Monday, August 20, 2012

The Rules for Escape

Breaking out of a psychiatric ward is never a good idea. You are eventually caught by the police, brought back, then kept in seclusion or guarded 24/7.

Several repeat patients and I had become friends. I was the only one in the group that was a "first timer." After many weeks, they became concerned that I still had not earned clothing priviledges. (When you are admitted, all of your belongings are taken away. You can only wear hospital gowns and socks until you earn your clothing back by demonstrating compliance and progress).

"I don't understand," I said. "I keep telling them that I feel fine, and want to go home."

"You idiot," my friend Marie said. "How can you be so stupid? That's what they expect someone who isn't well to say. And stop smiling so much. Can't you look more sad?"

For the next half hour, my friends coached me on how to behave in front of nurses and doctors. It was like practicing for a job interview. There were tidbits like:

"Never say you are feeling well. Only say that you feel a bit better than yesterday."
"Say that you think the antipsychotics must be working, because you aren't hearing voices as much."
"Say that you felt an impulse yesterday to bang your head against the floor, but went to the nursing station instead."
"Don't ever say that you want to leave. Say that you feel safe here, and scared of being outside. That way they'll let you out for breaks because they know you'll come back, and they'll believe they need to "reacclimatize" you to the outside. They will also give you your clothes, because they know that you won't run."

They grilled me relentlessly, until they were satisfied I was prepared.

The next day I faced my psychiatrist and nurse for my daily checkup. I looked oh so sad. I said that I had been trying to put a bright face on things because I wanted to go so badly, but now I realized that I was scared to leave because of what I might do to myself. Oh, and the medications seem to have started to work, because I feel a little better than I did yesterday, and I slept through the night.

The doctor and nurse made notes, nodding seriously.

That afternoon, I got my clothes back.

The next day, I got to go outside for fifteen minutes, under the watch of a nurse. It was cold and rainy, but it was my first fresh air in a month.

What a difference experience makes.

Mental note: Listen to people who have been through before what you are going through now.

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