I Was Baker Acted

August 18, 2018

Two nights ago I had an exchange via text message with my mother in which I wrote “Why shouldn’t I kill myself?”. This irritated her. Over the past year I had on at least two or three occasions harassed her with drunken texts saying things to the effect that I hated her for this or that reason. That sounds terrible, and I know I’m a horrible person for doing things like that. But it was so thrilling, because I could have never gotten away with that as a kid.

For instance, there was one time when I was sixteen that she was screaming at me, accusing me of thinking or feeling this or that thing that I shouldn’t be thinking or feeling about her. Confrontations like this with her were just a part of the ordinary week. Usually, she’d see you sitting somewhere, minding your own business, not thinking about her in the slightest, but would interpret a scowl or a frown on your face as being some indictment of her. She would get it in her head that you were mad at her or otherwise not seeing her the way she wanted you to and would randomly blow up at you for just being in the same room as her. This was one of those times. I got up the courage on this one occasion and told her “I hate you!” I was generally afraid of her and never pushed back on her, for fear of escalation. When I said this to her, her reaction was terrifying. “You HATE me?!?” She bellowed. “You can’t hate me! You’re the only one who’s ever loved me!” (And that statement would take a novel to explain…) Her face crumbles and then contorts into a mask of rage as she charges across the room at me, knocks me down on the couch, and wraps her hands around my throat. I thrash around and get free, running out the door. I call my dad from a neighbor’s and he comes and gets me. I remember him talking to my mother and stepdad, who didn’t witness the event, but is involved in this phone call. The two of them are yelling about how they ought to call the cops on me because I nicked my mom’s eye with my fingernail or something in the struggle - something that I had no awareness of at the time of the incident, it was an accident of self-defense. They’re going on to my dad about how I had been the attacker and how he’s enabling me to evade accountability. She has really turned this around into her being the victim. According to her, I said I hated her, and then, completely out of the blue, scratched her eye like a cat. What a thing to do? Anyway, that was the first and last time I told her I hated her until I was an adult.

So I send this, “Why shouldn’t I kill myself?”, and she predictably and understandably, given our history with each other, reacts like I’m attacking her. “Are you drunk? I don’t feel like putting up with your psychotic bullshit today.” The conversation degenerates from there. I tell her how much I hate her again. I feel like, with this exchange, that I’ve established that she couldn’t possibly be negatively impacted. She really won’t care. I don’t owe her anything. This relationship is meaningless. She’ll be glad if I do it, if anything.

The whole reason I’m talking and thinking like this is because I’ve gotten into this state of being that feels impossible. I feel like I’ve done everything I’m capable of. I don’t see the potential to get into better, more secure work. I’m working on a degree program I hate that I don’t think will pay off. I don’t even know what I’m aiming for anymore. I’ve ruled out the possibility of finding someone to settle down with or even being close to another human being ever again. I feel like I’m damaged goods and have nothing to offer anyone else. I’ve gotten to the point where I really believe people would be happy to see me dead. And I can’t see any evidence that it will get better, either. I look around at the people in my surroundings and it seems like none of them are any less miserable than I am and like so many are in worse circumstances. I can’t actually talk to anyone, but I CAN antagonize my mother again, or so I thought. But it didn’t make me feel any less desperate. I seriously considered buying a gun again on my way home, something I’ve already done once but backed out of at the end of the waiting period. But I don’t do it this time. Instead, I planned on going home and researching NDEs for attempted suicides, trying once again, in vain, to establish whether or not it’s a certainty such an action will precipitate damnation. I wanted to stumble upon something that would allow me to believe I could do such a thing with God’s permission.

However, as I’m pulling into my driveway, there’s a sheriff waiting for me. He makes me try to explain why I would text something like I did to my mother if I wasn’t a threat to myself. I keep insisting that I have no plans to harm myself. I didn’t have “plans” after all. In Florida, there’s something called a Baker Act which enables people to be involuntarily committed for up to 72 hours if they’re suspected of being suicidal or homicidal. Look at that! Mom wins. She has found a way to punish me this time. I’ve given her the perfect opportunity. I’m dragged into a facility and I try to explain to them that my mother’s not really concerned about me at all, that she’s just using this to send a message to me. They can’t possibly believe that. Who would do this to their child if he or she wasn’t concerned? I try to explain to them, but they assume she’s just like any caring mother, not a vindictive monster who would try to impose significant hardship on someone over a slight. I try to explain to them that ripping me out of my life, jeopardizing my jobs, and saddling me with enormous medical debt does absolutely nothing to help me (or anyone else who might have suicidal ideations but still has things to lose). Nah, they’re desensitized to protests such as these. Better safe than sorry. They haul me off to an ER where they frivolously test me for all sorts of things. I spend sixteen hours in a cot in a small cramped room with a couple of other cots, listening to them interviewing other Baker Actees.

I’m honestly surprised at how easy it was to do this to me. I never considered that I wouldn’t simply be dismissed or shamed for revealing how I felt. I had no idea that they could Baker Act someone who adamantly denied they were a threat to themselves, which I did repeatedly without contradiction at every opportunity given me. I always thought the kind of people this thing happened to made a cry for help in the form of an explicit statement of intent like “I am going to kill myself tonight!” and then eagerly admitted they wanted to be committed when intervened upon. It turns out they can detain you with as little evidence as a relative stating they’re concerned for your safety. That was the case of one girl who joined me in the ER. Her mother and sister said she’d made a threat and they took their word for it and admitted her despite her denying it completely and making a scene and having a panic attack in front of everyone present.

I was never more agitated. Lying there overnight in a windowless little room, I balled my fists and ground my teeth thinking about all the new problems I was sure to have when I got out. I was worried I was going to lose one or both of my jobs. I was worried they might not let me go free. I was worried they were going to force feed me medication. I was envisioning my mother dropping in on me, ostensibly to visit out of concern, but really to taunt me and gloat about how she was putting me through this ordeal. I angrily fretted about the possibility of her meddling and saying God only knows what to whoever had power over me and would listen. I was worried about how much debt I was going to be in. I fantasized about shouting at faceless staff upon release about how I’d refuse to pay a dime of the fortune they’d charge me for these services I was involuntarily being subjected to. In my head, for over a day, I was blowing this up to be the absolute worst thing that could happen to me aside from my house burning down or losing a limb or something.

I did this even after I was brought back from the ER to the facility. I tossed and turned all night swearing vengeance. I was tormented by thoughts of how my mother could do this again any time she wanted to. What if I stopped talking to her completely? What if I came home one night to be surprised by the same sheriff? “Your mother says she’s worried about you again because you won’t return her calls. You seem depressed. You need to come with me again.” I imagined him dragging me back into his car, kicking and screaming, being brought to the same facility where I’d be committed without question because I’d already been there and because I was so clearly distraught by the unfairness of effectively being kidnapped. What if my mother could control me this way for the rest of her life? I couldn’t fall asleep. To make it worse, the night staff were doing this obnoxious thing where they’d open your door, come around to look at you in the bed, and then leave, shutting it again behind them. It seemed like they were doing that literally every ten minutes, making it impossible to fall asleep completely without being woken up again. After a couple of hours of this, I leapt out of my bed and followed a pair of them to the hallway. I yelled at one of them. “What are you doing!?” “We have to do this every fifteen minutes.” She said. Okay, I thought. I was close. Fifteen minutes, not ten. They were two women who were probably younger than me. “It’s your job to wake me up every fifteen minutes?” I barked at her. I felt kind of bad that I was scaring a girl who was just doing her job, but I still managed to mutter, exhausted by this point and extremely irritable, “I hope you go to hell!” as they skittered away. I stomped back over to my bed and flung myself back down on it, brooding darkly about how true it was that anyone who has an ounce of power over you, anyone from whom, for whatever reason, you can’t escape, will torment you, even if mildly, and then justify it – as in this case: depriving you of sleep “for your safety”. I thought evil thoughts about everyone and everything and ruminated for God knows how long before I finally got tired enough that they stopped waking me back up.

But finally, by the time morning arrived, perhaps because I was too tired to be filled with intense anger anymore, I calmed down. And they had me talk to a couple of people for real, not just someone who was asking me generic questions off of a checklist. Instead of completely lying to them that this was all a misunderstanding and that absolutely nothing was wrong and how I was only there because my “evil” mother was trying to take away my independence, I opened up a little and admitted that I was pretty much alone and had no one to talk to. That’s a humiliating thing to admit. Sometimes it’s a dangerous thing for others to know, because it conveys such extreme vulnerability. Anyone can do anything they want to you and get away with it if you’re alone. The psychiatrist, to my pleasant surprise, didn’t push me to take anything. He interviewed me thoroughly. He asked me about my family and what my life was like. Mom lives in St. Pete. I think she did this out of spite. Where’s dad? I don’t know. He’s homeless. Why’s he homeless? I don’t know. He was living with me, but he moved out. Brothers, sisters? Brother. Where’s your brother? He’s homeless. Why’s your brother homeless? I don’t know. He was living with me too, but moved in with a cousin because my dad was evicted and needed a place to go. Do you have friends? I have coworkers. Can you talk to them? No. Do you have a boyfriend? Girlfriend? No. How long have you been single? I had to stop and think about that for a minute. I hadn’t thought about it, but I’ve been single for four years now. “Why?” He asked. “I don’t feel like I have anything to offer anyone.” I replied. “Wouldn’t you like someone to be close to? To talk to about these things?” He asked. This startled me. Is that allowed? “I feel like that’s inconsiderate to do to someone.” I said. I feel like I’ve been needy in the past and am pretty ashamed of it, so I try to be the opposite now. I also said, “Besides, if you’re vulnerable around someone, they’ll punish you.” “What does that mean?” “Well…me being here is proof of that, isn’t it? I said something I was feeling to the wrong person, and then I was taken here. This place is a punishment for people who are suspected of being suicidal.”

I interacted with other patients. I made friends briefly with the roommate they gave me. Her name was Ariel. She was a sweet girl who’d just been through a break up and whose parents had just separated. She’d talked to me for awhile before she mentioned her parents’ relationship, almost as an afterthought. She revealed, the longer she talked, a great deal of instability in her circumstances and uncertainty about the future. She worked in the deli at Walmart. She had scars on her forearms that were in a row. Someone asked her about them in front of me, and she claimed they were normal cuts she’d gotten at work. We had group sessions. There was a karaoke hour. The first ten minutes nothing happened because everyone who showed up was too shy to sing. There were more med students there, observing, than there were patients. When things did get rolling, there were only really three people who’d get up and sing: a middle-aged woman who was mature enough not to care what anyone thought about her singing, a hyper meth addict who was very friendly and a bit of an exhibitionist, and this psychotic guy who literally screamed into the microphone. Me and the people I was sitting with were too polite to leave. We mainly put our heads down and more or less discreetly plugged our ears. The nurse running the karaoke called out “We’ve got time for maybe a couple more.” Reluctant to hand the mike back to either of the two men who were making our ears bleed, she added “If there’s anyone who hasn’t had a chance to sing yet but would like to, please come up!” We’d been looking over the options at our table. “Come on,” I said, “One of us has to go up there or else that guy’s going to scream into the mic again.” The nurse called out again. “ANYONE ELSE who would like a chance!” “I’ll do it!” I volunteered. I sang a somewhat off-key White Rabbit. When I was done the nurse said “I think we have time for one more. Anyone who hasn’t been up yet.” No one else would go up there, so the screaming guy pranced back up eagerly. “I think we’re out of time, then!” She said, clearly unwilling to give him the opportunity again.

After that, I was told I was all set to be discharged. While I was waiting for things to be put in order, I went down to the courtyard with my roommate and the screaming guy and some of the other people who’d been at the karaoke. There was a little half basketball court, so I went over there and shot some hoops. The screaming guy followed me over there and talked my ear off. He said he had Jesus behind him and that he could make people do things. He said he owned the hospital and that the people who worked there were his employees. He told me how he’d been brought here instead of jail because he’d beat his mother up and that he’d convinced them he was crazy. He went on and on, as I nodded occasionally and dribbled the ball, throwing it at the hoop. He had the power of God on his side. He knew who was good and who wasn’t and he could decide who goes to hell. His mother had put her hands on him. “Like she…?” I replied, motioning toward my crotch. He said she’d tried to perform an exorcism on him and almost killed him. That’s why he had to beat her up. But he wouldn’t be me up, he said. He could tell I was good. He doesn’t beat women up in general. My roommate joined us just then, and he started repeating everything he’d just told me to her. He actually drifted into being quite lewd with us. “Not that I’m hitting on you, but I like to have sex with women! I like to have straight up sex! I mean in the vagina! I think anal sex is an abomination. Oral sex too. I just do it in the vagina.” We tolerated it. We found it somewhat entertaining. He wasn’t nearly as intimidating as he thought he was. We passed the ball back and forth to each other, taking turns aiming at the hoop. The whole time the guy was standing there, he held the first ball I’d been using. I’d passed it to him early on, and he just held it. Didn’t shoot, or pass it back, or anything. I grabbed another ball that was lying there and continued. He told me and my roommate that he’d tied up his dog and tortured it even though he loved it because his mother loved the dog more than him and he wanted to teach it a lesson about her. It started getting too hot out there, so we went back to the shaded patio where everyone else was. The screaming guy followed us like a puppy, mostly repeating himself. He told us we were both good women and that he considered us to be his friends, that he considered us to be his sisters. He sat on a bench and started telling the guy who’d sat across from me at karaoke, whose name was Kevin, the same things he’d just told us. “You beat up your mother!? You sicko!” Kevin responded. “You wanna hit me?” The screaming guy challenged him. “Hit me! Do it! I’ll get you in deep shit.” “I’m getting out of here tomorrow. I don’t want to hit you!” Kevin said. “I can make you hit me. I can make people do what I want them to!” Screaming guy said. “Faggot!” “Bitch!” They shouted at each other. One of the nurses stroked Kevin on the back and tried to calm him down. Kevin rocked back and forth. “I don’t know why this woman beater wants to start this with me.” They had someone come down to escort screaming guy away.

I left shortly after that. When we went back up, they had the discharge papers all ready. They gave me back my shoes and keys and credit cards and stuff and arranged for a cab to take me back home.

So, this was an interesting experience.

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