About the Author: Anne C Woodlen (Part II)

After nearly a decade of stability, I had become an employee of the New York State Office of Mental Health.  I worked in administration in the regional office and helped create and run training workshops, mostly for employees of state psychiatric centers.  Sometime after the trial, I lost it all and was hospitalized again, this time in a private hospital.  My boss in the Office of Mental Health was ordered to fire me.  (This should make you think seriously about the hypocrisy of the psychiatric system.)  We did things like that in those days—and probably still do.

The private psychiatric hospital was in a converted motel:  linen table clothes in the dining room, maid service to turn down beds, a pottery studio in the coffee shop, and poinsettias instead of water in the swimming pool.  They ran a newspaper ad for a maitre de with psychiatric experience, which was kind of kinky.  My psychiatrist had severe body odor, didn’t wear underwear and looked like a bag lady, but she was kind—boy, was she kind.

I was admitted, then discharged two hours later when the hospital found out my insurance hadn’t taken effect yet, never mind that I was suicidal.  Three days later, with my insurance approved, I was readmitted.  I was an inpatient for four months—exactly one hundred twenty days—then my insurance maxed out and I was discharged as healthy.  It was around 1981 and they did things like that—probably still do.

My boss at the Office of Mental Health was not only a stand-up lady but also a shrewd politician.  She saved my job, but I continued to take antidepressants and to be tormented by depression.  The psychiatrist repeatedly admitted me to a Catholic hospital.  There were multiple suicide attempts—always by overdosing on drugs—which sometimes landed me in the ICU.  I was in constant despair.

One day some information came across my desk about a depression research study at the National Institute of Mental Health, so around 1984 I went to Bethesda for three weeks—two weeks for detox and one week for tests.  I found out that NIMH is running the reception room to Hell.  They were doing things that were illegal in New York State, including “sheet packing,” a thrilling little exercise where the patient is tightly wrapped from neck to ankle in cold, wet sheets.  There are three things you can do while so wrapped:  pee, crap and scream.  Some people did all three for up to eight hours.

The benefit of this little trip through the terror of NIMH was supposed to be that at the end all the great doctors would put their collective heads together—after they got them out of their collective asses—and tell me what drugs I should take to make me all better.  They told me to take monoamine oxidase inhibitors.  Since that is what I was taking the last time I tried to kill myself, my psychiatrist and I decided that probably wasn’t the way to go.  Instead, she put me on lithium and an antidepressant.

I took lithium every day for seven years, during which time the psychiatrist failed to properly monitor it and I sustained permanent kidney damage, not to mention several dozen other side effects.  For the first two years after I stopped taking the lithium, medical doctors covered up the fact that it had caused the kidney damage.  For the next year, lawyers wouldn’t take a malpractice case; after three years, the statute of limitations ran out.  The psychiatrist—who kicked me out of her office when I told her I’d consulted another doctor—was in perpetual denial.  She said she had done all the tests she should have done and that she had done nothing wrong.  Who was to say her nay?  She was in private practice with no oversight.  Several years later she died.  On my birthday.  God’s little gift to me.

When I had started seeing the psychiatrist, I was a full-time NYS Civil Servant in the Office of Mental Health.  When I stopped seeing her, I was on Welfare.  (This should make you think really seriously about the effectiveness of psychiatric treatment.)  By 1991, I was homeless and in a Salvation Army shelter with a rat crawling up my bed.  I was a physical and emotional wreck, and qualified for permanent Social Security Disability, Medicare and Medicaid.  My journey through the psychiatric system had brought me to total dependency on the State.

No longer having anything private—income, insurance or psychiatrist—I was admitted to a state psychiatric center, that is, a warehouse for the emotionally tormented.  Staff would whisper in my ear, “You don’t belong here,” as if there actually were living creatures who walked upright and did belong in state hospitals.  The psychiatrist who caught my case did not treat me.  She triaged me and figured out how to ship me out.  She discharged me without medication, a therapist or a psychiatrist.  She also discharged me in a desperately suicidal condition, which left me in utter terror of her.  She dumped me on the street.  The legal aid attorney who reviewed the case said it was malpractice but there was nothing that could be done about it.  Having been brought to a state of utter submissiveness, I did not ask why.  (To be continued)


About annecwoodlen

I am a tenth generation American, descended from a family that has been working a farm that was deeded to us by William Penn. The country has changed around us but we have held true. I stand in my grandmother’s kitchen, look down the valley to her brother’s farm and see my great-great-great-great-great-grandmother Hannah standing on the porch. She is holding the baby, surrounded by four other children, and saying goodbye to her husband and oldest son who are going off to fight in the Revolutionary War. The war is twenty miles away and her husband will die fighting. We are not the Daughters of the American Revolution; we were its mothers. My father, Milton C. Woodlen, got his doctorate from Temple University in the 1940’s when—in his words—“a doctorate still meant something.” He became an education professor at West Chester State Teachers College, where my mother, Elizabeth Hope Copeland, had graduated. My mother raised four girls and one boy, of which I am the middle child. My parents are deceased and my siblings are estranged. My fiancé, Robert H. Dobrow, was a fighter pilot in the Marine Corps. In 1974, his plane crashed, his parachute did not open, and we buried him in a cemetery on Long Island. I could say a great deal about him, or nothing; there is no middle ground. I have loved other men; Bob was my soul mate. The single greatest determinate of who I am and what my life has been is that I inherited my father’s gene for bipolar disorder, type II. Associated with all bipolar disorders is executive dysfunction, a learning disability that interferes with the ability to sort and organize. Despite an I.Q. of 139, I failed twelve subjects and got expelled from high school and prep school. I attended Syracuse University and Onondaga Community College and got an associate’s degree after twenty-five years. I am nothing if not tenacious. Gifted with intelligence, constrained by disability, and compromised by depression, my employment was limited to entry level jobs. Being female in the 1960’s meant that I did office work—billing at the university library, calling out telegrams at Western Union, and filing papers at a law firm. During one decade, I worked at about a hundred different places as a temporary secretary. I worked for hospitals, banks, manufacturers and others, including the county government. I quit the District Attorney’s Office to manage a gas station; it was more honest work. After Bob’s death, I started taking antidepressants. Following doctor’s orders, I took them every day for twenty-six years. During that time, I attempted%2
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