I am extremely good at disassociating, and I tend to use my ADHD memory issues to my own benefit; I selectively forget plenty of things that I don’t like to think about. It sounds really shitty when I put it like that, but when the things I’m forgetting tend to be abuse, mistreatment, arguments, and so on…well, it serves its purpose.
I feel disconnected from this event, finally, and I’ve been meaning to write about it. The main reason for the urge, along with my tendency for venting through writing, is to inform others. While I was struggling so hard in May I kept researching and googling and foruming asking about help and services for mental health–where do you end up if you ask for help? Involuntary psych holds, that’s where you end up. And yet the internet tiptoes over the realities. “I needed the help.” “It’s a quiet place to recover.” Oh fuck off Julie, no it isn’t. But I’ll get to that soon.
I sensed some kind of disingenuous undertone in these responses to calls for help. Everyone says call a doctor, or call the hospital, or go to the ER. They don’t say what will happen when you do, only that it’ll be better than death. Well, that’s bullshit, first of all. But I want to start this rant out with a prologue rant, to illustrate how difficult it was to try and get help. I feel like I was driven to the nut house in my search for help, which seems completely counterproductive.
So I wasn’t doing great for…well, awhile? I actually went to the ER back after my son was born. I warned my delivery doctor/hospital staff I had PPD, and their solution was wEeKlY mOmS gRoUp. Yeah no. Ended up going to the ER after hours, and due to my PTSD I refused the blood test, refused to remove my clothes and put on a gown. They told me I MUST SUBMIT… I tried to leave, got told I’d be put under arrest, the cop stuttered about how he knew ALLL ABOUT PPD because his wife had it, and I was forced to sit there until about 5am when they wheeled in a social worker on a computer monitor. She asked me questions about my support and emotions, basically an evaluation. Her conclusion was that I was in need of trauma therapy and could get it. She released me. I felt like I’d dodged a bullet.
Things improved, but then decided to get shitty again in about March. I was crying all night at work, barely holding in my anger at home, dealing with a lot of shit and pretty much any and every reason I could think of to keep trying was disintegrating in front of me (I mean, it feels that way with mental illness.) I wasn’t going to therapy on the regular due to an impending move. But here’s the thing, I tried, I really did. I felt like I was going to explode out of my skin and finally told my boss of all people. I needed help and filled out a request for leave. The same day that I left, feeling like a huge fucking failure, I went to my regular doctor’s office and saw someone who wasn’t my doctor (she was out for the day.)
I told him I just felt like shit and things were terrible. When I’m depressed it’s hard for me to even talk, let alone open up and be eloquent about my emotions. I think I was in the room maybe five minutes and he told me assuredly that I was bipolar. According to him the biggest clue was that my depression started at age 15. “If it’s that early it’s definitely bipolar. Non bipolar people don’t get sad until they’re 20 or so.” This is some dangerous fucking shit to be telling people–I was in foster care at age fifteen. No fucking shit I was depressed, but it was due to my environment. Anyway, he tells me it’s great and I’m gonna be fine and prescribes me three different dangerous medications. I don’t say that lightly because I think medication is great. However, in the hands of someone whose middle name could be ‘suicidal ideation’ I’m not overreacting by saying it’s dangerous.
I was angry. I drove home and booked another doctor’s appointment immediately, with a doctor in the new town I lived in. I went in, they took vitals. All good. What is the doctor seeing you for today? Anxiety, I guess. The doctor walks in and reads my chart aloud. “So we’re seeing you for anxiety….things you’ve done in the past for treatment are SSRIs, benzos, and therapy.” He throws his hands up and gives me this silly look. “Well, that’s the treatment! I don’t know what else you want me to do!” I tell him after trying to wrap my head around how goddamn idiotic he just sounded, that I was put on buspar previously and wondered if it might help me. He got out his phone and googled buspar.
He gave me the prescription, but after this extremely unacceptable series of events it was no wonder that in another few days I landed on the doorstep of another ER. As I said, I feel like these events pushed me there–there was no other place to go, really. There’s no urgent care for mental health. There’s no therapist that you can call at 11pm, which is when I ended up there.
People are mildly uncomfortable with most negative emotions. Sadness makes them cringe. Depression makes them frustrated. Anxiety makes them anxious. But anger? Man, people don’t fucking know how to handle anger, and it makes me fucking angry. My PTSD often manifests as anger, so I’ve dealt with this for YEARS. Our world is terrified of anger and rage, which is a whole other rant, but the bad part about acting angry instead of acting anxious or scared is that people fear you. They punish you instead of helping you. They don’t understand the deep connection between anger and fear–instead, their fear is activated and the motherfuckers get mad at you.
I usually try to put at least a damper on the anger, so that I don’t end up in jail. I was really struggling with it this time. That’s the whole illness part, right? I am not functioning well. I can’t be sitting there listening to the skinny kid across the hall screeching like a banshee at his mother. A cop patrols carefully in the hallway, watching him and turning to watch me because I’m snapping angry as well. I have already refused to derobe. The doctor threatens me. Says to cooperate or she’ll make me get out of my street clothes. Guess who gets more agitated?
When they bring in the social worker this time, she’s a real human, and it’s even more overstimulation and personal space invasion than I want. I couldn’t answer her questions the right way. I was agitated. I began to feel like an animal in a cage. She just looked tired and yawned through the questionnaire. I don’t even remember what shitty comment I made to the doctor that made her snap and decide to commit me, but it was an ego-based decision that had nothing to do with whether or not I was a threat to myself or others. It’s kind of like hitting a dog with a shock baton and when the dog barks and thrashes around going “SEE LOOK THIS THIS IS DANGEROUS!”
To the Loony Bin
Because I’m a dangerous, terrible person who committed the crime of being angry and upset on top of being depressed, I had to take an ambulance to the loony bin. Such a waste. Such a fucking waste. The EMTs mostly just looked at their tablets the whole way. I asked to sit in a chair instead of on the stretcher and they agreed. When we arrived, Derik met me there to go to admissions. If you are guessing that I was agitated, annoyed, and frustrated, you are still correct. It’s about 4am at this point. Again I was asked for my blood and pee, again I said no.
The interesting thing here is what happened when Derik left. He hugged me, promised me I’d get out as soon as possible and that he’d be in touch. It kind of felt like I’d just been convicted of murder and was being dropped off at prison but he’d figure something out. The nice kind night team who were present while Derik sat with me immediately left, and two eager beaver tweedledum and tweedledee type gals pushed their way into the room.
I looked at them; thanks to CPTSD, I know exactly what it looks like when someone is itching for a fight. They were manhandlers. “We can do this the easy way, or the HARD WAY,” the smaller, squat one hissed up at me. The larger one stood back in perfect position to either sit on me or break my body in half.
They were let down by my lack of violence. I knew they wanted me to spark so they could throw me around and put out the fire. But I had zero interest in an unfair fight and trust me, this would have been my slaughter. Their entire job is to wrestle mentally disturbed people into gowns. And besides, eagerness is a turnoff to me I guess.
But they apparently didn’t know how to answer open-ended questions. The smaller gargoyle chuffed that I was to come with them. They didn’t improve in the exam room as they dug through my hair, had me lift my shirt, lower my pants, loudly gave descriptions of my tattoos (the big one was writing it all down on a clipboard) and took my laces out of my sneakers. They let me keep my $3 Aliexpress ring, which was nice I guess. I bring this part up because the change in the “atmosphere” of this place was so interesting, so immediate once my normal, mentally-stable family person had left. I’d seen the doctor’s face turn cold right before she condemned me, I mean, made the wise, well-thought out rationally driven decision to bring me to Nurse Ratched. I mean, to a stellar mental health facility that would surely be a great fit.
My first day consisted of complete and utter withdrawal. I was horrified by the room (thankfully didn’t have a roommate) I was horrified by the people who stumbled around, I was horrified by the pubes, piss, and blood on my bathroom floor and I was horrified to even sleep. I didn’t eat anything. I just wanted to talk to the doctor.
So, by now my anger had subsided because I was pressured even more into survival mode. Fight didn’t work, flight didn’t work, it was freeze time. When I saw the psychiatrist I wisely didn’t mention the bogus bipolar “diagnosis” and I didn’t say anything other than that I had PTSD and needed to be in therapy. He pushed hard. And I mean hard. He urged me for a long time to try SSRIs again. He wanted me to try anti-psychotics. He suggested anti-anxiety meds. What about just a valium or two a day? Sleep medications. Stool softeners. Antibiotics. Mood stabilizers. I think he even threw in an ibuprofen somewhere. He told me how great medicine is. I didn’t argue. I just said no thanks. I guess the one iota of good is that he didn’t flinch or make a face when I told him I take Adderall. I opted to not take my ADHD meds while locked up because they help me focus and bring me out of my fog, and quite frankly, I wanted the fog to protect me the same way it had when I was a kid. I don’t want to be here for any of this shit. No thanks fam.
What I want to get across to the uninitiated is that this is a sales service. An experimentation. They are not afraid to throw meds at you and see if you get better or worse or have ridiculous side effects, because the catch is that you do it all under their watchful eye. For about five hundred dollars a day, and that’s with good insurance. Let’s just try everything and something will stick. You’ll be safe here. I am well aware that for some people, this is a reality and a necessity. I am not one of those people. The sinister and dangerous problem is that they treat everyone as though they are–they don’t want you to be good on your own. They don’t want you to not need dosage adjustments and long stays. They aren’t happy to hear that you don’t already have a laundry list of ailments, concerns, and so on. I was purposely concise and honest about my mental health strengths, which isn’t the ‘norm’ for psychiatric hospital patients.
This guy was a different type of predator than the goons from the night before. Those ladies were just amped up at the thought of some physical abuse. The ER doc was a woman with a fragile ego on a power trip. This guy was cunning in a way that I rarely see. The sorting hat would’ve put him in Slytherin even faster than it did Draco. Toward the end of his exhaustive urging at me (not to me, at me) to try medications, he leaned forward and made eye contact with me. He was frozen, pen in hand, right above the paper, his chin and shoulders pointed directly at me as he stared me down. The room was dead silent all of a sudden. But thanks to CPTSD, I knew that look too. That look was, “Can I, the cobra, bite this mongoose? How thick is her skin? Will she overcome the venom? Is she agile?” It was sizing me up, seeing if I was worth the fight. Because his fight wasn’t five minutes to wrestle me out of yoga pants, it would be weeks and weeks of attempted diagnosis, treatment plans, extra work and hassle.
It sent a chill up my spine and it does now even thinking about it. Big shoutout to my Richard Parker for stepping up and staring right back. Anyone who knows me knows I abhor eye contact and will avoid it at just about any cost. But I stared back; it was all a bluff, because I had zero power here and he could have, if he wanted, prescribed me ten medications and claim I needed to be there for a month to test them out. What wasn’t a bluff is my resoluteness, my own unreasonably stubborn will to survive despite hardships, (which landed me here in the first fucking place, looking for help like a dumbass.) If I had to guess I’d say it was that determination that he saw, calculated, and measured and decided I wasn’t worth the hassle, before sitting back, dropping the pen, and taking his glasses off. “All right.”
It may sound like I’m exaggerating, but I felt like I’d just talked someone down who was pointing a gun at me. The dark undertones of this interaction are definitely not mentioned in any pamphlet or feel-good mental health article that talks about how great psych wards can be if you’re struggling. But I assure you it’s there, and I assure you that plenty of people I interacted with were victims of that system and its disgusting lack of humanity. I knew from the start that this was no place for me to be, but I got a chance to see just how broken our mental healthcare system is as well. Lucky me!
Despite my will to isolate I found myself wanting to socialize, mostly because I had no choice. They locked the doors to the rooms during the day. We were carted off together in a line like inmates to the cafeteria three times a day, fed mediocre food, and shuffled back to the common room. There were group “therapy” sessions which were old xeroxed copies of 80’s health pamphlets and textbooks. Each ‘topic’ (STIs/anxiety/you get the gist) were repeated weekly. The schedule was something like: wake up, breakfast, group, sit around thinking about Syd Barrett while the ward’s white supremacist Juggalo watches south park, group, lunch, group, more syd barrett thoughts, dinner, group, asking somebody loudly for tampons or shampoo because god forbid I somehow find a way to turn a rogue tampon into a murder/suicide weapon. All this is punctuated by a nurse with a wheely cart making you line up for morning, afternoon, and evening meds. Each person had a personal pill cocktail in a paper cup. Yes, you had to swallow and then open your mouth and show the contents.
I liked the people in the ward. Mostly I liked the extremely disturbed Mexican refugee who screamed loudly for fourteen to twenty hours a day. There were parts of her past in her very loud word salad, but I never really picked up any of them. I accidentally coughed while sitting next to her and she proceeded to freak out so hard that I laughed until my sides hurt. I ended up getting a roommate who threw a chair into a wall of the art room and they gave her a shot in the butt, so she was really loopy at dinner and pulled my hair and said “It’s so red….I love your accent….it makes me want to just go…just go ride a horse.”
Group therapy was particularly insulting. I have been in actual, decent group therapy and it has its place, but this pathetic attempt at interaction left EVERYONE angry, sullen, annoyed, and distracted. Often an actual therapist wasn’t involved, and the techs led group. Sorry but I’m more qualified to teach a group therapy than a 21 year old who lives with her mom and only has to worry about her car payment. Not being classist, but when I’m the highest functioning in society in a group (that never happens) and these people are disengaged, falling sleep, or else agitated and asking for their cigarettes like Cheswick (we’re not getting through this horror story without so many Cuckoo’s Nest references, sorry) it’s time to rethink your “tHeRaPy” strategy.
We made the best of it. I found myself bringing up actually relevant topics and going far off-course from the idiotic worksheets that were repeated every five days. We talked about our diagnoses, our families, how society treated us. How we felt being diagnosed, how much self-awareness we had. Even the quiet ones seemed to open up a bit during these talks. I need to reiterate that I feel nothing negative or gross or awful about the patients; they were refreshing and honest and interesting, point blank. It’s the system and the people in charge that disgust me, which is a reoccurring theme with systems like these.
The scariest part by far was how fast this became ‘normal.’ Chief referred to it as the Combine. Day one I didn’t speak or look at anyone. By day three I was up and walking in the shuffle-line to breakfast, thankful for my unsalted powdered eggs. Holy shit. I had a moment of clarity when we were quietly walking down the hall and the hallway attendant said a calculated ‘good morning’ to everyone, and each person responded back. I had another moment of clarity waiting in line for my pills, when I held out my hand for the cup and the nurse said, breaking the routine, “Oh…that’s all?” at my puny two little pills – buspar and ibuprofen. Each time some outer part of me witnessed the depressing wheel of mediocrity, saw me as a cog on that slow-moving gear, screamed at me to punch somebody or moon somebody or do something to snap everyone out of it because humans are not robots and emotion is okay.
But it wasn’t, as witnessed by the five people who tackled my roommate, so I just marveled at how horrible and bleak this was and went on in my ADHD fog. We couldn’t go outside, and the grounds were just there outside the window. I couldn’t even feel the sun. I could see bands of it coming in past the windowsill, but they curved away from me just before the tinted glass. It’s weird to want to hold your hand out and feel warmth and just…not be able to. We had a concrete, covered, chain-link enclosed area to smoke in, which I never used because I hate cigarette smoke. It was shaded and tucked into a corner, ashamed, and somehow even more depressing than staring out the window at the sun rays and bright green grass.
The techs weren’t sympathetic. There was an actual glass window–I would’ve thought they’d be more sensitive to comparing themselves to Ratched and the gang, but there was an honest to god glass window. When you approached the window to ask for help, you were promptly ignored for five, ten minutes. Yelling ‘I NEED A TAMPON’ loudly finally flustered a male aide enough to push one of the women out for me. The bathrooms were locked and you had to ask the people behind the glass for permission to do that too.
Repeatedly I hid toothpaste in my room, repeatedly they did sweeps and found it and threw it away. The recreation therapy was the worst disappointment. She made a big memory card game on the floor. Memory cards = xeroxed copies of clipart. The theme was “how I spend my quality time.” Skiing, gardening, and cooking were included. Jesus fucking Christ, give me a break Diane. I’m too poor to ski. Another time we were just let loose in the gym and I asked if I could paint because I heard there was watercolor, and she blatantly ignored me. Cool cool.
Not all the techs were horrible, but some were downright horrid, and the rest were either disconnected because they had to be, to survive, or they were good and kind, and thus squashed under the weight of the horrible techs.
The reason I bring up the mediocrity of staff is because there were a few jewels of shining humanity lurking within the labyrinth. One was my assigned therapist. He chatted with me and blatantly warned me against saying “welllll maaaybe” or voicing ANY other concern that would keep me in the hellhole I was in. He advocated for my early release. He talked art and music and made me feel like I was something other than a crazy burden for interrupting flirting at the glass wall yelling for the bathroom to be unlocked. He was overworked and I only saw him a scant few times, but I always left with the relief that he was on my “side” and I had just had an adult, human-to-human conversation.
One night after the tech shift change a dude came in, I don’t even remember his name. I hadn’t seen him before. I was sitting in the common room probably humming songs from The Wall when he unlocked a door and called me over. I was like, uh…who…me? Everyone else was in the chain-link prison “outside” area, smoking. I approached, wondering if I was in trouble for something, and shockingly he handed me a box of chips and crackers and asked if I wanted some. I hesitantly took one and he urged me to take more. To someone who just had their toothpaste thrown away, I was hesitant and hopeful. He passed the snacks around discreetly to a few others hanging out near the door, and I noticed that we all hid our food and our glee when the other techs entered the area.
It had somehow become, immediately, unspoken that he was there to treat us kindly and had to do it secretly. What the fuck is wrong with humans? Anyway, I just accepted this, and the unnamed hero tech told the others that he would oversee the art area and recreation therapy. They were dismissive and even a bit mean to him, teasing and chiding him for being a nerd. His reaction was cool as a cucumber though, and he unlocked the art room and cabinet. There were paints! Brushes! Paper! Books! Two guesses as to what I did. Several others came over to paint, but more just wanted to sit in the area and relax, and watch the others make art. It was the strangest change in atmosphere, because I felt like we were doing something secret and bad and thrilling like snorting cocaine. We were a bunch of adults sitting at a table painting.
Cool tech got his phone out and asked everyone to name a song that was important to them and he’d play it. Playing music? God, the Combine’s gonna freak out on him. We jammed to a bunch of stuff, and during one patient’s request of a Willie Nelson song, a female aide poked her head in the room and made a snarky comment about the twangy music. The patient who requested it had his eyes closed and was swaying to the music; I don’t know if he heard her, but the song made his eyes all misty. Cool tech just looked skeptically at his colleague and didn’t respond, ever the cool cucumber. This was the only pleasant time I had during this stay. He gave us more snacks. Brought us sugar and cream for our coffee. Gave me a stack of books and we discussed books to read. He urged me to take them all, and when I told them I didn’t know where to put them, he showed me a secret hiding spot in the common room. Hiding books! Never thought I’d see the day.
But, Cool tech did have a moment in the art room. My sweet Mexican friend had a tangent in the art room and it cleared everybody out for the moment, except Cool tech (who spoke Spanish and calmed her down, and helped her with painting) and me. I had already coughed so she didn’t like me at all, but I still liked her just fine. While she painted a very elementary sun and cloud with a chunky paintbrush, Cool tech vented. “This place is horrible. This is what you guys are supposed to be doing.”
“What?” I was caught off-guard by this, I was just a dopey patient who couldn’t have toothpaste or books or tampons. Why was this man speaking to me as though I were an equal?
“Everything about this place is the total opposite of what it should be. It takes more effort to actually be engaged, nobody here wants to do it. So they lock up everything and make everyone sit around and go more crazy.” He wasn’t usually in this wing, it seemed, and was helping out. He spoke of other places, other programs, where the time wasn’t so bleak, but agreed with me that we were one step away from EST, hydrotherapy, and Cheswick drowning in the pool. Just kidding, we didn’t have a pool. If we did, it never got used.
I don’t know if venting to me helped him, but I told him how appreciative I was for his compassion and kindness. Another few patients heard this conversation and chimed in that they appreciated it as well. He got over his flustered moment quickly, and was back to being cool, and still on shift when I went to bed. When I woke up, he’d left post-it notes of encouragement on everyone’s door. Each person got their own compliment, and they were individually tailored to our personalities. He had somehow learned and gotten to know all of us on that one shift. The techs who came in daily, as well as the nurses and PAs, had no clue who I was (they probably called me ‘angry tampon lady’ though.)
I kept the post-it he gave me. Truly it helped me get through everything.
The only other good points to mention were my visit with Allyn (which was also super sad because I obviously didn’t want him to leave) and the discharge. It’s quite the mindfuck to feel giddy to walk out a door, a prisoner no more, when your crime was not faking your way out of mental illness well enough in the first place. Now on top of my other crap, I had to process this and digest it. I don’t know if I’m getting lazy, or old, or if my brain’s just fucking over it, but I find that I don’t really process things like this anymore. I just go “eh” and set it aside and let the dissociation come on. I can still feel the panic at some of those moments, but after writing it all out I’ll probably forget all that too.
By saying looney bin and nuthouse I’m not trying to minimize what people go through in those places, or their illnesses. God knows I have no fucking room to talk. I just refuse to let that stiff, somber stereotype of “admitted to a psychiatric hospital” define mine or anyone else’s experience. The best thing I did was go ‘public’ (within my people group) about my stay. The support I received after feeling ashamed of myself was far more therapeutic than the actual stay. I’ve heard others speak freely about their stays and it really made me feel more normal and valid. Without intending it to, it’s become an ownership and normalization thing to talk about, which is why I’m also writing about it.
I also think that saying looney bin gives it a really negative connotation and it fucking deserves it. I’m not saying that about the people, I’m saying that about the Combine, the system, and fuck that monstrosity getting any credibility from me whatsoever. If it were possible I’d call the foster care system ‘child prison prep’ and the healthcare system ‘only rich people deserve to live’ but those take to long to say and no one would even understand what I was talking about. Nut house is pretty universal.