“To recognize one’s own insanity is, of course, the arising of sanity, the beginning of healing and transcendence.” ~ Eckhart Tolle
My life is full. I am so thankful for that. The interesting and contrasting experiences will continue indefinitely, I can be sure. This particular short story begins on a mountain near a raging stream in Orobumba, Peru on June 24, 2013. Yet another expression of Paradise here on Earth. I am thoroughly enjoying my trip led by a trusted Ecuadorian friend. We were a small group of 8 people joined at times by different Shamans and several local guides. On this Beautiful day, our group was participating in a San Pedro ceremony. There was a Sacred Plant which acts as a vehicle for heart opening along with our combined intentions. We had a Soundhealer playing music to enhance the Sacred space. I immensely enjoyed assisting the Shaman in the creation of a Sacred Mandala out of flowers picked from around the site. Dartura flowers (note one above, the largest in the photo) were among them – a powerful, sacred plant in its own right. This time its physical beauty more than its chemical properties were employed. It was in this setting, I was alone meditating in the woods 8 feet from the bank of the stream. The picture shows the mat and objects I chose to accompany me. I was very relaxed and had no expectations. The single message to come to me was that “I did not need my medications” (Lithium for Bipolar Disorder was the only medication I was taking). I sat with that. Hmmmm… Is this true? I am toying with the idea of a trial of discontinuance. I had planned to do this sometime before Oct. 2013 which would be one year on the drug. One would never really know if the medication is needed without stopping it and see how you feel. I was not set. ….And then another of our group traipsed along nearby. She approached me, hugged me and whispered in my ear, “you don’t need your medication”. OK, that seemed an amazing coincidence. I was decided. I would try without the med. I had 5 more days before I returned to Canada. The next decision was when. After pondering and reflecting and meditating on it, I decided: now. I would stop the medication immediately. It would still be in my system until I got to Canada. It would be fine. If I felt symptoms return, I would just restart it. No big deal.
Well, I arrived home. I was feeling fantastic. I committed to my writing in a new way. I was not going to judge it too much. “If it is not a book, totally fine. I truly enjoy the writing so here I go” (….again. I have said this before. But this time I meant it.) I felt so comfortable in my own skin. With the various healings and ceremonies that I participated in while in Peru, I felt that I was Healed. Within 2 weeks, I started to notice that I would have to go back on my medication. The change came fairly quickly. I was sleeping well and then, bam, all of a sudden I could not sleep one night. Not a wink. It was accompanied by a lot of creative ideas flooding my brain. I decided that I was a creative genius. Really, who isn’t? So funny how I could doubt myself one day and now this day I felt so sure that I was on the right track. (Yes, I was manic again). Who cares what others say about me? I was sure that I was heading in the right direction.
Was this mania? I was wondering. There was also some male attention that had me pretty excited. Was it more just that? Maybe both. “Is what Western Medicine calls ‘mania’ actually an expanded consciousness that is likely not sustained but can be accessed for creative and spiritual experiences?” This concept has always been at the back of my mind and remains there…I perceived great and significant spiritual experiences both times I was manic.
In the course of this, my parenting partner became aware of my new, elevated mood (state of consciousness?) – felt in Western Medicine to be a Manic Episode. I took my first Lithium capsule on my own counsel with the firm plan to restart the med daily. Well, that did not satisfy him. He wanted a Doctor’s assessment at the hospital. His intentions were good. He knew that I wanted to handle this as an outpatient. But after consulting with two of my close friends, it was decided that I would go to the hospital. I recall thinking that the book and/or movie (of my life – running joke) could only be enhanced by experiences forthcoming. I had no idea how right I was on this one. I still entertained the idea that everyone would allow me to take oral meds and settle this down at home. Maybe next time if that ever comes to experience. Alas, it was deemed that I was suffering with a mental disorder, was a danger to myself or others (debatable, unless you think being hugged is dangerous) and would likely not have agreed to inpatient therapy on my own. I was Committed under the Mental Health Act. The Act that locks up those whose Reality does not match the Reality of the Captors – known in the world of Integrative Psychiatry as Unshared Reality. This was my second go around with this Committed thing. My Mom is Retired from a long career as a Lawyer. During the prior admission, she informed me that I had less rights than a Prisoner under this Act: an uplifting thought.
I have always been committed but being Committed under the Alberta Mental Health Act …I can pass on that. I wondered to myself what purpose this served.
I am reminded of a fond memory from my first admission. I laughed so hard seeing an excerpt from Austin Powers Goldmember on You Tube where Dr. Evil does a Jail Rap to Hard Knock Life.
There is even some banjo playing – that is always good for me…
I was shown this while at the Relaxation Spa (as I often affectionately call the Psychiatric Ward) in November 2012 – my first time being committed. A group of us had gathered together in the evening before bed. I was sitting on a fellow patient’s knee. Whenever the nurses turned their back, on his knee I would jump. It is against the ward rules to hug or touch fellow patients. He was 6 foot 4 inches, 240 pounds and 23 years old. He and I befriended each other quite authentically during our shared experience. I met him in lockdown. Not many friends you can say that about. He had the kindest Christ-like nature. He was looking out for the other patients so tenderly which was my natural reaction also. I adopted him as a cousin. We enjoyed spending time together each with one earbud listening to various music. We might be walking down the hall or across a table at the cafeteria. He even attended my self-led stair workouts. Tricky with our earbud sharing. I am not sure what it is with me and younger men, maybe I am just young at heart? My new cousin was not at all worried. He was seemingly disappointed by my formula that I must not date men younger than “half my age plus 5”. A good friend had shared this with me and I have taken it as Gospel Truth ever since. This new friend was 5 years too young. So it was my cousin who entertained me with his iphone that evening and this Dr. Evil video. I will always fondly link it to the Relaxation Spa. Interestingly during the second hospitalization, hardly a connection at all with the other patients – just social courtesy. Maybe all the good ones are down in the lockdown unit. I digress.
Back to my story. It was a Tuesday night. I was led into a small room with a stretcher in the Emergency Department to wait for my hospital room to be available. Later, it was deemed that this room was needed by another patient and I was moved to a stretcher in the hallway of the Emergency Department. All. Night. Long. I determined months later on review of the nurse’s notes that it was all day the next day also – kinda lost track of time.
I actually enjoyed myself. That is the beauty of mania. I sat up most of the night and got slightly excited at each and every man in uniform that walked by. I even flirted with one of the female security guards. Maybe a fetish? (Oh dear…Felt like the female version of Benny Hill or something). I frequently said “Hi Officer”. I might have thrown in a “How is your night going?” My friendliness was not received with any warmth. I asked several times, “Can I hug you?” No. “How about a high five”. OK. So a lot of high fives. Last time I was in the Hospital for mania, it was a whole lotta love…which landed me in lockdown. Another story…
Wednesday morning arrives and I was taken to my room. Instant elation. I was in a single room to myself. There was a Beautiful stenciled quote on the wall, “What a caterpillar calls death, the master calls Butterfly”. My Psychiatrist informed me upon discharge that the stencil was a Guerilla Act. Love that! I was on a familiar Ward. Ahhhhhh… All was well. Within about 10 minutes, I felt an anger building up. Rather quickly. Within moments, I caught myself taking a large breath in…..and on the outbreath I shouted at the top of my lungs. The very top of my lungs. F bombs were sprinkled liberally amongst the ‘telling the whole world off’.
Everyone has got to do this at least once in their life, right? I would love to hear a recording of this. I felt certain in the wisdom of this admonishment to the world. I admit that I cannot remember the details of the rant. My guess is that this might have been sustained for 4-5 minutes. When I was through, I sat down on the bed. Aaaaaaaaaah, that felt so much better. I took deep breaths and felt completely under control again. I felt healed. I marveled to myself how therapeutic that was. Next thing I know, the door was ajar. A man in uniform (oooo baby) peeked in with 3 nurses hovering nervously behind him. I was jarred back to the reality of my setting, “The Looney Bin”. Strange, if I had this verbal onslaught almost anywhere else in the world, it would have had no ramifications. I made a lot of noise but nobody was in danger or was hurt. Judging by the looks on everybody’s faces, I realized that I had to “sell myself”…and quickly or this could get dramatic. Instantly I was reaching out my arms consoling the staff, “I am so sorry”, “I am so sorry”, “I feel so much better now”… It was only the “man in uniform” talking. Hmmmm…. Strange. (And I catch myself still slogging that old fantasy). Even in this setting….Oh dear, Angèle. When will you let that one go? I was pleading with the Uniformed man, “we are connecting” I told him and he agreed. “It is OK”. “I am completely fine now”. The man advanced into the room slowly with the 3 nurses huddled in the doorway, the door fully opened now. One moment I felt I was connecting with him and then I saw the instant change. What? What changed? I was calm! He gave the nod. The next moment, 4 people held me down (despite the fact that I am not fighting them) and I was given an intramuscular injection of Haldol – an antipsychotic medication better known in my medical training days as Vitamin H.
“It is all Fun and Games until someone gets injected with Vitamin H”. Well this little injection left me snowed for two days!! I was shocked to hear my Psychiatrist nonchalantly agree, “Yes, you were obtunded”. Obtunded! Honest to God. His casual approach to the topic made it appear that this is a common occurrence in his world. I am not making this up!! My Mom and Dad inform me that they spent 2 hours that night watching me breath. They felt they frequently had to shake me to restart my breathing. I was in a light coma, essentially: a medicine-induced coma. Apparently 5mg is too much for me.
“It’s called the Haldol shuffle” Stated by a 35 year veteran of the Psychiatric ward.
Caregiver Fear: treated. Optimal? Not in my opinion. Is shouting dangerous? No. There is always two sides to all stories. Doctor’s defense? In his words, My Brain got a much needed rest. Informed consent obtained from the Patient, me? No. The Power given by the Mental Health Act removes all of the rights normally belonging to a patient. Pity …
I lament because if they had offered me something oral, I would have taken it. I was wise enough to know I had no choice. I am left with a sense that the system fears underdosing. I recommend we Let. That. Fear. Go. Debriefing this with one of the nurses, she felt that injection would only be given if oral was not an option. An Oral option was not presented to me. The nurse goes on to proclaim that the call to inject would be from one of the nurses. My perception was it was the Security Guard. Or they made the call with the door closed just upon hearing a little shouting. They did not even attempt to assess. Kind of a kneejerk reaction to my mind. So 2 less days in my Experience of Life. I have a saying, What is a day, a week, a month, a year in the big scheme of things. Then again, perhaps I was on an amazing Astral Tour of another Dimension. I do not have any recollection of what my consciousness was up to. Who knows how these things happen? Truth is Stranger than Fiction sometimes…
Interestingly, on my first admission, I had thought to myself that it would be my worst nightmare to be held down and injected with Vitamin H. Last time while in lockdown, too much love, I was witness to a fellow patient receiving the beloved injection due to an angry outburst. It hurt my Soul to see it … and every time I saw it in training, or in the movies for that matter. The other patients and I all felt that we could have talked to the afflicted patient and hence avoided the need for Vitamin H. I saw the injection was more about the caregiver’s fear than the patient’s anger. I will always wonder about a parallel system that is Heart-Open. I imagine care can be given without the need of the system’s beloved Vitamin H. I propose that intuitive people exist that would be in an excellent position to formulate a new approach to Mental Health Care. I have faced so many of my fears in this life. Add this one to the list. System 2, Angèle 0. But then again…who is keeping score?
This second hospitalization allowed great contrast for me to reflect on. The first time, I was refusing therapy for the first week. I was a defiant teenager throughout. I am wiser now to see that this system is pretty nailed down. Once you are in, Committed especially, the only way out that I am aware of is compliance – at some level anyway. New tactic this second time was to refuse most medications but ensure I took just enough to satisfy my Captors. Then you lower the drugs even more once you are discharged. My scientific, Doctor self had many doubts as to the validity of the system. Who sets the boundaries? Who made the rules? How long ago were they made? When was the last time we thoroughly questioned what we do in Mental Health Care? Not so fun fact: Big change to the Alberta Mental Health Act now compared to the time I trained as a Doctor. It used to be once the acute phase passed, the conditions no longer existed to hold a patient against their will – one week maximum. Now a power surge was given to the Act when a clause was added that a committed patient could be held up to 30 days. I understand the spirit of it. It is just a whole lot of power given to the system. In the reality that I experienced in my first admission, the doctor wanted to maximize that 30 days, as was his legal right. Huge power differential between the patient and the Doctor. All rests in the Doctor’s judgment. (*see P.S. below) Mine justified my length of stay, despite stabilizing fairly quickly, during my two admissions as a chance for me to attend the group therapies. In a nutshell, the groups are well-intentioned yet lame – except art therapy! My assessment is that those working this system want everyone to live in the same sized box as they do. Many perceive through lenses of fear and scarcity so love and abundance appear invisible. But the beauty of the diagnosis of Bipolar Disorder – I had noted this decades before being diagnosed with the condition myself- is that part and parcel of the diagnosis is lack of insight into one’s condition. If you think differently from the system, it is just further proof that you have the disorder and nothing you postulate could possibly be true. Catch 22. My own professional family members were completely taken in by the argument. My mother had rarely before in her life listened to anything a Doctor had told her…until now. The Doctor’s fears fed into my mom’s desire to keep me safe. Any good mom wants her child to be safe. Better to be safe than sorry is the chosen mindset. It is the biggest irony of the whole matter. My mother’s history was as one of the biggest skeptics towards Western Medicine that I know. Then I heard her echoing the fears of the Doctor. There was a fire blazing in my brain. If I should go off the medicine and the condition recur, it could burn hotter and be much harder to extinguish – if it is extinguishable at all. Wow! It is so risky to stop the medicine. Oh, please…
My experience feels completely otherwise. Want to be clear, I do benefit from my low dose Lithium (600mg). I am curious. My sense is there is a wider understanding to my condition waiting to be discovered. I will figure out how. I know that I can. …And it is easy. My mania came back into control within a couple of days. Not really a big deal. The Doctor had a timeline that was a gradual earning of privileges, like leaving the ward but only in the company of family, tricky with limited visiting hours, and over time builds up to day or weekend passes. I must jump through the hoops for my Freedom. OK. Watch me jump.
I love Freedom…
I wrote these words while on a day pass. Not really sure when I would be discharged. It felt out of my hands. I had a wonderful day visiting with my friend and daughter. I spent 2 hours sitting in my orange Adirondack chair listening to my backyard waterfall and appreciating the lush greenery and the numerous blooms. The Salvia flowers offered punctuations of indigo. My clematis vine with its purple flowers was in its full glory – a true spectacle. I was in a hurry to write about this hospital experience. The sooner I expressed this, the quicker I was Free. I did shed a couple of tears each time I have thought about or told this story. The tears were the Soulful, super-healing kind…
I was discharged the next day, making it a 13 day stay. It was funny how the Doctor mentioned he was sending me home and “what did I think of that?” My squeaked reply, “there is a God”. We closed that chapter. Yes!!
Home Sweet Home.
At the same time, I Had Never Felt More Assaulted in My Life….
Philippine Prison – Dancing Inmates 2010 Tribute to Michael Jackson. Love this! Those inmates look pretty organized…
Above written July 2013
April 29, 2014 I add:
I enjoyed a trip to Norway in October 2013. It was the first time I had experienced illiteracy in any significant way: minimal at best. There were a few small incidents where I was truly lost. Once at a parking machine. Several restaurants, I needed to review the menu one on one with with server. That is always fun albeit humbling. The funniest experience occurred in a small town called Ålesund on the west coast. I attended the Aquarium and was grabbing a snack before I left. I was craving milk…just white milk. I saw a cooler displaying several varieties of milk, different colors. The carton depicted in the photo is the very one I purchased that day. I did not ask questions because I have a lot of experience buying milk. Or so I thought…I purchased this milk with 100% confidence. You don’t know what you don’t know…until you know it. This carton was white. I presumed that the milk inside would also be white. I drove back to my hotel and then opened the carton and took a sip. Big surprise!! It did not taste right at all! What is going on here? It almost tastes like….watermelon?? I have never heard of watermelon flavored milk. I must admit, I am not a fan. When I looked at the carton, I laughed out loud. That cow looks like a watermelon! Now that I have tasted it, it is so obvious. Yet that watermelon cow was absolutely invisible to my eye when I looked at that white carton and instantly jumped to the conclusion that the milk would be white because that was what I expected. I wanted that milk to be white. Watermelon milk was outside of my sense of what was possible – outside of my reality. So it was invisible to my perception even when it was in clear sight.
I ask you to try to put yourself into the situation I describe.
I liken this mundane example as an analogy to the security guard and staff jumping to conclusions about me when they heard my therapeutic rant. The rant was over. They were setup to believe that I was a risk to someone and needed to be controlled. I think shouting might scare them. I was there. I beg to differ. Worth noting I was 33 hours without sleep by this time. A little edgy perhaps? It is not a crime. Or is it? Kinda reminds me of Medical School…
There was a risk that I might have had lusty thoughts about the man in uniform. I have been known to say “hi” to men in uniform. Sometimes I ask for a hug, usually settling for a high five if I am lucky. This was the greatest risk I posed at that time.
I would love to do a small research project putting 30 healthy adults through the conditions I experienced on my first day in the hospital. Left in a busy Emergency Department without sleep for 33 hours and then incarcerate them in a system that they do not believe in. I wonder what type of response they would have? I have always found it so ironic that those first hours when a patient is admitted into the hospital, presumably they are most acute in their symptoms, they get the least care. Almost none? I wonder if a small dose of oral medicine (better yet, a 20 minute long hug) given to me upon arrival in the nearly full-blown manic state might have prevented a scene that was traumatic to the Souls of all involved.
I hold steady that I could have taken a wee extra little something to supplement my restarting the Lithium and rested at home with a friend by my side. Two days later, I would be able to care for myself again. Hospital Staff living in the Fear/Scarcity mindset were a risk to my Health. In Medical Terms: Iatrogenic harm. I would have recovered uneventfully by my own care at home. Of that, I am sure.
We have such a long history with this Abusive Behavior. I boldly state that we do not even know the Natural History (see prior story “Wisdom Teeth…”) of so many of these conditions anymore. Are we painting every patient with the same brush, so to speak? When looking through the lens of Fear, Love will appear invisible.
I now hold strong in the belief that feeling emotions is an important therapeutic activity. If that feeling requires ranting, that is a pretty safe form of therapy. It is not known to have a lot of side effects aside from feeling better. Scratchy voice can be noted if the rant is particularly long…and loud. Louder can be better in my experience. When your caregivers misinterpret an important therapy as a symptom and treat it with medications, you might Fall Down (poke fun at the large Fall Prevention Booklet psychiatric patients receive upon admission) or worse become Obtunded.
Dictionary.com defines obtunded as to blunt, dull or deaden. So interesting that my well-intentioned Psychiatrist chose this word to describe his care. To come alive can appear a little alarming to the uninitiated… Mind the Gap (described in the story Lost in Translation).
My Hypothesis In a Nutshell.
The Moral of the Story: Watermelon Milk comes from Watermelon Cows. Always.
P.S. – Want to add that there is an appeal process to the Commitment – aka Imprisonment. As is often the case, I learn by doing. First admission I appealed but withdrew it once I perceived the Doctor and I were cooperating. I took the medications. Gained 20 pounds in 1 month – nice drugs man. I had felt I would be home right away. Yes, sometimes I am wrong. This was one of those times. A fellow patient who had his hearing the night mine was scheduled won and was discharged immediately around my day 10. I was shocked…and dismayed. I felt betrayed. I did not think the system was so sneeky. I recall working in this system. Hmmmm… It had changed apparently! By the time I figured it out, my new appeal was scheduled to be heard after the 30 days was up. So second go around, I applied for appeal instantly. Now I get it! I am a slow learner. The soonest I could be heard was 13 days into my admission (Appeal is the latest rage in Committed Mental Illness so there is a backlog): the day of my discharge. Now isn’t that a coincidence? My appeal was never heard because I was discharged hours before… My guess is I would not have been discharged had it not been for my appeal hearing coming that night. I could be wrong. I have been wrong before…