When I returned to New Jersey I was sent to a mental hospital. As part of the admission process a nurse asked me a series of questions. One of the questions she asked was “Are you sexually active?” When I replied that I was not she said “Why aren’t you sexually active? You’re 22 years old and you’re very pretty. You should be having sex.” Sex was the least of my concerns at that point but at that point I could also hardly be bothered by the inappropriateness of such a line of questioning.
When I was admitted I encountered some familiar faces. A girl who was my classmate in the class for the emotionally disturbed I was in in high school was there as a fellow mental patient. I asked her why she was there and she said she was depressed because she had headaches that never went away. I asked her if she’d seen our teachers since graduating and she said no, they’d given her an invitation to an alumni event but they’d forgotten to put the date on it. Even in my distress I could laugh at that because it was so like them. I also encountered a familiar face in the social worker I was assigned to.
“Hi, Kira. Do you remember me from the last time you were here? I remember you.”
“Yeah, I remember you.” ( I have a really good memory so I didn’t just remember her. I also remembered her name, various facts about her and various things she’d said to me.)
“So what’s going on?”
“I got depressed, I dropped out of school and now I’ve ruined everything.”
“You haven’t ruined everything. You can still go back to school.”
“No, it’s too embarrassing. I can’t face my friends.”
“Come on. If one of your friends took a mental health withdrawal would you still be friends with them?”
“Yes, but it’s different with me. I’m a loser.”
“The last time you were here you told me you were having some social issues but you are not a loser.”
“Yes I am. I make bad decisions.”
“We all make bad decisions sometimes.”
“But I make really bad decisions. Not taking my medication was a really bad decision.”
“Yes, I would agree that that was a bad decision.”
“My whole life is full of bad decisions.”
“You have a lot of life left to live, more than you already have lived.”
“That is a horrible thought.”
The next day I met with the psychiatrist as well. I told her how upset I was about the bad things I’d done.
“You haven’t done anything that can’t be fixed. You need to stop blaming yourself.”
“Who else am I going to blame? God?”
“Kira, give yourself some credit, you stayed out of the mental hospital for years” the social worker interjected.
“But I was in special programs.”
“You have an illness.”
My mother, my godmother and my brother visited me in the mental hospital. They all told me that things would be okay, that I just needed to go back to school. I was fixated on how I’d made a horrible mistake, how embarrassed I would be to show my face again, how I couldn’t go back because things just wouldn’t be the same for me.
“So your attitude is ‘I can’t have everything I want, so therefore I’m going to have nothing?’ that makes no sense” my mother said.
She was right that that line of thinking was not very logical. As you’ll see later, in trying to avoid slight embarrassment, I was setting myself up for all kinds of horrible humiliations. In most respects I’m actually a very logical person and in general I’m not someone who’s easily embarrassed but mental illness can make you think and behave in ways that are out of character.
A few days in to my inpatient stay my social worker said to me “You need to shower and brush your hair. This is not a place for people who can’t take care of themselves.”
Around that same time the hospital psychiatrist said to my mother “Kira is in a very bad state right now. At this point I don’t think she’s going to be able to recover with medication and therapy alone. Her brain needs a reset. I suggest ECT.”
ECT, short for electroconvulsive therapy, is a procedure used to treat depression and other mental illnesses. It involves sending electrical currents in to the brain in order to produce a small seizure. It is controversial, has a heavy stigma attached to it and some potential negative side effects. It has a long history of abuse and improper use. It has been negatively portrayed in the media and in fiction. It is surrounded by fear and misinformation. Some people regard it as barbaric and dangerous. For those reasons my mother said she did not want me to undergo ECT at that time. She regrets that now.
My inpatient stay was followed by outpatient group therapy. The therapist that led the group said that the things I said to the other group members were so wise and compassionate, she only wished I could be that way with myself.
I also saw another psychiatrist. When he heard that I’d dropped out of school, he gave me a puzzled look and said “You were doing so well. Why would you do that?”
“I don’t know” was my response.
When someone behaves in a bizarre, erratic, maladaptive way, it is often expected that they will be able to explain why they behaved in such a manner. After all, they were the ones who chose to behave like that. The truth is that the brain is an organ just like the heart, the liver and the kidney are organs. Just like the heart, the liver and the kidney, the brain is subject to all kinds of biological functions and dysfunctions, the mechanisms of which the owner of those organs is not always privy to. Sometimes asking a mentally ill person why their brain went haywire is the equivalent of asking a physically ill person why their heart, liver or kidney went haywire. A lot is said about people who are not mentally ill being unable or unwilling to understand those who are mentally ill but sometimes those who are mentally ill have trouble understanding their own mental illness.
The general lack of understanding that surrounds mental illness means that a mentally ill person is bound to hear some rude, hurtful, insensitive comments about their mental illness. Sometimes these comments are well intentioned and sometimes they’re just fucking mean. I would put comments like the one made by the nurse who admitted me to the mental hospital in the former category but unfortunately I also had people in my life who made comments that fell in to the latter category.
One person in particular said that he didn’t believe that all my problems were caused by my disability because there were people with no arms and no legs who made lives for themselves, that his son was kind of a disappointment but I was more of a disappointment and that he would go on having fun with his life while I was locked away in an institution.
All of those comments involved comparing me to other people. Making comparisons to other people is usually pointless. It usually just ends up hurting rather than helping in any way. Temple Grandin is usually the example that’s trotted out when one wants to inspire or shame someone on the autism spectrum but this guy was bringing up all those wildly successful people with no arms and legs. I have no idea what purpose telling me I was more of a disappointment than his son was supposed to serve other than to make me feel bad and I was feeling bad enough as it was.
As for the institution comment, my mother was not ready to institutionalize me but it was becoming apparent that I was in no shape to go back to school and soon it became apparent that I was in no shape to remain at home either. I posted a trigger warning in the first part of this mental illness saga but I’m going to post another one now. Seriously, if you’re easily offended, easily grossed out or if it’s important to you that you maintain a high opinion of me, then stop reading right now.
After I was released from the mental hospital, I began calling my mother a cunt, spitting in her face and urinating in cups that I left on my bedroom floor. When asked why I was doing that I said that I found using the toilet to be too much effort. Than I engaged in an act so disgusting that I will not post the details of it on the internet.
I don’t actually remember doing those things though. My mother told me about them later. There are a lot of things I don’t remember about that period in my life even though in general I have an amazingly good memory. I did eventually get ECT and memory loss is a side effect of it so maybe that accounts for my memory gaps but it think it’s just as likely that I consciously or unconsciously chose to block those details out of my memory.
After the disgusting incident that shall not be named, my mother began searching for a residential treatment program for me. Finally she found one located in Idaho that seemed like it would be a good fit. They accepted me and she informed me that I would be going there.