All i can say is everything in this picture was as deliberate as i know how to make it, without planning it at all, and it contains symbolism both public and private. With reference to my signature quotation, (see below) it makes use of what the negative spaces offered me without leaving any in the end.
“There is no negative space, only the shapely void. Hold your hands out, cup the air. To see the emptiness you hold is to know that space loves the world.” P. Wagner
(for those who are not familiar with WWII, over the gates over Auschwitz, the notorious concentration camp where Jews and many other despised groups were taken to be tortured and killed, were emblazoned the words: ARBEIT MACHT FREI, or “work will set you free,” which was of course a lie and a horrible joke, because it was only meant to kill you at what was not a labor camp but just a death camp. )
PSYCHIATRIE MACHT FREI?
Psychiatrie Macht Frei? Mixed media anti-psychiatry picture, 24″by 19″
Actually I “deserved” four-point restraints. I was “violent.”
But I want to explain what “deserving” restraints and being “violent” at New Britain General Hospital (Hospital of Central Connecticut) means in 2014.
I also want to tell you something else even more important: In Connecticut, the staff at almost every psychiatric unit or hospital will insist that “we only use seclusion and restraints when essential, when a patient is absolutely out of control and extremely violent, and cannot be controlled in any other way.”
Trust me, I know, because they have said this to me.
But what you need to know is that they are NOT talking about some 300 pound man hopped up on PCP, waving a machete. For one thing, that person, whom I believe to be largely mythical at least in ordinary psych units, or if real now largely confined to correctional and law enforcement settings, the person they are talking about, the rule, not the exception to the rule of the “extremely violent” person whom they claim must be restrained due to lack of any other method of control, is, to put it grammatically correctly, I.
And let me tell you about me. I will turn 62 years of age in November. I am 5 feet 3 inches tall, weigh, maybe 110 pounds on a good day, and have been consistently described as “poorly muscled.” I am also unable to use my left arm for much of anything, due to injuries sustained at the Institute of Living in 2013, including a small tear in my rotator cuff and possibly more than that– a fact the HOCC nurses/security guards knew and used to their advantage when subduing me. I also want you to know that I am a decades-long vegetarian on the principle of non-violence — to people as well as to animals. I have opposed the death penalty since I was a nine year old child (when I first learned of it) and do not even believe in the principle of prisons, or in treating our convicted “criminals” the way we do now.
Yet in every single hospital I have been in since 2000, and of course for years before then (“before they knew better”) I have been brutally secluded and restrained multiple times as “OOC” — out of control — and “violent.” In addition to either physically holding me down by brute force, one person to each limb and one to my torso (this was at the only 2 hospitals that did not actually resort to mechanical four-point restraints– compared to the dozen others that did), they would routinely inject me with one to three drugs as chemical restraints.
I am the rule, not the exception to it, of their supposedly “extremely violent mental patient” who is so OOC — out of control — that Connecticut hospitals refuse to eliminate the use of restraints and seclusion, because they “might need them.” I am the typical example of the person they claim they absolutely must have the right to resort to violence against, for their own safety and mine.
Okay, so am I truly violent? What did I do to deserve their brutality? Or should we say, their “protective measures?” Well, at HOCC, in the Emergency Department, this is what happened, and I kid you not: I came in by ambulance, involuntarily, in the sense that I did not want to go but was brought in by EMTs and given the “either the easy way or the hard way” choice by police. But I did not resist it or fight. I was not restrained in the ambulance. in fact, I was mute and merely handed them my med sheet and my detailed Advanced Directive, on the first 2 pages of which is the important information about my trauma history and the critical need to know points about how to deal with me.
When I arrived I was quickly shunted to the psychiatric crisis section and into a curtained off cubicle. No one took my cell phone from me, or the single book of my artwork that I had managed to bring with me. So I texted everyone I could for as long as I could. For a while I tried to obtain a crayon to communicate with, eventually and in desperation, writing with ketchup on the outer carton of my dinner container, begging for something to write with. Instead of helping me out, the head ER nurse penned me a note saying that I would not get anything to write with, that either I spoke out loud or she would not listen to me. How very odd and evil that she wrote this to me! She didn’t speak to me, she wrote it, as if I were deaf, even while saying that she knew I could speak and would not talk with me unless I did so… The idiocy of that act just sends sparks of rage through my brain even now. She later spied my art book next to me on the gurney, and suddenly rushed me, snatched it out from under my thigh and raced away with it, holding it triumphantly as if she had won a prize. I was incensed. Why hadn’t she just asked me for it? And how did I know what she was going to do with it? Would she keep it safe and sound? Actually, though, I mostly just reacted instinctively: Someone had stolen the only thing I had of my own in my possession, and she had simply snatched it away from me, without a word or even a polite request. So I did as anyone would do, I think. I raced up behind her and snatched it back! Well, that was a mistake. That was bad, that was bad bad bad. I heard people groan and swear. I was grabbed from behind by two security guards and the book was wrenched from me again.
Remember, I was mute so I couldn’t say anything, but I tried to resist, tried to gesture that the book was mine and she had no right too take it from me. Instead of explaining that she would protect it and take care of my things, people started talking about how I had attacked the nurse, had assaulted her…She told them to put me in seclusion. The guards dragged me, resisting in panic, towards this hidden room, and I heard another nurse warn them of my medical history with a torn left rotator cuff. Hearing this, the guard on my left side, grabbed my shoulder and wrenched it higher until I let out a blood curdling scream, wordless but vocal. “Aha! I thought you could make sounds!” he said in triumph, wrenching me again until I sobbed in agony. Then they dumped me in the seclusion room, with only a hospital johnnie on me, and locked the door behind them.
Even though I had no words to speak my rage and panic, I screamed and screamed. They came through the door with needles, held me down and injected me. Then, when in a rage reaction, I disrobed, they decided to four-point restrain me. I heard a guard say, “we really have no reason to restrain her, you know.” But the other said, “It doesn’t matter, we will find a reason.” So they did . Terrified, I did not resist, because they held me down by the left shoulder causing me so much pain I was afraid they would hurt me permanently. I also hoped upon hope that if I didn’t resist, they would let me out quickly. Believe me, I had been through this routine enough to know what to try to do to minimize the consequences and the damage…
Fast forward to my being sent to the psych unit, about which I no longer had any choice, being labelled violent now and OOC as well as mute and schizophrenic (I hate that word but they used it). When the doctor who admitted me, Dr. Michael Balkunas, came to see me the next day, I was still mute. He asked me how I was and I gestured my need for a writing implement to answer his questions. He coldly told me that he would not speak with me if I would not talk out loud. Then he got up and walked out the door, with nothing more to say. I was by then so upset and outraged that I got up off the bed, which was the only furniture in the room, and slammed the door after him. I meant only to make a noise to express my frustration, but unfortunately it caught him in the shoulder. This was not intentional, not that I recall, though I confess I was so enraged by his dismissal of me, especially after the violence inflicted on me not once but twice the night before in the ER on his orders, that it is possible I wanted the door to make contact with him. What I know is that I most certainly did not intend to injure him. I only wanted him to know, before he walked away from me, that I was angry and “speaking” to him the only way I could. Dr. Balkunas’s reaction was itself swift and violent in the extreme, and extremely personal. Enraged, his face beet-red, he bellowed at the nurses to order guards to force me into “Seclusion! Seclusion! Restraints! Restraints!”
Before I could do anything or even assent to walk there, I was bodily dragged down the hall by my injured shoulder, to one of the most horrifying seclusion suites I have ever seen. A set of two cells, each lockable from the outside, completely barren and cold except for a concrete bed set into the concrete wall, with a plastic mattress on it. Nothing else. No commode, no bed pan, nothing but two obvious cameras in the ceiling, but no obvious way for me to communicate with anyone. They locked me in, locked the second door a room away, so I was thoroughly alone and soundproofed from the rest of the unit, and walked away. I panicked immediately, and urinated on the floor in my panic. I took off my clothes. I screamed — wanting someone to talk to me, I wanted warm dry clothing to wear, but there was no response. I screamed and screamed. Nothing. Not a word. I did not even understand at that time that there was an intercom they could hear me through. I thought I was completely alone and abandoned, but for the eye of the camera. So I did what I had to. I KNEW what would happen, I knew this because it was SOP. But I was freezing in there, with the A/C on full bore and at 110 pounds and a history of frost bite I cannot tolerate being cold. I also had NO inkling as to how long they would keep me there, one hour or sixteen. All I knew was that I could not tolerate the isolation, one, and I would not survive the freezing temperature, two.
So I took the urine-wet johnnie I had taken off and I rolled it into a rope and tied it around my neck. I pulled on it as if to strangle myself. It was useless of course, because I couldn’t keep pulling it without letting go and then I would breathe. And I didn’t want to die, I just wanted it to LOOK as if I were strangling myself so someone would come in and I could explain that I was COLD! Well, finally the intercom crackled to life and someone said, “Pamela, take that away from your neck now.” I gestured something that clearly indicated, “I’m freezing cold!” The voice spoke again, “If you don’t remove that from your neck, we will restrain you.” I answered silently but in clear gestures, “I need something warm to wear!” Well, this was a battle I was destined to lose, of course. And eventually but not so quickly as to indicate that they were seriously concerned about my safety, guards and nurses entered the room, along with a gurney, and they did as they had threatened, injuring me in the process. They grabbed me and hoisted me onto the gurney and locked me into leather restraint cuffs, in a painful and illegal spread-eagle position, despite my groans of pain and protest, then they refused even to cover me with a blanket. Someone threw a small towel over my lower torso and that was all. They they positioned an aide at the door and trooped out. I screamed my lungs out, and gestured my desperate need for water and warmth, but the aide simply ignored me, saying she wasn’t permitted to talk to me, and couldn’t get me what I needed. That was how violent I was. And that is how the most violent patients are treated and why they MUST be restrained, for their own safety and the safety of others…Right? NOT! ALL the other times I was secluded it was because i was disturbing the peace of the unit. I was loud and complaining, or simply “agitated” because i walked the halls too much.
That was it. That is the rule not the exception, and if you read my posts about my incarceration at the Hartford Hospital Institute of Living in the winter of 2013 you will get a similar picture. I am not the 300 pound crazed man on PCP wielding a weapon, no, I am a small, elderly woman who is non-compliant with the unit milieu and wants only to be warm…that is about it. But each and every hospital claimed that I had to be restrained, that they had NO alternative, that I was so violent that they had no choice, even though it often took only one or two people to do so, because I didn’t resist or say a word, just lay there while they pinioned me to the bed. Now you tell me that restraints and seclusion are necessary ‘modalities of treatment” that cannot be done away with because they might be needed in an emergency. Emergency schmergency. I am that emergency and they were and are NEVER needed, EVER.