“Madness need not be all breakdown. It may also be breakthrough.”
R.D. Laing

- - -

Winter 2013

There is something about the hyper-controlled atmosphere of a psych ward that makes patients want to identify an attending nurse whom they think is incompetent and make that poor nurse the object of their anxiety and general disdain for their state of affairs, McMurphy-style. I had seen One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest at least twice before being admitted to the psych ward at Iowa City’s Mercy Hospital, and I was well aware that Nurse Ratched was a misogynistic fallacy designed by a midcentury white male imagination,1 and to this day I flinch when I think of wild-haired Jack Nicholson screaming “You’re gonna pull that henhouse shit now?” after Louise Fletcher tells him he can’t turn on the TV. But I still Ratcheded a nurse at Mercy; I did it out of peer pressure and I regretted it as it was happening but was also too medicated to parse out a feeling as complex as regret-in-the-moment.

I had staggered out of my bedroom after the typical long and dreamless Trazodone-induced nap you’re made take after you’ve been awake for any period of time over twenty-four hours. The ward – discreetly referred to by both patients and personnel as Four North – was smallish, with a hallway of door-less bedrooms and a conference room extending off a “common room” that housed a few craft/eating tables, easy chairs, and a TV. The front desk and medication dispensary were situated directly across from the tables. It was a little after three in the afternoon when I woke up, and as far as I could tell, the only people in Four North besides myself were a baby-faced teenaged girl, a middle-aged woman who exhaled in asthmatic wheezes, and a nurse with a silver bob. The girl and the woman sat at one of the tables and wore blue scrubs like my own, the girl beading a bracelet made out of fishing line while the woman murmured encouragingly to her. The nurse stood behind the front desk, looking over her ovoid bifocals at both of them and making notes on a legal pad. She smiled crisply when she saw me.

“You’re awake! It’s time for your medication.”

The girl and the middle-aged woman turned to watch me. The middle-aged woman’s skin was badly acne-scarred. I thought I could detect some envy in the girl’s eyes. The nurse introduced herself as Roxanne, which was not at all the name I thought she’d have, and offered me a paper cup containing two small white pills.

“This is Lorazepam, it’s a sed – ”

“It’s a sedative,” I said, wanting to cut her off because the sound of her voice seemed not to gel with the physical presence of the woman and the girl. “It’s a benzodiazepine. Yeah, I know about Lorazepam.”

“OK. Take it with water. You’ll take Lamictal in an hour.”

I took it with water and offered her the empty cup. She snatched it from my hand and disappeared into a back room.

“When did you get here?” the girl asked.

I shrugged and took a seat. “In the morning. I’ve been asleep since then.”

She nodded. “I know. I’m Pilar.”

“I’m Lou,” the woman said, in a tone far less warm than the one she used with Pilar.

“I got here a few hours ago,” Pilar said. “I had to stay in the hospital a few nights.” She pulled at the neck of her scrubs to reveal a massive and deliberate scar beginning just above her right collarbone and curling towards her armpit. My heart thrummed as quickly as it could on 200+ milligrams of sedative. She rolled up her left sleeve to reveal that the scar continued down the length of her forearm and ended at her wrist, where she’d crossed it at the top like an uppercase “T”.

“How did you get here?” she asked, shaking her sleeve back into place.

“I walked. I live nine blocks from here.”

She snorted. “I came in an ambulance.”

I nodded. I could feel the tips of my fingers beginning to go numb. This typically happened when I was too anxious or too high. Pilar must have been able to read this, because she softened. “Where are you from? Why are you here?” She asked these questions with a compassionate tilt of her head, as though she were a nurse herself.

Without hesitation I explained that I was a graduate student at the University of Iowa. I was from the Chicago suburbs. I hadn’t been able to sleep with any frequency or regularity for a long time. A few weeks ago, I’d become paranoid that everyone I interacted with on a daily basis was trying to sabotage my career – even if they were complimenting me, they were only doing so in order to butter me up for future flaying. I was in a writing workshop and I couldn’t go out for drinks afterwards and socialize with anyone because they were definitely keeping notes on me and those notes would resurface in the future and be damning somehow. It had been a truly stupid idea of mine to go to a place where everyone was inclined to document and recycle every little thing everyone else did and bill it as roman-à-clef “art” and then keep on doing this over and over again, making some kind of bullshit profession out of it. There was, for instance, a girl in my writing workshop with a messy bun and a cricket-like voice who I knew hated me and whom I’d seen speaking to a good friend of mine about a powerful agent in New York – Messy Bun’s agent – and I could’ve sworn the conversation turned to what a “maladroit idiot” I was, I’d actually seen the words maladroit idiot echoing out of her cold little lipsticked mouth, and I knew instantly that she and my good friend were forming some kind of bizarre coalition against me that meant I would never publish anything because they’d tell the powerful agent in New York and the agent would think I was a laughingstock, too, QED: I could never talk to either of them again so they couldn’t take any more notes on me.2

“That’s why you came here?” Pilar asked.

Not exactly. I’d run in my pajamas to the ER the night before because I was convinced I was having a heart attack but really I’d just been smoking unholy amounts of K2 and pounding beers and messaging everyone I knew on Facebook, outraged that my otherwise compassionate psychiatrist, who looked like Amy Adams in Her, had suggested that I might have bipolar.

“You have an amazing life,” Pilar said. I couldn’t detect a trace of irony in her voice. “There’s no point in you coming here. Why are you here?”

“I don’t know. They thought I should come here.”

“You ran in your pajamas? It’s like fifteen degrees.”

I shrugged and began to pick at a hangnail.

“How were the other people sabotaging your career?”

“Poisoning the well. Telling other people I was incompetent.”

Pilar nodded. “They probably weren’t. You have a really good life.”

The three of us sat in silence, Pilar beading her bracelet, Lou looking on admiringly and stifling coughs, me staring at my hands. “That nurse – Roxanne – she’s a bitch,” Pilar finally said. “They gave me this pill when I first came in, I guess you were asleep so you didn’t see, and it made me feel so good, so fucking good I can’t even tell you. And now Roxanne’s on duty and I can’t get any more.”

“Why not?”

“She just won’t give it. She says I don’t need it. That’s bullshit – of course I need it.”

“What’s it called?”

“It’s like hydra-something.” She looked at Lou, who rolled her eyes to the ceiling in a good-faith effort to remember the name of the pill.

“Hydroxy-something,” Lou said.

“Hydroxyzine?” I asked.

“Sounds right,” Pilar said.

“And I need a CPAP machine to breathe,” Lou said. “She won’t let me have my goddamn CPAP machine.” She was looking at me sideways, a note of challenge in her voice. I knew instantly what I had to do.

Roxanne came back out from the back room and gave us all a terse smile. Pilar smiled back politely. I strolled up to the desk – “stroll” is a generous term here, because it was difficult for me to affect any sort of locomotion that wasn’t shuffling. I was beginning to suspect that I’d been given lithium before being put to bed, but I couldn’t remember and didn’t want to have that conversation with Roxanne.

“I’m feeling anxious,” I said.

Roxanne looked at Pilar and Lou and then back at me. She smiled conspiratorially, or at least I thought she did. I had the slimy feeling of being an unloved teacher’s only pet. She produced a file containing what I quickly realized was my “chart” and told me I was permitted to have one Hydroxyzine every four hours.

“Can I take mine now?”

Roxanne produced the pill, which I cheeked, and a glass of water, which I swallowed.

“I think that woman needs a CPAP machine,” I said, careful not to betray the pill in my mouth.

“We know,” Roxanne responded. “We know. Don’t we, Lou?”

“I can’t breathe unless I’m wearing it,” Lou wheezed.

Roxanne nodded at her, nodded at me, and then retreated into the back room again. I retrieved the pill from my mouth, wiped it on my shirt, and gave it to Pilar, who swallowed it without water.

“Hell yes,” Pilar said. “Thank you so much.”

“That nurse really is a bitch,” I said.

“She is,” Lou said. “She’s in the wrong profession.”

Pilar pushed the plastic box of beads to me and I began to make a bracelet.

- - -

I had never been in a psychiatric ward before, but I could tell that Four North was the Four Seasons of such institutions. We were low-risk patients who presented no harm to others and no immediate harm to ourselves – those who had attempted suicide wore yellow bracelets to signify that the harm, once present, had been neutralized. At nineteen and twenty-three, Pilar and I were the youngest and second youngest, respectively. Lou was in her forties, and Agnes and Bill were slightly older than Lou. Agnes wore a white robe over her scrubs, hugged herself at the elbows, and complained of perpetual exhaustion. Bill would reveal only that he’d once been a bartender, and spent hours working on a giant puzzle of Vermeer’s Girl with a Pearl Earring, chin in hand.3 Others filtered in and out; some patients were frightened to leave their rooms, and my only contact with them were glimpses snatched while walking down the hallway. There was none of the stereotypic flailing, screaming, and forced injections the well-minded are taught to associate with psychiatric facilities. No one was placed in four- or six-point restraints: that unhappy reality was the territory of state psych hospitals and group homes, not the comparatively well-heeled Four North.

After we finished beading our bracelets, we were served lunch: Agnes, Lou, Bill, Pilar, and I were the only ones well enough to take our meals outside our rooms. The fare (tuna melts and tomato soup) was unusually good, but that could have just been a side effect of the medication: everything could have been a side effect of the medication, really. Pilar and I inhaled our food and then began to whisper to each other dramatically, our eyes darting at Roxanne, and when Roxanne asked us what was so funny we said “You!” and screeched like banshees. Lou patted Pilar on the back. “That’s my girl,” she said.

“Talk about something else,” Roxanne ordered. “Quietly.”

“Fine.” Pilar turned to me and said in a stage whisper: “Do you like to give head?”

I pretended to think about it. “Depends on the guy.”

Pilar nodded like we were in the middle of a business conference. “Yes. Yes, it does. Do you swallow?”

“No, not typically.”

“Do you spit it on him?”

Bill gave us a wry, you crazy kids look.

“Again, depends on the guy.”

Roxanne was at my side. “What are you two talking about?”

“Something else,” I said. “Blowjobs.”

“People are trying to get better here,” Roxanne hissed. “You two need to act like adults.”

“This is a very adult conversation,” Pilar said.

“I’m feeling anxious,” I said.

Lou laugh-barked, and I was bolstered by the thought that I’d caused it.

Roxanne shook her head and went back behind her desk.

“No sense of humor,” I said, which made Lou laugh-bark again.

After lunch Roxanne left her post and a new, younger nurse appeared who dispensed Hydroxyzine freely and promised Lou she’d keep on looking into the CPAP machine, which alleviated some of Lou’s perseveration. The new nurse was accompanied by a guy who looked familiar to me: he was tall, with a double-peaked upper lip like Philip Seymour Hoffman’s, and glasses which made his eyes large and kind-looking. He introduced himself to me as Ben, although I could tell by the tone of his voice that this was a re-introduction. He asked to speak with me in my room.

We sat in rocking chairs across from each other. The mid-afternoon sun made bright scythe-shapes in the lenses of his glasses.

“You remember me from yesterday, right?” he asked.

I nodded, realizing he’d been the psych nurse in the ER.

“You weren’t doing very well yesterday.”

“Well of course I wasn’t,” I said, suddenly belligerent. “My psychiatrist suggested to me that I had bipolar.”

He nodded, not breaking his gaze with me. “Why do you think she told you that?”

“I was depressed.”

He looked at the chart. “When you came into the ER you said you were having a heart attack, and your drug test came up positive for a number of things. We’ll talk about that later. And you said – do you remember how many things you said you were doing?”

I began listing them, because I had begun to take great pleasure in enumerating the events of my life instead of engaging with them: “Teaching fiction, German class, German conversation student, ESL tutoring, applying for the grants, writing the novel, revising the stories, working at the Rape Victim Advocacy Center, going to workshop, going to Faulkner class, working at the literacy nonprofit, meeting with all my students individually for portfolios – ”

“That’s a lot,” he said. Then he sighed. “That’s a lot of stuff to be doing. Not a lot of time for sleep.”

We stared at each other.

“You’re here,” he said, “because it’s my professional opinion, and your doctor’s professional opinion, that you do in fact have bipolar disorder.”

I looked at the scythe-light in his glasses. Then I looked out the window.

“This is not a very bad case of it at all. Trust me, I’ve seen some very bad cases and you’re not among them. But you do tilt into hypomania and delusion. So you should take the steps necessary to prevent becoming psychotic in the future. Once a patient becomes psychotic for the first time, he or she is increasingly likely to experience repeat incidents of that psychosis.”

“I got upset yesterday,” I said tersely, “because I do not have bipolar disorder.”

He bit his lip and looked down at his feet. “You don’t have a very severe case of it. But you have it.”

“How long am I going to stay here?”

“You’ll meet with your doctor and determine that together. But consider that this might be an empowering time for you. You can use your stay here to find out more about bipolar, come to terms with it. Almost all bipolar patients we’ve treated go on to live productive lives.”

His Hoffmanesque lip and glasses made me want more than anything to like Ben, but given the news he’d just delivered, this seemed impossible. I felt jagged and uneasy tears emerging from behind my wall of sedation. He looked at me with unmistakable pity, which made me cry. I tried to conceal it for fear of looking mentally ill. Ben told me he’d give me some time alone.

I barely had the chance to dry my face on my scrubs when Pilar was at my door, the box of beads in her hands. She asked me what was wrong and I said I’d just gotten my diagnosis.

“That sucks,” she said. “What did they say you are?”

There was no way to avoid answering this question, but I so powerfully didn’t want to answer it that I just said nothing and stared at my feet in frustration. She waited it out for a few minutes and then asked if she could sit on my bed, taking a seat before I could answer.

“I seriously wish I was like you,” she offered. “Grad school and stuff. My parents didn’t give a shit about me and just left me in Coralville when I was sixteen.”

This information was an unwelcome addition to my psyche. I stayed silent. She continued.

“I had a boyfriend and I think he raped me. He like got on me one night and I couldn’t move – but in my head I was watching it happen from the ceiling. He was the guy I was living with after they left me. I have nightmares about it.” She shook the box of beads back and forth, slowly. “This isn’t the first time I tried to kill myself, actually, but this was the first time I put effort into it.”

I raised my eyes to meet hers. She was looking at me flatly. Then she broke into a Hydroxyzine smile. “I have a better boyfriend now.”

“Your parents left you in Coralville?” I asked.

“Yeah. I hated them, anyway. They were assholes to me when I was a kid.”

I shook my head. “You’re just being reasonable. You’re having a reasonable reaction to exceptionally shitty circumstances. This place isn’t for reasonable people.”

She laughed. “You’re sure as fuck not reasonable.”


“So they said you’re depressed?”


“That’s like Lou.”

I nodded distantly. My neck was getting loose from nodding.

“Everyone’s bipolar, basically. Only I have PTSD.”

“Aren’t you special.”

She laughed and threw a pillow at me, which I caught. Then she told me there were graham crackers and packets of peanut butter in the common room and I’d have to join her out there if I wanted any.

- - -

I’m told a major symptom of bipolar disorder is anosognosia, or the belief that you do not have bipolar. At Four North, the only way to “get better” was to acknowledge that you have an illness that needs treatment and then pursue that course of treatment. For the first time in what I didn’t yet realize would be many, I was in a logical bind like Orr’s in Catch-22: If you believe you don’t have bipolar, then you do have bipolar and belong in the psych ward. But if you do believe you have bipolar, you are “cured” and free to leave the psych ward. Except in that case you’ve acknowledged that you have bipolar, and so you belong in the psych ward. All roads lead back to Four North.4

I was too shell shocked to run through any of the usual identity dilemmas5 – all that would come later, during predawn coked-up babbling sessions with similarly coked-up friends kind enough to cook potatoes au gratin for me and agree that the psycho-pharmaceutical complex was complete bullshit. I was focused on the task at hand, which was solving the puzzle of how to leave Four North. This was a puzzle to which there seemed to be no obvious solution. Obedience wasn’t enough, because obedience easily became complacency and complacency didn’t necessarily mean progress. It was something like obedience with feeling. Or maybe just feeling.

The next day while everyone else did morning group therapy, I had to watch a video called Living with Bipolar. The video was Australian and miserably acted. It featured a woman who was a tenured professor of rhetoric at University of Queensland describing the voices she heard when she became psychotic. The voices had terrified her with promises that she was the Madonna. Now that she took lithium and was surrounded by people who could tell her if she was becoming manic, she was able to be productive and professional. A young man who worked as a butcher had a psychotic break every time he smoked cannabis,6 and although lithium gave him pretty severe hand tremors, it was a valuable tool and helped keep him away from illegal drugs. A second woman, a paralegal, swore by her daily regimen of lithium. She got teary-eyed at the thought that she may have passed the condition on to her children, but at least she could be stable for them.

Oh shit. My scalp went hot. I glossed the thought as quickly as I could, refocusing on the bizarre reenactments of mania and depression. Mania was someone charging up a $2,000 purchase of coats at a mall, and depression was that same person crying in bed, ringed by crumpled tissues.

My children will be bipolar.

No of course they won’t. How could they be if I’m not?

The days at Four North passed lazily: I ate graham crackers with peanut butter spread on them, Pilar and I made matching bracelet and necklace sets, Lou asked for her CPAP machine. Morning group therapy was led by a woman named Pat who wore a twill coat and never blinked. She asked us all to list our most positive characteristics. My positive characteristic was that I was funny and Pilar’s was that she was a good singer,7 Then we ate lunch, and Pilar would challenge me to Wii tennis and wipe the court with me. Evening group therapy was led by the optimistic young nurse, who asked us all to talk about the things we were most afraid of. Agnes was terrified of not being a good grandmother: she’d been in Four North for three weeks and missed her granddaughter’s sixth birthday. Lou was scared of her husband, who was cashing her disability checks and drinking away the money. Bill asked to be skipped and went to his room. The next day, I saw him watching Living with Bipolar in the same room I’d watched it in. When I stood on tiptoes to look through the bottom of the window, I could see that he was sketching faces on the legal pad he’d been given to take notes.

I took Lorazepam, Lamictal (an anticonvulsant/mood stabilizer), Hydroxyzine, and Trazodone (Trazosaurus Rex) every day in varying amounts. Powerful though it was, the T-Rex wasn’t enough to keep me asleep through the night. I would wander out of my room in my nighttime scrubs, pausing in the hallway to listen to everyone else’s blissfully medicated sleep. The nighttime nurse was a woman named Tracy with the no-nonsense friendliness of someone who’s resolved not to be disappointed by the system she’s a part of. I would sometimes toss a word salad of concerns at her – that bipolar wasn’t real, that I should have just been stronger and not come to the ER, that many of my closest friends were collecting evidence against me – and she’d reassure me that I seemed just fine, and that I’d done everything right. She reminded me of the nurses my dad preferred to work with – the ones who’d been in the business thirty years and quit smoking several times and couldn’t be phased by anything – in retrospect, I’m immensely grateful that it was her, and not Roxanne, who manned the desk at night. I begged her for clinical books about bipolar and even asked for the most recent edition of the DSM. What she gave me instead were back issues of People magazine, and so I took more T-Rex and Lorazepam and licked peanut butter from a plastic spoon, reading about Kate Middleton’s postpartum weight loss until I fell asleep again.

After a few nights of this, Ben called me into the conference room where we usually had group therapy. He was sitting there with my psychiatrist from the civilian world, who had a contrite smile on her face. Judas, I thought. She asked me how my time at Four North had been going and I told her I wanted to leave.

“Maybe when you sleep through the night twice in a row,” she said. Ben nodded.

“I’m sorry, but I really don’t think I’m bipolar. I’ve never been manic in my life.”

“But you might get manic,” she said.

I was silent. A conversational fianchetto.

“How are the medications working?” Ben asked.

I shrugged. “OK, I’m bipolar.”

My psychiatrist’s eyes widened slightly.

“Because the medications are working, and the medications are for bipolar, it follows that I’m bipolar,” I said.

“We might try you on lithium,” she said. “I’m very concerned about you escalating into mania.”

I put my head in my hands. The room was quiet. “I don’t want this,” I said. I looked up too quickly and experienced the dizzy whiplash of sudden-movements-while-high. Ben and my psychiatrist were leaning forward like concerned parents.

“We know,” my psychiatrist said. “We’re sorry.”

- - -

The day I left Four North began early. I’d been visited the previous evening by a few friends who’d brought, at my request, a giant electric keyboard. I’d asked for this because Pilar couldn’t stop talking about how amazing her rendition of Beyoncé’s “Crazy in Love” was, especially when she was playing accompaniment on the piano. After my friends left, Pilar hammered out Beyoncé and Rihanna standards until lights out and then requested her nighttime medication (which she called her “nightmare pill” for its ability to block bad dreams) early because she was too excited to sleep. She woke me up at 7:00 am the following morning and we were back at it, trying to string together a passable version of “Countdown” between the two of us.

After that was breakfast and group therapy, which Pilar had to miss for her weekly psychiatric evaluation. Alone for the first time in group therapy, I was faced with the unpleasant challenge of taking Pat seriously. Our project that day was to cut pictures out of magazines that we felt described ourselves and affix them to a paper grocery bag. I wasn’t particularly in the mood to do this, so I spent a long time cutting every Cheerio out of an image of an overturned bowl of Cheerios. When Pat called on us to share, the room was as silent as I expected it would be. And then I noticed Bill had his hand raised.

“I made the front of the bag look like how I am on the outside,” he said. This was the most he’d spoken since I’d met him. His hands shook as he showed us his bag: in the upper right hand corner was a thunderstorm, the lower left a tumbler of whisky, and in the middle was a picture of a father hugging two well-groomed children. “I’m a father, and I’m a drinker, and sometimes things get stormy. It’s this unbelievable anger: I have no control over it. I wish I did, but I don’t.” Beneath the picture of the children, he’d drawn a fire truck in black pen. Pat asked him what the fire truck meant and he said, “My dream job has always been to be a fireman.” Then he pulled images out of the bag, all of them meticulously cut from magazines: a man laughing, a woman who held a tearful mask in front of her face, an image of the human heart. “I’m not sure what’s me and what’s bipolar, or if there’s a difference,” he began.

I pretended that the thing overwhelming me was the sad pathos of the work Bill had put into this tedious project, but what was really overwhelming me was something I saw about myself and Bill and others like us in the images on Bill’s grocery bag, something that was impossible to articulate. I held back a sob and ran from the room. I lay across my bed and closed my eyes, blinking out tears. I lay there undisturbed for half an hour: group therapy was certainly over by then. Eventually Ben appeared in my peripheral field of vision and informed me that they were ready to discharge me.

“Were you crying?” he asked.

I nodded, wiping my nose.

“What about?”

“Bill’s project,” I whimpered. “It was really good.”

Ben smiled. “Well then maybe you should tell Bill about it.”

A friend arrived, carrying a sweatshirt and a pair of jeans she’d brought from my apartment. I was allowed to change out of my scrubs and back into civilian clothes. Just wearing civilian clothes gave me a renewed sense of agency and purpose – I shook Roxanne’s hand when she said goodbye to me as though nothing unsavory had happened between us. I gave Lou a hug, and she promised to hug Pilar for me in turn.

“She’ll be so mad at you for taking that piano,” she grunted. “Bitch.”

“That’s not very nice, Lou,” Roxanne said.

I collected the rest of my belongings from my bedroom, rehearsing in my head what I’d say to Bill when I left. There was little I could say, and I was always guilty of talking too much. Maybe I would just tell him that he made something that had moved me to tears.

I approached his room, backpack in tow, and saw that he was not alone. A woman who must have been his wife stood and watched while he showed two small children the bracelets he’d beaded for them. A teenaged boy stood by the woman, his arms crossed skeptically. The room was warm, bright, and noisy. I kept on walking.

- - -

1 Yes, it’s true that I’m here to ruin all your cherished media for you. It’s also true that I’m not leaving anytime soon.

2 This was an especially heartbreaking state of affairs because my good friend and I had been good friends since she first enrolled in our graduate program at the beginning of that academic year, and I wanted badly to believe that she was more than a confidence-undermining spy. But there she was, delivering intel to Messy Bun like our friendship had never really mattered. It was like if John le Carré wrote a novel about being in high school.

3 I was deeply affected by watching Bill do this puzzle, and was unsure why until I realized I was seeing myself in him. Bill, who had probably been a slow and deliberate puzzle-doer in the civilian world to begin with, was even slower and more deliberate in Four North. Despite his relative youth, his hands shook, and the look on his face was the look of someone whose ego had supernova-ed on more than one occasion. I guessed he was in Four North for reasons similar to my own.

4 The medical model of mental illness is just an endless parade of Catch-22s, and Yossarian would probably be low-whistling for a long time if he heard all of them.

5 How much of me is the illness and how much of me is me? Do I become more bipolar just by being aware of it? Is bipolar even real, or is it a neat way to typify the behavior of a group of people who are more reasonable that the psychiatric complex is willing to let on? Is there a set standard of sanity that we’re using to delimit insanity?

6 He must have felt like such a dork having to say “cannabis” instead of “weed.”

7 Her second and third things were that she was pretty and Mexican, which earned her a Take this seriously look from Pat.