By: Leif Gregersen
He had me firmly by the left arm and was twisting it. It hurt bad, and he was going to take me back there again, to ‘the room.’
“Wade, you don’t need to force me, I’m not resisting you.”
Wade was a good looking guy with shoulder length brown hair and a neatly shaved face with a well kept moustache. He twisted my arm more as he walked me to the isolation room and looked down at it. I looked at his face again, and I could see him smiling, trying not to laugh at the fact that his actions were severely hurting me to the point of injury. He had to be a closet psychopath. Me, I was only psychotic.
Wade brought me to the side room, shoved me inside and slammed the door. I could hear the metallic click of the magnetic lock that only opened from the outside. I was back, and I hated the feel of the white painted walls, the hard floor with the interrupted pattern of small tiles on it that seemed to put messages in my head. Most of all I hated that nothing I could do would get me out of there before someone on the other side of that door felt like opening it.
I had so much anger, so much pain inside me that when the staff put me in the side room, I would cut loose. I screamed a string of profanities as loud as I could, and let go as many hard kicks to the door as humanly possible. I did this until I was hoarse and my shoeless feet ached. I don’t know what I was accomplishing, but it helped me calm down, and the staff never seemed to be able to give me trouble for it, so I kept doing it.
The room was small, maybe 12 feet by 12. There was nothing in it, no TV, no padding, no window. My only companion was the air conditioning unit in the corner built into the wall. It hummed out a throaty, low sounding waft of cold air for a few minutes every hour. Still, the air seemed pretty stale in there. It was institutional air, a lot of other people had breathed it in an out before me and I would likely breathe the same air in again in the near future.
All I had in that room was a bottle to piss in, a plastic mattress and what they called a strong sheet. There was no way to hang yourself or injure yourself in any way unless you got creative like I had done, and you kicked at the thick metal door until you felt like your foot would break. I saw people pick at the linoleum if they were motivated to find a way and take a little piece of the stuff to try and cut their wrists. It rarely worked.
I had arrived on that ward about five months ago. I had been living alone, and it seemed like everything was going right for me. I had credit cards, I took trips, I had a car and led an active life. For some inexplicable reason, I decided that I could lower my medications—not a lot, just a little. It was a mistake that nearly cost me my life. At the very least it cost me the next six months of my life that I spent in that horrible place.
My psychiatrist seemed to have no interest in helping me. I had gotten sick of the doctor’s inaction and the fact that he never talked to me, and I ended up telling the nurses and other staff members that he was incompetent. They laughed and told me to tell him that. Little did they know I was just crazy enough to do so.
“You’re incompetent, and I want a different doctor,” I said.
“Get out.” He said in reply.
That was it. ‘get out.’ The next weeks and months went by so slowly I could hardly stand it. I didn’t get a new doctor or any help from the old one. Once he came by to tell me that I would be put in jail if I kept making phone calls to people. I had called a former girlfriend’s dad one time to ask him a couple of questions, and he had gone ballistic. No one took into account that I made no threats or insults, and I was severely mentally ill at the time.
My doctor had left instructions that at the first sign of any problems they could put me in the side room without hesitation. There was no judge and jury process, no need to contact a supervisor, they just had to gang up and throw me in, with or without injecting me with something ominous, and they could leave me in there as long as they wanted. Over the next five months, I must have been in that room more than a hundred full 24-hour stays. I tried everything to get back at them for this injustice. They had set things up so even the ward receptionist could have me put in the side room for absolutely no reason. One time I filled the piss bottle and then tossed it under the door frame. Another time I took my mattress and tipped it against the wall and hid behind it making them have to come in and take it away from me. I like to think that my spirit couldn’t be defeated, that I had a will that would outlast those bastards, but it didn’t work out that way. I turned into a simpering wreck in the long, tedious, painful and arduous months. I even made a phone call to the Canadian Special Intelligence Service thinking they had been torturing me for information. What they didn’t sweat out of me they tranquilized out of me with a long list of medications.
Then one day my doctor took a short vacation. I got a chance to see the Psychiatrist, and he had me immediately taken to a ward that didn’t even have a side room. After all that waiting, all those ‘side room’ visits, I was put back on the medication that I was taking before my hospital stay—but now at the proper dose. I got better within a month, good enough to walk right out of that place.
The next months on the outside were rough. I went to a group home run by a penny pinching, self-serving, uncaring old wretch of a woman. She did things like serve us one potato with watery gravy for supper and took 90% of our disability benefits each month. One day her sister came over and caused a leak with her washing machine, and she came to me and screamed in my face. My roommate convinced me that was assault and that I should call the police. I did, and the cop went right to her, listened to a small web of lies and then came down to threaten me with being taken back to the hospital. It makes me so angry to think of not being able to say my side of an issue because an oversized moron who is too lazy to do his job has a gun and a taser and will use them.
My life was a mess when I left that hospital. I never thought I would work again, never thought I would travel or do the myriad of things my heart longed to do when I was younger. But I found a home. I found a group home that gave me regular medications, someone to talk with and a comfortable bed. A group home where everyone dealt with mental health issues as either sufferers or caregivers, and suddenly the stigma of my mental condition was gone, and I could heal. That was 15 years ago. The whole world changed since the time I was in the hospital for six months. There have been wars and stock market crashes, oil booms and opportunities of every kind. This Spring I made a lifelong dream come true of traveling to London, England and was in awe of the history and traditions. Five years ago I published a book about my life with bipolar disorder and two years later a sequel. Life has become a thousand times more incredible than I ever thought it could, and as I finish writing this short essay I wonder how many of those people in that hospital did care, really did want me to get better. I know I could have been a much easier patient to deal with and that I was pretty bull-headed. What would anyone do when someone took their freedom away? How would a person without an illness react when treated so unfairly? But I also thank the stars that a place like that mental hospital, for lack of a better term, exists that can take someone in when they are seemingly beyond all help. It may not be a pleasant thing to be drugged and warehoused, but now that I’ve come out the other side I feel stronger for it, and now have a whole new understanding of my loved ones and friends. Every opportunity I never thought I could have had has come my way. I don’t know if there is a way to end all pain, but I do know faith in yourself and hard work towards a worthwhile goal can change bad luck into consistent positive results, and bring meaning to any life.
This incredibly brave and moving piece comes our friend, Leif Gregersen. You can read more of Leif’s work based on his experiences with mental health here, or you can find his mental health memoirs on Amazon: Inching Back to Sane and Through the Withering Storm. Thank you, Leif, for sharing your story with us.
Always know that you are not alone.
You are always loved.
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