I was a patient at Western Psych for a number of months my 10th grade year of high school. My parents had admitted me – against my will – for anorexia. At 64 pounds, I was a walking skeleton, pressing on with straight A’s at school while battling some hardcore demons in my teenage brain. I still remember the day I was admitted. I was called to the office during study hall, and walked in to find my mom and dad sitting there – my mom near tears at the counselor’s table. I knew some serious shit was about to go down as soon as I saw them.
Before I could turn to run, they assured me that everything was cool. They were just there because a few teachers were worried about me. They wanted to take me to the doctor to be checked out – make sure I was healthy. In my naive 15-year-old mind, I actually believed them. I actually thought I could outsmart anything or anyone they threw at me. A few hours later, my mom handed me a suitcase and left me standing in the ‘admit’ area of Western Psych’s COPE ward – with no idea how long I’d be there, or what I was about to face.
Even then – some 19 years ago – I can remember almost every detail of that place, and that experience. The heavy clink of the door to our “ward” which locked in both directions – in and out. The light feeling of the night nurses putting their ears to my chest the first few weeks I slept to make sure I was still breathing. The humiliation of having nurses watch me shower … and use the restroom … for fear I would hurt myself or purge what I’d eaten. For an extreme introvert – and an extremely private person – I was nearly pushed over the emotional edge, just by the nature of being watched and examined so closely.
In the years that followed, I would lie to my parents thousands of times about my mental “wellness” just in fear of them admitting me again if they knew how sick I was. There were times in college that I would literally lay in bed at night holding my chest because it hurt so badly … praying to God to let me make it through the night – promising that the next day I would eat, I would do better. And the next morning, I would start my rituals of starvation all over again …
I realize that as of now, the motive for this shooting is unclear. It hasn’t even been announced whether the shooter was an employee, or a patient — or a prospective patient. If the latter, I feel an even heavier heart because I know first-hand the sense of fear – anger – frustration – that one feels when they’re at their deepest and most profound point of despair. I know that if I had had a gun when I was admitted to Western Psych that night, I wouldn’t have used it on those around me – but I may have easily turned it upon myself. That’s how far I would have gone to avoid what was coming to me.
I don’t write this post to get into a “gun control” debate. (Truthfully, in cases like this, there would be little reason to try to debate with me at all.) I’m thankful that I grew up in a house where I didn’t have access to a gun, and that guns never even occurred to me as being an “option” for the things I was going through – however difficult. I guess my point is - it shouldn’t be easier to find a gun than it is to find a friend. For all of our sake, I hope that changes.