Months After Getting out of the Psych Ward: The Work of Coming to Terms with What Happened and Moving Forward

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.

Image description: A woman seated on rock steps pulling down the neck of her blue Tshirt to show the holter heart monitor that she is wearing

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.

If you want to help me buy books and other resources for my PhD, you can buy me an amazon gift card and send it to the following email address

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

Become a Patron!

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) use the answer “scholar” for etransfers

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 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.