Another reason I kept going back to inpatient psychiatry was because they kept drugging me. One of the dominant effects of all the antidepressants was that they prevented me from developing any self-respect. I do not know the reason; I merely know it’s true. (After I stopped taking antidepressants, one of the first consequences was that self-respect reared its lovely head.) I suffered from chronically low self-esteem, which apparently was a side effect of the antidepressants. This state of low self-esteem left me open to the psychiatric staff’s constant message that I was the problem. If only I were different—nicer, more cooperative, more compliant—if only I wouldn’t be me then everything would be all right. Specifically, if I acted like them then I would be a good person. And I believed them. Drugged into compliance and passivity, I believed they were right. If I just kept trying the way they told me to then I would get better. Emily Dickinson said—
Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul,
And sings the tune–without the words,
And never stops at all . . .
Driven by hope and despair, I kept going back into prison. I didn’t want to die.
And I went back to escape aloneness. Most depressed people live alone. In the silence and darkness, you say terrible things to yourself and there is no one to break up the conversation. Hour after hour, day after day, night into darkness, you condemn yourself—and then you sentence yourself. In “The Mirror Has Two Faces,” Lauren Bacall’s character says, “It is cruel to leave a woman like me alone with her thoughts” but that’s what my family did. Most European-American families do. African-American families have a higher tolerance for aberrant behavior and an enormously greater commitment to standing by their family members.
I had a black friend who had type one bipolar disorder. When she was sunk in paralyzing depression that lasted for months, her mother would take care of her. When her mother couldn’t stand it anymore, then she’d be passed off to her aunt. When her aunt’s tolerance had run the course then my friend would be passed off to another relative. She never went into the hospital: she had family. Another friend came back from studying in India and in the course of our conversations I asked him what they do in India about psychotherapy. He replied, “They have family.”
My family couldn’t be bothered. They never came to visit me, then, when I tried to kill myself, they’d make catty remarks about it. Here’s the fact: they wouldn’t put up with me but I was supposed to put up with me. They couldn’t see that I hated me as much as they hated me. They killed me off in their lives but when I tried to really kill me off, they judged me awfully.
On inpatient psychiatry you are never alone—never, ever, not for one stinking minute. However twisted and perverted it may be, you have rejoined the community of humankind. First, you have a roommate. You wake up in the middle of the night and you hear the sound of someone breathing: you are not alone. At any given moment, there are a minimum of three staff people awake and working on the unit. During the day, there are other patients, inpatient staff, off-floor people coming in, maybe an occasional visitor—there are people. You go to groups for the mere touch of human contact. To be not alone is another reason why people keep going back to inpatient psychiatry. What other choices are there? Move in with your family? Huh!
And then, for about twenty to twenty-five percent of the patients, they go to inpatient psychiatry because they are handcuffed and taken there by the police, often at the instigation of family members. (To be continued)