Friday, April 25, 2008

'The Man' Tales - Reality Hurts

Sometimes at night, the nurses came and shut our doors and told us to stay in bed. In the morning a breakfast tray would be unclaimed and left to grow cold on the racks that brought our food to us. Sometimes I noticed the missing person; sometimes I didn’t remember them at all. I didn’t realize what was going on until years later when I attended the funeral of a friend’s daughter who had been on the same ward. But that is a story for later.

I learned things on that ward that I might never have learned on the outside. I didn’t know that people cut themselves, or why. It was usually young girls with their arms bound with bloodstained gauze who chatted animatedly and manically. For the longest time I just looked at them without realizing what they were doing to themselves. One day I asked a girl why she had bandages all over her arms and she told me she had to get the demons out of her body so she tried to cut them out. I stared at her in astonishment, trying to imagine how that must feel mentally and physically. Another girl told me she knew she had snakes inside her and she was trying to get them out. Sometimes there were guys with bandages, but more often than not it was a young girl. Their nurses never left their side during mealtimes when they had the use of utensils. Yet somehow they managed to still cut themselves and they sported their bandages proudly. When the bandages were removed their arms and legs were scarred and I wondered if they would ever heal.

We noticed that whenever anyone took the urge to dress themselves properly and make themselves look good for the day, they were sent home. Inevitably they screamed and cried and everyone got in on the act, not wanting them to leave. I saw people dragging their bags through the door as they cried and held out their arms to their friends and the nurses, begging to stay; scared to be going back out into the real world. It kept many of us in sloppy clothes or pajamas so we wouldn’t get kicked out. We may have been crazy but we weren't stupid.

It seemed safe on that hallway. We didn’t have to accept responsibility for anything or anyone. We let them do to us what they wanted so we wouldn’t be sent home. We were a sad mixture of just about every type of mental illness and we accepted each one mindlessly.

As time progressed, I was allowed to make crafts a couple of times a week instead of going to the group session. I looked forward to this change as it kept my hands busy. Sometimes we went up to the top floor of the hospital and used the exercise room that was there. Some nights they took us swimming on the bottom floor. This made me the happiest. I was the one who went around and talked people into swimming when I learned that if there weren’t enough people going it would be canceled. I have always been happiest when I am swimming and even though it was a small pool, I was content.

I lived in sweat pants and t-shirts and didn’t realize that my medication was putting weight on me. By the time I left the unit I had gained 60 pounds. This was not uncommon at all and everyone moaned about their weight gain. Depression and weight go hand in hand. We got more depressed as the pounds increased, so they increased our medication which put on more weight. I was just another statistic.

D visited often during the week and Cid came down nearly every weekend. When I was taken off ‘close observation’ I was often allowed to go home for the weekend. If I didn’t make it back in time on Sunday evening my bed would be given away and my things packed up. This threat made me nervous all weekend and by Sunday afternoon I would be watching the clock and reminding them every minute of the time. It didn’t matter to me that they were both trying desperately to keep me calm and entertained – trying to bring my mind back to reality. All I could think about was the safety of the hall.

After five months – my doctor released me. Cid and D were ecstatic that I was getting out. I spent a week at home, terrified of everything. By the end of it I had worked myself into such a state that I begged to be taken back to the hospital. I was such a pitiful mess that I never noticed the pain in the eyes of the two men who loved me as they checked me back in to the hall.


Momma said...

My daughter was a cutter. She says that she doesn't do it now, but she's busy with far more dangerous activities. I learned long ago that I can't save her from herself. She has scars on her upper thighs, her stomach, her upper arms...she got into body modification (just another form of cutting, if you ask me) and put large plugs (instead of earrings) into her ear lobes. She also created a scar out of slices on her ankle - a process called scarification. And she has many tattoos. The latest thing is going into the hospital for various ailments. She seems to feel safe and happy there.

I know that reality hurts her, and she has only a passing acquaintance with it. It's hard to know that I can't help her, so I know how your men felt.

Thank you for writing what it's like to be on the other side. It helps me understand my daughter a little more.

Peace - D

Carolyn said...

Wow. Again, you open my eyes to a world I've never seen or even tried to understand before. Thanks. I appreciate you!

Lola said...

The world must have been a truly terrifying place for you to want to escape from it so badly.

I worked with psychiatrists at one point in my career, and they described the treatment of psychiatric problems with drugs as "trying to mend the TV with a sledgehammer." But occasionally it worked, so they carried on doing it.

It's no surprise that when things go wrong, it's mighty difficult to put them right, either from the inside or the outside. I take comfort from the fact that I know that you are back with us.

Metaphorical Sweet Wood Irene said...

I wasn't sallowed to go back in as they were afraid of me becoming institutionalized, after having been there for 5 months. I begged them to let me back in,but they wouldn't. That's when my suicide attempts started. But hey, I am still here and doing much better now. I too survived!

The Lehners in France said...

aims you saw so much, no wonder you were terrified of the real world. Those two men must have loved you a lot. Debs
P.S. I'm glad you enjoyed being with me in France yesterday x

San said...

Your account makes my stomach turn over and brings back memories of when I was a young psych student doing volunteer work in a state mental institution. The anguish was so thick in the air, in the evening it would be hard for me to eat dinner. I simply cannot imagine how it is to be on the other side of the anguish border.

Thank you for the illumination.

dawn said...

I think the guy I made reference too was getting rid of demons. He said as a child he was witness to devil worship and sacrifice. I only know this through his wife. It was a scary world for you then. It was so great that D and Cid worked together to support you.

Maggie May said...

Aims ....... I am thoroughly hooked on your writing. It is so easy to become institutionalized when you are being cared for & away from the things that made you ill in the first place. It must be the same for prisoners too. the world doesn't understand & you have to make decisions & do things for yourself. Can't wait for the next installment. I have to remind my self, "Look this is a real story, & that Aims was in it." You are MOST brave to write it & it's only by the writing of it that others can understand.

Stinking Billy said...

aims, maggie is right. It is only by *the* writing of it that any of us could understand. But not everybody could write it like you.

menopausaloldbag (MOB) said...

Amazing writing dear girl. I am so entrenched in your story. I just got time to sit and read our last three posts - brilliant, just brilliant.

Mima said...

I have got my fingers crossed that you are nearly through the ordeal that your mind took you through. The adjustment to the outside world must be an incredibly difficult one. I have spent a month in hospital a couple of times (and hated it not wanting to be there), but even after that the adjustment is hard!

rilly super said...

I hope doing this blog is a way if getting out your demons aims. Bloody hell, what a place that was

Anonymous said...

Hi Aims, just being around that level of dysfunction must've been hard especially when you were going through so much yourself. I hope writing out is helping to let some of it go.

The statistic in the UK is that 1/3 of 11-19 year old girls have self harmed:
It is much more common than I imagined.

CrazyCath said...

Hi Aims-
I haven';t been over in a week and just read your last 3 posts in one go. I really don't know what to say. So I won't say anything. Just know that I have not forgotten you and I will be back over. Take care of yourself as you go through this. It is exhausting reading. I cannot imagine what it must have been like to experience it or to relive it in writing.

I find myself comparing the routines you experienced and what I know - some are the same, some very different and they horrify me. Unfortunately I have not seen anything that says to me "What a good idea - why don't we do that". That is quite telling and quite sad.

With your permission, I could clarify what electro convulsive therapy is and how it is different to electric shock therapy (which is often confused with ECT and is offered as an aversion therapy whereas Electro CONVULSIVE therapy is offered for depression). But I seek your permission first. I do not wish to detract from your tale.

Well written again. I don't know how you do it. Respect.

aims said...

Momma - I'm so sorry about your daughter. Hopefully something or someone will be able to reach her and help her. It is pure anguish for those on the outside - so frustrating not being able to fix the problem. My thoughts are with you.

Carolyn - The world shuffles mental illness into a place where it doesn't have to think about it because it often makes us feel helpless when we do know.

Lola - I think the world of psychiatric medicine really needs to give it's head a shake. Unfortunately that isn't going to happen overnight like with all medicine.

Irene - Perhaps in the long run they were right? I'm glad you survived. Those days of suicide are almost the worst.

Debs - The real world - still a place that's hard for me to go...

San - I can't imagine volunteering to work in a mental institution. I know the nurses did so because they wanted to help. But the anguish - yes.....

Dawn - I feel for that man. After watching so many who tore at themselves...horrible!

Maggie May - It does raise the question whether the world is more likely to throw people into an institution if they aren't quite normal. One that needs to be looked at. However - it really was the best place for me at the time.

Billy - Thank you dear heart.

MOB - And thank you as well.

Mima - actually I have to fight every day to keep my mind in control. I wish it were different - but it's not.

Rilly - Maybe a way to keep them in control.....

Melanie - What a sad statistic that is and the fact that we must actually harm ourselves more because of the anguish we feel.

Crazycath - I doubt if you will find anything helpful as this was back in 1998. I would hope that things have changed even a little bit since then. I agree with you on the ECT. When I was writing I couldn't think of the correct term - just remembered that they kept telling me they were going to give me shock therapy. For those of you who are interested I will put in a link here to ECT from Wikipedia.

Lane said...

Sometimes I read your posts and I can't think of anything to say. This is one of them.
Reading about your awful experience is an education for me. I'm sure every person who reads this blog is gaining something valuable. Thank you.

John-Michael said...

I just read the 14th thru the 25th of April ... and I am quite simply ... overwhelmed. Aims, Dear One, there is much that is wanting to be expressed by so many aspects of Me. But I will do that in a more comfortable medium and moment. For here ... for now ... my overwhelming impulse is to embrace you. Enveloping You in arms of nurturing, admiring, and protective care and loving endearment. I Love all of who you are ... have ever been ... and have the delightful future to become.

david mcmahon said...

So much pain, but so much power

The Lehners in France said...

Hi aims, I've tagged you, come on over and see what you need to do. Debs x

A Mother's Place is in the Wrong said...

I quite understand that bolting back to safety, simply because you weren't ready to face the world. I really believe that the world doesn't change, only our state of mind - it's the one thing that determines how we cope with life, the good and the bad. M xx

lisa marie said...

Hey Aims, I'm sorry I didn't think about giving you a warning for the plastic thing you don't like.

Joy T. said...

You were so lucky to have two strong men in your life at a time you needed it most. So many people have no one or loved ones who have given up on them :o(

sexy said...