Unfinished Letters From the Most Popular Kid in the Psych Ward

To Arbour Psychiatric Hospital:

Had my brain waited six months to collapse, I would have read the news articles about the number of facilities in your network that had to be shut down, about the number of untrained staff you had, the lack of staff overall, about your record profits for a non-acute hospital, or about the sexual assaults. I never would have allowed them to bring me to you. Instead, I was left with a cousin, who had also been trapped in one of your disgusting halls, screaming at my biological father to get me out of you.

To my twelve white roommates who called 911 when I was in crisis without notifying me:

What if the cops had shown up first? Instead? What if they killed me? You didn’t even think about that. It was always about your safety (from me) first. I can’t imagine the torment it must have caused you when my mind stretched like elastic, when I could only talk in circles, when it never actually felt like I was fully asleep. Look, I know you tried. I threw a glass of juice at a wall, not at our roommate. You didn’t know what else to do. I was angry because one of you wouldn’t call the one person I trusted, who is also black. I was angry because my phone was bricked and I deactivated my Facebook account. I was angry because our roommate, the one I threw the glass past,  wouldn’t explain why she wouldn’t contact him, just said she wouldn’t call. I did not want to hurt her, and or anyone. All of you were too busy trying to figure out what was best for me without ever actually asking me. I threw the glass past her. It was disturbing, and I am sorry, but that was frustration, not a threat. She was a foot away from me. I had been a shattered person for almost a week by that point. It was Easter, I remember.

To the all-black EMT squad that responded to the call:

I have never seen anything as magnificent as you, before or since. When you arrived, I was in my room calming myself down, alone. It was the first real clarity I had felt in a week, and then you showed up. I shook every one of your hands and introduced myself, and apologized that your time was being wasted. You told my roommates that if you removed me from the house it would be kidnapping, and maybe if I was more aware of what had been happening inside me, I would have asked for a psych eval. Thank you. You were water.

To the friend I trusted, who arrived the next day:

Thank you for doing something that I know was hard for you, for holding my hand, even though we had been fighting for months. Thank you for talking calmly to me, and telling me that you were concerned. I had never experienced anything like this, and it was terrifying. I’m grateful that you checked my insurance before taking me to the hospital for an evaluation, and for sitting with me while it was conducted.

To the woman at the hospital who did the evaluation:

When I said I didn’t think group therapy was going to help me in my current state, I meant it. I don’t know why you refused to listen.

To the staff of the outpatient facility:

No one explained what the group was for — why that assemblage of people were in the same room. There was the white man who got red in the face yelling that he hated “recruiters” and the mother from Roxbury grieving her murdered son. It was too much, so I left the halfway through the first day. When I came back the second day, I brought my oldest friend, who flew across the country to be with me. You instructed me to stay in the waiting room. You took her somewhere. I don’t know how much time passed. I went looking for her. When I didn’t find her, I sat back down. You called me into another room, and within five minutes, I was strapped to a gurney in the back of an ambulance being taken to a psych hospital that was a ten-minute walk away.

To J, my oldest friend:

Isn’t it just like a woman of color to fly from California to show up my white “friends” who wouldn’t walk three blocks?

To Arbour Psychiatric Hospital:

The lithium made me incapable of walking steady, made me hear roaring crowds outside the hospital, made me scream in bed. I put a golf pencil in a cupcake, and said something incoherent about a puzzle before you sent me to your most intensive unit. A tiny, weasel-looking man said he didn’t like the way I was looking at him. He called me “nigga,” slapped my hand and nobody did shit about it, even though I was standing directly in front of the nurse’s station.

One of the nurses thought bringing her glasses down the bridge of her nose would convince us to behave. The first time I refused the cup full of meds, she tried that trick. It didn’t work. I demanded to know why there were so many pills, and one nurse scolded, “You know what they are.” I knew I was prescribed lithium, that’s one drug — not Ativan, not Risperidal, not children’s Benadryl. I knew you were drugging me to knock me out because I wouldn’t stop walking up and down the hallway, because there was literally nothing else to do except maybe drool on the TV screen sometimes. I knew I had the right to refuse. I didn’t know I would spend the better part of a month feeling trapped in the hospital because I was “oppositional.” Did you know there were at least seven days that I slept on a flame retardant mattress with no sheets, blanket or pillow? I’m not sure how you charged me thousands of dollars, which took me years to pay off.

To the hospital psychiatrist:

Why didn’t you ask about trauma? You just played guessing games, flipping a coin between schizophrenia and bipolar. I knew what the lithium was doing to me. You did, too. Why did you wait two weeks to ask the question: you know why you’re here, right? I said yes. But you were asking something more specific because I couldn’t sleep, or even because, at 3 am, I thought an radio infomercial sounded like my dead dad and dead uncle playing the dozens on the medical industry. They both died before reaching fifty. That’s why I told you I worried that meds only treated one symptom and created fifteen new ones.

You said I pulled a knife on someone.

I asked: when did that happen? You offered: at group therapy. I still don’t understand that story. I asked: were there any more notes about the incident? You said no. I asked where the knife was, because if I pulled a knife on someone in a psych facility, wouldn’t there be evidence? Wouldn’t I have been restrained? Why didn’t you have answers for any of those questions?

To my twelve white roommates:

Five of you visited and brought me clothes and pizza. Thank you.

To my cousin:

You loved me in the blackest way, which is to say, in defiance of the trauma this place caused you — braiding my hair and re-telling Dave Chappelle jokes to make me laugh. I loved your love. I laughed.

To B & G:

Thank you for driving up every weekend from Providence to see me. My mom and brother were geographically closer, but they didn’t come up once. My brother didn’t even call.

To B’s Omi:

It’s the small things. You came to my house the day after Easter to check on me, showed me the photos in your purse, told me how the Nazis took your father, let me know that grief is immortal with your tears.

Before any of that, the first day I was allowed visitors, you brought me candy and clean underwear. You are still the only person who came to hell to tell me “They feed you, you have a bed, it’s not so bad” — and that I did not belong there.

To Northeastern University:

When I went to email one of my professors, after repeated pleas to contact someone there, my hospital social worker fell asleep at her desk, which is nothing compared to your slumber. I still can’t grasp how you revoked my teaching assistant-ship, even though I came back with documentation, and I explained that I could not afford to continue grad school without it. I had already received a stern talking to for trying to balance activism and education.

I don’t think you would have done this if I were white. If I had been in a car accident, or had cancer, I know you would not have done this. I’m still not sure it was legal, but chose not to fight you because I have never had money to pay for a lawyer, and I’m sure your Raytheon funding would have protected you either way. I am grateful not to have one of your diplomas.

To the Genius Bar employee who attempted to un-brick my phone:

It was maybe two weeks after I was released. You probably don’t remember, but you spent twenty to thirty minutes trying to fix it, and finally threw up your hands. You suggested that the only possible reason it was frozen was because too many people had been trying to hack into it at the same time.

To my roommates:

I told y’all the feds were watching.

To Depakote:

Thank you for slowing my thought pattern some, but why did you flatten my eyes and dehydrate my body to crocodile?

To the hospital psychiatrist:

Isn’t there supposed to be a weaning for this? I asked my PCP if she could help with the side effects. When she called you, you just said to tell me to stop taking it.

Pretty sure that’s dangerous, but what do I know? I’m just a crazy, invisible-knife wielding blackgirl, not a doctor.

To my therapist in New York:

I miss you. I was so wary at first, but the day I laid this whole story out, you said it sounded like I was set up. I cried the whole train ride home because I was so overwhelmed by you saying the thing I couldn’t. I knew people would just tell me I was paranoid, pat me on the head, and ask me questions that were really just statements about how they didn’t trust me.

To all my QTPOC who struggle with mental health issues, which is to say most of us, because the multitude of oppressive systems we face would rather that we disappear than thrive:

I love you. Take care of yourself. Let yourself be taken care of. You deserve love. You deserve care. These words are not enough, can never be enough. You are not invisible. You are not a problem. You are not your illness.

May you find your kin. May they hold it down and keep you safe. May we find new roads to healing.

We gon’ be alright.

To myself:

None of that should have happened. I’m sorry for not forgiving you sooner, for allowing anyone who did not love you to get close enough to you, and allowing them to think they could make your decisions.

I know your whole gorgeous finally-stable future was right there in front of you when the table got flipped over. I know you wanted to die for the first time in your life when you got home, but never considered suicide. You’re stubborn in that way, it’s almost confusing.

Brute force alone isn’t healing, remember that. Some days you are going to be a brick in your own windshield. Some days you will feel as golden as you want to be. No days are wrong.

You’re still here. You deserve security.

Hold fast to every act of love you’ve been granted and don’t let go. It won’t always be enough, but don’t forget it’s there. Don’t forget yourself.