Redefining Independence on the Psych Ward

Image description: A blond white woman wearing a blue, shirt,beige shorts and a fanny pack, walks out of some tall grass arms outstretched
Image description: A blond white woman wearing a blue, shirt,beige shorts and a fanny pack, walks out of some tall grass arms outstretched

I recently spent eight days in the Humber River Hospital psych ward. It was a strange experience, made stranger by the fact that my presence on the ward made it an atypical experience not just for but for those who work there as well.

There are two things that made my stay on the psych ward difficult. First no one told me anything. There’s a welcome package, they apparently give new patients when they arrive on the ward. I received this package the night before I was discharged. So I spent the entire time on the ward not knowing what was expected of me. This was conveniently or inconveniently (depending on your perspective) overcome by the fact that the psych ward was almost entirely inaccessible to me in my current medical state.

I had initially spent my first night and almost the entire next day on the emergency psych ward. They watch you 24/7. There are CCTV cameras pointed at your bed. Yet, I was treated better there than I was on the general ward. The nurses, every single one treated me like a person. They were empathetic to the way I had been violently brought to hospital.

They were as accommodating as they could be. They gave me time to come out of the brain fog that followed my dissociative episode. One nurse went above and beyond to make sure I would get a breakfast and lunch that I would ear.

When I asked to take a shower, they immediately emptied the room that was clearly used for storage so that I could feel a little less gross.

The doctor who visited psych emerge was also kind and empathetic. There is literally nothing to do in the emergency psych department. So she brought me books to read.

So my transfer to the general ward was a bit of a culture shock. I was wheeled up by a porter but then lead on foot to be shown the common room and lunchroom. The importance of knowing these locations is important on the psych ward, I almost never set foot in either.

On the psych ward it became apparent that my resting heart rate was dangerously high. This resulted in my being very dizzy. As a safety precaution I rarely left my room. The one time I did try to independently go to the lunchroom and get my breakfast I became horribly dizzy only to discover that most of my meal was dairy based and I’m lactose intolerant.

I suddenly had try and negotiate food accommodations along with physical accommodations that challenge the very way the psych ward runs.

By not getting my own meals or returning my own trays, I was not demonstrating “independence”. At some point the nurses just start doing sitting/standing blood pressure tests which indicate that my heart rate remains dangerously high. They couldn’t ask me to leave my room. This time when I wanted a shower I asked for a bath chair because I was no longer certain I could stand long enough for a shower without passing out. It took a long time to get that bath chair. I had to ask twice.

Despite my stay in the psych ward being objectively atypical, I was still being judged by the standards of “independence” used by the staff to determine emotional progress. Even though they objectively knew I could not participate in these daily tasks, I was still held to the same standards as anyone else on the ward.

I was in the psych ward for 8 days. Only the first 48 hours were mandatory. I beat my form 1 (the document that says you can be held against your will because you may pose a risk to yourselves or others) easily. Admittedly the attending psychiatrist never mentioned discharging me right away. By that point I had already had a chest X-ray had 5 vials of blood drawn. I was concerned about my heart, so as long as they focused on that I was fine to stay.

My weakness, largely made my stay uneventful. I had the odd spat with a nurse who thought she could run a power move on me but for the most part, I relaxed, napped and read.

My occasional forays out of my room only happened when my sister was visiting and I felt like I had a chaperone. She would return my food tray for me etc. One day I felt up for a walk, so went with my sister to sign myself out. This is where I learned that despite being a voluntary patient, I had no privileges. To add insult to injury, no one at any point had explained that I was under a privilege system at all.

My sister doesn’t like conflict so, she’s already scratching our names off the sign out sheet. I however, stared at that nurse and demanded to know how I could be subjected to a privilege system I had never been made aware of, particularly as a voluntary patient. Then I glared at her until she made a phone call.

The photo at the top of this post was taken during that brief break for freedom.

I was discharged without much fanfare not long after receiving an echo cardiogram there was no medical followup about my heart issues (which have calmed down somewhat since leaving the hospital) or for the dissociative episode I experienced. All I got was a paper with a lack of detail and the diagnosis of psychosis. I suspect the truth is more complicated than that. I’ve been describing it as a dissociative Fugue. I came to myself quickly enough in the hospital after people stop reacting to me with anger or violence.

This is how I was able to so compliant up to the point of inaccess. Yet my way of surviving independently did not match how the people running the psych ward viewed it.

It’s a good thing they didn’t make performing independence a criteria for my discharge. Or I might still be there. I’ll have to wait to receive my records to find out why I was really discharged and if the hospital learned anything useful about me at all.

How you can support my work

Until my life starts to get back to some semblance of normalcy, I hope you will support me in my goal of completing my dissertation in any way that you are able. Whether it be through emotional support or by financially investing in my academic success.

My dissertation is tentatively titled “We Still Hide Madwomen in the Attic”

It will be an autoethnographic (meaning I will be using myself as a research subject) study of how mad/disabled women have been and still are silenced and isolated both directly through things like abuse and involuntary committal to the cultural idea that mad women in attics are just a literary device for gothic novels.

In the immediate, I need to complete my comprehensive exams which necessitates a lot of reading. Some of the books are out of print and hard to find. I have created am amazon wishlist (it’s not exhaustive and will likely be added to). If you could support my work by purchasing one of the books on that list that cannot be had in kindle format, I would really appreciate it.

Kindle books read on an iPad are really the most accessible format for me but Amazon does not allow for the purchase of ebooks through wishlists. So I have set up an email solely for people who want to financially support my work. I would greatly appreciate gifts of amazon gift cards (I’ll even tell you which books you bought me)

The email is

I will not be answering queries about my research through this email. It is solely a way for people who want to support my work to be able to do so. (this is a safety boundary). If you want to talk to me, find me on Twitter.

My research and supporting myself will get past the reading phase and there will be field work in my future. If you would like to help me fund my PhD in the long term you can

support me on patreon

buy me a ko-fi

send me money via paypal

send an e money transfer to the email above (if you have scruples about third party sites)

I also have a generic disability wish list of things that would just improve my quality of life

Thank you for your ongoing support. and just an FYI I’m changing my name socially to Kimberley Jane Erin. You can call me Kim or Jane but I prefer Jane. I am however, not the least uncomfortable with Kim so don’t worry about messing up.

It’s time I really leaned into my identity as a scholar. I hope you’ll support me.

One thought on “Redefining Independence on the Psych Ward

  1. Well done for self-advocating. I know how hard that can be when I am at my most vulnerable. What dysfunctional environments those places continue to be! I’m so glad you had moments of kindness, support and peace. Keep up the great work!


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