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Interview with Nina Belen Robins

Interview with Nina Belen Robins, Author of A Bed With My Name On It

1) What does being bipolar mean to you?

Bipolar is a chemical imbalance that has royally messed up my life, but has also given me my art which has almost made it worth it. My bipolar began when I was very small, so I don’t know anything else. It robbed me of many opportunities but I’ve managed to learn how to deal with it and try not to be too bitter about it. I think the fact that I got it so young actually helped equip me to deal with it better than if it had presented itself later in life.

2) What was your least favorite hospital experience?

Truthfully I have never minded being committed. The one time that it was done by my therapist tricking me into being admitted by telling me she wanted an impromptu session, and then essentially telling me when I came in either I go in voluntary or involuntary felt dehumanizing but I needed to go in. I was very manic and making poor life choices and needed to be safe.

3) In the poem “Brian”, he talks about the importance of taking his meds. How important is this?

At least for me, taking my medicine is very important. I’ve never fully gone off my meds and I have still had numerous episodes so I don’t even want to begin to think how bad it would be if I didn’t take the medicine. I think it is very hard for bipolar people or mentally ill people in general to accept that they need lifelong meds but to me it’s no different than needing cholesterol meds or blood pressure or diabetes. It is an illness. And the meds allow me to live a mostly normal life, so I take them.

4) “My med cup looks like Skittles,/ but when I miss them/ my brain catches fire” (Mothers)

What happens when you don’t take your meds?

The medicine I take helps me sleep so when I have missed it I have not been able to sleep. And the withdrawal symptoms are terrible. That’s mostly what I meant about my brain catching fire. The sensation when I miss my antipsychotic is a cross between a flickering lightbulb and catching fire.

5) “You’re either here because/ you’re crazy,/ or because your parents are./Sometimes both.” (Mothers)

How long were you in “the system”?

The first time I was hospitalized I was twelve, my parents sent me away when I was fourteen. I never went back home. I lived in special boarding schools until I was twenty, a group home until I was twenty-one, and then the ywca until I was thirty-one. Finally at thirty-one I moved into a “normal” apartment with my now husband after not having a home of my own since I was in eighth grade.

6) Were you ever taken advantage of? (“Male Staff?”)

There was some boundary crossing but it mostly actually happened after I left. There was some online stuff with one staff member after I left my residential, and then later on in my twenties I dated a former staff member.

7) “The day we cut my bangs,/ one did weed,/ one did coke,/ one did vodka,/ and I was manic.” (Bangs)

What was the worst thing you while you were manic?

Honestly the worst I got was this last year. I don’t want to get into too much detail but my main manic symptom is hypersexuality and I cross boundaries and do inappropriate things that I never would normally do. My anxiety also got so out of control I was delusional and misinterpreting what people were saying to me and convincing myself of circumstances that weren’t happening and just was completely out of touch with reality.

8) “the heroin addict is just/ the man restricted to his pajamas/ teaching you how to hit the ball.” (Ping Pong)

Can you explain the significance of the ping pong table?

It was just what we did. Me and the guy. Every day we played ping pong for hours. And I used to think it was cool, like Forrest Gump. We both played ping pong in the hospital. I was so young. I was in seventh grade and committed for over two weeks with the adults. And the ping pong games were innocent. I was just this little kid and he adopted me and tried to guide me.

9) Who were you closest to in the hospital? Did you consider anyone a friend?

I had a therapist who once called the units in the hospitals their own “universes”. I always made friends during the stay. Twice I stayed in contact with them after, but only a couple of weeks both times. I actually briefly dated someone I met in the hospital for a couple of weeks but it was very short-lived lived.

10) . “Strip Search” is my favorite poem. Can you tell us a little more about it?

Strip Search is from when my therapist tricked me into getting committed. I had been in six previous times but this was the first time I felt so dehumanized and violated. The fact that all these people were seeing me as a specimen and that I was supposed to get naked in front of them was so embarrassing. It was really when it registered that I was a diagnosis and not a person.

11) “When I think too much/ they take my brain from me./ Put it in a bottle./ Lock up my thoughts/ with child protective caps,” (Pill Bottle)

What kind of medication are you on? What has helped and not helped?

I take a mood stabilizer, an antipsychotic, and an anti anxiety. This is actually the first cocktail that has completely worked for me and we didn’t find it until I was thirty-seven. To give you an idea of how huge that is, I have been medicated since I was eleven. It took last year’s episode where I almost lost everything for me to really take action to try to get the meds right. I have always just sort of dealt with the episodes but this was the first time my livelihood was really on the line. Probably because for the first time I actually had things worth losing.

12) ) “There are no dogs in our backyard,/ just the bedbugs the new girl brought in from the shelter,/ and the roaches from/ hotdogs at 2 am while staff is sleeping” (The Home)

How was living in a home/ halfway house versus the hospital?

The halfway house was terrible. But it also was what started my (ten year) journey of trying to get better. I was in a home with fairly low functioning women. For instance, my goal was trying to get an apartment and more hours at work, their goals were learning to boil eggs and take the bus. My parents put me in there after high school because they didn’t want me back at the house. I stayed there a year and a half until I couldn’t take it anymore. I was so upset that my possible future was permanent institutional living and not doing anything with my life. It’s nothing like the hospital though. The hospital is a week long stay and you can’t leave the building. The halfway house was a living situation. The population is the same but that’s it.

13) ) “And sometimes/ I’d miss supervision./The company, you know?/ The feeling of not being alone in the world/ still with a bed with my name on it” (On Leaving the System”)

How was “leaving the system"?

Leaving the system was terrifying and amazing. I still crave supervision though and it’s been years and years. I seek out “staff” still and am constantly adopting “parents” because I very much still need to be taken care of. Honestly I went from the ywca right to living with my husband. I’m not sure what I would do if my marriage were to suddenly end. I’m 38 years old but I think I’m still not high functioning enough to not be in some sort of assisted living. I’ve had to accept I will never be a fully functional adult. Which is hard.


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