By Dominique Stratton
The following post is an excerpt from my writing while I was hospitalized two weeks ago, for the third time in nearly three years. I abruptly stepped away from my job, my PhD program, and my family, because I NEEDED HELP. As if an admission to a psychiatric hospital was my first rodeo, I was scared, embarrassed, and felt like 'What will I do next with my life?' I let the lack of support of 'others', including the plaguing stigma surrounding mental illnesses get the best of me; nevertheless, I fought forward and here are some of my thoughts from a very vulnerable time.*
It was like a scene from a bad 80s movie.
Let's set the scene: Seven unique individuals, brought together only by circumstance. "How will I know?" by the late great Whitney Houston blaring loudly in the background, as two women in scrubs and badges sat like beautiful watch guards, ready at any second to pounce on you if you even look like you would make a run for the exit.
I was surprised that I was even part of this 80s flick; unmotivated to live functional and free outside of the walls of a hospital, but just enough motivated to take the elevator down to the first floor. What a change in pace from three days ago.
So here we were, Seven 'rejects' in an old high school gym. The volleyball net was ratted and torn, while the gym floor looked like a scene out of 'the walking dead'; stained carpet with roughened edges against creme cinder block walls.
As Whitney Houston continued to harmoniously wail in the background, I stood on that dirty carpet, free and open to partake in whatever activity they had to offer me. I was asked to play volleyball, so I did. What else was there to do?
I hadn't played volleyball since high school when I tried out for the team, but subsequently paled in comparison to others. But, I was a little excited to play; that feeling of competition and scary joy, because I hadn't felt anything close to joy in a while.
So we all got in competitive position on either side of the broken net. On one side stood me, unprepared to sweat with conditioned curls, leggings, a chambray collared shirt over a black and white striped tee, and sperry's. Next to me stood a 20 something mom of one ready to give birth before the new year. I don't know how much of a chance we had to win, I was more afraid of my partner giving birth mid set than the prospects of winning.
On the other side of the net stood a shy, but active man in his early 70s next to a woman wearing a paper scrub top and sweats; what a competition this would be ( I mean that in the nicest way).
After a few close encounters of the ball hitting the human ball standing next to me, the potential of getting a good game rhythm going became null and dull. It didn't matter either way to me, whether we played some more or not. Besides, I was trapped in this bad 80s movie for another 20 minutes.
Two against two, turned into me against two. We never could catch that rhythm, but man did Mr. 70 have a good serve.
Me against two then became me against one. We served the ball back and forth as the unwanted perspiration began to weigh my curls down. But, I didn't care. The endorphins that slowly released in my brain felt good and bad, with a weird sort of head throbbing that only someone who's hit rock bottom could relate to.
So I kept playing. I kept sweating and kept playing until gym time ended.
How the heck did I get to this point in my life where I would be 31 years old and saying 'gym time?' You haven't lived until you get to say 'gym time' at such an age as mine.
We had a good time.
My volleyball opponent hugged me and thanked me for a good lack of a game. I shared the same sentiment.
I couldn't help but think what the outside world would say if they saw a scene such as this.
Rejects, nerds, and crazy-ies would probably be the least of their vocabulary. But, I don't care. In that moment, I felt like I was in a mental Disneyland. I was understood and I understood others.
There was no judgement and we were safe; safe to be where we were in life: Vulnerable, not having it all together, but working on getting it together.
This was the closest thing to heaven I'll say...