How I Got Diagnosed with Unconscious Paranoid Schizophrenia

On Monday, with a forty-year history of depression, I was admitted to inpatient psychiatry in a suicidal state.  On Wednesday, my psychiatrist went on holiday, leaving me in the care of Dr. Jane Kou.  She had not seen me in ten years, nevertheless, on Friday she wrote an order for me to go on pass after only spending ten minutes with me.

I have bipolar disorder, type two, which has the highest fatality rate of any psychiatric disorder.  You can’t live with the continual and progressively worsening depression.  At home on pass on Saturday I attempted suicide (again).  I was ambulanced to the hospital, crashed in the Emergency Room, and spent a month in the ICU on life support.  In order to maintain me on life support, I was anesthetized so that my inadequate breathing struggle would not compromise the actions of the ventilator.  In short, I was unconscious for a month.

In the year following, there was much sturm und drang about who had done what and why resulting in my suicide attempt.  I was on inpatient psychiatry.  Why did Dr. Kou write an order for me to go out on pass when I’d been admitted in a suicidal state?  It was her job to keep me safe and she had failed.  I wanted answers, so I filed such complaints as I was able.

My recollection is that one of my complaints necessitated me getting my hospital records.  I was looking for the records from the psychiatric unit prior to my going out on pass, but the hospital also sent me the records from the intensive care unit after I came back from pass.  In reading through them, I saw that the attending physician in the ICU had entered a diagnosis of paranoid schizophrenia.

I was livid!  How could I be diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia when I was unconscious?  Did I just look schizophrenic?  How does a person with schizophrenia look different from a person with bipolar disorder? I brought it up with my psychiatrist.  He laughed and said that the attending physician had come from a state psychiatric system where everybody had paranoid schizophrenia and that must have been why he entered the diagnosis for me.

It was an entirely unacceptable answer, nevertheless, it stands.  An internist makes a psychiatric diagnosis without consulting the subject specialist?  Without any corroborating tests or interviews?  He enters a diagnosis from habit?  What kind of sloppy practice is that?  And nobody questions it?  And when it is finally questioned, the answer is laughter?

The diagnosis stands.  There is no way to remove it from the record.  I have unconscious paranoid schizophrenia.

This is how psychiatric diagnoses are made.  The next time you hear that someone has been diagnosed with a psychiatric disorder, ask if the patient was conscious and what were the experience and qualifications of the diagnostician.

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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2 Responses to How I Got Diagnosed with Unconscious Paranoid Schizophrenia

  1. jeffssong says:

    Excellent. I got 1013’d last year – and it was done by my physical physician’s wife calling the cops and pretending she was my wife! And it wasn’t because I was threatening anyone or myself – I have a statement from her the day before where she, the cops and myself sat down and talked – and she asked them to take me away to be evaluated (I had come in due to injuries sustained after being kidnapped in PR and starved down by about 35 pounds). They said no – I had committed no crime – but my story was beyond her belief factors, so she labeled me as “insane” – and unlike a criminal who faces a charge, I was presumed ‘guilty’ and held for 10 days until I could prove I was not! Also the CERT training the officers receive basically says you can ignore procedure and law when taking a ‘mental suspect’ in! Which they did: afterwards THEY could find no paperwork to show where they came and picked me up, dropped me off, checked me in – the courthouse doesn’t even have a copy of my 1013!

    And the reason they locked me up?
    Because (get this): I was ‘too happy’ for someone who had gone through what I did, and I had bought a gun (to defend myself and my family against the guy who had done those things to me).

    Talk about insane! The system IS!

    • annecwoodlen says:

      Yes, you relate a personal experience of what many of us know to be true: under “mental health” law, you can be stripped of all your civil rights. If two guys are drinking in a bar, saying “I’m gonna kill the mother-fkr,” and one has a history of mental illness, he can be taken into custody whereas the one without a history can’t. Freedom of Speech stops being free when you’ve been diagnosed with a psychiatric disorder. (Keeping in mind that the diagnosis may be incorrect for many reasons.)

      When criminal law does not support any charges but the cops want to lock you up then they turn to mental health law to accomplish their goal. And, as you said, under mental health law you are assumed sick until proven sane. There is no “innocence” in the mental health system. Your human rights as a citizen are better protected in jail than inpatient psychiatry.

      Finally, you remind me of my neighbor’s story. He was hauled into surgery and then the ICU after a one-car crash that left him a parapalegic. In the hospital, the doctor tried to put him on psych meds because he ‘should have been depressed’ but wasn’t. Like you, he was “too happy.” The doctor never explored the cause of the crash. My neighbor had tried to commit suicide. He wasn’t depressed about being a parapalegic; he was glad to be alive.

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