On September 21st 2016, I woke up in the Beth Israel psychiatric ward on a suicide hold. I didn't immediately remember what had happened but I had some vague flashes. A doctor was standing over me. He told me that later in the morning I would meet with a treatment team. I asked him if I was on a 72 hour hold. "No, because you came in through the ER. You could be here for 15 days, before we'd have to go to a judge." I stood up—dressed in scrubs—and walked to the window, which was frosted and you couldn't see through it. I stood looking at it. The guy said, "you can't see out the window." "I know." He left. I sat on my bed. There were beds in the room and the other three were empty, though that would soon change. There was loud moaning and screaming and shouting coming from what I would find out later were the rooms next over.
In this situation, you want to cry. You're mad at yourself. You're scared. You're still very confused about what happened and that makes it even scarier. But you know that crying is going to make it worse. Giving into the temptation to be upset at all will make it worse. Because it's not up to you anymore. You're there until they let you leave and they'll only let you leave if...if...well, you aren't sure, but being upset won't help your case. So you sit on the bed and you drown out the shouting from the next room and you tell yourself—you make yourself promise—that you're not going to lose your temper or be upset or have a panic attack or be anything other than patient and calm and nice and serene and most importantly, above all else, not cry, no matter what, until this crisis of powerlessness is over.
I was in Beth Israel for 6 days, then spent a little over a month at McLean in Boston. Every day for those 6 weeks I thought about that promise to myself. And when I finally got out I went straight to the airport and boarded a flight to Laguardia and I looked out the window of the plane as we descended into New York and I was intensely proud that I'd never lost control or shed a tear during the whole thing.
That was November 4. Four days later Trump won and I burst into tears lol. But that was the only time. I realized over the next few days, that the experience I had just had was preparing me for the next four years.
I’m taking a leave of absence from Mother Jones starting in January to work on a book that I’ve been thinking about since then. It’s about, well, this? How my unhealthy relationship with the internet literally drove me into a mental institution, and how unexpectedly that was the best way to prepare for the increasingly deranged ways in which politics and the internet work.
It takes a thief to catch a thief and it takes a month in a psychiatric ward to prepare yourself for social media.
I don’t actually have a book deal—you’re supposed to have one of those before you go on unpaid leave—this was more of a Cortez burning the ships moment than anything else. And though everyone assumes my siblings and I have money from our father, we actually don’t. There are various reasons for that; some of them are personal and interesting, some of them are general and boring. But none of us have any trust funds or allowances to fall back on.
So, I imagine that I will sell this book! But if I don’t, whoops!
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