Seven suicide attempt anniversary lessons
The Mixtape that got me through:
When you're afraid of what someone will do to themselves, don't just call the cops and send them inpatient. It is not easy to get out. This is a tense environment and can be a traumatic experience in itself. Mental illness is not cured overnight, [dis]abilities do not disappear.
Sometimes I get so depressed reading about this disorder, the idea that certain events will trigger me the rest of my life and I may never be able to separate myself from them, or grow from them. That they will always control my life and keep me trapped in the past in my own mind.
My PTSD is extra skrong this week. My mood swings are rapid, my anxiety is soaring, and my depression is creeping. Something each time I attempted to kill myself has in common is that I was ovulating, I had an abscess, and I was on my prescribed medication plus over the counter pain medication. So besides my regular mental struggles, I would always have physical stressors that often leave me idle and immobile, and left with only my persistent negative thoughts.
So what happened?
*ps. Like I've said before, my favorite funny coincidence with my mental illnesses is that all my medication list suicidal ideation as a side effect, even added feeling of depression...So who knows tbh? It's almost like the medical model has no answers for this diagnosed problem. Further... it's almost like societal pushes toward wellness and professional help also has no answers for this phenomena.
[But does it matter?]
I like how Tarana Burke, the creator of the #MeToo campaign explains the power of language for assault survivors. Without going into gory details of the assault, or details of self like age, clothing, etc., a simple #MeToo is just enough for solidarity, even enough has a whole conversation.
***So why share the details of how, or the many reasons why I was feeling such despair?
1.What you need to know is that suicide is a leading cause of death for my age group 18-24, and among Black women, Black children, queer people, Disabled people, that likelihood or commonality of suicide increases. Suicidality is not often talked about publically, but it's a major health crisis.
2.What you need to know is that I do not regret that attempt. I regret making my loved ones worry so much, and losing a sense of trust I may never get back from them. I regret my feelings of permanent guilt towards those people I can never repay.
Being in a behavioral health unit is like being in prison.
When I woke up after being unconscious for a day or two, I had a patient sitter beside me. I didn't know how I got there and I couldn't contact anyone. The first way this felt like how I imagine prison is that I felt like I was thrown away by society.
I had done everything by the book to 'get better': outpatient services, therapy twice a week, psychiatry every three weeks, daily prayer, and other little life changes. And still, my conditions existed and manifested. No surprise. I felt like I was pleading for help, I had even reached out to my professors, and still it felt like no one would listen to me. And with that, I felt there was no hope for me to live in life, no reason to keep on being so miserable despite trying my best if I had used all resources.
Now in the hospital, I had no access to outside resources anyway.
My regular medicine was not given, so obviously I started tweaking, and hence not sleeping. The same way in movies and tv shows a guardian may force a child to keep a door open, or if they do something take the door off as a 'privilege' of privacy, being in behavioral health is like that. Everything is baby proofed, better yet suicide proof. There are no locks and doors must remain open. You cannot wear your own clothes and pretty much have the very least necessary to be hygienic and comfortable.
This is an intense environment. Everyone is miserable. Anything can happen.
I have been in units where someone took a shit in the hallway and it smelled for days. We had to stay in our rooms for hours with literally nothing to do because it was a health hazard.
I have been in another where one person literally would be on the phone (wasn't hooked up) at all times making threats to people they could not access like for example, saying they'd kill the president.
So, imagine being called 'crazy' and being around these people would more accurately call crazy...It's a very tough environment to adjust to. When you may have no view out the window, and can only pace the halls to see beyond two or three rooms a day, your mind will grow weary and your desperation for anything other that your current state will grow.
Outside contact with the world:
There are phones, but do you know anyone's number? You surely have no access to your phone under any circumstances. If you don't, no one who calls you can talk to your without a certain code that you are given. This is a safety measure, but can be annoying to those who don't understand its importance when calling. Between smaller and larger units, two phones is not enough for more than two people in my opinion to so imagine that chaos. In the rigidly set hours if an incident happens, or group goes too long, your phone access is gone. So need to alert your job? Too bad. What a system.
You have no free time. By free time I mean time to do something you want besides fucking sleep in your room with the door open and the light on to hear people screaming all day. Regardless, you will be found every hour and fifteen minutes for a suicide check and heart rate data-- yes they will wake you up of course. If you don't remember adolescence, being here puts you back on the kindergarten schedule:
Three meals, fifteen minutes breaks, then long ass sessions of preschool art, group therapy, preschool music, and if you could, individual therapy. Your day starting at 6am and ending around 5pm. This schedule if you didn't want to participate in itself would put you on edge in my opinion. If you force yourself to conform to their nonsense for your time being, it's doable but you must be focused on the nonsense working-beating the system, or simply on your will to live.
You can play the system
It disgusts me that I can fake the signs of being cleared mentally safe and sound. Before having to play the unit in faking being engaged holistically in therapy, thriving on the bare minimum of medication they give you, or pretending to not be on edge about not sleeping or people doing random shit all around you at all times. Smile and nod... Once I was past my breaking point of think I'd get worse if I stayed longer at my last stay, I would force myself to just read consistently to the point of finishing each library book in fucking English, because more than half were in French for whatever reason. Or, of course there are no books besides religious texts. Or better yet, the library is locked for whatever reason all the time.
Keeping the pressure on them to free you from prison makes a difference. Family calling on your behalf makes a difference. Going to therapy makes a difference. Not complaining makes a difference. Thinking up a discharge plan makes a difference.
If you have the option of going in patient, versus being admitted against your will,do that. With that you can leave when you want, not after a doctor evaluation. If not, you can sign for them to have to see you in 48 hours but doctors take it as a dick move and will likely deem you 'crazy' for no reason and you have to stay longer. This experience with Georgetown University Hospital Behavioral Health was one of my most stringent experiences with 'crazy' as a tool of oppression, Disability as category of social class in a hierarchy, not a self proclaimed identity in solidarity.
It CAN be worth it
When I got out I was at a loss, Christmas by myself, in a destroyed apartment alone, my service dog gone. Once I got home and settled I was told by the amazing doctor I had at George Washington University Hospital to call her, write down what I see, and to tell her how I felt. She thought I was at risk, despite the hours of therapy we had together and my promises to take care of myself.
Rightfully so, because once I woke up in that hospital realizing I was not successful in my attempt, I knew attempting is exactly what I would do when I got home, no matter how violent. I was over everything. I hated the very essence of feeling anything. That's extreme depression. However, talking to this doctor changed my life in the hospital.
Since that stay I have never been the same person. If I could no longer hide or ignore my [dis]abilities, then I had to own them. If I needed to reconfigure my life and lose weak, ableist, unloving friends then so be it. If I couldn't trust anyone but a handful of friends that couldn't be near my side everyday then sobeit. If I couldn't control my life, or even my death, then I had to let all that shit go and live the best way I could standalone.
This is the reasoning behind my face tattoo 'By Myself'. And along with that, my friends reflect the love I have for myself and are essential to my being.
This whole experience led to me presenting at Georgetown University with that doctor about representation of mental illness and [dis]ability for Black women femmes. Overall this experience was the catalyst for me to live my life, and not just the mold in which I wanted it to be, one I was failing in. It put pride in being Disabled for me, and made me face myself as a strong person who couldn't give up on life if she tried.
My trauma is not my identity, just littered examples of my strength.
You'll never want to experience this shit again
I've said I wouldn't want to wish this on my worst enemy, and not as a distant metaphor, they know who they are. From what I've seen, smelled, and tasted in this environment, I can guarantee you I will never go inpatient again. And, I hope no one you know ever has to either. Your will to live must be so strong to submit to these doctors you see for 20 minutes a day that determine your fate, medicines that knowingly don't work for you, and routines that insult your adulthood and autonomy. One may think 'oh it's for safety' or 'oh what do you expect', but I guarantee you this would be one of the worst experiences in your life. Hospital underwear on your cycle without pads? No shampoo or conditioner? Paper Thin blankets in near arctic conditions?
Long lasting effects
I can remember nearly every moment of each of my behavioral health stays. I remember talking to my doctors and roommates, what my meals were, how long I stayed, etc. I can tap into the pain of when loved ones wouldn't answer the phone and I felt lonelier than I had ever been. The first night when you cry till it burns because you wish you had been in successful in dying and now you not only have to go back to reality, but one where you've had no real contact [for at least two days legally].
You have a pity party, but there's no one there to celebrate but your conscious. If you try to be your despondent uninterested self, your doctor will likely not release you until you either communicate or participate in group activities. This is how I know how to perform wellness in this hostile environment. That's unfortunate, but this is just a tool of state control. In my three stays, I felt the impact of one great doctor, and saw impact onto others only from her and that hospital. Each other place was like being in a playpen, where I understood progress nor positivity was needed to be released, just submission and/or silence.
This is a time when I felt I had hit rock bottom, and being surrounded by so many older people from all different backgrounds, I was often told there was no way. There I learned that 'craziness' was just a measure of diversion from what the norm was, what was widespread and people were used to. These people I lived with had all gone through similar traumatic things, and we all had tried to kill ourselves, that's what we definately had in common. Some in more physically injured states than others, we still did not wear our despair on our faces. After the second day, your pity party is over and you're in school again.You're going to need to learn someone's name, you're going to want/offer extra food, your roommates may change.
In this setting there is no hierarchy, because we are all treated the same. Sometimes some would calls others that need more attention 'actually crazy' but in society's eye, we are all the same. The doctors and nurses treats us all the same way. However, those crazy people, those suicide attempt survivors, those disabled folks could understand what I felt better than any friend or family.
I am so grateful for those experiences because without them I don't know if I would still be here, if I'd be living my truth the way I am now. But I cannot say those lessons came from a good place. Those stays were miserable and I made the best out of them. You have to if you want to survive and thrive.
Remember how in 1887 Nellie Bly / Elizabeth Cochran Seaman wrote Ten Days in a Mad-House, an expose detailing her undercover experience in a 'lunatic asylum' [as they used to be called back then], detailing the vile conditions, abuse, and dehumanization patients faced?
The Rosenhan Experiment by David Rosenhan in 1973 where participants faked hallucinations to enter psychiatric hospitals to test the validity of psychiatric diagnosis.
After admission, the pseudopatients acted normally and told staff that they felt fine and had no longer experienced any additional hallucinations. All were forced to admit to having a mental illness and had to agree to take antipsychotic drugs as a condition of their release. The average time that the patients spent in the hospital was 19 days. All but one were diagnosed with schizophrenia "in remission" before their release.
The second part of his study involved an offended hospital administration challenging Rosenhan to send pseudopatients to its facility, whom its staff would then detect. Rosenhan agreed and in the following weeks out of 193 new patients the staff identified 41 as potential pseudopatients, with 19 of these receiving suspicion from at least one psychiatrist and one other staff member. In fact, Rosenhan had sent no pseudopatients to the hospital.
The study concluded "it is clear that we cannot distinguish the sane from the insane in psychiatric hospitals" and also illustrated the dangers of dehumanization and labeling in psychiatric institutions. It suggested that the use of community mental health facilities which concentrated on specific problems and behaviors rather than psychiatric labels might be a solution, and recommended education to make psychiatric workers more aware of the social psychology of their facilities.