As those of you who follow my blog may have noted, it’s been quite a while since my last post. The events surrounding last November’s election, not to mention everything that’s transpired since, not just on the political minefield, but in my personal life, have made it far too difficult for me to be able to sit and write about it all, without becoming completely despondent.
A number of good things have happened in my life over the past six months or so, but a few pretty horrible ones have occurred, as well. I don’t want to go into details because they’re only peripherally pertinent to the story I want to tell today. But, as is always the case in life, things do add up. And it’s these things one needs to watch out for, and, if possible, make sure you have as strong a support system as possible — one you’re not embarrassed or afraid to take advantage of — one where you feel safe from judgment.
42 years ago, as a young actor trying to survive life in NYC, I got a job as Chief Clerk in the psychiatric department at Elmhurst Hospital in Queens. In my position, I saw patients on the various psych wards treated like cattle. I saw psychiatrists who doled out pharmaceuticals like candy, simply to keep patients off their backs. I saw overworked nurses take their frustrations with management out on the very patients who were there to be helped. These patients were never names — just numbers. I saw psychologists and clinical social workers, who actually seemed to care about their patients, frustrated beyond belief by a system which was too big, and too rigged to give them the time needed to dedicate to these poor souls who desperately needed their help.
Eight weeks into the job, I was so depressed at what I was seeing on a daily basis, I quit. I simply couldn’t go on, pretending, even though I was the tiniest, most insignificant cog in a system I believed was doing far more harm than good. I couldn’t stand watching it, and I sure as hell didn’t want to be part of it.
Flash forward to earlier this week. In creating this blog, I promised myself and the few readers I started out with, I would always be honest about my life and experiences, whether I was writing about the entertainment industry, politics, or my personal life. In keeping to that promise, I have written, about my battles with depression, thoughts of suicide, even the childhood molestation I’d suppressed memories of for more than 50 years.
Who know what it takes to trigger a depression deep and dark enough to revive thoughts of ending one’s own life? Is it one big thing that happens all at once, or a bunch of little things occurring over a period of time, with one trigger which just pushes you over the edge? In my case, I think I would guess the latter.
I could sit and analyze all the good things in my life — a beautiful, brilliant wife I adore, who actually adores me back; a talented and beautiful daughter who is the light of our lives; the possibility of the kind of career success that’s eluded me for years finally being within grasp. I could also analyze all the negatives — the betrayal from people I trusted with all my heart; a country I no longer recognize, where greed, lies and hatred are the new normal. The truth is, it really doesn’t matter. What does matters is, earlier this week, the negatives overtook the positives, and I lost it. I lost me. I lost my faith, my trust, my belief, and everything else that’s anchored me to this world. Even the look of pain and fear on my beloved wife’s face, wasn’t enough to allow me to hold on.
So, what to do?
After speaking to my new (and now, former) therapist on Monday, Tuesday afternoon I allowed my wife to drive me over to the emergency room at the nearby hospital recommended by the therapist. Because I have no desire to protect the guilty, the facility recommended by my former therapist is called Adventist Shady Grove Hospital, in Rockville, MD. Tanya and I sat in an exam room in the E.R. for more than three hours, as the doctors and nurses examined and spoke to me. They were recommending I be admitted — on a 72-hour voluntary basis — to the Seneca Unit of their Behavorial Health Hospital.
With memories of my stint at Elmhurst still haunting my mind, I fought the idea. However, they pointed out to Tanya and I that my experiences had occurred more than 40 years ago — that things were very different now. They told me patients had much more freedom on this unit, and received intensive therapy sessions with their psychiatrists, therapists and clinical social workers. The experience there, was about the patient, making them feel better, stronger — helping give them the tools to be able to function in society without being overwhelmed. A safety net as it were.
So, seeing the fear and pain in Tanya’s eyes, knowing I needed help that was beyond both our current capabilities, and believing what I was told about changes in the system over the years since I had observed and participated in it, I agreed to the voluntary 72-hour admittance.
WHAT A MAJOR LEAGUE MOTHERFUCKING MISTAKE THAT WAS!!!!
While the furniture and physical motif of the ward may have been updated, in point of fact, I may as well have been admitted to the psychiatric department at Elmhurst 40 years ago, for all the difference it made.
Once on the unit, it was very quickly made clear, I was a prisoner — a number. The intensive therapy turned out to be two evaluations sessions with a psychiatrist — my first full day there she saw me for about 30 seconds. The second session, the following day, was a little better — that one lasted about 45 seconds. I did a little better with the clinical social worker assigned to me — she and I talked for at least ten minutes before she started surreptitiously looking at her watch, making it obvious she had other people to see (although the truth is, the vast majority of the social workers time in this facility, was spent in the office, filling out paperwork, not seeing patients).
Other than that, it was all about group sessions. And I specifically leave the word “therapy” out of that, description, because there was none. It seems the vast majority of patients on the ward (most of whom were half my age), were there for substance abuse problems. A few had actually attempted suicide, and a few were schizophrenic. But it didn’t matter — everyone was supposed to do the same activities (if you can call sitting in a room and being lectured by a nurse or nutritionist an “activity”). The “intensive therapy” I had been promised was non-existent.
And the rules — they’re VERY big on their rules in this facility. Especially when it came to the nurses who wanted as little to do with the patients as possible, except when it came to doling out medication. There was no freedom. Even though we had three bright, beautiful sunshiny days, and there was a grassed-in courtyard with an inescapable nine-foot fence surrounding it, not once was anyone allowed out there to feel the sun on their face. Exercise facilities — none. Take your drugs, go to group (but don’t say too much in group because if you do, you may find your visit extended a lot longer). You’re tired? Tough. Rooms are locked between 9am and 3pm to “encourage” you to attend the groups (most of which had to do with substance abuse). And during group hours, the lights in the main rooms were darkened, so if you chose to sit out there, it was like being in a cave.
Ohhhhh!!! And here’s a good one. Even though I was admitted at 6pm Tuesday evening, I wasn’t informed until I was sitting with the social worker at 1:30 the following afternoon that my “voluntary” 72-hours didn’t officially begin until I signed a form which the social worker handed me. When I looked at her with shock and said, “I was admitted 19 and a half hours ago, and now you’re telling me that time doesn’t count toward the 72 hours,” she just nodded yes. I then asked why nobody had mentioned this before, or why they hadn’t simply given me the form to sign when I was admitted? I’m still waiting for the answer to that one.
I couldn’t have my sneakers, as I might have hung myself with the shoelaces. So did they supply slippers or slide on shoes so I wouldn’t have to walk around in my socks? Of course not! I couldn’t have my electric toothbrush because I might have tried to electrocute myself with it. No iPod for music because I might have tried to hang myself with the headphones (I guess they’ve never heard of wireless headphones — of course with wireless headphones I might have tried to electrocute myself…). And, certainly, no computers or iPads. That’s contact with the outside world. Strictly verboten! The only outside communication allowed were limited phone calls, during certain hours. And visiting hour — from 6-7pm — actually turned out to be more like visiting 45-minutes by the time visitors were signed in and signed out.
When I tried to explain I was claustrophobic and this prison they’d put me in was not helping me in any way, shape or form (Tanya said the same on the phone to the social worker), it made no difference. And as the hours wore on, however bad I may have felt when I was admitted, I was getting crazier and crazier by the minute. It felt like the walls were crawling in on me. At one point I came VERY close to throwing a chair through one of the windows and making a run for it. It was only in speaking to Tanya over the phone that she was able to talk me down…a little.
Because, you see, you can’t show them anger — no matter how justified. If you’re angry, if you get mad and yell, then you’re simply proving you’re crazy, and they can keep you longer, making it very difficult to get out. Kind of reminded me of a book, stage play and movie I read and saw — all with the same title — One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.
But make no mistake — what this facility offered was not therapy, concern, care or help. It was sheer, unmitigated, unfeeling, torture. A place where, no matter your problem, it was a one “solution” (and by solution, I really mean treatment) fits all. There is no individual identity — simply a group one. In other words, while the outside world may have changed over the past 40+ years, in there it might as well have still been 1976.
Yesterday morning (and by morning, I mean 7:30am, during the only half hour of the day she was on the ward), during my 45-second session with the psychiatrist, she told me she’d determined, if I could get an appointment with my personal psychiatrist within 24-hours, she would have me released later that day. I was so euphoric I was getting sprung early, I couldn’t wait to make the appointment with my personal shrink. That afternoon, without giving me any reason, the social worker told me the psychiatrist had changed her mind and I would have to stay. Naturally, I was beside myself. I could not contain my anger. I had been given this brief hope of freedom, only to have it removed with no explanation as to why. For her part, the “trained” social worker was so put off by my reaction, her solution in dealing with me was to avoid me the rest of the day.
Finally, at 7:30 this morning, the psychiatrist told me I was free to go (my last 15 second session with her). Unfortunately, that was not quite true. With paperwork, bureaucracy and the final cruelty they could muster, it took me until 12pm to be released.
On the plus side, I confess I no longer have any desire whatsoever to end my own life. No, thanks to the good folks in the Seneca Unit at Adventist Behavioral Health Hospital in Rockville, my thoughts have gone from harming myself to harming some of them. I have been left with a deep, unbridled, seething, burning anger, and an even deeper hatred of the power structure in this country than I already had. I see these bastards as simply one more example of how easy it is for humans — even those working in a field where it seems completely contradictory — to give in to their own inhumanity.
Were I not the peace-loving, non-violent person I am, my desire to drop a bomb on this place might be a lot easier to give in to. Oh yeah — they do great work on the human psyche over there.