Tags: Mental Hospitals, mental illness, Psych Ward
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My memoir, Pangaea: Confessions of an Erstwhile Mermaid, is now available in softcover at Amazon. Here is the link: http://www.amazon.com/dp/1483908550/ref=rdr_ext_tmb.
Writing the book was a cathartic process that helped me in my recovery effort.
The book idea started with my mother when I first was released from involuntary commitment at the mental hospital. Riding in the car with my parents after my release, I decided to tell them about some of my beliefs and thoughts. My mom was visibly disturbed by my revelations, and encouraged me to write my thoughts down, suggesting that I might want to write a book about my experience at some point in the future. A seed was sewn.
Once I decided to write the book, I found that writing about my psychotic thoughts put me back into the beginning of my psychotic state of mind. When I felt the dangerous pull of psychosis while I wrote, I stopped writing for a day.
When I started to write my story, I had no idea how I had landed in the mental hospital. I didn’t remember the thoughts and actions that got me there. So I started with what I did remember, which was my actual hospital stay. Then I started, little by little, to remember the events prior to my involuntary commitment.
As I continued writing my story, each time I remembered more of what happened. Writing my story was easy for me once I began remembering the thoughts and actions that got me committed. It was like watching a movie unfold in front of me. All I had to do was write what I saw on the screen. Entire conversations and pictures came flooding into my mind. The psychedelic colors I saw during my psychotic break were as vivid on the screen in my mind as they were when I was psychotic. I saw the green skin of merpeople in my mind’s eye. I felt the flaps of skin between my toes that were my fins. I heard the timbre and pattern of speech my dog used when he talked to me.
In case you would rather purchase the ebook, it is available at Amazon at this link: http://www.amazon.com/Pangaea-Confessions-Erstwhile-Kathy-Chiles-ebook/dp/B00BZZ8R18/ref=sr_1_1?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1409943741&sr=1-1&keywords=kathy+chiles+ebook. For Barnes and Noble’s nook, here is the link: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/pangaea-kathy-chiles/1115285887?ean=2940016728599.
From the comfort of your armchair, come with me on my journey to insanity and back. It’s a fun journey for the most part (what’s not to like about being a beautiful, smart, rich mermaid?) , and the end fills you with hope for the people living with mental illness and their friends and loved ones. Enjoy!
Robin Williams and Suicide August 17, 2014Posted by Crazy Mermaid in Suicide, Uncategorized.
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If you haven’t had a brush with suicide, you probably don’t understand how someone like Robin Williams, with so much to live for, could selfishly end his own life. Having had my own brush with suicide, it is easy for me to see how it happened. It all has to do with brain chemistry.
Shortly after I had been released from involuntary commitment at a mental hospital, I had just gone to bed at my parents’ house. Suddenly graphic images appeared out of nowhere. My mind filled with graphic images of my parents’ blood spilled all over the living room. It was clear that in these images I had killed them. I tried to make the images go away, but they overpowered my brain. I became alarmed, not knowing whether this was some premonition or whether the voices were going to take over and make me kill them. I got out of bed and went to my mother, who was watching tv. I told her I was seeing graphic images, but didn’t tell her what they were because I didn’t want to scare her. She woke my dad, and I made them promise that if I told them to call 911 they would, no questions asked. I thought if the desire overpowered me, being locked up in jail would be the best thing. The night passed without incident, but my parents insisted on taking me to see my psychiatrist the following morning.
After I explained to my psychiatrist what was happening, he told me I had a choice. I could return to the mental hospital, or I could take Haldol. He asked me if I had ever heard of Haldol. I hadn’t. But the memory of being locked up was fresh in my mind, and I was loathe to return to the mental hospital. I would try anything to avoid another stay there. In retrospect, I should have returned to the hospital.
My psychiatrist put me on 50 mg of Haldol twice a day. The regular dose of Haldol is 5 mg once a day. But he wanted to get it built up in my system as fast as possible to make the graphic images go away. He didn’t want to take any chances.
Within hours of taking the Haldol, the graphic images disappeared. As I continued the high dosage of Haldol, I gradually, over a period of days, descended into a deep depression. Then it went beyond depression. It became an obsession with dying. I wanted to die worse than I had ever desired anything in my entire life. It was painful to be alive. I had to die to escape the incredible pain of living. I laid around on the couch, trying out various scenarios of ending my life.
During this time, I had absolutely no thought of the consequences of my actions. I was focused on the act of dying, to the exclusion of all else. It wasn’t about my real life at all. I had absolutely no thought about the pain my suicide would inflict on my friends and family. My kids and husband didn’t matter. Nothing mattered except my desire to end my pain by taking my life. It was a powerful itch that I had to scratch. It was like being ravenously hungry and having no food in sight. I wanted to end my life and end it now!
Surprisingly, although I had this insatiable itch, I was averse to telling my psychiatrist about it. I didn’t want to bother him with this trivial matter. It took a lot of persuasion by my husband and sister to get me to call him and tell him about my suicidal thoughts. I was relieved when the call rolled over to his answering machine, because for some reason I didn’t want to bother him. As his voice mail came on, I started to hang up the phone, but my husband insisted that I leave a message. I did. “This is Kathy, and I don’t want to bother you, but I really want to commit suicide.”
Within an hour, he was on the phone with me, telling me to discontinue the Haldol, which he said was the culprit. As the Haldol left my system, my intense desire to end my life dissipated as well.
I understand perfectly Mr. William’s desire. I was there once myself. It’s not about rational thought. It’s about brain chemistry.
Hearing Voices: A Comparison July 16, 2014Posted by Crazy Mermaid in Delusions, Hearing Voices.
Tags: Delusions, Hearing Voices
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If you think all people hear the same thing when they hear voices, think again.
When I hear voices, they come from inside my head. If you can imagine what it would be like to have esp, you get an idea of what I hear. It’s like someone is sitting or standing next to me, talking to me mind to mind. The voice is gender-neutral , and loud enough to hear over the sound of other people talking. Sometimes it gets louder, as if it is shouting, but it never whispers. The voice makes observations of its surroundings, asks me to ask various people questions, comments on things people say, and is especially interested in what people are wearing.
Some people point out that they hear a voice too. They say the voice I hear is actually my subconscious. But they can’t understand what I mean when I say I have esp with the voice. And my esp didn’t start until I had my psychotic break. In fact it is a residual effect of that break.
I had a fascinating conversation with a young woman who was diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder fairly recently. We compared what it is like for each of us to hear voices.
In her case, she hears voices from the outside in. And they’re voices of people she knows. So imagine you’re looking out at a car in a parking lot. You can’t see through the windows of the car. Suddenly, you hear the voice of your friend coming from behind the car. You would swear that your friend is calling to you from behind the car. But when you approach the car, there is no one behind it. That’s what she means when she says she hears voices.
When I heard her story, it made me thankful that if I have to hear voices, I hear them the way I do. When I hear my voices, I have no illusions that they are real. She, on the other hand, never knows until she can physically see the location the voice is coming from.
She has difficulty telling what is real and what isn’t. When she hears someone talking to her, she doesn’t always make the distinction between what they are saying when they’re standing in front of her and what they say when she can’t see them. The memory of what they say stays with her, real or imagined. And the things they say are not always positive. So she gets the impression that people are saying things that aren’t nice , and that maybe they don’t really like her, because of what she hears them say when she can’t see them. She only hears people she knows. I on the other hand have never met the people whose voices I hear.
I am thankful that my voices are so benign. The things they say are actually rather boring to me. I don’t question whether they like me. It doesn’t matter to me. And in fact they don’t treat me poorly. And they don’t show up until I am under stress. In that we are alike. Hers show up under stress also.
Stress seems to be the common denominator between us, bringing on the phenomenon of hearing voices.
Unlike her, I build my life around avoiding stress, with one exception. I force myself to do NAMI’s In Our Own Voice presentations, because I believe my momentary discomfort (if you can even call it that) is worth the price of educating people and removing stigma associated with mental illness.
In her case, she doesn’t go out of her way to avoid stress like I do. She used to teach school, but now subs for other teachers, a job that causes stress. Walking into a class full of middle school children with only a lesson plan written by their normal teacher, complete with notes about which kids are difficult, isn’t for the faint of heart. And yet she continues to expose herself to stress because she loves what she does. It’s worth the price of hearing voices to her to continue.
We are each coping with our mental illness in our own way. I wish her every success.
6 Year Anniversary of Involuntary Commitment June 23, 2014Posted by Crazy Mermaid in Involuntary Committment.
Tags: Involuntary Committment
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Today is the 6 year anniversary of the day I was released from Fairfax Hospital after spending over 3 weeks involuntarily committed there. A lot has changed.
Before I was committed, I had only vaguely heard about mental illness. I knew one person who claimed to have bipolar disorder, but I had no idea what that phrase even meant. The guy with that diagnosis was emotionally unstable, and made poor decisions in his work life and especially his personal life. I attributed his poor decisions to a lack of moral character rather than to any mental illness he might have been suffering from.
As a large portion of society does, I classified depression as something other than a mental illness. My mother and sister both suffered from depression, and it seemed like a lack of moral fiber rather than something they had no control over. I considered them weak because they took medication to ally some of the symptoms.
When I woke up in the hospital, I had no idea where I was. I had never heard of Fairfax and never in a million years would I have guessed such a place could exist a mere 5 miles from where I used to live. Mental illness was invisible to me.
Like many other people, I only heard about schizophrenia as it relates to someone’s bizarre and dangerous behavior in the news, never having knowingly met someone suffering from that illness. I thought all of those people should be locked away somewhere in an insane asylum where they couldn’t harm anyone.
As a productive, innovative, and intelligent member of the working world, I was used to calling the shots, in both my personal and professional life. I had money to spend however I saw fit. That all changed once I was released from the confines of the mental hospital.
While hospitalized, I wanted my family to tell everyone where I was. I was so psychotic I didn’t fully realize the ramifications of my incarceration on the social fabric that was our life. Only weeks later, after the medication started to take effect, did I have to come face to face with the stigma of having a mental illness. In fact, I thought it was all a giant mistake. I couldn’t possibly have a mental illness. I was too intelligent and too stable to have such a weakness.
With time came the realization that I do indeed have a mental illness. It’s not my fault. It’s not my family’s fault. And there are things I can do to mitigate its effect on my personal life, although there is no hope at this point of mitigating its effect on my now non-existent professional life.
I have come to terms with my new existence. Although I don’t suffer from depression, I have come to accept that depression is a chemical imbalance of the brain, just like bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. I even learned there is such a thing as schizoaffective disorder, which is now my latest diagnosis.
My world is much smaller now, but I’m relatively happy in my new existence.
My Civil Right to Own A Gun May 31, 2014Posted by Crazy Mermaid in Involuntary Committment, mental illness.
Tags: Involuntary Committment, Least Restrictive Treatment, mental illness
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With the latest killing spree in California, there is renewed discussion of keeping guns out of the hands of the mentally ill.
I am a hunter, but one of the things I had to give up in order to be released from the mental hospital was the right to bear arms. I’m not sure how, but the State managed to take away my right under the constitution. If I try to purchase a gun, I am supposed to be prevented from doing so. I haven’t tried to buy a gun to see if they really stop me, but I can tell you that I legally purchased a handgun prior to my involuntary commitment, and no one has tried to take it away from me. I don’t know whether they would stop me from getting a hunting license. I am tempted to try, but haven’t done so.
Yesterday was the 6th anniversary of the day I got involuntarily committed to a mental hospital for throwing some furniture at a wall in a hospital emergency room and taking off my clothes there as well. It is also the 6th anniversary of the day my civil rights were violated when I lost my ability to own a gun. Although I am no longer involuntarily committed to a mental hospital, my civil rights continue to be violated. Despite the fact that I was never arrested, I am being denied my right to own a gun. Simply being involuntarily committed by the State of Washington resulted in my loss of the right to bear arms, which is supposed to be a constitutional right.
According to my attorney in the mental hospital, once I’ve been out of the mental hospital and stable for about 7 years (her number), I can go before a judge and request my constitutional right to own a gun be restored to me. I plan to go before a judge to make that request next year.
Can the government eliminate a civil right because I threw some furniture at a wall in an emergency room? Was being diagnosed with a mental illness reason enough to take away my civil rights?
Politicians will tell you the right of society to live in a safe environment trumps my civil right. Is having a mental illness a good enough reason for the government to take away my civil rights? Apparently so.
I realize there will be some anti-gun people out there who don’t believe anyone has a right to bear arms under any circumstances, so I discount those people because they don’t believe anyone should have that civil right. I am more interested in the people who believe everyone (except the mentally ill) should be able to own as many weapons as they want, with no restrictions. They want to give everyone carte blanch to own anything- unless you happen to have a mental illness. They even want to reach a little further and “catch” those people who appear to be unstable, and take away their right to own a gun too.
Civil rights are, by definition, supposed to be universal. Everyone is supposed to have the right to speak their mind without fear of incarceration. And everyone is supposed to be able to own a gun. And yet some conservatives, who are overwhelmingly for the 2nd Amendment, are probably the first people who don’t think I should be able to own a firearm because of what I might do with it. Do the reasons for violation of civil rights matter? They say they do.
I have been told that guns are dangerous for people with a mental illness. They say people with a mental illness are more likely to use a gun on themselves or others. People with a mental illness, they say, are too unstable to own a gun.
In fact, with the latest round of murders in California, there is the usual talk of not allowing people with a mental illness access to guns. But the problem is that, once again, the guy they want to prevent from having a gun is the guy without a diagnosis. And if you take away the right of people with a mental illness to own a gun, nobody will want to get diagnosed. Besides, how do we find those people? By the way they act? Is it going to become easy to get someone diagnosed against their will with a mental illness?
What is the solution to the problem of preservation of civil rights and making sure society stays safe? Is there a balance?
The solution lies in making it socially acceptable to seek a mental health diagnosis, and in making it easier to get people help. The parents of the kid who went on the latest killing spree tried to get him help, but they failed. The system failed them. So now people think the answer is to keep people who they suspect as being unstable from being able to exercise their constitutional right to own a gun. But is it legal to prevent someone from owning a gun because of what they might do with it? I say no. It is a slippery slope, and we need to be careful.
National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) Walk May 5, 2014Posted by Crazy Mermaid in NAMI.
Tags: Involuntary Committment, Mental Hospitals, NAMI
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Back on May 28, 2008, I was locked up at a psych ward in a mental hospital and stripped of my civil rights. All the doors were locked, and no one would tell me what I had to do in order to leave. My stay centered on how long a particular psychiatrist, Dr. Suh, thought I needed to stay. What I needed to do in order to get released was a mystery that no one explained. After a few weeks of being locked up, I came to believe that my husband was the source of my problems. I was sure he had me locked up because he was sleeping with my sister, and he didn’t want me in the way of their budding romance. I explained my theory to Dr. Suh, but he didn’t believe me and wasn’t about to release me. This scene played out for three long, agonizing weeks. Each day Dr. Suh asked me stupid questions, and each day I gave him my answers. But they were the wrong answers, because he never would tell me that I was free to go.
Finally, after three weeks, my court appointed attorney, whom I hadn’t seen since my commitment hearing three weeks prior, showed up and told me I was being released the following day. Since Dr. Suh had just indicated hours earlier that he wasn’t going to release me, I didn’t know whom to believe. Was Danica, my attorne,y right and I was being released, or was Dr. Suh right and I was staying? I planned for the worst but hoped for the best.
The following morning, my caseworker, Michelle, summoned me to a stifling little room and told me I was leaving. She had me sign some paperwork (I actually was unable to write my name but that didn’t seem to matter) and then brought my husband into the room. At that time, she told me I should go to a support group sponsored by National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). She said it was a group therapy kind of environment, and that only people with a mental illness could go. She indicated that attending that group would help me stay out of the mental hospital. I was all ears.
I was indeed released that day, and reveled in the freedom of not being locked up with no end in sight. I took Michelle’s advice and attended the support group, called NAMI Connections. My husband had to drive me to the meeting, which was held at Crossroads Mall in Bellevue, WA, because I was physically unable to drive because of all the drugs they had pumped into me at the hospital.
Once we arrived at the meeting, he left me at the door and Victoria, the co-facilitator, took me in hand. For reasons unknown to me at the time (but subsequently realized were induced by my medication), I started crying hysterically and couldn’t stop. Once the group started, Victoria led me out of the room and stayed with me while I tried to get control of my crying. The meeting only lasted 90 minutes, and I took up about half an hour of it with my crying jag. Finally, I got control of myself and we returned to the group. Once there, I was surprised at the number of people who had spent time at a mental hospital. In that environment, it wasn’t unusual at all. Many of the attendees could relate to my three weeks of being locked up. I felt good knowing that there were people in that room who understood what I had gone through. I felt a comradeship with them.
Once my medication started to kick in, my psychosis left me for the most part (I still hear voices when I get under stress), but I have continued to attend these support groups because of the fact that there are others like me there, dealing with the same problems I have. I don’t feel alone.
As I got better, I started getting more involved with NAMI. Now, I run a Connections support group and speak at colleges, hospitals, and police stations to audiences about what it’s like to live with a mental illness on a daily basis. That program is called, appropriately for me, In Our Own Voice, and it helps to put a face to mental illness in order to break down some of the stigma surrounding mental illness.
All of NAMI’s programs are free, but it takes money to run them. NAMI Washington’s only fundraiser is a Walk designed to raise money and awareness on Saturday May 17th. My team is called Merry Mermaids and Mermen, and this is a request for donations for my team. If you want to donate, any amount will help. The link is: https://securewalks.nami.org/registrant/LoginRegister.aspx?eventid=132532&langpref=en-CA&Referrer=direct%2fnone. Feel free to donate to either my team or me personally. Thank you for your consideration. Kathy Chiles
Anatomy of a Psychotic Break: God and the Talking Tree April 4, 2014Posted by Crazy Mermaid in Delusions.
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As I strolled down the lane, my trusty rat terrier, Randy, bounced ahead of me, ducking in and out of the low bushes, stopping here and there to deposit his watery mark.
Several weeks prior, God had revealed to me my Purpose In Life. I was The Chosen One, charged with the special duty that would unlock the secrets of the universe to the mass of humanity inhabiting out tiny planet.
Contemplating how I would fulfill my mission, I came to the realization that I had absolutely no idea how to accomplish my God-given task. Distractedly, I walked along the lane, looking at, but not really seeing, the scenery as I contemplated my undertaking. The majestic cedars and stately pine trees swayed slightly in the wind, but I didn’t really notice. I was too bent on looking from a sign from God. Everywhere I looked, I saw nothing to help me. How was I supposed to proceed?
Coming to a stop in front of a large tree at the end of the lane, I stared hard. A tree. A tree? A TREE! Why don’t I ask it for help?
Talking with a Tree wasn’t like talking to a human. It was much more intuitive. I didn’t hear the voices of trees like I heard peoples’ voices when we talked via ESP. This was on a much grander scale. Pure thought. Conveyed from his soul to mine.
As I started to “probe” his soul- for lack of a better word- I quickly realized that he- and I don’t know why I knew it was a “he”- knew more about everything than I did.
Me: Impossible! How can an inanimate object know more than I do?
Tree: By using all sources of information.
Me: But you can’t go anywhere. You can’t learn anything. That’s impossible.
Tree: Knowledge is everywhere. It’s all around us. Trees- and almost everything else for that matter- live- really LIVE- outside your three dimensions. Only humans- and many dogs- make exclusive use of only three. And you didn’t even pick the best three.
Me: What are you talking about?
Tree: Look beyond three dimensions. Open up your mind. Stretch. A Tree stretches to the sky. You stretch to the sky too.
I don’t know how, but I knew exactly what he meant. I stood there in front of that tree, stretching my consciousness out as far as I could. Reaching…reaching…reaching. As I reached out, the Tree’s energy flowed to me. Ancient history. Billions of years. Not in pictures, but in thought.
Me: I’m trying to.
The energy surged through to my brain. Billions of thoughts, all simultaneous, pushing themselves into my consciousness.
Tree: I can help you…with your task from God. I am helping already.
I broke the connection. I had to pull away from all that energy. It was frying my brain.
Me: Too much.
Tree: Try again.
I stretched my mind, plugging into the Tree’s soul once again. This time I knew what to expect. I was ready for it, having fastened a kind of defense mechanism into my brain. Kind of like a circuit breaker.
Tree: Better?…Let’s try again…
My finger had been plugged into a light socket- or at least that’s what I thought at first. I saw the past. The present. And a little glimmer of the future. All at once. The term “mind-blowing” came to mind.
Tree: You think in pictures. Here’s a picture of your soul. A shiny white light, cross-shaped, appeared in my mind. This time no picture. Better, yes?
And then, the picture was gone, replaced by an explosion of energy. I knew I had to unplug again. Before I lost my mind.
“Boarding” the Mentally Ill January 25, 2014Posted by Crazy Mermaid in Involuntary Committment, Mental Hospital.
Tags: Involuntary Committment, Mental Hospitals
An article Thursday January 23, 2014 about boarding at Evergreen Hospital in Kirkland, WA, gave me hope for the future of treatment of mental illness in hospital emergency rooms. . http://seattletimes.com/html/localnews/2022721653_boardingupdatexml.html. I had my own horrific boarding experience with this hospital in May of 2008.
Boarding is the practice of “storing” someone in a mental illness crisis at the hospital while waiting for someone with a mental health background to do a diagnosis and find treatment for the person in crisis. At the time, Evergreen had no one on staff to do the assessment, and it sounds like nothing has changed in the past 5 years. This lack of staff caused major headache and expense to everyone involved.
When I went to the emergency room at Evergreen, not one person with a psychiatric background, except for the Designated Mental Health Professional (a King County employee) interviewed me during my crisis. All the hospital personnel did was lock me in a white room by myself for hours. They kept me locked up alone until the on-call DMHP arrived, which was approximately 7 hours after I got there.
After hours of isolation with no explanation about what was going on, I became more agitated, as anyone in my circumstances, mentally ill or not, would be. Locked in a room, isolated, with no explanation about what was going on, my delusions and hallucinations got progressively worse. I started to believe they were irradiating me, with the intent of killing me. That was, in my mind, the explanation of why they didn’t feed me during my day-long stay.
After hours of contemplation, I finally thought of a plan to get out. I got them to allow me to use the restroom, then broke away into the emergency waiting room yelling “fire” in an attempt at escape. This effort failed miserably.
I understood my rights, and I knew they had no legal basis whatsoever at that point to hold me. I refused to sign the paperwork that would have checked me into the hospital, and I knew they couldn’t legally check me in. And yet they locked me in a room. What was I supposed to do?
At that point, I had done nothing dangerous. My only “crime” was thinking I was a mermaid, which was not a violent thought at all. People don’t associate mermaids with aggression, and I didn’t give the hospital staff any reason to consider me dangerous. Even taking my clothes off in the emergency room didn’t pose a threat to anyone. It was a sign of poor judgment- nothing more.
It was only after I had been locked in that room for several hours, with no explanation about what was going on, that I decided to throw the furniture at the wall in a misguided attempt to gain my freedom. Had I been given any kind of explanation by the staff, any communication by them, about what was going on, I probably wouldn’t have thrown the furniture at the wall.
At the point I threw the furniture at the wall, I was declared a danger, which was my ticket to involuntary commitment. I could likely have avoided involuntary commitment had I been seen by a psychiatrist at the emergency room. I would at least have had a chance.
Hopefully, with the changes Evergreen is being forced by the Federal Government to make, they will have a psychiatrist on staff to interview people in the middle of a psychotic episode, and treat them more humanely.
After the DMHP declared that I was to be involuntarily committed, which was about 6 pm, the hunt for a mental hospital bed was on. In the meantime, I was kept locked in that white room, with no contact with the outside world, and with no explanation about what was happening. They should have at least made an attempt to tell me the plan.
At about midnight, three people walked into my locked room with a red four point restraint board and directed me to “hop on”. There were straps erupting from all directions on that board, and I knew instinctively that they were going to strap me down once my head hit the board. So I refused to jump aboard. Upon my refusal, two security guards came at me, one grabbing me by the throat and slamming my head down on the board. He choked me so hard that he cut off my air supply. I screamed. The other security guard buckled me into the restraint board. After he finished, a nurse came at me with a syringe and plunged it into my thigh.
I woke up the following morning in a room with a bed bolted to the middle of the room, and no other furniture. I had no idea where I was or what had happened. As it turns out, I had been involuntarily committed to Fairfax Hospital in Kirkland. Even when I found out where I was, I knew nothing about the hospital or the process of involuntary commitment.
With proper treatment from the emergency room, I believe this whole scenario could have been avoided. I’m happy to see things might change for the next person having a psychotic break.
Psych Ward Male Night Nurses January 22, 2014Posted by Crazy Mermaid in Mental Hospital, Mental Illness and Medication.
Tags: Cortisone Shots and Mental Illness, Delusions, mental illness
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The Psych Ward was in reality a maximum security prison. Nobody left of their own accord. Every 20 minutes, the nursing staff made their rounds to track down every patient. Whether we were in the shower, asleep or whatever, they always knew where we were. As we slept, the night nurse came into our dark bedroom with a flashlight and shined it on our face and chest to make sure we were still breathing. If we were in the bathroom, they stood outside the bathroom door calling our name. If we didn’t open the door to tell them we were there, they assumed that we were either trying to hide, trying to kill ourselves, or already dead. So they opened the door and hunted us down. There was no such thing as patient privacy.
A 10 foot barbed wire fence (with razor wire at the very top) surrounded the entire building, including the tiny courtyard attached to the building. We weren’t allowed outside except for supervised group smoke breaks inside that tiny little courtyard. There was no such thing as structured exercise- or even unstructured exercise. If it happened at all, it happened at 8 pm, provided we could talk a staff member into walking us down the hall and out the steel double doors to a gym. Most days, the nursing staff was too short-staffed for that, but occasionally we got the chance to actually stretch our limbs out and break a sweat.
The hospital was always short-staffed, and the hardest shifts to fill were the night shifts. Nobody wanted to be a nurse on a psych ward at night. Most nights the only people they could get to handle the night shift were male nurses. So usually there were two male nurses on the night shift overseeing about 25 patients. Sometimes only one male nurse was on the night shift. Night nurses had unlimited and unsupervised access to all of those drugged up people (everyone was given sleeping meds) lying in their dark bedrooms . Were there cameras? In a few rooms. But not all.
Night nurses were required to walk into those dark bedrooms and shine a flashlight on the patient’s face and chest every 20 minutes to make sure we were still alive, so they had every right to be in a patient’s dark bedroom alone. Under those circumstances, it would be child’s play for an unscrupulous person to take advantage of a patient lying alone in her dark bedroom- a patient who was so full of sedatives that she wouldn’t wake up under almost any circumstance. Even a patient sharing the bedroom with another patient could be a target, since both were heavily medicated. Added to that was the fact that the general reputation of a psychotic patient was that they were unreliable and their memories untrustworthy, and the psych ward was a virtual hunting ground for an unethical night nurse.
The morning following a night with one male night nurse on staff, I thought I might have been violated by a male nurse. But I couldn’t make my mind up. Was it my imagination? I just didn’t know. I admitted to myself that I had been heavily sedated. Even then, I was in a fog. Was it real? Or wasn’t it?
Realizing that I had to let the people in charge know about my suspicions, I complained to the head nurse on duty. I explained to her what I thought happened and that I couldn’t be sure, since I was sedated during the night. But certain things pointed in that direction.
Although she brushed off my complaint, I watched as she returned to the nursing station. A look of shock flash across her face as she read my chart. She immediately sought out the male night nurse on duty, and I overheard her berating him. The head nurse was obviously shaken up by what happened, but nothing further was communicated with me. I was, after all, just a psychotic mental patient, obviously delusional and unreliable.
Tags: Bipolar Disorder, mental illness
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(from a blog posted by my friend Bowling Joe)
My friend Kathy Chiles and I go way back. As teenagers we met on Maui, Hawaii as our respective fathers were part of a two-year construction project which imported a bunch of workers and their families from Washington State. Being uprooted from a stable teenage life and tossed into a public high school on Maui at age thirteen in 1974 was one of the worst years of my life.
I’m guessing it wasn’t great for Kathy either, but it it’s hardly a blip on her life experience radar compared to what she and her family went through in recent years. She believed with all of her heart and mind that she was a mermaid. Not just any mermaid though. A mermaid who bought luxury items her family couldn’t afford. A mermaid who had the gift of ESP and was able to communicate with the likes of Bill and Melinda Gates, as well as the Dalai Lama. Eventually she was involuntarily committed to a mental hospital, as things were on the verge of getting really, really bad.
She recently wrote an incredible and noteworthy book about her experiences, called Pangaea: Confessions of an Erstwhile Mermaid. It’s a fascinating read and has been a true learning experience for someone like me, whose knowledge of mental illness has been primarily driven by what I’ve seen on TV and in the movies. (Spoiler alert: it’s NOT at all like what you’ve seen on TV and in the movies).
Kathy’s book is available for download on Amazon or Nook. http://www.amazon.com/Pangaea-Confessions-Erstwhile-Kathy-Chiles-ebook/dp/B00BZZ8R18. Barnes & Noble noon: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/pangaea-kathy-chiles/1115285887?ean=2940016728599.
I recently asked her a few questions about her book and experiences.
What motivated you to write this book?
The idea of writing my book came from my mom. When I got out of the hospital and went to their house so they could “babysit” me while my husband was on a Boy Scout outing, I told both my parents some of the psychotic thoughts I was having. She and Dad were initially afraid, and she suggested I write them down so I would remember them later. Then, later on, she complained that when I went into the hospital she looked for books and resources to get an understanding of what might lay ahead of them, but there was nothing out there.
The only book remotely close was An Unquiet Mind by Kay Redfield Jameson. But that book wasn’t really pertinent to my situation as she saw it. So once my ability to read and write returned, she suggested I write something that would instruct people on what to expect when their loved one became mentally ill. I did some research and learned that she was right. There isn’t anything out there like what I was able to write.
Initially, my memory was so bad that I couldn’t figure out how I had ended up in the mental hospital in the first place. My brain simply had hidden the information about the zombies in the pool from me. The zombies were, of course, what drove me to go to the hospital emergency room which led to my subsequent involuntary commitment. Once I was committed, the psychiatrist kept asking me who I had been helping to move before my commitment. I couldn’t figure out what he was talking about.
Once I began writing my thoughts and memories down, it was as if the blanket slowly lifted. The more I wrote the more I remembered. It was therapy. In the end, it was like sitting down in my living room and watching a movie and writing down what I saw. Easy as pie. It was all crystal clear once the memory surfaced. Then, at the hospital, I met so many interesting people that it was easy to remember them. I have been told that having a psychotic break is like being on LSD, and I think this accounts for some of the clarity of memory.
The problem with mental illness is that the tremendous stigma attached to having a mental illness keeps people from getting help. Also, the nature of the illness itself precludes people from getting help, because one of the symptoms of the illness is a failure to understand that you are sick. It’s called anosognosia.
One of the other problems is that people’s civil rights get in the way of treatment. There’s no way around the fact that involuntary commitment is the ultimate violation of civil rights. The law makes it almost impossible to involuntarily commit people, and when they do they don’t keep them long enough for adequate treatment. A hospital stay is driven by the number of beds available and the insurance of the person being committed. Ideally, we would make it socially acceptable to seek treatment and get someone involuntarily committed and keep them long enough for their medication to fully take effect. This means months of treatment rather than the two weeks currently in vogue.
Had the stigma not been so great, I could have avoided a hospital stay. When the voices took over my mind, I went to my physician and got a referral to a psychiatrist, but the voices convinced me it would ruin my life if I went. They said my bosses would find out and fire me. So I didn’t seek treatment and ended up hospitalized involuntarily.
But things are getting better as far as stigma goes, and people like Katherine Zeta Jones are proof of that. Her voluntary commitment to a mental hospital hasn’t seemed to affect her career. Her brave action might help others seek the help they need.
In terms of involuntary commitment or even voluntary commitment, people have the impression that once you’re released you’re “fixed”. But it takes months for the medication to build up enough in your system to get the symptoms under control. My family is surprised that it took me so long to get rid of the voices. And in reality, I still hear them when I get under stress. So the thought that I will eventually be “disease free” is a misnomer.
One of the things my medication does is change my personality. I don’t have the ups and downs that normal people have. I am stuck in “neutral”, neither high nor low. And being stuck in neutral means that my personality changed. Compared to before, I am now boring and predictable.
Additionally, I have changed my personality as a result of my illness. I was a risk-taker and a workaholic before I became ill. Now I am neither. I can’t be a risk-taker any more, since with risk comes stress. Stress brings back the voices. The voices don’t bother me, but they bother the people around me. My psychiatrist is especially bothered by them, but I refuse to take so much medication to eliminate them that I am comatose, which is what it would take.
Changing my behavior and my occupation also changed my interests, and with that change came new friends. I have mostly dropped my old friends, having nothing in common with them except memories. I don’t face the same daily challenges I did before I was ill, so I can’t relate to my old friends any more.
Having very few challenges in my life (to avoid stress) also changes my personality. I have been told I was a steamroller/bitch before I became ill, and that I am much more pleasant to be around nowadays. That is all to the good.
I have met many new friends through my association with NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness), an organization I learned about in the mental hospital. I can relate to these people better than “normal” people, since we share similar experiences. Talking with someone about the challenges of hearing voices is comforting. I feel I’m not alone. And friends and family members whose loved ones are mentally ill have been especially kind to me.
When I first left the hospital, I couldn’t read or write. My balance was off, my hands shook and I couldn’t drive because I couldn’t get up to the speed limit or determine the distance between my car and the car in front of me. These side effects have mostly resolved, and I am left with short term and long term memory problems and sleep problems. Sleep is critical to me because without proper sleep I will become psychotic again according to my psychiatrist. The biggest side effect I have is that I can’t retain information or understand information like I did before I became ill. I prided myself on my high IQ before, but I have lost that. Remember the book “Flowers for Algernon“? That’s kind of what I feel like. It takes me a long time to understand concepts now, and in some cases I simply give up.
According to my psychiatrist, that could be due to my medication or the changes in my brain chemistry caused by the mental illness. Either way, it’s not going to resolve itself. I’m stuck this way. It was initially depressing, but the further I get from my pre-high IQ self, the more my memory fades of what it used to be like to instantly grasp and retain information and process multiple thoughts simultaneously. Those things made me very good at my job, and i was paid well for my skill. It has been quite an adjustment to get used to my “new normal”. If I could return to my old life, I would in a heartbeat. But that world is closed to me now.
My family and I first learned about NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) when I was discharged from the mental hospital. They recommended I attend the weekly group therapy meetings (called Connections) held by NAMI. I went to them, and found them important in my recovery. Relating to people with similar problems helps. Sometimes I learn about successful solutions from someone who went through what I went through. It’s amazing how many people hear voices, although the term “hearing voices” has many different variations. It’s fascinating to learn about other people successfully (or not) meeting the challenges of living with a mental illness.
I now co-facilitate a Connections group in Everett, WA. I also speak to people about what it’s like to live with a mental illness through a program called In Our Own Voice. Additionally, once a year NAMI meets with police officers and educates them on how to handle mentally ill people they run into during the course of their work. This is called CIT (Crisis Intervention Training) and is designed to keep police officers from accidentally killing people in the throes of a psychotic break as well as to keep mentally ill people out of prison or jail when possible.
We also go to Olympia, WA during Martin Luther King Jr’s birthday to lobby legislators on behalf of mental illness issues. NAMI’s purpose is to make the world a better place for those living with a mental illness and their friends and loved ones.
One of the best examples of what NAMI accomplished is the new “parity” law, which says that insurance companies who pay for regular hospital stays must pay for mental hospital stays to that same degree, Also, Washington State is making it easier to involuntarily commit people by allowing the Designated Mental Health Professionals (who assess people for involuntary commitment) to gather information from friends and loved ones and other interested parties of those being assessed. Previously none of the bizarre behavior witnessed by others could be taken into account for assessment purposes.
Also, a certain percentage of taxes must go towards mental illness, and that money is spent on mental health issues. This is resulting in things like Mental Health Court and Triage Facilities (places to handle the mentally ill without entering the criminal system). There are more beds being built right now in King and Snohomish Counties. None of these things would have happened without NAMI.