My First—and Hopefully Last—Hospitalization

Barbara Bawlf

Web-only article from "Trauma and Victimization" issue of Visions Journal, 2007, 3 (3)

stock photoFor many years I experienced periodic bouts of depression. I’d get through each one on my own, without any medical intervention. Usually there was a respite period of two years or so, and then the “black dog” would appear again.

I sought help from counsellors and doctors, but to no avail. The counsellors were always trying to dig up deep dark secrets from my past or asking me about my sex life—neither of which was relevant to the way I felt. I once asked a doctor for antidepressants, and he said he didn’t believe in them.

Finally, in 1989, I got a diagnosis of clinical depression from a wonderful psychiatrist. It was the first time a professional had given me a medical, rather than an environmental, diagnosis. On the second try he managed to prescribe the right medication—and what a world of difference! My appetite returned, and I was finally able to sleep again. I felt I could get on with my life.

In 1993 I attended a Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) conference in Quebec City as a board member of CMHA Victoria. I was very excited, as I had never been to Quebec. But I found being at the conference very stressful. There were a lot of people, and my roommate, a woman who had travelled with me, was very wound up and always on the phone. And another consumer I knew was having trouble with his illness and asking me for help. The experience of being in Quebec City, coupled with listening to people’s problems, was overwhelming.

When I returned to Victoria, I couldn’t sleep. The jet lag had really affected me. I was living with my mother at the time, and she found my behaviour uncharacteristic. I wandered around in the middle of the night, got up at 6 A.M. and smoked and drank a lot of coffee. I was convinced that the people who lived upstairs were people I knew from a place I used to live, and I thought they were having a band rehearsal for a big surprise party for me.

So, after consulting with the staff at the psychiatric outpatient program I was in and with my good friend Bill, I decided to go to Emergency at Eric Martin Pavilion, the psychiatric hospital in Victoria. I was admitted.

I was very confused by this time. I kept thinking that people I saw in the hospital were people I had met elsewhere in my life. I thought the psychiatrist who came to see me was an old boyfriend who had aged.

The hospital psychiatrist gave me lithium (a medication for mood disorders), because he thought I was manic. To the best of my knowledge, I had never been manic before.

Several days after my admission, I was invited out for coffee by another patient. We went to a restaurant across the street from the hospital. This patient told me she had been in the hospital for two years, and that all the taxi drivers in Victoria were actually undercover cops.

My nurse entered the restaurant as we were leaving. She told me I had left the hospital without permission and that if I didn’t get back and into pajamas, she would send out a warrant for my arrest.

I was shocked. I had signed in as a voluntary patient.

I did return to the ward and I did put the pajamas on. The same nurse, when she got back to the ward, told me to take a certain sleeping medication. I told her I didn’t take that medication and refused. She said that if I didn’t take it within the next half hour, she would bring in Security. I defiantly replied, “Go ahead.”

Well, go ahead they did. Two doctors, a nurse and two security guards came in, held me down, took off almost all my clothes and gave me a needle. I kept yelling, “This is against the Charter of Rights!” But at that point I became an involuntary patient and was certified.

It was an absolutely horrifying experience.

After this incident I felt outrage that anyone would treat me or other patients that way. My behaviour certainly hadn’t warranted that punishment.

The incident was traumatic, but never caused me post-traumatic stress disorder. I sometimes wonder if my anger was a show of my resilience—that I could go through a difficult experience and be stronger for it. And over the years that anger has faded away.

My thoughts about maltreatment in the hospital changed because of this experience. Prior to it, when other consumers told me about being mistreated in hospital, I thought they were exaggerating. Now, I know better.

The upside of the hospitalization is that I was rediagnosed as bipolar and put on lithium, which has turned out to be the right medication for me. For 13 years now, I haven’t had an episode of depression or hypomania. Being employed in the mental health field for the last 10 years, using my skills and experience to help others, has also helped with my mental health.

 
About the author

Barbara has been Manager of the Richmond Mental Health Consumer and Friends Society for the last three years

 

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