When I was twenty-eight, I had what is commonly referred to as a “psychotic break.” It was nothing like what I would’ve imagined, given the cultural stereotypes. It was not in the least nonsensical. There was an exacting inner logic and meaning.
Nothing was random, it seemed to me. If the phone had a busy signal, for instance, it was a sign: I was not meant to get in touch at that moment with the person I was calling. Everything I wore was symbolic. I would combine a white shirt and black jeans to reveal a chessboard. I was raising the question: Is there a game at play? Is it a serious game? Is the Queen (myself for instance) threatened? Who will take her down? For I had an ongoing sense of threat. I knew that I was engaged in an illicit quest – and I was aware of all the forces stacked against me.
I was intrigued with language, always probing double meaning. For instance: pray. Prey. Would a person pray for her or his prey? Or well. Well, do we need to go to the well to become well? Everything was interrelated, full of portent. I walked down the city street, and observed the storefronts. And they came alive as though I’d never seen them before. Magic. Why had someone named her or his store magic? What was behind that? It was all so riveting. I passed a hardware store and I stared in fascination. I broke down the name: hard ware. Did this store contain ware that was hard, like nails and hammers and hooks?
In a Chinese restaurant, I looked at a painting that I would’ve perceived as “tacky” in my ordinary state of mind. I looked and looked. And I saw a sea with etched waves, and a tilting sailboat with the sails billowing in an invisible wind. The setting was flooded with moonlight. The moon was immense and white. I found this painting ever so beautiful. I was loosed from the way I’d been taught to see, observing everything with virgin eyes. I walked around and some people’s eyes seemed shielded and afraid while others were awake and open. Certain people appeared as ghosts to me, as though the person had been killed off and the body lived on. I looked at the newspaper, and it seemed people were characters frozen in an ever-repeating drama.
At times I experienced a mystical awakening. At one point, I perceived energy as indestructible. And I felt that this energy was none other than love. As I went deeper and deeper into the state, it’s as though I was flung out into the motion of the universe itself. I felt that I could apprehend the echoes of the big bang. I felt myself carried along giant waves of expansion. I was hurtling and alone.
It is hard to describe the splendor and the terrors of this state. It’s like leaving a house, with all its rooms, which you have inhabited all your life. And you step outside for the first time ever: all alone. Into the dizzying vastness. At long last you are in reality. And it seems impossible that you have spent your life in the house. (In a way, you pity the people who are still haunting the rooms like sleepwalkers.) It seems equally impossible to ever get back inside.
From the beginning, I did not think my “psychotic break” (which I have since renamed my passage) was a matter for doctors. I felt that I was undergoing a radical quest, a transformation of the soul. I dreamed of a guide, a sort of shaman, who would see me through to the other side. I did not know how else I would emerge. I had read the stories: Zelda Fitzgerald who spent her life in an asylum, where she eventually died in a fire. Virginia Woolf, who killed herself when she was faced yet again with the pressure of madness. (What’s more, she felt that she could not put her husband through it one more time.) I had seen the movies, heard the stories, and absorbed the horror of innumerable women vanishing into institutions. Everyone said: It’s different today. There is new understanding, there are advanced medications. But right from the start I feared the worst: the doctors, the hospital, the societal machinery.
It turned out I was right. No, I was not institutionalized for life. After all, I’m here to tell this story. But yes, I was inducted into a hell of sorts: I was involuntarily committed to a psychiatric ward, and forced into four-point restraints, where I was drugged for days on end. During this time, my contract with my society was decimated. It was as though I’d been kidnapped and held hostage at the most vulnerable time of my life. I remember lying in the restraints and thinking that a terrible mistake had been made; I was not that person who they thought I was. Dangerous. Off the map.
But who actually is that person? Who deserves to be strapped down to a bed with heavy leather bindings cutting into your ankles and wrists? Who deserves to be immobilized, especially in an extreme state when there is agitation and a great need to move? Who deserves to be banished from humanity – relegated to a no man’s zone? Who deserves to scream out in horror and terror for days on end and be ignored, the staff tuning out the cries of the lunatic and going about their daily business? Who deserves to have drugs forced into your mouth and into your veins when you can do nothing to resist? Who deserves to be driven down so far into the darkness that you think you are dead? Who deserves to fight your way up from the drugs with all you have, only to be drugged again? And again. And again. And all this – in the name of what? Of your “insanity,” which must be eradicated. So that you can be brought back into the ranks of the “sane.”
By the time my partner and my family were allowed into the hospital to see me, I was drugged so severely I could barely walk or speak. I then spent three weeks in the psychiatric ward before I was transferred to another ward for three more weeks. I was diagnosed as “bipolar” and told that I would have to be on lithium for the rest of my life.
From the start, I was not a “good” patient. I cursed out the doctor in the first hospital. He was the one who had ordered me to be restrained, and who showed up at my bedside several times to drug me – in the face of my screaming NO NO NO. Later, when I cursed him out, I was put on a higher dosage of neuroleptics. My “psychosis” was flaring up again. In reality, I was drugged too heavily to be any trouble. And yet in group meetings, I still managed to protest my “illness” – I said that I had no “illness.” No, I had gone through a profound transformation, which I had to carry forward. I spoke often of the need to reforge my identity if I hoped to be truly “well,” and also to never revisit madness. I saw my passage as a warning sign: I had been propelled into an emergency landscape because I was living under inordinate stress. Although I did see my passage as sacred and illuminated in many respects, I also recognized that it was a great deal to endure. And I did not want to travel back and forth throughout my life and risk the threat of being kidnapped each time. In truth, I didn’t know if I could survive another violent hospitalization.
As for the stress that led to the passage, I felt it was (among other things) rooted in the self I had been pressured to enact by my family and my society. The ultimate female: self-sacrificing, accommodating, nurturing of others to a fault. The ultimate female: invisible. Underground. Yet there was a fierce streak in me all along, and it grew more and more pronounced as I rose up in revolution against the mental health system.
Getting out of the second hospital was not easy. A few days before my discharge, my psychiatrist asked me what was on my mind. I instantly said, “The restraints.” I went on to say that the restraints were harmful, and that I had suffered greatly under them. She told me to lighten up, to join the other patients in a game of ping pong. I became angry. I told her that she did not take what I had undergone seriously – that she was minimizing the harm restraints can do. She told me that this was my illness speaking: I was having a pathological overreaction to the restraints. I walked out of her office.
In the aftermath, it was decided that I was having a relapse, and that I should be held in the hospital for at least two or three more weeks. I didn’t know where to turn. I felt that I could not endure any more time in this terrible environment. I at last confessed to a nurse’s aide, Jon, who had always struck me as sympathetic. By some miracle, Jon followed my story. He nodded again and again. Sit on your hands, he advised me finally. Sit on your hands when you want to walk. No matter what she says, no matter how angry you get, stay cool. Play along, you got to, it’s the only way out. Jon, it turned out, was an ex-patient.
When I next saw my psychiatrist, I did precisely as he advised. And I even went further, to bargain for my release: I began by saying that I was sorry for walking out the door – though there was no repentance in my heart. And then throughout the session, I kept a cool, polite demeanor. I agreed with everything my psychiatrist said. That afternoon, the report came in: I had made a remarkable turnaround. It was astounding, really. My doctor congratulated me herself.
I was released two days later.
I was released from the physical confines of the hospital. However, I instantly found myself trapped in the world beyond the hospital. Looking back, I was naive: I expected people to listen. To this end, I spoke up passionately to everyone concerning the torturous conditions in psychiatric wards. I said that madness was a huge, complex world that needed to be held. Listened to. Humanely responded to. I said that the use of force was a violation of personal freedom and basic civil rights. I asked why the mad – who are in a highly exposed position – are treated differently from everyone else? I said that the association of violence with the mad was a stereotype, and that there was no greater incidence of violence among the mad than among the “normal” population.
It was as though I was speaking into a void. As though my words didn’t exist. People quickly changed the subject or looked down at the floor, avoiding my eyes, waiting for me to stop. Almost all of my intimates turned away from me, discounted my testimony. People wanted me back in the role that I felt had contributed to my passage. They expected me to ask after them, to commiserate – to the exclusion of my own experience. Not surprisingly, their concerns and mine had radically diverged. It was as though I’d been through a war, and ordinary talk – of work, pregnancy, vacation – was surreal to me.
I was undergoing post-traumatic stress based on my time in the hospital. And the lack of any validation in the aftermath. On the contrary: I was expected to perceive the hospital as the “safe place.” I was constantly afraid of being recaptured by the psychiatric ward. I endured night terrors, flashbacks, suicidality. I was pressured to hide my underworld. Almost no one seemed concerned with all I’d been through. Or what I was going through. They relegated my experience to the shadows, as if it were taboo, a forbidden territory. I was supposed to take my meds and return to how things were before I went “crazy.” I was supposed to leave that shameful experience behind. I was supposed to shut up and be a good, grateful patient. I was supposed to accept the biochemical model.
I felt an unlivable gulf open up; I didn’t know how to survive the position I found myself in.
I was saved by the fact that I had one person believe me, stand beside me, encourage me forward unconditionally. And that was my partner Scott. He has completely devoted himself to my journey, which he claims as our mutual path. And it is true: we have learned a lot together, we have forged a sort of sanctuary in which communication is ultimately direct and open and fair. It is also true that I couldn’t have traveled the path I have without Scott. I couldn’t be where I am today without him.
Twenty-two years later, I have lost many people. It’s been a long and anguished losing. But now I’m emerging, as into clear light. Twenty-two years later, I do not speak up passionately to everyone about the atrocities of the mental health system. Or about the wonders and terrors of my passage. I will not risk my sacred knowledge with those who will turn away and invalidate me. I save my words for those who are true comrades. Twenty-two years later, I am coming in from the cold. And yes, I seek a garden of kindred spirits, a flourishing and ever-expanding garden. Twenty-two years later, I am not nurturing others at the expense of myself. What radical and long term change this has been – and against such resistance!
Twenty-two years later, I have held allegiance with my twenty-eight year old self. I have not forsaken her, I have not turned against her in order to fit into the world. Twenty-two years later, I continue to believe in the harrowing greatness of what my younger self went through when she went mad, when she received her wake up call. Change! Change! Change! Twenty-two years later, I continue to be horrified at the potential violence of the mental health system. And yes, I hear the personal and also the collective call, ever louder, ever louder…
Change! Change! Change!
Mad in America hosts blogs by a diverse group of writers. These posts are designed to serve as a public forum for a discussion—broadly speaking—of psychiatry and its treatments. The opinions expressed are the writers’ own.
This is very inspiring. Thank you so much for sharing here.
Thanks so much for your encouragement!
I went through the same thing at the age of 17; 4 point restraints, straight jacketed, and doing “the haldol shuffle” in the psych ward. Thankfully, a friend of my father’s, who’s son had been though shock therapy, advised my father to get me out of the 1st hospital, where they wanted to “light me up”. After several other multiple-week, local hospitalizations and a 5 month stay at an out of state facility, I came home, went to live on a Christian commune (this was back in the 70s during the Jesus Freak movement), where I was treated like a confused kid, instead of a Psych case. A psychiatrist who was affiliated with the church that sponsored the commune helped me get of the meds without any misgivings. Interestingly, he wa Pillipino. Apparently, he had a different cultural view of the psych med thing.
Today, at the age of 60, I’m privileged, as a therapit, to try to help others avoid the psychiatric route to permanent “mental illness”.
Thanks so much for your comment.
Wow. I’m so sorry that you were severely abused by the MHS.
I’m glad that the Filipino psychiatrist helped you off your meds. It sounds like he was coming from the right place.
Keep up your good work as a therapist–helping others to be free.
Thanks again and take care,
Thanks for sharing your journey Elizabeth. There was so much i could relate to in it; the transformative experience, the force and violence that that was met with, the imposition of an alien way of understanding it, the rebellion, the post-traumatic stress, but also luckily one person that accepted, understood and shared your journey of recovery. My first ‘psychotic break’ came with so many of the de-humanizing experiences you describe, in my second however i ‘slipped through the cracks’ of the mental health system (partly driven by terror on my part and determination not to be captured again…and/or sheer good luck….but most especially i believe my inner spiritual guidance) . This led to my becoming pregnant and almost at the same time meeting someone (all while still in the throws of the ‘episode’ ) who was my ‘that one person’ . For the next 11 years i buried my ‘sacred knowledge’ as you put it so beautifully. I put it all behind me….so it sat invalidated and unacknowledged or honored. Then i started working as a mental health consumer adviser and found that garden of kindred spirits and I’ve been on the ‘change’ path ever since. My passion for this knows no boundaries or limits as i know whats at stake, what we are losing and how badly the world needs what we have to offer. I love love love so much how you describe ‘holding allegiance’ and honoring the ‘harrowing greatness’ of your experiences. I think that the garden is growing in size, variety and strength all the time and i get so excited when i read of someone else contributing to it. All the best with your novel – I’ve got an op-ed on MIA here but am also writing ‘my story’ ….which is such a fun, validating, awesome journey to be on -good luck with yours…will look out for it. thanks again for sharing this. XX Tracey
Thanks so much for your response. It really meant a lot to me. I’m so sorry that you were met with the violence of the MHS. However, I’m glad in your second “psychotic break” that you were able to slip “through the cracks” of the MHS. It sounds like a lot came out of that second “break!” I am so glad that you ultimately connected to your “sacred knowledge.” It sounds like your work has been key to flourishing in that “garden of kindred spirits.” And yes I agree that the work to overturn the current system (in both its violent “treatment” and its narrow, prejudicial view on “passages”) is such essential work. There is indeed so much at stake–as we know personally. I’m so glad you’re out there making a difference!
I will look for your op-ed on MIA and I wish you all the best with writing your story. 🙂
It’s great to confirm the knowledge from the “inside.”
Thanks again and take care,
This is excellent; I find it difficult to understand how your ‘psychotic break’ is considered to be so aberrant…guess I must be CRAZY, too.
Good work escaping your confinement and living to tell the tale.
Thanks so much for your comment.
Here’s to CRAZINESS–on our own terms!
A tragic story told beautifully and courageously, and one that needs to be heard by all. Thank you for sharing. May your writing here , and the book to follow, bring opportunities that continue to give meaning and enrichment to your experience.
Thanks so much for all your kind support! I really appreciate it….
Elizabeth, I also went through a similar, amazingly serendipitous spiritual journey and awakening to my dreams, which resulted in an unneeded forced hospitalization. Which, like yours, consisted of truly appalling medical abuse.
One of my former doctors (V R Kuchipudi) was even later arrested by the FBI for having lots of well insured patients medically unnecessarily shipped long distances to himself, “snowing” patients, then performing unneeded tracheotomies for profit. Thankfully, I was healthy enough to survive the “snowing,” so I avoided the unneeded tracheotomy. “Change, change, change” is needed, you’re right.
I, too, am working on writing my tale, after 10 years of medical, spiritual, and other related research. My best to you on your book, and I’m sorry you had to experience the psychiatric industries’ little hell on earth game, but am glad you escaped and have recovered. Best wishes.
Hi Someone Else,
Thanks so much for your comments. I am so sorry that you, too, got caught in the brutality of the MHS. But thank God you escaped that doctor who “snowed” patients.
I wish you all the best writing your own story.
Thanks again and take care,
I liked this phrase: “Twenty-two years later, I am not nurturing others at the expense of myself.”
I was not hospitalized, but I’ve been abused by “professionals”. I think most of them are completely deluded, because this stubbornness can only be fueled by blind faith. When I read Szasz, I discovered the truth about me and about the experts. Rather, I confirmed my intuition. Szasz helped me leave behind my outrage. And when I left that behind, I also left evangelizing on the evils of psychiatry. I only give a calmed and well documented opinion when someone asks. Otherwise, I just show compassion, because that is the only thing I can do that will not add harm to people who have already too much on their plate.
What else, besides compassion, can anyone give to someone who is experimenting moral pain?
Now I’m picking up the pieces. My pieces. It is not easy, but it is better to know that being alright depends on me, not on drugs or therapy or counsel or supervision. It was me all along who had to take control. Only Szasz dared to say the truth. The bravest moral philosopher in history.
Violence is easy to control one one chooses to control it. Sadness and frustration are not so easy to control, but it is definitely better to be sad than to be sad and suffering for having caused harm to others. First thing, do no harm. This is true for everyone, not only for doctors.
Thanks so much for your response. I’m very sorry to hear you’ve been abused by “professionals.” And I’m glad Szasz (I agree—he’a amazing!) was able to help you through it. I think it’s powerful to give “a calm and well documented opinion when someone asks.” It spreads enlightenment. And yes, compassion is certainly helpful.
Good luck picking up those pieces. It sounds like you’re doing a great job. I’ve found that the answer really does lie within. And I’m glad you can depend on yourself. I believe this is the place of true power.
Thanks again and take care,
It’s downright rotten that they are of such little help that we have to lie to them in order to leave the useless, waste-of-time place. It’s a fact: they force us to lie, they’re satiated by our lies. It reminds me of sexual abuse.
Don’t tell. That’s the rule. But we’re sick if we don’t tell. But we get in serious trouble if we tell.
This is the garbage the liars force feed to us: “You’re fantasizing. You’re making it up. You’re crazy. You make no sense. I have no idea what you’re talking about. You’re sick. You’re mentally ill.”
It is a sick, sadistic, pathological, gross, vile continuation of the root problem which sends many of us, eventually, to the house of “help”. And, it’s still taboo to talk about it! Jeez.
I’m not suggesting that Elizabeth’s story is rooted in childhood sexual abuse. Not at all. But I’m focusing on the LIES she had to tell in order to get out, and how those lies creepily resemble a filthy, disgusting sexual offender who doesn’t want to be nailed to a cross for their guilt (or in psychiatry’s case, they don’t want to be responsible for their incompetence).
People can start a grass-roots movement to send copies of Elizabeth’s story to people who are locked away in psych wards. I love what she wrote, it’s perfect.
Thanks so much for your response. I love your outrage! It is disgusting to have to lie to prop up the ego/status of one’s abuser. As if they hadn’t already done enough harm—and then you have to dance around them to get out of their grip.
“Don’t tell. That’s the rule. But we’re sick if we don’t tell. But we get in serious trouble if we tell.” I love this. Have you read R.D. Laing? It reminds of stuff he’s written.
And I agree that it’s like sexual abuse—or physical or emotional abuse. All this cover up to spare the abuser—when it is s/he who should be taking responsibility.
Thanks for suggesting my story should go out to people in psych wards. That is the highest compliment you could give me.
Thanks again and take care,
What if your story were sent to the “nurses” and the so-called “doctors” working in the mental death industry? Would they be capable, in the face of their ignorance, arrogance, confusion, and resentment, be able to actually comprehend what you have said and learn from it.
Your story should be shared with those “training” to become mental health professionals.
Reading this made me cry for my own traumatization after a spiral started by an antidepressant reaction. The “hospitalization” in this house of horror resulted in polydrugging, and the most violent, cruel, and barbaric assault on ones mind and spirit- ECT- “agreed” to in a drug induced desperation and based on lies and coercion. I had no significant other to protect me, no ability to understand the danger of the nuclear holocaust to be repeatedly unleashed on my manic, delicate, creative, gorgeous, unique brain- and with that failure came the consequence. The devastation of that amazing spirit, of joy, language, memory, identity, intellect. Left a shell, a butterfly with wings mangled, left to crawl through a fearful and now unfamiliar landscape.
How did I fall into madness? The stress of over-achieving, over-working, being the doormat, the compliant, ever giving, ever self-sacrificing female, neglecting self, denying dreams, needs; so stressed, so busy there was no time to eat or sleep or provide the smallest modicum of self-care or love. And it pleased everyone. My “illness”, my “breakdown” pleasing no one. Creating resentment, rage, shame and a quick allegiance to lunatics who were the “experts” as they toxic drugged and electrocuted me in their ignorant, misguided “efforts” to “cure” me.
Left broken, suicidal, brain injured; prolific career gone, friends/colleagues gone; respect/admiration/love, all gone, gone, destroyed by the “help” and “hospitalization”, administered by the real monsters who walk this world and would poison those who are magical or special, those who are innocent children, those who are abused and traumatized, those who are elderly or lonely or simply, those who are living, breathing human beings struggling to survive a difficult or different journey.
You are lucky and blessed to have escaped, to have a wonderful partner to support you. Keep telling your story. It has such beauty.
Thanks so much for your response truth!
I’m so sorry to hear about the horrors you endured in the MHS—and also that you were all alone with it. I am so impressed with how you held onto the beauty of who you were throughout—“the devastation of that amazing spirit…a butterfly with wings mangled.” I’m just so sorry that they abused your “amazing spirit”…. And yet you emerge triumphant, with your knowledge of right and wrong so intact!
And yes, I so well understand the intense pressures of being the “ever giving female”—and how this is rewarded. And then the “breakdown” (n the face of all these pressures and others) “pleasing no one.” And how one can be left all alone and abandoned—though I know I am lucky, as you say, to have a “wonderful partner” to support me…..
I love how you speak of the “real monsters” poisoning people who are in any way special/different or simply abused/traumatized or vulnerable in a variety of ways…. It’s a true travesty.
Thanks so much for your amazing voice, truth! Keep speaking out!
Hi Elizabeth. “Twenty-two years later, I have held allegiance with my twenty-eight year old self. I have not forsaken her, I have not turned against her in order to fit into the world.” This is beautiful. I’m 25 and I remember thinking as a child that this whole system depends upon the betrayal of our former selves. Even at the micro-level of children’s revolt against compulsory schooling, and how few remain in opposition as adults.
Your story also reminds me of reading “My Name is Chellis &….” There is really so damn much that this culture doesn’t want us to perceive, so much magnificence, because once we’ve seen it, we’re never really okay with playing along in capitalism or patriarchy.
There is, absolutely, no “that person.” No Other who deserves what’s wrongly done to us. Many people are too fearful to admit that, and spend their whole lives just trying to convince the world that they, individually, deserve to be in the sphere of respect and authority. But we can get past that fear and find solidarity with each other, and let ourselves see what’s been hidden and called “delusion” – I think you’re right that that energy is nothing other than love, and it is, as a matter of fact indestructable.
Thanks so much for your response. Oh you’re so right! We are pressured to betray our experiences from so far back. And the more we hold onto, as you say, the harder it is to “play along” with the status quo.
And yes I agree that there is “No Other who deserves what’s wrongly done to us.” And the more we can turn away from that “authority” and “find solidarity with each other” and find out what’s been “hidden and called “delusion””—well the richer and more beautiful our lives become. Energy as love…never to be destroyed.
Your vision is beautiful. Thanks for further opening my eyes—and reminding me of what really matters.
Hi Elizabeth, I came back online because of your account. Why a novel though? It ‘s that creating more stigma? Why can we speak the truth. The problem with MFA programs is the Creative NonFiction label. Truth is too scary to publish! Why is that? Look at ” A Brilliant Mind” and the lie that was told about John Nash and medication.
You were able to encapsulate the whole experience well. I am wondering for those with multiple admissions how to handle this. You write well, so many MFA’s have similar experiences but it is not talked about or labeled fiction and even in that it’s a hard sell. “Marbles” is a great graphic novel but it buys into the who biomedical model hook line, and sinker.
You have a voice and a gift that others can listen to especially the treatment folks. They sure love those alphabets!. Please use it to help not hinder.
Thanks so much for your response. I agree that “Truth is too scary to publish!” I think there has always been an obstacle to getting real stories out there. People want a watered down version—or a lie. As you point out: “A brilliant Mind” was based on a lie. And so yes I understand your concern. I share it. On that note, I hope my book will be as real and convincing as possible. I have aimed to tell the emotional truth as well as I can. It was not comfortable to write, and I hope it will not be comfortable to read. I would like to think I’m helping rather than hindering. We’ll see….. In the meantime, I appreciate your honesty and passion about these matters.
Thanks again and take care,
Thank you for this moving memoir.
Thanks so much for your support.
I really admire your work and courage!
To Elizabeth & Ted:
I feel this is the support group I never had.
I am now working through all of Ted’s posts (and Sera’s) from the past & trying to savor them like I am running through the words of a beloved series. I do not want them to end!
Ted: you have crystallized opinions in a way that have changed my life. I walk through the house in a checked out daze going over some of your insights in a never-ending loop while folding a shirt, washing a dish, taking a walk.
Elizabeth: as a fellow writer & poet. Stunning, gorgeous writing. You need to hear that first, I think : )
Secondly: I was shocked when I was reading your story that I, personally, am still stuck on the part where I am silenced, and talking to the unappreciative, talking to the “veritable hand.” I didn’t even know that until I followed your narrative.
As a trauma survivor, I wound up in a state psychiatric hospital in West Virginia, unable to speak, & blacking out for weeks at a time. I have a few foggy memories though: I was in a room with a long conference table & this triggered a vomit-like exegesis on the prelapsarian (or pre-fall) universe of William Blake & his attending mythopoeics leaving the attendees to scratch their head & say “what the @#$$%^ was that?”
In other words, coming from a heretofore catatonic patient, they basically heard an abstract of a paper (I wrote as an undergraduate) that got accepted two years later at the Wordsworth conference in England. I can actually tell this story & make it funny. (I know it’s not a funny story! I’m just saying)
When my fiancee came to pick me up, the attendees told him, “I don’t know where you think you are buddy, but nobody ever gets out of here.” What he came to find out is that I had “graduated” to another building where the inpatients were deemed as having some hope.
I don’t remember any of this, but my (now) husband explained what the buildings looked like, what my room looked like, what the grounds looked like. I don’t remember anything.
I don’t remember any patients, nurses or doctors, except ONE nurse who stood by my side the entire time. She even coached me to sign my name on the release documents. I could not legally leave until I signed. And it was HARD!
We did this locked-on eye thing and she calmly explained to me that I MUST sign my name to be able to walk out the door. I managed to crank out my signature. (I was really just transferred to another hospital closer to my fiance, but two weeks after that: ESCAPE!!!!)
Elizabeth & Ted. Please keep writing. I want to support the MIA writers. This is only my second post. I am also going to make some $ donations, but can’t start that til next month. Broke right now. People who post are more likely to donate. I have some ideas on how to get people to post more!
Thanks so much for your response. I appreciate your kind words and validation. I am so sorry to hear that that you are “stuck on the part where I am silenced, and talking to the unappreciative, talking to the “veritable hand.”” This is a hard place to be. I hope your contact with MIA will help you to feel heard and appreciated. It sounds like you have been through so much with the MHS. I am so glad you finally managed to “ESCAPE!!!!” Keep the fire burning!
Thanks again and take care,
Elizabeth, are you sure that some sort of medications did not set off you whatever at age 28? I have been through similar in my life, but mine were clearly linked to getting off medications, or damn a horrible inability to tolerate valium…………
Thanks so much for your response. I was not on any medication at the time of my “break”–so it wasn’t medication induced. I know, however, medication can cause a “break.” And it sounds like that’s what happened to you. I’m so sorry!
Thanks again and take care,
You are very lucky to have survived and live to tell your story to a wide audience. I’d like to tell mine but the most interesting aspects are still heavily classified even though the biggest secret is that there is no secret.
“Is there a game at play? Is it a serious game?”
Yes there is, a deadly serious game, and not at all what most people think. You are holding all the cards to play a good hand if you know the rules of the game. This may give you an edge.
“The Master Game – Beyond the Drug Experience” by Robert S. DeRopp. Read for free here.
Good Luck and Good Hunting!
Thanks so much for your response. I agree that there is “a deadly serious game.” I hope “I’m holding all the cards to play a good hand.” I believe “I know the rules of the game” I’m playing. It seems you have to know the rules to know how best to maneuver.
Thanks also for giving me the link to “The Master Game….” I will really look forward to checking that out!
I also hope you will get your own story out at some point.
Thanks again and take care,
Thank you Elizabeth for sharing your brave journey. Your story and those of others need to be shared to challenge the state of psychiatry. Force is always traumatic. Passages, such as yours and many others I have known are varied and powerful and deserve more reverence and humility. I am not romanticizing the pain, fear and mystery that comes with what is called psychosis. But, the way our mental health system responds causes much trauma and pain of its own and must be exposed, challenged and changed. Thank you for sharing your story. I look forward to your book.
Hi Truth in Psychiatry,
Thanks so much for your very thoughtful and encouraging response. It’s true: “Force is always traumatic.” And it does so much needless damage. I love what you say about passages deserving “more reverence and humility.” You obviously have eyes to see! I always felt that the psychiatric checklist in the face of such a vast and mysterious process was arrogant beyond belief. Like trying to dictate the surge of an ocean. And yes I vigorously agree that the MHS “must be be exposed, challenged and changed.” It’s high time. And it’s people like you who will play an important role in this process.
Thank you ever so much,
Thank you for sharing your moving and courageous Story. I really look forward to reading your book. My very best wishes from Australia
Thanks so much for your kind response!
My very best wishes to you from New York City….
Thanks for your well written story!
I’m one of those people who went through something like the experience you did, but without the getting thrown in the hospital part. Still, one common factor that was really essential was always having at least one person I could talk to, to whom my experience made some sense (even if during one year that person was on the other side of the country!)
Thanks so much for your response. Yes, it seems critical to have one person to connect to always.
And to have that person “get” it. I think it can be life saving. I’m lucky in having this one person, and I’m glad you’ve been lucky too!
Thank you so much for this. My son also suffered a psychotic break (partially drug related) and, like you, saw it primarily as a spiritual experience – as did I, though it was frightening for all of us at the time. Unlike you he was able to access mental health services overseas where there is often a more enlightened view and received positive care and support in the community afterwards. There is still much to be done but being able to have this discussion is the first step.
Thanks so much for your response. Yes, I believe there is a deeply spiritual aspect to these states of being. I’m so glad your son was able to get good care overseas, and that he got supported by his community afterward. He’s lucky to have you in his corner! And yes it is so important to have this discussion and to share what goes on from the “inside.”
Thanks again and take care,
So eloquent! You’re a beautiful writer, thank you. Your account gives insight not only into the abuses of the mental health system and how being caught up in the system affected you but also into the experience of someone going through such an intense, meaningful, and harrowing “passage.” Loved your description of your response to language during that time. I’m so glad you had a partner who validated your experience and stood with you. Having just one important person believe in you can make all the difference. I hope you’ll let readers on this site know when your book is finished!
Thanks so much for your response. I appreciate your support and kindness.
I’m glad that my account gave you insight into both the abuses of the MHS and also into the nature of the “passage.” And yes, having one “important person” can be literally life saving. Thanks also for your interest in my book. I will be sure to let you know when it’s finished. I consider a reader such as yourself most valuable!
Thanks again and take care,
Hi Elizabeth. I am interested in possibly talking about your writing process and experience. I am interested in the intersections of mad studies, writing as process and genres of testimonio and memoir. I am working on an ethnographic piece about writing as process and looking for individuals to talk to. I’m not sure how to provide contact information without one of us needing to post it in the comments section of a public post. Do you have an author website or something of the like?
Thanks so much for your response. I actually went through MIA to get your contact information.
I’ve sent you an email. I will look forward to being in touch.
This is a wonderful piece and really resonated with me on a few levels. On one level I’m a parent and very aware that many young adults fall into these altered states that blindside families and hurl them suddenly into what I also view as the dangerous arena of psychiatry.
I feel it’s critical to inform myself on these new approaches to ‘psychosis’ as a spiritual state (I recently discovered the work and community of Dabney Alix and her ‘Spiritual Awakenings’), and not as an illness that requires Draconian force, manipulation, and mind-numbing chemicals. Your detailed piece helped me to see this state in an alternative perspective so that I can be more prepared if it happens to my children.
(As an aside, it also helped me understand the mind of a close friend, now tragically dead of suicide while on Seroquel, who spoke to me while hospitalized and experiencing psychosis.)
Thank you for your wonderful piece!
Thank so much for your response. Yes, I believe that “psychosis” can indeed involve a spiritual dimension. And thanks for informing me of “Dabney Alix” and her “Spiritual Awakenings.” I will look forward to checking that out. I’m glad my story helped you to see “this state in an alternative perspective.” And that this further helped to prepare you should your children experience such a state. You sound like a very thoughtful parent!
I’m so sorry to hear of your friend’s suicide. It is my deep hope that a reform of the MHS (in both a more enlightened view of “psychosis” and in the “treatments”) will help to save people who are desperately alone, misunderstood, and often abused within the current system.
Thanks again and take care,
“Pathological overreaction to the restraints?” Really? How can a person even talk like that? I wonder what she’d say after she spent several days being unable to do so much as scratch her nose! It makes me feel panicky just thinking about it.
Thanks for sharing your story. It is astounding how few people are able and willing to hear that a “helping” place like a psych ward can be such a nightmare. Perhaps it’s related to people’s need to distance themselves from the “mentally ill,” because empathizing means realizing that they, too, could be in the same place under the right or wrong circumstances.
I’m also glad you had at least one person who supported you through it all. I think that’s the minimum we all need – one person who can validate our story and believe in our ability to overcome the oppression that we encounter. I am also glad you’ve found MIA and I hope it continues to be a place where you can get your vital message out to those many who need to hear it.
Thanks so much for your response. I truly appreciate how imaginative you are regarding how trapped one feels in restraints. Most people (doctors included) don’t imagine it. So thank you! I was also interested in what you said about most people not being “able and willing” to hear that a “”helping” place” can actually be “such a nightmare.” And perhaps this being related to people distancing themselves from the “mentally ill” because “empathizing mean realizing” that they themselves could end up there. I think this is true. I think people try to block out what they are afraid of. But I’ve also wondered whether people other the “mentally ill” to such a degree that they (the “mentally ill”) aren’t real to them. Their experiences are “off the map.” Subhuman. Not to be related to. I think the same might be said of the public’s attitude toward people with Alzheimers–though maybe there is increasing awareness in the latter domain. I don’t know? I hope so.
And yes, I’m so glad to have found MIA–so that I may feel heard and validated by people like you! And so that I may hear and learn from other kindred souls!
Thanks again and take care,
Thank you for your brave and honest story that I hope you’ll keep telling and keep writing about. Years ago I had a similar experience, and because I had read accounts like yours, I was wise enough not to turn to “psychiatry” for help. If I had, I would most certainly have been treated like you were. I had nobody to talk to who would understand what I had to say, so for advice I depended completely on written accounts like yours and others who knew the same things you came to find out. They were all I had, but they were enough.
I came through my experience “untreated” and unharmed, and thanks to people like you, went on to lead a quite normal life. It’s too late for me to thank the others I turned to, so let me thank you instead, and urge you with all my heart to keep on telling your story. Psychiatry is on its way out, thanks to people like you, and those of us who have these experiences are learning to help ourselves and each other. Keep up the good work!
Thanks so much for your response. I’m very glad that you were able to educate yourself with “written accounts” so as to stay free of the system.
What’s more, I am touched by your thanks and encouragement. Your words mean a lot to me. What you say just reconfirms the importance of getting the truth out. And yes, it’s so vital that we learn to “help ourselves and each other.” The knowledge and wisdom exist from the “inside.” We need to keep speaking out! Thanks for your own voice. Thanks for holding the faith….
I lost almost five years. Five years to five point restraints, injections of halperidol and being forced to stand up so it wouldn’t but me to sleep, and not being allowed the dignity of throwing up in a toilet afterwards because we had to be made examples of. Five years of silence, tucking your feet under you in that weird angle that caused them to ache constantly because if they draped over the edge, the alarm was sounded, and you would be placed in a “burrito. Without shower curtains, bathroom doors, being forced to wet yourself if you got up to early even though the medications caused the frequent urination along with a list of other things… After a month, I stopped defending myself, after three, I willingly admitted to any and all accusations regardless of how outlandish or implausible they might be. How does this help you to better function in society? What is the proposed outcome? Fear?
Thanks so much for your response.
I am truly sorry for the torture you were subjected to. Five point restraints. I am horrified at the utter paralysis. Four point restraints were awful enough; I can’t imagine five point. And five years of all these terrible things being done to you. You must be a real warrior to have survived this. And yes you’re right. How ever can this help us function better? And the “proposed outcome” is indeed fear. This sort of sanctified abuse creates a terror state. How can we possibly feel safe in our own society?
Thanks again for your voice,
I am so glad to know, after all you’ve been through, that you are doing well; and glad you were not alone.
Wishing you the best, and success with the book!
Great story. Thank you for sharing that.
I absolutely love and can relate to your ‘leaving the house’ analogy. It perfectly describes an expansion of consciousness, where familiar mind structures are transcended forever.
Thanks so much for your response. I’m really glad the “leaving the house” analogy spoke to you. I love what you say about “an expansion of consciousness, where familiar mind structures are transcended forever.”
How illuminating! I guess once this deep reality (known as “psychosis”) is glimpsed, we will never see the same again. We will always carry that vision, that knowledge. We will always KNOW.
Thanks again and best wishes to you,