What are/were the most significant barriers to your recovery from “mental illness”?

The biggest barrier to my recovery from what had always been diagnosed as schizophrenia or schizoaffective disorder was, I regret to say, the mental health system and psychiatry itself. Yes, for many decades I had been told I was ill and needed interventions like medications and the hospital for my “brittle psychosis”. I was told even that obvious brutalities, like 5-point restraints and seclusion in locked freezing cold cells, devoid of anything but a slab in the wall and a grate in the floor for drainage, were helpful treatments for my condition and not the torture and punishment that I felt them to be. No one or very few people treated me with kindness or any understanding or with the idea that there was hope for recovery, even though I had a genius level IQ and had shown some significant talents in many areas, and still did even when sick. They seemed bent on only one thing: coercion and control, and to prove that they were able to dominate me, and the other patients. If you dared to question their superiority or their information you would either be dismissed as delusional or worse, treated with more abuse.

 

Needless to say, I lived up to these expectations for many years, and i did not get better or even come near to recovering. In fact, before I took the drastic step of giving almost all I owned away and leaving my home, the state where I had lived for all my life and moving to another 100 miles away, by myself, knowing no one and nothing about it, I ended up again in the hospital and almost did not make it out. Not only did the guards there attempt to strangle me, but the doctor was convinced that I should be committed to the state’s one public facility that provided long term treatment…from which I might not leave for a long time.

Instead, I managed to play the game this sadistic doctor insisted on, and was finally discharged from a city hospital that had spent weeks doing nothing but torturing me, daily throwing me into their seclusion cell or shackling me in restraints …for no better reason than that I “disturbed the unit milieu”.

But discharged I was, with newly acquired PTSD from my treatment there, and within a week I was two states away, safe for the first time from these ministration that had inflicted on me nothing but damage.

It was here, in this northern state that I finally began to heal, with the help not of the mental health system but of a non-licensed therapist (she has a psychotherapist license from the UK) who taught me Marshall Rosenberg’s non-violent communication or NVC, and is the first person I felt sees me for who I really am, not “just another schizophrenic.” Even though I still take medications, I am slowly tapering off of them and doing well after decades on the massive doses I was told I absolutely could not survive without. Why? Because I’m proof of the fact that you can recover from life-long “mental illness” when given enough unconditional acceptance and understanding. When someone sees you and understands you and does not dismiss you, crazy as you might have been told you are, a lot of the craziness just falls away and you become another human being, no more and no less.

There is no normal, there is no abnormal. We are all just human beings trying to get along in society and often society is sicker than “we are” in its demands that we conform to some impossible standard. Maybe my experiences — hearing voices, thinking things that might be called delusions, etcetera — are not common but they are not outside the realm of human experience either. We should rejoice in our differences as in our similarities and look for common cause between us, not find reasons to fear what is Other in each other. Love really is what it’s all about. Maybe that sounds squishy and sentimental, but have you ever met someone diagnosed with schizophrenia who says they both love themselves and feel that they are adequately loved in the world by others?

4 thoughts on “What are/were the most significant barriers to your recovery from “mental illness”?”

  1. It is a MYTH that restraints are used only when necessary, and in fact research in the US has shown that almost always the reasons for restraints use is a power struggle with the patient, or discipline, pure and simple. That is just how it is, when restraints are a “consequence” for behavior, is not that the precise definition of punishment? Punishment does not work, that is the main thing, and torture only makes people more angry and less compliant. So the point is, unless you agree that patients should routinely be PUNISHED there has to be other ways and seclusion is NOT one of them, Isolation is the fasted way to drive someone mad, and to make them less congenial to therapy. Why on earth is Isolation in prison being studied as a terrible method of “behavior control” yet it is allowed in hospitals for what are presumed mentally ill people? It makes no sense, and to say well, restraints are NO worse than face down prone restraints, is to say nothing at all, except that all punishment is bad and not helpful. I do not accept these modalities of behavioral Control as any more than legally sanctioned torture of those least able to speak up for themselves.

  2. I’ve never been in a psych unit, thankfully, but I was in a special boarding school in Suffolk county, England in the early 90s and restraint was frequently used there and it didn’t consist of being strapped to a bed but being held down by a staff member or two. Where the reason is that someone was attacking someone else or causing serious damage to property, that is understandable, but one of them used to use it to shut people down who were angry with him. I remember being thrown to the floor and pinned down just for shouting at one of these men (named Robert Piela, who told me himself that he had been sacked from another school but wouldn’t say why — I guess I know now; this was illegal by then).

    As I understand it, mechanical restraints are somewhat taboo in the hospital system here, but other abuses occur — locking someone in isolation without looking after their sanitary needs, including periods (I know of at least two incidents of this in private psych units run by the same US-owned corporation), ‘voluntary’ admission that is under threat of sectioning (detaining; the term comes from the relevant sections of the Mental Health Act) and physical restraint including potentially lethal face-down restraint. I read parts of Elyn Saks’s book on the subject which say that mechanical restraints are almost unknown in England and that patients *requesting* them is almost unheard-of, but I don’t see why it’s more barbaric than any of the other things I’ve described as long as it’s done to prevent harm and not to punish rule-breaking or disobedience or to cover for under-staffing (and *definitely*, transporting psychiatric patients in metal handcuffs and shackles of the sort that are used on criminals is unacceptable).

  3. Thank you, Marie. I know it must have been difficult for you to read all that I wrote these last few days, given your brother’s death within the very same mental health system and your own grief and anger surrounding how little you were ever told about that. I thank you for having the patience and love to slog through my saga yet again.

    Mans inhumanity to man, indeed. I named names in my recent posts because I had taken such exquisitely detailed notes and because so much of it was corroborated by the chart that I was assured I was writing only the truth as I experienced it. It may be that these named individuals would have a different version of the “facts” or another interpretation, but when the head nurse, Ellen Blair, APRN in charge of patient care On the unit and all IOL units claimed on the radio just a few months later that the IOL almost never uses restraints and for the shortest time possible, I knew they were truly liars I was up against, liars who would be willing to say and do anything in the service of keeping their jobs, even lying through their teeth about what happens routinely to harm patients at that hospital.

    Thank you again for your support.
    Love

    Pam

  4. I read all you went through, and I think about the beautiful soul I found and treasure in you, and I just go numb at man’s inhumanity to man. Thank you for Pammie for still having the human heart you do after near 5 decades of emotional, psychological, physical and social torture…

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