In March of 2013 I was involuntarily committed to a mental health facility where I ended up staying inpatient for 8 days. Both the slew of events leading up to the hospitalization and the paralyzing aftermath of this level of psychic disruption altered the course of my life for years. Though the most extreme episode to date, until relatively recently losing my shit and falling deep into despair and harmful delusions over surface topics chosen as buffers was not uncommon in my adult life. I have been under psychiatric care since age 17 and as any emotional young woman is commonly labeled my diagnoses ran under bipolar, major depression, borderline personality disorder, even Asperger’s Syndrome at one time when my inner mind was so chaotic I had to obsessively organize my surroundings in perfect symmetry and line. When it came out last year that I’m another missed case of PTSD, a woman misdiagnosed as anything at all on the spectrum of mental illness rather than treated for the trauma her abuse has caused, I decided that I would eventually share my psychiatric experiences as they happened in real time to demonstrate the devastating results, in simplest terms, of calling a woman crazy when you should instead be asking who hurt her. I am a survivor of child abuse and while what I experienced was so difficult and terrifying that I’m still recovering all the narrative memories of it, I exhibited every classic sign in relationships, in social settings, in my behavior, and writing and art, why didn't any of the adults around me say anything? Ask if I was ok? What about the mental health professionals who would rather diagnose and medicate a young woman for a mental illness akin to modern day Hysteria than question the character of the men who are closest to her? What I am sharing here never had to happen if someone had just paid attention. But I realize it’s much more common than we know. It’s all too easy to blame a person who is reacting to provocation for their behavior instead of looking for their oppressor. In a culture that’s already neglectful of the mentally ill this sets up an almost impossibly alienating experience for women who have been abused, have no support plan, and no one to just say “I believe you.”
Below is a journal written days after release from a psychiatric care unit of a local hospital in Chicago, March, 2013.
SPRUNG LOOSE BUT STILL LOCKED UP 3/13
I wasn’t sure what would happen. It was my knees. My damn knees. They hurt so much. I couldn’t stand it. I couldn’t sit down anymore. But standing around? Where? Should I pace? That wouldn’t be ok, a sure sign of anxiety. My roommate. I had nowhere to go. I could have done jail cell workouts in the mornings. But she was in there, sleeping, always. I had nowhere to go read after her arrival. I had to be social. Hang out in the common room. Watch TV. I don’t like TV. At least not that kind of TV. Save for the MSNBC moments which I don’t get at home, when I was alone in the mornings. But I had to get out. I felt safe. I was scared, but I felt safe. Being in there… it was maddening, but it was safe. I was away from the things that I was so afraid of facing again. And I knew that, didn’t I? I was hesitant. I couldn’t quite figure out a way to frame the question because how do you ask, “Will I be ok?” How do they know? They can only say You have a better chance now. It’s up to you. If you do this and this and that. Do you feel like you will be ok? I didn’t know. I really didn’t know. And now… I still don’t. I am paralyzed. My wrists itch. Where the hand connects to the wrist, the joint to the arm. Where they can be dislocated and separated. Maybe just sawed right through. When I read my intake form the resident wrote that I wanted to cut off my hand with a chainsaw. I was upset about this. Because I had clearly said buzz saw. How the hell would I manage to hold down and control a chainsaw with one hand?? Now I have that on my record and I look like a moron. That was what I was thinking when I looked at that form, not “Jesus Christ I am insane.” Or “that was scary” or “I’m glad I’m not thinking that anymore.” No. I’m thinking that I look stupid for appearing to want to sever my hand by clearly nonsensical means. Nonsensical emphasis not being placed on the act of hand severing, but rather the choice of tool. God fucking dammit. I shouldn’t have left should I? Did I know better? Maybe if I were in a single room I would have had the strength to accept my situation. But being institutionalized is humiliating. And it takes a certain type of self-awareness to embrace it and do what you need to do. I got arrogant. I read that book. I wrote almost daily. I didn’t write enough. I didn’t have personal space. But I started having too much faith in my powers of introspection, and general powers of thought and analysis, that I figured I was smart enough to be ok. I got this, this hospital thing. It makes sense, I see where we’re all going with this, why you’re here, why that guy’s here, why I’m here, and why the system is what it is, I get why these restrictions are this way, why this structure is in place. This all makes sense. So why should I do this any longer, now that I have placed all compartments of this experience? Well Jesus Christ Caroline this isn’t a lab report it’s a goddam hospitalization. I was there to get better not to research the history and theory behind institutionalizing the mentally ill and assessing all those around me. Sure. I got some helpful information about myself. I’m pretty sure it’s accurate. (Editor's note: It wasn't.) Pretty sure. And I got some sleep. Which is really important. But I don’t feel any better. True, I’m not crying. I was crying. I broke down. But I am scared, still. Just thinking about the work that awaits shuts me down And most importantly, most fucking importantly, I can’t be around my tools. My scissors, my kitchen knives, sharp things. I see them and they scare me. I had to fumble through my little sewing box to find a pencil for my mom today and I got incredibly nervous pushing all those scissors around. It’s not as strong a reaction but when I was in the ER and the nurse took my blood I couldn’t look at it. Normally I like to watch, see the needle go in, the blood spurt out into the vile or snake down that thin rubber hose and oddly that calms me, but in this case I felt the needle and I saw blood and my whole body was shaking, my stomach turned, heart pounding. I had to look away. I don’t know if I was excited or disgusted. Afraid. I think it was in fact terrifying. And in a lesser way when I was sifting through those scissors today I had that same shaky reaction. The fluttering heart and dizzy eyes. This is not ok. First of all how will I be able to make these hats if I can’t be around my tools. Do I just try and the bad feelings will adjust and I will forget about it? Or will my comfort holding the objects make it all too easy to stab them into my hands? Secondly, how am I safe here alone in the first place? Right now it’s ok, itchy wrists and all, but I have been distracted by my mom all weekend. What happens when she leaves. What happens if I have to try to save this semester, or maybe what happens if I am left here with idle time? I would like to read and write. Honestly. I want that time. I don't want to make those hats. I want to make them because they would be awesome. And I made a commitment. And I don’t want to flake because I am too old to flake. But Jesus Christ if I pick up a pair of embroidery scissors and want to slice the webbing between all of my fingers what the fuck is going to happen? Because right now the webbing between all of my fingers has started to itch. I don’t think I can do this. I was afraid to leave but I was afraid to stay. I think in both scenarios I would have been miserable, but unfortunately this may have been the wrong choice. The longer I wait the worse this will get. I have to make a decision. I know what anyone in the mental health profession would say, I think, if I told them what I have written here, but it’s almost too hard to accept defeat, and almost as importantly, to let others down.
I hope I sleep tonight. And I hope I figure something out soon. I can’t be candid with everyone. I can’t talk about my dark mind in the meeting tomorrow, but I somehow have to discuss my difficult predicament. I just want to sleep then run then read a book, eat some pistachios drink diet coke and watch the Daily Show. Talk to S then read or write a little more and go to bed. Get up and do it all over again. That’s all I want to do. Something needs to be solved here.