November 22, 1976 Written at Dammasch State Hospital
“Get out of that room, stay out, and get your clothes on,” Mrs. Maraska ordered.
“But I’m reading a book and I want to stay someplace where it’s quiet. And I only have one set of clothes and they’re getting so wrinkled having to wear them all the time,” I tried to make her understand. “And my room is the only place I can see the sun.”
“I didn’t know the sun was shining.”
“Maybe that’s what’s wrong with our civilization, and YOU. You’ve all crawled into your holes, these building, and never see the sun anymore. Don’t you know there is more healing power in the sun than all those pills you are pumping down us? You’ve bought their game and don’t even know it. AND, if you really want to know, I’ve started my period and with the only clothes I have to wear the bulge of my sanitary napkin is visible. I put this robe on over top of my clothes to cover it up. It’s all I had!”
“You can go to the TV room to read.”
So I got my clothes on though every cell in my body feels like it is going to explode, a combination of the Navane and anger. People were watching TV so I want to sit in the beauty shop. Since they keep it locked someone would have to unlock it for me. A nurse was talking to M. and they looked at me like, “What do you want?” so I tell them. They start saying something about “bad manners” and “Wait till we finish” so I said, “You started this thing with me before you started talking to that woman and what in the hell are you bringing ‘bad manners’ into it for? That court the other night sent me back here for being ‘mentally ill’ not ‘socially inept.'”
Now I’m in the beauty shop under a fluorescent light where it’s not quite quiet because of the HUM of that light, trying to make sense of all this goddamned mess and can’t.
The cough I developed before I came in has become very persistent. Every time I lie down I go into coughing attacks and have to sit up to make them stop. Though the nurses act like they think I’m faking it, they did put me into a private room since I was keeping everyone awake in the cubicles. I haven’t seen a doctor once for the cough.
Dr. K. gave me Navane. When I talked to him this morning, I was verbal in my objections to the inequities and inadequacies of our system. I can’t talk to him anymore if I ever expect to get out of here. He really isn’t sure of what he’s doing or he wouldn’t have reacted like he did. And he didn’t like it at all that my voice is (naturally) loud – that really bothered him. He can’t handle mental illness if what a court judged “mentally ill” patient does bothers him so much.
“I’m just as intelligent as you,” I added, “possibly more so. But, you have a piece of paper that says YOU get paid for what we as patients do for each other, cause the only therapy comes from the patients and possibly a little from the student nurses.”
There seems no way of reaching the staff. The student doctor just looked at me the day they gave me ten mg. Navane and immediately got Kemadrin for me. I had already tried to get it from the nurses and they refused to even call the doctor! None of this is making any sense to me.
I just combed Jerry’s hair, a 21-year old black kid. Probably everybody freaks out when they see us holding hands or me combing his hair. He’s the only person I know that I can hold his hand without it being a sex trip. I’ve heard Shane talk about the fact that the men can be involved in all kinds of homosexual acts but if they do anything with a female they are automatically in trouble. Like me, he can’t make any sense out of it, either. From what the men say, homosexual acts are rampant on the men’s unit. It’s really strange for me to accept the language on the men’s unit. The men have a radio to listen to, the women don’t, so I spend much of my time over there. Til one of the aides named John storms over, unplugs it and takes it to the office. He’s got something wrong with him. Shane said he has an IQ of 149 and he’s written a lot of stuff. He comes from a family of writers. Lew writes songs. Some of them are really good. And heavy. He’s on Navane and it’s wiping him out. Ernie is carrying a guilt trip that he’s not getting ANY help with at all in here! If he could get some intensive therapy in here this might help him. Otherwise, it’s just a waste of time and money.
Saturday I was on the men’s side in the day room having an innocent good time, laughing and joking, when one of the aides told me, “You have to be quieter. You’re too loud.”
I thought he was joking so I tweaked his nose since he wasn’t much taller than me and we were looking eye to eye. Looking back now I can see he nearly came unglued when I did that. Finally, they made me believe they were serious and that hurt my feelings.
“I’ve been crying for 20 years and now that I found something to laugh about, you want me to shut up.” I started crying and went over to the women’s side to the bathroom. As I sat on the toilet, crying my heart out, three or four men aides and a woman nurse came in, got hold of me where I sat and took me to a quiet room. (The partitions around the toilets were 3 and 1/2 feet high max.)
As soon as I saw that mattress on the floor I knew it was Woodland Park all over again. They took the sheets off the plastic covered mattress on the floor, no pillow. They left two wool blankets so I laid them on the floor and paced on them. I got cold since all I had on was a thin hospital gown, no slippers. They had taken my robe. (By this time they had taken all my personal belongings.) I had to bang on the door to get their attention to unlock the bathroom, and to my surprise, they left it unlocked! I started pulling the thread out of one end of the blanket simply for something to do…(Researchers do experiments with subjects in sensory deprivation; it caused delusions, hallucinations, etc. Here it is, I’m supposedly in the process of “recovering” from a delusional condition and they’re ENFORCING a form of sensory deprivation on me!)
I thought about tearing the mattress apart and flushing it, piece by minute piece, down the drain I noticed in the floor in the bathroom that worked off a foot control, a drain for when they had to wash down the walls after someone, who they wouldn’t unlock the bathroom door for, went berserk and smeared feces all over the walls. They would wonder where the mattress went.
Every time I laid down I had a coughing attack. Letting the water run in the sink until it was as hot as possible, I filled the sink with hot water, trying to create some steam to ease the nasal congestion I had developed and to ease the burning in my lungs. And I walked and I walked. I sang, a little, but the hypos would not knock me out completely. I’d bump into something and wake up again. I woke up at one point and urine was running down my leg onto the floor, and all I could think was, “They’re making an animal out of me, they’re making an animal out of me.”
Mrs. M. and the nurse she’d been talking to came to look through the little window in the door. “I don’t like being insulted,” Mrs. M. said quite loudly to the nurse, like my being put in there was punishment for insulting her. And my brain was not getting it hooked together…
By the time they let me out the next morning I was cowering, for the first time in my life, actually cowering in the corner of that room.
I’ve been having trouble with this damn wisdom tooth that half is gone on ever since I came in but do you think I’ve seen a dentist! Even though the student doctor and my social worker both made notes of it.
I made two wasted trips to OT today to get fabric. Finally, we found out the supervisor is sick and somebody else wasn’t there. I can’t believe how short most of the staff here is with patients! I’ve seen the same thing with the new staff that was at DBD last spring. We are treated like something less than human….
There was dysentery on this unit. No wonder. I saw food on the floor in the men’s day room that stayed for days. Tonight at dinner I had to chase flies off the food of the old man sitting across from me. Every time I look at the light fixtures I get sick at the accumulation of flies there. There are no towels of any kind in the bathroom. We have to use toilet paper to dry our hands when there is toilet paper. Those goddamned toilet paper dispensers are enough to drive anybody crazy! Half the time they don’t work, the rest of the time they are empty. When I first got here the washrags were kept locked up and we had to ask for them. I can’t make sense out of a place where you can light a cigarette 24 hours a day but you have to ask for a washrag or have to ask to have the beauty shop or laundry room unlocked.
And the people I see on medication – that’s the therapy in his place. You certainly do not see a psychiatrist long enough to be able to stretch anything to call it therapy.
My pain sounds, and of course, you can’t do that in here. Those sounds are what I was referring to when I told Jess I could not work in therapy with him like I really needed to. I couldn’t hurt as much as I needed to hurt for I knew the people around couldn’t handle those sounds.
My friend M. called. (Ph.D. in political science) I couldn’t understand how he knew I was going around barefooted but he asked about it.
“No, I’m not wearing shoes; they’ve taken all my personal possessions, including my shoes. They gave me hospital slippers that have elastic all around the tops. My feet are so swollen the elastic cuts into the skin and hurts, so I have to go barefooted,” I explained.
I typed yesterday and had over six pages of material (including the last five pages) that I put under the mattress. Today the nurses cleaned my room and the pages were gone when I went to get them. I asked the nurses and nobody knows anything!
As I sat at the mental health clinic the other night during this year of the bicentennial of this spectacular United States of America, waiting for my “sanity” hearing, I looked out the window at the flag flying on the flagpole and knew I could rightfully burn that flag. It stood for absolutely nothing for me – except grief.
Today M. called again.
“They’ve confiscated my papers,” I told him. “I’ve been writing about this experience and now my papers are gone!”
My papers turned up in my room this afternoon – in the desk drawer – someone had even put them in a manila envelope.
A man is cleaning the light fixtures this afternoon.
That tooth finally reached the point where something had to be done. The pain woke me at 3:00 in the morning. I went out to the nurses’ station and said, “I have to have something to kill the pain. Now.”
The nurse (who’d been the one talking to Mrs. M. previously) wordlessly gave me two aspirins. I started to cry a little with the pain so she mixed up a horrible tasting black liquid for me to drink. I started gagging immediately and ran over to the wastebasket for I thought it was going to come back up.
The nurse spoke for the first time. “Stop that! Stop that!” like I was a naughty little kid.
After I stopped gagging, I walked back to the window, crying softly.
“I’ve been through too much emotionally in the past few weeks to be suffering like this now,” I said.
“Go back to bed and be quiet,” she said as she stared at me.
I kept standing there, crying softly with the pain. Without another word to me, she called two male orderlies and I was escorted to a quiet room downstairs since the ones on our floor were full.
“Give me your underwear,” she demanded as the orderlies stood guard behind her.
“I’m holding a sanitary napkin in place with them if you don’t mind,” I said, surprised when she didn’t take them anyway.
They wouldn’t unlock the bathroom door. Since I was more calm, having had some sleep and hadn’t been delusional for days, I didn’t get emotionally upset from being locked up and simply laid down on the pad on the floor, covered up with the wool blanket and started dozing since the medication was starting to take effect. Before morning I needed to use the bathroom but banging on the door didn’t bring anybody so pink tinged urine was standing on the floor in one corner when they came back about 7:30 a.m. At 8:00 they brought breakfast and told me I had an appointment with the dentist. (Later I did get a tooth pulled by a woman dentist that had a horrible time trying to get it out!) Dr. K. came in and I was given another shot of Prolixin – DOUBLE DOSE! Because I reacted emotionally to severe physical pain I got the medication for mental illness doubled!!!!
The male student nurse doing practicum with me was listening to a conversation Dr. K. and I were having.
“But what about getting another doctor’s opinion about the commitment?” I asked.
“You’d have to go before some doctors and they’d just ask you a lot of crazy questions…” he remarked casually.
“So all I’d be able to do is give crazy answers, huh?” I commented as I started becoming visibly upset.
“You don’t have any reason to get upset. You’re not making any sense,” Dr. K. said.
“But she is making sense, perfect sense. She has a point,” the student nurse interrupted. He proceeded to tell Dr. K. how he felt about the conversation all of which got us nowhere.
One night in the bathtub, I noticed some kind of gas was being emitted from the pores of my skin into the water. I watched, fascinated, as tiny bubbles appeared all over my skin. Wiping my skin with my finger, they’d rise to the surface, like a fizz, a little like Alka-Seltzer.
In the day room of the Men’s Unit my first day, there sat a man who was an absolute shambles. The small table in front of him which appeared to be his personal domain, was a basic garbage heap of food and filth. Wearing a hospital robe, he was unshaven and his grey hair was hanging in his face. And his mouth. It had been a long time since I’d heard that kind of language – since my first husband. He seemed to talk to himself a lot, occasionally sounding off in worse than profanity to someone. I sat down a few feet away and watched. Somehow I struck up a conversation with him. He didn’t change his vocabulary. I ignored the particular words, concentrated on the ideas and charged right ahead.
He talked about 20 years in the Marines and I had to ask, “If you’re a veteran, what are you doing here?” Underneath all that flagrant hostility I could see so much pain. A comb was lying on his table. I asked, “Do you mind if I comb your hair?” He answered with an obscene neutral comment.
I started combing his hair. As I slowly combed we were carrying on more and more of a conversation. He talked about having been on Guadalcanal and suffering a severe wound that still bothered him.
I sat down and I don’t remember how long it was or what I said but I looked back around to see that he had lowered his head ever so slightly and put one hand up in front of his face. Beside his hand, I saw tears running down his cheeks. I was stunned but I went over, put my arms around him and said, “I thought Marines weren’t supposed to cry.”
Before the day was over he had cleaned up his table. I never saw him again uncombed or unshaven. Clothes were found for him to wear and his vocabulary changed. Someone started proceedings to send him to the VA hospital. He called me Florence Nightingale till he left a few days later.
Before I was released from the hospital a week before Christmas a student doctor spent a little time with me and decided I was manic, without the depressive. They needed my permission to give me Lithium. I’ll never figure that out! They don’t need ANYBODY’S permission to do anything else they want to do to me; they will hold me down if necessary to do it! I agreed just to get off the Prolixin. (Have since discovered I do get some side effects from Lithium similar to what I get from anti-psychotic drugs.)
I stopped taking Lithium as soon as the six months court order was up. It also caused me to retain fluids dreadfully.
Jess had decided in April ’76 I was not schizophrenic.
“I can understand you, what you’re talking about and if I don’t you can explain it to me. That’s not schizophrenic to me. I consider schizophrenia to be something I can’t understand.”
After I’d been diagnosed manic and was taking Lithium he said, “I don’t think you have something you’ll have to take medication for the rest of your life. I don’t like labels but if you want a label, I’d say you’re a reactive hysteric.” (Later I started wondering if I had heard him right or if I had remembered it right. Is that what he really said or was it “reactive hysterical psychosis” or “reactive psychosis?”) Since this was the fourth label I decided probably none of them knew what they were talking about.
(After getting out of the hospital)
I’d been involved a year and a half with a therapist trying to get me to get in touch with my feelings. Let me tell you something. IF YOU DO THAT IN A MENTAL HOSPITAL YOU WILL NEVER GET OUT. Getting in touch with your feelings leads to some of the most inhumane treatment you will probably ever receive.
Heard after I got out of Dammasch that if I were a Christian Scientist they could not give me medication against my religious objections; I could sue them if they did. That just about takes the cake! If it goes against my “religious beliefs” they can be sued but if it does some insignificant thing like – hurt my body, go against my bodily functions I CAN’T sue them!!
I can’t seem to make anybody understand what my “religious beliefs” are. MY BODY contains most of my “religious beliefs.” My breathing air in and out, using my fingers to type this is part of my “religion;” being able to FEEL, being able to think clearly is part of MY religion; my “religion” is LIFE – not just MY life – ALL LIFE. Making love is part of my religion; going to the toilet is part of my religion. My weaknesses are part of my religion; my feelings of “communication” with nature are part of my religion. I’m NEVER AWAY FROM MY RELIGION.
“Organized religion, the churches, finally may become the major
enemies of the religious experience and the religious experiencer.”
Maslow, Abraham. Religions, Values, and Peak Experiences, Ohio State U. Pr., l964.
From the New Testament, in Jesus’ words:
:”…Lo there! For behold, the kingdom of God is within you.”
In 1894 Leo Tolstoy wrote a book, The Kingdom of God is Within You in which he basically writes that it’s The Sermon on the Mount vs. the Nicene Creed.