Photos from “Reflections on a Psychiatric Seclusion Room”

Reflection of Seclusion and Restraint : There is hope and freedom somewhere.

NOTE: this is a link to the finished collage, sans border of which I have no photo:

I now call this Reflections on Room 101 in The Ministry of Love, as a reference to Room 101 in the book “1984” by George Orwell. The place where recalcitrant prisoners faced torture with the things they feared most in the world.


I want to post today some photos from the progress I have made on my large collage of the restraint room (seclusion room) in a psychiatric unit. I must say that it gives me the shakes whenever I work on it, or at least whenever I look at it afterwards, and certainly when I photograph it. But I think that the fear and heart-racing palpitations are slightly diminished compared to this time a month ago. Possibly. That is what I am hoping for at any rate. The process of doing this is my attempt at “exposure therapy” I suppose, because I cannot live with what feels like PTSD any longer. (I know, I know, according to the New Rules, you cannot, by definition, have PTSD unless your life was mortally threatened; unless you experienced a tsunami or earthquake, mass murderer, or Hurricane Katrina, it does not count as “real trauma,” so say the doctors, and they should know, right? After all, they are the ones who defined the illness, and keep redefining it, and who made it up! Well, since they have the initials MD after their names, standing for Missed Diagnoses, I dunno if we can trust them on anything as important as deciding for us what it is that counts as traumatic. It seems to me that WE ought to be the ones telling THEM, no?) Be that as it may, let me change paragraphs and resume the discussion I left off so abruptly above.

Whatever the case, I do suffer with heart-racing fear and sweats and tremors that make it difficult even to take a clear photo of the collage after working on it but whether it is PTSD, I care not.  All I care about is 1) communicating the experience, or at least what the rooms look like, and 2) purging myself of the residual fear.

I don’t want to go on any further with that. It truly does cause me great anxiety. And I prefer to work on the collage and on forgiving the specific people who did those things to me. It is likely that they had grown to hate me, forgetting that I was a troubled and profoundly ill person because I was also loud and frustrating and violent…(treated with violence didn’t make me any more docile, I might add). So  things only escalated and escalated, when from the start their goal was to have a quiet unit that ran smoothly and had everyone get discharged in a matter of days, no questions asked. They did this by helping no one, by talking to no one, and by questioning no one. All they cared about was making sure that everyone stayed “safe” for as long as they were in their clutches. And that they would say so until they left. BUT I said I was working on forgiving them, and trying to see them as tired human beings, flawed but human. It does me no good to get all riled up again.

so I will leave it here, with the photos of the art. I will add only that I plan to redo the curtains, since as it is the blue competes with the sky. Also there will be a curtain rod, and such…But as you can see, it is still a work in progress!

You see the mirror now, and the bed with the restraints? The garden below the window?
No those are not “banjos” on the bed…Look closer. This is a psychiatric unit…
But so is everything it sees and reflects…
Behind the mirror, beyond the window, an open garden gate…

From Memoir Sequel — A Little Bit to Entice?

Maybe not my book, but hands holding her favorite book!

You should know that what follows is just a tiny scribble of what I have written, and it might not even make the final cut once I finish writing the book. But I put it here as a little enticement for readers, a tempting snack to “grow the appetite for more” when it comes out. That said, I must warn that in addition to alerting you that the passage below might end up on the cutting floor, if it does not, it still may not start the book. But here I am hemming and hawing and making excuses. Nothing wrong with posting what I have for now, for the nonce, even though I may remove it later on. Comments on subtitle would be greatly appreciated. If you have suggestions for improving it — the subtitle, i mean — so much the better.


BLACKLIGHT:  a memoir of one woman’s fight to recover from schizophrenia

Blacksoup,  tarstew, coffeecombs – submerged in the darkness of things I cannot face by light, inky, skeletal, reaching-out things that pinch and grasp and touch, I fight to swim away, even though away means into a blinding headache. I am sucked down again and then again, until through pounding surf, someone calls my name, almost too faint to hear. Desperate, I thrash upward, cracking the surface of the day and open my eyes. It’s well after dawn yet all the lamps in the room burn brightly.

“Pam, wake up. Unlock the door. I’m here,” someone shouts. The door thunders on.

What time is it? What day is it? I must have plunged into sleep the night before without awareness, for all I know is that I break into daylight like a common mole nosing into what feels like leaf litter and detritus, the remains of an old picnic. Popcorn is strewn across my lap and chair in a white rash.  Resting on its side halfway off the night table, a cup of coffee, now empty, its contents on the carpet. I hoist myself off the recliner with a groan, trying to shake off my shoulders the gargoyles of nightmare. I sleep in my clothes but I never go barefoot –too liable to be bitten by the inanimate fang of a tack or discarded fork– so it takes me a minute before I can home in on my flip-flops.

“Sorry, sorry, sorry,” Wrenching the deadbolt, I yank the door open. “I didn’t hear you. You’re early today.”

“It’s 8:30. No earlier than usual.” Elissa, her dark hair pulled back from her face, carries her big nursing bag and tablet computer. She wears slim, tight jeans and a ruched tee shirt that make her look thirty-five at most, not the forty-something she rarely admits to. She assesses me quickly before coming in and asking, “How did you sleep? And did you eat last night?”

Almost every morning begins this way, not with the bleep, blurt or blare of an alarm, on which I can mash the snooze button. Not even with the sweet sun-rising tones of my favorites song on iTunes, no, my morning begins with this won’t-take-no-for-an-answer Thor at the door. It’s not Elissa’s fault. Sometimes I leave my door unlocked before I cliff-fall into sleep so she can come in on her own the next morning and gently wake me. But not always, and then what can she do but hammer at the doorway of Oneiros, because nothing else will rouse me.

Elissa has been my primary visiting nurse for more than 10 years and she is the one who checks on me every morning, rain or shine, snow or hailstorm. She can read me by now the way a farmer reads the sky, and just one look or something in the tone of my voice tells her when things are copacetic and when they are not. She has seen me well and she’s seen me precariously ill and she’s the first to recognize when I’m somewhere in-between, headed in the wrong direction. Her main job is to keep track of and make sure I take my medications, but when paranoid, I have yelled at her or been snappy and high strung and irritable. She has never taken it personally. I no doubt have driven her nearly to distraction but she flicks all away as no big deal. I must say though that even though I wouldn’t admit it at the time, she has in more than one instance saved my life.

She keeps returning with a smile nevertheless and now instead of telling her how glad I am to see her, I turn away, mumbling that I had a lousy night. It’s true, but I feel like a lout for saying so. Or at least for saying so first thing.


Argh, now all I can see are the faults, but I will leave it as is, and not panic or take it down at once. I have learned that there is no terrible tragedy is letting people see rough drafts or the work-in-progress, though it be only that, a rough draft, not the polished version. If nothing else, it proves that I too am  a human being who must write and make mistakes before editing and rewriting my copy. In fact, I rewrite a zillion times before I am happy with what I have written. Each poem takes at least 20 rewrites, at a minimum, and most take at least 50 while some over 100. As for prose, well, I cannot even begin to estimate how often I rewrite or revise each passage. but needless to say it is well over 50-100!

Not only is there no shame in revision, I take great pride in how much rewriting and revision I do. It is a point of honor with me that I take this much time with my writing and do not hurry it — ever.  People who believe that the first words that come out of their pen or mouth or computer are sacrosanct are likely to not be real writers, only dilettantes who play at writing, but never take it seriously. Who want to write, but who never really do so, except for in the pages of a journal or doggerel between friends and family.

Do not get me wrong, I do not disparage this sort of writing. In a sense ALL writing counts as writing. And all writing is good for a person. But not all writing is publishable or suitable for the public consumption, and that is what I mean by writing done by a “real writer.” Someone for whom writing is what life is all about. Someone for whom life would not be worth while if she could not continue to write. Someone who knows the value of editing and revising and rewriting and who knows that a good editor can a writer’s best friend.


Open Studio Hartford is a Hartford regional event that celebrates the arts!

This celebration of the arts combines art of all types and presents it to the community. For a full weekend in November, artists open their studios to the public or show in Hartford locations. Their wish is to inspire the community, make others aware of their work, and sell their art. Visitors enjoy the opportunity to meet local artists at studios, galleries and creative spaces in and around Hartford to browse and buy locally created art. The public also experiences live artistic entertainment at some locations!

2011 Opening Reception & Kick-off
Thursday, November 3rd, 6pm – 8pm
ArtSpace Gallery, 555 Asylum Street, Hartford, CT 06105
This year’s theme is “Double Digits”.
Parking: Park at Union Station, discounted rate provided by the Greater Hartford Transit District
The reception, featuring live music, will be produced by Artists in Real Time, Inc. and sponsored by local restaurants.

22nd Annual Open Studio Weekend in Hartford
Saturday & Sunday, November 12 & 13, 11 AM -5 PM
A self-guided tour of creative spaces that has taken place annually for 22 years, Open Studio Weekend is a creative showcase for local artists, produced by the nonprofit 501(c)3 organization, Artists in Real Time, Inc. Locations are open around the city and greater Hartford Region; thousands of attendees are expected.
FREE Event!
Parking: Park at Union Station, discounted rate provided by the Greater Hartford Transit District


Needless to say, I think, I will be exhibiting my artwork here, some of it about schizophrenia, some of it from schizophrenia, and a great deal of it about and in recovery. If you are able to attend, look for me on the 4th floor of ArtSpace, Hartford. Hope to see some of you there!

Poems about Schizophrenic Symptoms: Word Salad and Delusions of Grandeur

Poems can express many ideas and experiences. In my first book of poems, We Mad Climb Shaky Ladders, part of CavanKerry Press’ Laurel Books literature of illness series, I tried to express how I felt both during psychosis and afterwards. I also often tried to put myself into the experience of others who experienced symptoms that I might not, but which I could imagine.

One thing I know, having had this illness for so long, is that misinterpretation is rife. I mean things when I do things, just as anyone else does. But people simply make assumptions about my behavior and forget that they might need to ask why I do what I do. I have often asked others why they did whatever strange or seemingly outrageous thing they did, and lo and behold there has always been an understandable rationale behind it. For instance, when I stripped naked in that freezing seclusion room, I was neither “acting out” nor totally around the bend, no, my reasoning was that if I were naked they would have to give me something to cover myself with, i.e. a blanket, which is what I had been begging for all along. But they never asked me why I had taken off my clothing — a flimsy tee shirt and lightweight jeans. They just assumed — whatever they assumed. Ditto for almost every other interaction I had with them, and the same almost uniformly went for other people when they behaved in a way that was somehow contrary to expectations. The meaning of their actions was reasonable, given the context.

I tell you this because in my poem, Word Salad, even though it appears to be, well, “word salady” and incomprehensible, in truth there is “method” to it, and in fact if you read it with a mind towards understanding the links, you would appreciate them. But you might have to “surrender” to getting it, and let it in without trying to rationally, intellectually understand. Only afterwards could you perhaps try to figure out what precisely is being done and said in the poem. One clue you might need, if you have not been subjected to this directly is that often, at least in the past, “patients” of a certain kind were asked to interpret proverbs. “Can you tell me what, ‘A rolling stone gathers no moss’ means?” or “What does ‘People in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones’ mean?”

As for Grandiose, the same thing holds. Read it aloud and try to get the sense of it, how it reads. Then you may in fact understand what is going on “in one blow,”  so to speak. It is full of double entendres, on purpose. Remember that “live” can be pronounced in two ways. Both of these hold.


“Word salad,” a term used for the completely disjointed, incomprehensible language sometimes seen in schizophrenia

Unpinned, words scatter, moths in the night.                                                                      The sense of things loses hold, demurs.                                                                     Everything means. Numbers soldier
with colors and directions, four by four
in a pinwheel: this is the secret wisdom.
I inscribe it on sacred sheets of paper.
The Oxford Dictionary holds not a candle.
The self reduced to a cipher, a scribble,
the Eye is all, with a Freemason’s lash,
and 26 runic hieroglyphs to share
how a stitch in time saved the cat
and if a messy rock gathers no stones,
clams must surely be lifted higher
by the same rising boats. Why, why not throw
glass tomes at grass huts? It is a question
of propriety: grass is too dignified to lie down
before gloss. Whirligig! How to pull the center
back into the world? It would take all
the OED to recapture the moths, all Harcourt’s
English Grammar to pin them again.


He says:
I was always more important than you though
with your cutting me down to size quarrel
about just who I thought I was. I thought I was
with my long dark hair and beard and rough
working clothes John the Baptist, prophet of God
wild man of the wilderness and would have
to preach the word of a savior I didn’t quite
believe in. I mentioned my conviction to a friend
who told me to make friends with a mirror,
discover which John I really re-incarnated. Lo,
I looked and saw the more famous than Jesus
John staring with his small important eyes
behind his too small eye-glasses at me staring
into the mirror at myself, yes, I wrote the songs
you grew up on: Yesterday, Give Peace A Chance,
Eleanor Rigby— yes, I was the one you swooned
over and screamed for, yet now you only shriek
at me, taking me down from a peg on the wall.
Why do you yell, Get lost, baby? Imagine all the people
who would rejoice to see me live once more.

Video of Poem: “How to Read a Poem” plus Update

I am not sure what to think of this video. I certainly did not give permission for it to be used, nor did I approve of the final product. But I would welcome all opinions, should anyone wish to share. Please do not click on Like or Dislike buttons to give opinions. That only tells me you dislike my posting it, not the video itself…But maybe I am too sensitive.

I see that it will not insert directly here so I am placing the link to it here instead.



First, forget everything you have learned,

that poetry is difficult,

that it cannot be appreciated by the likes of you,

with your high school equivalency diploma

and steel-tipped boots,

your white collar misunderstandings.

Do not assume meanings hidden from you:

the best poems mean what they say and say it.

To read poetry requires only courage

enough to leap from the edge

and trust.

Treat a poem like dirt,

humus rich and heavy from the garden.

Later on it will become the fat tomatoes

and golden squash piled high upon your kitchen table.

Poetry demands surrender,

language saying what is true

doing holy things to the ordinary.

Read just one poem a day.

Someday a book of poems may open in your hands

like a daffodil offering its cup

to the sun.

When you can name five poets

without including Bob Dylan,

when you exceed your quota

and don’t even notice,

close this manual.


You can now read poetry.


As for the update, well, I sent most of the important material from which I derived the last blog post about the restraints episode to the Office of Protection and Advocacy and by the afternoon of that very same day, I got a call from them telling me that they were going to do an investigation! Not maybe, but yes. This was quite a surprise. I did not expect to hear from them so soon, much less so definitively. They do not take every case after all,  but pick and choose from the many complaints that come their way. I have run into so many roadblocks that I was afraid that there too I would be shoved aside for other more important matters. But no, I think they too found this matter outrageous.

So I will keep you posted as to what happens. They want access to my chart, which I will give them, but I will also fax them the pages from my journal too, as I want them to have contradictory accounts to counter what the “official” record says. Though that says enough that is not quite legal by itself.

I have been cleaning my apartment for 2 days and it is still a wreck, but I need to frame all my artwork for a show I will be doing in early November, at OpenStudio Hartford and I cannot do anything until I have space in my apartment. It is getting better, at least there are “paths” to walk through! But there is still a lot to be done, and I am already very tired of cleaning. How on earth do I make such an atomic mess of things so often? So needless to say I cannot write  much today, but I did want to let you know of this latest development.

TTFN or TaTa For Now

Psychiatry and Authority: Restraints Update




I want to update my “On Psychiatry and Authority” post, especially about what they did to me at “MIddlesex Hospital, which I can now do with more accurate data. I gleaned a lot of the following directly from my records, meaning both the nursing and progress notes and the “event” notes, which should have been written after each and every incident in which they felt obliged to use measures against me involving involuntary seclusion or restraints, including such things as: physical/bodily/painful holds, physical/bodily/forced escorts, physically preventing me from leaving a “time-out” room, i.e. a seclusion room, as well as a locked door seclusion or the dreaded four-point restraints . I have also used my own journal writings here as counterpoint, some entries of which were penned as soon after these things happened as possible — that is, when I could obtain a writing implement.

The first time I wrote about the particular incident I focus on here, I did not understand why I was naked. Having read my entire medical record from the stay, I now understand more about what happened, so I will start this account where it really began, somewhat earlier in the day. Also, and this is important, while they perpetrated a criminal act on me in this incident, there were others later ones as well. During those, I am described in words that make me sound as if I have gone something near berserk…though not in those words of course. Now, there is no context given, nothing is said, not a word, of what the staff is doing TO me or with me at the time that I am going so wild, but nevertheless, the chart describes me as biting and kicking and screaming and peeing on the floor and smearing urine all over the walls…and then there are repeated use of restraints and locked seclusion where neither were “necessary” and were always destructive and traumatizing. Well, unfortunately I have no journal entries after that first time. Why? Perhaps because by then they had drugged me up on Keppra (having decided I could not take the 2 separate ones I came in on though they worked fine and without side effects ) an anti-seizure med that made me so dizzy I literally could not walk, and my vision so blurry that I could not write even if they had not prohibited the use of all writing equipment. So I can recount here only the most egregious incident, the one that I believe triggered for all the others that followed, the one after which “all bets were off” as to any future “behavior” on my part, and from which I emerged so traumatized that I didn’t give a hoot what they did to me after that…

Before I get to  it though, I want to briefly recap where I am in my struggle to recover from the trauma that this stay at Middlesex Hospital occasioned, which only increased the trauma already inflicted 6 months before at Manchester hospital. Up until the night before last, as you know, my state of terrible upset had been growing worse and worse, so that I’d gotten to the point where I could scarcely think about my 6 week stay at Middlesex without becoming nearly hysterical with trembling and anger and anxiety and terror all mixed up together. I  felt as if death impended, my heart pounding wildly,  fear screeching like a car swerving at high speed until it nearly hit a bridge abutment. Every night, every day it comes back even now (new edits 3/2012) as if happening again. Then one night, I wrote the blog entry about Trauma and Acceptance, and I began to try to think about things differently. I realized that I could parcel out thinking about Middlesex little by little so the trauma of it didn’t have to eat me alive. I realized that I might be able to save my sanity, and spare my life from total destruction at the same time, if I decided to accept what I could not change, the first step of the Serenity Prayer.

Wonder of wonders, after two days of not letting the trauma appear on my radar screen, except insofar as I gave a talk about it for the Farmington, CT, NAMI book club last night, which included reading the Acceptance blog entry as its conclusion, I have made an astonishing discovery. Up till now I had had almost complete amnesia for the Middlesex hospitalization. However, it seems that as I remain or try to remain calmer, certain episodes are coming back to me. Not fresh, not by themselves, no, but when I read in my journal or even in the records something that I did not recall on my own nor even believe was true it feels, well, possibly real, and I can just begin to “get” a sense that indeed it feels familiar, that perhaps I did do that, did say that, that it did happen, even if I would not have remembered it without the journal jogging my memory. I am wary of induced false memories, but in this case since I have records of the bare bones of what did in fact happen, I have to try to trust that at least some of what I am retrieving is not pure confabulation woven from only my imagination.

I cannot bring my mind any further down that memory path yet. But I suspect now that I formed some memories after all, that they are simply buried for some reason, and that perhaps the trauma and fear have kept them from me. Now that I can relax a bit and not feel so angry and terrorized by my amnesia and by the one clear memory I have, perhaps some, if not all, will slowly return. Since I prize my memories — they are all I have and without them I have had no life, — I want them back, as many as possible bad as well as good.

Now let me continue on to the account of  Middlesex hospital in late April, 2010 and the first time they put me in 4-point restraints.

During the MD visit the morning before, Dr N wrote: “Patient later ..(?) me that she didn’t trust anyone, that no one wants to help her and she is being punished by staff. I repeatedly said that she is not being punished and she is projecting….Patient escalating tension with staff. Rigid. Wants to die. Wants to sign 3-day paper to leave.” (It is not clear what he means by “later” — did he write this after the episode of restraints, when I did in fact tell him that they punished me? It seems likely. IN which case he did not listen to anything I said…)

RN note 1:30 PM: “Alteration in thought: Patient continues on constant observation. Continues negative, irritable, testing limits. Refused initially to shower, then changed mind and agreed to, then wanted to walk out of shower into dayroom naked. Agreed to dress after informed security called to unit…”

About these notes: one, what was I projecting in thinking they wanted to punish me? What? And it is typical that Dr N blamed me for “escalating tension” with staff. I wonder if he ever saw how they worked, saw in action the mechanism by which they’d cause an  escalation. 2) Most likely, in this case, I was threatened that if I did not shower I would not get off 1:1, so I “changed my mind.” And it seems to me that if someone “wanted” to get out of shower and walk into dayroom naked, it is a matter that the nurses could handle and ought to. I weighed all of maybe 98 pounds then. And if they had closed the door and made me dress, they could have. Why call security unless they wanted to threaten me, terrify me? That was neither compassionate nor caring. Methinks it was, aha, punishment.)

Moving right along…

All the details  that follow are “accurate” insofar as they are derived from official documents or my journal. Accurate in that sense. But remember that in the records, NO context is ever given, the behavior of the staff is rarely described, or only in the briefest and most self-serving ways. NO context is even given to MY behavior.

The nurse who wrote up the night’s notes says that I was angry the entire evening and demanded continuously that she call the on-call doc to discontinue my 1:1 status.  For some reason she writes that I was “unable to follow directions” when she tried to assess me for, I presume, safety, perhaps so I can get off 1:1. I don’t know what she is talking about here, but it is typical that the nurses cared only about a patient’s taking orders and following directions.

Anyhow, at around 7:30, she wrote that I “walked into the dayroom” and according to the RN notes, without any provocation (which is highly doubtful) began shoving and turning over chairs and then picked up the patient trash can and put it over my head. Although at that point the staff told me to “walk with them to the “time out room” I refused and “went to bed instead.” (That was written in the chart: I WENT TO BED INSTEAD.) Now, you would think that this would be fine, after all, would not they want me to go to bed and calm down? But no, I had not “followed directions” and so of course “security was called and patient required security to carry her to time-out room as she refused to move or walk.” Remember that this “time-out room” is exactly the same thing as the “seclusion room” — it is the same room, with the same “withouts” — without heat, without windows, without anyone to talk to, without blankets, without a toilet, without anything to make one comfortable…just a thin mat on the linoleum floor, unless they have taken it out. So they barged into my room where I had gone to calm myself down, and picked me up bodily and carried me to the seclusion room. That means by definition that they physically restrained me and physically, forcibly escorted me to the seclusion room where they prevented me from leaving, all of which are NOT permitted except in the case of “severe and imminent danger to self or others”…(so an event note should have been written up and a physician’s orders should have been gotten). There I took their Ativan and was told that I had to stay in the room for 30 minutes.  Why not in my own room for 30 minutes?  Because time spent in the time-out room is a punishment. Parents make children stay in a time-out room (usually their bedrooms!) when they don’t obey. Why? Because that’s their punishment. But staff doesn’t punish. No, they don’t punish…

Now this is how I remembered it the next morning in my journal: “I had been told to go to the time-out room, which I did voluntarily…” (apparently I did not remember that I had been physically carried there, but there is some confusion in the records too, because I went and then left and then was carried back…). “But it was cold and they wouldn’t give me a blanket so I didn’t stay long…This only led to more goons pushing me back into that cold and sterile room, this time strong-arming me and forcing me to a seated position on the mattress before quickly leaving but not locking the door.”

The nurse wrote it this way: “Patient refused to stay in time-out room, attempted to shove staff, kicked at staff to get out of room. Patient was instructed several times to sit on mattress and stop pushing at and kicking staff. Patient refused. Seclusion door locked at 7:55pm…”.

At this point both records agree that I stripped off all my clothing. But the official records state only that fact, and that I “was changed into hospital garb” but in my journal I write something entirely different and rather revealing: Left alone in that cold and sterile room, I decide “they’d have to give me a blanket if I was [naked] so I quickly undressed and just hid under the mattress for warmth. This caused a stir for some reason and I was forced to put on hospital pj’s and lie down on the mattress. This would not do, not without a blanket which they continued to refuse me so once again I got up and tried to push through the woman barring the unlocked door. She called for reinforcements and they came en masse. (Note: I spelled this “unmasse” — a dyslexic spelling of the first order. This is a symptom of my acute neuro-Lyme disease, since I was always a first-rate speller and would never have had difficulty with “en masse” had I not been in the middle of a flare up… as they knew full well).

“At this point” my journal continues, “they again subdued me and told/asked me why I was fighting. I said [it was] because i needed someone to talk to. That was all I wanted, just someone to talk to. The security guard seemed taken aback. All these personnel hours wasted when all I wanted was one half hour of one person’s time? It seemed to strike him as ludicrous as it did me….

“Why don’t you just ask to use this room when you feel anxious or upset?” he then asked me.

“I do, I have!” I replied


“They always say it has to be reserved for an emergency.

He seemed completely flummoxed by that reasoning but there was no arguing with Policy so he fell quiet. Finally they decided to leave, telling me to be quiet and lie down.

I did. I did. But I was cold and I begged for a blanket.

“Sorry, it is too dangerous. You will have to sleep without one.”

That was it, I’d had enough! I dashed at them head first and they parted, only to grab my arms and try to stop me. Someone twisted my right arm and held it behind my back, but I knew how to get him to stop it, so I tried to bite him and he briefly loosened his grip. I twisted my own arm back to me and my left pinky, held, closed tightly onto something, hooked so tightly it wouldn’t budge. My legs, the right one, grabbed the thin leg of a woman behind me, making her lean back off-balance and lose her grip on me. Then I switched to holding both my legs in a death grip around the legs in front of me. It didn’t matter one iota that [I had taken off my clothes again to get a blanket and] was naked…Anyhow, they eventually overpowered me and got me onto the hard floor, my cheek on the dirty linoleum and breathing dust. At first I struggled but then I realized that the less I did so, the less they applied pressure (there must have been six people or more holding me face down on the floor,  one of them practically sitting on me…).

Finally I stopped resisting and they let me sit up, finally giving me a blanket or sheet to cover myself with. The room cleared as everyone left except for one nurse, who was on one to one with me. She apparently was now allowed to talk with me and we conversed calmly. The door to the seclusion room was also now open.

However, there was some soft talking outside the door and I heard someone walking down the hall and opening a cabinet. I had a bad feeling about it and asked the 1:1 nurse what was going on. “Don’t worry. They are just getting you some meds or making up a bed for you.”  This gave me a very bad feeling, and I suddenly understood what was going on, “Uh uh, they can’t put me in restraints, I am calm and it is illegal to restrain someone who is calm. You know that.” I said that again loudly, loud enough so whoever was down the hall could hear me.  I began to tremble, but forced myself to remain as composed as I could. Another staff member then came into the room and asked me to come down the hall. Did I need an escort or could I do so myself. “Oh I can walk by myself. But you can’t put me in restraints, I am calm and it is illegal.” Nevertheless, I followed her to the empty room — I felt like “dead man walking” when I saw indeed that they had fastened restraints on the bed. The room was filled with staff members and security guards. I told them over and over that I was calm and willing to take PRN meds. I said I knew they were punishing me and that they knew it too. No one said anything except to reiterate that they would assist me if I did not lie down on the bed myself. I was so terrified that they would assault me and hurt me, terrified of the fear itself, that I simply got it over with, lay down on the bed, naked, and let them do what they wanted to do, gritting my teeth when they removed the blanket that was covering me. Well, here is what I did not remember, the account after that from my journal:

“Well, you know that despite my complete lack of resistance, they shackled me 4 points (badly as their restraints did not actually fit the bed — restraints are supposed to keep the arms at your sides not below the level of the bed, and your legs are not supposed to be spread-eagled! I protested this fact but not so loud as to disturb others [when they released me] my back hurt so badly I could barely walk and once more my scapula muscles felt as if they had been separated.”

“I plan to sue you for doing this to me.” I said calmly to all as I left the room. Nobody reacted…I woke in severe pain, the muscles in my chest felt torn from those that connect it to the shoulder, the pain went clear through to the scapula.”

Nursing notes were rather different, and I think were written after the fact, and hastily, perhaps not exactly ‘fact-checked” for accuracy after all. [Did a family practice doctor really see me? I do not believe so…why else would I not tell anyone about the pain, which she reports as non-existent.) But here is what she writes about the “scuffle” in the seclusion room:

“Patient was changed into hospital garb which she also stripped off. she demanded a blanket which was not given due to concerns about her tying it around her neck. [Note that I was ALWAYS under one to one surveillance!] She was encouraged to put the johnny back on and she refused. After staff left the seclusion room, patient placed mattress over herself where no staff including her 1:1 could visualize her. When staff entered room and removed mattress, patient again darted toward staff and attempted to flee. Pushed at staff, then kicked at staff, and attempted to trip staff  wrapping her legs around RN’s leg. During the scuffle patient ripped bandage off her leg and yelled, “I have AIDS. I didn’t tell anyone that before!” She refused to remain in locked seclusion without attempting to harm others. Patient covered with sheet and walked to empty patient room where 4 point restraints were applied. Patient continued agitated initially then was quiet lying still.” [Patient can come out of restraints when able to refrain from aggressive behavior towards staff and property and can follow directions.]

Now you get the picture. I was put into restraints as punishment, but as an excuse for it, they made up a reason, which is is how I can get out of them: stop being aggressive towards, 1) staff ( remember who dragged me into seclusion room? I had gone to my room and they dragged me out of it just to teach me a lesson in the punishment room! 2) property – I was a danger to property… I do not think somehow that danger to property is one of the reasons a person can be put in restraints in this state or this country. And the danger was that I had put a wastebasket over my head! 3)  following directions, well I won’t even go there. Just look at those “justifications” for keeping me in restraints and you will see just why I know they “had it in for me” that particular episode, but in fact were trying to get me most of the time I was there.

Be that as it may, I have contacted the Commissioner of Mental Health, and hope to contact the Office of Protection and Advocacy, which oversees the private hospitals in the state as opposed to the state hospitals, though I do not see why the commissioner is not involved in any hospital that takes state money, as all the private ones do…And seeing as I am a Medicaid patient when hospitalized, I would be a state patient were it not for the private hospitals being forced to take such patients in this economy, whereas years ago they could pick and choose, and did.

Finally, the MD’s “event note” observes upon exam in the restraint room that  the patient is “generally agitated, very verbal, lying in bed with the help of staff and security to calm her down…” I beg your pardon? Calm her down?! I was being restrained, one, and two, I was being tied to the bed with my arms over the edges of the bed, below the level of the mattress, and my legs were spread-eagled –I was naked, remember? and all of them knew it.

So that is all I have to write tonight. I am appalled. What sort of people could do that to anyone? Who were they once, and how did they become so jaded and cruel? Surely, as nurses, they must have once been idealistic and good-hearted and compassionate. Most people who go into nursing are and I doubt that many go into it for the money or for any other reason than that they care about people. I simply have never met any young nurse who was not idealistic and caring, but I suppose there might be one or two. So what happened to this group? Could it be their own “society” is not supportive, is backbiting and so lacking in cohesiveness that they take out their own frustrations and lack of positive feedback on those patients who least please them?

I dunno, I have been told that this mechanism is sometimes at work on units where staff behavior is out of control in such a way. But what made them in fact so much into control and coercion at all? Why were they not themselves empowered by compassion and kindness, which would have fed them better as it fed the patients better as well? How did it come about that they learned the wrong lessons? I don’t know, and probably will never know. But I did catch a sense of these strengths in one or two of the nurses, just buried in fatigue or long ago burned out…

Too many were too personally invested in the patients liking them or in behaving for them in such a way that made their jobs easy! That was stupid and nonsensical. Why should the patients have to be or do anything for the nurses? The patients cannot control their illnesses and staff forgot that in their own need to be in control and to have their own need met by their patients. I think  that is what it comes down to: at Middlesex, the staff’s needs were not being met by each other, or by the supervisors and colleagues, so they looked outward, and who did they expect to meet their needs but their patients, who could not, and could never do so. So they tried to make them, force them to. Or at least to toe the line and make each day quiet and easy to get through. What a farce. What a lousy place to be sick in, what a sick place to try to get well in…

That’s enough for tonight.

Trauma and Acceptance


Snowdrops accept the snow, grow through it, are first to see the spring

These past several weeks have been pure hell for me. In fact, despite some of my “up” posts, these past 18 months have been hell. I have found it nearly impossible to move beyond my experience and the trauma and degradation, the deliberateness with which they were visited upon me by people who should have not only known better but should have…

Wait, I have determined not to go there, not to revisit that dark place in my mind any longer, or not for now, after I can handle it better than I can at the moment. It serves no purpose, one, and two, it only feeds the fever of despair and revenge-seeking, an emotion that can eat you alive if you let it.

It was the notion, the actual feeling of wanting revenge and Dr Angela’s dismay when I said so this morning that brought me up hard against my own deficit of forgiveness, my own inability to accept that which I cannot change. I suddenly understood not only the horrendous feeling that parents must have when a child is murdered, how they must want to see the murderer killed, and how they must want the death penalty for the killer…I felt that much anger for my torturers. And at the very same time, I suddenly saw how useless it was, that nothing could be done, that in fact they would and had “gotten away with it” but that my only recourse was not revenge but to accept it and move on, because not to was to get mired in fury and bitterness and the morass of despair that was weighing on me and driving me nearly to madness every day. I had to stop, I had to stop and find a different way to deal with it, or I would die. Simple as that.

So I considered that family of the murdered child, and I understood that if that killer were executed to serve their revenge fantasies, would it actually bring closure and peace to them? Time after time, that has been promised, and time after time, people have not found peace in the killing of another human being because it never works. Violence to revenge violence cannot relieve the trauma of loss, or make anyone feel less awful. It would be far better for that family, and for me, too, to learn better ways to cope, to breathe through the despair I suppose, or even to work so that others do not go through what they or I have experienced, as long as doing would not reignite the trauma for us.

I am not sure I am ready to do that sort of thing just yet. I do not want to get angry on behalf of anyone else at the moment, for fear that I will only get angry, and anger by itself for its own sake will not help me. But already I speak out about these things, say what happened to me but in my speeches I try to end with words that segue into messages that bring hope to my audience. I could never speak about those traumas without something that would bring it full circle to recovery from trauma or I would leave them in despair and myself as well. As in a poem, you start with darkness but leave with at least the assumption that light is on or just below the horizon, headed in the right direction.

So there I was in Dr Angela’s office, and even though I was sobbing about this trauma that I could not surmount, that was eating me alive, the picture of that angry but grieving family appeared in my mind’s eye, and I realized that I had to find a way to help them, to heal them…and how would I do that? I would, I would, I would…First I would help them stop ruminating about the killing, since rumination is itself a way of making the injury or trauma worse, like continually picking at a scab. I would have them open up to the world and see what is around them, see what remains alive, what has not died. For me, I would look and see what in myself was not violated, what I can do in spite of what they did to me, understand that I still write and draw and paint, that in fact they did not take those things from me.

They hurt me, but they did not kill me. They only degraded my feelings, they only humiliated my feelings, they only frightened me. They made me feel as if they might hurt me when they attacked me and pushed me to the floor. I felt scared but they did not do anything that permanently injured my body or caused irremediable damage to my brain. I am still alive and in fact can still do what I used to do. I only feel hurt, feel traumatized. Feelings are feelings, and while they are not nothing, you can change your feelings. I might not be able to change an injury that led to an amputation or brain damage and I certainly could not if they had killed me.

I need to think about this differently in order to change how I feel. I need to think about what I can do, both constructively and creatively. What I can do about it and what I can do instead of thinking about it day and night. Well, tonight what I can do is prepare my speech for the Farmington Library tomorrow, and pick out the poems I am going to read. And tomorrow I will be cleaning my apartment and then meeting my ride and going to the library early. I won’t have time to brood or ruminate. I will bring my sketchpad and pencils, so I will have something to do while I wait.

One thing I won’t do is leave myself time to think, no, that will not be an option I am going to allow myself. If the Commissioner of Mental Health contacts me after reading the letter and documents I sent her, so be it, I will leave the issue in her hands. But otherwise, the case is closed, at least for now. I have a life to live, and I need to get on with it. If one of those people who deliberately hurt me, just one of them, went home that night with a bad conscience, ashamed of herself, ashamed of herself as a nurse, I am glad. But it may not have happened and in any event I will never know. But i will not brood over it, and I am not going to think about any of it tonight.

One day at a time, just take it one day at a time.