Committed: Stories About Stays in Psychiatric Facilities

Everyday we communicate with the people around us. We can only express ourselves as we are limited by physical and mental capabilities. Some of us cannot talk so we draw or write or paint. Some of us cannot create art from paint or clay but can with numbers and formulas. No one understands you any more than everybody gets you. Sometimes we take people for granted. Sometimes we don’t think that someone has anything worthwhile to express to us. Helen Keller could not hear nor speak, yet she taught the people she could reach volumes. Sometimes listening with our ears does not work because what we need to hear doesn’t make a sound. There is nothing that can’t be explained by an explanation.

Before we dismiss people, we should consider that we all are people trying to express one thing above all else, we all share a desire for choice. Choice to stay or go. Choice to fight or run. Choice of how to live or if to live. We all need someone to understand that we want to make a choice. If we don’t, we feel that we live as slaves and torment brews. At least for some of us.



In this week’s list, I wanted to share the experiences of those committed—voluntarily or not—to a psychiatric facility. From One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest to Nellie Bly’s 19th century expose to American Horror Story: Asylum, the “madhouse” occupies a weird space in America’s psyche, equal parts fascinating and feared. But the experiences of the patients and their caretakers are, obviously, very different than sensationalized cinematic accounts.

1. “Something More Wrong.” (Katherine B. Olson, The Big Roundtable, July 2013)

In this well-wrought essay, Katherine B. Olson profiles Alice Trovato, a woman and patient who mothers her unofficial charges and strives to make the most of her stay at Creedmoor Psychiatric Center in the greens of Queens.

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The school bus

When I was in 9th grade, I had to catch the bus at 7:05am.  The bus ride was long.  I lived in a rural area and the school was around 20 minutes away if you drove directly there in your own vehicle.  The bus ride was even longer.  We had to go through our entire town to pick up kids.  It was so long that the bus drove by my house a second time 40 minutes after my pick up time and then had around 10 more stops before it went directly to the school.

I thought that this was ridiculous.  I started catching the bus the second time it came by my house.  The bus driver stopped and let me on and it worked well for me for about two weeks.  That was when the bus driver said that my scheduled time to catch the bus was 7:05 and I needed to be there at that time or she would not pick me up.  I asked why the two of us picked up on my street could not just both catch the bus the second time.  She told me that was not the schedule.

I dropped my head and conceded.  I understood that she was trying to teach me that the world did not revolve around my whims and that I can’t have it my way when there is already a plan that works for everyone else.  I didn’t complain to her.  I didn’t complain to the school; they would agree with her.  That was how it was supposed to be.  I didn’t complain to my peers because I figured it wasn’t really that important in the grand scheme of things.  I certainly did not complain to anyone in my household because it was my responsibility to get myself up, dressed, bathed, fed and off to school everyday.  I was, after all, 14 years old.

I did try to catch that first bus.  I did it everyday for almost 2 weeks.  Then, I slept in and missed the bus.  I got up as fast as I could.  I threw on clothes without showering or brushing my teeth.  I didn’t eat.  I usually didn’t eat breakfast, in fact, never.  I didn’t have time and we really didn’t have food for that.  I ran to the bus stop ready for school, backpack on, ready to go and I waited.  I knew I broke the rules but I really had been trying and it was one slip up after almost two weeks.  Here came the bus.  The bus driver looked right at me.  She looked forward and, true to her word, drove right past me.

Well, I was angry. She didn’t give me a second chance.  She wouldn’t even try to help me out one time?  At the same time, I was panic stricken.  My heart was racing and I wanted to cry.  How was I going to get to school?  I had to take the bus.  There usually wasn’t anyone home  (or awake) who could take me and if I admitted a mistake like this, I would really be in hot water.

I walked about 3/4 of a mile and crossed the highway to one of my mom’s friends’ house.  She had kids my age that went to my school.  She would probably be up because she had to get her kids to school.  I had closer neighbors, but they were different kinds of people.  We were poor.  My mom had always worked until her drug habits took over and she got fired.  She was also terribly depressed and in this awful abusive relationship with a woman who treated me equally awful.  At the time, I thought it was me that was treated the worst.  That is just perspective though.

I got to her house and it was freezing in the late fall early morning. I knocked and no one came. I knocked louder. I waited. There was a payphone across the highway. I called her phone number that I had memorized. It rang at least 15 times. No one answered. I knew she was there; I hoped she was but just sleeping. I was committed. I tried the payphone again and it rang until I was disconnected. I got my quarter back. I tried a 3rd time. It rang several times, and then, Whisper answered. I was quiet. She’d probably be mad. I hung up. I waited about 5 minutes and jaywalked across the 4 lane highway and knocked on her door.

She answered, still in her pajamas and visibly sleepy. She let me in and said she had just been awakened by someone who called a hundred times but wasn’t there when she answered. I said that I thought it was weird but it was fortunate since she was awake and I needed help.

She drove me to school.

I tried very hard to make that first bus everyday. You see, school was very important to me. I loved going. Academics were the only thing I was good at and school got me out of the house- away from the drugs and strangers, away from the abuse. It was warm at school. There was food at school. At home, I got groceries about every two weeks. My share was a gallon of milk, a bag of potatoes (those should last the month), some Top Ramen, two bags of frozen vegetables, an 8 pack of frozen burritos, a tub of margarine (when needed) and maybe some other items sometimes. There was canned food that just lived there. Sometimes I would get a special treat of Nally’s Chili. That was a good meal, especially if there was cheese. I had friends at school and people would talk to me like I was a person. School was my only escape from a life that I hated.

Everyday, I would hope that I could just not wake up again. I only wanted to live long enough to die and my house was toxic.

I loved school. I was smart there.

I wished I could wake up and get ready. I did everything I could to catch that bus. If I missed it, I would try Whisper. We got a CB radio and I was able to radio ahead. If she wasn’t awake, I’d try someone else but no one as a regular. I was able to catch the bus most days but I really resented it.