I Was a Person With Psychosis Who Was Considered 'Too Far Gone'
The following story contains details that might be triggering for anyone who has experienced involuntary hospitalization or violence in a hospital setting.
The ambulance rocks violently as we round another bend. I know the route to the hospital so well by now I can tell where we are on the journey just by the characteristic sway of the corner we just turned. Almost there. I told the doctors this would happen. I tried to warn them I was getting worse. I tried to ask for help sooner. They thought I was faking it, putting on a show for attention. I tell you what, if someone goes to this length for attention then that’s a huge problem in itself. I feel the need to be locked away; I need to be unable to escape. I am so, damn, scared.
My mind has been twisting and turning, changing the world on me slowly and insidiously over the last few months. It started with the cameras. They were everywhere, always watching, monitoring my every move. Then the messages from the lights and the TV. Part of me knew they weren’t there, that it couldn’t possibly be real. Or could it? It always felt so real. Then suddenly it became apparent from the way people spoke to me and approached me that they must have known exactly what I was thinking. They were able to answer questions before I asked them, pick up on feelings I hadn’t yet spoken of. I know my thoughts are being broadcast to the world, nothing else explains what is happening.
Then there is the worst part. The part that actually scares me. My birthday is in two days now. My due date. No matter what happens, I cannot live past 12:20 a.m. on Tuesday, August 26, 2014. I cannot turn 20. If I do, I don’t know how, or when, but if this demon I carry in me lives past that time, it will kill my family. I know it. I’ve tried to tell the doctors and my mum that I have to go. I have to save them. They won’t listen. I tried a month ago and they saved me. The nurses saved me. What have they done?
Arriving at the emergency department I am quickly shuttled off to the room that’s off the side, out of sight and out of the way of all the “normal” people who come through here. There is a foam mattress on the floor and a foam chair in the corner. I am laid on the mattress, covered in a blanket and given “dinner.” A bowl of green mush that could pass as a mistaken vomit bowl. I don’t care. Food feeds my mind, which feeds the demon, so I can’t eat. As the nurse leaves, she locks the door from the outside. To protect the “normal” ones out there I suppose. Good.
Eventually the psychiatrist comes. I don’t speak. He can hear what I am thinking anyway. So mum explains, and it’s not long before I am searched, medicated and admitted to the ward. P-block. Even the name is straight out of a horror film. Must be where I belong.
I wander the halls for the next 24 hours, unable to settle in my room as the woman I am sharing with is having panic attack after panic attack. Besides what if she is in on it too? Or worse, what if I have another time lapse and hurt her? Crap, what am I doing? I need to go. I need to get out and finish the mission so that everyone is safe once and for all. But I can’t now. I’m involuntary. There is no signing yourself out of this one. So instead I line up at the hallowed window, the place we go to find peace from ourselves. More pills, more numbness, more confusion.
But the pills stopped working long ago. My mind is far too strong now, the deadline too close. I watch myself as I thrash about the tiny bathroom, punching the wall, kicking the door, smashing my head into the shelf. No one even knows I am here yet; they are all too busy. Good, here’s my shot. Eventually I hit my head so hard the shelf comes off the wall. This exposes the rusty nails that were tenuously holding it there. Awesome, tools. As I desperately try to scrape away grout and mould to free the nails completely, a nurse knocks at the door. She must have heard the last bang. Damn. It isn’t long before they have the door open and I am being dragged out of the bathroom. Dragged towards the place the other patients warned me about. Seclusion.
In seclusion everything is clean, bare and stark white. White walls, white furniture, white bedding. Again, I feel like I am watching myself in a movie, telling myself to stop, to calm down, to try to listen. Telling myself to hold on and fight. But all I see is my battered body wondering about the room, still banging my head on the walls, the only solid thing I can find. I can hear them all talking from the other room, discussing what to do with me. A “special” is called and suddenly an old, white haired man is sitting on a chair in my doorway, watching my every move. He doesn’t say anything, just sits there, reading his book. I eye him suspiciously and wonder what part of this whole elaborate plan to kill my family he plays.
Every time my head hits the wall, I get a moment of peace. A moment of clarity and connection. Then everything goes black, before again I am up in the top corner of the room, watching my physical self curled in the fetal position in the corner below me. Soon enough people come. I recognize the woman they bring with them this time. I don’t remember her name, but I know she is from Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS). She has driven me to hospital a few times. I like her.
Now though, as she tries to reason with me, I can’t connect to what she is saying. Eventually, frustrated, she picks me up by the arms and while I’m still locked and rigid in fetal position, she carries me to the bed. After a while of me watching her lips move but unable to comprehend the words that must be coming out, she and her protective entourage leave again. See no one comes near me alone anymore, I am too dangerous. They are starting to learn.
I end up back in the corner again, the rhythmic thud, thud, thud of my head against the wall continuing. I hear them coming back, but there are more of them this time. I watch in petrified horror as I am approached by six nurses, all of whom look like giants from my position on the floor. I am picked up as I thrash about, kicking and biting and screaming. They must have got permission to knock me out. I find myself on the bed and it is in this moment the me that has been floating is reconnected with my body. All I can see is people all around me, all holding me down to the bed. One for each limb, and one for my head, then on the count of three they flip me over, pull my pants part-way down and the sixth nurse injects something into my glute. Quick as a flash, they leave.
I lie there stunned. For some reason though, I start to laugh. A chuckle turns into a manic howl, and again I detach and watch myself. For some reason I decide it is a good idea to start smearing the blood dripping down to my forehead onto the head of the bed and write in it. I look around and watch as the scary man in the door leans back in his chair and yells to the left of him, “Nurse! She’s making a mess!” He then goes back to reading his book, somehow undisturbed by the whole situation. For some reason, his reaction comforts me.
No one comes though. They are waiting for the drugs to kick in. But whatever dose they gave isn’t working, and I am gaining energy again. Soon, they all come back. Six of them surround, restrain and inject me, just like before. It is almost midnight on Monday, August 25, and finally, blackness envelops me.
When I awake, I don’t know what day or time it is and I have no idea where I am. Then I see the woman sitting on a chair in my door and I question why they are there. My head throbs, and as I put my hand up to it I find it is crusted in dried blood. What happened? Seeing I am awake, the woman quickly gets the nurses. I’m not entirely sure what the rush is. At seeing how dazed and confused I am, the nurse comes and explains things to me. I don’t hear much.
I am called into another room and sitting at a table with nurses and doctors, I am handed some pills and told if I don’t take them, I will have another injection. I don’t remember even having one injection at this point, but I obediently swallow. I am told I am being transferred to a high dependency unit in Dandenong and the ambulance is coming soon. If I don’t cooperate, I will be restrained on the journey, but if I go willingly, I won’t be. In my sedated state I am unable to understand why I would be restrained.
Once at the new hospital I am readmitted, given a new number and shown to a room. It is much nicer here, and there are only five people on my entire ward with many nurses. All the doors open to the same common room and the nurses station, which is behind thick protective glass, can view all areas and rooms at all times. The chairs are all foam, the TV is locked behind thick plastic and the windows are unbreakable.
I settle here for the next week or so. At times I have another rush of petrified energy in which I remember why I am here and what I have done. In others I am so sedated I am unable to think. There are scary moments, like when we first arrived and mum and I walk into my room to find the equally detached 19-year-old man from the room next to mine lying on my bed, asking me to come in and give him a massage. But the nurses are on top of that one. Then there are the moments people lose it; at the nurses, the loss of humanity, the lack of rights, the legal system. When they do, chairs and tables and food fly around the room as the nurses all rush into the locked nurse’s station, watching as us patients are left in the open with the battling soul. It is scary, but each of us know that for the most part we are safe, because we are the same. We know, and because we know, it is highly unlikely for us to turn on each other.
Here, most people are fighting court battles to be allowed out. All we currently have a right to is a phone call whenever we want, which everyone can hear. They are usually desperate calls to public defense lawyers. I discover I am the only patient on the ward not withdrawing from ice. I am the only one who has never even touched illegal drugs. The other patients marvel at the fact I have become psychotic without the aid of chemicals. Damn I must be fucked up. Yet it is here with these people that I once again feel understood and safe. It is here I don’t feel judged, or like it is wrong to view the world differently to others. Here I feel somewhat human, and not at all “too far gone” and “destined to be institutionalized” as the last doctor that came in and assessed me said.
Once I am no longer completely overrun by my mind, I am allowed to leave. I am lucky enough to have a supportive family and a private medical support system. I have outside help and people fighting for me. So I am allowed to be released back to my private psychiatrist and the private hospital system, rather than stay here with doctors who don’t know me and my history and so are less able to help.
I experience a beautifully harrowing connection just before I am due to be picked up. I am sitting alone, wondering how it all came to this and if I will ever be able to control my mind again. One of the other patients I have got along well with comes and sits beside me. He has been in and out of this place for years. We sit in silence for a long time, neither needing to speak to understand each other’s need for company. After a while, he rolls up his sleeves and puts his freshly scarred forearms that are equally battered and bruised next to mine.
“Sister,” he says, looking into my eyes with a loving confidence, creating a connection I haven’t felt in a very long time.
“Brother,” I say, holding his hands for a moment before enveloping him in a hug we both know is technically not allowed here.
“Go give the people that live in our world hope. Show the rest of them that not all of us who are lost can’t be found again.”
Later that afternoon I walk out the multiple sets of locked doors and back into society, vowing that I will never forget the people I met here. I will never forget that there will always be people behind those doors, fighting battles most of the world know nothing about. If for some unknown reason I actually make it out of this alive and find myself again, I will show the world what goes on, so they know.
They know that no matter how differently these warriors view the world, that they are beautiful humans too.
And as long as a humans heart is beating, there is no such thing as too far gone.
* * *
This is about as bottomed out scary, and real as my personal story gets. Psychosis is hard to write about. Not because of the emotion and trauma attached to it, that I have learned to grow through. But because my memory of it all is still spotted and hazy. Some parts have come back to me in nightmares years later. Others I remember through the fog of detachment, floating above the situation and watching myself act in ways I would have never thought I was capable of. More again have come through looking at the images I took. Some of these images are taken of me, hospital mug shots and surgeon progress pictures etc, while others I must have taken myself. Even I question why on earth I was taking photos of some of the situations I was in, as I know phones wouldn’t have been allowed where some of my pictures are taken. Now though, I am thankful, as they are helping me piece together a time I wouldn’t otherwise be able to. Also, thinking back, I do have memories of my phone being a lifeline of some sort. A connection to mum and the outside world, that I was scared if I didn’t keep close by, I would lose entirely. I share by no means the worst, but some of the darker images with people on my blog and social media not for shock value. I do it to create an awareness that this is real, this is hard and this is dark. Things like this go on behind locked doors every single day. I am not special or strange or a one off, and myself and many others must live with the reality of the images every day for the rest of our lives.
From what I have experienced it’s not until people gather a true idea and understanding of just how bad it gets, that views change, and true understanding starts to grow. We can’t appreciate or change what we don’t know and living in denial of the reality of the human condition is how many people have become trapped and isolated.
Because behind all the chaos that was ruling my actions and decisions, I was still there. I was fighting harder than ever and in moments where I was able to connect to my surroundings, I remember being horrified at the places they send those of us struggling and the way they treated us to try and “help.” I do remember being scared beyond belief, but unable to control what I was doing or thinking. I had become the person walking down the street talking to myself and behaving erratically. That strange person I had read about or seen in horror movies was me, and I can tell you now I was more petrified of what I was doing and what was happening than anyone that saw me and shied away. The more I was treated like a wild animal, another number in an overloaded system that is an inconvenience to deal with, the more I found myself acting like one.
Don’t get me wrong, these systems have a place and serve a purpose. They saved my life and for that I will be forever thankful. But I also left them more traumatized than I went in, and I am one of the lucky ones who actually got out. They aren’t anywhere near sufficient if we want to see meaningful change in the way mental illness is viewed and treated. I met so many amazing people who had been in and out of the public system for up to 50 years, purely because they didn’t have money or access to enough support outside of acute hospital. So every time they left it wasn’t long before they needed to be back in. I always questioned exactly what the difference was between the doctors in suits who walked in through the locked doors, deemed people a danger to themselves or society, prescribed pills, took away rights to anything other than a phone call, and then were able to walk back out; compared to the father of three I sat next to in the P-Block common room that despite having his own deep struggles, treated me like a meaningful and worthwhile human being. Unlike the well-meaning but overworked doctor, he actually enquired about my strengths rather than my struggles. To me, both people are one and the same. Each has just followed different life paths and been through different struggles.
Mental illness, even psychosis, can happen to anyone if the right storm of events happens. That is a scary thought to some, but to me it is somewhat comforting as it helps me not think of myself as an outsider that is any less human or worthy than those who don’t know the power of their own mind and the worlds it can go to. Yes, I live somewhat in fear of losing my mind again, as I didn’t see it coming the first time round. But I am living proof that just because someone seems lost for a while, or views the world differently, or has experiences you can’t understand, that doesn’t make them broken or damaged or less human. It also doesn’t mean it isn’t possible to grow and progress and live a truly meaningful life if given the tools and opportunity. We all have our demons, mine have proven their strength. But I have proven that my healthy self is stronger, and I believe everyone’s is. Sometimes you just need a little help to unlock the strength you hold within.
As one of my favorite stoic philosophy quotes by Marcus Aurelius goes, “Look well into thyself; there is a source of strength which will always spring up, if thou wilt always look.”
Follow this journey on Still We Rise.