I think back a lot to when I first went into a serious psychosis, almost 30 years ago when I was 18. I was working nights stocking shelves at a grocery store, I was doing my best to keep my grades up and my home life was near to intolerable. Of course, after being kicked out of school, things got worse. I kind of drifted around that summer after my final days of trying for a high school diploma. I had lost nearly all of my friends, I had never had a girlfriend, and even my parents and siblings wanted nothing to do with me. Naturally my first thoughts were that I had done something wrong, that I was somehow at fault. This is still a hard conception of the situation to live past. When you go into a psychiatric hospital and do anything the staff doesn’t like, you will be punished, and they will do their best to teach you whatever it is a person learns by being locked into isolation day after day, week after week, month after month until you are nothing more than an animal, in the staff’s eyes and your own. I don’t want to sound too harsh, in fact there were times when I was in the hospital and treated extremely well. In February I was a patient on a psychiatric ward and it was funny–the first part where no one really gave a crap was really horrible, but as I got feeling better and my medication started to take effect, it became a very positive experience. The food was good, there was a gym, a chapel. The staff really seemed to go out of their way to help and to actually listen and care. I am actually kind of curious though now, after 17 years what kind of detrimental effects could have happened to my brain and even my personality by being tortured in the way I had been.
One thing I do know is that my first hospital admission changed the entire course of my life. After I had been in the hospital three months, I had lost any and all work skills I had, I couldn’t go back to school, partly because I had missed too many classes, and also because there was no parental support even for me to just get the 10 credits I needed for my high school diploma. As I look back, it is hard to tell if I was a stuck-up, over-priviliged teenager or if I was just frightened at what I was going to end up to the point where my emotions shut down. All I do know is that there were in fact numerous members of the staff who shouldn’t work in a position of a person in care of vulnerable, disabled psychiatric patients. There was one guy named Wayne (yes, his real name) who swore to me if he ever saw me outside of the hospital he would beat the shit out of me because I asked him to stop playing the guitar at a time when silence would have been golden. There was a nurse who had me taken to the lockdown ward where care is a minimum, air is unbreathable, and everyone is an extremely serious case and most of them are violent, including the staff. She did this because I was trying to key out a tune on the piano and I guess she had decided I wasn’t good enough for her standards to even try and learn to play. There was once a patient who yelled insults at me and swore at me several times and then had the nursing staff try to convince him to press charges on me. I had committed the offence of trying to find out about something I was delusional about that he was supposed to be an expert in. I kind of think that if you lock someone in a small space for 5 months and refuse to do anything to help them with their mental health issues, it would almost seem reasonable that a person would defend himself in a fight, and that my reaction was more their responsibility. Had he charged me, it would have been the end of my life outside the hospital. People who are mentally ill who commit crimes are sent to a part of the hospital known as forensics where they stay at the leisure of whatever Psychiatrist they are assigned to, and it is very often years for even the simplest offence.
So really though, as a person who has studied all this, wrote about it, taken psychology classes and wellness and recovery programs, what is the solution? I think that a lot of things have to be brought out into the open. We don’t need to treat all of our psychiatric patients in a facility 10km away from anything, hidden off where no one understands the problem as the local hospital in Edmonton is situated. What needs to happen is such places should be in the community, where even some of the more serious cases can function, with support, go to movies on their own, visit a mall to buy clothes and all that. It doesn’t help in any way to institutionalize people, especially when most of them are short-term patients. I got some good advice one time years ago when I was having a crisis. “You can go to the hospital, you can get in and be treated, but that’s no guarantee you will get any better.” This was coming from intake staff. And it was very true. That’s all for now folks, sorry for the negative tone of today’s entry. Please feel free to contact me with any questions. As a side note, I am now writing a compilation book of my poetry, with some blog material, many essays, and possibly photos, most of which was written during different stages of my illness in the hospital I recently was discharged from. If you are interested in getting a very limited edition of what will be a promotional run, signed of course, please contact me, Leif, at firstname.lastname@example.org and I will get you a copy.