I walked through the pastoral garden of that mental health institute. The guard checked my ID and asked for the purpose of my visit. “I’m visiting a friend” I told him. Although we weren’t really friends, we had good chemistry between us, and whenever we met we called each other: “My friend!”. We only met a few months before, and the circumstances of our acquaintance is another story. The guard let me in the building where another guard rechecked me and directed me to the reception area. After a short conversation with the shift manager, he suggested that I sit down as he sends for someone to bring my friend. The shift manager was a huge body builder, and I figured out easily why he was hired for that job. I sat there quite gloomy, but I was fascinated by the company. The guy who sat next to me looked like a weird monk, someone who came right out of one of those Ashrams in India. He was skinny, sun burnt and probably my age. I could tell from the cheerful tattoos on his face that he had good times in his past. The murmuring and his frightened eyes taught me about the bad times that brought him into this institute. On a bench next to the wall, sat an orthodox Jewish man in his fifties. He had a very long beard and a Kippah. Every few minutes he stretched his left leg above his head and kept it up for a minute or two. I wasn’t sure if he was a karate master exercising, or whether it was an excessive tick. Anyway, he kept a very serious expression.
Near the entrance sat an older guy who spoke to himself in Russian. He wore a turquoise beret of the Israeli artillery forces, and every few minutes, he stood up, arranged the green T-shirt of the institute, as if it was the army uniform, and saluted. I assumed he was a veteran of the Russian army, and that somehow he got stuck in that role and period.
A young guy passed me by with ear phones as he was talking. Initially I thought that he was speaking with someone on his cellular, but soon after, I realized that he was not. I wasn’t sure though if he spoke to himself, to the other patients, to me, or to the entire society. He repeated words of the same root in Hebrew: Pagum, Pgam, Pagma etc. Pagum or Pgam in Hebrew is damaged, corrupt, defected or flaw. Pagum is used to decribre a product that doesn’t work as it should, or a part that is broken and needs to be replaced. However, the word Pagma does not exist, and that was the word he kept repeating the most. Probably in order to describe his defect. He then stopped walking, turned to me and asked: “Don’t you see? Can’t you understand? I am Pagma.”
Without hesitating, I looked back at him seriously and replied: “Of-course. I can see and understand that you are Pagma. I am Pagma as well.”
He took out his earphones, looked right at me from a very short distance, and asked: “Are you really Pagma?”. “Yes, I am Pagma.” I replied. He shook my hand and said “So you are my brother Pagma!” . He then put back his earphones and continued walking around.
Finally my friend arrived at the reception, wearing the green T-shirt of the institute, and smiling ear to ear. We hugged each other and I asked him: “How are you doing buddy?”
“I’m good”, he replied, “What a surprise! How did you know I’m here?”
He seemed quite aware of his situation, so I felt comfortable to share with him what I knew: “Well, it’s easy. A few days ago, two policemen knocked on our door. They told us that you disappeared and asked if we knew anything about that. Early this morning, your mother called and informed us that you were found, that you are are well, and that you are hospitalized here, so here I am, visiting you. Now, let’s get to your story. You know, tens of volunteers were looking for you, including a helicopter. They searched around the area where they found your cellular.”
My friend began to laugh: “Stupid policemen…I knew they will do that, so I threw my cell out of the car’s window, because this time I didn’t want to be found. I was actually two hours driving distance to the north”.
“Well, I’m a bit confused” I stopped him. “Can you please tell me what happened? When and why?”
So he did: “Last time we met I told you that I’m going through a stressful period, right? I didn’t tell you, however, that I stopped taking my pills. I’m sorry that I hid it from you. I also have some serious financial problems, and I had a serious confrontation with my parents about it. They think I’m childish and irresponsible, and I think they are stingy. Last Sunday, on a phone conversation with my mother, while I was driving, she told me that they will not help me out this time, and that it was their final decision. I was so furious that I began swallowing my psychiatric pills. It didn’t calm me down, so I stopped the car on the side of the road and poured all the pills from all the boxes I had into a bottle of Nestea. I then went back on the highway and kept drinking until I finished the bottle. “How many pills you think you swallowed?” I asked. “Probably 200” He replied.
“Wow!!!” I was overwhelmed: “How did you feel after that?” “Very stoned, and listening to “Shine on you crazy diamond” of Pink Floyd on the Stereo, I felt I was flying”.
I laughed: “It sounds trippy, but very dangerous, I must say. Did you keep driving like that? What happened after that?
“I kept driving north until I felt I was falling asleep. I went off the highway into a forest and that’s the last thing I remember. The security officer of a nearby village found me the next morning in my car. He called the police, and they immediately called an ambulance when they saw my condition.I spent 2 days in the hospital. After a stomach wash, my condition stabilized so they offered me a few options. I chose this particular institute as I’ve been here a few times before. It’s not as bad as the other institutions and they already know my problem. “What is your problem?” I asked. “Well, they think that I have suicidal tendencies”.
He looked me in the eye and I looked back at his: “Do you?” “Well, I guess I do.”
“How many times did you try to commit suicide before?”
“8 times”, he replied, and waited to see my reaction.
“I’m sorry I didn’t know, or didn’t ask you, or…”
“It’s OK, it’s not your fault. It was me hiding it, and I am sorry for not sharing it with you”.
“So the police informed your parents?” I concluded.
“No They didn’t. When I arrived here, the guys told me the internet was down, and you know it’s my thing. I fixed it in a few minutes and logged into my Facebook account. I had a chat with my best friend, and he called my parents.”
“And how are you feeling now?” He looked so smily and relaxed, definitely not like a person who tried to kill himself a few days ago.
“Well, I’m OK now, but I feel like a caged dog, and because of what I did, they can’t just let me go. They want to verify that I take my medications, and make sure I won’t do anything stupid again. Just the regular procedures, you know”.
We sat together for a while more and laughed about the system; police, institutions, doctors, and patients.
Two weeks later, we spoke on the phone and I learned from him that he tried to drown himself in the ocean while he was on a weekend vacation. He sounded confused and very fragile. He was admitted into a stricter institute.
I couldn’t stop thinking about him and the other lost souls in the institute. It took me a few days until I found the courage to tell that story on my canvas.