Thursday, May 19, 2011

guest post: the asylum for the wayward neo-victorian girl, part III

image source: Polyvore
I was awakened at 5:50 the following morning by a nurse holding a syringe.

"Good morning, Juliana. We need to take a blood sample."

"Should I get up?" I asked, half-awake and trying to not let the needle terrify me.

"No, you can lay there if you want."

Feeling helpless, I let her stab my arm and take out the blood. She left the room and turned out the light, so I slept for another half hour. Remembering that the nurses were telling me about my doctor making rounds early in the morning, I got out of bed around 6:30 a.m. and dressed quickly, determined to look as presentable as my limited resources allowed me so I could more successfully encounter my doctor. I even put in my contact lenses since I feel that my glasses make me look lazy and careless. 

I waited with the more reasonable patients in the common room and watched the news. "What are the gas prices like in the outside world?" one of them asked me. 

Less than an hour later, Dr. T came in and spoke to me. He was an intelligent Mediterranean man with a fun accent reminiscent of Dr. Lipschitz from Rugrats.  He listened to my story and agreed almost immediately that I had been put in the psychiatric ward for the wrong reasons.

"As you have noted, most people here need a different type of help," he explained to me. "They are in a very bad place and most of them have chemical dependencies. You are here under court order because of your university counselors."

"Wait, court order? But I told the police that I was voluntary!"

"It does not matter," Dr. T continued. "You left the counseling center at a time when they were legally bound to report your thoughts of suicide. The counselors had the court order put into place while you were in the ER. At this point, it's a legal matter and not a psychological matter. I think it would be best if you could leave since it seems like these group therapy sessions are going to do very little for you. You do need counseling, but not anything like this."

I was greatly cheered by his words, but it still seemed too good to be true. "Is it possible for me to leave today?"

"Maybe," Dr. T said. "Fortunately for you, today is a court day for these matters, so if I and your social worker can convince the judge that you are not a danger to yourself at this point, you will be able to leave today. Of course, they usually put people on suicide watch for 72 hours, and you have only been here for less than 24 hours, so the judge may decide to have you released after the 72-hour period is complete. Just do your best to show everyone that you are fine and the social worker will be able to serve as a favorable second witness."

I thanked Dr. T for his help and returned to the bleakness of the common room. One of the male patients, who was around 20 years old, appeared in a dazed state. I had encountered him the day before when he ran up to me and asked if I had a cigarette or a cell phone. When I answered in the negative, he ran up to the next patient, half-convinced that there was some conspiracy against him in which only his cell phone had been taken away. It was clear that he had been heavily sedated sometime between the previous evening and breakfast, which made me wonder how common it was to be sedated in order to be controlled.

The morning snailed by in group therapy, then a recreation hour in which I had to endure the worst karaoke of my life. All of the songs were either classic hits or gospel songs that had no mention of death in them. I would do anything to sing an Emilie Autumn song right now, just to horrify everyone: 

"Dead is the new alive 
Despair's the new survival
A pointless point of view 
Give in, give in, give in, give in 
You play the game
You never win."

Since Emilie Autumn was not on the playlist, I ended up butchering Michael Jackson with one of the women who had been committed for using the word "suicide" in front of the wrong person.

image source: we<3
I was getting antsy, restless, and extremely desperate throughout the morning. Knowing that I was being watched every minute, I decided to try to express myself with caution. The nurses had given me a white folder with little information sheets and rules for my stay in the ward, as if it were some type of hotel. I decided to decorate my folder and express my sadness, anger, and resentment any way I could. I started by writing the word Opheliac on the back of the folder and surrounding it with illustrations of flowers. I then drew a clock on the back and put the hour hand at the 4, completing the image with a tea pot and cups and writing TEA TIME!!! as my personal tribute to the climax of The Asylum for Wayward Victorian Girls. I then started writing as many liturgical Latin phrases as I could remember on the back cover, as well as snippets from my favorite poems (not in English) that related to love, death, and forgiveness. I hoped that the foreign language and figurative metaphors would not be meaningful to the staff, so I took the risk with relish. 

I then opened a little blue packet that was given to every patient for the purpose of writing our thoughts and feelings so we could relate them later on to our doctors. I used my foreign language to complain in as neutral a manner as I could muster. Even though my scribbling took up more time than I am proud to admit, I felt somewhat satisfied.

At the end of the morning I was called into a conference room. The social worker, four nurses and a nurses' intern were waiting. I sat down and allowed them to question me about my presence in the ward. I spoke as calmly as I could, repeating that I felt that the ward was not a good place for someone who is simply depressed. 

The therapist who had run that morning's chemical substance group therapy sessions specifically said, "The thing that will get each of you out of this place is whether the staff believes you are stable." 

Deciding that her wording was going to be the most effective at instigating my release, I said, "I think I am stable and I need to be back in my world with the things that truly enrich my life."

The staff did not talk to me much longer, but instead sent me back into the common room. Right before lunch, the sedated guy sat next to me, questioned me about the stuff I drew on my folder, then tried to make a move on me. I quickly got up and told a nurse, who only nodded and wrote it down on her clipboard. She did not even care to ask me if I were okay.

After lunch I had the good fortune of talking to a nurse after lunch who felt that I could benefit from having one of my books back. The minute I had the beloved book back in my hands I sat down and started studying. One of the other patients, a nice older man named J, sat down next to me with a smile on his face.

"Juliana, is that what you study at the university? Please tell me something about it."

"Oh, J, you will probably find it boring. I am such a nerd that I love this stuff."

"Please, I always like to learn something new."

Two of the other patients came over to see why I was beaming and also sat down to learn about my studies. It made me laugh to see these people so interested in the topic simply because of the boredom that prevailed as a result of the limitations that the ward had imposed upon us.

The next group therapy session started and I sat near the window, looking out at the sunny spring day and wondering when I would be able to go outside again. Even though I had to act happy, my heart had already sunk so low that I knew that I would not be able to keep up the charade much longer.

A nurse interrupted the group therapy session to take me out of the room and inform me that my court order had been revoked. I was free to go! 

I packed as quickly as I could and signed my release forms, but not before the sedated guy chased me around a table and begged to have my phone number until the nurse threatened to have him restrained.

I had only been in the ward for a little over 24 hours, and I was so happy to be out that I never thought I could feel sadness ever again. The following morning, however, found me in a different position. The depression came over me once again, but in a different way. I felt that I had been cheated by the mental health system. Granted, I was lucky to get out after only a day, but I also knew that I never got the therapy that the university counselor had promised me. Playing happy meant that I had to suppress my feelings, which made me worse off than I had been when I entered counseling. The ward made me angry and resentful, and it did nothing to defer my desire for death. I had thought of numerous creative (and probably impossible) ways to end my life while inside the ward as my big "F*** you!!!" to the system, which obviously is not the intended goal of either the counselors or the hospital.

I am writing this post as a warning to everyone who struggles with thoughts of suicide. If you think you really need help, ONLY use the word "suicide" if you think you need a mental hospital. If all you want and need is a counselor to help you sort of your problems, avoid that word at all costs. Talk about your feelings, but choose your words carefully. The counselors do not care about you; they only care about themselves and will protect themselves at the cost of your freedom. It would seriously be better to talk to a friend or a spiritual instructor than to a counselor if you want to be 100% open about your problems. Granted, I still want to have counseling from someone who is more objective and could potentially give me the tools I need to cope with my problems, but it is still very difficult for me to trust anyone after my experience in the psychiatric ward. I know my experience was not horrendous, but it made a bad situation even worse. 

Emilie Autumn makes a very good point in her book in her confrontation with Dr. Sharpe about the psychiatric ward: "I am a sad, sad girl. This is NOT where you put a sad girl to make her get happy" (page 132). Emilie recognizes that there is something flawed about the mental health system since it groups people with varying problems in the same space. The therapy that is offered is only minimally relevant to the individual, and I find that fact to be disturbing. The counselors and doctors tend to view everything as either black or white, and only truly compassionate and intelligent people can see the gray area of depression.

At this point, all I know is that I'm an Opheliac, and I am going to fight this system for its ineffectiveness. 

Go back to Part I.

Go back to Part II.


  1. I can't help but think, after reading all 3 parts of this, that your experience wasn't bad at all. Not only do you have the same flavour of melodrama to your account as EA(and you were only there a DAY before things got sorted out!), but there was nothing wrong with what "happened" to you. You don't seem to understand that there ARE protocols that counselors and doctors are supposed to follow. And that is exactly what they did. You didn't suffer any kind of abuses at the hands of the workers, you didn't go through anything that wasn't both routine and to be expected.

    And the reason none of it helped you is because it seems like you were dead-set against actually getting any help. You were pissed because you didn't want to be there. Understandable, but still no reason to act like it's some God-awful place/system/etc. And considering your mention of your lapse into depression again after getting out, it's not too much of a stretch to then think that not only should you have cooperated (and NOT just started "play acting" and playing the poor, incarcerated innocent), but you should probably check yourself back in somewhere, because that's a pretty clear indicator that you weren't at all as "fine" as you said in your previous entries. You don't want to acknowledge that you're not okay, that's your issue. You want to pretend that you're just fine and dandy and just a "little bit sad" when you were suicidal only days earlier, that's your choice. But don't then try to vilify the mental health system just because YOU disagreed with them.

  2. That seems very insensitive of you, Mimi. There is no way one can call another's experience with a mental health care as "melodramatic"- it's an asylum, not Disneyland. It's very unfair for one who has not had a similar experience with asylums, being held against your will, being given unnecessary medications, being lied to by people you trusted with your most painful memories/thoughts, and that feeling of being utterly alone in a high stress situation such as that of a mental health care facility. Let me guess- They are there to help you, so sit down, shut up, strap in and feel the happy. It isn't like that at all, and isn't that the rub? When you get out, your experience is invalidated because you're a crazy person and your word means nothing. Then again, I'm just another sad little girl so all of my words are just as invalid. <3!

  3. It's seems to me that while the author didn't suffer abuse at the hands of her social and medical workers, the system itself is in need of an overhaul. I agree that putting people with very disparate needs in a single ward and offering only group therapy, rather than much more helpful individual therapy, seems more like going through the motions of "helping people" than actually helping them. However, I hope that Juliana won't give up entirely on secular counseling. In my experience, it can take a long time to find a counselor who is understanding and helpful, but it's worth the search. I also found that reading books written specifically about the problem - in Juliana's case, depression - helped me to step back and take a more objective approach to my feelings. Any way, good luck, Juliana. I hope there are no more thoughts of suicide or suicide watches in your life from now on. :)