My Heart Is An Autumn Garage

21 Nov

My little book that I’ve been working on for the last few months, My Heart Is An Autumn Garage, came out today. It’s a short memoir about the breakdown I had in 2003 and my subsequent hospitalization. You can find it here on the publisher’s website. I am still kind of overwhelmed with Feelings about this, so I’m not sure what else to say.

Below a short excerpt that’ll hopefully explain the book better than I can right now. It takes place shortly after I agreed to sign myself in voluntarily to the psychiatric unit.

Almost as soon as I passed the papers back to the nurse, a hospital commissionaire came to escort me to the psychiatric short stay unit. It was a long walk, to a separate part of the hospital called the Abbie J. Lane building. The name seemed like a funny combination of Abbey Road and Penny Lane and I suddenly wished that I had someone other than the commissionaire to tell this to. No one knew where I was, though – not my friends, not my roommate, not even the mother of the boy I babysat. Oh, I’d called her to tell her that I wouldn’t be able to work that day, of course, but I’d given the flu as an excuse. My voice, rough and shaky from hours of crying, was enough to back me up, and she’d accepted my lie without question.

Once we reached the short stay unit, the commissionaire had to call to get someone to buzz me in. I heard the lock gently snick as the door closed behind me and the sound sent me into a full-on panic. I’d been crying ever since we left the emergency room, but now I started to sob even harder. The commissionaire, an older man with white hair and laugh lines around his eyes, just patted my hand and told me that I would be fine. Then he turned around and the door closed behind him and he was gone, slowly ambling back into the world of people who weren’t locked in psychiatric wards. I turned around and found a nurse standing behind me; I told her, gasping and more than a little inarticulate, that I wanted to leave. I told her that the emergency room nurse had said that I could leave whenever I wanted, and I damn well wanted to leave this second.

She said that I couldn’t leave, though, not until I’d spoken to the psychiatrist on call. So I told her to call the psychiatrist. She just sighed and rolled her eyes.

The nurse went into a glass-walled room and sat behind a desk; I watched her pick up the phone and mutter something into it; I could tell that she was muttering by the way she pressed her mouth to the receiver and barely moved her lips. She paused for a moment, nodding in agreement with whatever the psychiatrist was saying, then muttered something else. She hung up the phone, came over to where I was waiting and, a fake smile plastered on her face, suggested that I let her show me around while we waited for the psychiatrist to come.

The glass-walled room was, she explained, the nurse’s station, where I could always find the nurse on duty. There was also a small closed-in room with a long wooden table where the staff held meetings and took breaks. After that, she showed me around the rest of the ward; most of it was a big, open space sort of set up like an open-concept house. There was formica-topped, institutional-looking table in the middle of the room, surrounded by half a dozen aluminum-and-vinyl chairs. In one corner there two ratty old couches and an ancient television, and in the opposite corner there was a dingy white-tiled bathroom, complete with bathtub and shower. All along one wall were our “rooms”, which were really just small alcoves containing a hospital bed and a bedside table. These so-called rooms didn’t even have doors on them, just heavy hospital curtains that could be drawn if the patient wanted privacy. Each room came equipped toothbrush, toothpaste, and a child-size paper cup full of viscous blue liquid that was both shampoo and body wash.

“You can leave your coat and bag here,” the nurse said brusquely.

There didn’t seem to be much point to that since I would be leaving as soon as I met with the psychiatrist, but I did it just to humour her.

After that I tried to call Denise, figuring that at least someone should know where I was, but she’d already left the office for the day. So I sat and read my book until the nurse announced that it was time to eat and ushered all of us patients towards the formica table. Supper was some sort of grisly meat in a pool of gravy with a side of instant mashed potatoes and green beans from a can, but I tucked into it eagerly. My financial situation had by then deteriorated to the point where I was eating No Name brand macaroni and cheese every night, so I was pathetically excited to find meat and vegetables on my plate. I only had the chance to eat a bite or two, though, before the nurse came over and told me that the psychiatrist was ready to see me.

They took me into the little meeting room where the psychiatrist waiting to talk to me. She had brittle, curly blond hair and spoke in a cold, clipped Eastern European accent. Without any preamble, she asked me why I felt that leaving the hospital was a good idea, and began taking copious amounts of notes as soon as I started talking. Meanwhile, I was struggling to pull myself together enough to properly explain why I wanted to go home. I began by telling her I didn’t feel safe or comfortable spending the night there, and she nodded without looking up, indicating that I should keep going. Having already made what I thought was my strongest and most obvious point, I thought fast to think of something else – unfortunately, the best that I could come up with was that I had a lot of laundry to do and it was my turn to wash the dishes and also I’d promised to call my mother that night. The doctor looked up then, frowning in a way that I knew meant that she didn’t think I was very bright, and said that none of those were good reasons for leaving the hospital. I realized, then, that I should have just kept elaborating on my first point, rather than trying to come up with more.

Still, I said, they’d told me that since I was signing myself in voluntarily, I could leave whenever I wanted. And I wanted to leave.

The psychiatrist ignored that, and told me that if I wanted to call my mother, I could call her from the hospital.

No, I said quickly – too quickly – that was fine. I could call her the next day. It wasn’t urgent.

But, the psychiatrist said, sensing that she’d found a sore spot, I’d listed that as one of the reasons why I wanted to go home. Didn’t that mean that it was important?

The thing was, I explained, hesitantly, the thing was that my mother didn’t exactly know that I was in the hospital. And I didn’t want to tell her, because I thought that it would just worry her needlessly.

The psychiatrist smiled like a cat with a fat, wriggling little mouse pinned under its paw.

That settled it, she told me. If I’d agreed to call my mother, she might have let me go home, but since I hadn’t, she wouldn’t.

Unable to keep the note of triumph out of her voice, the psychiatrist went on to explain that this type of behaviour was known as fragmentation. Fragmentation is the fancy, technical term for only telling one or two pieces of the story to each person, but you never explain the whole of what’s happening to any one individual.

It was a sign, the psychiatrist said, of a deeply disordered personality.

The worst of it was that she was right: I definitely did have a tendency to share only parts of the story and never the whole. At the time, when the psychiatrist first said this to me, I felt panicked, disoriented. Fragmenting, or whatever you wanted to call it, was something that I’d consciously done as a means of protecting myself and the people around me from my sickness; I’d never imagined that I might be making myself sicker. It was as if I’d been climbing and climbing a long flight of stairs, hoping that I’d find the exit soon, and then suddenly realizing that I was instead taking myself deeper and deeper into the labyrinth. And maybe there was no exit. And maybe all paths lead only to the heart of the maze.

Here I’d thought that doling out my life in bits and pieces was a smart self-preservation technique, a way of taking everything on myself so that I would never have to lean too hard on any one person or another. I had this idea that I would somehow figure out what information my various friends and family could handle, and then I could divide up my confessions accordingly. My reasoning went something along the lines of, If I don’t ever tell anyone anything that bores or upsets them, then it’ll be easier for them to love me.

The fact that I was difficult and frustrating to love was, I assumed, just a given.

These days, I’m less convinced of my unworthiness of love, and that fact alone almost certainly means that I’m much more mentally healthy than I was ten years ago. I try much harder to be honest about the parts of myself that I find shameful or embarrassing, and although that kind of vulnerability has been tough, it’s a gamble that has more or less paid off. Having stripped myself down, often publicly, and having bared some of my darker aspects, I feel much stronger and happier. I’m glad that I don’t compartmentalize my life to the extent that I used to.

That being said, I still don’t entirely agree with the idea that “fragmentation” is the sign of a personality disorder. I may no longer convinced that it’s the smartest, healthiest thing to do, but I also feel that it’s a perfectly natural coping mechanism. When you get to a point where you just hate yourself so goddamn much, it makes total sense to think that other people would, if they knew the whole truth about you, feel the same revulsion that you do. It makes sense to want to hide what you think are the terrible, deal-breaker parts of yourself. It makes a whole fucking lot of sad, desperate sense. And, I mean, sure, in an ideal world everyone should have someone, or even better, multiple someones, with whom they feel comfortable sharing all of themselves. In an ideal world no one would ever feel shame or guilt for things that they can’t help, things like sadness or fear or loneliness. In an ideal world we wouldn’t have so much trouble loving ourselves.

But we don’t live in an ideal world, do we?

After the psychiatrist accused me of fragmentation, I began frantically scrambling to explain that no, it wasn’t like that, really. I tried to tell her that everything that I’d said had come out exactly wrong. I wasn’t whatever she thought I was.

It was too late, though. Ignoring my babbling, she stood up, walked across the room and pulled a piece of paper out of a filing cabinet.

“I didn’t want to do this, but you leave me no choice,” she said.

Of course, her tone and facial expression indicated that she didn’t really give a shit one way or another over whether she did this, whatever this was, or not.

“What are you doing?” I asked, my voice cracking with fear.

“I’m certifying you.”

What does that mean?

I felt like I might throw up.

“It means that I’m signing this so that you can no longer leave of your own free will,” she said very calmly.

“No,” I yelled, losing what few shreds of dignity I might have had left. “No, you can’t. You can’t sign that. They told me that I was here voluntarily. I’m allowed to leave. They said that. The nurse and the doctor, they told me that. You don’t understand. This is my life you’re fucking with. You can’t just do this.”

But it was too late, she’d already made up her mind.

Find the book HERE on Amazon. If you buy it, please leave a review!

tc-site6

45 Responses to “My Heart Is An Autumn Garage”

  1. M. R. November 21, 2013 at 1:19 am #

    Anne, les mauvaises nouvelles sont que … sorry, what a wanker I am! The bad news is that Amazon are saying “this title is not currently available for purchase”. Amazon have done such things to me and my publishers that this does not surprise me one bit. But I thought you should know, so that you, too, can lose your rag with ‘em.

    • bellejarblog November 24, 2013 at 5:38 pm #

      Oh no!!! Is it working now? If not, I will let them have it.

      Thanks!!

      • M. R. November 24, 2013 at 6:53 pm #

        I suspect the problem is because I’m in Oz, m’dear. I shall persevere is all I can say.

  2. BulgingButtons November 21, 2013 at 1:23 am #

    You took my breath away. Thank you so much for sharing your story, it is riveting.
    xo, BB

    • bellejarblog November 24, 2013 at 5:39 pm #

      Thank you so much, that is so kind of you. And thank you for ordering it! Let me know what you think :)

      • BulgingButtons November 24, 2013 at 5:55 pm #

        I plan on catching up on my reading over Christmas break, so it will be a few weeks. Right now I have to WRITE! :)

  3. BulgingButtons November 21, 2013 at 1:26 am #

    Just ordered it for my Kindle.
    BB

  4. Muddy River Muse November 21, 2013 at 2:08 am #

    Wow. Will definitely be hunting up a copy of your book.

  5. VeronicaBud November 21, 2013 at 2:27 am #

    I will get a copy as well. Amazingly written!

  6. Kim13 November 21, 2013 at 2:41 am #

    I applaud your writing, and recall of this time in your life. Honestly, I’d love to write about my inpatient times, however, I don’t recall much of most of them. I did however have this same struggle several times when I signed myself in. Hugs

    • bellejarblog November 24, 2013 at 5:47 pm #

      I’m lucky, in that I kept a pretty detailed journal at the time. If it hadn’t have been for that, I wouldn’t be able to recall a lot of the details.

      • Kim13 November 24, 2013 at 5:51 pm #

        Yes, I thought the same thing after posting my comment..that I have most the details in my journals. I am very impressed with your writing..great job!

  7. Lysa November 21, 2013 at 2:53 am #

    thank you for sharing your life.
    wonderfully poignant & truthful
    I was hospitalized in 1997 and your recall is so honest

    • bellejarblog November 24, 2013 at 5:48 pm #

      Oh I’m so sorry to hear that. I hope that things are better for you now!

      Thank you for your kind words.

  8. koypapi November 21, 2013 at 6:01 am #

    Reblogged this on kingsfordobiriyeboah.

  9. Hari November 21, 2013 at 7:04 am #

    “O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!” He chortled in his joy.”
    Been waiting for this day for a loooonnnnggg time.

  10. themadmack November 21, 2013 at 4:11 pm #

    I’ve been following your blog for a while. Somehow, you manage to encapsulate the “depressed woman” experience–all the nuance and complexity that combination invites–in every post you write. Having struggled myself with depression for my entire life, it feels truly wonderful to think someone out there knows what I’m going through. I want you to know you’re not alone, either. I’ve read posts you wrote that were so raw and unfiltered, you immediately took them down. Those posts, in my opinion, were always your best. I’m looking forward to that uncensored version of you in your book. The sample I read haunts me and I can’t wait to read it. Congrats on publishing and I’ve just bought my very own copy.

    • bellejarblog November 24, 2013 at 5:54 pm #

      Thank you. And yes, there have been a few posts that were too personal, and that ended up being ultimately taken down. I’m glad you liked them, though. Even when things are awful, it’s always such a relief to know that you’re not the only one who feels that way.

      Thank you so much for buying a copy! Let me know what you think :)

  11. bookmole November 21, 2013 at 9:48 pm #

    I had that sinking feeling when the link from the publisher let to Amazon.com – fortunately, when I clicked, OK send to me to UK site, there you were! Downloaded to kindle, phone and computer, so I will be able to read it everywhere.

    • bellejarblog November 24, 2013 at 5:49 pm #

      Oh hooray!! Let me know what you think :)

  12. bookmole November 21, 2013 at 9:48 pm #

    Reblogged this on Bookmole's Blog and commented:
    Belle Jar’s book is out – a bargain and highly recommended.

  13. susieq777 November 22, 2013 at 2:19 am #

    Wow, thanks for sharing your terrifying experience. Congratulations on writing and finishing and publishing your book :)

    • bellejarblog November 24, 2013 at 5:49 pm #

      Thank you so much! It doesn’t really seem real yet hah

  14. Jaime November 22, 2013 at 7:41 pm #

    Narcissism.

    Should be tilted, “My Head is a Summer Vacation”

    • mgpcoe November 22, 2013 at 9:32 pm #

      You have two sentence fragments and a spelling mistake here. Not only that, but that’s your entire comment; you don’t have anything that actually passes muster. Jaime, this simply won’t do.

      I’m giving you an F. Please reconsider your comment and resubmit it for grading. Please note, you’ll be assessed a ten percent penalty for every day late.

    • Karen Power November 22, 2013 at 9:55 pm #

      Don’t be such an insensitive jerk. This is not narcissism. This is the real experience of someone with real mental health issues. Give your head a shake.

      • Jaime November 22, 2013 at 11:32 pm #

        Narcissism is a real mental health issue. Young adults with boring lives writing memoirs are narcissists.

    • susieq777 November 22, 2013 at 11:41 pm #

      Sounds like a bit of fear might possibly be lurking under your response, Jaime.

    • themadmack November 23, 2013 at 2:26 am #

      “Young adults with boring lives writing memoirs are narcissists.” You clearly don’t know what the medical diagnosis, “narcissistic personality disorder,” commonly referred to by ignorant fools as simply “narcissist,” actually is. A person with this disorder is someone who sees themselves as completely admirable and without flaw, all important, and powerful. Those who manifest Narcissistic Personality Disorder have no ability to empathize or acknowledge their own vulnerability. Therefore, this book cannot, by definition, be “narcissistic.” The author displays deep empathy and vulnerability within its pages– a “narcissist” as you say would be incapable of this. Now, please stop projecting your insecurities all over this woman’s work of art and bravery. And if you’d like to be schooled further, you know where to find me.

      Now if what you mean is that personal accounts of other pain make you uncomfortable than therefore you did not enjoy this book, then say that. Because we all already know that that is the case.

    • ryanfhughes November 23, 2013 at 5:37 am #

      Jaime, you so BRAVE! Go get dead somewhere inaccessible.

  15. Karen Power November 22, 2013 at 9:57 pm #

    Love this. So, so much. I walked the same halls. I was only there for the Day Program. There were good experiences and bad. Mostly good, though. Thank you for sharing this with us. I look forward to reading your book. :-)

    • bellejarblog November 24, 2013 at 5:51 pm #

      Thank you! Yeahhh the good ol’ Abbie J. The next time I was back there, I was working as a patient sitter. How odd!

  16. saradraws November 23, 2013 at 3:28 am #

    One hell of a precipice you’re standing on. A courageous, smart, interesting woman. Looking forward to the rest.

  17. Barb November 24, 2013 at 4:29 am #

    Anne, I think your first chapter (describing the land of Sadness and your house there) is probably the best description of how it feels to live with depression I have ever read. Thank you for you gift.

    • bellejarblog November 24, 2013 at 5:52 pm #

      Oh that is AMAZING. Thank you so much! I’m so glad that it resonated with you. Well, not glad that you’ve been depressed, but hopefully you know what I mean <3

  18. antisphexish November 24, 2013 at 7:34 pm #

    Thank you so much for this. your writing is excellent! I just started blogging about similar topics, if you want to check it out.

  19. Victoria F. Vendetta November 27, 2013 at 9:46 am #

    I had never heard your name before a friend quoted “What It’s Like To Live Here” on their Tumblr, yesterday afternoon. After reading it I immediately went and bought “My Heart Is An Autumn Garage” and devoured it on my train journey home from work.

    I just wanted to thank you for writing something so amazing. Aside from your hospitalisation, which I myself narrowly avoided a few years ago, you could have been telling my own story. Lying in bed last night, I was flattened by the truth of what you wrote, and by horrible familiarity. I am currently experiencing the beginnings of a relapse into depression and for the time that I was absorbed in your words, I didn’t feel so alone.

    I wish I could express my own past and present so eloquently. I always wanted to be a writer, but I find it far easier to think out what I want to say, usually at a million miles an hour, than to get it down on paper. The greatest day in my life will be the day they invent a device to transcribe thoughts.

    I did manage to squeeze out a blog entry a while back in some attempt to purge my brain. If you would be interested in such a thing, it can be read here: http://victoriavendetta.co.uk/2013/10/06/depression-when-relapse-is-a-choice/

    Apart from that, thank you again, and keep writing.

    • bellejarblog November 30, 2013 at 2:34 am #

      Ohhh that’s amazing. Thank you so much! I’m always so blown away when my writing resonates with people.

      I will for sure go check out your blog post right now.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Thoughts: My Heart is an Autumn Garage | Dispatches from Paradis - November 23, 2013

    […] can read an excerpt here on the Bell Jar Blog and buy a copy of the ebook for yourself on […]

  2. 2013 In Review: Part 2 | The Belle Jar - January 6, 2014

    […] In November MY BOOK WAS PUBLISHED. […]

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