I always loved Angelina Jolie. Her fiery prowess. Her ability, with her small stature, to intimidate big brawny men whose muscles falsely presented a man of high stature and strength. She was always the weird one. The rebel. Outspoken and unchallenged. I resonated with so many of her characters. I related to their independence and resilience. Her unapologetic confidence yet deeply compassionate heart. I saw so much of myself in her.
I always have loved the movie Girl Interrupted. Angelina Jolie’s plays the super seductive, crazy girl Lisa who didn’t follow the rules; not even her own. She was very unpredictable and erratic but still, somehow, incredibly sexy in her eccentricity. She made the jobs of the psych ward staff miserable; constantly resisting treatment, forcibly pushing them away, and convincing other patients that they were all not sick but rather the product of a societal system that they were forever trapped in. One that told them who to be, when to be it, and that no matter what, they were failing at achieving it.
Angelina was the revolutionary warrior leading a rebellion towards the medical practitioners. She made being crazy look sexy as fuck. I almost romanticized being in a psych ward because I knew I would be that same resilient, outspoken, bad ass bitch. I figured with a strong ass personality like mine, it would be smooth sailing. But the first time I checked myself into a psychiatric hospital in June 2017 because of a psychotic breakdown and suicidal thoughts, all the Hollywood glitz and glamour quickly faded. I definitely was not anything close to the Lisa character. I was uncontrollably crying every step of the way. Out of fear. Out of shame. Out of the unknown, loneliness, not being with my best friend Kat, out of not knowing when I would see my daughter again. I was mostly fearful that this was going to be the first of many visits to the psych ward.
The moment I checked in and explained to the nurse why I was there, she walked away briefly, only to return with 3 police officers. She said because I was a threat to myself, that I would have to be escorted to CPEP (the Comprehensive Psychiatric Emergency Program), which sounds a hell of a lot nicer and supportive than it actually is. This is where they took all the mental health patients to triage them and decide where they would need to go next; home, a psych ward, etc.
I have always heard of the walk of shame, but this was more like the walk of torture. I was dealing with all my inner turmoil of anxiety, depression, and wanting to kill myself while being paraded around emergency room patients like some sort of zoo animal. People staring at me through the cage of police badges seemingly wondering “What did she do? What’s wrong with her?” I was carted off to an empty rom with nothing but some glass windows to be observed through. No furniture, no outdoor windows to open, nothing. I felt on display to the entire ER as the mysterious circus freak who would perform unimaginable tricks at any moment. I was only left in there alone for about 3 minutes, but it felt like 3 hours. Panic started to set in and I just screamed and cried with every ounce of energy I had left; wanting to kill myself by thrashing my body against the walls as hard as I possibly could.
A security guard finally entered, closed the blinds, snapped open a garbage bag with a flick of her wrist. She asked me to disrobe every item I was wearing. From my bra to my shoes, my hair clip, all of it. As I was about to take my rose quartz crystal necklace off, a necklace that supports self-love and grounding, I realized that out of all the things I was wearing this was the hardest to take off. “Do I have to get rid of this too? As she aggressively nodded, I broke down in tears begging to keep it. It felt like it was the only things that might keep me sane in that moment, but she shoved the bag in my face, wordless, gesturing with her annoyed facial expressions to place it in the bag. All of my items had to be taken away to decrease the risk that I might harm myself with one of them.
When all of my belongings were in the bag and I was stripped naked of all humanity, I was handed a hospital gown and pants to cover myself in. I was reunited with my police entourage. I revisited my walk of torture, but now it was worse. Now the questions the ER patients were asking themselves about me were answered. “Ohhhhhhh….she’s crazy. Oh, she’s a suicidal nut job too.” The patients with bandages on their head, oxygen masks on their face, casts on their legs were all probably thinking “Thank God I’m not her. At least my trauma is temporary.”
As I was brought into the crazy people’s ER, my police escort went from 3 cops walking me down a hallway to shoving me into a fishbowl-like room surrounded by about 10 officers. All the patients were brought into this glass tank room to be watched 24/7. Coddled in a shaky recliner and a sandpaper like blanket, I looked around to absorb my new surroundings. A loud TV blasting a narrative of the most recent basketball game, bright fluorescent lights blinding my eyes, several other patients laying catatonic, all silently waited to be seen by a psychiatrist. The security guards who were supposed to be watching and protecting us were joking around with each other and conversing loudly 2-3 feet away from me. It was all so overstimulating that I just covered my ears tightly, rock back and forth and cried; likely fulfilling the stereotype of what a crazy person looks like.
After a couple of hours, I finally got to meet with a nurse and a psychiatrist. I sat there, heavily crying, my chest heaving trying to catch a deep breath, while they went through their droned out practiced speech of questions to figure out why I was there. As I went into detail about how I wanted to throw myself off my fire escape but the only reason I didn’t was because my very pregnant roommate was there, they stared at me blankly while occasionally jotting down some notes. They informed me that I would be moved to a psych ward, but that because there weren’t any beds available, I would have to wait until the next day to see if there was an opening.
I was able to get my own room, which was a blessing and a curse in itself. I had privacy so that I didn’t have to be surrounded by all the people, loud, insensitive officers, and the blaring lights and television. However, I was stuck in a room with a TV I could not control. Things could be worse, but the show that was playing was Little Women, Atlanta; a reality show about literally little women in the style of a Housewives of Atlanta. There was a lot of fake drama, yelling, cursing, slut shaming, body shaming, and all the usual reality show accessories that make for poor television. They also played the same episode three times in a row, which didn’t help when I already felt I was crazy.
I then decided to venture out of my room briefly to get a glass of water. Upon my departure, two police officers quickly broke their conversation to get close to me and followed me to the fountain. I’m still not sure why, but this moment was the worst while in CPEP and completely freaked me out. I got my glass of water and quickly returned to my room. I dropped to the floor, on my knees, and started to cry again. The ugly face, loud scream, you don’t know how long you’re going to cry for type of cry. I couldn’t believe this is what my life had come to. Just 24 hours beforehand, I was just a regular full-time working, single mom, poet, feminist, best friend, who was making it through the day like anyone else. And now I couldn’t walk more than two inches without officers following me. My fear encapsulated my whole body; I ended up wrapping myself in a blanket like a cocoon, laying in the floor behind the bed so no one could see me, sleeping in the fetal position in hopes that I could just fold myself enough until I disappeared.
Luckily, I didn’t have to stay in CPEP for too long.