I saw a movie the other night. The movie was titled “Girl, Interrupted”, and it brought back memories. Awful memories. Memories of what my life was like when my very essence was ripped from the fibers of my body. Memories of when the fundamental nature of who I was shattered within me, piercing my viscera with the shards of who I once was. It brought back the unbearable feelings of being emotionally and psychologically mutilated, of being mentally raped and of being spiritually murdered.
“Girl, Interrupted” takes place in 1967, when an 18-year-old girl is placed in a mental hospital after downing a bottle of aspirin with vodka. The movie follows her 18 month-long stay at the hospital, capturing her struggles, aggravations, friendships and escapades, all the while giving insight into what a mental institution was like back in the 1960s. A few examples: One woman kept roast chicken carcasses under her bed, while another patient had previously thrown acid on her face, thus assuming a friendly persona to distract people from her appearance. The nurses regularly forced the patients to take their medicine without letting them know what medication had been prescribed for them, and punishments included solitary confinement and being strapped down to a bed, while free-time consisted of mundane checkers and lousy TV. The doctors were aloof and condescending, and reveled in the power and authority they asserted over their patients.
NEWSFLASH: Not one damn thing has changed in these institutions in the past 40+ years.
I have been admitted to a mental hospital two times in my short life. The first time was in 2003 when my OCD had taken over every aspect of my being. I would have to look at every single object I set my eyes on 128 times before I could look at anything else. I was petrified to leave my house, for there were far too many objects that would be subjugated to the tyranny of my compulsions. I constantly checked locks around the house, and washed my hands so often they would drip with blood. I wasn’t living, I wasn’t even surviving. I was merely existing.
My second trip to the psych ward occurred in 2012. I was festering in an extreme depression, all the while contemplating suicide and battling anorexia. I hadn’t showered or changed clothes in two months, had lost a massive amount of weight while also losing my hair, and was too ashamed to even look outside, let alone take a step out the front door.
“Girl, Interrupted” was a somber movie in and of itself, however the realization of how little our mental institutions have progressed in the past half-century subdued my hope for any steps forward in the near future. This apprehension of insight encapsulated my soul, leaving my anticipations and expectations of our society’s competency to wither away in a tangled web of indignity and apathy.
There was a particular scene in the movie that really struck me, that lit my hippocampus ablaze with the blistering memories of reality. I was no longer watching a movie, I was reliving one of the most detested moments of my life.
One of the patients, Lisa, had escaped from the hospital and ended up staying with a former patient named Daisy who had been recently released. Lisa had noticed that Daisy seemed very distant and exuded a somber affect. This, along with fresh cuts on Daisy’s wrists, led Lisa to believe that Daisy was not even close to being in recovery. Sensing Lisa’s vitriol toward her, Daisy tells her “You’re just jealous, Lisa, because I got better. Because I was released. Because I have a chance, and a life.” Lisa responds “They didn’t release you because you’re better. They just gave up.”
On March 7, 2003, I was released from Seattle’s Children’s Hospital after a five week stay. I was admitted because I was suffering from severe social and separation anxiety, as well as extreme OCD and depression. I was a confused and scared 12-year-old boy, whose world was caving in on him. My parents sought answers to my problems with all their heart, yet never seemed to find any.
My experience at Children’s Hospital was the worst of my life. Most of the staff was friendly and caring, but the doctors were evil in the way that fire is hot. It was not intended, it just was. I was lied to day after day by these physicians, and they imposed sanctions and punishments upon me that were completely unjust, amoral, unethical and undeserved. I was deathly afraid of bugs back then, so they would lock me in a room and order me to touch dead flies, bees and wasps that they had collected (how they collected them I do not know). It was their form of exposure therapy. However, I was a child, and they were forcing me to participate in this “therapy”. “If you pick up the bugs and smell them, we will release you”, they told me. And so I did what they said, and the emotional wound I was dealt still, eleven years later, has yet to heal.
The doctors ended up releasing me from their “care” without having solved or tamed a single problem of mine. They discharged me and left it up to my family to decide how to re-immerse myself back into society. There were no scheduled follow-up visits, no outside resources given to us and no support system. As Lisa would put it, they didn’t release me because I was better. They just gave up.
As mentioned above, I was also admitted to the psych ward in October of 2012, this time in Reno, Nevada. I was in the worst depression of my life, and the mental anguish was unbearable. During this period in time I was literally a shell of my former self. My family had not seen me smile for months, I walked with no purpose and I slept hoping to never wake up. I would break down in tears every single day for 67 straight days, and at night the only thing that would bring me comfort was thinking about the never-ending peace that comes with sleeping in a bed of dirt.
Let me make one thing perfectly clear. If I did not have the extremely loving and supporting family that I have, my life would have ended on October 1, 2012, at the age of 21. I would no longer be on this earth. I would be gone forever, my body rotting in the dirt that I had so often dreamt of. I would have never entered the life of all the great people I have met in the last 1 ½ years, and memories of me would be confined to just my mother, father and sister.
The hospital I was admitted to in 2012 was not at all the right place for me to be if I was ever going to hope to get better. I was the only patient there who was struggling with depression. Many of the patients were admitted by the order of a court because they were addicted to drugs and/or alcohol, while the others either had schizophrenia or dissociative identity disorder. To give you an example of how chaotic the hospital was, there was one woman who would routinely take off all her clothes and run around naked. She thought that she could climb walls whenever she didn’t have her clothes on, and attempted to do so at every chance she got. There was also an elderly man who would pull down his pants and start going to the bathroom anywhere that he felt the urge to do so. I am not at all trying to stigmatize or put down those with other disorders or hardships in their lives, I am just letting you know how the atmosphere of the hospital was not at all beneficiary to the recovery of a quiet guy with autism who was suffering from severe depression and suicidal thoughts.
My whole stay at this hospital was a complete nightmare. The doctor who was in charge of my recovery ended up earning my hatred after he blatantly lied to me, while one of the nurses insulted and attacked me for being too depressed to come out of my room. I ended up being discharged just three days after I was admitted.
Ironically, although no single person contributed to my well-being while I was there, in addition to the whole experience being traumatic to say the least, I am very thankful for the occurrence. I was so grateful to be reunited with my mother and father, and it dawned on me that first night back home that I am the lucky one. Albeit I still craved the tranquility of eternal sleep, I realized that I was already equipped with more than enough tools to break out of my slump. I was in a peaceful household, with two unbelievably generous, selfless and loving parents who would do anything, absolutely anything, to see me get better. The universe put me in this diabolical maze with the expectation of seeing me find my way out a better man. I knew right then and there that I was going to defeat my demons with all the love and support my family offered, and that I wasn’t going to be lowered into the ground anytime soon.
Not one month later I was leaving the house by myself, interacting with strangers, and best of all, I learned to smile again.
Now to revisit the film “Girl, Interrupted”. This movie came across as a theatrical spectacle of what life was like for patients in a 1960s mental hospital. However, for those of us who have had first-hand experience with mental institutions, the seemingly histrionic performances were not far from the truth. I have come across nurses who were distant and cold, and who only see the patient as an encumbrance that comes with their paycheck. I have encountered doctors who were massively manipulative and gorged themselves on the insecurity of their patients. I have been locked in solitary confinement and have seen many patients tackled in the hallways of the hospital and subsequently strapped down to a bed. I have been kept awake at night by the horrifying screams of patients in their rooms, and I myself have clawed at windows in a futile attempt to escape the horrific conditions of my environment.
“Girl, Interrupted” was a movie. However, for me, it was more than that. It was a subtle insight into how broken our mental health system is. As mentioned above, the movie takes place in 1967, and 47 years later there unfortunately has been little to no progress made in how we treat certain individuals with mental illnesses. The fact that I was admitted to the psych ward during the two lowest times of my life, and was released both times without having recovered, devoid of the smallest bit of relief, speaks volumes.
America is expected to have the greatest healthcare in the world, yet when it comes to caring for our brains, the most important part of our body, we fail miserably. Those of us who are lucky enough to have “insurance” are denied access to the top doctors and mental facilities and are left subject to the mercy of such insurance companies. I myself was a victim of this. Back in 2012 my doctor and therapist recommended that I be admitted to Rogers Memorial Hospital in Wisconsin. They specialized in eating disorders, OCD and depression, the exact triple threat that I was facing. After doing hundreds of hours of research, my family and I agreed with the recommendation that was given to us.
Rogers Memorial was very expedient in their admittance process. The head doctor at the hospital learned about my condition and desperately wanted to help me. Once I was approved for admission by the hospital, they wanted me to fly out the very next day. My insurance company told me that they were approving the treatment, and I was absolutely ecstatic! I was so relieved that help was on its way, and I started packing immediately.
Later that night I received a call from my insurance company that crushed not only my hopes, as well as my soul, but the quintessence of who I was as a person. I was told that because I was 21-years-old, the insurance company could not approve my treatment at Rogers Memorial. However, if I was just one year younger, my treatment would have been a sure thing. They did not explain to me why such an illogical and ludicrous statute existed, nor did they even offer a simple apology. I remember that after I hung up the phone, I told my parents what I had just learned. I subsequently dropped to my knees on the kitchen floor with tears streaming down my cheeks and, looking them both in the eyes, said “I’m just going to kill myself.”
We eventually had to resort to my admittance to a low-budget hospital in Nevada, the only healthcare facility that my insurance would approve of, and where my aforementioned experiences took place.
I suppose I intended to write this post to let others know how fractured out healthcare system is. I may have prattled on a bit too much, but I want you all to know this: At this very moment there is another person in the United States who is on their knees contemplating ending their life. Why is our country not putting everything we have into helping these individuals? Our congress argues about the most mundane and idiotic things and it seems like they just don’t have the balls to tackle the real issues that face our population. Who knows, our government may act on this issue tomorrow. But guess what? That person who was on their knees? They just blew their brains out.