Hospitals – the psychiatric type

In the town where we grew up, there was a psychiatric hospital.  It was spoken about in hushed whispers as a scary place where crazy people were fenced in and tortured.  In reality, the hospital catered predominantly for those who were institutionalised during a time in our history when those with even minor problems were often hidden away.  We were told as part of our abuse, that if we told the secrets we would be sent to prison or this hospital forever.  So our early contact with psychiatric hospitals was negative.

If you place these experiences within the context of our rather traumatic experiences with the medical profession, you get a picture of someone who has deep seeded issues and fears about all things medical.  The young ones especially react with terror even when driving by a hospital.  We avoid dentists, doctors and nurses where at all possible.  In many ways this fear enabled us to appear high functioning for many years – if there was a threat of having to ask for help through therapy or medication, well that just wasn’t acceptable.  Time to stamp it all back down into The Basement and carry on being invisible.

Then arrives the dissociative train wreck we experienced when about 34.  Our coping mechanisms fell apart.  Then there was the final straw – we were teaching a group of 40 students when something about the interactive whiteboard markers caused Angel to come forward.  So there you have a 5 year old drawing pictures of flowers on the whiteboard while a group of adult students look on.  M comes back to find half the board covered…

So back to therapy we went.  We were in the throes of an abusive marriage and suddenly facing a childhood that wasn’t as perfect as we’d convinced ourselves it was.  These factors led to constant suicidal ideation and intent, which in turn resulted in us needing to find some support to keep safe.

In New Zealand there are a few support lines for suicide help – Lifeline, Samaritans, Youthline, the emergency number or the local mental health hotline.  Lifeline, Samaritans and Youthline are confidential – unless they feel you are in danger, in which case they will try to get your details and send around the Police.  Emergency services transfer you through to the mental health hotline, unless you are already need emergency care.  Once you’re in the mental health system, you are told to call the mental health hotline.  Usually you wait for 5-10 minutes on hold before the phone is answered – ever been suicidal during the Christmas season and had to listen to Christmas carols for 20 minutes while waiting to see if someone can help you stop killing yourself?  You can at least double the waiting time if you call after midnight, as that’s when they go down to one or two operators.

If you do manage to get through to a human, you’re asked for your details – name, phone, address, caseworker and then why you’ve called.  If they consider you to be at risk, they will send around the local mental health workers to assess you.  If they consider that you aren’t at risk, they will discuss grounding skills you can use before sending you on your way.  The problem with this is that at any one time we can have up to 5 suicide plans – apparently that means we don’t really mean to die as we’re not focused on one plan (we consider it covering our bases in case one doesn’t work).  We can also begin the phone call with one who wants to reach out for help; but by the time we get to actually talk to someone, we’ve switched to one who either won’t talk or says that everything is fine.  So in many ways the service doesn’t suit us (and a majority of the population).

If you are considered at risk, you get the joyful experience of being escorted up to the psychiatric ward of the local hospital.  Where you begin the wait for some poor registrar who has been working for at least 10 hours and is surviving on a combination of adrenaline, coffee and sugar.  This person then has to assess your level of danger.  Most registrars haven’t dealt with anyone with a dissociative disorder, let alone tried to understand if there really is a risk.  They have a thankless job of walking a tightrope – is the patient telling the truth?  To make this job more complicated, during our experiences with registrars they’ve encountered –

  • Aimee (9 yrs old and carefree) who smilingly told the nice young registrar that she was too young to drink.  Quite forgetting that the body she shares is in it’s mid 30’s and sitting cross-legged on a hospital bed while drips are hanging from each arm to pump us full of drugs to counter the drugs we’d OD’d on.
  • Sophie (16 yrs old) who is our safest bet for these assessments – no one would section Sophie.  The main problem is getting close enough to hear her as she talks very quietly when scared or worried.
  • M who is the other safe bet.  She’s confident and knows how to work the mental health system to ensure that we are released.  Release is always her goal as the young ones she protects are violently triggered by hospitals.
  • Ellie who won’t be sectioned as long as she can keep her swearing and scorn for the medical profession under control.
  • Frank who is the worst one to front for an assessment.  He doesn’t get suicidal, but doesn’t understand what constitutes aggressive behaviour as seen in the eyes of a psychiatrist.  He doesn’t actually get aggressive, but his anger at being in a hospital is seen as aggression.

It’s at this point where we’ve usually been sent home.  But on two occasions we’ve been admitted or sectioned under the Mental Health Act.

Event 1:  Sectioning with two nights in hospital.

  1. Night of admission, put into art therapy room with triggering artwork around the walls.
  2. Given a single room across from an alcoholic man in his 40’s (the father is an alcoholic).
  3. As punishment for being admitted W used all of her strength to try and break the arms by bashing them against the storage unit in the room.
  4. A miracle was there in the form of a part-time night nurse.  She realised we wouldn’t sleep so asked if we wanted art supplies and then she sat and talked to us.  She didn’t care who she talked to, she just sat on the floor and let us talk and draw.  She got us Arnica cream for the bruised, swollen mess that was now our arms without a fuss.
  5. Then there was the daytime registrar.  We had asked to be released as the hospital was too triggering.  He went through the whole assessment again.  He asked why our symptoms made us special.  We tried to explain that we weren’t special, just sometimes experienced dissociation.  He dismissed the dissociation saying it wasn’t important.  Then when returning after talking to the consultant, said that the dissociation made us too unpredictable to release.  Yes, the one symptom that he totally dismissed, became the thing he used to keep us in.
  6. That night the same part-time nurse told us how to get out – say the words “I have no intent”.
  7. The following day a different registrar got the consultant to come in and talk to us.  He was going to let us out for the day, but M came forward and dazzled him with a veil of sanity.  We were outta there.

Event 2:  Admitted to the secure unit with one night stay.

  1. Saturday afternoon attempted suicide through an overdose and was taken to ER by the husband.
  2. Put on a drip and was overwhelmed by the dissociation.
  3. Overheard the nurses say that we hadn’t really overdosed, but were just attention seeking – our bed was right beside the nurses station and strangely enough the curtains aren’t sound proof.
  4. As soon as we were coherant, we asked to leave.
  5. After a 5 hour wait, we were assessed by the same psychiatrist who once picked up the phone while we were in the room and told the DBT specialist that “the borderline actually turned up, do you want to come meet her?”
  6. Because of all the triggers, Ellie and Frank weren’t able to control the anger very well.  We were escorted to the secure unit by the Police.  We didn’t threaten anyone or even raise our voice, but we were considered to be irrational and dangerous because of the barely contained rage.
  7. We were released the next morning.

If we are ever sectioned again, we’ll request to go to the secure unit.  It was comparatively peaceful and safe.  If any of the half a dozen patients even raise their voice, they are immediately surrounded by about four staff and taken away to be calmed down.  The only downside was that the cups of tea were lukewarm – hot water being a dangerous weapon.

This is a very light hearted look at our experiences.  In reality, during the sectioning Sophie was nearly destroyed when her twin came from The Basement to tell her why they were created.  The day after we were released from the secure unit, the ex-husband tried to kill us.  Other incidents have occurred while we’ve been waiting to be assessed, including one I’d like to forget where a patient masturbated while looking through the window at us.

We sit in wonder when people say that they voluntarily go to hospital.  It’s a concept that we don’t understand – why would you volunteer for torture, ridicule and scorn?  We know our perception is warped and that hospitals help people every day.  But it’s not something we identify with.  It was once recommended that we go to Ashburn Hospital for a minimum of six months to try and break our cycle of destructive thinking.  Just the thought of that was terrifying.  I wonder if part of the reason is that in New Zealand the focus within the psychiatric ward seems to be on holding you in a safe place until the suicidal intent goes, rather than helping you in a long term way.  It’s reactive rather than proactive.

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13 Responses to “Hospitals – the psychiatric type”

  1. 1 mindparts July 16, 2009 at 11:10 am

    Well, now I know why you wrote that you chuckled when I wrote about a 6 year old teaching the other day!

    You raise important issues which are personal to you and compelling. I know you cannot comprehend my saying I would voluntarily go to the hospital. It’s in the context of having found a place that is safe, comforting, and helpful with clinicians who, generally, are excellent.

    I know not everyone has access to this kind of care, so this is why I don’t take the hospital I go to and what they do for granted.

    I think anyone would cringe at the suggestion of a 60-day stay.


    • 2 M July 16, 2009 at 12:59 pm

      Hi Paul,

      When I came back to do the teaching it was one of those moments where you freeze and try to work out where in the world you are and what’s happened. The students were trainee primary school teachers, so in some respects we were very lucky it happened in that setting. It was also the first time we’d used the interactive whiteboard alone without a practice run – usually when we’re trying new technology we try to do go and play around with it for awhile alone to see if there is a trigger we need to be aware of. But I was trying to pretend that we were fine, so I set us up for failure in some respects.

      If you’re referring to the hospital stay, they were actually suggesting a 6 month stay as a minimum. I’ve heard of people with DID who have been in that hospital for over a year in an in-patient setting.

      We do envy your access to the level of expertise you have. But we also know that there are some very good people working hard within the field over here as well.

      Kind regards

  2. 3 lostshadowchild July 16, 2009 at 4:56 pm

    It is so horrible what you describes. My little ones have this feelings of fear and panic too (one of our abuser was a doctor).
    I have made many negative experiences too, when I was forced to go in hospitals. In the last one a miracle happened, they understand DID and work with us. It was in a other way, a safe place for us too, because it was a safe section where only woman stay, with woman health professionals and personal (don’t want to hurt you (((paul)))) it’s part of our history)
    We would go in this hospital again for a stay if necessary.

    • 4 M July 20, 2009 at 5:58 pm

      Hello LostShadowChild,

      I’m glad you found somewhere you feel safe. That alone is healing considering your past.

      I hope last Friday wasn’t too bad and you managed to get through the appointment.

      Kind regards

      • 5 lostshadowchild July 20, 2009 at 10:56 pm

        thanks M, but I had a collapse, because a little one was triggered too much :(

        • 6 castorgirl July 20, 2009 at 11:12 pm

          (((lostshadowchild))) we were thinking of you Friday and hoping you were ok… Are you alright now?

          Please be gentle on yourself…
          Sophie :)

          • 7 lostshadowchild July 21, 2009 at 4:29 pm

            Hi Sophie :)
            I’m ok now. It was a real hard time for us to handle the mess after the meeting and collapse by the strange doc. We are all worried, because we have no memories what happened after the collapse and this doc is going to write an important report to the insurance company :(
            Hope you are ok and things going better :)
            gentle hugs ((()))

  3. 8 Ivory July 16, 2009 at 5:05 pm

    One of my worst fears is being hospitalized because someone in power does not understand me, or DID. I have never been hospitalized and I must credit my T for that. He has done everything possible to keep me from being committed.

    My ex set a plan in motion about a year before he filed for divorce. Eventually, after I was in therapy trying to figure out why strange things were happening around the house, he warmly and compassionately suggested I check myself into a psych ward. I nearly did.
    He later admitted to having set it all up, for the purpose of walking away with all of “our” money. My T stopped it then and has been here for me ever since.

    I find after reading your post that I am quite fortunate to not have experienced this, tho there were times T threatened me (rather an alter) with it. I am genuinely shocked at how you were treated and I hope you never experience anything like it again.

    • 9 M July 20, 2009 at 6:02 pm

      Hello Ivory,

      I’m glad you managed to get away from your ex-husband when you did.

      I must stress that this is just our experience. I know many people who have utilised hospital stays as a positive and growing experience – Paul and SecretShadows are two people that come to mind immediately. Part of our healing is to try and work through the triggers we experience within hosptial – or at least get to the point where it’s not so bad.

      Thank you for your kindness.
      Kind regards

  4. 10 gracie July 16, 2009 at 6:49 pm

    her husband worked for three years as a psychiatrist in the hospital where you live now. the big problem is that the prime-minister never gives any hospitals enough money so they can’t give the patients the best things.
    some doctors are mean and don’t even try to understand.
    her husband is not like that. he is friends with the doctor you like who sees you sometimes. that one is a nice one too. xoxox

    • 11 castorgirl July 19, 2009 at 8:23 pm

      Hi Gracie,

      Dr D is a VERY nice man and a VERY good psychiatrist. Because he did forensic psychiatry we always used to joke amongst ourselves that we were his fun patient in amongst all the scary stuff he must have seen and heard. He is always so gentle and caring. He even made Ellie talk when she was fronting by herself so had to use her own accent. Dr D didn’t even laugh or raise an eyebrow, just kept on talking and taking notes. He’s the best doctor we’ve come across so far. I know he also helps with the training of other doctors – the registrar Aimee talked to was being mentored/trained/supervised by Dr D, so maybe there’s hope there after all :)

      You’re right, there’s a funding problem. But there’s also an issue where some of the staff have been there too long, or should never have been there to start with. Some doctors and nurses just shouldn’t be in the psychiatric field.

      We took lots of photos today and we saw our first daffodil :) We’ll put it on our Facebook wall so you can see :) You would’ve liked it, it was really pretty. But B says we’re all switchy so can’t do too much of anything or else we might get into trouble again…

      Bye bye from
      The girls running amok

  5. 12 kate1975 July 19, 2009 at 5:11 am


    I can really understand about the fear of being committed to a mental hospital as my primary abuser, my mother, would always scream it at me whenever she was mad.

    I’m sorry that you went through that as well and have to cope with the fear and triggers. I’m sorry for all the bad care that you have gotten. I know there are good and healing experiences for some survivors, as I have read about them.

    Good and healing thoughts to you.


    • 13 M July 20, 2009 at 6:09 pm

      Hello Kate,

      Yes, we know that hospitals have saved lives within the area of mental health. As I mentioned in the reply to Ivory, I know that Paul and SecretShadows have both gained much through an in-patient setting. It will take us time before we get to that level, if we do at all. I don’t want to take away from anyones experiences, I was just detailing our own. At times those experiences have been amusing, at times supportive and at times destructive.

      Within New Zealand, mental health is very poorly funded and often concentrates on temporary or a band-aid approach to a serious problem. There have been many reviews of our mental health system, none of which have been complimentary.

      Kind regards

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