One Flew Over the Cuckoo Clock

By Caleb Wootan

You’d think my biggest problem in life would be the fact that I was raised in a cult. Well, life’s full of curveballs and the universe has no problem sending them my way. One such fly ball to the groin was my undiagnosed medication-resistant OCD that landed me in a mental hospital for a little over a week last year.

Firstly, it’s important to understand that some people don’t like to talk about this. I don’t even love talking about it. That’s usually because people are there during the worst times in their lives. These facilities can have varying quality and levels of security. It can also seem very rigid.

Most people aren’t ready to be without their phone or unable to go outside whenever they want to. Also you’re surrounded by people who are in full crisis mode, which isn’t always fun. That being said, the hospital, for me, was one of the most positive, healing experiences of my life. Here’s why we shouldn’t be afraid to talk about it.

When I first arrived, I was so f*cking terrified. It was near-ish to finals at my school; good old “Harvard on the Hudson,” Dutchess Community College. I was scared that I wouldn’t be able to pass my courses and would have wasted a semester. It was also my brother’s wedding in two weeks and I wanted to be able to go.

The first thing that struck me was how nice everyone was. Now, that wouldn’t last the whole time, but on the whole everyone was great–especially the staff. I won’t share any names, but if you were ever at Four Winds Psychiatric Hospital, then hey, so was I; and if you remember me, I hope I wasn’t too annoying. I hogged the phone a lot.

We shouldn’t be judged by our lowest points or allow ourselves to be defined by them.

Unlike my religious mission, I could call pretty much any time besides during class and curfew. Yeah, we had classes, on Dialectic Behavioral Therapy skills. We also had homework sheets we were supposed to fill out every day. Most people didn’t, but I was determined to “win therapy” so I did every single one each day. We had a contact every day, who would talk to us about how we were feeling once a day. Every morning and night I met with my floor. We had several class sessions and free periods.

Anyone who remembers me from there would remember my nose constantly in books. When AA met in the evenings for people with substance abuse issues, the rest of us would play games. I loved the people I was with, besides my roommate who snored and the guy who thought I was an undercover therapist sent to watch him.

Once, I saw a man with religious delusions arguing with a guy who claimed to be Jesus. I was honestly not sure if the guy claiming to be Jesus was serious or not. The other guy definitely thought he was.

At night, we would get our meds from a nurse practitioner who would also check to make sure we actually swallowed them. Once, one heard my last name, Wootan, and made a joke about the Wu-tang clan (like everyone does when they hear my name for the first time).

Then, after a pause, she said, “You know, one of the members was here as a patient once.” I asked her if she was allowed to share that. She responded, after another pause, “I don’t know, does HIPAA count if you’re dead?”

It does. It totally does.

I made some good friends. There was a guy who would constantly meow like a cat, not because he was crazy, just because he thought it was funny to pretend there was a therapy cat around. Okay, looking back, I’m not sure he didn’t see a therapy cat, but he was a cool guy who was working on his PHD in Anthropology.

There was a guy who I swear looked exactly like Justin Timberlake who was always showing people TED Talks that he thought might help them with their lives. Justin, if it was you, I’m sorry we never clicked; I guess we just weren’t…in sync?

The hospital, despite how scary it was, was an amazing experience.

There’s definitely a stigma around mental health. People don’t want to hear about it or talk about it because they’re afraid of judgement. I know full well that now I might not ever be able to hold certain positions in government because I’ve been to a mental hospital. To me that’s crazy. I wasn’t just there because I had OCD, I was actively having ideations. I’m better now, though. My meds have balanced out.

The hospital, despite how scary it was, was an amazing experience. I benefited immensely. Problems I’d had my whole life were finally being dealt with. I’m sorry that I allowed my health to slip to the point I needed to go, but I wouldn’t trade that experience for anything. It literally saved my life. Why that means I can’t hold a top secret security clearance, despite being better now, I don’t know.

If anything, I’m healthier than the average person for having been there. We shouldn’t be judged by our lowest points or allow ourselves to be defined by them. I certainly don’t plan on changing anything about my life to adjust to the fact I was there. I don’t expect to be treated any different.

Neither should you.


A version of this originally appeared in “Comfort” The Teller November 2019 Issue #8

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