where the writers are
The moment everything changed

I think my first mistake was letting my mother leave in the ER while I, too ill to function straight, let my imagination plot all kinds of terrible things that would happen to me if she never came back.

Mind you, I had reason to be down other than being sick. The fact that I was newly graduated but couldn't find work in the city, and had suffered a bad break up months before with my first serious boyfriend for reasons I still don't understand to this day. I knew I was depressed for some time, but never thought my condition was dire by any stretch. And I was quite broke, scared I wouldn't make rent, due in a few days. Turns out, I underestimated everything.

My second mistake, I know now, was acting on those terrible thoughts when I tried to leave the hospital ward, and within seconds was apprehended by MHTs and cuffed (yes, all 95 pounds of my anorexic self then) to a bench. I was so wild with fear now, it was amazing I didn't need sedation when a sour-faced nurse informed me I was to be taken to the state ward for a 72-hour lock down due to my 'incooperative state and refusal to treatment.'

What treatment?! The kind of treatment where you are committed against your will. That was the moment my life changed forever, all because I tried to walk out of the ward. My mother was gone, I'd left my apartment empty, my mail uncollected, bills were due, and there was nothing I could do about it.

I barely remembered the next several hours. I can only recall them in snapshots (winding roads, tall brick buildings with bars over the windows, flourescent lights overhead), things said or overheard ('diagnosed severe depression,' '24-hour suicide watch'), sounds (a man yelling profanities in a corner, a woman moaning from her bed) and a crushing feeling of betrayal from those I loved. All I could think at the time was, 'they let them take me away, how could they--I'm not sick!'

My being admitted to the psychiatric ward that very day was the first of what I've referred to ever since as 'the dark 14'--the number of days I was held there until my family and I were able to secure a release. My mother visited me the next morning, telling me her therapist had 'talked her into' admitting me, but at the time I only believed she wanted to be rid of me, my depression, my eating disorder, everything.

Life in the ward was heavily structured. Meds in the morning and night, therapy once a day, three meals, three snack breaks (all of which were torture for me, having a stranger sit by and measure out all I did or did not consume), supervised bathing, therapy sessions with a transvestite doctor (no joke) who, as I recall, thought me to be selfish and a liar given my unsuccessful attempts to treat my illness. There was a patient who changed clothes a dozen times a day, and never smelled clean. One young male patient dared me to go on a hunger strike with him.

A former graduate student shook her head at me once and asked, 'Why the hell are you here? You're not even crazy.' I ignored her comment, not believing it until I heard the same thing from two different MHTs.

I would turn 23 in that ward, and never had a real birthday. To this day, eleven years after my college graduation just weeks before I was committed, I can still recall the fear I felt that day, and how it stuck with me over the next few weeks, and long after I passed through those sliding doors on my way home.

Looking back, the involuntary committment certainly did change my life, though I cannot say for certain any part of it was positive.