It’s been about six months since my August ’19 episode, and much like the one I had in May ’18, I’m having a hard time not thinking about it. Unlike the first one, though, which I felt a lot of positivity about, all I have are bad feelings about the second one. I’m still having a great deal of trouble straightening things out in my head: I have this deep need to understand which parts of my experience were “real” and which ones were not. It’s critical to re-establishing a firm baseline I can refer to, although I’m aware that, to use Neil Peart’s words, “some things can never be changed, some reasons will never come clear” (Rush – The Larger Bowl).
I mostly feel embarrassed and ashamed about the experience, though I know I shouldn’t. I followed what turned out to be bad advice from a bad healthcare practitioner, and that’s not my fault. But it makes me so angry to have spent 7 years under the “care” of this person, who not only put me on drugs that made me a living corpse, essentially, but never even tried the drugs that I currently take, which actually seem to help. I feel like other people think I’m stupid for having ever stopped taking meds, but if there are those who think that, then they don’t know the whole story, nor do they understand what it’s like to take mentally debilitating medication.
The thing that disturbs me the most about the experience is the blanks in my memory: there are huge chunks of my memory missing between the middle of August and the beginning of October, and what I do remember isn’t in chronological order, which I find extremely confusing when I try to piece events back together. What might be worse than the missing chunks are the fuzzy chunks, where I just have a vague impression of something that happened, but no clear memory: just feelings, usually horrifying ones, because I only fuzz out like that (dissociate, in psychological parlance) when I’m in an extreme state of fear. Unfortunately, if I’m that scared, I “split”, and a really angry part of me comes out that feels like it needs to protect the rest of me, at any cost. That’s what happened when my husband took me to the emergency psychiatric clinic in our city, and when I wasn’t calming down fast enough for their taste, they sent in the police to block me into a brightly lit, overstimulating room that made me even more frightened.
And that’s a part of my experience that I can’t think about too much, because the way the mentally ill are treated in our country is simply barbaric. Everything they did at the clinic seemed like it was designed to instigate the very behaviors they are supposedly trying to treat and prevent, with the result being that I was sent somewhere even worse because of the way the laws work in our country when it comes to the mentally ill. I lost all my civil rights the moment I walked in the door of that clinic, and that’s something the mental healthcare system doesn’t tell people. The problem of how people like me are treated when they’re in crisis is so convoluted and fucked up that I simply can’t contemplate it too much: it’s just too upsetting, particularly now that I’ve been a victim of it.
The saddest part is that that was the best option for me. If my husband had called the police and had them come to the house instead of taking me to a clinic, I was in such an agitated state of mind that I would almost certainly have been shot. In our current system, being involuntarily committed to a lockdown ward guarded by armed police officers where the staff have the compassion of dry sponges and you’ll be held down and forcibly injected with mind-altering drugs is the best you can hope for, and that’s fucking sad. And while my mind may not remember what happened while I was blacked out, my body does: I now have a visceral reaction to the sight of a police car or police officer, and my opinion that there are no good cops anymore, just bad cops and silent cops, has been even further cemented in my mind. Violence-minded people who can’t be hired if their IQ is too high and who have zero training in dealing with the mentally ill have no business essentially operating as prison guards to people who are NOT criminals.
That’s another bad part of this entire experience: I’m now regarded with fear by all medical practitioners and get to look forward to a lifetime of being asked “are you thinking of hurting yourself or anyone else?” before anyone even gets around to why I might have gone to the doctor in the first place. There’s an entire hospital network in my city that I can’t use because I’ve been red-flagged in their system, meaning that I’ve been marked as having a severe mental illness, and so even if I go in with a legitimate medical problem, all they focus on is my mental health, assuming that I’m just having anxiety or another mental problem, or that I’m there seeking drugs. This same hospital network is in a legal agreement with my city to take care of our poorer residents’ mental healthcare needs, which means that even if you go to a non-affiliated clinic, if you have a severe issue that needs addressing, you’ll eventually be shunted to this hospital network, which happens to practice Catholic-based healthcare (read: barbaric). It’s disgusting, and my tax dollars are paying for it.
Sometimes when I think about it all, all I can do is sit and sob at the cruelty. I feel so violated, and subhuman, because “normal” people aren’t treated that way. Someone in a mental health crisis needs more compassion than a normal person, not less. Why are we treated like out of control animals instead of human beings with feelings and lives? After a hospitalization, we don’t even get the same consideration as someone with a medical problem. Typically someone is sent home from a hospital with aftercare instructions and perhaps some literature about their condition: these things are not done with the mentally ill. You are forced into submission until such point as they feel you can be let go, and then they just say “take your meds or it’ll happen again” and expect you to just go about your life as if nothing ever happened. A lot of psychiatrists won’t even recommend therapy: they think it’s all about the neurotransmitters and if they just keep tinkering with your brain like an overzealous mechanic, they’ll eventually get it right and you’ll be fixed like magic.
Other people around you act like nothing happened as well: our society is so frightened of a person who has suffered a mental breakdown that most people won’t even acknowledge it, let alone talk frankly about it. Even friends that I’ve had for over 20 years don’t want to talk about it. My own family hasn’t even discussed it with me: it’s like they just want to forget it ever happened. This is not to say that I don’t have some friends who have been willing to talk about the experience with me, and they’ve all been very sympathetic, which I am so appreciative of.
As for everyone else, though, I can’t help but feel like people keep their distance from me, while I feel watched and scrutinized by others in case I lose it again. I feel like all anyone really cares about is whether or not I’m taking my meds, and it’s not because they care about me: they care about their own peace of mind. It seems to me that nearly everything that we force the severely mentally ill to go through in the name of their “getting better” isn’t really for the sick person, it’s for the comfort of the people around them because the knowledge we once had as a species of how to deal with someone like that has been lost or destroyed by our so-called Age of Reason. In other parts of the world, someone having a mental breakdown is treated with compassion and care, and their so-called delusions are often seen as prophetic, or at least deeply insightful. Here in the West, though, they’re considered “sick”, resulting in being treated in ways that actually make that “sickness” worse to the untrained eye, and so such people are relegated to the barbarism and eternal pathologizing of Freudian-based psychiatry.
Amidst all this is the West’s sociopolitical crisis, in which I feel as tiny and helpless as a sinking ship in a violent storm. I know none of the things that happened to me will ever change until our society changes, and I feel such despair at that ever happening as I watch once again as the people of our country verbally rip each other to shreds in the pursuit of “the perfect candidate”, which doesn’t exist, just as “normal” doesn’t exist psychologically speaking. “Normal” is just a collectively agreed upon set of norms and mores, and if you don’t fit in the preassigned boxes, you are considered “abnormal”. This is why there is such resistance to universal healthcare in our country: it would be the ultimate equalizer. Mental healthcare would have to be a part of a universal healthcare system, which would shed light on all of the traumatic issues that ultimately lead to mental illness, which is what the White Men in Power do not want. The crimes of the patriarchy would be laid bare for all to see, which would mean the demise of their dying grasp at fading power.
I would love to be a part of the battle for progressiveness in this country, but engaging in the verbal war is part of what drove me insane at the end of May 2018. I simply didn’t know what to do with people who should have been allies but were cutting each other down instead for being just a little bit different. All I can do is write and do art, and vote of course. But I can neither watch nor participate in debates because of the level of vitriol in most political conversations, even amongst people who largely agree on which direction we should be headed. It drives a splinter into my mind, driving me mad, just like Neo in The Matrix, and for much the same reason: there’s something wrong with the world. Like so many, I am filled with the sense that this is not how the world is supposed to be, that something went terribly wrong in the past, and now we have to fix it.
I hope we can. I have children I would like to see live in a world where they can expect to make a decent living and have their healthcare needs tended to so that they can also enjoy “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” that seems to only be afforded to the super-wealthy now. Mental health problems run in families, so there’s a chance one or both of them could face some of the same challenges that I have, although since they have grown up with far less trauma and abuse than I did growing up, I have high hopes that any problems they do suffer will be greatly diminished.
If nothing else, I pray that the treatment of the mentally ill in this country changes such that, if one of them ever does suffer a breakdown, they are treated with far more understanding and compassion than I was. There are better ways to handle someone in the kind of mental state that I was in. They just cost money and require a high caliber and number of healthcare workers that at present does not exist, in large part because our society is under the impression that people like me are useless and have nothing to contribute. In fact, to many, people like me are seen as societal leeches who would be better off dead. Little wonder, then, that we are treated like rabid animals.
I now live in perpetual fear of ever having another manic or psychotic episode, not because of the mental experience, but because of how I was treated, which had the effect of retraumatizing me when I was already traumatized: trauma is WHY people with severe mental illness behave in the ways that they do. I keep to myself and only talk to people that I know will not discriminate against me. Whenever possible, I avoid the hospital network that red-flagged me, which is difficult because they have their fingers in a lot of the clinics in town: once a healthcare network absorbs another one, they get all of the patient data as well, without having to deal with HIPAA laws. Convenient, no?
I still write, obviously, not just for myself, but for others like me who may not possess the ability or willingness to share their own similar experiences, and there are a lot of us. There is a growing movement of severely mentally ill people who now shun Western psychiatry, or are at least extremely critical of it. I also continue to do art, which is a new thing for me, as well as study the works of Carl Jung, whose experiences cleave far more closely to my own than any Freudian-based analysis of mental illness. I get a lot out of letting my art flow subconsciously, and I often never know what the final piece is going to look like until it’s done. I learn a lot about my inner psychic processes by analyzing the colors, line flow, and imagery in my art. Plus, I have about a year and a half’s worth of artwork that I can put into chronological order and see the progression and transformation of the imagery over time, which helps me see that I’m making progress on my healing path.
I’m getting better, slowly. Some days I feel like Bilbo Baggins, “quite ready for another adventure.” Some days, though, I feel like Frodo Baggins after he’s pitched Gollum over the edge of the cliff, and fall flat on my face, unsure if I’ll ever get up again. Some days I even feel like Gollum himself, eternally split between who he once was and who he’s become through no fault of his own. Most of the time, though, I feel like Eowyn, sadly watching her kingdom erode and dreaming of great waves sweeping over the land, fearing neither death nor pain, only a cage. She has a happy ending in that story, though, so I’m content to feel like her for the time being.
Right now, the best thing I can do for myself is remember how to just…live, because I’ve forgotten how. There’s an underlying thread of tension and anxiety constantly running through me that prevents me from truly relaxing and just enjoying my home and what’s in it. I’m an avid book collector, as I was once an avid reader, but I’m having a hard time picking up what was once a beloved habit: as though reading a book is not just a waste of time, but a dangerous one. It’s my inner guardian with whom I’ve been battling for some time, the one who still thinks there’s a threat to deal with, and so no, of course I’m not allowed to read! I’ve had so many conversations with this part of myself, but I don’t know how to get them to unclench their fists and relax. Their job is done, and they did it well: now it’s time to rest. I think that part of me finds it hard to do that when there are actual fascists in our government, which upsets me on such a deep level I have a hard time expressing it. In fact, the only way I could express it, was by losing my mind.
I’m finding it again, as well as my way on the path. I just hope it’s clear of major obstacles this time.