Letter from the Looney Bin

Once Upon a Time

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: Call 1-800-273-8255

I stole a purple crayon and I wrote this when I was in the hospital in 2014. All names have been changed.

The women in my family take to their beds. Honestly, I have just always loved the way that sentence sounds, and I promised myself that someday it would be the first sentence of a book. It would be more accurate to say that my grandmother sat down in her easy chair and never really got out of it. My mother took to her bed. I took the middle road and fell in love with napping on the couch.

I told myself that at least I was in the living room. After all, my grandmother could still talk to us from her chair. Ha. I didn’t realize I needed more help than I was getting until I realized that falling asleep on the couch the minute I got home from work was the best part of my day.

Sleeping at work was one thing – that had been going on for years. But sleeping while my children were home? Even if they were busy in their rooms and/or on their “screens” – that was dangerously close to becoming my mother.

Tips for going to the psych hospital:

  •       Be sure you like what you are wearing. Hold on to your sweater. You won’t be getting it back any time soon.
  •       Make sure you have the right schedule. Otherwise you will really feel like you are crazy.
  •       Bring a blanket.
  •      No strings (like shoelaces).

The dietician in here noted that carb-loading (aka binging on mini-donuts – I’m talking family-sized bags in one go) gives you about two hours of energy and then you get sleepy. She didn’t like the word “crash” for some reason, but that’s what it feels like.

Crash landing right on the couch. Clearly I needed more than the therapist to get better. True, due to miscommunication, cancelled apps (they cancelled them, not me), and my own masochistic refusal to “make a fuss,” I hadn’t seen my therapist for over a month. But I didn’t think that increasing my appointments to once a week would really do the trick. I’m really, really good at convincing therapists that I’m doing just fine.\

Or so I thought.

Turns out that every day on the Psych Ward feels like a year, and it’s harder to get out than it is to get in.

Don’t rush your RECOVERY [from a crayon drawing on the wall of the Common Room here].

Crazy people aren’t any different than “normal” people when you put them in a group.

There’s the:

Sweet one

Bossy one

Kiss-Ass

Drama queen

Funny one

Quiet one with the bon mots

One everyone rolls her eyes at

Timid one

Old ladies: cranky, sweet, quiet

Observer

Smart ass

“Cool” kids

Maybe it’s just that women are all the same. I know men are too, but I am obviously more experienced with female behavior. At least my roommate is awesome. She sleeps almost all the time, and when she’s awake she’s friendly (but not too friendly) and cheery. I told the doctor that it was “like college,” and I was more right than I knew. Being here is like being in a cross between college and what I imagine jail to be like, but really, really “baby-proofed.” Though I guess it’s actually “suicide-proofed.” Honestly, though, the only things that are keeping people from committing suicide are the 15-minute checks and the fear of being kept here even longer. Weird that being forced to stay here longer is a worse threat than death – but there you go.

When I see people walk off with the social workers to leave I feel like I did when I was having miscarriages and I would see pregnant women. I need to be less honest with the nurses when they chart me.

Everything’s cool, dude.

Not awesome. Awesome is too manic for them.

It’s so not fair that LJ & Nancy are getting out of here tomorrow. I’m happy for them, but I’m so irritated when I compare myself to the people who got/are getting out of here:

Megan – who seemed to be totally relapsing the past few days.

Jen! – enough said.

Susan – Ok. She seemed a lot better

Heather – who spent two days as a “zombie” (her words) when she got here the same day as me.

Tiffany – bet that was a money thing.

LJ – who can’t get out of bed!!

I was pretty upset today when I realized that I wasn’t actually getting out on Monday. So many freaking people are leaving before me. Ok, I’m still upset. But I remembered what Gio the Social Worker said. He said “you [us] ladies are all in here just chillin’. If I was in here I’d write a book.” At the time, I thought, ‘nice for you, a-hole,’ but now that I’m feeling better . . .

I wonder what the medium in Maine would say if she knew where I am now. Would she still think I’m “a miracle”?

Sure. Why the hell not?

It’s all just material, right?

I wonder if Robin Williams ever spent time in the psych ward? I wonder if he would be alive still if he did, or if he’s dead in spite of it.

If I can force myself to write when I get out of here, I know I’ll be a lot less mental. I should just go ahead and write books. I should stop caring if people want to read them. Who cares? I’d love it if they did, but I can’t MAKE them. So why spend a lot of time trying to figure out how to make them want to? I have no idea what people want.

Leap of faith, I guess.

Might fail miserably, like this morning when Karen drank a second glass of chocolate milk, despite the fact that milk makes “her whole body sick.”

Karen: “Do you know what might save me? They’ve got me on Prilosec.”

Stacey: “Only the Lord can save you.”

I guess I’m going to fill this journal up this weekend, so there’s that. My next professional conference is completely fucked, so I might as well go ahead and write a book.

Journal — Dear Future Me

Hi Annie!

I bet you still think of yourself as Dr. Cooper or Alice. I think that’s ok – but I do hope you’ve made some peace with the Annie part of you. Or you’ve changed your name legally 🙂

Maybe this time in this place was the turning point in your writing. Hopefully you got over your paralysis. There are a lot of things you have experienced that people would be interested in, and maybe help someone.

No, you don’t write like other people. But that’s not necessary – in fact, it’s probably really the only reason people would want to read you. – ha! Freudian slip. Maybe that’s why you’re afraid to

************************************

Author’s Note: This is the story of “how I came out of it as normal as I am.” This is something shrinks have asked me since I started seeing them and friends have asked me for longer than that. I don’t actually know, and I’m not really that normal.

If you think that you or a loved one is suffering from one of the mental illnesses depicted in this story (Depression, Bipolar Disorder, BPD, or Narcissistic Personality Disorder), please seek help. I didn’t get the right help until I was in my mid-forties and had had several suicidal episodes – the first when I was nine years old.

You are not being weak if you ask for help. Asking for help might save your life, or the life of someone you love, and that’s a good thing, even if you are doubting that right now. If you won’t do it for yourself, do it for me.

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: Call 1-800-273-8255

Since the Day You Were Born

A few days after I came home from the hospital after giving birth to my first child, I had a nightmare. My husband was downstairs, but I didn’t feel like I could call on him for comfort about this particular dream. So, I called my grandmother. When my family had heard what I named my son, I was disowned again. But I knew that I could sneak in a call to my grandmother and she would answer the phone.

In the dream, I was pushing my son in a grocery cart. He was big enough to sit in the child seat, but was still an infant. His body split open from the top, and there was a female infant inside him that took his place. It was terrifying.

My grandmother listened to me and made comforting noises. I was able to go back to sleep.

The next day my mother called me. I was very surprised, because just a few days ago she had asked me why I was trying to kill my grandfather by not naming my son after him and had sworn to never talk to me again. She said that she was calling to tell me the meaning of my dream. Clearly my grandmother had told her about my nightmare.

My mother said that the dream meant that my child had died in my dream because I didn’t deserve to be a mother.

I felt the bottom drop out of my world, and I was in freefall. Everything was dark. I don’t remember how the conversation ended or whether or not I actually passed out.

Desperate, I called the woman who had been my mother’s best friend when they were children, and who was now my second cousin by marriage. The families had spent a lot of time together, but we weren’t really close. I had no one else.

When I asked her how my mother could say such a thing, she said, “Your mother has hated you from the moment you were born.”

A Yellow Pill


<img src="https://i.ebayimg.com/images/g/xM0AAOSwvgdW2b1g/s-l1600.jpg&quot; alt="mug with the words triaminicin: the sunshine pill“/>

When my mother had a headache, she would lay in her bed with the curtains drawn and call out for me to bring her a wrung-out washcloth and a “yellow pill.”

After some research, I figured out that the yellow pill was a Triaminicin tablet.

A combination of Chlorphenamine, Paracetamol, and Pseudoephedrine, Triaminicin was sold as an antihistimine until it was discontinued in the early 2000s, when drugs containing phenylpropanolamine, or PPA, were shown to be a possible source of strokes and cardiac arrests.

Chloraphenamine is known as a “sedating antihistamine.”

Paracetemol is another name for acetaminophen – which commonly sold in the United States as “Tylenol.”

Pseudoephedrine was formerly sold “over the counter” in U.S. drugstores, and was marketed under the name “Sudafed.” The new Sudafed product available over the counter is called Sudafed PE, and uses phenylephrine instead of pseudoephedrine.

Pseudoephedrine is still sold, but you must ask for it at the pharmacist’s window, and often customers must sign a confirmation of purchase to aid in limiting the amount sold to each person.

This is because it is often used to make methamphetamines.

So, a downer, an upper, and a painkiller. Seems like a reasonable balance.

Guess I can’t blame the Yellow Pills for much, after all.

Don’t Hitchhike

Warning: This post includes mentions of torture and sexual slavery (not mine)

A hard-sided waterbed

In the 1970s we had a waterbed in our extra room. It was my mom’s “study,” but it also had a small black and white television on a dresser in the closet, and I spent time lounging on the bed and watching television. I loved that waterbed.

On May 19, 1977, 20-year-old Colleen Stan was hitchhiking near Eugene, Oregon, when she was picked up by a couple with a baby. For the next seven years, she was tortured, raped, and brainwashed by Cameron Hooker.

She became known as the “Girl in the Box” because her captors often confined her to a box underneath the couple’s waterbed. Hooker also forced her to wear various gags, blindfolds, and a sometimes left her confined in a 20-pound “head box.”

When I did the math, I realized that I couldn’t have been thinking about this when I lay on the waterbed, even though I remembered doing so. Stan wasn’t released until 1984, and the waterbed was long gone by then.

So why did I remember my mother telling me a story about a woman with no arms and legs trapped in a box under a waterbed?

I thought this memory was a fiction, a mash-up of Stan’s story and the 1994 episode of The X-Files about the incestuous family that kept their armless and legless mother on a cart under a bed. The memory pre-dated both of these things, but the past is a malleable place. Weird coincidence (?) time: I now live four miles from the town of Home that is referenced in the episode.

As my mother represented this story as true, I did some more research to see if there was any basis in fact.

I found the story of Mary Vincent.

On September 29, 1978, Lawrence Singleton picked up Vincent in Berkeley, California. About 100 miles later, he raped her, cut off her arms, and threw her in a culvert to die. She survived, made her way to the road, and was rescued by the people in the second car that came along.

Singleton was convicted in 1979, and my mother told me Vincent’s story to warn me that I shouldn’t hitchhike.

I was eleven years old.

Quiet

When we lived in California, my mother spent her time at home in bed with the shades drawn because she had migraines. I was allowed to bring her hot wrung-out washcloths to put over her eyes and “yellow pills.” I could not make any noise, because that would make her pain worse.

I wrote this character study about Severus Snape for an age fest – I was assigned Severus Snape birth-10 years old.

His mother had headaches, too.

A note about my fanfiction. If you wanted to, you could use my fanfic name to look up my stories. However, I have written only two rated G stories in my life. The rest is very, very explicit Harry Potter slash (depicting gay relationships). My nickname in fandom circles is “Dirty, Bad, Wrong.” Caveat Emptor.

Magpie

Title: Magpie
Category: One
Author: annescriblerian
Beta Reader(s): Her husband.
Rating: G
Warning(s): None.
Note: Thanks to my husband for the beta. I finally wrote a story he wasn’t too embarrassed to read!
Summary: Severus makes the most of what he finds.

Severus Snape was very good at being quiet. He knew how to move about his house without making a bump or a creak. This was quite an accomplishment; the house where he lived was quite old and was practically falling apart because his father couldn’t be bothered to fix anything.

After making it up the stairs, Severus took a deep breath. Hardest bit done. Wouldn’t do to get too confident, though. He couldn’t afford to relax. He hugged the wall as he crept along the upstairs hallway. The floorboards on the side were less worn down than the ones in the middle, and they were less likely to groan. He had to duck to avoid the few photos that hung on the wall, but the pattern of bobbing was automatic by now.

His father wasn’t even at home, but the imperative of silence was too ingrained in him for Severus to move in any other manner. Besides, he didn’t want to disturb his mother. If she were asleep, he wouldn’t wake her.

Severus opened his mother’s bedroom door millimeter by millimeter. When he finally peeped into the room, the feeble light that shone in from the hallway lit up his mother’s eyes. They were the only things visible in the pitch-black room. Her eyes were also what people called black, but Severus knew that they were the darkest blue, just like his own eyes. They glittered like negative images of stars in the ribbon of light.

Severus was excited to see that she was awake, but at the same time he was chagrined. He had yet to catch her out, no matter how carefully he approached and opened her door. He rarely saw her sleep. He knew that she slept most of the day; she was saving her energy for the times when her husband was at home. It didn’t pay to be anything less than completely awake when Tobias Snape was on a rampage.

At least Severus could wedge his bed against the door of his room whilst he slept. But his mother had to share a bedroom with that brute.

Even though it was obvious that his mother had seen him, Severus still entered the room as silently as possible. He wouldn’t so much as vibrate the floor. It would kill him to cause her a moment of extra pain.

“Would you like me to refresh your flannel, mother?”

“Yes, please. Make it very hot, darling. The pain is bad today. Don’t worry about the gas bill.”

Severus flinched at the mention of the gas bill, and vowed to work harder on his warming charms. If his father somehow sensed the use of magic, the only one to suffer the consequences would be Severus. But every penny spent on gas meant one fewer pence left for buying groceries. Even if she dared to use her wand, his mother couldn’t conjure food out of thin air.
~~~~*

Most witches, his mother included, used the bark of the willow. Severus had discovered that the sap actually contained more of the required substance, though it had to be used with caution because of its greater potency. Also, as he wasn’t allowed proper potions tools, like the ones he saw in his mother’s old schoolbooks, it was easier to dilute sap than it was to extract the required component from bark.

Muggles had a name for the powerful agent found in the willow: salicylic acid. Severus didn’t like the sound of it. He’d read the few books on chemistry available at his school library, and had found them interesting. But in general, he didn’t have much use for Muggle science. It was clumsy, inefficient. He much preferred potions. Severus’s innate magic allowed him to sense how potions would work. His mother had also been aces at potions, back when she’d gone to Hogwarts.

Before she met his father.

Severus deliberately pushed the thoughts of his father back down into the darkness of his mind, where they belonged. Any taint of bitterness would disturb the healing qualities of the pain draught he was making for his mother.
~~~~*

The vervain and peppermint were dried. Stealing decorative plants, which was all that the ignorant Muggles in their fancy houses saw these herbs as, required a lot of walking and some careful planning.

It had been easier when he was smaller; people didn’t complain if a little child picked some of their plants, even a child as ugly and unkempt as Severus Snape. But now that he was a rather tall nine-year-old, he was seen as a vandal. And not just by the rich folk.

It had become more and more apparent that he could expect no quarter from anyone in his own neighborhood. He used to be able to linger about storefronts and the better sort of yards, using their respectability to make himself too much of a bother for bullies. Nowadays he was more likely to be tolerated by the bullies than by the respectable folk, to be honest.

Severus had managed to win the grudging respect of Rowan, the leader of the meanest bunch, when the ginger saw him escaping a much larger boy. Severus had never hesitated to fight dirty. He was tall for his age, but the same growth spurt that made him so tall had left his undernourished frame even bonier than it would have been anyway. Going for his opponents’ weak spots and then making a quick getaway was his only chance.

Rowan found Severus’s refusal to yield funny, and he’d adopted him as a sort of stray. That did nothing to protect Severus when Rowan wasn’t around, however. And who knew how long this older boy’s fancy would favor him? Severus knew well that powerful people couldn’t be trusted. Rowan found him amusing today; tomorrow Rowan might find it amusing to watch his followers beat Severus to a pulp.

No, other peoples’ whims were nothing to count on. That sure and hard-won knowledge didn’t stop Severus hoping, though. On his last foray up the hill to the posh neighborhood, he’d met another redhead who’d found him amusing. Her hair wasn’t shocking orange like Rowan’s; it was a lovely dark red, like a maple leaf in autumn. She was lovely.

When he’d first seen her laughing, Severus had assumed she was laughing at him. He hadn’t been quite sure what to do. Usually other people’s laughter drove him immediately into a rage, and he struck without thinking. But this girl was so beautiful, and she seemed so happy. He was ashamed to find himself willing to be mocked by her. He’d suffer any ignominy to see her flushed with laughter.

When she’d looked straight at him with a welcoming smile and pointed up in the air, his head had snapped up before he’d thought. He hadn’t thought twice about baring his throat to her, he realized later. Then, he’d been entranced by what he’d seen above him. Two butterflies, one scarlet and one black, had fluttered wildly around one another; their contrasting colors flashing like a beacon.

Severus had slunk away while she was still looking up and laughing, wanting to remember her long, white throat and waterfall of crimson hair rather than the scornful look that would surely result when she took a better look at just who she was laughing with.

He was half-afraid to go back up the hill again. The urge to seek her out, to make her laugh, already burned inside of him. Best to smother such a flame before it became bright enough to burn him.
~~~~*

No matter. The important thing, he reminded himself was to make the potion for his mother. He didn’t have time to think about other children. His mother needed him.

The thought of his mother, lying in her bed with a warm flannel over her eyes, was also pushed down into the darkness of his mind. Just as hate would poison the potion, so would love. Potions required an absolute discipline of the heart as well as the mind.

As he always did, Severus had done what was necessary. His mind was clear. He had an adequate supply of dried herbs. And he was lucky enough to have found this willow tree; the small, secret hideaway formed by its low-hanging branches was just a bonus.

No one ever bothered him when he was crouched in the shelter of the willow. Those who drove boats up and down that dark river had better things to do than to investigate shadows behind its branches, even if they had noticed them. And the muck at the very edge of the river kept everyone who might approach from land away. Even the most determined explorers, or bullies, had no desire to slog through that filth. Severus knew this from experience it took days to dry, even in the warm months. He’d had enough beatings from the biggest bully of them all, his father, for the squelching stink that the mud left on his sole pair of shoes.

He knew that he was not alone in that department. Hardly a night went by without shouting from somewhere in the neighborhood, and sharp smacks or the smash of broken crockery usually followed. It meant that Severus never had to explain the bruises he sported, but it also made his father feel like his despotism was perfectly normal.

Severus was disgusted by the cruelty that the monsters around him showed to their own flesh and blood. He never stopped being grateful that none of them had magic. The mere thought of what someone like his father would do with magic made him shudder.
~~~~*

Severus was having trouble stilling his mind and focusing completely on the process of creating the potion. He put down the herbs and the pewter bowl he had nicked from his elderly neighbor. He felt no guilt about the theft; the old lady had been using it to feed the dozens of stay cats that she drew to their block. Muggles had absolutely no understanding of the usefulness of the things around them.

He sat down on the makeshift bench he had cobbled together and leaned back against the trunk of the willow. He rested his hands on his thighs, leaned his head back, and thought of nothing. Nothing was black, and it was so cold that it would burn you until you accepted it. Severus barely felt the sting anymore when he slipped into the darkness; it had become his ally.

Once he was alone in his mind, he opened his eyes. All that was left in the world was him and the things he needed to make potions.

He could use as much peppermint as he wanted. It was a neutral to the other ingredients, and it served to calm the stomach as well as to improve the taste of the potion. The bitter pill of his mother’s life was hard enough to swallow without the addition of foul-tasting brews to the mix.

The vervain served as a relaxant and gave protection against evil. Even though his father called Severus and his mother evil, Severus knew better. He knew what evil was, and it wasn’t magic.

The willow sap was the most powerful, and the most dangerous ingredient. If he used too much, the potion would eventually burn a hole in his mother’s stomach, peppermint or no. His hand was perfectly stable as he added the right number of drops.

Now came the hard part. Without his magic the mixture of herbs and willow sap would work to relieve his mother’s pain, but it would have a fraction of the power he could force into it. Someday, his mother promised him, he would have a wand. For now, Severus had discipline and will.

It had gotten so much easier than it was when mother had first taught him to make the headache powder four years ago. Back then it really was just a dry mix of herbs and bark, nothing like a potion. Over the years he had experimented with ingredients and proportions, methods of mixing and different levels of heat. The most important change that had come with age, however, was his ability to sense the potential of things and his willingness to do whatever it took to realize that potential.

His focus was so strong today that the force of his resolve created an excess of magic. Severus knew when the potion was complete; any more power would push it too far and turn it to poison. He wrenched his focus away from the bowl in his hand and turned toward the river.

As the invisible blast of magic continued to surge out of him, Severus focused on the dirty water before him. His eyes snagged on the brightly colored crisp and sweets wrappers that clung to the shore, as if they were trying to escape drowning. The contrast of their bright colors with the filth which clung to them reminded him of the girl from up the hill and the butterflies flashing scarlet and black.

He smiled as the wrappers rose and began to spin. They formed a beautiful spiral, flashing for an instant in the darkness that defined Spinner’s End and Severus’s life.

Severus laughed as his magic ebbed, and the wrappers sank back down into the murky water, exhausted by their brief flight.

Severus’s father said that all magic was evil, and he said that Severus and his mother were inherently evil.

Severus knew, with the certainty of his almost ten years, that he would always be seen as a dark stain on the beauty of others. The world would continue to give him only garbage, and he would have to steal everything else. His future assuredly would be dark.

But he would not bend under the cruelty of the world. He would continue to learn how to make magic out of the things that other people ignored or threw away.

He would force the world to face the darkness they hated so fiercely. He would force them to see him, Severus Snape.

And they would never forget him.

Four Pi

Symbol of the Satanic cult Four Pi

When I did some research to identify the witches who pushed my mother down the stairs, I discovered that there was a Satanic cult operating in the late 1960s and 1970s called “Four Pi.” Several elements in the description of this cult matched the things my mother had said about t: they sacrificed black dogs and cats in their rituals, they claimed to perform human sacrifice, and their leader – the “Grand Chingon” – was a middle-aged, wealthy California businessman. 

Animal and human sacrifice are common elements of self-proclaimed Satanic cults, but the middle-aged businessman as leader seemed unusual enough to be more than a coincidental match. For a time in the 1970s, my mother worked as a real estate broker. She had told me that the pressure to join the “coven” came from a wealthy businessman whom she had met through her real estate deals.

I found this information about Four Pi in the book Cannibal Serial Killers: Profiles of Depraved Flesh-eating Murderers, by Christopher Berry-Dee, which was published in 2011. Berry-Dee was summarizing information that journalist Ed Sanders had gathered in 1969 while doing research for his book The Family: The Story of Charles Manson’s Dune Buggy Attack Battalion, which was first published in 1971.

I am not sure whether Four Pi was real and actually tried to recruit my mother or whether she read The Family and adopted the Four Pi section as part of her life. I’m also not sure which option scares me more – Satanists [1] or a mother who couldn’t tell the difference between reality and fantasy.

[1] Satanists are not necessarily cult members who perform murders. In general, Satanism is a philosophy based on the perceived practices and beliefs of Satan. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Satanism

Princess Tuvstarr

Illustration by John Bauer

Princess Tuvstarr persuaded Skutt the Moose to take her away from her palace so she could see the world. As they wandered through the dark forest, Skutt warned her to hold on to his antlers with both hands. When they encountered fairies, she reached out to them and they stole her golden crown. The Lady of the Forest stole the princess’s golden dress in the same manner. When she climbed down to take a drink from a tarn, her golden locket fell from her neck into the water. There she sits, looking for her lost heart until this very day.

When I was young, my mother gave me a book of Swedish Fairy Tales with illustrations by John Bauer. Little Princess Cottongrass was my favorite. She looked just like me and she had adventures like I wanted to have and she was trapped like I was.

Years ago, my husband gave me a copy of this book. I tried to read it, but I couldn’t even open the book without crying.