A young girl sits in the corner of the room on the fifth floor of the west wing of 775 Dempster Street in Park Ridge, Illinois. She looks around. First she looks at the two doorways on either side of the room, then at the clock. She glances out the windows across from her. She is five stories high. There is major construction going on- an addition to the already huge building. The day looks hot from the bright sun. Outside everyone seems to be going about their daily lives, living the day as if it was the same as the one before. As if the world hadn’t just changed overnight. In here though things are different.
Time moves in slow motion. The air is stale and smells like vinyl. The walls are white. The floor is bluish grey. The room does not look very friendly. It looks artificial and factory-like with its vacant walls and fluorescent overhead lighting. Finally she looks back and fourth at the eight other kids and adolescents and the two women around her. She is terrified. She sits at the table with these people not saying a thing. She just stares with her eyes wide open, not blinking, and a nervous expression on her face.
The only thoughts in her head repeat over and over again. Why am I here? What is going to happen to me? Who are these people? What do I do? Don’t say a word, don’t move, do nothing!
Forty-seven seconds later people begin to notice her. They stare. She gets paranoid, fidgets in her seat. She curls up into herself. Her breathing is shallow and fast. Her pulse is racing with the thoughts in her head. She feels a panic attack coming on. Finally, “Do you want to play Uno with me and-“ Before one of the girls can finish her sentence she quickly shakes her head no. At this point all she can think is leave me alone, leave me alone, leave me alone!
Twenty-three minutes and seven seconds later it is time for lunch. The standard tray of a turkey sandwich, side salad, apple, cookie, potato chips, and 1% milk is set in front of her. What is this? I don’t eat this. They are going to force-feed me. She doesn’t touch her tray. Her hands stay locked in front of her, holding her knees. Her gaze darts from the face of the little 10 year old boy in front of her who is crying over his juice, to the lady named Elizabeth, to the girl who offered a game of Uno.
“Hi! My name is Tova. What’s your name?”
“Aren’t you going to eat your lunch?”
Still no response, just a nervous stare.
“You have to eat your lunch now or you won’t get your points for lunchtime”, Elizabeth cut in. “And you won’t get free time. Instead you will have to see Katie.”
Now she gets panicky. Who is Katie? What will happen if I don’t eat the food? I better eat something. She walks over to the sink and starts scrubbing the apple. It must be poisoned.
“The apple is fine, now sit down and eat. You have eight minutes to eat at least half of your lunch”, said Elizabeth.
She slowly begins to dissect the apple. Dicing it into 64 perfect squares. She eats them one at a time with a fork. Those eight minutes seem like forever. She does not finish more than half the apple.
She spends the whole day in her head, not saying a word. Not until 12:43 AM when one of the night shifts, Joanna, stops in during the middle of rounds. Joanna asks her why she isn’t sleeping. All she can say is “Somebody will kill me if I fall asleep.”
“That’s non-sense. Why don’t you trust us? What is going on in your head? What do you think we are going to do to you? We can help you”, says Joanna in a slight Polish accent.
“Leave me alone.” That’s all she can say. That’s all she can think. That’s all she can feel. When you live in a world of fear without trust you question everything. Everything is a What If? Question. Everything seems like it’s life or death. You are alone with fear. Anxiety is a constant state. Your body and your mind cannot function. Everybody is out to get you. Everything you do is to avoid some imagined and exaggerated consequence. You don’t think for yourself because your thoughts are automatic. A world where trust doesn’t exist is like being trapped in a horror movie, and you have no way to get out. You have no way to get out because the movie isn’t a movie at all. The movie isn’t a dream. The movie is real. The movie is you. You have trapped yourself inside of yourself, and that’s the scariest of all.