Drugs and Dreams
The room’s walls are bare, stark, devoid of any decoration or color. I miss the familiar mess of my room, the clothes on the floor, the posters on the walls, and the general feeling of inhabitation. This place is bland, sterile, just like the food they serve us in the cafeteria. I know I’m better off here, where the headaches don’t hurt so much and I don’t wake up every night screaming. But it still doesn’t make me happy.
They used to visit me every two days, my family. Now they only come once a week. I’m becoming less and less a part of their family and more and more a memory. In a couple of years I’ll be nothing more than a monthly check to the facility and a regret. I can imagine that. The doctors tell me it’s the schizophrenia that makes me think that way. That I’m paranoid and insane and that my family loves me just as much as always. I don’t think so. It’s not the disease that drives me to think this way. It’s logic, pure and simple. The memories of my dreams may fade but the knowledge of their at most, tepid feeling for me is crystal clear.
We’re a family of achievers. My dad’s an award-winning physicist, my mom’s a neurosurgeon. I’m sure they’ll both win Nobel prizes someday. My sister’s a musical prodigy. And then there’s me, barely scraping by in terms of their standards. I am, I was, the captain of the basketball team and student body president. I guess that’s the one advantage of being institutionalized. I’m no longer required to work my ass off for stuff I don’t really like that much anyway.
“Good morning everyone,” the doctor in front of me says. Since I was a kid I always saw doctors as these mechanical, systematic people in white lab coats or scrubs. The woman in front of me wears an old wool sweater and frayed jeans. Her light brown hair is in disarray, streaked with whites that make her seem even more disheveled. I think her expression is supposed to be tranquil, but she just looks stoned. She shows up every morning for group therapy and asks us to share. I start sharing, I’m pretty sure they’ll move me to a bigger facility, probably one with chain-link fences, some kind of Shutter Island.
She’s suspicious of me, this woman. She knows that I’m not getting better. The anti-psychotics are having no effect. I’m still crazy, just having trouble remembering the crazy I was a few weeks before. The only reason I’m still staying here is for the constant stream of sedatives and pain meds, which I’m pretty sure are blocking out the worst of my dreams. Dr. Watts, or Debbie as she asks us to call her, is my least favorite doctor here. She’s one of those people that thinks she knows what’s best for other people and ends up destroying their lives on an explosive scale.
“Charlie, would you like to start?”
God, I hate sharing. The psychiatrists all try to convince us that sharing our feelings and getting our emotions out will make us all better. Make us normal. How many normal people ever share their feelings? Human beings are programmed to suffer in silence, take their angst on punching bags or stifle their feelings with food. Maybe talking about what makes you feel bad to a friend is therapy. Revealing your emotions, your thoughts, to a group of strangers is absolute nonsense. I’m pretty sure most of them can’t comprehend what I’m saying. They stare at random points on the wall. Some drool, some start speaking gibberish out of nowhere.
My feelings, my situation is made a mockery of when I talk about it in front of these people. I pity them, but in situations when I can’t tell an intelligent soul my problem, I almost hate them. But I’m not about to tell ‘Debbie’ all of this.
“I think I’m feeling better. I’m excited about my mom coming tomorrow. She’s bringing my friend Travis, so that’ll be fun I guess.”
“Yes, your mother informed us of that.”
I swear her smile is creepy. I just smile back and try to seem interested in a guy’s vivid description of an epiphany he had while eating his oatmeal. I know I’m different from these people, knew it from the moment I entered here. When I came to this facility, the Pendrant Institute of Psychiatric Health, I had one problem. I feel like I have a lot more now.
There’s the complete isolation to begin with. I’m surrounded by people, but most of them are just bodies. And in the cases where they’re capable of thought, it’s an entirely different language. Their world is something I can’t understand, and shouldn’t either. I have some companions, a handful of people that have enough mental capacity to know where they are and why.
Miles is one of them. He’s the oldest patient, a thin reed-like octogenarian who skips his medication and flushes it down the toilet. He’s not mentally ill, hasn’t been for the past twenty years. But he still stays here. He says it’s for the constancy. He doesn’t know about the world outside, and won’t belong there. He still almost can’t believe there’s a black president, he’s only heard about the attack on the twin towers, and he’s skeptical when I tell him I have eight hundred friends on Facebook. Probably because not one of them has come to see me in the three months that I’ve been here.
I really thought Travis would come sooner. He’s been my best friend since the fifth grade. We’re those friends, the two that never split up over anything. The two that have gone through everything together. He’s the one that admitted me to the hospital when I had the first seizure. I guess that scared him off for a little bit. Without me, he’s still one of the school’s royalty. If he clung to me, he would just be the guy who’s friends with ‘Twitchy’.
Miles is sitting next to me. He makes a show of being absorbed in the loose threads of his robe and attacking them with his thumb. Debbie never asks Miles anything. Mostly because he decided that coprolalia would be one of the symptoms of his mental disorder. That is, the uncontrolled usage of swears. It’s funny to watch him swear at Debbie and sometimes he even hisses at her. I think it adds to the entertainment value.
After everyone shared their feelings (or stared at Debbie for ten minutes, drooling) we dispersed, people moving to the recreation room to do something or nothing. Some of them play catch with ping pong balls. Some of them draw scribbles, and some like me sit at the window and wished they were anywhere but here. In the afternoon there’s an individual therapy session. My doctor is a small dark woman from India called Dr. Vaidya. She doesn’t ask me to call her Sunita, her first name, and I’ve decided that I like that. She comes prepared, Dr. Vaidya. By the time I step into the room she’s already seated in her chair with her notepad in her lap and pen in hand, checking her expensive watch with a nonchalant expression on her face.
“So, how are you feeling Charlie?”
The way she asks is clinical. It’s unfeeling enough to tell me that she doesn’t care for me as a person, but human enough to tell me she cares for me as a patient. Every day I’m almost tempted to tell her. But telling her would only make me sound crazier, add more depth to the severity of my issues. I’m not feeling anything from the anti-psychotics except the side effects. But I can’t tell her that.
“I’m feeling better. I’m not depressed any more. The headaches are going down.”
“And your seizures?”
“Haven’t had one in a week, and I feel good. Normal,” I say with what I hope is a relieved smile.
“Your dreams? Do you still see those, uh, images of another world?”
I continue, “I haven’t dreamed of it in two weeks.”
Saw it yesterday night. Just as solidly there as ever.
“That’s good. Is there anything else you’d like to tell me?”
I would like to tell her a lot. But I can’t. I know that I’m insane, but there’s no cure for my kind of crazy. There’s only a solution, and that’s to live with it. I’ll take pain meds and sleeping pills for the rest of my life. Sure my liver will suffer, but it’ll be a life worth living. Dr. Vaidya writes something down on her notepad. Her handwriting is indecipherable and tiny, impossible for me to guess her impression of me.
“I think I’m ready to go home.”
I’m taking a risk asking her this. She could think that I’ve faked my recovery, which I have. But I can’t stay here anymore. I can’t live amongst the insane and hope to maintain what normality I still possess. It doesn’t matter if my dreams are fragmented photographs of a world my mind is convinced is an alien planet. It doesn’t matter that sometimes I feel old, and lose control of my body. I’ll live.
I rub my forehead and look worried, “I know I’ve still got a lot of therapy to go to and that the drugs haven’t fully fixed me yet. But I think I’d feel better continuing treatment from home. I could have weekly sessions with you.”
“I’ll consider it,” she says. Her perfectly waxed eyebrows are just a fraction higher than usual, and I sense her thinking. The fact that she’s considering it is a good thing.
* * *
Miles is sitting on my bed by the time I get back to my room. He’s discovering Harry Potter and Percy Jackson via the old paperbacks I owned as a kid. It’s like seeing a little kid in an old man’s body. I try not to disturb him and take out my textbooks. I know the life I’m headed back to. Expectations of getting into an ivy-league college. This episode will be erased and my parents will pretend it never happened.
“I might be getting out, Miles,” I tell him.
“Not the smartest idea Charlie. I feel like something’s about to happen. You should be more careful.”
That was the thing about Miles. He’s sane, but only ninety-nine percent of the time. I think the other one percent is the reason why his act of complete lunacy is so convincing. He sits on my bed with his head facing the ceiling, eyes closed and hands flat lying over his heart.
“Something will be there Charlie. Something you’ll have to overcome.”
I decide to humor him. After all, I don’t really have anything better to do. I sit cross-legged on the bed in front of me.
“Okay, what’s gonna be there that I’ll have to overcome?”
“There’ll be lies, Charlie. They’ve always surrounded you, the lies. But you have to find the truth now. You have to…”
“I have to…”
“Find the way to the chamber of secrets, of course,” Miles continued. His eyes open and he shakes his head. “Wait, that’s not right.”