You watch movies, you hear stories. But the profound cruel reality never captures you the way it did when I approached the front steps of the UCI Medical Clinic. Neuropsychology. Unit 2 North: Adolescents. Victims of depression. Anorexia. Manic-Depressive, Bipolar disorders. Suicidal. These are only some of the cases I had heard of. I walked through the pristine white hallways, listening to the murmur of telephones ringing and paper rustling. Each nurse is stationed in every corner of these hallways, name tag pinned to the front, shining like badges.
I watched a budding young girl, about my age, chirping frantically on the phone in fluent German. Her face, her sunny smile, her wispy hair betrayed no signs of vulnerability. I was struck; she didn’t seem like she belonged here. She seemed normal. Whatever that means. I looked at her chart, attached on a clipboard.
“Anger, prone to Manic episodes.” I bit my lip.
I looked toward another.
“Depression 1, suicidal.”, “ADP; severe”, “Hyperactive 1, Bipolar”, “Manic Depression, Masklike facies”
I start to cry. A girl, about 15, taps me on the shoulder, asking me what is wrong.
I smile instead, “Hi.”
“Hello.” She asks me where I am from.
“Nearby. My mother is a nurse here.” She nods, but keeps her silence.
“How long have you been here?” I asked politely, watching her carefully.
She looked up with a dreamy look in her eyes. She smiled a smile, but it was a smile I would never forget. She smiled hopelessly, and as she did so, it broke my heart.
“I don’t know.”
I didn’t say anything for a while, and she told me she thought I was a nice. But she stopped smiling, and looked at me.
“Do you think I’m pretty?” She asked abruptly, almost forced. I paused, feeling the tears swelling in my throat.
“Yes, I think you are very beautiful.” I said quietly.
“You’re a liar!” She shot back at me, trembling. She did not look at me when she said this. She stood up, and she left.
I glance at her chart.
“Anorexia Nerv; DSM-IV-TR”
I started to cry. These charts are labels. And they are inventory, being hauled in. They are to be moved places to places, subjected as curious cases to study. To eyes of training nurses, they are sad defects of the mind, herded together in one never ending story. It was a broken place, full of broken souls, together. I looked for the girl, walking from each ends of these hallways. I never found her again. But as I looked around, I realized I saw her everywhere. Every person in the clinic, everyone who had or is struggling with depression, I found her in each of them. Some stay for a few days and leave. To some, this is home.