On the 27th of December, two days before my birthday, my brother texted me to see if I had any birthday plans. This was the first contact I had gotten from any member of my family in months. My last exchange with my brother ended with him accusing me of trying to start a fight because I was trying to explain how I felt post getting out of the psych ward after having been forcibly committed based on a 911 call by our sister from whom I was already estranged. An estrangement that was her decision.
This text from my brother and a stand alone “Happy Birthday” on my actual birthday is the only contact I’ve had from him. I found out later that he had actually called a friend of mine, to check up on me before he sent it. My friend who was out of town visiting family for Christmas couldn’t for obvious reasons actually give him that update.
It is hard to explain the hurt that comes from your family abandoning you during a health crisis. I’m not saying that talking with me during the period directly after my commitment to the psych ward was easy. I’d experienced a psychotic episode and the confusion that resulted from that terrifying experience was overwhelming. As a result of both my estrangement and an uncritical hospital staff, I still don’t know what was said to justify the 72hr involuntary hold that I was placed under. Involuntary holds are for situations where people are considered to be a danger to themselves or others which despite my delusional state of mind at the time of my hospital admission did not describe my situation. I was not suicidal nor had I threatened anyone. By the time the 72hr hold was put in place, I was already lucid and I remained lucid after that. The hold was justified to me by saying that my assertion that I had no interest in self-harm differed from what my sister had told 911.
At the time of my commitment, I hadn’t spoken to my sister in months. She did not have an up to date understanding of either my mental health in general or the events that led her to calling 911. She was actually describing what she had learned second hand from my brother.
I had been going in and out of lucidity for a couple of days but the events that led police to show up at my door only spanned about 10 hours. I had made several odd and harassing tweets on twitter (all of which I have since deleted) that were out of character. I had also made about 20 calls to my brother, none of which that I can remember. My memories of what led up to being hospitalized are unclear, I remembers moments of lucidity and have some vague recollections of delusions.
It is not that I do not understand my brother’s concern or even that I deny that at that point I needed to be in the hospital. It is more that the way it was done and the silence and lack of empathy that I experienced thereafter only compounded my confusion and my ability to try to understand what had happened to me.
The police, when they arrived did not even attempt to communicate with me what was going on which only fed the confusion and panic that I was experiencing. I had been pretty lucid if confused when they showed up but by the time they removed me from the apartment I was completely psychotic.
Even then, I experienced moments of lucidity. I clearly remember being in the ambulance on the way to the hospital and begging a paramedic to talk to me. I said I was frightened and confused and that it would help if she communicated with me but she just stood there silently.
When I arrived at the hospital, I was just left restrained, which caused me to further panic. I do not know how long I was left like that. I just remember going through repeated delusions where I believed that I was dying. I’m not sure if I passed out or was drugged but I eventually came to my senses, I was still restrained but now I was in a different place and I was wearing a hospital gown.
I begged to be let out of the restraints but was repeatedly refused. I did eventually convince them to release my left arm which is affected by cerebral palsy by pointing out that the angle at which it was restrained was painful and likely to cause injury (I have since experienced months of pain in that shoulder and X-Rays show a very distinct gap in that shoulder).
I’m not sure how long I waited to be released from the rest of the restraints. I was then transferred to the emergency psychiatric ward where I spent the night and most of the next day. It was here that I was officially put under the 72hr hold. I was then transferred to the regular psychiatric ward where I spent the next 7 days.
It is hard to explain the experience of being lucid but still very confused from having recently been delusional. My memory was terrible and not just about the events directly preceding my arrival at the hospital. On the rare occasions that I was visited by a psychiatrist, he maintained questions around the mystery 911 call. I mostly remember being frustrated with him both for the confusing and not constructive sessions but also for not taking seriously my complaints about the general inaccessibility of the psych ward or my concerns about my heart rate.
This part I remember quite clearly. The entire time I was in the hospital I experienced intense dizziness which was likely the result of the fact that my heart rate stayed around 180bpms until just before I left. I know this phenomenon started before I arrived, though no one actually asked me about it.
It’s still strange to think about because it was obviously a concern. When I reported that in addition to having that high heart rate my chest also hurt, I was rushed to radiology for a chest X-Ray. The nurses often commented on the fact that it stayed so high but it was never something that was discussed with me beyond, “here take this benzo”. The fact that this didn’t actually meaningfully lower my heart rate didn’t seem to bother anyone but me.
I was able to express my concern strongly enough that I spent 42hrs on a Holter heart monitor and got an echocardiogram but it was never really meaningfully discussed beyond “we’re going to make sure nothing is wrong with your heart”. The physical impact of having an elevated heart rate for days on end never seemed like a concern.
It made it so I couldn’t actually participate in the psych ward the way I was supposed to and I was frightened to shower without a shower chair. It took two requests and over 24hrs to get access to that chair. The nurses also didn’t seem to understand that my physical condition differed from what I normally experienced out of hospital. They asked ridiculous questions like “how do you manage this at home?”
“Well I’m not usually so dizzy that I feel like I could pass out at any moment while upright”
The lack of communication was so complete that “the rules” were not even explained to me. When I arrived I had been shown the common room and dining room and that was the extent of my introduction to being on the psych ward.
Because I was not interested in self-harm and because I was still confused from my psychotic episode, it didn’t occur to me to consider everything I did through the lens of “could I use this to kill myself or someone else” which is how I ended up breaking the rule against having glass bottles on the ward.
I had to hyper focus on just getting through each day on a deeply inaccessible ward where no one considered my access needs and at times penalized me for having them. I wasn’t able to be “independent enough”. I’m still unclear on what they think independence is, though I’ve managed to live independently without major incident in the nearly six months since I left.
During my time in the psych ward, I had few visitors. My other sister flew to Toronto from Saskatchewan but only visited me three times. She treated my hospital stay as something that had interrupted her impromptu vacation in Toronto. While she did bring me a few items of clothing from my apartment, they were not enough to cover the 8 days I spent there.
I ended up being brought clean shirts from the two friends who took time out of their days to visit me. Though I did end up living in hospital gowns longer than I had to (you aren’t allowed clothes while on an involuntary hold). Both of these friends learned where I was through Facebook and independently volunteered to bring me things. I will forever be grateful to them both.
When I was finally released 8 days after being admitted, I had learned nothing useful about what had led to my psychotic episode. No one had discussed treatment moving forward, other than to prescribe me benzodiazepine. I was otherwise simply told to visit my GP.
The hospital wanted my sister to come pick me up and I texted her to come get me. I ended up leaving her in the hospital lobby and getting a cab home when she revealed that she had decided to stop and get lunch before checking me out of the hospital. I couldn’t after all expect her to put my needs over delaying her meal by 30 minutes while trying to get off a locked ward.
There is something terrifying about living alone after a psychotic episode. Not only are you terrified it will happen again but you are scared that once again you will have to go through it completely alone. It took several months for me to finally be prescribed a good combination of anti-anxiety meds to finally have this fear subside.
One of the frustrating things is that I’m sure that I could have just been driven to the hospital if only I had someone who cared enough to do that. Instead I was confronted by unsympathetic police officers who invaded my apartment without even trying to explain what was going on. I am still recovering from injuries sustained by being unsafely restrained while being left to panic.
My mental health is doing much better and the medications that I’m on are working well but I still feel very alone. This was a rather horrific way to find out that no one in my family was willing to sacrifice even their own comfort to support me. Not while I was in the hospital or after.
While talking about this before I have been accused of “just seeming angry at everyone”. I do in fact still feel a great deal of anger toward the police, paramedics, and hospital for how my care was mishandled. When it comes to my family though it is more a feeling of abandonment. One that was probably a long time coming. It was a final act of indifference that proved that they are and have always been unwilling to inconvenience themselves for me. Even when I am powerless in the hospital or trying to pick up the pieces after getting out. That members of my family will use one of the worst events of my life to go on vacation and feel slighted if I have the audacity to expect to be put first during that time.
I am so grateful that I am a student in disability studies and that I was and am able to be open with my department about what happened to me even while it was happening. One of my professors even offered to help break me out if I thought they might try to keep me. I am grateful that they supported my decision to change my research focus to looking at the ways family and society still hide mad/disabled women away and discourage us from taking up space in the home and in public.
I am slowly getting back into the rhythm of things and being excited at progressing towards my dissertation. I still have a lot of work to do but I am looking forward to getting it done.
How to Support My Work
So now for the very in-depth appeal for support for my PhD. Please read through this, there are so many ways to help, including just sharing this blog post on social media.
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