(with cuts for brevity)
After psychiatric abuse I came home and mostly cried. I was alone. I felt like a piece of me had died inside and would never, ever come back. They had murdered a part of my soul. What was left, if anything, to live for? The aftermath of psych abuse is one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to face. I felt traumatized for a long time afterward. I experienced severe hospital abuse twice. I was still not recovered from the first traumatic experience when the second occurred, as the time in-between was only two years. The second abuse was not only traumatic in itself, but served also to re-traumatize me by triggering traumatic memories of the first experience. I also suffered the traumatic effect of being abused by a psychotherapist. I would describe her treatment of me as narcissistic abuse, without a doubt.
Years later, even after I relocated to a safe location, I was left with only questions. I had never gotten an apology. I was naive enough to continue to expect one. Even now, even though I know these individuals and institutions most likely have no intentions of admitting they did anything wrong, I continue to hope for restitution.
For many of us, the apology never comes and we are left with emptiness and silence. We cannot go back and somehow, we must go on.
I had never even been able to find an attorney to take on my case. I have since learned that such attorneys who take on psych abuse cases are very rare indeed. We are turned down because we don’t have the ability to pay them, or because ordinary malpractice attorneys lack an understanding of the gravity of the harm we have endured. Maybe they just don’t see much to gain financially if they take us on. Typically, the state-run legal services are unhelpful. These kangaroo services even serve to stall a person’s ability to find an attorney, thereby helping the offending institution. I do not know one person who was ever helped by them.
Psychiatric harm can put its victims into a state of limbo for a time. We feel like we cannot go forward.
I recall being so deeply alone after the abuse, detached from other people. I knew that very few understood. For a while, I had no faith left in anyone or anything anymore, except for my beloved dog, Puzzle. Every day I clung to her, held her and wept aloud, “Why did they do this to me? Why?”
I don’t know how I got through those dark days. I hadn’t been suicidal prior to the abuse, but psychiatric abuse made me feel worthless and more alone than ever. I didn’t want to kill myself, never really did, in fact. After psych abuse I tried to wish myself dead, prayed that the god I no longer believed in would take me during the night, but that, too, was one more failure. Maybe it was because I didn’t believe in anything anymore, or maybe I didn’t deserve to be spared from the torture I was going through. I felt like a ruined person.
For months on end, I could still see their faces and hear their words. I could still hear the call bells I had heard while on the medical floor. I saw the psychiatrist point his finger at me, over and over, telling me, “You are a liar!” when I told him repeatedly that I was not lying. I remembered the words of the sitters who pushed Jesus on me repeatedly. One of them called me a “Sinner in the Eyes of God.”
I remembered every wrong pill they gave me, all the name-calling, the eye-rolling, the way they skirted around the issues and refused to answer my questions. I hated the way they deliberately interrupted me mid-sentence and were out the door in a flash. I remembered how they stared at me even when I told them to please, please stop, just let me pee in the bathroom alone without those hateful eyes on me……
Not only did these memories seem immediate to me, scaring the heck out of me, but I felt all the feelings I had felt while incarcerated, including outright terror.
I gave up on trying to sue after a while. I didn’t really want to face any of my former providers/abusers in court. I only wanted to stay away from them! Still, I felt their absence from my life, almost as if something near and dear to me had been taken away. It wasn’t the doctors and other mental health professionals I missed so much but the secure feeling that I would always be taken care of because I didn’t deserve any better.
We may find that others do not understand our anger and grief. Many have asked me, “Why can you not forgive? Wasn’t that in the past?” For most of us, though, it is not so simple as turning on a forgiveness switch. There is no easy, quick fix for grieving. Each of us grieves differently and in our own time.
I am astounded at the lack of tolerance and ignorance when it comes to psychiatric harm. The public recognizes that rape victims and victims of other crimes need a healing period. Apparently, the necessity for healing and grieving for psychiatric survivors isn’t recognized by most people. Why should we need to grieve, they assume, since psych harm is likely only a figment of our mental disorders? Furthermore, our grief and healing, which often takes on the form of anger or deep sadness or hopelessness, instead of being seen for what it truly is, is tagged as yet one more mental disorder!
I believe people need to show more compassion and patience toward psychiatric survivors. Outsiders have a tough time understanding why we don’t instantly forgive those that harmed us. Forgiveness cannot be forced. Forcing forgiveness will not work even if we try. We are not holding onto grudges. It’s just that these crimes that were done to us have impacted us in ways that others couldn’t possibly fathom.
My theory about such unrecognized traumas is that those who are believed and listened to are likely to recover from the trauma more easily, while those who lack a voice or are not believed will likely make any attempt they can to be heard. Until then they are likely to remain angry and bitter.
We can help other survivors by providing a listening ear, by validating the harm done to them, and by encouraging them to continue to speak out about the harm. This is essential to our survival.
Silencing of psychiatric victims is not only commonplace, but endorsed by the media, by mental health professionals, and even by the clergy. When we attempt to tell our stories, we’re told to limit these stories to the therapist’s office, to meditate our feelings away, to go pray about it (and god forbid ever talk about it!), or to take happy pills or even “get treatment” to wash away the memories.
These quick fix suggestions are rarely helpful. We are well aware that insistence on some alternative to being heard, such as shoving us back into therapy, is nothing but more silencing.
Once we are harmed, our sense of compassion drives us to warn others of the dangers they may face if they are caught in a similar situation. We have not only been victims of harm, we also, in our role as patients, witnessed harm done to us and done to other patients. If we, the prime witnesses, do not speak up, who will? How else can these wrongdoings be stopped? How will the public ever know the truth?
Some choose the silent route, not because the past doesn’t matter, but because they fear the impact their stories will have on their ability to get jobs or housing. They may fear the reaction of their families or friends. I can certainly understand why a person may choose to keep their stories to themselves.
We must realize that medical and psychiatric institutions rarely apologize to victims. They are reluctant to do this, even though apology is the right thing to do. More typically, they remain mum, saying nothing at all. The silence is awkward indeed, and in many ways, revealing.
Refusal to apologize, when clearly they have harmed a person, is both irresponsible and reckless. These institutions will even justify the harm they have done, making all sorts of excuses. “It is our policy.” “We were only following the protocol.” “The patient is dangerous so who cares if we caused harm?”
I have known many patients who were harmed due to perceived dangerousness. They were handled roughly, physically abused, restrained, forcibly drugged, and silenced. In the instances that I have witnessed or known about, this dangerousness was nothing but a figment of the staff’s imagination, mass paranoia, or scapegoating. I have also witnessed deliberate provoking of patients until they “broke.” This somehow justified the shocking amount of violence done to these patients. I was treated as “dangerous” myself. They were cruel to me beyond belief. I have even heard of patients who have committed suicide after such provocation by mental health staff.
We are now learning to fail more gracefully. In our past lives, failure meant certain return to the mental hospitals. It meant our illnesses were to blame for everything that has gone wrong. Failure meant we needed a “tuneup” or fix for our symptoms.
Now, when failure or misfortune comes upon us, we do not react by running back to the institutions, though to do so might be tempting for some. The answer used to be “call your therapist” but that is no longer a desirable solution. We realize now the pitfalls of therapy and psychiatry the danger of being pushed into dependency again.
I urge all of you to be part of the world change to end psychiatric diagnosis and the resulting human rights abuses that result from it. I urge you not to give up, but to strive toward this better world we envision, a world where no one is singled out and seen as mentally inferior, where incarceration is nonexistent except in history books, where we are all given the respect and decency we deserve. Can it be done? I write these words with faith and conviction: Yes, we can do this. Carry on.