I’ve checked into psych wards voluntarily a number of times. In fact, the last time I was hospitalized it started out as a voluntary sign-in and shifted to involuntary because they wouldn’t let me leave; I was too much of a risk to myself to be left alone without care. I’m not entirely clear on the process involved. I do know that they were willing to take me to court when I asked to leave. Their solution was to send me to another, longer-term facility, a solution to which I was opposed. However, if they had taken me to court, I would have lost, and I would have lost my rights, what few I still had.
As it was, I essentially had to agree with them to go to another facility instead of going home because COURT loomed over my head. In this case, I tried to kill myself while I was in the ward itself, which nullified the upcoming long-term stay switch, instead turning into a stay in the medical unit for almost a month, and then a transfer to a different hospital because they wouldn’t let me go back to the psych ward I was in, which makes sense.
I was already there involuntarily, if not officially, but after the suicide attempt I was there really, really involuntarily. I had constant observation by staff, 24/7, 1:1, and could not leave. In the medical unit it wasn’t the worst because they were kind and treated me like a patient instead of a mental patient. But then I was transferred across town. I’ve heard horror stories about other psych units so I know this one wasn’t the worst, but it certainly wasn’t the best and it wasn’t as nice as where I had been before. But I squandered that ward when I purposefully broke my neck there.
The difference between the beginning of this stay and the previous iteration was that I was entering into it involuntarily. This lends a very different tone to the experience. The Dr. is in control, literally, of my life. I cannot leave, I cannot go anywhere without their permission and blessing. I am the first to admit that I am a stubborn person, and when I’m put into a situation where I’m out of control, I do not react well. Though I do not know many people who would feel OK being caged for upwards of six weeks.
Sometimes the Drs. just don’t listen. They have their own ideas. They have requirements, behavioral and otherwise, that you must fulfill if you want privileges and eventually to be released. The entire situation is extremely demeaning and unforgettable. Even after all my ECT, the feelings of powerlessness, entrapment, and futility will bubble to the surface at the slightest provocation. How do we recover from being held against our will? Yes, they believed it was for my own good, and maybe it was good that they kept me there for a while to recover, but I also know that I was no danger to myself after my initial physical recovery.
To get out, I had to play the game. This is not something I am good at. I am very independent, I have a keen sense of justice, I am stubborn, I am smart, and I am opinionated. My Dr. held all the power. He required me to participate in certain group therapies, be out of bed by a certain hour, and not express any dangerous thoughts. What I mean by “not express any dangerous thoughts,” is not that I couldn’t think them or talk about them, but I couldn’t be having serious ones that I might act on, which is reasonable. But the whole game is in the Dr.’s court. It is up to them to set the limits which you must reach, the boundaries you must not cross, the goals you must achieve before you can be deemed fit to leave and rejoin the real world.
There is something so utterly dehumanizing about it, that I cannot imagine how prisoners survive. If I thought about it too long, I would dissolve into tears and become unable to function. When no one was looking, I would punch a wall out of pure frustration, not because I wanted to hurt myself. The problem was that I was, by that time, in my right mind. Whatever mini-psychotic break had occurred, had cleared up, and I was feeling balanced and human again, for the most part. I can see how being held against your will might be easier if you aren’t aware of the situation you are in, but once you wake up, it’s a nightmare.
I understand the reasons for involuntary commitment, but I don’t agree with its application. I had to jump through too many hoops, and in the end I had to lie just to get out to go home, all because a couple of professionals decided they knew exactly what was best for me, despite my frequent protestations. Sometimes a psych patient does actually know what will work for them and when they are safe. It’s that moment when you feel safe in yourself and unsafe in your environment that it’s time to get the hell outta Dodge.