A woman I have been talking and corresponding with recently said the experience of being in the Psychiatric Hospital seemed as traumatic as the Postpartum Psychosis Episode itself. I myself have often reflected on that and felt similar. The things you experience inside a mental health facility can be very scary, especially if you are there as a forensic patient and are doing your 'time' vs just being there until you are better.
Aside from the constant screaming and noise, there's the having to see or hear someone being forced, sometimes physically to take medication. After watching the patient pace the hallways for perhaps a month, more or less, doing any number of things, there will be an emergency order written for them to receive medication. Usually they are told and are given the option of taking it orally at that point and if still refusing are held down by any number of staff and given injections of meds. You can hear them screaming and begging, pleading. I can recall some of them so vividly and with such clarity.
I understood why sometimes it might be necessary, it didn't make it any easier to witness.
As I look into the recesses of my mind and I recall the faces and the empty stares. The hollow eyes, sad and broken faces, I know I too must have looked like that for months when I was first admitted to AMHI.
I had a one to one for the longest time (where you are assigned a staff person to be with you at all times even to go into the bathroom stall with you).
I have the vaguest memory of finally looking into a mirror (I think to brush my teeth), it may have been to get ready to go to my son's funeral. I remember I had black all around my mouth and chin. I had no idea what that was. It had to have been the activated charcoal from when they pumped my stomach. It was probably on my face for a week or two. It seemed so unreal that I could have had that on my face for so long and not notice it there. I look back at that time and it quite literally feels as though I was the walking dead.
I have actually been watching that television show recently (The Walking Dead), you know the one about Zombies on AMC, and it makes me think of the patients at AMHI. Especially the overly medicated or the patients like myself who in the midst of something like postpartum psychosis, walk around in a zombie like state. There's a term called the Thorazine Shuffle that I think could quite possibly be nicknamed the Zombie Shuffle. I mean they're pretty similar and anyone who has ever seen the Thorazine Shuffle could tell you, there's a good chance they're emulating an acute psych ward when shooting Night of the Living Dead et al.
I have personally had a run in with a medication I had an adverse reaction to and a small dose of the shuffle. It's quite horrible. It makes you tired and yet you cannot sleep. Your body has this need to move and fidget. Walk, you want to walk, keep moving, it seems to keep the twitchy-ness at bay. But then, you are so tired. But the second you lie down, it starts again. This incredible feeling that's inside. Almost like an internal itch that you can't scratch and won't go away. You have to move, walk, don't stop. You eyes are so tired yet you can't sleep. Go, go, keep moving and it seems to help the itchy anxiety. But you have to stop because your eyes are closing, just lie down for a minute. But every nerve seems to be on edge, prickly, raw. it just won't stop. You just want this feeling to go away and the only thing to help is to move, to walk.
Thankfully, mine was just a reaction to a migraine medication used for nausea, Compazine. I had a doctor who came in first thing in the morning and gave me 100mg of benadryl to counteract its affects. Six hours later I was still groggy but much better. So now I use other things for migraine nausea.
Imagine living that way, having a similar reaction and never being able to stop it. I wanted to crawl out of my own skin. I watched people walk around every day like that.
I am glad we have made a lot of progress in terms of medications. But no one should have to feel like that every day, all day for the rest of their lives.
As for feeling as traumatized by the psych ward as the experience itself? In some ways yes. Just different. For me the experience of being recommitted to AMHI, not for being sick, but just because the state laws we have say I have to be was very traumatic. People are not supposed to be held in Psychiatric Hospitals when they're not ill. They're supposed to receive the least restrictive treatment. But that's not how the laws in Maine are written. I was remanded back to AMHI the very night I was found NCR for no reason other than I was found Not Criminally Responsible. I was in treatment and had been since being released from AMHI 16 months earlier.
Being recommitted felt like a set-back in my recovery when I should have been able to continue making progress.
So yes, I very much agree that it can feel as traumatic as the event itself. At times even more so, and that's not to trivialize what happened. Sometimes we as a society just have a lot of catching up to do.
Natachia Barlow Ramsey; Surviving Postpartum Psychosis
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