I have been watching a lot of TED talks lately, inspired by a video my psych professor shared with us about mapping the brain. Late at night I’m often too tired to be productive but too awake to go to sleep, so watching talks is the perfect activity: I learn, I’m absorbing, but I have to expend very little energy. I’ve been focusing mainly on neuroscience and psychology talks, to bolster my understanding of the brain for class and life in general, since this is the field I would like to enter. I encountered one that I really identified with and I would urge you to watch it. Elyn Saks, a law, psychiatry and pscyhology professor, speaks about her own mental illness and the general stigma of having a MI in the world today. Elyn has schizophrenia, one of the more debilitating MIs, but also treatable with proper care.
What struck me about her talk was 1) her discussion of the physical treatment of psychiatric patients, and 2) her observations about the stigma still surrounding mental disorders. If you’ve ever imagined a psych ward, or seen one depicted in movies or TV, you know that there are times when patients are physically restrained against their will “for their own good.” This is not an exaggeration. Some wards still use 4 point restraints with leather straps to hold someone down. When I was 14 I was hospitalized for the first time after a mild suicide attempt. What we didn’t know at the time was that I had Bipolar 2 and all the anti-depressants I was being pumped full of were making me manic and mildly psychotic. I have never had so much thorazine in my life. Because of this, I was a trouble patient. I was sneaking objects to use to cut with, I was attempting to run away, I was physically fighting with staff when they would try to intervene if I was hurting myself. So I ended up being held down by multiple adults, a lot. At one point I was face down on the ground in the quiet room (literally a padded room with rubber walls and floors, a stark mattress, and a barred window) with two grown men sitting on top of me so that I couldn’t move. Then they pulled my pants down and shot me with a sedative in my glute. This didn’t happen once, it happened multiple times. The worst time they tied me up in a straight jacket (yes, those are real and used), wrapped me in what I can only compare to a restraint burrito, and hauled me into a van like a gym bag, where I was transported to a heavier locked unit. They put me in a room with a door handle only on the outside, left me restrained to a stretcher, and said, “If you calm down, we’ll untie you.” I did eventually calm down, they did eventually untie me, but they didn’t let me out and every time I would approach the door, they shut it. It took a while but eventually I was calm enough for them to move me back to my unit up the hill. On other occasions I was forced to wear mittens velcroed to my hands such that I couldn’t remove them and so that I wouldn’t scratch myself.
In my more recent hospitalizations, I saw people put into a device that was like a chair but had restraints attached. It wasn’t used very often but when it was it was terrifying. I was not really restrained on my more recent stints but I was forcibly sedated at least once that I remember. I had ECT so everything is a little fuzzy. I got in an altercation with a Dr. who didn’t understand me and thought I was dangerous (which I was not, at all, and I’m the first to admit if there’s a problem) because I wasn’t complying with his stupid decision to leave me on constant observation (CO or 1:1). The result was a ward lockdown, 6 staff members coming at me, escorting me to the quiet room, and requiring me to lie down so they could shoot me with a sedative. There are few experiences more degrading for a mental patient. Elyn spoke about being stuck in restraints for 20 hours at a time, and I cannot even imagine having to deal with that because even my short stints in restraints were so traumatic that I can remember them vividly 17 years later. She is working to raise awareness of the detriments of the restraint process, which include patients suffering heart attack or aspirating on their own vomit, and trying to prove that physical restraint does only harm.
I struggle with the stigma of mental health all the time. I am more outspoken than a lot of people about my MI, and have become even more so since starting this blog. I have still not shared this with the majority of people I know in my life because I am afraid that they will think of me differently and not in a good way. I don’t want to be a morbid fascination. But I also think it’s incredibly important to share our stories, so that others going through these issues know they’re not alone, and so that people without MI can learn what people with MI really look like. So, I may not be ready yet to share this with Facebook, but my closest friends have it. I am fighting the urge to share, to say FUCK it and just go big. We’ll see. I’ll get there soon, I think.
But really I am the same person that everyone has always known, I just happen to have a side life with mental illness.