“What do you think you’d like to do when you get out?” I asked Sarah on March 18.
“I dunno. Go back to Walla Walla, I guess.”
“Wonderful!” I said, happy that she had voiced an opinion and it didn’t include anything outrageously illogical. “Would you like me to check and see what you need to do to start school next quarter?”
“Yeah. I don’t have access to the Internet, so that would be great.”
At last, I had a task to do—something that felt constructive and helpful and as if Sarah had made progress. I called the admissions office and discovered that Sarah would need to reapply. I filled out the form for her online while she guided me over the phone with the answers.
“Hey, Sarah,” I said, “the next question asks if you’ve ever been arrested or have a record or been put on probation.”
“Oh. What should I do?”
“Be honest,” I advised. “If they want to know the details, they will contact you. You can probably say that ‘I was convicted of shoplifting while experiencing an undiagnosed mental health issue.’ or something like that.” I held my breath. Two days earlier, Sarah didn’t want my advice. Her answer would help me gauge if she had actually improved.
“Yeah. That sounds good. I probably should be honest about it.”
I breathed a prayer of thankfulness and continued filling out the application. When we finished, I hit the send button and prayed once again—who knew how the college would react to her reapplication form. I figured that God would guide their answer, which would in turn direct us in the best course.
If Walla Walla didn’t accept her, Pedro and I had no idea what to do with Sarah. Her options had narrowed due to her behavior. Her grandparents and aunt and uncle all felt a little hesitant about taking on her care—and at this point, we didn’t really know how much care she would need. In addition, from the vitriol she had aired in the previous month, we didn’t think she had much interest in living with us again.
We did feel certain that one of us should show up for her discharge. If returning to school worked out, she would need someone to drive her car from Reno to Vallejo, and then drive with her to Washington. Pedro and I debated and changed our minds a dozen times before coming up with a plan. He would fly from Tulsa to Reno the next day, visit his parents and pick up Sarah’s car, and then drive to California to pick her up from the hospital. He would make a quick detour to pick up her remaining things from his brother’s house as well. After that, they would drive to Washington via Yellowstone—make a road trip out it since the university would not resume classes for another week.
Pedro flew out the afternoon of the 19th, and the hospital promised not to discharge Sarah until he arrived. I received a reply to Sarah’s admission application, and I called her to explain what it said.
“They want you to call the dean of students just as soon as you can,” I said. “They want to hear your explanation about the shoplifting before they come to a decision.”
Once again, her response surprised me. “That’s cool,” she said. “I understand why they would want to talk about it.”
I gave her the number and promised to text it to Pedro so that she would be able to call just as soon as she had phone access. When we hung up, I wept tears of relief and gratitude. While she didn’t sound exactly the same as before all this started, I felt as if the real Sarah had started her journey home.
I spent the strangest nine days of my life in the psych ward. I don’t remember much about the first two days, but I know that on the first or second day a psychiatrist asked me what was going on. I talked for several minutes, explaining in a rush my difficult situation and that I was not suicidal and I wanted to get out of this place and I was angry. At the end he said something along the lines of, “I didn’t really follow anything you just said. You are displaying typical symptoms of mania. You have bipolar disorder.”
How could he not understand me? I made perfect sense. I had delivered an award-worthy speech. I didn’t believe I was manic and I didn’t know exactly what that meant but I sure couldn’t be manic. I was normal. The doctor prescribed Depakote and during the next few days I reluctantly took the medicine at the arranged times and went to the group meetings. The daily events were neatly written on a whiteboard in the main room, and since I had nothing better to do I went to most of them. During one group with a doctor of pharmacy I found out that using marijuana worsens the symptoms of mania tenfold.
The kind people I met there made the experience better, but I was sure I was in hell. I had no Internet access, I couldn’t shave my legs, some of the patients creeped me out, and I felt trapped. When my dad said I had prostituted myself, I hung up, ran to my room crying and wrote several hateful letters to him and everybody who had made me come here. I never wanted to talk to them again. Especially my dad. I was sure I could never forgive him.
As the days went by I began to calm down and realize that maybe everybody was right—the things I did during the last few weeks were not normal. My aunt and uncle would visit me every couple of days and they even said I seemed better, calmer. They would always ask me if I needed anything, and I asked for a notebook and drawing supplies. I wrote some strange poetry and stories in that notebook, and reading back through them I could see the progression from anger and confusion to acceptance.
Close to the end of my stay I ripped up the hate letters and agreed to have my dad come and pick me up from the psych ward. He had been right about everything and I just couldn’t see through the fog of mania. In the beginning I thought everybody owed me a huge apology for ruining my life, but in the end I realized they had saved my life. Now that the fog had started to lift, I couldn’t wait to see him and give him a big hug and tell him I was sorry.
***If only mental hospitals came up with comprehensive aftercare plans! #bipolar Click To Tweet
I started the long drive home. I had no idea what the future would hold, but an overwhelming sense of peace flowed through me as I drove. Once again, God had cleared a way where no way had seemed possible. I had a rosy glow full of expectations about the future. Sarah had calmed down enough that the doctors declared her ready for discharge, and now all she needed to do was get on with her life.