Restraint

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In the summer of 2001, I overdosed multiple times.  Some of these stories are described in other blog posts.  After the last of that series of suicide attempts, my psychiatrist put me on a Form (sectioned me, 72 hour hold).  He refused to release me from the hospital unless my parents came to collect me.   I remember my father driving down to pick me up.  I don’t really remember being released, but I ended up back home at my parents house, many hours away in another city.   The past few months felt like a bad dream.

I remember my parents had hidden all the pills in a bag in their bedroom closet.  I remember that there wasn’t a lot of trust, and for good reason.  I tried to relax, but the thoughts of self harm were propelling me forward.  I was caught in a vicious cycle, medication induced self destruction.  I would feel unsafe, hurt myself, go to the hospital seeking safety…then after a few days panic, feel trapped and beg to be released.  It went on over and over.  I always wanted to be where I wasn’t, I was chasing the feeling of safety, of quiet in my mind, of escape.

I remember walking up to the plaza by my parents house.  I bought an exacto knife at the dollar store and sneaked it into the house.  I was always buying, hiding, and throwing away tools during those years.  I often hide them in various places for safe keeping.  Intellectually I knew that having them in the house was the opposite of safe, but somehow their presence simultaneously calmed and panicked me.   It’s rare, even today that I don’t have something hidden.  Even though I don’t use the tools, I sometimes feel compelled to buy and keep them.   Sometimes I’ve called friends and asked them to help me throw them out.  I’ve handed them over to therapists and doctors.  I’ve hidden them and felt ashamed.  Even writing this brings up a feeling of shame inside me.  This is the power of addiction, the constant push and pull between the promise of safety and the threat of disaster and destruction.  Back then, I thought I was in control.  I thought the cutting kept me in control, but in reality the urges controlled me completely.

I had the knife at my parents house, I cut myself with it.  Deeply, but not deep enough to require medical attention.  I told my parents and asked them to take me to the hospital.  I told them I felt suicidal and I wanted help to control the urges.  I remember sitting in the ER waiting room, in a different city.

I don’t remember everything that happened.  I remember talking to a Dr, I was sitting on a stretcher, it wasn’t a special psychiatric emergency, just a regular bed.   The doctor agreed to admit me.  Then nurses came and gave me a gown, they took my clothes and items and put them into a white bag with a plastic drawstring labelled “patient belongings.”  This was different, the anxiety began, “why are they taking my things?”  Apparently this was the protocol at this hospital.

I was taken up to the 4th floor, to the Mental Health Unit.  It was a different layout and different style that the hospital I’d been in only a few days before.  It seemed larger and was laid out more like a large rectangle, rather than a long straight line.   I was shown to my room.   Outside the room was a cupboard and the nurse locked my things in there.   I was allowed to keep my teddy bear, but not my clothes.  In this hospital there were 2 beds to a room and each room had it’s own bathroom with a toilet and shower.

I stayed in the hospital for a few days.  It was the last week of June.  A few friends came to visit me.  I was given my clothes back and allowed to leave the hospital on passes.   During one of the passes I went to visit the psychologist who had treated me as a teenager.   To be honest the appointment was not helpful.  I don’t think she had a good understanding of me.  She didn’t understand why I was sick (because I’d been abused) and she didn’t understand why I was cutting myself and suicidal (because of the abuse and the medication cocktail).  I felt that she shamed me and threatened me to stop my acting out.  I don’t really remember exactly what was said.  I only remember feeling desperate when I left.  I think my parents dropped me back at the hospital.  I was in the lobby of the hospital, where there was a pharmacy and I considered buying a giant bottle of the medicine I had been told would kill me if I overdosed again.  I felt hopeless.

Somehow I managed to go back upstairs to the ward without incident.  I remember a few days later I wanted to leave, as was my usual pattern.  It was the weekend, I believe it was July 1 and I wanted to go home to see the fireworks.   I did as I would have in the other hospital, starting convincing them I was okay.  But somehow it backfired.  They didn’t believe me and they said I couldn’t leave until my doctor returned the next day.  I started panicking and becoming angry.   They told me they were holding me involuntarily because they thought I would just leave.  I was crying and banging my head.  I went into the washroom in my room, took off my earring and scratched my skin with the sharp end.  It wasn’t even enough to draw blood, just to cause pain and leave angry looking scratches on my body.   I remember being at the nursing station.  I was given a cup with liquid medication inside.  I was told it was Nozinan, a medication I’d used for panic before.  I drank it and soon after I realized something was wrong.  I became extremely drugged and when I asked the nurse had given me 5 times my usual dose.  They took away my clothing again and gave me a hospital gown.

Before I fell asleep or settled into my bed I realized what had happened.

I’d been chemically restrained.

They didn’t want to deal with my acting out and so they drugged me.

I felt betrayed, I felt scared.  I felt like I couldn’t trust anyone and I felt like my life was out of control.

The next day my doctor returned and agreed to release me.  The only useful part of that hospital admission was the doctor switched my medication to one that I still take today.  One of the few I’ve found over almost 20 years that actually makes me more, rather than less, sane.   For that I was thankful.

I soon went back to my home.  The cycle continued.  Looking back I realize an important lesson.  It’s not possible to keep someone else safe.  If someone is determined to harm themselves they will find a way.  Short of restraining someone and drugging them, it’s impossible.  The person has to want to help themselves, and they have to find both a purpose for living and a direction to move toward.  A goal, a passion, a reason to fight.  This is unique and can’t be forced or given to someone.  Believing in myself happened over time.  The psychiatric system is a crisis management system and nothing more.  The true help I’ve received over the years has come from other places entirely.

 

Cumbersome.

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“I have become cumbersome to this world…”  Seven Mary Three

Trigger warning

This song was playing on the radio in my boyfriend’s car.  We had parked outside the engineering building at the University of Western Ontario.  I waited in the car while he ran inside to hand in a late assignment.  It was about 3pm in June 2001.  I was deeply depressed and in the grips of side effects of benzos and SSRIs, toxic soup which turned my brain into an impulsive, self destructive, hopeless mess.  I felt like the song was a sign and a message to me that it was time to die.  we drove home and a few minutes later I was in the bathroom, taking my 3rd overdose.  I was serious this time and not messing around.

I remember sitting in my room, waiting to see what would happen.  I started feeling bad fairly quickly and this time I was fully aware of the entire experience.  My boyfriend drove me to the hospital and I remember during the drive realizing that an ambulance would have been more appropriate.

I remember sitting at the triage desk in the South Street ER, the nurse asking me questions: “How many pills did you take?”

Either my answer or my vital signs snapped everything into motion.  I remember her checking the E for Emergent on the triage form and I was taken immediately back into the department.  Things started to go downhill from there.  I was given activated charcoal to drink, this time I was fully awake and the taste and texture was horrific. I still have regular nightmares and flashbacks about this.  Even typing this I’m having flashbacks and feeling nauseous.  The nurses took blood samples and started an IV.  As we had found out on OD #2, I’m actually highly allergic to the antidote to the drug overdose.  This meant I was having a life threatening allergic reaction.

I remember my face getting hot and swollen.  I was receiving IV benedryl along with the antidote.  I was vomiting over and over, the charcoal wouldn’t stay inside me.  Eventually I was vomiting blood.  I was given IV gravol.

My sense of time was somewhat confused but at one point I remember them paging the internal medicine experts.  It was at this point I realized that I had F*#ed up.  I realized that I wasn’t going to die, clearly.  I felt like a failure at everything.  I couldn’t even get this right!  But at the same time I was petrified because I knew my body was not doing well.  My liver was having trouble processing the OD.  The specialist told me I needed the charcoal to absorb the drug and I would need the IV antidote for about 24 hours, I was being admitted to a medical floor.  He also told me if I ever did this again I would die from the allergic reaction to the antidote.

Shortly after the Dr  came back into my curtained area.  A tube was placed down my throat and into my stomach.  I was fully conscious and had no pain relief.  I could not longer speak.  My eyes were watering from the pain.  The nurse was supposed to come immediately to pour the charcoal directly into my stomach.  But for whatever reason she didn’t come and I was lying there unable to speak with a tube down my throat.  Finally the nurse came, poured the charcoal into me and then pulled out the tube.  I was gagging and crying.

Late that night I was taken upstairs to the 5th floor which was a cardiac monitoring floor. I needed a monitored bed because I had been admitted involuntarily on a Form 1 (72 hour psychiatric hold under the Mental Health Act).  I remember waking up, if I had even slept at all, and dragging my IV to the washroom to vomit black charcoal.  I could barely walk. I noticed that this part of the hospital was much fancier and the beds were much more comfortable than on the psych wards.  I remember at one point using the phone in the nursing station to speak to my parents.

In the morning breakfast came on a tray.  There was cream of wheat in a plastic bowl.  A few hours late the psychiatrists came to assess me.  I remember being angry and frustrated because they made me walk all the way down a long hallway to a meeting room to talk.  I could barely walk and it felt like an eternity.  I remember thinking they were punishing me on purpose, but maybe they just didn’t realize how terrible I felt.

I was moved to a bed on the 2nd floor, it was a general medical unit.  Since I was not in a monitored bed and not on the psych floor (locked ward) I was assigned a “sitter.”  Basically someone to sit in the room and watch me, presumably to ensure I did not harm myself again.  It was embarrassing and invasive.  This person just sat on a chair in my room.  If I went to the washroom they would stand outside the door and listen.

I remember the day being overwhelming and scary.  I was not grateful to be alive, I didn’t see it as a second chance.  I felt sick and I felt trapped.  I felt incompetent and alone.

Late that evening I was medically cleared, the IVs were removed.   I was moved to the 7th floor.  I was not allowed to leave the unit.  After the 72 hours passed my Form was extended to a Form 3 which allowed them to keep me for up to 7 days.  Dr. X was the one to sign the papers.  He informed me that things had gone too far and he would not release me from the hospital unless my parents came to collect me.  I had no choice but to agree.

Involuntary hospitalization feels like being imprisoned.  Your right to freedom of movement is removed.  You must stay on the psych unit and you can’t go outside.  Sometimes they will let you go outside supervised but only on hospital property.  Did I need to be involuntarily held at that time? Probably yes.  Would I have harmed myself again at home?  Probably yes.  In fact, I went on to continue harming myself for years after this admission and I would be held involuntarily again.  I couldn’t talk myself out of this one.

It’s very difficult to explain what is in the mind of a person who wants to die.  Sometimes it feels like a terrible emptiness.  Sometimes it feels like looking at the world through dark glasses.  Sometimes it feels like a crushing weight, when you feel like you are separate from all living things, a shadow of yourself.  Sometimes it is racing, impulsive thoughts of harm.  Other times it is absolute quiet.  I’d be lying if I said I don’t still have thoughts of dying.  They come and go, as they have since I was 17 years old.

Thoughts of suicide are a warning sign for me.  They are a giant red flag waving.  Stop! Your stress levels are too high.  You have too few spoons.  You have too many triggers.  You need to slow down and self care.   Suicide is a symptom of depression and PTSD.  Hopelessness is a symptom.  It’s not a sign of weakness and it is not a sign of being “crazy.”  It’s a symptom of depression in the same way sniffling and coughing are symptoms of a cold. Suicide and suicidal attempts can also be a side effect of many psych meds and this was certainly true in my own life.  This is an issue with many layers.  Ironically, suicidal thinking can be a way of coping and trying to survive desperate times.

I am a suicide survivor.

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