White Walls – A Memoir

In order of importance, they lined us up like animals for our daily feeding. Neptune went first, as always, then Brittany, Gabby, Kristen, Justin, myself, and the few that followed me. The fluorescent lights fastened to the ceiling burned my skin. They lead us towards the bolted wooden door, behind which, a hideous woman stood. She called our names through the veil of her intimidating white scrubs. We were given tiny paper cups filled with cocktails of various medications, after which our mouths were forced open with our tongues out. She would follow every inspection with “Good boy,” or “good girl”. I stared at the floor until she called me.
“Mr. Eric?” she said.
I stared at the floor. My name was not “Mr. Eric”. She could’ve called me “Eric”, “Mr. Lundgren”, “Lundgren”, I didn’t care; however, my name was not Mr. fucking Eric. I didn’t look up until she said it.
“Eric Lundgren,” she said, a little louder this time. “Its time for your medication.”
“Yeah,” I responded. I chased the four pills with another tiny paper cup lazily filled with water. In that cup was 20mg of Zoloft, 30mg of Effexor, 1mg of Klonopin, and the base amount of Trazodone. She grabbed my mouth to check under my tongue, and all was clear.
“Good boy,” she said, before calling another patient.
“I’m not a dog,” I responded. “I’m a sixteen-year-old person.” She looked at me, smiled, and looked away. She didn’t care. She was just waiting until ten when she’d go home and snort OxyContin with her sorry excuse for a boyfriend. I sighed and walked away, returning to the community room to contemplate suicide once more.
In the spring of 2011, after three years of habitual Marijuana, Alcohol, Cocaine, and prescription pill abuse, as well as multiple suicide attempts, I was admitted to the Riverside Behavioral Health Center in Hampton, Virginia. I was diagnosed with Major Depressive Disorder, Social Anxiety Disorder, Seasonal Affective Disorder, and Substance Dependance Disorder when I was fourteen. After going through two psychiatrists and five therapists, the idea of the behavioral hospital was brought to our attention. My mother and I had contemplated admitting me since September 2010, but it didn’t happen until more than a year later, after I had attempted to hang myself once, overdose on pills twice, and drown myself in carbon monoxide. The evening after the carbon monoxide incident, I decided to show my mother the cuts covering my arms and legs. I’ll never forget how she cried. I know that she cried for me, but also for herself, which was just as painful. I often find myself wishing I would’ve gone about that some other way. I didn’t handle it well, and neither did she. After that evening, I decided it was time to go.
I went to school the next day. Mid-lecture I told my teacher I was going to the restroom, but I packed my things and left the school. I drove home, debating speeding up to around sixty miles per hour, rolling the windows down, aiming in the right direction, closing my eyes, and hitting a tree, a transformer, or a guardrail perhaps. I was comfortable with dying. After a few moments of peace, I decided against this and instead called my mother.
“I’m ready to go to the hospital now,” I said.
“Okay,” she said. “I’ll be home soon. Your father will be there too.”
“Shit. Dad’s going to be there?”
I asked because my parents were divorced. They split up in 2005, and my dad was still not doing well, especially because mom was still seeing the guy that supposedly tore our family apart, and because I told him of my drug abuse a year prior. Well, only the pot. We were far from friends then, as were my mother and I.
“Yes, we will be there shortly. Everything’s going to be fine, I promise,” she answered.
“Okay,” I replied, and hung up.
I got home and my parents drove me to the hospital, telling me all the while how everything would be fine, and not to worry about anything. “Alright,” and “Okay,” was all I had to say. We entered the hospital and they signed me in. They both hugged me, we did the whole “I love you” thing, and they left me.
The staff stripped me of my belt, sweatshirt, and shoes, and instead gave me sandals to wear. The nurse giving me the tour of the Behavioral Health ward was surprisingly kind, and upon her departure, I was sent into a room with other kids between twelve and seventeen, arranged in a circle. The room was dark, except for an obnoxious movie playing from a small television in the front of the room near another nurse. The smell of that place is something I will never forget. The odor was a stale thin air that felt nearly poisonous. I sat down in the circle with the other kids and looked down at my knees. I was a nervous wreck. I didn’t know any of those people, and I remembered what I had been told about places like those. I stopped an anxiety attack by slowly breathing the stagnant dust into my paper lungs.
Why didn’t I just fucking do it. Look at where you are, Eric.
The lights turned on. All eyes were on me.
“Okay guys, it looks like we have a new visitor!” the nurse said. I scanned the room. The walls were white; they all were. Every wall in the whole damned place was white. I felt trapped in an origami prison. I briefly glanced into the corner of the room. I believe in the weakest time of my life, the girl I saw in that moment was genuinely the most beautiful person I had ever seen. She, too, looked down at her knees, occasionally looking up at me and then looking away. She had straight black hair that neatly rested on her shoulders, lots of cute little freckles about her face, and such sincere eyes. I felt like I was in love with this girl and I hadn’t been inside the place for more than ten minutes.
Maybe it won’t be so bad.
“You must be Eric,” the nurse said, looking at me. I quickly snapped out of my confusion and looked up at her.
“Yep, that’s me.” I said.
“Why are you here?” another patient asked.
“Hold on, we’ll save that for later.” the nurse said, stopping me from continuing a horrible conversation with that rude prick. “Eric, we’re watching a movie. Is that okay with you?”
“Yes, that’s fine,” I answered.
After finishing the movie, it was around three o’clock in the afternoon and the nurse ushered the group of people – including myself – into another room slightly larger than the last littered with couches and other mildly comfortable chairs. We sat in a circle. Since there was a new person in the ward, we all took turns stating exactly what put us in the hospital. The majority of us were there for suicide attempts and a few for psychopathic and/or homicidal behavior. It was my turn, and I spoke up:
“Hi, my name’s Eric. I’m here for a few suicide attempts. Obviously, none of them were successful-“
“Suicide attempts are never successful,” the nurse cut me off. “Some individuals complete the act of suicide, but there is no success there.” she finished and then looked back at me. I was speechless. I thought of a hundred things I could’ve said to that woman then, but I knew that the more I acted out, the longer I would be in there.
“I understand.” I said, sitting down.
“Do you have anything else to-“ she began.
“No, I don’t.” I said, cutting her off and looking away. I looked over at the freckled girl with the black hair. She was looking at me again, and looked away when I caught her eye. The rest of the kids said their piece before we moved on.
“Okay,” the nurse started. She removed an iPod and a small stereo set from a large bag beside her. While setting the stereo up, she said: “Have any of you ever heard the song ‘Perfect’ by Pink?” she smiled and looked around the room. “It’s really a great song. You guys would love it. It’s about people who are feeling like some of you feel sometimes. Do you guys want to hear it?” A few of the girls and younger kids nodded or said “yes” lazily.
She played the song.
Fuck me. What is this bullshit?
One kid said something about the song actually being called “Fucking Perfect” instead of “Perfect” and of course, the nurse was playing the clean version.
“Yes, they do use the F word in this song,” the nurse said, giggling. “But that’s not what we need to focus on here. Isn’t this song wonderful?” That stupid song played over in my head under buzzing fluorescent lighting that felt as if it were burning my skin. I looked around for a bit, trying to escape the music and noticed that there were no windows in the room. As a matter of fact, I hadn’t seen a window since I was admitted. I wasn’t sure when I’d see sunlight again. I noticed then that the nurse had been trying to get my attention.
“Yes?” I answered her. That horrible song played in the background.
“Eric, this is the only place in the center where patients are allowed to swear. Anywhere other than this room over my watch, you guys cannot use curse words. Understood?”
“Yes,” I answered.
“Great.” she said. The song was finally ending. It was at this point that she decided to go around the circle of patients, each with their own song request for the iPod. Most of them chose the worst type of rap music, and about half of them sang along. I hated that more than anything. I contemplating holding a palm out to them. Stop. Please. Do you have any idea how stupid you look? A guy named Justin, whom I briefly befriended in the hospital asked to listen to Disturbed, and he sang with the music. My God, his voice was awful. He would later call his parents and tell them about how great it was to sing in front of everybody, and how well it went. The freckled girl with the black hair, Kristen, asked for a Papa Roach song, and her friend Gabby asked for a My Chemical Romance song. So, naturally, those were the people I gravitated towards.
By the time it was my turn, I asked the nurse to play “Wake Up” by Suicide Silence – a well known Deathcore band. Not only did I love the song, I knew it would be unsettling to lots of the other people there, which would be hilarious. As she played, I soaked it in. Gabby and Kristen laughed and smiled at the music. That made me a little bit more comfortable. The nurse asked me questions, but I would answer very quickly.
“Why do you like this song?”
“It’s fucking awesome.”
“Doesn’t it make you angry?”
“Well, right now we’re listening to songs that make us angry,” she said. I had missed that part of the conversation.
“Well… I suppose sometimes it does.”
“I have no idea.”
“What is he saying?”
“Wake up, wake up… Do I still exist… I can’t see my face…”
“What is it about?”
I wanted to tell her to shut the hell up. They took our iPods, cell phones, and anything else that could possibly bring pleasure into one’s life upon admission. I was enjoying my music, but a few continued to look at me, surprised that anyone could listen to my favorite genre. I spoke up. “Oh come on, you can’t tell me that this isn’t the kind of shit you guys think about with a razor in your hand or a noose around your neck.” Nobody had an answer. I shrugged and continued to soak up the screams until it ended, far too soon I might add. We listened to the rest of the kids’ awful music until it was time to eat.
We were fed a vile mixture of meats and vegetables. I could never have known exactly what it was. It didn’t smell too bad, but the taste was far from pleasant. While picking at my food, I found myself alone. Kristen and Gabby decided they would introduce themselves to me. I formally met them both, but I couldn’t help but feel attracted to Kristen. She really was one of the most gorgeous things I had ever seen. Maybe it was because we were completely shut out from the rest of the world. It was as if everything had died, leaving the two of us alone. I dreamt that would happen. I begged my imagination to set us alone. She was slightly flirty, but I didn’t pick up on it. It wasn’t until a few days into my imprisonment that I could see that she was just as attracted to me as I was to her. She told me the dreams she had of me, and I did the same. I hadn’t had a girlfriend in a while, and I figured a girl with problems almost exactly like mine would make us both happy, and it did. I didn’t find her until October of 2013. She loved me from the end of 2013 until December of 2014.
I found the others to be quite strange, and I did not speak to them much. Justin was a horrible compulsive liar and Gabby was a horribly rude person.
After we ate, they fed us our pills, and those of us who had behaved well were able to go to sleep earlier than the others. As much as I wanted to sleep, I figured I would stay up and enjoy the slight buzz that I was getting from the Trazodone. After it wore off, I went to my room. There were no sharp objects, medications, or outlets in the room, so these were not options. I looked for a place to hang myself with a towel, but the shower curtain was held up by a PVC pipe and the bed posts were a coned shape, as were the door handles. I tried to sleep, but could not, partly because the staff would open the door every other hour for a “check up”. I cried myself to sleep and was woken up at nine in the morning by the staff, who told me it was time for food.
Before they fed me, I had to speak with a nurse every morning from then on, who asked me vague questions about how I was feeling.
“Do you feel suicidal today?”
“Good! How happy are you on a scale of one to ten?”
“About a six.”
“Great! We’re going to do some blood work on you now before you eat and check your vitals just to make sure you’re doing well.”
“Alright.” I said.
Of course I had to lie. How else would have I gotten out of that miserable place?
Two young nurses entered the room and tried to take my blood. She ended up missing my vein four times, which left a large bruise over my left forearm. That day was much darker than the one before. I knew I would not be able to commit suicide inside the hospital, and I knew I would be there for at least four more days. I prayed that my parents would remove me before the weekend, but I knew that they wouldn’t.
After we ate, we painted. I scribbled all over the page. The nurse asked me what it meant to me. I said that I had no idea.
I really didn’t.
After two days of art, awful movies, and talking in circles, I found myself sitting at a table alone, waiting for staff to tell me I could sleep. The nurse called me to the desk in the front of the ward, where I was handed the phone.
“It’s your father,” the nurse said. “He would like to speak with you.” she smiled and walked away.
“Thanks,” I said. I placed the phone to my ear.
“Hello?” he said. Just hearing his voice made me dreadfully sad.
“Hey dad,” I said.
“How are you?”
“I’m horrible,” I whispered into the phone. I covered my mouth with my hand.
“What’s wrong?” he asked.
“You gotta get me the hell out of here, dad. You have to. I can’t do this anymore.” I said, beginning to cry.
“Eric, I’m sorry. I don’t know what to tell you. Your mother wouldn’t like that very much, and its for the best, anyways. Just hang in there.” I hit my fist on the table.
“Dad, please. You’ve got to help me.”
“Eric-“ he began, before the nurse took the phone from me.
“One moment, Mr. Lundgren,” she said, placing the phone back on the counter. “Eric, you need to be calm,” the nurse said. “I don’t want to see you go to the cloud room.”
Oh Fuck.
The cloud room was a room off to the side of the ward, where they would put you if you did anything violent. In the process, staff would hold you down, shoot you in the ass with a needle full of Ativan, and lock you beneath restraints onto a table in a room that was painted to look as if there were clouds on the walls, because somehow that helped.
“No I’m fine, I’m fine. I’m sorry. It won’t happen again.” I said back to her.
“Okay. I’m just making sure everything is well,” she said. She picked up the phone and returned it to me.
“Dad,” I said, breathing heavily into the phone.
“I’m sorry. I just can’t do that right now. You know I love you and I would do anything to help you, but this is for the best.”
“I love you too, dad.” I said, and hung up. I quietly cried to myself on the table until it was time to be drugged and put to bed.
The next day, a short muscular kid with a shaved head was pushed through the doors of the ward. I was eating at the time. After a few moments of speaking with the nurse, he sat down next to me. We sat in silence for three or four minutes before I awkwardly looked in his direction. “Hey,” I said. “My name’s Eric.” I reached for a handshake, but his hands gripped his knees and showed no signs of movement. He stared at the white wall before us with the kind of blank stare that one might find on a dead man. He had not touched his food; he just continued to stare. “What’s your name?” I asked. He didn’t reply. I looked back at my food, shaking my head. After more prolonged silence, I decided I couldn’t take it anymore. I didn’t know what the fuck was wrong with that kid, but I needed a god damned friend. “I think I’ll just call you Neptune, dude,” I said. To this day, I have absolutely no idea why I chose the name Neptune out of all names for this guy, but he didn’t seem to mind.
“Neptune. I like that.” he said, still staring blankly forwards.
Maybe he won’t kill me now.
“Sweet, dude.” I said. I finished eating, and moved to the community room where I sat alone once again. About an hour afterwards, the rest of the patients moved into the room and gathered in a circle. We had to watch a video about drug abuse and how it ruins your life. I protested a few times during the video in order to bring up the fact that drugs are an excellent coping mechanism, especially for when you lose something.
The following day, Kristen and Gabby were released, and I was released two days after they were. I never realized how much I needed my parents until my mother picked me up from the hospital. I wanted to cry, but I figured I was done with that for the time being. The sunlight and the warm grass cradled me in those moments of bliss. My mother laughed, but I didn’t find it funny. I rolled around in the grass, itching all over, until mother picked me up from the heated green blades. I still didn’t understand why I was in the ward for so long, and mother couldn’t give me an answer, but it didn’t matter.