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


Drama queen

Funny one

Quiet one with the bon mots

One everyone rolls her eyes at

Timid one

Old ladies: cranky, sweet, quiet


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