Editor’s note: Here is another satirical piece by the Front Porch Talker. For background, see “My life with a sociopath.”
By The Front Porch Talker
“And, they endured.” Wm. F. Faulkner
I was committed.
I remember several poignant moments on the night I was committed, against my will, to an in-patient, lock-down mental facility: the Dalai Lama was in town, and was giving a speech on the television I watched in the Emergency Room, hours BEFORE I had been committed. His message: peace and forgiveness. I have not yet forgiven, but I do feel peaceful.
Also: My close friend and her sister had brought me to the Emergency Room of the hospital. They and all the medical professionals in the Emergency Room acted as though I had been invisible. Whenever I tried to explain: I am having a PTSD Acute Panic Attack (and need medication), not a paranoid, delusional manic episode—everybody ignored me as if I weren’t in the room. I was: I have never been more present, in a room, in my life.
And, to stop myself from hyperventilating and crying I had tried leaving the ER; but instead, I was wrestled to the ground by two or three security guards, and tied down to a gurney, and not allowed to even use the my friend’s cell phone to call a trusted person to help me out.
The problem was a matter of confusion rather than any conscious attempt to harm me personally. Or rather, a specious syllogism. They saw what they wanted to see and were used to seeing in mental health. That is, the mental illness of the day: Bipolar Disorder is often confused with PTSD and other disorders associated with real traumas.
So, I plead to the psychiatrist, nurse, doctor, and my friends for a rational response: I wasn’t paranoid. I then explained why I was having a panic attack, in the most simple of terms: that I was having a panic attack because a real trauma had happened to me, and incidentally, a real reason to panic! Anybody in that position might cry and hyperventilate.
How else should one respond when somebody you’ve supposedly known well for nearly ten years steals your identity, your bank account, your retirement account, your house, your car, all your possessions. You have been abused by your partner who is a drug addict. And, the police don’t take it seriously. In fact, nobody takes it seriously. Not the FTC, the FBI, the State Patrol, etc. In fact, this person still uses my identity to commit frauds and forgeries.
How should a person respond to such an event?
Seeing a hole of vulnerability, the domino effect takes place: my job as a tenured professor at an Arts college for nearly twenty years takes a political turn for the worst: it is this moment, while I am reacting to trauma and stress, that they force me to take disability. It is a college with a very bad reputation for how it treats teachers, especially those like myself, who demand a higher standard of competency from students, while the private college worries about its bottom line: private tuition.
How else should one respond to such events?
There is nothing worse than trying to convince somebody that you’re not paranoid or delusional than by saying you aren’t. Just the word ‘paranoid’ harkens visions of paranoia. Even if you have a history of occasional panic attacks during such traumas; even if you are well-educated in psychology and have an advanced graduate degree. And that sometimes people mistake mania for panic attacks.
None of that matters. All they hear are two words: paranoid and manic. Or, version two: a danger to self or others: Committed!
Plus, your concerned friend and her sister have had plenty of experience with mental health commitments. For most of their childhoods, their family had had their father committed to mental hospitals for his delusional and paranoid episodes from a serious mental illness. They believe that you are manic and paranoid. They’ve discussed it at length, outside of the ER room (where you can’t hear) with all the “medical professionals.”
Finally, after another hour or so, the psychiatrist comes into the room, while you are listening to the Dali Lama speak. He, the psychiatrist says: “We are going to commit you to an in-patient, lock-down mental facility: Fairfax Hospital.”
Since your therapist and anybody who could ever vouch for your sanity is out of the state presently, you have no choice: you are tied down to a gurney and taken, by ambulance to Fairfax hospital. They take the shoe laces out of your shoes, and anything else you might use to “harm yourself or others.” (I wonder if bra straps could be used as a weapon against self?)
The staff checks on you every fifteen minutes while you are in your room. Personally, I took plenty of very long and very hot showers just to worry the staff.
I was committed for over two weeks in our particular wing. After that, I was heading to the state facility for seriously mentally ill people for an even longer and more restricted stay: at Western State Hospital.
The psychiatrist, who visited weekly, told me in no uncertain terms: “unless you finally admit that you have Bipolar Disorder, and are ‘manic,’ we will not release you from this hospital.” But, I protested, “I have never been diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder. I have a lifelong diagnosis of Complex PTSD and occasional panic attacks. Just call my therapist who is in Florida!”
Okay, so now you’re probably thinking: this sounds like one of those Sunday Movies of the Week on the ‘Lifetime Channel for Women: all true, all the time!’ True.
It’s so surreal really: like the ‘Sunday Night Movie of the Week’ on the ‘Lifetime Channel for Women.’ Of course it all turns out okay in the end. Or, better than ‘okay.’ Maybe they start a new foundation to prevent this from happening again; or, a poignant reunion with loved ones is in order. No matter.
So, I try to see the best of any situation, Fairfax lock-down, in-patient mental hospital notwithstanding. I try to see it all as a joke, or a fodder for my writing (which I am making full use of now). Surely I thought they would see the mistake and release me.
Not that I didn’t have a great time during my “stay” of over two weeks. There is plenty of entertainment, and the usual “busy activities” and multiple “check-ins” with group therapy and all. I don’t think kindergarten has more structured activities, which go from the moment you wake to the moment you pass out at night from all the “medications.”
This was not, as you might suppose, for drug addicts or alcoholics; they had “free passes” for themselves and a “guest” to eat in the cafeteria, while we ate in our own “unit;” together of course. I didn’t earn my way to the cafeteria until the last few days of my “stay” at the spa for the mentally exhausted.
Anyway, it’s like a vacation, in a way. The place is a little bit like the Holiday Inn, maybe. If the Holiday Inn management locked you in to the unit and insisted that you eat all your meals with the others on your unit. However, there isn’t a pool, for obvious reasons.
And, it’s a “small world,” as they say. A woman whom I went to college with, in Illinois back in the 70’s, was now a psychiatric nurse in Washington in the other unit. Just by looking at me she could tell: I was definitely manic. I had a certain bright look in my eye, she thought, which I thought was abject FEAR and PANIC! She and her partner have a musical act that parodies Operas, which still offends me to the bone.
You meet many very interesting and intelligent folks in the lock-down facility that is your “unit.” I mean, where else can you go besides to your room with your roommate; to the community room for group therapy, or outside in a fenced and locked area about the size of a maximum-security yard. It does have a ping-pong table too, I might add.
And, I even had several suitors while I was there. How good can it get? A gentleman who had been “released” to the less-secure wing sent me some wildflowers. My roommates were gentle and sweet. My first roommate had the Norton Anthology of Poetry sent from home to our room and read poetry to me nightly. My second roommate explained to me how a cat could use a toilet. I had many phone calls from friends around the country. My family was unaware of my circumstances.
“Group Time,” as I’ve explained, met four or five times a day. It began with us all sitting around a table, with one of the Psychiatric workers as our leader. Most surely, they each had soothing voices, as smooth as Cool Whip on Green jello.
We would be instructed, calmly and smoothly, to look at the “emotions” page in front of us, which consisted of smiley faces with words beneath each face that identified certain emotions: confused; angry; confused; happy, etc. We then went around the room and explained our emotions in smiley faces. I believe I was a trouble-maker in that regard.
The next order of business was to go around the room and discuss “where we were at.” I told them: “I am at Fairfax Mental Hospital being held against my will.” Wrong answer. “We want feeling words!” “I FEEL FRUSTRATED BECAUSE I AM BEING HELD AGAINST MY WILL….” I then sat there with a sheepish look on my face while the leader explained in clearly enunciated and simple language: “What I mean is HOW are you doing today?”
We were then instructed to “move on.” I tried. But, “move on” signified HOW one should move on with their lives SHOULD they one day be released back to the REAL world. “For example,” our instructor said, “How will you go back to your job at the gas station or maybe you are a nanny.”
A young man with Schizophrenia spent all of “group time” coloring in complex fuzzy cartoons with pens that his mother had brought him. A woman who had been living in a van spent her time hoarding the yellow cake served the night before for dessert. She generously offered herself and her boyfriend to me, should we ever get out of the hospital.
My favorite activity, besides “group,” was the time we painted each other’s toe nails. I read all the New Yorker’s I could get my hands on. And all of the NYT crossword puzzles considered contraband by some. It wasn’t a “calming” activity.
However, there is a story to this: one of the women in our unit (I’ll call her Cindy) was being held in the “secured” area of our “secure” wing. She was considered actively psychotic and dangerous. We “heard” from her every so often rattling the double-doors, like saber-rattling, every time we had nearly forgotten her.
A few days later, coinciding with the time I began working the NYT Crossword puzzles, Cindy had a “visitor;” her estranged husband, Henry. They’d dress Cindy in her street clothes and parade her out to the day room for her requisite daily visit with Henry. Henry left the newspaper on the table before he left. Thus, my crossword habit.
And who could forget the “Aerobics Class” one of our instructors led in the group room. A friend of mine knew her as they both took dance lessons on the “outside.” When he visited me, this instructor chatted with him a bit. I should not have “acted the part” of a crazy person, even though it humored me. I was written up for dancing to George Benson singing “This Masquerade.”
And who could forget the graduate student from the school of Social Work (Social Work was my undergraduate degree, ironically)? She (I’ll call her Amy) spoke to us a little too loudly, as though maybe we were deaf too. During “check-in” and “group” she stared down the table at us in secret terror of what we might do, the way Bette Davis’ sister (name?) looked at her in “Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?” Or the crazed way Billy Bob Thornton looked in “Sling Blade.” Or maybe the Borderline personality that Angelina Jolie played in that movie. (name?) We were, in effect, all Baby Janes , Billy Bob’s, and Angelina’s to her. (Come to think of it: wasn’t Angelina married briefly to Billy Bob?)
Amy then told us in her condescending and patronizing tone that we would cut out pictures and words from the magazines stacked in the middle of the table. We were to paste these, in collage form (of course she defined “collage” for us) on pieces of construction paper.
I protested. Cutting-up my precious unread New Yorker magazines was tantamount to making me crazy. I immediately grabbed those for my “project.” During “share” time, Amy nodded her head in approval. Mine was a depiction of Alice in Wonderland, of Alice going down the rabbit hole. Amy found this interesting and duly noted it in her notebook. Mental illness at its height!
Amy then asked me to “share” my reasons with the other twelve or so participants at the table. “Well,” I said, “there are theories to support the thesis that Alice, of Alice and Wonderland was groomed by the author, Lewis Carroll, a.k.a. Dobson. He was a pedophile in real life. Some have even proposed that he was Jack the Ripper and that “Jabberwoky” was proof of that. So, I think this picture depicts Lewis Carroll’s state-of-mind regarding Alice.”
“This is not a calm thought!” Amy said. “Let’s move on.” She ended “group” abruptly.
Having “family time” together in our little wing was the only touching moment of my stay, besides my nightly poetry readings by my roommate, I mean. Our favorite psych worker, Betty, gave us motherly looks and listened to us with real empathy. Then she’d head to the store and return with “fun” items for dinner: and, we had ice cream sundaes on movie night.
My fun was short-lived. Unfortunately for me, one movie night, as I was doing my daily NYT crossword puzzle that Cindy’s husband had left, everything came to a halt. We heard her back in the most “secure” area of our secured unit, rattling the doors and calling out obscenities at us. Her shouting was so loud that it blurred “movie night” into a horror show.
Intuitively, I knew what was next: Cindy broke through the doors when a nurse checked in on her. She bee-lined straight for me, and for my crossword puzzle. Considering I struggle with PTSD and fears of raging women, this was not easy for me. Cindy shouted obscenities I’ve never heard before, and they were aimed at me. I moved just in time to avoid having her hands around my throat. I offered her the Sunday NYT crossword puzzle as a symbol of peace. I couldn’t finish Sunday’s anyway.
It was soon after that night that I was given cafeteria privileges in the less secure unit. This meant the world to me. I could now sit with a “visitor” in the captain’s chairs with my tray of the evening’s entre without fears about Cindy taking revenge against me.
But by the grace of God, I was lucky: I had a few dear friends, a great therapist and a great attorney who made my release possible. On my own, I would not have fared so well. Now, I am thankful for small graces: a few dear friends who called me daily and visited me. Some brought their dogs to the window of the “day room.” Some ate with me when I had advanced to the “less secure” wing where you could pick your own food choices and sit in Captain’s chairs, instead of folding chairs.
And, thanks to a diligent attorney. On my fourteenth day of commitment, my “concerned” friend who, along with her sister, had had me committed in the first place, then testified against me in court. She thought I was a danger to myself and should stay even longer.
How should I respond to that event? To a friend I had trusted for twenty-five years?
Thank God for my attorney and for the judge who quickly dismissed the case. I walked across the courtroom after the hearing ended and addressed the judge: “Your Honor, I know I am wearing a white linen lined jacket, and that it is after Labor Day, but: if I had known that I would be committed against my will for two weeks, I would have dressed more appropriately.”
The judge replied: “I am sure you would have. I would have made the same faux pas.”
If not for them, I would have surely been sent to Western State Hospital in a “more secure” lockdown, where I would still be today.
On the last day of my stay at Fairfax Mental Hospital, the whole psych staff gathered in my room to wish me well, I suppose. Instead, they said: “We just wanted to tell you what a great pleasure it has been to have worked with you these past weeks.
“You’re one of the most brilliant ‘clients’ we’ve ever had here at Fairfax!”
Of course, they tell me I’m “brilliant,” I am thinking to myself as I make my way through the front doors with my friend. They think I am “Bipolar brilliant” as it fits the definition in the profile of the DSM IV.
As my friend arrived to “escort” me from the facility (a condition of my release, according to the Fairfax psychiatrist), I asked him: “So; am I or am I not brilliant?”
Just then, the cake-hoarding woman who’d offered herself and her boyfriend to me earlier, was also being released at the same time.
“Yoo-hoo!” she called after me. “Yoo-hoo!” Her boyfriend was sitting in the van.
I heaved myself and my bag of stolen New Yorker magazines into my friend’s Jeep and locked the doors and windows to blur-out the sound of voices. Real voices; not imagined.
As William Faulkner wrote on his acceptance of a Nobel Prize: “And they endured.”
So, I too endure, while others I’ve known sadly have not.