a work in progress
I will never forget, though I wish I could, what psychiatric brutality feels like. Being taken to hospital by the cops, by brute force, in handcuffs, though my only crime was confusion.
Being stripped naked in front of male orderlies. Being shackled to a gurney on the psych emergency ward. Being painfully jabbed in the ass by a nurse wielding a needle filled with a drug that had immediate, nightmarish effects. Being ignored by chatting nurses as I whispered, then said, then screamed that I had to go to the bathroom. Being left to lie in my own shit for hours as they discussed boyfriends and hair styles.
Being wheeled to a concrete cell, furnished only with a mattress on the floor and a metal toilet and tiny sink, an observation window in the metal door, and a camera in the corner of the ceiling. Being left there for days, under the glaring fluorescent light, with someone coming in three times a day to leave a sad, bland meal in a plastic tray on the floor. Performing for the camera and writing on the walls with my shit as the drugs that were supposed to knock me out made me crazier and crazier.
Finally being released onto the ward, but being slammed back into solitary confinement every time I “acted out.” Slowly and painfully learning to conform, so as to earn such “privileges” as being allowed to wear real pajamas, then my own clothes; being allowed out for a cigarette; being allowed to make a phone call. Being mocked and brutalized by burned-out nurses.
Finally being allowed visitors, only to have them stare at me in horror and pity, as I shuffle like a zombie, much too drugged to make conversation. Eventually learning the magic words that got me out: “I understand that I’m sick and need to take these drugs for the rest of my life.” Drugs that had already resulted in dry mouth; flaking skin; extreme constipation; painful muscle spasms; inability to sit, stand or lie still – not to mention their effects on my mind: the terror, the agony, my absolute failure to be able to hang onto my self. The certainty – my only certainty – that I had died and gone to hell. That I was being punished for crimes I couldn’t remember. That I would never be able to live in the world again.
I was wrong in that certainty, but it’s been a hard road back, and I’ve had to travel it many times. Always, when I’m back out in the world, I find myself suffering from the effects of institutionalization, terrified of the loneliness, of having to take care of myself, of not being able to make it outside the bin. I’ve had to suffer the withdrawal symptoms from whatever they were forcing me to take, which I stop taking as soon as I get out. I’ve had to punish myself, hit myself, scream at myself for having been such an idiot as to get locked up again. I’ve had to go through weeks or months of wanting to kill myself to make sure this never happened to me again. I’ve had to slowly rebuild my life. And I’ve had to live with the permanent effects, physical and emotional, of being poisoned with psychiatric drugs and traumatized by institutional cruelty.
My life has been a sheltered one, on the whole. I was born and raised in a comfortable middle-class family, with lots of parental love and support and no violence or neglect. I have never been raped or beaten or hungry. Nevertheless, I got bored as a teenager, took lots of drugs, and ended up going crazy, several times, over the years. But being crazy wasn’t, of itself, a bad thing. If I had been allowed to go through it – if I had been treated with kindness and compassion, and encouraged to explore my thoughts and visions and make sense of them – it could have been the wonderful experience that it always started out as. It could have enriched me.
The only really bad thing that has ever happened to me is psychiatry. It has damaged my body and mind, destroyed my self-esteem, and forced me to re-invent myself, again and again, every time it tore me apart.