I have been able to speak now for at least a month, but before that there were four months of what I can only call subconsciously self-imposed silence. Not “selective mutism” because I did not speak at all. There does not seem to be any term for this intermittent affliction, when I cannot speak for long periods of time, but as my poem says, “Nothing locks my lips or seals my tongue” — a paraphrase I fear because I do not recall the exact words.
I would write more, but I have no time this morning. I post this small, 3.5″ by 2.5″ drawing because of Sue B’s comment on my most recent post…as it most eloquently I think answers her question. Whatever the reason for my muteness, I do not consciously choose to go silent. It simply happens, with a bang, so to speak.
This muteness can lift, I have found, with music, with singing, and people encouraging me to sing…and then to sing-talk my words, until finally I “forget” and simply end up speaking.
Here is the poem I wrote that expresses some of htis, It can be found in my newest book, LEARNING TO SEE IN THREE DIMENSIONS, available on Amazon and through any bookstore.
I haven’t spoken out loud for many weeks,
bullied by “voices” to a frightened into myself silence.
Still, what does “speechless” mean
in these days of text-to-speech software,
with its choice of Vikki or Samantha or Victoria voices,
especially when I’m possessed of a blog and writing fluency
enough to speak my mind to my heart’s content?
Even so, being mute is not a manner of speaking.
Yet I tell you I cantalk. Nothing physical impedes
my tongue, or locks my lips
except my brain’s hallucinated snarls,
Jerry Mahoney and Charlie McCarthy thrown
into surrounding shadows
ordering up this stoppage, blockage, blockade.
Now, like Stevens’ fire-fangled bird at the end of the mind
feathered unlucky, tarred, locked in golden cage
my voice remains only a memento
I wanted to say, but could not get out,
I couldn’t get it out, I could not get it out…
*In the Greek myth, Philomela is raped and has her tongue cut out by Tereus, the husband of her sister Procne. Rendered mute, Philomela weaves a tapestry detailing the crime to inform her sister, who, enraged, takes revenge on Tereus. At the end of the story, both Procne and Philomela are transformed into birds. In some versions of this story, Philomela turns into a female nightingale, while in others she becomes a swallow. However, neither of these birds can sing.
*Jerry Mahoney and Charlie McCarthy are two famous American ventriloquists’ dummies
I admit i had been slamming the doors at 2 o’clock in the morning but this never triggered anything before from the unbelievably patient and forbearing staff at Vermont’s Psychiatric Care Hospital, Unit D, except some bemused bewilderment at what had set me off and offers of PRNs to help calm me. After all, with only two other patients on the floor and those two either stll awake or dead to the world, it really did not matter if I raised a ruckus. But this time, because Hannette was the nurse on duty, my nemesis, it mattered a great deal more than it ought to have.
Instead of letting me slam my door a few times and cool off, as i had so often before. or if not, then opening the safety door so when I slammed it it closed only on air, thwarting my attempts to make noise….instead of any of these non-personal interventions, Hannette decided to take another route no one else had ever done. She came right into my personal space and inner sanctum almost no one ever violated without asking me first. Not only did she enter my bed room, but she came right to the door way of my bathroom where I had pulled my mattress and situated my small bedroom stall inside there underneath the shower head.
I stood on the mattress, by the toilet, higher by a couple of inches, boosted by the mattress. But Hannette pushed up close and yelled at me, “You will not slam any more doors tonight, do you understand?! You WILL CALM YOURSELF right this instant!”
That was like yelling at me, BE spontaneous! Yeah, right. I had gone to the med window at this state hospital I had been committed to weeks before, asking for a second tiny dose of Ativan for severe anxiety and because I had been unable to speak for a few days. The next day the people from my recovery residence were coming and I needed to be able to sleep to meet with them in good form and i had to have a voice to speak with them…
for years catatonia and mutism have intermittently plagued me, and it was only in 2003 that we discovered how effective Ativan was for catatonia…later on, when mutism was the bigger problem, Dr C decided to try it, seeing it as as a feature of catatonia, with good results.
However, here at VPCH the on-call doctor,Lasix, knew nothing about my relapsing mutism, nor my need for Ativan. He only knew about my complaints of sleeplessness and anxiety. So called around 1:30 AM he refused me a second .5mg dose and ordered me to try to relax on my own and sleep for another hour, before he would consider a second dose.
This is what occasioned, at 2:00 AM my panicked outburst of door slamming. But I did not start the melee that ensued. Properly the trigger was Hanette’s grabbing my wrists. She restrained me in such a fashion for some reason, but now I dunno why exactly. Maybe she saw my mute shaking my fists at her as threatening. Even so, she ought to have just backed away from me, having cornered me in the bathroom, where I felt threatened by her!
As it was, however, she approached closer and grabbed my wrists, another mental health specialist nearby saying at the same time, “we dont want to go hands on here at VPCH.”
“Then don’t grab my wrists!” I screamed silently. But reflexively and in terror, I bent to nip her fingers with my teeth in order to get her to release me.
Well, that of course was where all hell broke loose… and much more to say but the library hours end now so I have to leave this for tomorrow when I can spend more time at the hospital computer.
So, what happened next you can guess. She yelled for help and help arrived in seconds in the form of staff prepared to go “hands on” not only to stop me from biting her but to actually restrain me completely.
As they bodily hoisted me off the floor, screaming wordlessly, one man asked, “What now? And HAnnette answered promptly, “Seclude her!”
This horrified me. Not again, not a third time in weeks. not in Vermont where they were trying so they assured me everywhere to reduce these events to zero…This was ridiculous.
But Hannette had had it in for me ever since the episodes early on in my stay — when there had been forced medication, something my Advanced Directive had explicitly advised against for good reason, and which the “good doctor ” had for some reason seen fit to decide to go for anyway…with predictable consequences. So for several days as a result I had been a version of the Exorcist’s Linda Blair over that first week or two and that is only a small exaggeration. The foul language spewing from my mouth in hourlong torrents was utterly uncharacteristic of me, both in kind and sheer amount.
But it was now nearly week three and after I had filed a grievance, the forced meds had been stopped and so too my involuntary Linda Blair imitations. Only Hannette it seemed still held those horrors against me. Everyone else had been both forbearing during those horrendous days and extremely forgiving afterwards. What is more, during my outbursts, even when I tossed chairs and overturned tables, no one had over reacted or punished me for the extreme and extremely disruptive behaviors i had exhibited at the time, no one.
Only once, when I became apparently dangerous, did the charge nurse put me briefly in five point restraints. and that was when I literally splashed urine all over him and other nurses and urinated on the rug in public and then hit him and two other people…But at no other time did they even come close to suggesting involuntary procedure such as meds or seclusion or restraints. Or at least not that I knew of.
Now here i was being dumped in seclusion largely because Hannette had grabbed my wrists, standing too close to me in my own bathroom!
Worse was to come. After the panoply of staff dashed from the room, I ran after them in anger but they closed the door and locked it, locking me in alone.
Hopeless, I sat back down on the mattress dazed and sad but not moving. I heard them talking but scarcely listened, trying to calm myself and wondering how long they planned to keep me in this god forsaken room. Then I heard someone say, “She has her glasses and watch. We have to get them!”
Soon they piled in again, all of them on top of me at once, peeling off my two pairs of glasses and watch and my medical band. And then they searched me for pockets of which I had none. All this time I was screaming, wihout verbalizing a word…and fighting them in protest at the intense violation of my person. Then as they tried to dash off I followed closely and almost escaped the room with them. This time they did not succeed in closing or locking the door, no, because I was wedged in-between. So someone said. “Back inside!” and we all moved as one back towards the mattress.
I thought they were going to use the maneuver Scott , that charge nurse. had used the other time, to twist my arms and legs in such a way as to make it difficutl for me to untangle myself and give them time to get out before I could follow. Not pleasant for me but not painful either and rather clever nonetheless.
But no, instead, to my dismay I heard Hannette call, “Get the Bed.” The BED??? For what? What had I done to deserve The Bed????
But the bed was gotten and within minutes I was trussed up in FIVE POINT RESTRAINTS for nothing more dangerous that holding up my fists at Annette and nipping at her fingers when she herself had grabbed my wrists!!!!
The worst is yet to be related alas. much worse. But I do not have enough time tonight in the library to explain it all and I need to post it tonight or it will be lost. I go home to MRR on Monday , which may be news to many who have been wondering where I am or have been.
It has been a long long journey and it is not over yet. More tomorrow on this story and perhaps I can also catch you up on other parts of it as well. In the meantime know that VPCH is by and large a good place all told, just not a place to call home, not if you have any life of your own left to live.