The Bedlam Yarns #1: Glen Miller in the Air Vent

OR: The Magical World of Anti-depressants

(Note to mental-illness survivors who commented on my last post and said that they wanted me to write the Bedlam Yarns, but didn't know if they could read them -- of all my Bedlam Yarns, I think this one is not likely to be terribly triggering, but YMMV.)

When you're hospitalized as a crazy person, doctors have you captive, so they can prescribe drugs in ways that they would never dare if they didn't have you under constant observation (or so they told me).

Normally, when you go on anti-depressant or anti-psychotic medications, they bring you on slowly, steadily increasing your dosages. When I was in the hospital, they put me on a high dose of anti-depressant medication on my third day in. They told me this was not how they would do it if I were in the wild (not their term, but mine), and that I should report anything unusual to my psychiatrist or the nurses on duty.

Mind you, when I checked into the hospital, I was not psychotic -- just severely and suicidally depressed.

I took the pills, went to my session with my psychiatrist, and joined the other inmates for meals in the common room. The rest of the time, though, I spent in my room, journaling, drawing, staring out the window at the concrete lightwell and the grey Northwest winter.

Very cheery indeed.

About 24 hours after I began taking the medication, I noticed something strange.

This hospital was shiny-bright and perfectly temperature-regulated -- a balmy 70 degrees all day and all night, thanks to the air-vents that blew continually in every room, circulating and purifying the shared air of hundreds of "sick" people.

The vent above my bed shushed out white-noise that was at first comforting, and then, annoying.

It became especially annoying when I noticed the faintest whisper of Glen Miller big band music emanating from it.

It was slight -- so slight that at first I wasn't sure I was really hearing it -- but as the day passed, it persisted -- the tiniest suggestion of rhythmic horns and bass just below the surface of the steady "whoosh" of air.

It became a bit maddening as I strained to hear it more clearly -- I even stood on my bed to get my ear closer to the vent.

I will swear to this day that it was there --though it remained elusive and subtle, the tunes actually changed. I longed to be able to switch the air-flow off so that I could listen without the interference of the ambient noise of the blower.

An orderly came into my room that evening. He was a very sweet guy who was obviously attempting to make a real connection to the people he was working with.

He must have seen me looking perplexed, because he asked me "Is anything wrong?"

I beckoned and said: "Come here."

He came over by my bed and stood patiently, waiting for me to let him know what I needed.

"Do you hear that?" I asked.

This is the part of the story that I think is so great. This guy cocked his head like the RCA dog and really, earnestly, listened.

"The air vent?" he asked.

"Do you hear anything else coming from the air vent -- like very faint music?"

He cocked his head again and gave it his all.

"No," he finally said, shaking his head and looking sympathetic -- "I'm really sorry [Portly], I don't hear any music."

It was a very weird, and very sweet, moment. I think he was genuinely sorry that he couldn't confirm my experience.

I had only been there a couple of days -- this guy probably had no idea what, if anything, my "diagnosis" was. At the time, I wondered if maybe I was sicker than I had thought I was -- like maybe I'd been hearing music all along without knowing it.

"It's big band music," I said," like Glen Miller . . . . . Look -- I didn't come in here because I was hallucinating -- I'm just depressed. Do you think it's the medication?"

"It could be," he said, "You should talk to your doctor tomorrow."

"Okay," I said, as he turned to go. Once again I caught the faintest riff of trumpets tooting away at a swing piece.

"You really don't hear that?" I asked again, incredulous.

He stopped, closed his eyes for a moment, brought his concentration to listening and said, with another slight shake of his head and a half-smile: "No. I don't. I'm sorry. I really don't."

"Oh . . . . Okay."

So, the next day, I attended my first "Coping With Stress" class.

This class was held in a 10 by 12 foot room, which held 14 crazy people, two orderlies, and "Rudy", the presenter.

Rudy had clearly trained for this gig. He pitched his very resonate voice as if he were giving this lecture in a 400 seat auditorium, instead of a 200 sq ft room (which was rather a lot of stimulus for people who were on drugs which have a tendency to make your ears roar anyway).

Maybe the whole idea was to subject you to some stress, so that you had some to cope with -- just in case being in a mental ward wasn't stressful enough for you.

As Rudy droned on, I experienced myself looking from one side of my brain to the other. (I can't tell you exactly how this happened, but it was very clear to me at the time.)

On the left side of my brain from which I was observing, I was processing Rudy's spiel, but as I turned to look in on the right side of my brain, I watched as I saw myself, quite calmly and surgically, slicing the top of Rudy's cranium off with a scalpel, and gently lifting his brain out to have a long scientific look at what made this man tick.

"Wow," I thought (from the left side of my brain), "That was weird."

I reported this, and Glen Miller's invasion of the air-conditioning system, to my shrink during the session later that afternoon.

"Hmmm . . . . . " said the Shrink, "Well, [Portly], you're experiencing episodes of what we call 'bizarre thinking'."
(Gee, ya think?)
"We'll be reducing your medication."

Which they did. I didn't have any more bifurcated brain observations. That kind of stuff stopped immediately.

What is weird is that the Glen Miller music never disappeared, or even changed.

Which left me wondering whether the whole air-vent thing was some kind of mental ward reality-check test (you know -- maybe they really were piping Glen Miller music through the air-co -- if you noticed it, they would know you were on the ball, and if you didn't, then they'd know you were truly crackers) -- or maybe I had developed some super-human hearing capability, or my orderly was partially deaf, or I was picking up some big-band station through my fillings that only transmitted right there in the vortex of that particular hospital light well, or someone was fucking with my head -- or maybe . . . I was just crazy.

What was also weird, to me, was the knowledge that they had loaded me up with drugs that basically made me more crazy than when I got there, and that this didn't seem to bother the professionals who were working with me . . . . at all.

I wondered, then, and now, how many "crazy" people were wandering around looking and acting really wacko because of drugs they were taking to keep them from looking or acting wacko.

Do you think that's weird, or am I just crazy?

Posted byPortlyDyke at 11:54 PM  


pidomon said... January 19, 2008 at 7:06 AM  

I vote weird not crazy.

Christina said... January 19, 2008 at 8:59 AM  

I don't see why it has to be an either/or. Can it not be weird AND crazy?

cheri said... January 19, 2008 at 9:44 AM  

weird not crazy

NameChanged said... January 19, 2008 at 1:03 PM  

Thank you for sharing Portly.

While reading this I was envisioning Winston Smith (1984) in a similar situation. I believe that there was music, and no it is not crazy.

As for the insanity inducing meds and the disinterested docs, that is terrifying.

Beppie said... January 19, 2008 at 2:39 PM  

I think you're a cylon. :)

pidomon said... January 20, 2008 at 11:07 AM  

if portly was a cylon she would have been hearing hendrix no?
(or a remix of him for BSG)

Anonymous said... January 22, 2008 at 12:11 AM  

ok, just passing through here, but thought i'd mention a couple of years ago i was hearing a low musical hum that was somehow connected with thyroid disease...
for while i was sure someone was playing music and I could hear it/ and feel it.(as vibration)

it seems to have stopped now i think about it, but i dont remember it stopping.

might be worth getting a physical check, just in case. take care.

freakingdork said... January 24, 2008 at 6:01 PM  

As someone who has spent time in a mental hospital recently (last year), I found myself laughing and enjoying your piece. Not much has changed, though thankfully, my doctors just made sure I got the meds I was already taking before I got into the hospital...

As for the reason I was in? My parents were switching insurance, I was at college, and I was running out of my meds. So I was taking less and less of my meds. And I had no money. And after 3 years in therapy, I've come to terms with the fact that my depression has always been chemical as well as environmental.

The switch has not made things you basically said with your last post "insurance companies have been and are currently fuuuuucked up." I've had them tell me they aren't going to cover my doses if they go higher, even though that is much cheaper to cover than another hospital visit. I have to see my doctor next month and have them up my doses again because it makes me less sexually dysfunctional if I move up to the next dose (I'm a horrible patient cuz I like playing with my meds; sue me :-P). *sigh* How much should I bet that they will be bitches about it?

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