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.

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 kimberleyjanephd@gmail.com

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.

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A Long Overdue Update

Image description: A blond white woman with cerebral palsy stands in a patch of tall grass in a garden outside the Humber River Hospital. She is smiling from her brief reprieve from the Psych ward.
Image description: A blond white woman with cerebral palsy stands in a patch of tall grass in a garden outside the Humber River Hospital. She is smiling from her brief reprieve from the Psych ward.

Hi Everyone,

It’s been a while and I’ll admit up front I might not be getting actively back into blogging for a while, though it is on my to do list (which is too long).

I’m just writing this to get you updated on why I disappeared and letting you know that going forward I need to focus on some issues in my life and really getting into the work of my PhD.

Last year, as a member of CUPE Local 3903 I participated in the longest post-secondary strike in Canadian history, something previously considered impossible for an English language university to accomplish. Quebec just has a better culture for getting angry when their educations are threatened.

The strike was long gruelling and full of emotional labour. The emotional labour of constant threats of vehicular death. The constant rhetoric from the university that cast me as an outsider despite my still being a student.

During this time I became estranged from my mother. This was an ultimately healthy decision but because of how long she had kept me isolated and emotionally dependent on her despite her abuse, it was hard. It is still hard but only in that not talking to mum tends to strain all the other family relationships.

The aftermath of the strike did not really calm things down, though I wasn’t threatened with bodily harm quite so much but I had difficulty getting myself regrounded in the academic environment.

I began dissociating and I knew that I wasn’t going to be able to pull myself out of this funk alone. So I went to the doctor and got diagnosed with anxiety, and PTSD (both conditions I am sure were not new just newly officially diagnosed).

I immediately began going to therapy but in my vulnerable emotional state, I chose my therapist very badly. She did help get me onto anti-anxiety meds and helped get me feeling slightly more grounded. Then she spent months isolating me from the few friends I see in person and isolating me more from my online presence, So isolating me from perhaps my strongest support network.

I had during the strike independently pulled back from blogging and some of my more inflammatory online activism. With a few exceptions. I stayed involved in the straw debate, though to a lesser degree than before and I admit I went unintentionally viral with #DoctorsAreDickheads

The stress of the attention was more than I could handle and I pulled away from Twitter even more. It took months for me to realize that my therapist was actually keeping me from moving forward with my life. The realization was uncomfortable and I spent some time trying to unpack it on Twitter

I had a lot of trouble processing that betrayal. I’m not sure I’ll ever know precisely what happened next because I began dissociating, this was quickly joined by a fugue state.

This means I didn’t even know who I was, what I was doing, or who I was communicating with. In my few lucid moments many online friends reached out in concern but because fugues cause amnesia, I assumed that I must have been hacked.

You see for the entire period of time I basically never left my bed. I knew I was unwell, I just didn’t realize that I was posting delirious and often hurtful things online. I’ve seen some of it and chosen to delete much of it.

I doubt I’ll ever get a full picture of what I was thinking or everything I said. I apparently called my brother about 20 times, I only remember two or three of the calls and I’m already mortified.

I understand completely, why people were concerned for my welfare. What I am still trying to come to grips with is that my sister decided to channel her concern over online posts that to my knowledge never threatened violence (there was a ton of sexual harassment and I could not be more sorry). The harm I caused during that fugue was emotional. Yet my sister decided that it was better to call the police than come check on me.

I was placed under what is known as a Form 2 which means the police are going to assume you are violent and you have no option for deescalation.

I made the mistake of trying to deescalate. I was lucid enough to know what cops and paramedics at my door meant but I was still unaware of my delirium induced online posts.

The fact that I was still unwell and prone to delusions, I remained I think surprisingly calm (by which I mean I only fought the police with rhetoric, I got loud) but I was still in a fugue state, I’m pretty sure at one point I thought I was my sister, at another I was convinced I was going to marry the star of the show I’d been watching in my more lucid moments.

I probably had at least 4 separate narratives going but I wasn’t violent.

Yet, I was still grabbed and shackled in the ambulance.

Dark bruise on pale skin from being grabbed while being involuntarily committed

That bruise is gone now but as it faded it revealed the thumb print of whoever it was who grabbed me to shackle me to the gurney.

I was shackled to that gurney for I don’t know how long. I lay there shackled long after I was removed from the ambulance. I was horribly uncomfortable and begged to be let out.

I did eventually convince security to let my left arm free because the shackle was forcing my shoulder into a painful and unnatural position because of my cerebral palsy.

This was my first clue that the psych ward is not prepared for physically disabled people.

I live tweeted much of my stay in the psych ward so you can check out my Twitter for more details on that.

I actually came out of the fugue pretty quickly upon getting to the hospital but I was on a 48 involuntary hold (known as a Form 1). I stayed for 8 days because my resting heart rate and blood pressure were disturbingly high.

I got very little in the way of psychiatric care. The attending physician seemed to be looking for the sort of person who is irrationally violent.

I was extremely compliant on the psych ward.

Well I was extremely compliant until something was inaccessible and then they had to deal with the full force of having me stay on as a voluntary patient just to figure out if something was wrong with my heart. I got cardiology tests on the psych ward that I don’t think the attending psychiatrist knew about in advance.

He seemed surprised that I was on a 24 hour holter heart monitor and was waiting for an echocardiogram. I think he was trying to discharge me.

I was ultimately discharged shortly after I received the echocardiogram. I have yet to hear back if any of those tests had any interesting results.

So I still don’t know if the dissociative fugue was caused by the mother of all panic attacks or if it was exacerbated by illness. Just like the exact details of everything I thought and did during the fugue, I will probably never know. I however, suspect that this latter ignorance is more likely to be blamed on how I was hospitalized and how my symptoms were initially interpreted. I didn’t get a blood test until I’d been there nearly 48 hours and was lucid all of the time.

Skipping ahead a bit (again see Twitter for more Psych ward details), I am now back home recuperating from my ordeals.

In the immediate I need to do two things complete my complaint against the therapist who tried and failed to derail my life (this is going to be very stressfull)

In order that my life not get further derailed, I need to get more actively focused on my PhD studies again. To that end my therapist from hell followed by my stint in the Psych Ward gave me a great idea for a dissertation topic and that is what I will be focusing my energy on.

Hopefully, if my life calms down (like after I’m done with the complaint against my former therapist) I will blog a little more regularly again.

Until then 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 kimberleyjanephd@gmail.com

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.