Zen and the Art of Lizard Making

My memories from the psych ward are not chronological. Much of my time there was a lot of doing nothing. I wasn’t capable of much else. I also have a horrendous memory and they wouldn’t let me have my Adderall. I wasn’t able to get a notepad and a pencil until the third day. I was having these poignant moments in this totally foreign environment and I wanted to write them down. When I did get a notepad, I scribbled down everything I could. I can decipher some of those scribblings. However, some of the lost moments of those days have been resurfacing in my mind as time goes on and as the meds put my brain together.


Between the hours of 10:30 and 4:30, we were “encouraged” but not “required” to go to group. I figured out real quick that being a team player meant getting to go home in a timely manner. I didn’t mind the idea of group talk/therapy. I just kept finding myself getting so pissed off that the therapists has such shit lesson plans. The average turn around in this hidden corner of the hospital is 5 days. They only have to make 5 days of lesson plans for one class. Rinse and repeat. I can whip up lesson plans for 3 different, hour and a half long, classes per day, five times a week. The teacher inside of me was judging.

The groups had mysterious names and I never really knew what I was in for each time I went to one. There was no consistency to even the same group from day to day. I complain now, but I didn’t really give a shit at the time. I was just at my limit of unknown and unexpected things. I wanted to depend on at least one event in a day.

Here was the line up:

10:30-11:30 Education Group

1:00-2:00 Processing Group

3:30-4:30 Recreation Group

I still don’t know what the education or processing group were about. I know I went to these groups and I have a plethora of stories from those time, but I’m not sure what the “Education” or “Recreation” part was about.

Recreation group does hold a special place in my heart. A beautiful thing happens when you are with a bunch of crazies and people who have chosen to work with crazies. These were my people and we didn’t have to pretend. I spend a lot of my time pretending to be ok. Not here. You can say whatever you want. I have always had difficulty censoring myself in life. My awkward and usually inappropriate comments were often mistaken for a wicked sharp sense of humor. It wasn’t as useful in the classroom. Often an expletive would slip. My expletives are sassy and unique, and usually come with a side of Monty Python. I’ve been known to shout the word “TITS!!!!” when a student has the right answer in class. That’s on the PG side of what my classroom potty mouth is capable of.

But not here!! I could say anything and know for a fact that it was not going to be the most offensive remark made that day. Saying that, what I contributed to group conversation is not how I normally converse…..but it is absolutely what I wish I could say in the outside world. My memory of my days at the hospital are muddled, but I do recall each group session as its own little nugget of surreal perfection.

Here is a little tidbit from Recreational Therapy Group.

I want to come back in my next life as a recreational therapist. I would have assumed that their job was to stimulate sleepy and drained minds. Turns out that isn’t the goal at all. The plan is to keep sick and sad minds focused on a single mindless task for a reasonable amount of time. Today’s project was making geckos out of beads. Fuzzy beads.

I asked the nurse for the 10th time for her literal meaning of the terms “encouraged” and “required.” No go. I was going to be making a fuzzy lizard. But once I sat down, held those fuzzy little beads in my hands, and methodically started following the pattern, I was sold! I found myself unwinding. I was in my own moment and that moment was only broken every time I had to ask the therapist to cut my thread with the one pair of scissors that was tied to her wrist. The 15 of us had to share the one pair and we couldn’t touch them.

I looked that therapist square in the eye and said, “You have no idea how much scissor running I am going to do when I get home.”

We were both being the straight man and I was going to break her. Our conversation continued.

“I’m so tired of making the same lizard every day,” she mumbled.

“Ma’am, how many lizards do you make a year?’ I asked.

She dropped her head and told me she had stopped counting.

“And you are required by the state to adhere to the strict fuzzy lizard guidelines?” I said.

She came out of her daze and looked at me wearily. It must be hard for her to discern between actual conversation and the incoherent mumbling of the very sick that had become a constant soundtrack for all of us. I think she just tunes it all out. I had her attention though.

“What guidelines?”

“There must be fuzzy lizard guidelines, otherwise you would have googled this shit by now and learned how to at least make another kind of reptile, or an insect, or heaven forbid, a motherfucking daisy! I’m very partial to tulips.”

I looked up at my fellow inmates for some head nods and high fives. Nothing. This was a tough crowd. Humor was my protection and it was useless here. The medically induced numb state of the majority of my new friends was not helping my attempt to fully enjoy the awesomeness of my fuzzy beaded lizard moment.

Note: The lizard pictured is not my lizard. I haven’t decided what to do with my keepsake. Do I really want this reminder on my key chain? Do I want to give it to one of my sons?? “Look what mommy made you in the loony bin!” It should also be noted that we had access to fuzzy beads. At the time, the fact that they were fuzzy seemed of immense importance. 

6 thoughts on “Zen and the Art of Lizard Making

  1. Totally can relate to your inpatient experience. I’ve lost count of how many I’ve had, possible about 12. A lot of them at different places and usually the organization of those places was so horrendous it just made my anxiety spike. At one of my last visits the med lady on three different occasions tried to give me the WRONG MEDICATION! Not purposely but if I was not coherent enough or not paying attention, who knows what might have mentally gone on having been given bobby sue’s meds. Crazy!

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    • This was my first time. What really got to me is that there was no information. Not even a “you are here” map! I was in a scary situation and in a scary place and I had no clue what I was supposed to do. I was a pro by day 3 and made sure to give a little encouraging head nod to each of the dazed and confused new patients when they walked in. I did learn that there isn’t anything better than a bunch a crazy people who are on their meds. I take that back. There are a shit ton of things better, but it did feel comforting at the time. Thank you for the comment! It is my first one!

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  2. Years ago while in college, I did the psyche ward dance. I came in via ambulance from out of state on a Friday night and got put in with the suicide watch group of head banging, streaking, screaming, seriously terrifying patients. I had to wait for a doctor to see me Saturday afternoon before I could get put in with the normal psyche patients. That night, I cried and cried from fear of the unknown. The nurses were very compassionate and let me know that it was a temporary safety precaution. I thought that because I cut, I must be suicidal. A nurse gave me an article on cutting and I have never been able to thank her for giving me hope that I wasn’t suicidal. Rambling comment, but I understand sympathize and wish you the best on your journey. I’m about ten years ahead of you, but have been in this current major depressive episode for what seems like forever. The anxiety attacks and panic attacks are exclamation points in the depression. I didn’t have those when I was in college. This is the progression of my mental illness due to some fun external stimuli. Humor is a wonderful coping mechanism. I’m all for sarcasm. Good for you for posting. I made a leather wallet and little wooden table during my stay at the ward. Take good care and know that there is support in blogland:)

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