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Side Effects
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Life on the ward is reduced to a series of separations. You give your keys and wallet—all of your identifying cards and legal tender—to the guard to have them locked away, like you, for safekeeping. You hand over your last shred of dignity along with the shoelaces they compel you to unthread from the eyelets that hold everything together, that keep you shod and functional. You are processed and prodded, then sorted into dorm-like accommodations, men on one side of the building, women on the other, the nurses’ station dividing the hall so as to keep nocturnal visitations between the sexes to a minimum.

Too bad the hospital is less effective at piecing things back together than at breaking them apart.

There are awkward meals, three squares served on a strict schedule and plastic trays, all foods easily consumed with plastic cutlery, portions measured and monitored lest someone develop a comorbid eating disorder on the inside.

There is group therapy, another tedious ritual, during which the manics motor-mouth on and on about what they’ll do when they get out; the anxiety-riddled fret about missing their next appointment or dose or phone call in vicious verbal circles; and the depressives dip into catatonia, emerging only when pressed to utter monosyllabic responses to the leader’s overly cheerful prompts.

There are individual sessions with doctors of every stripe. Psychiatrists write prescriptions meant to produce the opposite state in each patient—calm the crazy, mend the moody, soothe the stressed, lift the sad. Physicians consult to rule out bodily causes for mental malaise. Specialists scan grey matter seeking suspicious shadows, administer electric impulses to analyze sleep patterns, draw blood to sieve it for disease.

You go along with the charade, play their games, because there is nothing else you can do for the duration of long, tedious days your hold order dictates you’ll be here for. Perhaps there’s a slight, twinkling chance something they do will make you feel better? Truth is, you’re just praying they won’t make you feel worse.

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