When I was 19, my mother and grandparents gt tired of dealing with my insane self-destructiveness. They sent me to live with my father in Iowa. To be fair, they didn’t know (even if only by willful ignorance) that my father had been sexually abusing me for the last 16 years.
During my second hospitalizations at a private psych unit there, my father signed paperwork to have me involuntarily committed to a state psychiatric hospital.
The hearing was a joke. I had an attorney, but I didn’t meet him until 5 minutes before the hearing. I wasn’t allowed to wear my own clothes, just thin, papery hospital scrubs. They’d even taken my bra–apparently you can hurt yourself with the underwire. It was held in a conference room at the hospital–me, my lawyer, my father, the hospital psychiatrist, and the judge. The judge swore in the psychiatrist and asked him, “Is this person mentally ill and in need of treatment?” This person. They never even used my name. The psychiatrist said yes, and the judge signed the papers to commit me. I never even got a chance to speak.
Then I was handcuffed, shoved in the back of a cop car, and driven an hour away to the Mental Health Institute in Independence, Iowa. I remember thinking somebody must’ve has a sick sense of humor to put a state hospital in a town called Independence. I also remember needing to pee really badly but being too terrified to ask.
Shortly after I got to the hospital, I was informed that they were seeking an additional court order to do ECT on me against my will. They had my medical history and knew I had a brain AVM. My neurosurgeon told them ECT could cause a stroke, but they didn’t care. It was treatment, by god, and they were going to give it to me. Luckily, they didn’t manage to get that court order before I got out.
The place wasn’t terribly different from a private psych unit, but it was more restrictive. They even took my glasses away because I might break them to hurt myself with them–but I am extremely farsighted and can’t function without vision correction. I started getting horrible headaches, but they just gave me Tylenol, not my glasses.
We slept eight to a room. You had to sleep with the lights on so they could make sure you weren’t killing yourself in the dark. The toilets and the showers didn’t have doors, so you were totally exposed. You were watched constantly, and you were never allowed to be alone. That alone would be enough to make someone crazy.
One night while I was sleeping, another woman grabbed me by the neck and hit me over and over again in the face until I was bleeding. I got no medical treatment, and I found out later that the woman had broken my nose. Staff told me to wash the blood off my face in the bathroom and then to “forget about it and move on because she didn’t know what she was doing.” The woman wasn’t moved to a more secure unit, and I wasn’t moved to a safer one. I became terrified to sleep, and I knew no one would help me if it happened again.
So when one of my roommates started crawling into my bed at night and sexually assaulting me, I didn’t bother telling staff. I knew no one would help me. I stayed silent because no one would listen. I let it happen almost every night for three months because, really, what choice did I have? I was entirely alone.
I feel sick now, remembering and writing about this. It feels like someone is reaching into my chest and squeezing all the blood out of my heart and all the air out of my lungs. It was six and a half years ago, and I still have nightmares.
They were supposed to be helping me.