The past few days had been a giant blur of questions and examinations. In all honesty, I could barely remember half of it.
In a way, I was grateful for that.
I kept quiet and was being compliant, in desperate hopes of getting out of here as fast as possible.
Everything inside of me screamed that they shouldn’t bother and just send me home because I didn’t belong in here - but in the end… I did belong, didn’t I?
I should stop lying to myself.
On the day I received my schedule for the week, I felt more aware. Less like there was a wad of cotton stuck inside my skull that made my head hazy and everything around me distant.
It was the first time I felt grounded since coming to the mental hospital.
It was late afternoon and the setting sun painted the room I had been staying in a warm orange.
I tried hard not to feel patronized as a young nurse handed me a time table. “Now that you have settled in a bit, here is your schedule. If you have any questions regarding it, please let me know”, she said, flashing a smile. I appreciated that she was trying to be friendly, so I forced myself to smile back.
I felt embarrassingly powerless. Here I was, 22 years old, yet someone else was dictating when I got up, ate, went back to sleep and what I did in the time in between.
Once the nurse left the room, I looked over the schedule.
Breakfast at 8:30 am , lunch at 11:30 am and dinner at 5:30 pm. On the upper right corner it said “Assigned Therapist: Doctor Simmons, Room 210“.
Tomorrow was Tuesday. According to the schedule that meant I would have group therapy at 9:30, art therapy (whatever that meant) after lunch at 12:30 and my first one-on-one therapy session at 3 pm.
I eyed the first appointment over and over. Group therapy? On my first day?
Suddenly my mouth felt dry.
I didn't feel ready to talk to anyone, much less about why I was here. Hell, I could barely choke out a greeting to the nurses.
Was I expected to immediately open up and spill my guts to a bunch of strangers?
My stomach churned from my nerves and I could feel my heart beating hard and fast against my chest. I put the schedule on the bedside table next to me and wiped my clammy hands on my sweatpants.
I didn't know if I could do this.
What if I opened my mouth but couldn't speak? What if I started stuttering and made a fool of myself? What if they laughed at me? What if the others thought I was being dramatic and that I should stop being whiny? What if--
I tried to take a deep breath in – and let it out slowly.
Shakily, I sat down on my bed. Still taking deep breaths, I hunched over, supported my elbows on my legs and soothingly ran my hands through my hair to try and calm down.
I could feel myself trembling and my chest hurt from how hard my heart was pounding.
For a moment I was afraid I was going to pass out or have a heart-attack, but thinking about that only made it worse, so I just tried to concentrate on my breathing.
I needed to calm down.
“It's gonna be fine“, I whispered hoarsely, trying to make myself believe the words.
I ran my hands over my face and covered my eyes, taking quivering breaths for what felt like hours.
Once I felt a little more calm, I uncovered my eyes, surprised to find that the sun was no longer setting and it was already dark outside.
The alarm on my bedside table read 6:43 pm. The red numbers illuminated the schedule that laid crumbled in front of the clock, seemingly mocking me.
Exhaustion hit me with a sudden force. I heaved a defeated sigh as I laid back on the bed and stared at the ceiling.
Might as well go to bed early, I reasoned. Then I could get up early, which would give me more time to get ready and make sure that I found the right rooms.
I sat up, and adjusted the settings so it would wake me up at 6:45 in the morning. Double checking to make sure it was all set, I laid back down.
Yawning, I turned so I was laying on my side, blindly grabbing for the blanket that had halfway slid off the bed during my episode. Once I had it, I scrunched it up into a ball and wrapped my arms around it like a make-shift stuffed animal, seeking some kind of comfort.
I could feel my mind trying to wander and aggressively shook my head.
Wistfully, I thought of my mp3 player, wishing I could have it here with me, so I could drown out my thoughts with music.
Snuggling into the blanket in my arms, I concentrated hard and sunk deeply into a think about a book I recently read...
And somewhere along the way I fell asleep.
I woke up with a jerk.
Going from a deep sleep to being fully awake in a few seconds was jarring. My eyes flew wide open and my heart was racing. I was used to waking up to my alarm so it felt weird to wake up on my own.
A sudden feeling of panic gripped me - did I oversleep? Was that why I was awake?
Quickly I sat up and turned to look at the clock. It was 6:30.
I groaned- half relieved, half annoyed - and stood up. There was too much nervous energy in my system to lay back down. I grabbed the soap and towel the nurse left for me the day before which she must have put on my bedside table while I was distracted by reading the schedule.
Already dreading the upcoming day, I made my way to the bathroom that was attached to my room and took a quick shower, feeling my stomach already tying itself into a knot.
I tried to enjoy the warm water but instead caught my thoughts drifting off to a place of worry and panic again and again. Frustrated, I started humming a catchy tune and tried to push it out of my mind.
After getting out of the shower, I dried off and got dressed. That, at least, I didn't have to needlessly worry about. I only had a few shirts and sweatpants to choose from, since the clinic's dress-code only allowed pants that didn't need belts.
Still humming, I brushed my chin-length hair and teeth, avoiding looking into the mirror that hung above the sink.
Once I finished getting ready, I went back into my room and sat on my bed. I nervously bounced my leg as I stole a glance at the clock. It was 7:18, I still had plenty of time to spare.
I half regretted getting up so early. Sure, I liked being prepared, I liked being early. But it made the waiting so much worse.
Swallowing dryly, I grabbed my schedule and looked it over again.
It didn't say what room the group therapy was in. Would they tell us during breakfast? What if they didn't? What if I got lost and-
Don't think about it.
In a familiar soothing motion, I ran my hands through my hair.
I hated this. I hated being worried and nervous all the damn time.
It was exhausting.
Again, I looked at the clock. 7:23.
“Fuck this“, I sighed and bent down, pulling the bag that my parents had packed for me from underneath the bed. Rummaging around, my fingers slid over the old, well-loved copy of my favourite book ,that was nestled between my clothes. I paused, then pulled it out.
That would keep me occupied for a while.
While I read, I periodically checked the clock, making sure I wouldn't be late for breakfast.
At 8:15, just when I decided to close the book and start making my way to the cafeteria, I heard a knock on my door.
Surprised, I choked out a hoarse “Come in?“ It sounded more like a question than a demand.
The door opened and a bunny monster with white fur entered my room. “Good morning.“, she said in a surprisingly deep, soothing voice, “How are you today?“
For a second I was surprised - then I noticed the scrubs a nurse would wear and remembered that this was a mixed clinic, for both monsters and humans.
Nowadays, it wasn't a big deal.
Nine years ego, Monsters emerged from underneath Mt. Ebott, being led by a small child calling themselves the Ambassador.
The world was shocked.
They were trapped there for hundreds of years - trapped by us humans.
And instead of being angry or seeking revenge, all they wanted was for us to coexist in peace.
In all honesty, I couldn't remember much about the first few years after monsters came to the surface. To be fair, I was a kid back then and politics didn't seem all that interesting to me. All that mattered that magic was real and SOULS were real and that monsters were real – and it all seemed like a tale out of one of the fantasy books that I loved so much.
As far as I knew monsters quickly gained the same rights as humans. There were surprisingly little problems. No huge rise of monster racism, no protests, no attempts at segregation.
I guess humanity learned from their past mistakes for once.
It could also have something to do with that it was hard to hate beings that were literally made out of magic, compassion and love.
Realizing that I was being rude, saying nothing and just staring at the bunny monster, I hastily answered with a robotic “Morning, I'm fine thanks.“
“My name is Carla. I'm the nurse responsible for your medication.“, she said and I just now noticed that she was holding a cup of water in one hand and in the other a see-through cup the size of a shot glass with a small white pill inside.
I wasn't sure if I was comfortable with that, but knew that being defiant would accomplish nothing and just made things harder, so I nodded along and accepted the two cups as she handed them to me.
Sensing my nervousness, she smiled at me and explained: “This is an antidepressant, specialized in helping with anxiety. It's just a small dosage, because we have to check if it is the right kind for you. It will take a few days to take effect.“ She paused and I hummed, letting her know that I understood. “If you feel any head pain, dizziness or nausea, please let me or any of the other staff members know, so we can switch the medication.“
That didn't sound pleasant at all.
Apprehensive, I bit my lip, staring at the pill as if it was a weapon of mass destruction.
“No need to be worried, hon. Like I said, it is just a small dosage, so in case your body reacts poorly to it, it won't make you feel horrible or anything.“, Carla said, “At most it will be a bit uncomfortable.“
I nodded again, took a deep breath and before I could start to overthink it, swallowed the pill with a big gulp of water. I handed Carla the cups and after she asked me to do so, opened my mouth to show her that I had really swallowed it.
And with that, Carla accompanied me to the cafeteria.
On the way she told me that the nurse who handed me the schedule yesterday, Jennifer, would get me from breakfast and take me to group therapy.
Relieved that I had one less worry, I bid Carla goodbye when we arrived and I sat down to eat breakfast.
One bowl of cereal later, I was on my way to group therapy.
Jennifer was walking next to me. I was grateful that she didn't try to make small talk. That always made me feel awkward.
The closer we got to the therapy room, the more my heart began to race. The cereal I ate felt like it had hardened into cement. I tried hard not to let my nervousness show, but I knew I was doing a poor job.
“Here we are.“, Jennifer said as we came to a stop in front of a door with a sign that read “Therapy Room 4“.
I licked my dry lips and mumbled out a quiet, “Thank you.“ I could feel my hands trembling.
Jennifer must have noticed, because she smiled gently at me and asked: “Do you want me to take you inside or do you feel comfortable entering by yourself?“
The offer was tempting.
On one hand it would help my anxiety, not being the only one to enter. On the other hand I was scared what kind of impression that would make on the people inside.
In the end, I decided to enter by myself.
So I shook my head with a twitch of my lips that could barely be considered a smile.
Jennifer gave another friendly smile and with a “I'll see you after lunch, when I bring you to Doctor Simmons.“, she turned around and left.
I allowed myself to let out a shaky sigh.
For a moment I just stared at the door, my mind blank. It was as if I suddenly forgot how to open a door.
I clenched my hands, frustrated at my inability to do something as simple as enter a room.
I decided that the best course of action would be to just quickly get it over and done with. So, before my thoughts could catch up to me, I quickly twisted the door knob and hastily shoved the door open.
That was a mistake.
I accidentally used too much force. Panicking, I took a step forward and tried to catch the door knob, but I was too slow. The door swung wide open and crashed against the wall, creating a loud bang.
I stood in the doorway, frozen with my hand still half-way stretched out.
I couldn't believe that just happened.
The five people inside the room stared at me, startled. And I stared back at them, startled too.
I could feel my face burning and physically cringed in embarrassment.
“Sorry!“ I said a bit too loudly, stepping inside the room and closing the door behind me, making it a point to be gentle.
Not wanting to awkwardly stay standing near the entrance, I quickly scanned the room.
It wasn't as big as I expected, though the warm yellow colour of the walls made it seem more open. On the wall facing the door were two big windows that flooded the room with light. In one corner of the room was a couch. On it sat a middle-aged woman with curly black hair, who I assumed was our therapist. She seemed to be wearing a name tag, but she was too far away for me able to make out what it said. She was writing something on a black clip board and ignored the other occupants of the room completely.
In the middle of the room, three monsters and two humans sat on chairs that were arranged into a circle.
Avoiding eye contact, I made a beeline to one of the chairs that was still empty and sat down.
I was grateful that no one had laughed at me. I didn't know if I would have been able to stay if anyone did.
A few seconds passed.
Once I deemed it safe enough, I looked up and studied the people I would spend the next few hours with.
The chair to my right was empty.
In the left chair closest to me sat a woman in her thirties with the longest blonde hair I have ever seen – it must have been waist-long if not even longer. She was energetically conversing with a Moldsmall, a small green gelatinous monster. They wriggled back a bit less energetically, seemingly nervous.
Across from me, a thin teenage boy with messy red hair slouched in his chair, looking bored.
He seemed to sense my eyes on him, because he suddenly looked at me, his blue eyes flashing and quirked a questioning eyebrow. Embarrassed I looked away.
Next to the boy sat a male bunny monster with brown fur, talking quietly to a Migosp, a small monster that resembled a bug. The Migosp's antennas, one of which was adorned with a light blue bow, twitched every now and again, as they listened attentively.
I let my eyes sink to the floor again and tried not to make my trembling too obvious.
Nervously I fidgeted with the hem of my t-shirt, twisting and untwisting it.
Sudden movement in the corner of my eye caught my attention, as the presumed therapist stood up from the couch.
“Well”, she said, glancing at the clock on the wall just like I had moments earlier. The conversations around me stopped. “Welcome to our first session. My name is Marianne Akopian, I am the group therapy supervisor. Please call me Mary.”
She looked at the clipboard she was holding. “Normally, I’d start now, but it seems like we are missing someone.”
A sudden voice coming from my right made me jump.
“huh, weird. looks like everyone is here to me.”
Suppressing a yelp, I twisted around, surprised to see that the chair that had previously empty now held a small, grinning skeleton.
I pressed a hand to my chest and blew out a startled breath.
“Oh!”, Mary exclaimed, seeming flustered, “How did you-?” She interrupted herself, shaking her head slightly. “I seem to have overlooked you, sorry.”
Overlooked? It was more like he had just appeared out of thin air.
But then again, I was lost in thought so it was possible that he did come in through the door and I just didn’t notice.
“it’s fine”, the skeleton shrugged, “s’no skin off my nose.”
Was that-? Was that a pun?
No matter if it was intentional or not, I couldn’t help the small smile that came to my lips.
A weird feeling of gratitude filled me. Not only had he made my embarrassing entrance less spectacular, but this was also the first time in a long while that I had genuinely smiled.
Still unsure if his comment was meant to be a joke, I lowered my head and covered my mouth, not wanting to offend.
Mary hummed, trying to collect herself. “Okay, now that we're all here, how about we get to know each other a little bit better? Don’t worry, you don’t need to share anything that you are uncomfortable with.”
She paused, brushing a lock of black hair behind her ear, made it a point to look each of us in the eye and said: “Like I told you, my name is Mary. I am 43 years old and have been working at this clinic for almost fifteen years. My hobbies include reading, playing the guitar and…”, she flashed a mischievous smile, theatrically fluttering her eyelashes, “…romantic walks on the beach”.
The others snickered and my lips twitched.
Her ice-breaker worked and I could feel myself relax a little bit, even if the room still felt a little tense.
She expectantly looked at the teenage boy, who upon noticing that it apparently was his turn now, straightened up a bit and gave a tired looking smile.
“Hi, my name is Miles. I'm 19 years old and I'm a professional dancer. Umm...“, he trailed of, looking for words. He continued, his voice more quiet: “I am here because I have... trouble... eating sometimes. I collapsed a few days ago while practicing a new dance routine.“
He rubbed his hands on his thighs, looking back to Mary, making it obvious that he was done with his part.
She nodded, thanking him quietly and gestured to the Moldsmal.
Miles slumped in his seat again, crossing his arms over his chest. Suddenly he looked much older than nineteen.
My heart immediately went out to him and when our eyes met again, I quirked my lips up into what I hoped looked like a friendly smile. He hesitantly mirrored me and I shifted my attention to the Moldsmal monster, who was wriggling out their introduction.
I wasn't sure how exactly, but they managed to communicate that their name was Zion and their favourite food was lime jello.
The woman with the beautiful long hair sitting next to them was basically vibrating in her seat and spontaneously started talking as soon as Zion was done wriggling. “Heya, my name is Rebecca!“, she introduced herself, looking at each of us. She was talking very quickly. “I'm 33 years old and I love to go jogging and walking my dog and just working out in general. You see...“
It was hard to keep up with her fast pace and I couldn't keep my thoughts from drifting. I shifted in my seat, feeling myself getting anxious again.
Soon enough it would be my turn to talk.
After my stunt with the door I really didn't want to make an even worse first impression.
So, while half-listening to Rebecca talking about her hobbies, I thought of the best way to introduce myself.
Hello my name is Jane.
I sighed. That sounded horrible.
I hate my name. Always have and always will. Although, thinking about it, it suits me perfectly.
Jane Doe. A nobody.
But being here meant that nobody knew me. Nobody knew my name. So maybe I could...
Hello, my name is Jay.
I am twenty-two years old and my hobbies are...
I was unsure what to say next.
I couldn't exactly tell the truth, unless I wanted to make myself sound really pathetic.
I am 22 years old and don't really have any hobbies anymore because half the time I don't leave my house and the other half is spent crying.
No, that was not an option.
Hello, my name is Jay. I am 22 years old and I like to read.
There, that was acceptable. Maybe a bit short, but it would do.
I mentally repeated the two sentences over and over until I had them completely memorized and was sure I wouldn't mess it up too badly.
In passing I heard that the brown-furred bunny monster's name was Frank, but I wasn't too sure.
I was shaken from my thoughts when the others laughed. Someone must have made a joke.
With a start, I realized how disrespectful I was being, not listening to the others' introductions.
Feeling guilty, I stiffened up and started paying attention again.
I had missed pretty much the entirety of Frank's introduction, but was just in time to listen to little bug monster talk. Her voice was high and soft. She introduced herself as Jessy and mentioned that she liked writing poems and playing the piano.
She was the first one to explain what her exact diagnosis was. “I...um...I have A-agarophobia.“, she whispered, so quietly that I had to strain to hear it. She looked just as nervous as I felt, playing with her small, claw-like hands. „It di-didn't use to be so bad, b-but now I can't luh-leave my house at all. So I decid-decided to get help.“
I looked at her in awe. That must have taken a lot of courage.
“Thank you for sharing this with us, Jessy.“, Mary said, “That was very brave of you.“
The bunny monster patted her on the shoulder and whispered something that I couldn't make out. It must have been something nice though, because she perked up and gave a shaky smile.
Suddenly all eyes were trained on me.
It took a second for me to realize that it was my turn now.
A cold flash rushed through my body and I stiffened, looking at the wall across from me, avoiding all eye contact.
My skin felt tight and tingly and I could feel my face burning.
I mentally repeated the sentences I had prepared one last time and rushed out: “Hello, my name is Jay.“ My voice was trembling with nerves and in my panic, I didn't take in enough air to finish what I wanted to say. I ran out of air, noisily breathed in and choked out the rest. “I'm-twenty-two-years-old-and-I-like-to-read.“
My heart was pounding against my ribs and for one irrational second I was scared that the others could hear it.
I could still feel their eyes on me. Burning. Judging.
Jeez, I didn't even want to know what they thought of me. I bet they thought I was weird.
I wished they would just look away.
“whelp, guess it's my turn now“
For the second time in a row, the skeleton next to me saved me, without even knowing it.
I glanced at him from the corner of my eye. He looked incredibly relaxed – I felt a stab of envy – his hands buried in the pockets of the blue hoodie he was wearing.
“the name's sans, sans the skeleton. or well, more like sans the flesh, heh heh.“, he gave a small chuckle and I suddenly was hit by how pleasant his voice sounded - deep and husky and just so damn calm.
Despite myself, I could feel my lips twitching into a small smile.
“i got a lil' bro named papyrus. man, he is the coolest – and a pretty good cook too. though i don't have the stomach for it.“
Frank let out a playful groan and Sans winked at him, shooting finger guns.
“my hobbies include napping, dozing off and sleeping.“ He gave a small shrug. “nothin' much to say other than that.“
It was amazing how different the room felt after he had spoken.
The tension that had silently been lingering - not only around me but around everyone else - had almost completely disappeared.
With introductions out of the way, Mary took charge again.
“Good, now that we all got to know a little bit about each other, let's move on. This might seem a little strange, but please keep an open mind.“, she walked to the couch and lifted a plastic bag that had been laying on it. “I brought a few games for you to play.“ Mary looked inside the bag, starting to list the games inside: “Checkers, Monopoly, Uno-“
“Oh!“, Rebecca interrupted her excitedly, “Can we please play Uno? It's been ages since I last played.“ She looked imploringly at Mary, who smiled, not seeming to be bothered by the interruption. “Sure, if everyone is okay with that?“
Rebecca expectantly looked around, seeking our approval.
No one had anything against it, so we spent the next hour playing Uno.
Surprisingly, it was a lot of fun.
The game had me feeling nostalgic and the atmosphere was relaxed. It was almost like we were friends and not just a group of people who had only met today
I still didn't talk much, but I was content just listening. And though I didn't really feel calm yet, I wasn't nearly as stressed as I was in the beginning.
As time went by, I noticed that the others seemed to gravitate towards Sans – and I couldn't blame them.
There was something so charming about him that made everyone feel at ease.
Maybe it was weird to say, but he just seemed so... okay.
I couldn't possibly imagine why he was in a mental hospital.