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“So, baby, I will wait for you
‘Cause I don’t know what else I can do
Don’t tell me I ran out of time
If it takes the rest of my life
Baby, I will wait for you
If you think I’m fine it just ain’t true
I really need you in my life
No matter what I have to do
I’ll wait for you…”
I am a desperate survivalist,
feasting on the dead flesh of my ancestor’s bones
and quenching my thirst with the blood of my crushed enemies.
My envy gives me such an appetite for a stronger taste of satisfaction and victory,
that I salivate at the thought of conquering these deepest of desires.
My passionate demons ignite a flame that yearns for a devilish thrill,
so like a ravenous beast I take what I claim
and clothe myself in royal garments woven by the hands of my own greed.
If ever I am worthy of sympathy or praise,
it is when I am in a battle of wits amongst fellow vultures and thieves.
I have never known another path,
another method in which to sustain myself.
As time escapes my grasp I trudge along with fear as my constant companion.
The beautiful dream I tried to reach are like deceitful stars–
so magnificent from afar but up close like a furious wrath I would not survive.
Like my burning desires they do not show compassion for weakness,
they only beckon like the taunting of more powerful foes,
showing no mercy or forgiveness.
By the time I arrived in L.A. my mind was already chipping away by a gnawing belief that the world around me was folding me into a dimension that only I could be receptive to. The process of losing myself in a maze of imaginary worlds was like taking a journey into the farthest depths of the universe. I was a pioneer venturing into foreign territory; a hero realizing her true potential; the discoverer of worlds unseen; a student being tested by the most powerful masters. Within the boundaries of my imagination, there were no boundaries. Every thought or belief I ever had became true to me. I was no longer – and in fact, never was – just an insignificant observer moving through the currents of time. I played an important role in the universe I created in my mind, and though there are discrepancies in the intricacies of my “supernatural” experience, one thing was clear: I was the sun and orbiting me were my stories.
My “stories” were more than just a recount of events. Every thought was an unveiling of hidden truth and every voice an encounter with a spiritual entity. To put it into perspective: it is known that personal memories are known to have a bigger impact on one’s life than stories read in a book or told by someone else. Especially when something traumatic happens, the memories shape and mold every aspect of that person’s being. The voices I heard from invisible strangers, male and female, and random sounds – from drilling to piercing screeches – were as substantial to me as the air we breathe. Belief puts the believer on a different level of reality. The believer senses the world differently than a rational person. We become sensitive to our surroundings and our conclusions are based on what we want to believe rather than what we should. Every moment of laughter, sorrow and fear shared with my imaginary companions was like moments shared between soldiers in a war zone. Though the memories can be painful and distressing, there is a sense of burning nostalgia. Although the path of mental illness is winding and treacherous, the journey, at times, was enthralling. The ability or disability to forget all rationality and blur the lines between reality and fantasy was, at the time, rife with creative inspiration and spiritual epiphanies. In the aftermath of these events, I felt as if I had traveled the universe without ever leaving my bed. It was almost a blessing in disguise because after everything I endured, there was a certain beauty to such a unique outlook on life. I had found a friend in an enemy and that enemy was me.
I was in middle school when I first came across the term schizophrenia. I don’t remember where I was when I learned of it but I found an interest in psychology early in life because I related to symptoms of depression and ADHD and was fascinated by the plethora of information online about the varieties of peculiar mental disorders that have been documented throughout history. Some of them seemed exotic to me; other worldly, even romantic. After seeing the movie “A Beautiful Mind”, I was captivated by the idea that there were people out there who experienced such warped realities. Later on, critics of the movie dampened my enthusiasm, claiming that the story was exaggerated for cinematic thrill and I quickly fell in line with them. How is it possible to imagine people into physical reality? I thought skeptically. It seemed that doctors and the public were being duped by manipulative attention-seekers.
Yet in 2009, fresh out of a break-up and a secret rape that occurred in a New York City hospital, I began a new life in California that I felt ready for. However, this readiness was not my inner strength leading me to an improved lifestyle, but the manic thoughts of a person about to be thrown into a torrent of psychiatric mayhem.
I didn’t know it at the time, but I was showing symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder on the heels of a sexual assault by a black female staff member at Elmhurst Hospital in New York City. Combined with my bipolar disorder and anorexia, it proved to be a dangerous buildup towards an emotional explosion of volcanic proportions.
I arrived in Los Angeles, California on a late winter day and it was not a happy occasion, even though I had not seen my parents in 6 years and the sun was giving off that perfect California shine. So many thoughts were racing through my mind but my parents didn’t notice when they picked me up at the airport. They were excited to have their only daughter back home. They didn’t see it yet, but inside my brain there was a storm brewing and unfortunately, my parents would witness it first hand.
It was an unusually humid spring day in the year of 2015 when I arrived at a New York City mental hospital for about the twenty-fifth time in my life. It was a bumpy ride in the ambulance and the paramedic looked at me with distant sympathy in his eyes as he asked me basic health questions which was a formality I was all too familiar with.
Once I arrived though, the paramedic and his ambulance did not stay longer than it took to fill out a couple of forms in the bustling emergency room. I noticed how easily the paramedics had slipped away, probably already forgetting my face on their way to their next emergency. I felt hot and sticky and it smelled like the food an older gentleman sitting too close to me was eating out of a styrofoam container; balancing it in one hand and maneuvering the fork into his mouth with the other.
I didn’t wait long until a nurse escorted me through the long, brightly lit hallways into a triage room where a few patients were already waiting to be evaluated. A nurse handed me a blue shirt and pants made out of paper and directed me to change into them. They were one size fits all, and stiffly bulged over my body. There were several small, unoccupied rooms which held vinyl chairs that doubled as recliners. I fell into a fully reclined chair and laid on my stomach, the chair fabric sticking to my cheek as I quietly sobbed myself to sleep. The ativan had kicked in.
I was groggy when I arrived at my destination on the fifth floor. The doctors called the unit Snapper 5 and it made me think of the snapper fish which bite at anything it comes in contact with. I wondered if that’s what they were referring to and I felt a bit offended and ashamed to think that when doctors saw me, they didn’t see an individual going through complicated emotions, just one inconspicuous fish like all the others.
There is never peace in the psychiatric units of hospitals. Being that I have been in so many in New York City and Los Angeles, California, I always expected at least one patient to be as overly obnoxious as they are aggressive. I’ve learned that there are never absolutes in life, just a spectrum of bad and worse, and hospitals were no different. Years ago, I witnessed a patient who was completely strapped to a bed, screaming and wailing as if an evil spirit was inside of her. Then in a few hours, she would be sitting at the dining table, mumbling incoherently yet happily to a supervising nurse who smiled and treated this middle-aged woman like an unknowing child. Then there was the roommate who constantly spit on the floor, which was worse to me than the screaming woman and had me begging the staff to change my room.
Fortunately, this was one of those hospital visits that I will easily forget, diluting with the rest of my memories. I don’t want to remember hospitals, because hospitals never bring good memories.
I went to my initial appointment at Snapper 5 sometime during the afternoon. The only clock in the whole unit was in the staff office and I realized that following it too closely made the time go slower. My only goal was to be released from the hospital where they kept patients like criminals, heavily locked behind metal doors as if we were on the same level as Charles Manson; maybe some of us were. The only difference between a psychiatric hospital and a prison was the freedom to roam into the dining and recreational rooms, which actually only gave the illusion of freedom. I still felt desperately trapped, almost claustrophobic behind the thick hospital walls. My only sanctuary a room I shared with a large hispanic woman who snored too loudly and kept me awake at night.
I sat in the quiet office across from a woman who was facing away from me and typing at the computer. She asked me pages of questions about my allergies, family history of health problems, past surgeries, emergency contact – which I gave them my ex-boyfriend’s information since his is the only one I have memorized. Not even my parents have that privilege. Then when they got to the question of whether I have any physical or sexual abuse in the past, I lied and said no. It was none of their business and I didn’t feel like rehashing those memories. It would only reopen a wound that ironically happened in such similar circumstances as this one.
I was hoping to leave in a week, but they kept me longer. They had about 8 books and a TV stuck on a channel I didn’t like. The highlight of my stay was when my roommate smuggled in two cigarettes for me and her. Having not smoked in over a week, it felt good to inhale one and feel that light-headed sensation. After the cigarettes were flushed down the toilet, my roommate very expertly doused herself and me with cheap body spray.
It took two weeks for me to finally be released from the hospital and my newly found freedom felt amazing. To this day, no matter how bad my life gets, I think back to my hospital imprisonments and appreciate the simple ability of going outside in the fresh air and sunlight. However, it didn’t take long for me to realize that I had no place to go. When my ex-boyfriend wasn’t ignoring my calls, every conversation we would have ended with me crying and pleading with him to take me back. He confirmed my worst fears: it’s over. As much as I didn’t agree with ending the relationship, I understood his reasoning. We both knew a while ago that it was going to end, we just didn’t know how or when.
He was old enough to be my father, but it was in spite of or maybe even because of that age difference that we got along so well. We were, as the saying goes, like magnets, opposites attracting to each other. His harsh and aggressive personality that can only come from being born in Israel and growing up in New York City was attractive to me, as I was lacking in what he had plenty of – confidence, experience and knowledge. If he was ever unsure of anything in this world, I wouldn’t know it, because there was never a time when Aaron was vulnerable or not in control of everything in his life, at least, that’s the way I saw him. He was an inch shorter than me, and one could not tell where he was from just by looking at him, but the power in his presence was obvious to everyone. I had basked in the warm glow of his protection and guidance for half of my life, the fact that we were officially over, felt like losing a limb.
Aaron was still so angry from our last fight that he refused to let me come back home. I felt so alone and hurt; shocked that I had not only lost the one that I loved, but also the home I knew for 12 years. So with only one carry on suitcase full of clothes, I took a taxicab to a homeless shelter.