After the Anger, Peace

I am at peace, and I wonder if it’s because I’ve finally blown out my anger at the inpatient psychiatric system.

            For three decades on inpatient psychiatry I was treated with disrespect, callous indifference, and physical danger.  It was the kind of “treatment” that should make one very, very angry, and it did so make me.  Anger, contrary to popular opinion, is not a sickness for which we need to receive treatment.  It is a very healthy warning sign that we are in danger.  Acknowledging anger and appropriately acting to reduce the danger is vital to healing.

            My private psychiatrist poisoned me with unmonitored medication and caused the kidney damage that will probably kill me.  She also was director of St. Joseph’s inpatient psychiatric unit and CPEP.  At any moment I might come under her jurisdiction and be subject to injury from her again.  In other words, she was a constant danger and I hated her—until the day she died.

            She died unexpectedly at home at night—on my birthday—and when I heard of her death, the anger and hatred immediately left me.  She no longer was a danger to me, therefore I no longer needed anger to give me heightened awareness so I could protect myself.  Maybe inpatient hospitalization followed the same pathway.

            Repeated hospitalizations damaged my body and mind.  My very soul was stricken with enduring hurt by the people who chose to work behind the locked doors.  Unbeknownst to me, the antidepressants were making me suicidal.  Desperate to save my own life, I sought safety behind the locked doors—but behind the locked doors the ugliest kind of dehumanization was visited upon me in the course of keeping me from killing myself.

            I had to choose between killing my body or letting them kill my soul. 

            Nietzsche said that what doesn’t destroy you makes you strong.  Decades of inpatient psychiatry have made me so strong that I’ll probably be dead for three days before I even notice.  But the terror—ah, the terror.

            Post traumatic stress disorder is terror, plain and simple.  The critical element that determines whether or not you get PTSD is this:  can you run?  A traumatic situation is one in which you are in danger of dying, body or soul, but trauma does not convert to PTSD unless you can’t run.

            The human race, unfortunately, has a long history of sending young men into battle.   They fight, some die, the rest usually have come home to live normal healthy lives.  But what triggers PTSD is when they are trapped!  When they are in battle and can neither fight nor run.  Hell is this:  when your physical or psychological life is in immanent danger of destruction and you can neither fight back nor get away from the source of the danger:  this is inpatient psychiatry.

            So I acquired PTSD, that is, perpetual anger rising from a base of terror.  I didn’t know I had PTSD.  I suppressed the source and directed the anger toward good works.  I became an activist for people who are elderly, poor, disabled or otherwise marginalized by our society.  I fought for transportation, housing and other services to be provided at the level required by the law.  I did not run; I fought back—and I won.  Over and over again, using the law and the government oversight process, I won my battles.  Nobody would ever again deny me freedom of choice!

            In becoming an activist, I discovered the cure for depression.  Depression is the perception of powerlessness.  Learning—and steadily practicing—how to act powerfully eliminates depression.  Life was pretty good.

            Then I went to Dr. Peter Breggin’s Empathic Therapy Conference, wherein a couple hundred therapists, psychologists and psychiatrists all agreed that drugging and hospital lockups were really bad things that shouldn’t be done.  In this psychiatric safe zone, all the horrors of the death of being—the death of me!—the individual, singular, special, unique person that I was meant to be—rose to the surface.

            I had nightmares, insomnia, and cried a lot.  I was in unendurable pain.  Various people formed a rescue chain, passing me from hand to hand:  Peter Breggin, Dewey Meyers, Richard Gottlieb and Wendy Pidkaminy,   I howled in pain, and they listened.  Thirty years, fifty hospitalizations, three years behind locked doors—and I’d never told anybody about it.  Never screamed.  Who was there to hear me?  The people who locked me down?  The family who never visited me behind the locked doors?  The society that worships physicians and pharmaceuticals?

            Two of my helpers in particular suggested, supported, encouraged or drove me kicking and screaming to confront the evils of inpatient psychiatry.  Face it, they said.  Scream, cry, write—above all, write.

            I have been a writer for fifty years.  Every important event of my life—good or bad—has been written down.  Once I write it, the emotional weight of the experience leaves me; it is externalized, no longer inside where it can hurt me.

            On May 5, I wrote “Anger.”  The next morning I got up and posted it on-line.  As I hit the “publish” button, all the anger drained out of me.  It is gone.  It is over.  There is room for love now.

            PTSD is a condition where you are constantly re-living the torment of previous events.  It is not a memory:  you are there and it is happening now.  For three decades that battle has been buried in my subconscious.  I was continually fighting the inpatient staff for my survival.  It should never, ever have to be this way.

            There are countries where, if you show signs of a mental breakdown, they send you on a retreat.  In this country, we send you to prison.  How did America become so unkind?  What would it take to turn it around?

            The first step is for you, each reader, to go behind the locked doors.  As I said in my first post about hospitalization ( “What do you, as a citizen, have the responsibility to know?  What do you, as a taxpayer, have the right to know?  What do you, as a friend, want to know?”

            We need to talk about this inpatient hospitalization thing.  It must stop.

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
This entry was posted in Community General Hospital, CPEP, depression, doctor, drugs, Hutchings Psychiatric Center, Inpatient psychiatry, mental health, mental illness, patient, physician, psychiatric patient, psychiatrist, psychiatry, St. Joseph's Hospital, Suicide, Unit 3-6, Upstate Medical Center and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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