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I FLEW INTO THE CUCKOO'S NEST: A First-Timer’s Account of a Psychiatric Waiting Hall

So here, in the cuckoo's nest, I find myself. This is where people come when all else has failed. All else has failed. As I look around the holding chamber known as the waiting room, my anxiety quells slightly. The poor souls who inhabit this cold, detached place are each a reminder that the well of suffering can always run deeper. I belong here right now. But I don’t belong here. The experience allows for a new, more objective and intrinsic light to be cast; a gaze upon myself which brings light to the darkness. My darkness. Now, and forever, I can say I have been a mental patient. One of my new peers makes multiple phone calls from the single black prison phone in the corner. Each call to her support system is more angry and frustrated than the next. She is flanked by a pacing man. If not for the carpeting, a shallow mote would be imprinted around the central set of chairs that his small steps have dug. He wears his blanket as a cape, which from behind, makes him look like a noble, clerical looking fellow. He’s worn his blanket like this before. And before that. Another sleeps. Another stares unmoving save his anxious, vibrating feet… which give away his active mind. Business as usual, at least for the staff. For them, this is routine work, but meaningful work. And how un-relatable their day-to-day is from mine. As I gaze around the room my left hemisphere is at work. Breaking out the population into rigid and defined concepts and categories. The well and unwell. Smiles and frowns. Nurse and patient. I am on Team Nurse. At least I feel that way. I feel as though I should be with them behind their main desk, not on this side of it . These patients are aliens… the people I try to ignore and avoid eye contact with in the world. It is this shocking truth that shakes me the most…. I am one of them. My suffering less, more concealed, but worthy of the nest nonetheless. A belligerent, short, nightmare of a woman talks with the man in the cape. I hear her booming voice vomiting her tragic life story for a fourth time. The man in the cape listens with his back to me. I can’t hear him, but the way he wears his nobel blanket makes me imagine he is listening intently, as any good sage would; giving advice to the suffering and misguided. Maybe she is to him what he is to me. The music from the almond joy commercial that blares from the single TV is incredibly fitting and accentuates the dull, stagnation of the room. Bikini Bottom, it turns out, sounds like a psychiatric ward.

The boredom is torturous. The cartoonishly large clock looms over the room like an elementary school classroom. The poignant anticipation of its movement is the same as I recall decades ago. Despite it, this place feels as though it lacks our fourth dimension. There is no time in a timeless place. A new man is here now: a scrappy, middle aged smoker. I can hear his deep Boston accent on his unopened lips. Our brief moment of eye contact is the first time it occurs to me that I could potentially communicate with the aliens. Potentially… as we all do speak English. Though at the moment I am concerned with a different language. The language of numbers which the nurse and I communicate in as she reads my blood pressure, again. High, again. And though we both speak this language, our relationship to it is very different. Somewhere, someone is having the best day of their life. Somewhere, someone is finishing a novel.

Somewhere, someone is experiencing their first love.

Somewhere, someone is on the verge of a scientific breakthrough.

Somewhere, someone stands on stage in front of thousands.

Somewhere, not here, the world is happening.

Here, in the nest, in the place that has no time, I wait. Waiting is anticipation. But anticipation requires time... so, I am not waiting. I am existing. And this current existence sits on a fulcrum… either at the beginning or the end of a chapter. Is the nest the beginning, or the end? I hope it is both. The beginning of my long-overdue recovery and the end of this viscous brand of suffering.

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