We are invisible. Feel free to ignore us. You already have.
Yes, I am bitter, but I hope you read this.
My name is Reid and I’m insane, but I’m not currently crazy. According to my latest diagnosis (my fifth since I was admitted!) I have something vague that will probably never reoccur. I am a 30 year old male and I live at Western State Hospital, a state-run psychiatric hospital in Lakewood, WA. Hopefully I haven’t bored you yet, because I’ve found that no one is particularly interested in us crazy people.
First, let me say that I belong in prison. I did something that would land most people in jail or prison. If you think I’m being humble, you are wrong. I’m in a place far worse than prison in many ways. The place I live in is every bit as violent as prison, and probably more so.
I am not listened to here, because I’m just one of many crazy people. I am not believed when I make a complaint. There are no statistics or reports as to how violent this place is, except when it comes to violence against the staff. For each staff member who gets hit or punched, there is a report and it becomes part of a statistic that shows how dangerous it is to work here. It is dangerous to work here. But what never gets mentioned is how violent and dangerous it is for us patients, unless something really spectacular happens like a fire, a murder or a suicide. Boring stuff like daily violence and threats of violence to patients doesn’t get reported.
If you are still reading this, let me tell you what I did. And please understand, I take full responsibility for what I did. My mother tells me that I was completely psychotic and out of control at the time and wasn’t responsible for my actions. Although I love and respect my mother very much, I disagree with her. It was me that did what I did, no matter what frame of mind I was in.
First I have to tell you, I have suffered from anxiety and depression since I was a teenager and I’ve taken various medications on and off. Every single medication had nasty side effects (one of them made my body jerk in seizure-like movements every few seconds), and late in 2010 I decided that I would just quit taking everything and live with the depression. Although I had no way of knowing it at the time, this was one of the biggest mistakes of my life. If I had known that going off my antidepressants could cause psychosis I would never have quit taking them. When I get depressed, I stop sleeping, and between severe sleep deprivation and the withdrawal symptoms of stopping my medication, I totally lost it.
By February of 2011, I had moved back in with my mother and brother because the friend that I lived with had had enough of me. I told my mom that something was wrong with my brain and I asked to be taken to the emergency room. My mother took me, but I was told that because I wasn’t a danger to myself or others I couldn’t be hospitalized and they sent me home.
I made a mental health appointment, but I couldn’t be seen right away and I was starting to get very scared. Can you imagine if your whole world started to go sideways and nothing was looking right anymore? If your thoughts became strange and you couldn’t do a thing about it?
I asked my mother to take me to the hospital again a day or so later, and she did. I asked them to please admit me to a psychiatric hospital because my mind was getting out of control and I was very afraid. They sent me home again.
The next night I asked my mother to please take me to the hospital again – maybe this time they would admit me. My thoughts were so disorganized and weird that I felt like I was losing control. I’d never been so afraid in my life. My mother was so tired from not getting much sleep because of worrying about me and keeping an eye out for me that she said, “Dear, the hospital won’t do a thing. We already tried two times. Please just let me sleep tonight and we’ll figure out what we can do in the morning.”
The next part is hard for me to tell.
I went completely psychotic that night. I totally lost it. That whole period of my life is kind of hazy, so I have to go off what people told me. I do remember that I absolutely believed that I needed to save my family, and that I needed to break into the apartment in our back yard where my cousin and her husband lived.
I was told later that I broke into the apartment and assaulted my cousin and her husband. After I broke in, my cousin’s husband grabbed his ice axe off the wall and hit me in the ribs with it (who could blame him, with a crazy person breaking in like that?). I grabbed the axe to keep from getting hit and we wrestled around on the floor, with neither of us in control of the axe. There was glass all over the floor from the window I had broken getting in, and we were both cut up. Somehow I managed to punch my cousin during this.
My cousin called the police. I’ve read the police report, and it was bad. People were screaming, there was blood from the glass that was all over the floor and there was me, the crazy person who caused it all. The police told me to get on the floor, which I did (thank God, because they would have shot me), and they took us all to the emergency room.
None of us were permanently injured, but what happened was awful. My cousin and her husband in no way deserved what happened to them, and I will be sorry and ashamed for the rest of my life for what I did. I am most sorry that I can never apologize in person, because I’ll never be allowed to see them again or have any contact.
So, you’re probably thinking, “Wow, why aren’t you in prison? You certainly deserve it!” I agree.
Let me tell you the rest of it.
After I got patched up in the emergency room, I was booked at the Snohomish County Jail and charged with burglary in the first degree. This was the first time I’d ever been arrested – the first time I ever did anything to be arrested for. I was told later that I was catatonic part of the time and howling like an animal the rest of the time. The only thing I remember is how afraid I was.
And then things just got more hellish. I was locked in solitary confinement for months, and strapped down in a chair part of the time. I wasn’t sleeping. I was locked in a padded room with only a grate in the floor for a toilet. I was told that I refused medications and food, but I just remember the hellish fear, how cold I was all the time and my utter confusion. I lost more than 40 pounds and I wasn’t overweight to begin with.
I finally started taking Haldol (haloperidol), a psychiatric tranquilizer that jails and psychiatric hospitals prescribe because it is very cheap. While this drug allowed me to sleep, it also made me have jerking head movements, body twitches, drooling, and it gave me this really weird restless feeling, which are all the usual side effects of this drug. My mother said my face looked strange, that my eyes were open wide and it looked like I was wearing a stiff mask. My mom asked for a newer generation antipsychotic with fewer side effects, but it wasn’t in the budget.
The staff started giving me high doses of another drug, Cogentin (an anti-Parkinson’s drug), to counteract the side effects of the Haldol. Unfortunately the Cogentin made my eyesight blurry, my fingers numb and caused constant nausea, but I took it anyway because it slowed down the twitches. As I said, I wasn’t crazy anymore, but I sure felt and looked weird.
A while after I started the Haldol, they let me out in the general population and I discovered that it was possible to be thankful while being in jail. Being out in the general population was like heaven at first. In solitary, I had been completely alone all day, except for one hour a day in which I was still alone but had more room for a little while. My first day out of solitary was like a miracle. There were inmates who asked me to play chess. I started to get a sandwich and an orange in the evenings because of how much weight I had lost.
Months passed. I found it hard to stay thankful, but I tried to remember what it was like to be psychotic and locked up all alone. Because of my mother’s constant petitioning, the jail infirmary finally allowed me to have a better medication and I felt much better. No more drooling and twitching!
I assumed I would be going to prison and I asked the attorney who was assigned to me about what kind of sentence I was going to get. She said that after she negotiated with the prosecuting attorney, I would probably have to spend up to 15 months in prison, with less time served because of all the time I already served, plus about two years of probation. She told me that I should go after a NGRI (Not Guilty by Reason of Insanity) because that way I wouldn’t have a felony on my record and I would get out of the psychiatric hospital much sooner. I told my attorney that I should go to prison, but she and my mother told me that I wasn’t responsible for what I did because I was completely psychotic.
My attorney told me that the maximum sentence for burglary in the first degree is a life sentence and that technically the hospital could keep me for up to my maximum sentence, but I shouldn’t worry because that wouldn’t happen. My mother begged me to try for a NGRI. I agreed.
Well, I won my NGRI. I was obviously totally nuts at the time of my crime and my attorney didn’t have any problem proving that. My mother was so happy she cried, right there in court. A week later, on my 26th birthday, October 25, 2011, I was transferred to Western State Hospital.
Next you’ll understand why I wasn’t being humble when I said I should have gone to prison. I wasn’t being humble, I was being selfish. I would have been much better off in prison. I would have done my time and then went on probation after I got out. If I messed up in any way, I would have gone back to prison, exactly as I would deserve to.
The counselor who admitted me that evening told me that I would be at Western State Hospital for many, many years, and that attorneys always told their clients they would get out sooner than if they accepted a felony. I was in shock and demanded to call my attorney. I found out that I didn’t have an attorney anymore because she had been appointed to county Superior Court and promoted to a judge.
I was told that I was now part of the medical system anyway, not the legal system. The counselor let me call my mom and at first she didn’t believe me. Mom said I must not be hearing the counselor right. I had the counselor talk to my mother and she told my mom that she saw this all the time – that the new patients were always shocked to learn they would be spending far more time in the hospital than they would have in prison.
I was taken to the first of the three forensic wards I was to live in, where I found out that there were only a few of us NGRI patients who hadn’t actually mutilated, raped, or murdered someone or burned something down. My brand new roommate had murdered someone, but he assured me that he didn’t snore. That night, my mother called the ward nurse and tried to explain that there had been a mistake. The nurse was kind, but she didn’t believe that I hadn’t murdered anyone.
Well, now I’m back at the beginning of my story. I have been here at Western State Hospital for almost five years. In the time I’ve been here, I have accomplished everything that was asked of me and followed all the rules. I went to my treatment classes (which mostly consisted of playing board games or cards, watching movies, or lifting tiny weights so ‘I don’t hurt myself’), took my meds and was told that I’ve met all my treatment goals. I haven’t had any more incidents of the psychosis that put me here and probably never will again. I’ve never caused any of the violence I’m surrounded by daily. My first incident of violence in my life was also my last.
I would have been free by now if I had been convicted of a felony. But while I’ve been told that I’ve met all the criteria for a conditional release (which would come with very strict conditions and continued confinement for several more years in exchange for slightly more freedom), the hospital won’t grant me this because I can’t prove that I won’t be dangerous in the future. Can anyone prove this? Even convicts don’t have to prove they’re ‘safe’ before they are freed. Legally, Western State Hospital doesn’t have to do anything more than say I could possibly be dangerous in the future to keep me here for life. The hospital makes $250,000 each year it keeps me here. I’m easy money; I don’t cause problems. No one will look into this, because what they are doing is legal.
There are many, many awful things that have happened since I was admitted. Suicides, murders, staff abusing patients, deaths caused by incompetence and much more. Any signs of grief and fear that I might show would be viewed as signs of my mental illness, so I keep it to myself. I still have headaches from how many times I was kicked in the head when a roommate attacked me while I was eating dinner. The good news is that my ribs have finally healed.
Okay, so now I have to admit that I have an ulterior motive for writing this. I want Western State Hospital to do the very thing I’ve been told over and over in my treatment classes: “Be open. Be honest. Be transparent.” I’ve come to understand that this motto only applies to the patients, not to the hospital. The hospital is rarely held accountable for anything, and legally doesn’t have to be held accountable. The hospital has become arrogant in how it hides its problems and how it treats its patients. Western State Hospital can keep me here for the rest of my life, for any reason at all. Or for no reason at all. It was granted this right by the state of Washington, which by the way, owns Western State Hospital.
All other hospitals in Washington State have to report problems and be held accountable to the DOH, Washington State Department of Health, but this hospital is owned by Washington State and it has exempted itself from reporting mishaps and problems. This is outrageous.
Why hasn’t the public demanded that Western State Hospital, home of some of the most invisible, voiceless people, be held accountable like all the other hospitals? Because crazy people are boring. Crazy people are distasteful and probably deserve what they get. There’s more important things to do than waste time on crazy people. Like watch TV, or play video games. Or a hundred other things.
I accuse you of the crime of not caring. You the public, you the individual. Any news article that comes out about the abuses of Western State Hospital quickly fade away in obscurity, because of your lack of caring. I’m not just writing for myself. Most of the patients here can’t speak up for themselves like I can, and therefore are utterly helpless to defend themselves against the lack of accountability.
But then, I’m insane, what do I know?
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.