The Big Question (Part III)


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)

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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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One Response to The Big Question (Part III)

  1. Sad as your essay is, it’s true. I surly felt that way during treatment. I was alone at home just as you so beautifully show. And, if you need more “medication” you can’t just leave – you have to go back for refills. There is rarely an incentive for shrinks to get you off the drugs.

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