I recently, unexpectedly, spent six days in a local Behavioral Health Unit due to the sudden onset of severe and debilitating panic attacks.  I’m so grateful to be home now and feeling better.  My time in the hospital now feels almost like it never happened, but I feel a need to integrate that experience as part of the truth of my life.  This poem is part of that attempt.  I hope if maybe you’ve had similar struggles it will somehow speak to your experience.

Brown Paper Bag

It’s not the
barcoded wrist band that gets to you 

nor the
constant roll-call and waiting in line for meds. 

No, it’s the
brown paper bag that holds your belongings, 

the t-shirts
and clean underwear your husband gathered from dresser 

drawers not
his and packed into a small suitcase to be dropped off 

on his way
to work early the next morning.

Without that
suitcase you have only the pajamas you arrived in – 

Yoga pants
and a three-dollar t-shirt from the clearance rack at Target.  

Even these,
though, are better than the scrubs some patients wear, 

clothes along with their freedom and, for a time at least, their sanity, 


The suitcase
is vetted at the nurses’ station, 

belongings checked for that which
is not allowed – 

sharps, strings, medications.  

Now you
wonder, though you didn’t then, 

what they thought of the board

your husband packed.  You asked him
for “something 

to help you
remember” although now you cannot remember 

what.  The books, among them The Carrot Seed, were his
first picks.  

Your journal and bible, your bra, socks and shirts, 

are piled
together in two hefty brown grocery bags and brought to you 

in your
room.  These you place on the floor in a
large door-less wardrobe. 

You arrange
your toiletries with care, the small toothpaste and white plastic toothbrush,

the hospital-issue baby shampoo and lotion, taking organizational cues 

from your roommate’s side of the

When you
leave, six days later, half of your things 

will go back
into the black suitcase, returned to you 

from the safe place where it was
kept. The other 

half you will carry out through the locked doors 

in a brown paper
bag.  You will stop at the nurses’

to have the wristbands cut off and their phantom presence 

will cause
you to touch your
arm again and again 

well into the following day, but it will be a week or more 

before you begin at last,
to unpack that brown paper bag.  

Photo source HERE.

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