So what, you just going to watch me sleep?”

“Yes.”

“This is what you’re going to do for three days?”

“No, someone else will take over from me in the morning.”

I realize I don’t know what day it is. Angela goes back to reading her magazine and, in that moment, I hate her. I hate her for no reason other than she’s the only one here and I’ve maxed out on hating myself. I glare at her as she turns the pages of her gossip rag. Who does she think she is? Keeping watch over me? I lie down on the bed and turn to face the wall away from her. 

My body is heavy with fatigue. I feel myself sinking but my mind is fighting the Ativan and wins. A deluge of anxiety and despair hits me. I hear the frantic wails of other patients. My throat tightens. I can only hear static, static from hundreds of televisions at top volume. I scream a silent scream. My mind collapses on itself. I go to throw myself on the floor but Angela catches me. She’s on the bed. She’s holding me.

“Get off me!” 

She holds me.

“GET OFF ME!”

She holds me.

“GET YOUR FUCKING HANDS OFF ME!”

She holds me. 

Everything is so loud. The static. The screams. My skull feels as if it’s about to explode and just like that, it stops. Silence. Angela is still holding me and I hold her back. I’m exhausted. I feel my body slipping away from me. I cling to Angela for dear life. There’s a rush of hands on me now. They’re pushing me down and giving me Ativan. I scramble to get back to Angela but there are too many hands, and the pills are taking hold. My vision blurs. I flail my arms one last time, but I’ve lost her.

You can follow Amanda Rosenberg on Twitter @AmandaRosenberg.

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