John woke up in a hospital bed. There was nothing but bare walls and a door with small slit through which he could see a nurse’s station. He had no idea how or why he was there. With nothing but a hospital gown on, he got up and tried the handle. It was locked. There was something unsettling about being locked in a tiny room, dependent on the staff to let you out. Then a voice reminded him that he was here because he needed it. She was a female, but it came from inside his own head.
“Try to remember the night before,” she said.
John ignored her voice. No matter how hard he tried, he couldn’t convince himself it wasn’t real. Out of frustration, he pounded on the door and let out a scream. A nurse looked up from the nurses’ station and signaled to an aide in a beige uniform. The aide opened the door.
“You need to calm down,” the aide said.
“Where am I?” John asked.
“You were brought here overnight by the police. You need to relax.” The aide closed the door and locked it.
John lay back down. As his memory came back, he remembered when he first began hearing the female’s voice. It was three days ago. He was driving to work when she first announced herself.
“My name is Stephanie,” she said.
John quickly looked behind in the passengers’ seats. Not noticing anyone, he checked to see that the volume was turned down on his radio. Confused, he made sure his cell phone was not on speaker phone and that he had not accidentally called a contact. His phone was not turned on.
“I’ve been spying on you,” the voice continued.
John listened intently, realizing the voice must be coming from inside his skull. It felt like someone whispering in his ear, like they were leaning up against him to give him a secret message. He couldn’t make sense of it.
Finally, as if it was only natural, he spoke aloud. “How have you been spying on me?”
“We can wiretap your thoughts. We can see through your eyes. We can observe your life. We have the capability to monitor you. You’ve never noticed.”
“How?” John asked.
“I’ve already told you too much,” Stephanie said.
The voice went away. Naturally, John began to question his sanity. He called off work and drove back to his apartment, where he promptly googled schizophrenia. Hearing voices was an indicator of having the disorder. The thought drove John to throw up in his toilet. He then drowned two beers and googled thought monitoring. After digging around, he found out about a technology called voice to skull technology. The government had the capability to send signals directly to the brain, as if someone was speaking right next to you. John became a conspiracy theorist after reading this, and was convinced someone was playing an elaborate hoax on him. Satisfied, he called his earlier conversation a prank and watched TV. Unfortunately, things only became weirder the next day.
The next morning in bed, John woke up to the voice. “I’m breaking the rules by talking to you.”
John ignored her and went into the bathroom. He began to brush his teeth. As he was brushing, a force took over his arm. Without control, the force moved his hand away from his mouth and dropped the brush into the sink. Staring into the mirror, his mouth began to open and close as he began to speak out loud uncontrollably.
“I can make you talk to me.” Of course, it should be noted this was Stephanie speaking and possessing him, which John found amusing and alarming at the same time. Nonetheless, he sat down on the toilet and listened.
“I’ve been watching, and you’re a slob.” This time the voice was only in his head. Stephanie continued. “If I have to control you I will. I’m breaking all the rule by doing this, and you will listen.”
Back in the hospital room he looked down at a wrist band that said he was an hospital in Indiana. He lived in Ohio.
Memories came crashing in from the night before. He remember being arrested for trying to walk barefoot across a bridge. The cop pointed out that he left his car parked in the middle of the road blocking traffic. Stephanie had told him that he was performing a secret initiative to get recruited into the government. John normally don’t think this way. Something had happened from the first time Stephanie contacted him to being arrested. It was such a blur, but he remembered quitting his job. It seemed like a good idea at the time. Then he went a day without sleep and decided he was going to drive to the Grand Canyon. Stephanie told him they could meet there. But he couldn’t figure out why he began to believe such irrational ideas.
“How are you doing?” A man with thick framed glasses and a blue button up sat across from John’s bed.
“What’s going on?” John asked.
“You’re going through a manic episode. At least, from what you told us last night when you were brought here by the police. You told us you had gone two days without sleep and were driving out west to meet a lady that was talking in your head. These are typical symptoms of a bipolar disorder. You were experiencing mania.”
John stared at him in disbelief.
“So I’m not schizophrenic?” he asked.
The doctor chuckled. “Quite the contrary, I’m diagnosing you as schizo-affective bipolar.”
John felt his stomach drop at the thought of being diagnosed bipolar. But he also felt relief there was a reason for how he was behaving. This is what mania does to him, he thought. It clouds thinking, turns a person into a caricature of himself, making him believe in conspiracy theories and magic. He felt embarrassed about his behavior.
The doctor told him he would speak with him throughout the week. Later, a nurse came into the room with his clothes and told John he’d been involuntarily admitted, which meant that he was at the hands of the state and a doctor as to when he allowed to leave the hospital.
The nurse left the door open. John stepped out into a circular room with a dozen rooms. In the middle was the nurses’ station sectioned off with glass. There were a few guys walking around. One looked at John and started to scream about Jesus. This was David.
For the next few hours John establish a routine of walking around the nurses’ station in a circular path. There was a TV at one end of the room but he couldn’t sit still to watch it. The passing of time was unbearable in the hospital, to the point that he could only think about how slow it passed. All he could do to stay sane was to walk. He felt restless and being locked up in the hospital intensified the experience.
During his walks, Stephanie would politely interrupt his thoughts.
“They put you in here for a reason,” she said.
“You’re a figment of my imagination,” John replied.
“Doesn’t change the fact that you can hear me. They put you in here so that no one will ever believe your story. Now you’re just another crazy person with a nut job conspiracy theory.”
“Who are they?”
“We’re an organization that spies on people’s thought for profit.”
“What’s your organization’s name?”
“I can’t tell you yet. I’m already in a lot of trouble.”
“How can you talk to me, tell me you’ve been spying on me, give details about your operation, but not be able to tell me your organization name?”
“It’s classified,” she said. “Please don’t get upset. I care about you John.” Stephanie sounded concerned.
This blew John’s mind. He couldn’t get over the fact that his brain could really come up with such a convoluted tale. But nonetheless it was proof of his own brain fabricating this story. It was incapable of coming up with a name, which showed a lack of evidence and story.
John felt triumph and relief with this thought and kept on walking for a few more hours until dinner trays arrived.
The doctor arrived at the same time the next day. “The mind can be a powerful storyteller,” he said. “It can create a persona that you never encountered before. The goal for your the rest of your stay here is to push back the voices into the recess of your mind. I’m prescribing you lithium mixed with Serroquel as an anti-pyschosis.” John could only agree with the doctor’s prescription.
Later that day the nurse gave John his pills. They didn’t work. For the next three days John continued to hear Stephanie with newer voices, and learned to lie about it to the staff. He said he was doing better, that he was coming down from his mania. But the truth was he starting to agree with the voices. Psychiatry was bullshit with snake oil passing as placebos.
Despite his slow acceptance of the reality of the voices, he was still hesitant no matter how much Stephanie tried to convince John she was real. And yet he couldn’t believe his brain could fabricate such a complicate lie. His logic was torn in half. Both ideas were unbelievable, but logic also dictated that one must be truth. There was a chance that Stephanie was indeed real, and that gave him comfort.
“I love you,” she told him on the third night of the stay. John was on his daily walk and when he heard this. “I found out about you through my daily task of monitoring,” Stephanie went on. “You were picked to be part of this. We were planning on initiating you. I never thought I could love a specimen. It’s my fault you’re here.”
“Why would you put me here?” he asked.
“So no one would believe your story. They’ll call you schizophrenic. But I also must suffer. For there’s no way we’ll ever meet. Your role was to be a vessel for other spies to secret converse with one another in the real world. We were going to use you to communicate with other vessels. But I couldn’t bear to see that happen to you. So I made you go insane so you could be be put in here. Now you’re free from being used.”
A nurse stopped John during his walk.
“Are you still hearing voices?” she asked.
“No,” John replied.
The nurse frowned and walked away. The doctor always asked the same question. John lied every time.
“Why must you speak through people?” John asked.
“Because it’s our way of secret communication,” Stephanie replied. “The government developed this technology to interpret and monitor people’s thoughts. They also devised technology so that a human being’s body could be taken over by another human being via virtual reality. We call it possessing.”
Her story sound convincing and his logic screamed it must be true. But the doctor countered this later in the day.
“John, plenty of patients tell these stories about their body being possessed by the government or their thoughts being kidnapped. It’s all a part of the illness. I’m going to up your dose of Serroquel. If you get better you can get out of here by the end of the week, but so far the voices are still coming to you. That isn’t good.”
John pleaded his case of sanity to the doctor.
“No one thinks you’re insane,” the doctor replied. “It’s all an illness.” The doctor left and again John felt the lingering want of a better answer.
By the fourth night, the nurses had put John in restraints for pounding on the walls. At the time, he was trying to get the voices out his head. They were more than Stephanie this time, but rather multitude of different voices all arguing inside his head. It took three separate shots of Benadryl, Ativan, and Haldol to calm him down. The nurses strapped his wrists and ankles with leather straps to his bed. An aide sat at the foot of his bed to watch of him.
“I can get you out of here,” Stephanie whispered.
“How?” John asked. The aide raised his eyebrows but didn’t say anything.
“I know how to calm you down. I can get rid of the voices.”
“But your voice calms me down,” John replied.
“It would only be for a short while. At least until you got of here.”
“I love you,” John whispered.
“That breaks my heart,” Stephanie sighed. “But we can’t be together. I have my duty, and you your life.”
John fell asleep in the restraints.
By the fifth day the voices were gone. John felt restless but beside his anxiousness was normal. The doctor remarked that the medicine was finally working, and that with no time he would be out of there.
And so John got better. Two more days passed without voices or manic energy. He felt restless to get out of there. In the meantime he made friends with a woman who was there on court order for slapping her ex-husband. Her name was Elizabeth and she did yoga in the courtyard. This was what caught John’s attention. Apparently her ex-husband had fought for control of her five kids and this had driven Elizabeth over the edge. John would have never guess that such a gentle and kind woman could be capable of such violence. Then again, he never knew he would be capable of getting himself into a locked psych-ward either.
John also worried about his job during the meantime, and through a phone call found out the ambulance company had let him go for consecutive no-call no-shows. John vowed to fight it. Overall, though, John get better in the doctor’s eyes and was granted releases after a week in the hospital. Stephanie had not returned in the meantime, nor in the following three months after that.
During that time, John found another job as an EMT. He also got on with his life, putting behind his experience in the hospital. It had become a footnote in his life, one which he told no one. But occasionally he missed Stephanie’s voice whispering into his mind some little insight about his life. It was on a rainy day that he found himself walking alone in the rain that he tried to talk with her.
“I know you’re listening,” he whispered. There was no response.
John tried a few a times before giving up. He headed back to his apartment and dragged himself up the stairs, his boots leaving a wet imprint on each step. Inside, he went to the bathroom and rinsed his face with water. And then he heard a whisper.
“I miss you,” she said.
He looked into the mirror and traced a circle around the edge of his eye with his finger.
“I knew you’d come back,” he replied.