The Most Important Thing Maura Pennington
One’s own free and unfettered choice, one’s own whims, however wild, one’s own fancy, overwrought though it sometimes may be to the point of madness—this is that most desirable good. ‐‐‐Dostoevsky, Notes from the Underground
Preface It was a little nineteenth century chic to be committed to a mental institution. Sure, they didn’t call them asylums anymore—asylums were where Batman villains went—but Inpatient Psychiatric Services was no less frightening in the image it called to mind. White walls, doctors with German accents, a file cabinet under lock and key containing the documentation forged by a rich and powerful man to sign over a boisterous, perfectly healthy girl. I was no woman in white, but it was unexpected that I should have been at Ravensglen Clinic. I was a physically healthy, fairly pretty, socially conscious, straight‐A student at one of the top colleges in the country. My parents had given me the kind of comfortable life that constituted the American Dream. I had the potential to be anything and live anywhere. All I had to do was reach for what I wanted. Then an ill‐timed breakdown knocked the whole house of cards to the ground. Madness could ruin lives that way. Even as I spent the prescribed eight weeks in the clinic, slowly working my way back to being my successful self, I feared that things were ruined forever. I had made a few friends while I was there, which was more than I could have hoped for. Benny was admitted the same day I was, but for very different reasons that somehow involved a minister and the sixth commandment. He was more outwardly confidant than I was
and never thought twice about doing what he wanted. I wished I could be more like him. We related in an uncomplicated way, only ever talking about what was going on in the outside world. No shop talk and no head‐shrinking. He was the only boy I knew who shared my penchant for red lipstick and it wasn’t my job to know why. Just as it wasn’t his responsibility to understand why I had not been given scissor or knife privileges. I had Dr. Lynch to work through that with me. She was prettier than I expected a psychologist to be and very easy to talk to. Best of all, she got me. There had been other doctors who did not. They simply sat there and said nothing. It was pointless, ineffective therapy. Airing my grievances didn’t resolve what ailed me. I liked Dr. Lynch better than the cold, stony man named Hunt who scrawled out on his efficient little pad a whole battery of psychiatric drugs. I had to give him points, though, for coming up with a cocktail that worked. Before Ravensglen, I had on hand a shopping bag full of failed antidepressants and mood stabilizers. I considered the little packet to be my quick and easy cyanide capsule should the situation become dire enough. It was confiscated, which was probably for the best. I didn’t need any extra temptation to turn to the dark side. Benny and I joked about the fact that we were locked up in a place whose gothic name stretched the limits of believability. We thought someday we would wake up, find it was all a dream, and then write a scathing satire of it. There were things in our lives that had to be treated with deprecating humor. It was too sad otherwise. Mental illness made for awkwardness that only we, the ill, could diffuse. Like when Benny had to deactivate his Facebook account because confusion after a suicide attempt compelled fifty random “friends” to write RIP messages on his wall. In a lot of ways, we were dead to the world. It was a prettier reality without us. That was how Amy felt too. She was the superlative of a young, smart female. When she crashed her car into a tree, sober, as a cry for help, everyone around her froze in shock. Her parents let Amy languish for months before shaking themselves out of inaction. A relative ...
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