Committed

I knew that parenting my first baby would be difficult. I didn’t think it would drive me mad.

Twenty-two. Freshly graduated with a double-major. Newly wed. Newly a mother.

During my grueling pregnancy, the warning signs of bipolar disorder were missed or ignored. I found myself in my therapist’s office, dealing with the aftermath of a suicide attempt. Unbeknownst to my doctor, I was also coping with my imaginary friends, Rational and Emotional, miniature versions of me that I called my Shoulder Angels. Rational tapped her high heels against my left shoulder, offering acerbic commentary and criticism. Emotional, tiny, frail, and naked, crouched on my right shoulder and sobbed.

With my therapist’s encouragement, I agreed to commit myself to a psychiatric hospital. The nurse on the phone told me to check in immediately. I said I would. Instead, I sped home in tears to say goodbye to my parents, my supportive-yet-overwhelmed husband, and my seven-day-old son.

Nothing could have prepared me for the mental hospital. From the moment I arrived, the nurses weren’t helpful, medicating me to sleep rather than providing the usual tour of the ward. I never recovered from this missed orientation, spending days simply trying to discover where I was supposed to go when. The staff accused me of deliberately not participating in activities. I didn’t even know that the big steel box in the cafeteria hid trays of food bearing my name.

Rational and Emotional tried to help me, but were part of the problem, not the solution. Through compulsive list-making, I eventually learned to attend multiple community meetings, as well as perplexing sessions ranging from crafting to therapy. I also struggled to adapt to the endless physical examinations.

I felt desperate to feed my baby, constantly pumping milk to send home. My nipples cracked and bled, and I was required to wear a binder across my painfully engorged breasts. But my doctor had prescribed olanzapine, a tranquilizer dangerous to infants. My mother’s milk was poison. I panicked each time I dumped the liquid my baby needed, terrified that my son would starve.

Showers were kept under lock and key, toilets were shared between four roommates, and no one got to see the outside except with a psychiatrist’s approval and a nurse’s supervision during a group walk. Family visits, especially with my baby, were rare. As a result, I found myself succumbing to depression as what I thought would be a two-day stay threatened to become long term.

The peculiar and inexplicable people around me became both enemies and friends—-real, not imaginary-—yet I was confident that I didn’t belong on the ward with the other mental patients. They were crazy. I merely needed to recover from giving birth.

Finally, unable to bear missing anymore of my child’s first weeks on earth, I defied medical advice and checked myself out of the facility, vowing to face my life, my illness, and my new role as a mother. Committed is my harrowing tale of survival despite being out of my mind.

A picture of a black typewriter. Photo credited to Flickr user CCPixel. Used with permission under a Creative Commons license.

The memoir is complete at 80,000 words. I have edited the book twice with the aid of a five-person critique group, the Seattle Scribblers, which has been meeting for ten years. Committed is available for publication.  Please contact me if you are interested in the work.

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