Treatment vs. Dignity

When I think about my years in treatment, I think about all the hours spent answering questions. All the probing and the prodding. I started out a very reserved and private person. Somewhere along the way that shifted. I don’t necessarily think it was the one on one therapy, but more the hospitalizations. It is such a time limited, rapid fire pulling away of the emotional covers. They need to know a lot, and there isn’t much time for them to do it. Their questions are often pointed and direct “any history of abuse?”. “what age?”, “what happened?”, all in the course of a 30 minute intake evaluation. I guess I could have said nothing, I guess I could have lied, but that didn’t feel right. Instead, I let them take my defenses down, I let them in. This has happened countless times now. I have my responses finely honed these days. I no longer have to scramble for words. But in that transition, I have lost the connection. I have lost a piece of myself. It is my life! It isn’t some story book narrative. Though that is what it has become. When I talk about my life, I feel like I am talking about someone else. Not me, this couldn’t possibly be my life. In the wake of wandering through this mental health system, I have learned that nothing is sacred, nothing is secret, nothing is mine anymore. What I have is to be shared, and analyzed, and noted in a chart. Yes, my life, reduced to a few paragraphs on a page. My life reduced to a code, so the insurance company knows what I am. I fill with sadness at the violation of it all. How is it any different from being held down against one’s will? These hands are sometimes just as unwanted as those of the past. There is no option, but to submit and answer the questions.

To refuse, is to make oneself even more vulnerable. That transforms you into a non-compliant patient. I’ll never forget the days when I arched my back in defiance. When I refused their meds, and defied their orders. Nothing good ever came of it. It was a battle I couldn’t win. A power struggle, that existed only in my mind, because the reality was, I had no power.

I never wanted to take lithium. I steadfastly refused it. In my mind, if I took lithium, I must really be “sick”. Somewhere in my head I wasn’t ready to accept that. Virgil patiently allowed me to refuse. Making every effort to convince me, it was for my own good. I still refused. My mood plummeted, and I landed back in the hospital. The doctors there decided it was what I would take. Not once explaining to me they had changed the order. I stood in front of the nurse looking at this new pill. I refused it. It was something I had rarely done. This, of course, brought attention from the treatment team. I refused, and stood my ground. Well, they took away every privilege I had. And continued to do so. This went on for a day or so, I realized this wasn’t going well. It was right up against a long weekend. I wanted to hold out, and stand my ground, but they finally pushed me over the edge. I complied.  Not because I wanted to, but because they were slowly but surely taking away any sense of autonomy I had. 5 minute checks, and no time outside did it. I let them break me that day. The nurse smiled brightly as she handed me the pill. “It’s for your own good”.

Well, that little pill packed a wallop. I tend to be very sensitive to med changes, and they often have very sedating effect, until my body adjusts. Within 20 minutes of taking the lithium I was staring off into space, unsure of where I was, and what was happening. I felt the drool settling in my mouth, with nowhere to go. For some reason, I just couldn’t seem to swallow it. It crept out the corner of my mouth and found its way down my shirt and onto the floor. I could not get my limbs to move. I wanted to move, go to my room. I wanted to leave the day room. But nothing happened. It was a very long time before someone noticed and helped me. In those long minutes I again realized how very alone I was. Sadly, this happens every day. Patients are given drugs they don’t want, they are reduced to catatonic drooling messes, all in the name of treatment. I have been that patient, I know what it means to be stripped of everything. To be left with nothing, not even your dignity.


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