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Return to Mental Hospital January 22, 2015

Posted by Crazy Mermaid in Mental Hospital, Psych Ward.
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NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) has a program called In Our Own Voice (IOOV), which is a program in which people successfully managing their mental illness go out into the community and talk about what it’s like to live with a mental illness. The one hour structured program is free, and time is built into the presentation for questions. We typically present to churches, nurses, college students, and police officers.Fairfax Hospital

The Redmond, Washington affiliate, called NAMI Eastside, is now offering the program every Saturday to the patients at the mental hospital I spent three weeks involuntarily committed at six years ago. The coordinator for that program solicited help from our affiliate, NAMI Snohomish County, to help man the program, which takes two people to run. She was specifically looking for people who had actual experience in a mental hospital.

When she initially approached me to help with the program, I declined. I was uncomfortable with the concept of returning to the place I was locked up at and being locked in again. I was afraid that they might not let me out once they locked me in.

Additionally, once I was firmly ensconced behind those locked doors once again, I might regress back to my psychotic state. I always hear voices whenever I get under the stress of doing the presentation, although their questions and comments are benign. Once the presentation is over, they disappear.

I talked with my husband about the coordinator’s request, explaining my discomfort. He said he thought it would be good for me to return to the hospital- facing my demons so to speak. He assured me they had no cause to keep me there, and in fact would let me leave if I started to regress.

I decided to talk with the coordinator about my concerns, and received reassurance from her that the hospital staff would let me leave if I wished to at any point. She convinced me to give it a chance.

Last Saturday was my first presentation back at the hospital. When I arrived, I was surprised that the receptionist desk was in a brand new wing of the hospital. The place was bright and clean, with new furniture and two receptionists behind an enormous curved wood reception counter. When I introduced myself to the receptionist, she asked me my name. She typed it into the computer, and I half expected her to ask me if I had been committed there. But she didn’t. She pointed to a camera on her desktop, and took my picture so she could make me a temporary badge. I put on the badge and waited on a new leather couch in the brand spanking new waiting room for a staff member to take me to the presentation room. In the meantime, my co-presenter arrived and received his badge.

The staff member arrived, with four patients in tow, and took us to a conference room in the new section of the building. But the conference room was being used, so we were shuffled from the new section to the old section, into a craft room. Same old white tile, off white walls, stained craft tables, and uncomfortable chairs reminded me of my stay there. I was surprised to see a craft room, complete with plastic beads, painting supplies, colored pencils, and games, because when I was hospitalized, six years ago, they brought the craft stuff to us. We weren’t allowed out of the ward.

As we passed locked ward doors down the corridor, each had a sign like you find when you enter an area with a high fire danger. Instead of “Fire Danger” the sign read“Likelihood of attempt to Escape”. Choices were High, Medium or Low. Two wards had a high likelihood of escape attempts, and one had a low likelihood. I don’t remember any such signs when I was there.

I didn’t ask to see my old ward, and I didn’t recognize any of the staff.

I was pleasantly surprised that two of the patients had more interesting questions about hearing voices, but they related better to my co-presenter than to me, because their path into the hospital was via suicide attempts. Nobody claimed to hear voices or have delusional thoughts, and I didn’t expect that to happen. Those people would not be allowed out of the psych ward.

I ended up staying for the entire presentation, and I’m pleased to say I didn’t feel like I had to leave before the presentation was done. I wouldn’t hesitate to return.

Pangaea: Confessions of an Erstwhile Mermaid Is Now Available in Softcover September 3, 2014

Posted by Crazy Mermaid in Mental Hospital, mental illness, Psych Ward.
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Spence JPG file for book cover  3 23 13My 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!

New Hallucinations in the Mental Hospital April 7, 2010

Posted by Crazy Mermaid in ESP, Hallucinations, Mental Hospital, mental illness.
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It’s understood implicitly that once you enter a mental hospital, you don’t have any new kinds of hallucinations. If you have any at all, they’re supposed to be simply a repeat of hallucinations that you’ve already had.  But that’s not true.

On June 8, 2008, I was at the mental hospital during the 2008 NBA Finals, when the Los Angeles Lakers played the Boston Celtics at Boston. Having been involuntarily committed the week before, I sat in the commons room with Bruce, a patient diagnosed with bipolar 1 with schizophrenia, watching the beginning of the championship game from a point about 8 feet away from the screen of a tv encased in plexiglass.  Bruce was a huge fan of the game, which was being broadcast live from Boston, home of the Celtics.

For the record, I never grew up around basketball, so never had the opportunity to become a fan of the game.  I don’t know the various basketball players except for the extremely famous ones like Kobe Bryant, who happens to play for the Lakers. I don’t know the positions each of the players play, and I don’t know the rules of the game. About all I know is that a player takes the basketball down to the opposite end and tries to put the ball through the hoop. If he succeeds, his team gets a point. But unlike many other games, the game doesn’t stop once a player scores a point.

Before the game started, faint squiggly lines, resembling a flashlight moving rapidly across an object, superimposed themselves on top of each player, keeping within the outline of each player’s body.  As the camera zoomed in and out and the size of the figures changed on the screen, the light kept in scale to those changes without going outside the outlines of the player’s body.

As the game started and the players began to move, the intensity of that white light increased. When a player went “all out”, their light became especially bright. When the player stopped moving, his light dimmed. As he sat on the bench, his light dimmed almost to the point where it disappeared. At least that was the way it worked in the beginning.

In one player, the intensity of light was about 3 or 4 times that of the other players. I made a point of finding out who that player was, and was not surprised when that player turned out to be Kobe Bryant. After I figured that out, it was easy to pick out Kobe while he was on the floor, since his light was so bright.  Even at rest, his light was brighter than the others. It didn’t really matter what was going on around him, because his light intensity didn’t vary much. It was always very bright.

Once the game started, each player’s light changed in intensity depending on what was going on in the game. For example, if the Lakers had the ball, all of the lines of the Lakers players dramatically increased in intensity. Bryant’s light lit up like a Christmas tree. As the Laker lights increased, each of the Celtic player lights decreased in intensity to the same degree.  When the Lakers lost the ball to the Celtics, the reverse would happen. The Celtic lights, once dimmer than the Laker lights, increased in intensity while the Laker lights, once brighter than the Celtic lights, dimmed. Back and forth the light intensity went, depending on who had possession of the ball. That was all very interesting. But even more interesting was the crowd.

Before the game started, I noticed that the stadium crowd, like the players, had those same squiggly white lights on them as well. The difference was that the spectators were wedged rather tightly together, so that their individual lights formed one large ring around the stadium.

Mirroring the players, that light brightened and dimmed, depending on how their team was doing at any particular moment. As the home team did well, the crowd’s ring brightened up. As the home team did poorly, the crowd’s ring dimmed. Bright and dim, bright and dim, the crowd’s light changed over and over.

That particular game was unique in that the game came down to the wire. The closer to the end of the quarter the game got, the brighter the crowd’s light got. The bright lights got the brightest they had been during the entire game, and the dims got the dimmest. Violent swings of intensity marked the crowd’s lights.

It didn’t matter to me who won and who lost. What mattered was that I had this hallucination, and that this hallucination was shared by Bruce. As the game began, I asked him if he could see what I did. When he answered in the affirmative, we whispered our awareness with each other as the game progressed.

So it’s not true that the delusions stop once we’re hospitalized. And it’s not true that we don’t start having new hallucinations once we enter the hospital.  I know what I saw.

Least Restrictive Treatment March 28, 2010

Posted by Crazy Mermaid in Involuntary Committment, Mental Hospital, mental illness.
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On a beautiful summer day in 2008, the evening before what turned out to be the discharge date from my involuntary commitment to a mental hospital, my court-appointed attorney, Devin, came to the hospital to see me. 

At that point, I had been at the hospital for 3 weeks, with no idea of how long I would be staying.  During my entire stay, my psychiatrist, Dr. S, continually refused my request to be released. In fact only hours before, he made it clear that I wasn’t yet ready to be released and continued his refusal to give me a date or even a time frame on when I could expect to be released. So when my attorney arrived to “spring” me the following day (on June 18), I didn’t know who to believe. Pragmatically, I chose to believe him over her, but gladly cooperated with her in case she was right.

Opening her briefcase, Devin took out a stack of paperwork and laid it on the table in front of me.  The second she told me that the paperwork was going to get me discharged from the hospital, she had my undivided attention.

She noted that although I was being released under a 90 day “Less Restrictive Treatment” plan (LRT), I was in fact still a mental patient.The only difference was that I could be treated at home instead of at the mental hospital.  In order to remain out of the hospital, I had to meet certain conditions.  Should I fail to meet those conditions, she made it very clear that I would return to the mental hospital (involuntarily, of course).

The first conditiotn of the LRT was that I had to have my first visit with a psychiatrist and therapist set up and arranged before I could leave.  Obviously, hat meant that I had to have a psychiatrist.  My hope of the discharge momentarily left me, since I had neither the way nor means to locate a psychiatrist and set up an appointment. Thankfully, Michelle, my caseworker at the hospital, had located one and set up that first appointment for me.  On the LRT form, my new psychiatrist’s name and the date of my first appointment had been neatly printed on the form, arranged for me without my involvement in the decision-making process.

According to the paperwork, my first appointment with my therapist was for 1 pm the following day (June 18) and my first appointment with my new psychiatrist, Dr. K.,  was for 1 pm June 19.

The second condition was that I must take all of my medications as prescribed, including the medications prescribed by my attending psychiatrist at the mental hospital, and to comply with any lab tests for medication monitoring if required.  This meant that they had the right to draw blood from me whenever they deemed fit, which was particularly useful in the case of lithium, since checking my lithium levels would also be checking to verify that I was indeed taking my lithium.

The third condition under the LRT was that I had to refrain from the use of alcohol and unprescribed drugs and comply with random urinalysis if requested.  In other words, no drinking.

Although I am not what you would call a big drinker, I am (or was) a social drinker.  It’s not the “full glass” situation that I miss. There is always the option of having that glass of sparkling cider or diet coke or water. I miss not being able to participate in those occasions by having that glass of wine or beer with everyone else. I also miss the taste of beer and wine.

I know many people who choose not to drink.  Some don’t like the taste of alcohol or choose not to drink because they don’t like the effect of alcohol on their bodies. Others had problems with alcohol and so choose to give it up. But I don’t fit into any of those categories. I didn’t choose not to drink.  It’s a choice that was made for me. And no matter what anyone says, it’s different when you didn’t choose not to drink.

The fourth condition of the LRT was that I couldn’t harm myself, others, or the property of others.  No repeat acts of the Evergreen Hospital scenario, in other words, where I threw a stool against the wall repeatedly trying to break a small window in a door.

Other than to remind the patient how he/she got involuntarily committed in the first place,this condition seems pointless, since the law already allows the State to commit anyone who presents a danger to himself or others or who damages the property of others.  It seems redundant to state following the letter of the law already on the books as a condition of the LRT.  Unlike the other conditions, which are new and specific, this condition is nebulous and general and to me seems unnecessary.  Nevertheless, it was a condition of the LRT.

The final condition of the LRT was that I couldn’t possess any firearms.

Explaining to I Devin that I was a hunter, I protested that I had some guns. She told me that I would have to make arrangements to get rid of those guns or risk not being allowed to leave. Furthermore, she said that people who have been mental patients are legally barred from possessing firearms. This was a permanent thing rather than a 90 day thing, on other words.  As I continued to grouse about the unfairness of it all,  she said that eventually, say a few years from then, I could petition the courts to allow me to get my guns back and return to hunting, but for now I had to give that up. Although I didn’t know it at the time, my dad had already removed my guns from my house before I signed the LRT form.

The purpose of this condition was to prevent my death by suicide.  With bipolar disorder, especially when the patient is in the depressed stage, large numbers of us attempt suicide.  And one of the more popular ways to commit suicide is to shoot ourselves with guns.  Therefore, the purpose of removing guns from the grasp of a mentally ill patient is to prevent that patient from committing suicide.

But that didn’t make giving up my guns and hunting any easier.  Although I hadn’t been hunting for several years, I wanted the ability to decide for myself whether or not to hunt or shoot clay pigeons or target practice with my 30-06 rifle.  That had been taken away from me as a condition of my release from the mental hospital.

Although I wasn’t exactly thrilled with any of the conditions of my Least Restrictive Treatment, I have continued to abide by those conditions even beyond that 90 day period of time.  While life is significantly more boring in my new world, at least I don’t risk a return to the mental hospital.

Mental Illness: Short Term Care Facilities February 17, 2010

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With the advent of the changes wrought by the new Parity law that just went into effect January 1, 2010, one of the consequences will be that short-term hospital stays will be lengthened beyond the standard 2 weeks period now in effect, since this 2 week period of time is currently driven by insurance requirements rather than patient need.

As the parity law increases the length of visits, demand for hospital beds, which are already in short supply, will be increased. I’d like to think that the end result of the new parity law will be that more facilities will be built to house those patients not ready for discharge. But building those new facilities will be difficult since anyone trying to build them will run smack dab into neighborhood NIMBY’s (Not In My Back Yard).

The communities where these new facilities will be built are already up in arms about siting short-term mental health care facilities in their neighborhoods because of misunderstandings about the nature of  medical care for mental illness. They don’t understand the concept of short-term care. Encouraged by the entertainment world, they perceive those receiving short-term psychiatric care as a bunch of crazies running around killing and/or maiming people, especially young children.  Thus is the picture the entertainment world has provided to society at large regarding the nature of those afflicted with mental illness. So if they’re not the psychos of the world, then just exactly who are those people receiving short-term care?

A vast majority of short-term patients are people who are severely depressed. So depressed, in fact, that want to and/or try to commit suicide. They have either been talked into seeking help themselves (voluntary commitment) or have been taken to the hospital by others (involuntary commitment) for short-term inpatient treatment. The treatment is designed to alleviate their depression and get them to a point where they no longer desire to kill themselves.

The second group of patients are those who have psychotic breaks with reality in some form. In some cases (like me) they believe they are Mermaids. In others, they hear voices.  Or they believe people are out to get them. Or they believe they can fly.  Like their severely depressed brethren, they have been talked into seeking help themselves or have been taken to the hospital by others for short-term inpatient treatment.  The purpose of their treatment is to bring them back to reality.

A handful of patients are previously stabilized mentally ill people who have, for whatever reason, become de-stabilized.  They have either stopped taking their medication for a short period of time and need to get re-stabilized, or their medications have stopped working through no fault of their own. Either way, they are readmitted for some intensive care as they receive the care needed to restabilize their medication, thus enabling them to be re-released back into society.

One group of mentally ill people  not found in these short-term care facilities are the “forensic” mentally ill people.  “Forensic” in this usage designates a mentally ill person who has committed a crime.  Forensics are under the strict supervision and control of the Criminal Justice System, and have a snowball’s chance in hell of winding up in a short-term care facility.

Besides the fact that the criminally insane cannot get treatment in short-term psychiatric care facilities, people should take comfort in the fact that nobody can just walk out of a mental health hospital. In fact, unlike any other medical care they will ever receive in the world, patients check their civil rights at the desk when they walk through the door to get treatment.

If the neighbors think they’ll have some lunatics loose on them, I challenge them to visit one of those facilities. The razor barbed wire, locked gates, and other security measures taken by the staff of these facilities virtually guarantee there will be no loose “loonies” in the neighborhood. No more likelihood of violence than your average suburban neighborhood, in fact.

So the NIMBY crowd should take comfort in the fact that only the “good” loonies are treated in these facilities, and that it’s almost impossible for these “good” loonies to get out of the facilities and wander around the neighborhood unsupervised. It’s okay to have a short-term mental hospital in your neighborhood. Nobody will bite you. Or stab you. Or whatever. They’re only there to get better.

Involuntarily Committed to Mental Hospital January 6, 2010

Posted by Crazy Mermaid in Involuntary Committment, mental illness, Psych Ward, Psychotic.
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My husband knew that something was the matter, but had no clue what it was or the magnitude of the problem. He got a few glimpses here and there, like when I wrote a $55K hot check for a brand new Lexus, spent thousands of dollars on plants and flashy trashy new clothes, and started wearing garish makeup (ringing my eyes with a gold makeup crayon).  Or when I quit my job (managing a $55 million construction project and making over $100K a year) out of the blue. He knew that I wasn’t doing drugs or drinking, but still- something was very, very wrong.

I finally reached the flashpoint where I realized I could no longer tell reality from fantasy when I encountered an infestation of zombies at my neighborhood (YMCA) swimming pool. Dripping wet and still in my swimming suit, I drove myself home.  Scared to death, I begged my husband to take me to the emergency room after I told him I was hearing voices.  He didn’t ask, and I didn’t tell him, the nature of the voices or how long I’d been hearing them (3 1/2 months). He was just thankful that I had finally admitted to him that there was something wrong.

Once we arrived at the Hospital emergency room, I immediately changed my mind about wanting to be there.  Actually, the voices changed my mind for me.  At their direction, I tried to leave, but my husband cornered me like I was a calf at a rodeo. Finally, after taking off all my clothes in the women’s restroom (at the direction of the voices) and parading around naked in the waiting room (and refusing to put them back on or wear a blanket), as well as several escape attempts, I was put in a locked private room, alone except for a talking blood pressure machine, six imaginary people talking to me in my head, and an imaginary tree person drawing leaves and branches on the white walls.

They could guess, but they didn’t know, that I was having delusions, but they could never have guessed at the magnitude of the problem. In the meantime, the staff wouldn’t let me leave the locked room or tell me what was going on. I knew they couldn’t legally hold me, but they were doing it anyway.   I felt powerless. I believed they were trying to kill me by radiation so they could drop my dead body on Iraq as a weapon ( but I didn’t let them know that).  In frustration, I (at the direction of my lawyer, who was one of the voices in my head) threw a stool at the door, trying to break the little glass window in the door so I could leave. I was unsuccessful, only managing to make a few dents in the drywall around the door.

At the point I threw the stool, I unknowingly entered a new realm of law: involuntary commitment. I had crossed a line, demonstrating in concrete terms that I had become a danger to myself and others, and demonstrating to the hospital personnel that I needed evaluation by an independent (outside the employ of the hospital) licensed mental health professional to determine whether I had to be involuntarily committed to a mental hospital. The Hospital was required by the laws of the State of Washington to have a designated mental health professional interview me once the stool hit the wall.  Up until that point, the hospital would have interviewed me without the intervention of the mental health professional, and they would most likely have released me, because there aren’t enough (mental) hospital beds to handle all of the people who need care.

Telling everyone within hearing range that I was a mermaid, walking around the waiting room showing people my feet and asking them if they could see my fins, and even taking off my clothes didn’t demonstrate to anyone that I was a danger as defined by the State of Washington laws. Mermaids aren’t harmful, and believing you’re a mermaid isn’t against the law.  Even taking your clothes off in public doesn’t automatically qualify you as a danger. But throwing the stool changed everything. It gave the State the authority  to lock me up in a mental hospital. Once there, the mental hospital legally* held me against my will for 120 hours before they went before a judge to get a court order to hold me involuntarily up to 2 weeks.  Before the two weeks was up, they had to again go before a judge to continue holding me beyond that 2 weeks.  The second court order allowed them to hold me up to 90 days, but they only held me one week longer. I was out in 3 weeks.

*Note: By State of Washington law, the mental hospital can only hold a patient 72 hours before they have to go to court to get a court order. But that excludes weekends and holidays, which is why I was held 120 hours.

Waking Up in a Mental Hospital Psych Ward January 6, 2010

Posted by Crazy Mermaid in Involuntary Committment, mental illness, Psych Ward, Psychotic.
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I awoke laying on the bed, covered by a sheet and a light yellow blanket. There wasn’t a soul around.   I had no idea where I was or what I was doing there. The last thing I remembered was being wrestled and pinned onto a red four-point restraining board at the hospital emergency room and then being strapped in and  shot up with some kind of drug. After that, I didn’t remember a thing. I didn’t know what day it was, or what time of the day it was.  I had no purse, no money, no identification.  No bra, no underwear, no shoes, no pants, no shirt.  Nothing but my hospital gown.  And my voices and delusions.

My rights had been taken away from me, for no reason.  I was a prisoner and I hadn’t even had a trial. I couldn’t go anywhere.  I couldn’t leave the locked room with the furniture bolted to the floor.  Even if I were allowed to leave, I had no clothes, no shoes, and no money.

Someone asked me later on if I was scared at that point. No, I wasn’t scared.  I was angry. No, I take that back. WE were angry.  All of my voices and I were very, very angry. We couldn’t get over the fact that wherever I was, I was being held against my will. I was being treated as if I had no rights.

I don’t remember exactly when I learned that I had been involuntarily committed to the psychiatric ward of a mental hospital. But I do remember that I simply couldn’t wrap my brain around the fact that in this day and age I could be whisked away illegally from my home and locked in a room with nothing but a bed bolted to the floor. I couldn’t believe it!  I was in shock.

It turned out to be the morning of the 29th of May 2008.  It had been 24 hours since I had entered a hospital Emergency Room.

Note: Under the laws of Washington State, the mental hospital could hold me for up to 72 hours against my will without having to undergo any legal proceedings.

Mental Illness and Homeless People December 16, 2009

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Walking the streets of Seattle this afternoon as my husband and I shopped for Christmas gifts, I scanned the face of every homeless person we passed, trying hard to remember the faces of the homeless people I shared three weeks of my life with while I was hospitalized at a mental hospital over a year ago.

Did any of the faces look remotely familiar? Would I recognize anyone if I saw them? Are they still alive? In Jail? Dead? Whatever happened to them?  I would love to have run into any one of them today, to  ask how they’re doing, and  if there’s anything I can do to make their life more comfortable.  What would they say?

Edie, the little cherub looking woman who looked much younger than her 52 years- where is she now? Is she warm and safe? Is her schizophrenia under control with medication?  Did her boyfriend, who visited her in the hospital, marry her like he said he would after her illness was under control? What color was her bride’s dress?

How about Michael, the strapping young bipolar man who taught me that each tear tatoo around someon’e eye symbolizes the life of someone he took.  Micheal had,  in other words, murdered three people. And he so badly wanted to kill his older sister when he was released, which was going to be very, very soon.  Did he kill her? Does he now have 4 tear tatoos?

What of Tonya, the twenty-something depressed Samoan woman?  Each day she was there, she told all of us in group therapy how badly she wanted to kill herself. Even on the day she was released from the mental hospital. Did she succeed in killing herself? I put the odds of her success, if you can call it that, at around 85%. Is she buried somewhere in an unmarked grave? Or is she one of the many people who step out onto the train tracks, not having the guts to actually swallow the pill or pull the trigger themselves? Is she still alive somewhere? I very much doubt it.

Does Terry, one of the most colorful personalities, still think she was from Saturn? Does she continue to speak gobbledygook to people, claiming that it’s the language of her planet?  Is her bipolar disorder and schizoaffetive disorder under control?  How many times has she returned to the mental hospital? It had been 3 times in her 30-something life when I left. Is it now 4?

If it wasn’t for the terrific support system of my friends and family, as well as the wonderful care I continue to receive from my psychiatrist and my mental health counselor, I would be out there on the streets with them.  I was one of the lucky ones.

Where are they now?

Psych Ward Male Night Nurses December 2, 2009

Posted by Crazy Mermaid in Delusions, Involuntary Committment, Mental Hospital, 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.