The other day, with the help of my spiritual teacher*, I realized that I’m still dealing with the trauma of being forcibly hospitalized. Of course I knew this on some level, but I’ve admittedly been trying to bypass the healing process. Why? Because, to put it simply, healing sucks. It’s necessary and feels great afterwards, but during, it’s no fun at all.
Thinking about the hospital and its surrounding events still triggers shame and grief in my being. Of course, avoidance never works forever. We live in a culture steeped in deep avoidance, which is something I would love to see change soon. Since I can’t make that happen on a wide-scale, I’m starting where I can: With myself. In an effort to face that trauma, I’m going to share some of the feelings I experienced while in the hospital.
I don’t know if posting this will help me to release anything, but I’m going to do it anyway. There’s been a tight/blocked sensation in my throat for over a week now, and as I continue to watch it, I know it is indicative of something I’m not expressing that needs to be expressed.
*My teacher’s name is Jim Tolles and his website is www.spiritualawakeningprocess.com. I have referred back to his website more than any other to help integrate my awakening. He’s amazing and I recommend reading his blogs and/or reaching out to him for a session if you feel you’re ready for a teacher.
First things first: Being hospitalized during a spiritual emergency is really traumatizing, and that should not be dismissed. A spiritual emergency can be something like an ego collapse/death, a psychotic break triggered by the use of drugs, or any other variation of someone’s “reality” breaking down that they simply cannot cope with. What these people need is compassionate care from those who understand that the human being is much more than a collection of chemicals. They need truly nonjudgmental care, not the kind that calls itself “nonjudgmental” and then literally labels us “disordered.” That is, pardon my language, a fucking judgment.
From the outside, it seems “right” to sedate those who are having a psychotic break/spiritual emergency. From the inside—well, you honestly have no idea until you go through it yourself. Not even a little bit.
The following paragraphs flew out of me. I’m aware they may sound hyperbolic, but they are accurate in regards to what it felt like to have my physical body restrained and my consciousness altered against my will:
Basically it felt like I was processing the sins of humankind through my own being. I felt the rape of every human who has ever endured such trauma and the persecution of every prophet. I felt the shunning and isolation that every outcast has ever experienced. I felt extreme, undeserved rejection. I felt the harsh punishment of every child who has done something their parents deemed wrong, even though they had no idea what they were doing. I felt horror and fear on levels I did not even know existed.
I felt like a baby whose leg had been cut off, and like everyone around me was standing by laughing as I tried to crawl around. I felt like this especially afterwards, when my friends (and myself) tried to joke about it out of discomfort, or when my loved ones expressed relief that I’d “finally accepted” I had been “crazy.”
I felt like every prisoner who was about to get their hands chopped off by the state. I felt like every person who had been in a concentration camp, subject to unthinkable injustice. It seemed like everyone around me was unconscionable and cruel and merciless—and stupid. Really, really stupid. To me, the hospital staff were no better than Nazis (I’m pretty sure I called them that, too) in the sense that they were “just taking orders,” “just doing what they’d been trained to do.”
Honestly, I still don’t see much of a difference between a Nazi and those who are still just moseying about life today, refusing to challenge a culture as murderous as ours. I recognize that it’s all fear and unconsciousness and so it is forgiven, but we are still killing each other. It is happening everywhere all the time for no reason other than widespread insanity. I don’t feel as though we have made much progress in this regard.
Being forced to take medication was an extreme violation of what I wanted in my own body. When I was taken to isolation, everyone just looked on like they didn’t hear me screaming to be let out, like my pain wasn’t real, like my extreme suffering didn’t matter because I was “hysterical.” I felt like everything I said fell on deaf ears, even though I know at least some of it was valid. Because no one knew what to do with me, they to took me to a bed and allowed strange men to shackle my body down when I was incredibly vulnerable and angry. To someone who is psychotic, it doesn’t matter if said men are apparently licensed to do this. It reads as terrifying.
I bit a male staff member for trying to touch me. I do not even feel ashamed of that now, although it was used as “evidence” of my insanity more than once by the psychiatrist and my caseworker. To me, it was very reasonable: I didn’t know him, I didn’t want him touching me, and my teeth were my only weapon. I never consented to him touching my body. More than one staff member actually laughed at me while I was psychotic; I saw it in their faces and heard it in their voices. I still believe that those people do not possess the emotional maturity to work with those who are in acute mental health crises.
Just so we’re clear: I’m not trying to assert that my actual circumstances—being a patient in the mental hospital—were “just as bad” as every human experience I just described. I don’t play the “suffering Olympics,” because it is a simplistic and unhelpful game to play. If anything, this is a testament to how one’s external circumstances are a poor measure for what they’re actually dealing with inside.
I’m just telling you how it felt, and it felt like Hell to an unimaginable degree.
There was no one. I don’t really like saying that, because my family and friends did the best they could. My husband came to visit me even though I’d just stepped out of the marriage. Some of my friends came to see me while I’m sure I was saying shit that made absolutely no sense. Everyone did what they could.
But really it felt like (and still does feel like) there was no one who saw my experience as deep and real and significant. Way too many times, people talked about how hard it was for them to see me in the hospital. I know they meant well, but it just made me feel worse for troubling them. Afterwards, a lot of people said “I wasn’t myself” in the hospital, but I didn’t even feel like I knew who I was. It was very confusing. I also felt like whoever they thought they’d “known” before wasn’t the True me. I felt, overall, horribly ashamed of myself and tossed in a corner to recover from the most intensely awful time in my life.
I felt these feelings for months and months after I was released. Everyone around me was still somewhat scared and worried, and my feelings of loneliness were staggering. I had no idea what had happened, and I felt so looked down on, so pitied, so mislabeled. I laid in bed with just saying “I’m scared; I’m scared,” even though I didn’t know what of.
Whatever explanations anyone had for my breakdown, I knew they were incomplete, and it was maddening.
Before I was hospitalized, I was highly sensitive and unstable and in violation of many many social contracts, but I was not violent. When I got into the hospital, I became violent. I want to say clearly and openly: Being forcibly hospitalized worsened my overall state of being during my spiritual emergency. Every professional failed to understand what was happening at a deeper level. They did not provide me with an alternative to the “disease” story, and the experience overall worsened my prognosis.
For as hurt and resentful as this post may sound, I do not begrudge anyone. People were trying to be there in every way they knew how, and I retreated from a lot of potentially nourishing spaces and people because I was just so shaken up. I had no idea what had happened. I just knew I needed to hide, lick my wounds, and turn my attention inward. I had to look into other explanations outside of “you got dysfunctional genes; your brain chemicals are all screwy.” Fortunately, that is what I did.
With this post, all I mean to do is share some of how it felt. I have no doubt that someday, someone will read this and it will help them feel understood. If you’re one of them, I hope it lets you know you’re actually not alone, and that you can move forward from the experience and even have a life filled with more joy than you ever thought possible.
Still, I mostly wrote this for my own self. No lie: I sobbed as I wrote most of this post as I recalled what it was like to be shuttered away, talked down to, drugged, watched, confined, and perhaps the worst part: judged, judged, judged at every turn.
I also want to get across something very simple: We can do better for one another. We can do so much better.
location: Georgetown, TX