Brown Paper Bag (Unpacking My Recent Hospital Stay)

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

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 books 
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 room.  

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’ station 
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.


  1. I haven't experienced this, Kelly, but through your brave poetry here, I feel I have been offered a glimpse and an invitation into the emotion of it. You have a gift, because you left out words that describe much emotion and instead allowed us to feel it in the way you brought us along. I cannot say how valuable this is, what an honor it is. Thank you. Praying for you as you continue to process, integrate and speak the truth of this piece of your story.

    1. Thanks so much for reading and commenting Amber. I feel like it's very important to me to remember the experience for a number of reasons. Writing is a way of remembering, of giving witness. Thanks for being a friend :)

  2. You are right, Kelly, when you say that writing is a way of remembering, of giving witness. But too many wish only to remember certain parts of the story. Or to color it beautiful, when only time, and God himself, can do that sometimes. Your willingness to invite us into this space for you is a treasured gift. Holy Ground. I know you will treat it as such always. And I am blessed to be among those you have entrusted it to. That I, too, might be willing to unpack the "brown bag" places.

    1. Thank you Beth, for chiming in. I'll admit to being afraid that no one wants to read about the darker sides of our stories, the taboo struggles. I know no other way to allow God to "color it beautiful" as you say, than to wait and write my way through it. Thank you for being here, friend.

  3. You are fortunate to be able to articulate your experiences through language. I pray that you will continue to find ways to express yourself, process, and integrate.

  4. Thank you so much for doing this, Kelly. It's important and you do it so very well.

  5. Wow, Kelly. wow.......... I've walked through some very tough times (one of them was last Tuesday) and writing is the only thing that helped.

    thank you for sharing this. (And The Carrot Seed? Now what an appropriate title, planting and waiting and all that........).

  6. Kelly,
    thank you for being brave and praying you will be gentle with yourself as you process what you went through...((hugs))