"I Will Never Get Her Back"
What does it feel like to not remember any of your life before ninth grade? I could tell you. I had a typical childhood for most of my life: I ate too much candy on Halloween, I watched prank videos with my best friend for hours on end, I played pirates and LEGOs with my brother.
In middle school, I began feeling more stressed, and more depressed. I was put on an antidepressant, Zoloft, to control my mood. From there, everything spiraled downhill. I began cutting for the first time and behaving recklessly; I was ultimately admitted to my first inpatient hospital on December 6th, 2018, after revealing my plan to kill myself. The hospital wasn’t all bad. I met my best friend for life there. We would stay up all night playing card games, talking about TikTok, and discussing inside jokes. But my psychiatrist was awful. And my only coping skills (books and journals) were taken away. Not to mention he upped the dose of my SSRIs without catching my bipolar symptoms, and my drug-induced mania — the state of mind that led me there in the first place — was heightened. I was acting out of character, reckless, impulsive, and destructive.
I was admitted to the unit again a couple months later after having a manic episode following my discharge from a residential program. During this stay, I was retrained every day for the four months I was there. The restraints would last 5 hours, sometimes more, and I would only be released when I fell unconscious from the high dose of sedatives they injected me with throughout the restraint. Even then, I would be locked in the Quiet Room, screaming, crying, alone, and distressed. During those times, physical restraint and drugs were not the thing I needed. If anything, those tactics worsened my mental state (and definitely fucked with my memory) and subjected me to more harm than necessary.
Staff would get mad and annoyed at me for engaging in behavior that “called” for a restraint (head banging or scratching), as if it were just another burden they had to deal with before their lunch break. Even aside from the restraints, I felt constantly hurt by the staff, as they would be blatantly rude and sarcastic, not to mention cold and insensitive to our emotional struggles. I remember the time I began engaging in eating disorder behaviors, and the staff around me would remark how it was “just for attention” and “not a big deal.” They would think nothing of it and refuse to help me. I have now been diagnosed with anorexia nervosa for almost 2 years and have suffered tremendously from it: I wish I could have gotten help when I needed it.
My self harm and destructive behaviors only increased during my stay there. I would bang my head until I passed out or threw up and cut my skin with my fingernails and anything sharp I found until I ran out of room on my body. During my stay, I also underwent electroconvulsive therapy (as it was clear that the 20+ meds tried on me were not working), which would later on be revealed to have damaged my memory.
It wasn’t until the end of my stay that I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and the SSRIs were stopped. However, the damage within those four months had taken its toll. I had pretty much been in a drug-induced manic state for the entire time, which caused my uncontrollably destructive behavior. I was admitted to the Worcester Recovery Center, a long-term care facility.
At Worcester, I met people who’d been there for years on end. It scared me when my care team told me that that was just normal; I just wanted to go home. They treated us with more respect and humanity there. Most of the patients were older, 15-18, and I was the youngest, though I still managed to make some of the best friends of my life there. We spent hours laughing, watching cartoons, and listening to Juice WRLD, Boogie Wit Da Hoodie, and Post Malone. I was only restrained 5 times during my 6 month long stay there, though they did involve intramuscular injections of heavy sedatives and lasted for hours.
The staff was strict on the rules. My bedsheets, pillowcases, clothes, and even my bed frame were taken from me for the duration of my time there, and I slept on a bare plastic mattress. My treatment team was kind, funny, and empathetic, but still refused to listen to my opinions on my mental health. They denied the possibility of an eating disorder and would not give me closure on my bipolar diagnosis. But I somehow started to get better there: after a few months, I rarely self harmed and was allowed to go on frequent passes. On December 6th, 2019, exactly one year after my first admission, I was discharged to a partial program at Mclean Hospital.
Apparently I was not allowed to simply go back home, especially not return to school after spending a year in the mental hospital. The program at Mclean made me irritated and uncomfortable. As an autistic person, I struggled with the rigid rules of DBT and the strict way they were enforcing it. I only made it through a couple of weeks of the program before being hospitalized again at Northshore, a hospital in Peabody, for slitting my wrists. Being in the hospital for so long made me so fragile that I resorted to attempting suicide when my eyeliner came out funky. I was hospitalized again at Northshore shortly after being discharged after I ran into a CVS and downed a jumbo bottle of Tylenol. My experience at Northshore was generally okay, but again, I don’t remember most of my life, so a full account of my experience is simply not possible.
Fast forward to April. My eating disorder was at its worst. I had cut out gluten, sugar, and dairy for the past 4 or so months; lately, though, I’ve hardly been consuming anything. My father took me to an eating disorder inpatient hospital in Rhode Island; because it was the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, it was almost empty there. The staff forced me to finish huge platters of food — stuff I wouldn't even normally eat. I complied, simply to avoid the tube. God, the tube. Kids back at Worcester talked about it frequently and I felt I had to do anything to avoid it. So I stuffed myself until I was bursting at the seams, and ended up throwing up after each meal due to stomach issues. Stomach issues which the staff and my doctors ignored, and gave me all but a heat pack for.
Stomach issues which have now been diagnosed as functional gastroparesis and for which I have to take medication with each meal, and even have procedures done. During my time there I was in constant pain. My pleas were ignored. I was stripped of my humanity yet again as staff watched me shower and use the bathroom.
I am home now. I have been since late April of 2020. Since then, I have gone back to school, reconnected with friends, gotten the right treatment for my mental health, and spent time with my family and dogs. But I’m still getting fucked over by the mental hospital. I’ve had five stress fractures in the past year due to low bone density from my eating disorder. I’ve lost touch with my old friends, and can only make small talk with the friends I do have. I do not remember almost anything about my life due to the meds, the trauma, the sedatives, and the ECT. I missed out on 2 years of school because of drug-induced mania. Drug-induced. My entire childhood and adolescence ruined by the wrong diagnosis, the wrong meds.
And the things I do remember? Restraints. Days and nights spent locked in the Quiet Room banging my head and tearing at my flesh. The hurtful words of staff and the annoyed looks on their faces when I was in distress. How quick my parents are to call the police when I’m in a bad mood. I think about the hospital and the restraints constantly. It cannot leave my mind. Why does this matter? Imagine if my story didn’t go this way. Perhaps if I had gotten the right treatment earlier. I would have only been hospitalized for a couple weeks and then returned to live normally again as a middle schooler. Or if I were in the hospital, if I received a more humane, compassionate treatment approach to help me stop self harming, rather than restraints. Perhaps I would have less trauma, fewer re-hospitalizations.
No one in the mental healthcare system deserves to be treated with violence, inhumanity, or abuse. This is why reform is so necessary. I miss who I was before the hospital, and it makes me sad that I will never get her back.