“5150” here refers to California Welfare & Institutions Code, sections 5150 — and unfortunately not some retrocomputing fun.
Also: I am safe now. I have good meds, a support network, and a treatment plan. Seek help if y’all need to…but hopefully normal doctors’ appointments are sufficient for y’all. I can’t recommend involuntary treatment. At all.
Yeah. This is about my stay in a mental hospital. Let’s get started with the trigger warnings here. I talk fairly openly about suicide, depression, anxiety, and (often perceived as) abusive institutions, alcohol use and unfortunately, transphobic shit I received. A lot was also written on fairly strong doses of sedatives and is transcribed verbatim from my notes — some of which were crayon.
Okay. now we’ve got that done…let’s get right down to Hell. I’ve got my (hospital-provided) tissues with me back at home as I’m writing this. Grab yours — this isn’t a happy story, there’s no happy ending, but I’m still alive so it’s not THAT ending.
How did things get this desperate?
This isn’t an “I blame these people” list, it’s a “list of things I have only myself to blame for” list.
I had been binge drinking every Wednesday for months to cope. The job wasn’t paying the bills, crippled my with debt, strained my relationships with friends…and it was…abusive. Emotionally. Not gonna get in to much there, or mention any names, however. I had to quit it. I still have some abuse-victim tendencies like just accepting things as they are and not advocating for myself.
One night? I headed to a bar to drink with friends as usual. A friend who lived up the street from me that usually ensured I got home safe wasn’t there that night…should’ve been a sign for me to lighten up. I didn’t. I was too drunk, vomiting at the bar, barely able to walk, and a friend called me a ride home. Once home, I decided to lay on my GIANT BEANBAG and chat on a phone conference whilst I waited to sober up enough to make some instant ramen. Never got to make that ramen, alas. Got up to vomit, nothing came up…except my heart rate! To around 200+ BPM, and not coming down. It was getting rather irregular, too.
So I called an ambulance, which arrived in under five minutes. They attempted to administer adenosine to slow my heart, but the kinda-stopping-it-for-a-few-seconds freaked me out too much. So they quickly shoved me through the Webster Tube to Kaiser Oakland where I stayed for 2.5 days. Once my heart rate was under control, I was discharged home. Where I was too anxious to live alone. Minor ailments would freak me out too much. Point 1: health paranoia.
I wasn’t supposed to drink that night. I told a partner I wouldn’t…and then I did and broke the promise. That relationship ended — one of my strongest, most stable, and most meaningful. Point 2: relationship loss
So, while recovering and talking with the person mentioned in point 4, I realised how abusive work was…so I quit. No more income! I still had bills…but I couldn’t do it. Point 3: job loss/financial stress/housing loss
I met some wonderful people…one of which I would end up sort-of dating at the Vintage Computer Festival: West. They gave me a place to live while I get on my feet. Point 4: living arrangement (worried I strained it)
I was supposed to take a trip to Seattle with someone who had to bail mid-way through which cancelled Plan A of couch-crashing. So I tried to fall back on Plan B…who at the last minute had to bail out, cancelling the entire trip. Not their fault. Point 5.
Conveniently I got the flu during when I was supposed to be in Seattle…giving me extreme paranoia about my health, uncontrolled anxiety and paranoia were abundant. Multiple ER trips about it. Point 6: health anxiety; consuming time and energy of others
At one point I couldn’t even grab a single letter from my old place or lock the door without having a panic attack. Point 7: uncontrolled anxiety
I (mistakenly) rushed in to a relationship with one of the people I was living with early on during this mess…a very unwise decision as I just overwhelmed their mental health with my own issues. Said relationship ended. Point 8: destroying every relationship I touch.
The anxiety was controlling my life, destroying my social circles, and health anxiety was destroying me. I had lost all I had that I could use to cope. I was a mess.
If only I’d had some paper…
I wanted to end everything. I wanted to die. I wanted to cease to exist.I didn’t want to traumatise my roommates or cause them difficulty or trouble though. But… the real kicker? I couldn’t find any paper or a printer for a note in this house and I didn’t want to be “unexplained” Otherwise people would have blamed themselves.
I figured it’d be just so easy to…fade away. Leave everything I’d destroyed behind me. Who even still loved me? Who even still cared? Where could I live? How could I pay my bills? I couldn’t live alone anymore…my anxiety ruled me. Nobody here really wanted me…I was destroying the household dynamic! I didn’t feel fixed, I didn’t want fixed. I wanted to fade away and die. I couldn’t cease the thoughts.
So I asked my roommate to take me to the ER, er, again. But this time for suicidal ideation. Half in the hopes it would make me worse, half that it might help. More the former than anything.
So I told the docs about “thoughts of wanting to hurt myself”. I mentioned my prior attempts and past self harm.
They brought me back to a tiny observation room, no tools stored in it (positive pressure isolation room) — thankfully without restraints.
First they confiscated all my electronics, shoes, and clothing (including underwear) and sat me on the least comfortable bed of my life. I looked at the clock and it was about … midnight (23:59) on 9-Sep-2018. I would wait in this uncomfortable bed, with unfulfiling all-paper-tray meals. My roommate left, I started crying off-and-on all night…getting little sleep.
I would wait for 12 hours for an ambulance to transfer me to a mental health facility. Having to tell the (third-party, contracted, unarmed, guard) every time I had to pee, which, as a trans woman on spironolactone…
The Land of MSNBC
I arrived at the (newly built) facility at about 13:00 on 10-Sep-2018, I am given a meal and an interview assessing my depression (31 on their in-house arbitrary scale) and anxiety (don’t recall) scores. I was declared to be dealing with depression and anxiety.
Nursing staff seemed fairly nice and cared about their patients and didn’t seem to mind their jobs. I once asked if their employee benefits covered mental healthcare and … apparently they do not.
The “activity room” (common room for groups and relaxing) TV was tuned to MSNBC with a proposal from another patient for CNN…isn’t news about death and destruction a poor choice for a psychiatric facility? Whatever. I wasn’t getting involved…I’d only gotten about 1.5–2 hours of sleep in so it was time to catch a nap in what wasthankfully my own room.
I awake from horrible and utterly terrifying nightmares to find a psychiatrist in my room introducing himself. The doctor mumbles something about using “depakote” for treating my “bipolar disorder (type II)” while I’m coming down from a panic attack and high on too much Ativan. I don’t refuse the meds figuring they’d just find “good reason” to force me to take them or keep me longer as I was there involuntarily. The side effects werenever explained. I then found out I couldn’t have visitors in the first 24-hour period of being there.
Showering terrifies me, moving scares me, I’m not functional. was depakote the right drug? I need a hug, I need to see friends/lovers…desperately.
I took benadryl, the new drug, an existing nightmare-helping drug, and cried myself to sleep
END FIRST NIGHT
I woke up in a panic attack the next day, asked the front desk for something and they provided more Ativan which ends the … diphenhydramine-dryness-caused panic attack. Next fight: estrogen!
I was terrified to sleep alone, scared I was being given the wrong drugs, getting delayed estrogen and asthma meds…I was also terrified of misgendering from doctors and other patients Despite all my documents stating “Female”…I counted at least 30 “him” and “he”s just that day. Correcting people changed nothing. They didn’t care.
Thankfully, as 13:00 meant I’d been there 24 hours so it meant I’d get visitors that evening (who were bringing my much-needed estrogen). I was desperate to see Sarah and hug her.
The showers were bizarre…my first room’s one was even a bit defective. Four buttons, two showerheads. You can’t adjust either. Left is cold, right is hot. You might need to press cold once and hold hot to get hot water though, it was surreal. The toilet was seatless (because you can, uh, hurt yourself with one somehow I guess???). The bathroom doors were padded foam and stuck to the doorframe magnetically. Sinks? Motion sensing and on a timer. Facility had four units…two of which shared one remote control for the TVs. Channel changing was an experience of being patient enough to use the front controls on the satellite box.
Thankfully, Sarah and a roommate were able to come visit that day (24hrs in, Tuesday 11-Sep-2018). She just held me and comforted me the entire time…I didn’t want to let go…I felt safe in her arms. Something I never felt my entire time in the hospital.
Both brought me plushies! Roommate brought a giant Corgi borrowed from their wife and Sarah brought a jungle cat plushie. I needed anything I could get to make sleep more comfortable.
That day was awful — rife with misgendering, lack of estrogren, and anxiety. Sarah and my roommate helped more than I can ever put to words.
Finally got my estrogen…twelve hours late. Ouch.
I am a shell of myself. I am broken without comfort from those that love me. Am I really bipolar? Will I come out more broken?
END SECOND NIGHT
I tried to head to the facilirt gym during activity group on the second full day to expose myself to a traumatic environment and try and work on my anxiety.It led to a panic attack…as expected. I coped through without meds…still bad at ping-pong, though. Damn.
Release is going to be…hard. Some friends may blame themselves…asking if they could’ve done more. None of it was their fault. I was without hope and wanted to die. I’ll do therapy and I feel a bit more hope. I love my partners and friends. I have projects I want to finish, too.
The psychiatrist wanted me to stay a few extra days to let depakote levels settle and to add miratazpine to the mix. This was also done as an “experiment” to “see if it would unmask the bipolar symptoms”. He asks about my wanting to leave, and I state that as a transgender woman I didn’t feel safe there. That misgendering makes me take twelve million steps back in any recovery.
So, a new and unknown drug, my involuntary hold is lengthened, and I’m misgendered but hey…at least I got to see Sarah that night (12-Sep-2018)
I don’t feel super safe here
END THIRD NIGHT
Fourth day was an uneventful one. Transphobic TV on in the TV room, seemingly higher energy levels, Asthma was angry. Cute girl gave me a nice colouring. Surprisingly little anxiety during the day. Sad poem though in art class.
The toilets clogged near the end of dinner, came back assigned a new room which was quieter which made me very anxiety. Had difficulty getting to sleep as I heard the plumbers pulling bedsheets out of the drains.
END FOURTH NIGHT
I was woken up at 3am by another patient kicking and punching the door/walls of the isolation/observation room. He proceeded to run around yelling “THIS IS BULLSHIT!”, “FUCK!” and “I APOLOGISE FOR WAKING EVERYONE UP” (he was promptly transferred to a different unit. I was trying to go without anxiety meds but that hit enough triggers I was in a severe panic attack and needed Ativan.
Please let me out tomorrow. I am terrified here. Even moreso now. Please help me, Please hold me. Screaming and banging is super hard for me.
I hate this. Can I go home? Please? Can someone hold me?
Interestingly enough, the Mirtazapine + depakote + ativan combo led to difficult-to-wake from lucid dreams. I stayed deep in the lucid dream, exploring in a dreamscape without pain…containing hope. It boosted my mood. Trying to wake up was hard, though. I could see the dream world tearing as my brain tried to rip through the sedatives.
This is the last night…I get out tomorrow. at 11am. I am gonna sleep well tonight. Seemed during visitation I missed a fight…which I am grateful for.
END OF FINAL NIGHT
And here you have it. It’s 01:19, it’s time to take my nighttime medication and head to sleep. I was released at about noon. I’ve been home for over twelve hours. Every time I’d close my eyes…i’d see images of the facility and get scared.
I don’t want to ever go back.
Did it help? Well, i’m still alive, more traumatised, and I can see some hope, and my stomach is sick from writing this.
- Facility is bad at listing all side effects for meds or explaining risks
- People didn’t receive rights handbooks in a timely manner
- Doctor seemed to want to be a treatment machine instead of individualising treatment
- Doctors and social workers are very overworked.
- It’s a throw-and-see-what sticks diagnosis system in there
- Please don’t ever send me back. Don’t even 5150 me.