After her first psychiatric stint my daughter stabilized somewhat on a cocktail of anti-psychotics. She continued to pace, talk to herself, but was far less paranoid and accusatory. She stopped picking out her gorgeous hair and it grew back in short, pretty tufts.
A few months ago I noticed a decline. As did her grouchy psychiatrist, who prescribed an array of new anti-psychotics to no avail. My daughter reverted to constant pacing, constant chattering, and picking out the new version of her hair. The grouchy shrink eventually gave up. Perhaps she should go back to the psych unit.
So off we ventured one bright saturday morning. By this point I was accustomed to the double locking doors (the second locked door doesn’t unlock, until the first door slams shut) and even remembered the names of most of the nurses and doctors. My daughter was bright eyed and chipper throughout. I’ve gradually learned she has two modes: happy crazy, and paranoid crazy. Today she was happy crazy.
“I am not a goose to swim in murky waters!” she announced gaily to the empty waiting room. “I fly with seagulls in salty skies, I sing with the pelican people!” She pronounced those last words, pelican people, with great flourish. We sat together in the waiting room, endless episodes of Sponge Bob on television, her eyes darting to and fro like a cat watching bugs. She laughed, frowned, cocked her head to the side with serious expression as though listening to god’s secrets. She nodded her head, smiled warmly, and relaxed into her plastic seat.
They brought her in. They brought me in. I went through the whole spiel yet again. She was normal and happy until age 14. She grew withdrawn. She started pacing incessantly. She stopped sleeping. She began talking to invisible people. She picked out her gorgeous hair until nearly bald. She accused us of conspiring against her, accused us of poisoning her food. Whatever hair grew back she refused to wash or comb, and she hadn’t showered in months. Her hair was tangled in thick mats. Like you see on homeless people.
“She looks like a homeless person,” I said flatly. Because this was it: defeat. Game over. Your turn.
They admitted her to the psych unit which housed just one other patient, a surly african american kid who kept sticking his hands in his pants, even in front of me. She was oblivious, cheerily playing Uno and watching movies with him until his discharge. Then it was down to just her on the unit, the lone adolescent patient.
She chattered incoherently to the nurses at their station. She read aloud classified ads in case they might need a new job (waitressing! that might be fun!). She explained to me, during visiting hours, that we are the construct of a mathematician in a simulated reality. She penned rambling letters to her psychiatrist and social worker. In one she ended succinctly: Finding myself here I realize I am easily confused and have great difficulty with basic functioning. I hold no ill will against you.
She decorated it with hearts and curlicues.
The unit psychiatrist, an almost handsome man with glittering eyes, likewise surrendered. She was on an elephant’s dose of seroquel with no effect. They lacked the resources to help her, he said, and perhaps she should transfer to the long term facility.
And that’s precisely where she went, carried by two young EMTs glued to their cell phones. My daughter smiled and chattered as the ambulance tumbled. She would meet turkeys! (The wild turkeys of Staten Island originated at this psychiatric facility.) She would receive turkey hugs! Nothing like genuine turkey hugs! And we saw them- the wild turkeys- as the ambulance barreled over locked grounds. Males with feathers outstretched, brown mothers, fluffy chicks scampering.
“Turkeys!” she cried in elation, “They waited for me!”
Yet another intake interview. Yet again the same spiel. Though this time I recalled a few details. “She says she has Jesus powers,” I explained matter of factly, as though the notion weren’t ridiculous.
The psychiatrist and social worked nodded, scribbling in notebooks.
“When Jesus died on the cross, he granted a select few special powers, she is one of the select few.”
They continued to scribble.
The unit coordinator took me on a tour of the facility; in the distance I could hear my daughter chattering happily with her fellow inmates. Then they ushered me out; the facility is located near the beach and the salty breeze washed over me, bright perennials nodding in the wind. Crows soared overhead like watchmen; I was reminded of the Norse mythology I learned from Vikings (an excellent series, highly recommended) where ravens operate as the envoys of Odin.