I was admitted to Silver Hill in the third week of February in the year 2000.
At the time, I was a 4th grade teacher in Wilton, CT.
After 3 days in the Acute Care Unit, I was deemed no longer a danger to myself, and was transferred to Main House.
Main House was much different than the Acute Care Unit.
I had my shoelaces and my pants drawstrings back, and I think I even had a razor.
I had my own room and my own bathroom.
It was very much like a bed and breakfast.
Quaint, and antique, and charming.
You could go outside to smoke whenever you wanted to.
The food was amazing.
Your family could come and have dinner with you, and my parents came to eat with me every single night.
My day was still packed full of meetings and classes, all of them in different buildings on the grounds, and I could walk to them on my own.
It was pretty much like college.
With a bunch of seriously fucked up people.
But they were all sober.
I went to individual therapy, art therapy, AA and NA meetings…
In between, when there was down time, I hung out on the back patio and smoked.
People fell into cliques.
The eating disorder people hung out together.
The drug addicts hung out together.
The depressed people hung out together.
Everyone would talk about how fucked up they were.
It was a constant one-upping game of fuckuppedness.
I have to take at least 10 ambien at once to even get to sleep now.
I fucked 12 different guys in one week.
I was down to 85 pounds before I came here.
I’ve had 4 DUI’s.
I ate nothing but lettuce and Altoids for 3 months.
I OD’d on painkillers.
I befriended a young, 20-something kid who was in there for depression and I think might have had a pill addiction.
We would talk, and smoke, and compare stories.
With families being able to visit more often than when you are in the Acute Care unit and patients having the freedom to move independently from building to building, it wasn’t uncommon to cross paths with people who were coming to visit a son or daughter or mother or father.
One day I was walking out of Main House to a meeting.
I saw a mother and young girl walking toward me on their way in to Main House. They must have been going in to visit someone.
We passed each other, and I didn’t really pay them much notice.
That is, until I heard the little girl exclaim to her mom after they had walked by me,
THAT WAS MY TEACHER!”
I turned around and looked behind me.
This little girl was in my partner teacher’s class. We switched classes for science and social studies.
As far as my students knew, I was just really sick.
Now they were going to know that Miss Johnson was a fucking psycho.
Everyone would be talking.
Did you hear?
Miss Johnson is in rehab!
What’s wrong with her?
a drug addict?
Is she crazy?
We can’t have a crazy person teaching our children!!!
How was I going to go back to school?
What was this little girl going to tell all the other kids?
Not too long after that chance encounter, I was released from Silver Hill.
I spent another week at home, getting my shit together.
And after being gone from school for 3 weeks, I finally returned.
The first day back, I had that little girl in my room for social studies.
My whole body tightened in anticipation of something awful.
Thank God she was nothing like Number 4. Number 4 would have yelled out at the top of her lungs,
“I SAW MISS JOHNSON AT REHAB LAST WEEK! SHE WAS THERE WITH A BUNCH OF CRAZY PEOPLE! MISS JOHNSON IS CRAZY!!!”
But the little girl just looked at me and smiled.
At least for the moment.
Later that week, the little girl’s mom was in the school building.
I had another body clenching panic attack.
And then she approached me.
I braced myself.
“Can I just talk to you for a minute?” she asked.
She must have seen the panic on my face.
“Don’t worry,” she reassured me.
“I just wanted to thank you,” she said.
Totally not what I was expecting.
“Thank me?” I said.
“Yes,” she continued.
“That day that I saw you at Silver Hill, I was there visiting my nephew,” she continued.
“He told me how kind you were to him. How funny you were. How you made him feel better,” she told me.
Who was her nephew?
And then she told me.
He was that 20 something kid I had befriended!
I had no idea.
All those scenarios I had dreamed up in my head.
None of them were even close to reality.
She wasn’t going to crucify me.
She totally understood me.
I will never forget that moment.
Or that mom.
Or that little girl.
And so I tell you this story because while you may feel that people are looking at you funny, that they are judging, that they don’t get it…
There’s a good chance you are completely wrong.
There are plenty of people out there who get it.
And if you don’t happen to cross paths with any of them while you are teaching 4th grade or walking the grounds of a psychiatric hospital,
you have definitely crossed paths with one right here.