On Psychiatry and Authority

My writers group gets together once a month, when we discuss the single page of prose nonfiction or fiction, or usually in my case a poem, that we have written to the one or two word “prompt” chosen the month before. While I had to miss this month’s meeting, due to exhaustion, I did write (or rewrite) an essay as well as a poem. The poem I cannot share, for reasons I have reiterated many times: if I publish it here, I won’t be able to do so in any hard-copy journal. However, I feel comfortable putting the essay here, since it is mostly a rewritten and reworked piece of an earlier blog post…So if it seems very familiar, it is. I wrote it in fact not so long ago, but I have polished it and turned it into a piece of writing with a beginning a middle and an end, with a few other details I have discovered from sources like my journal since then.

PS I apologize if I repeat myself on this topic once again, but you can see by the repetition itself how much trauma incidents like this one, but also most of the others, which were much worse for being truly violent, inflict upon people…

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S & R

Maybe I was disruptive. Perhaps I frightened other patients. I do not know why otherwise they would have forced me into that barrenness known as the “Quiet Room.” That it was just the same old seclusion room, prettified with another name did not escape me. I begged for a blanket, but no deal. Freezing, I pulled the thin mattress over me instead. They yanked it off in the typical psychiatric nano-second then eliminated it from the room altogether. Now I had only two hospital johnnies and my rage to keep me warm.

I remember that I yelled a lot, and that I wouldn’t stretch out on the cold linoleum to “calm myself.”  I begged the one-to-one nurse to talk to me. She only turned away and told me to lie down on the floor. I complained again that I was cold. She said nothing, only barred the doorway. Getting no response and still agitated, I tried to push my way out. Two “guards,” who though deliberately keeping just out of sight, were on alert, and they shoved me away from her. I yelled again and shoved back. One of them asked what was wrong with me, why didn’t I just ask to talk with the nurse instead of physically resisting? I did ask to talk, I told him, but she refused to, they all did. He wrinkled his brow as if confused by this answer, but with a shrug that said it wasn’t his job either, he ordered me to stay inside the seclusion room and to “just lie down and stop making trouble, if you want to get out of here.”

About what happened next, I remember little. I only know that suddenly I found myself face down on the floor and with a commotion of people around me. Some man had pinned my arms behind my back and he was angrily mashing the left side of my face into the floor.

When they let me up, I yelled that I was not in prison and they had no right to treat me that way. But at least, I discovered, I was finally allowed to talk to the nurse and to stand out in the hall with her. That was progress, I thought. Then I heard staff in low and serious discussion some distance away. Someone sprinted down the hall in the opposite direction. I had a bad feeling about it and asked my one-to-one nurse, “What’s going on, what are they doing?” She responded, “They’re making up a bed for you.” “A bed? What sort of bed?” That’s when I understood that she meant a restraint bed.  “Wait a minute. You can’t restrain me! I am out here, calmly talking to you. You haven’t even offered me a PRN and I am willing to take one. But I am not a danger to myself or others, and you cannot legally put me in restraints.” The nurse remained silent. She refused to look at me. My heart began to race. I shouted down the hall, “I will not let you use restraints on me. I am calm and you are not allowed to do this.”

When finally staff members approached and asked me to follow them, I complied. I knew that if I didn’t they would have reason to say I “deserved” whatever they did. In my room, I found there attached to the bedframe were the straps and shackles of four-point restraints.

“Listen, I am calm and I am not a danger to myself or others,” I carefully declared. “I will take PRN medication. I do not need restraints.”

“Lie down on the bed, Pamela,” one nurse told me. Again, I refused, saying that this was punishment pure and simple. They had neither cause to do this nor any legal right.  She responded, “We will ask you one more time to lie down on the bed, Pam, or the security team will assist you.”

At this point, I understood that they were going to use restraints as a form of discipline and would do so no matter what I said. It was completely illegal but they were out to get revenge and they would use any reason I gave them to excuse such measures. If I “made” them force me into the restraints, it would only prove that I deserved them. More humiliated than I have ever been in my life, I sat on the bed.

Ignoring my protests, they went ahead and shackled me to the bed, my arms below the mattress and my legs to each lower corner  and then without a word, they left. Except for an aide monitoring me through the door, partially ajar, I was utterly alone: humiliated, degraded, helpless. I couldn’t help it. Against my every determination to stay strong, resolute, and angry, I let out a lung-bursting howl. I didn’t care who heard me, who I frightened, who I disturbed. I howled for myself and against all the injustices and cruelties that had ever been perpetrated against me. And I howled for every other so-called mental patient that had ever been shackled to a bed by medical professionals who claimed to be helping them. Who thought they could justify brutality by calling it therapeutic.

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