Wednesday, January 02, 2013

Back to the Psych Ward

Another unedited excerpt of Wrecking Ball

I last visited the ward in March 2008. Upon arrival, I stayed for nearly three weeks. Fortunately, I have not needed hospitalization since then. That was nearly five years ago. This is one of the longest stretches of relatively stable mental health I’ve ever experienced. I am extremely thankful.

I’m grateful for this sustained period of good news, but for a while, I dealt with one crisis after another.  My year-long experiment with living in Atlanta ended in disaster. In the last few months before my departure, I spent hours filing paperwork and planning for a court battle. Along the way, I received a crash course on the criminal justice system.

As I have written before, my former girlfriend had been obsessive enough, following our breakup, to invade my privacy via e-mail. She hacked into my e-mail account, then had all my incoming e-mail forwarded to her own inbox. It took me a long while to get over the emotional shock of legal warfare, or the feeling of betrayed trust. The proceedings continued for three months after we had broken up.

Nothing about the process is easy. A police report must first be filed. This meant I had to call the police over to my apartment and explain myself in detail. Additional conversations with law enforcement followed. These pointed me towards other legal necessities. Fees must be paid. Paperwork must be filled out in exacting detail. I had forms to complete at two separate locations.

A copy of the police report had to be obtained, at my expense. To have rudimentary protection against my ex, I needed first to file an order of protection. A judge decides whether or not to sign off on the validity of a charge based on no more than two minutes’ worth of discussion. A person is rushed in and then rushed out. My accusation was not thought serious enough to merit the granting of an order of protection.

While waiting in line, I small-talked with a woman whose boyfriend was physically violent towards her person and her property. He’d destroyed many of her possession out of spite and, along with the physical battery, she was terrified of him. I hope she obtained what she needed. During our talk, she automatically believed that the legal system was going to fail her. He’d gotten away with so much before, what was to say he wouldn’t get away with it once more?

Legal proceedings drained me and I had little or nothing to show for them. I returned at their deflating conclusion to Birmingham because I had nowhere to go. By January of that year, I took a job at a local public library. I thought that this would be a respite from the gossipy, problematic workplace present in Atlanta, but instead it was just as bad in different way.

Poor leadership from up top was the most substantial problem. Employees got away with murder when no one held them accountable for their elitist and exclusionary attitudes. Drama queens and bad attitudes were found all over the place. By the end of my employment, I had an intense manic episode that led some to believe that I was dangerous. They didn’t really know me. If they had, they wouldn’t have reached for that conclusion in the first place. But then again, they’d never made it their business to know me.

As I’ve written about in more detail, a trespassing order was drawn up and served to me by two plain-clothed police officers. They’d called me at my house requesting to know when I was going to my latest psychiatrist appointment. One doesn’t (or shouldn’t) lie to the police, so accordingly I told them the date and time, which happened to be scheduled for a couple days later. I wasn’t expecting them to dramatically interrupt my appointment, but they did.

I still had enough of my mental faculties to threaten a lawsuit in their presence. The two of them looked extremely nervous when I shook their hands and looked them squarely in the face with confidence. Confidence will only take a person so far. My parents did not think the case would go anywhere and were not willing to help me with legal fees. Their financial assistance was crucial. Had I won, a substantial settlement could have been a possibility.

They, however, believed that my mental illness would have been used by the defense as a trump card. Regardless of the eloquence of my argument, the case would have been dismissed because of my psychiatric history. And it may very well have turned out that way. I wanted to fight City Hall, and learned, for the first time, the frustration of not being powerful enough or wealthy enough to obtain justice.  

My illness continued to worsen. Back to the ward I went. While there, my condition began to stabilize after very powerful drugs at high levels were administered to me.  I became enamored with a much younger woman. I usually ignored anyone who was more than five years younger than me, because I’d learned that the two of us usually existed on alternate planes of existence. Much to my surprise, she wowed me with her intelligence and her beauty. She was also a redhead, a physical quality long attractive to me.

I’m not sure if we will receive a satisfactory answer if we analyze what appeals to us most. I know what I like and I know what will always turn my head. It may not always be a matter of nurture and environment. Red-headed people combined with their pale skin, have always seemed striking to me. As humans, we love analysis and conjecture, but from time to time the simplest answer is the complete truth.

She was a waste of her great talent and intellect. Though a genius in IQ, she was dangerous close to flunking out of undergrad. Through my own undercover Facebook work, I discovered months later she’d dropped out of the university and taken sporadic classes at a community college. Last I heard, she had never finished her diploma and was quite content to be a waitress at a nightclub.

I met many such people like her while on the psychiatric unit. The ones who hid their diagnosis and true emotional state, like her, were often the most problematic cases. While in conversation with other patients, I always volunteered what the psychiatrist had pronounced about me, and talked openly about the cocktail of  prescription drugs used to treat my condition. Most people were grateful to speak with someone who knew their pain and the daily complications involved with treatment.

A hospitalization before that, I met another patient who was convinced she wasn’t supposed to be there. Families can, reprehensibly, try to stuff a person who does not consent to treatment in a psych ward. Often the family is seeking a respite from his or her care. Another patient and I tried to obtain additional information from her, to see if we could help.

What we were told was especially vague. We were sympathetic and sought to find ways to have her discharged, if she was stuck there against her will and without any need to remain on the ward. But despite her protests to the contrary, we learned eventually that she was quite sick indeed.

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