From a Mental Hospital Ward, [Crushed]

3 For the enemy has pursued my soul; he has crushed my life to the ground; he has made me sit in darkness like those long dead.”

Psalm 143:3

Some time ago,  I was hospitalized for my mental illness. (Actually seven times.) And though each time was bitter, but the Lord carried me.  They would take from me my shoelaces, and belts, and fingernail clippers.  Basically, I was stripped of everything, anything that I might use to harm myself. But I was creative, I took a clock off the wall and rolled it in a blanket,  I smashed it and used the shards of glass to cut my wrists.The nurses were exceptionally observant, and within moments they intervened.

I had already been stripped, searched, and then brought into a ward full of very sick people.  Much of all of this is a terrible glazed blur.  There was a real awareness of unreality.  I was quite confused, and it would take several weeks before I could reconnect.  Things were no longer ‘reasonable’ and I could discern nothing.  But I didn’t know I was so confused (but I did suspect it). The staff were quite aware and accommodating.  They let me be, so time could take care of the rest. I needed to unravel things  

Besides, Jesus knew exactly where I was if I didn’t.

Days rolled by, quite slowly.  The tedium of a mental hospital is the worst— much more difficult than jail or prison.  You walk in a very limited corridor, back and forth.  You wait for your shrink, and wait, and wait.  You pace, and pace. You pray, stupidly.  The other patients were equally disturbed.  There was a great variety among them.  One guy would urinate in any corner. Once he jumped up on the nurses station, and took a “whizz.” It was hysterical.  He almost shorted out their computer.

In all of this, there was a very bleak and strange awareness, of being incredibly ‘detached,’ and only remotely aware that something was not right with me.  I tried to get well, but I was mentally lost.  I paced, and I remained confused.  I was most definitely in an ugly place.  Desperate and increasingly bewildered, I knew I had no place to go.  A fine place for someone who used to pastor, and teach at a Bible college.

If you have been in this place, you will recognize the ‘lostness’ of being on a ward of a mental hospital. It is confusion mixed with despair,  and without a part of very strong drugs, and there is nothing you can do to be released.  And really until you come to this fact, they will never let you go.  They wait for you to snap out of your confusion, unfortunately that takes time. Sometimes many weeks and whole months. Sometimes never.

It’s worse when you have a family.  In my case it was my wife, and two small children.  This at times, would twist my heart.  I would get a very short phone call, once a week.  But this was quite difficult.  I gained very little from those calls, and I found myself quite disturbed after each call.  Being on this ward tinged me completely. It was like being dipped into darkness.  I was very much affected.  Now on the outside, I admit I was quite disturbed, but at the time I honestly did not understand a way out.

Dear friend, having a mental illness is cruel and disturbing.  And being committed to a mental hospital is a desperate thing.  Having passed through its locked doors is something you will never forget.  The way I figure these seven hospitalizations have stolen over six months of my life. Its work is irrevocable, its fingerprints will be on your life, for as long as you live.  But God will bring good out of this. This I know.

“Do not gloat over me, my enemy!
    Though I have fallen, I will rise.
Though I sit in darkness,
    the Lord will be my light.”

Micah 7:8

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Bedlam: Prisons and the Mentally Ill

Taking a Stand for Our Brothers and Sisters

 By Mark Earley, Christian Post Guest Columnist, Wed, Aug. 08, 2007
The least of these is my brother
The least of these is my brother

In the 16th century, London’s mentally ill were often kept at Bethlem Royal Hospital. The conditions inside the hospital were notoriously poor. Patients were often chained to the floor and the noise was so great that Bethlem was more likely to drive a man crazy than to cure him. The conditions were so infamous that the nickname locals gave the hospital—Bedlam—has come to mean any scene of great confusion.

Unfortunately five hundred years later, we’re still treating the mentally ill more like prisoners than patients. Fifty years ago, more than 550 thousand people were institutionalized in public mental hospitals. Today, only between 60 and 70 thousand are, despite a two-thirds increase in the country’s population.

Since there’s no evidence that the incidence of mental illness has dropped precipitously, the mentally ill who previously had been institutionalized had to have gone somewhere. While some are being treated successfully in their communities, at homes and groups homes, but for many that “somewhere” is behind bars. This last part shouldn’t come as a surprise.

Five years ago, the Washington Post told the story of “Leon,” a one-time honor student, who had 17 years in and out of jail on various drug-related charges. It was only after several suicide attempts, including drinking a “bleach-and-Ajax cocktail,” that Leon was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. Leon’s story was a microcosm of a larger problem: “Prisons and jails are increasingly substituting as mental hospitals.”

As one advocate for the mentally ill told the Post, “a lot of people with mental illness are charged with minor crimes as a way to get them off the streets.” In effect, they are behind bars for “being sick.” Fast forward five years and little, if anything, has changed. A few weeks ago, another piece in the Post discussed the same problem.

Psychiatrist Marcia Kraft Goin told readers something that should shock and outrage them: “The Los Angeles County Jail houses the largest psychiatric population in the country.” As with the earlier Post piece, the conclusion was inescapable: “People with [untreated] mental illnesses often end up with symptoms and behaviors that result in jail time.” You don’t have to be a “bleeding heart” to understand that this is an injustice—any kind of heart will do.

Not only are the mentally ill not getting the help they need, they are as lambs to the slaughter in our crowded and violent prisons. They are being victimized twice over. They’re not the only ones being victimized.

At a time when most state prisons are unlawfully overcrowded, there are better uses for prison beds than as makeshift mental hospitals. As Goin wrote, “treating” mental illness as a criminal justice problem costs “more than treating patients appropriately in their community.”

As part of its ministry to prisoners and their families, Prison Fellowship supports community-based alternatives to incarceration. Not only because it makes “financial sense” but because it’s what Christ would have done. In Matthew 25 he called the ill and the prisoner his “brothers” and he expects us to offer them something more than bedlam.

“There but for the Grace of God go I…” –Bryan

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From BreakPoint®, August 6, 2007, Copyright 2007, Prison Fellowship Ministries. Reprinted with the permission of Prison Fellowship Ministries. All rights reserved.  “BreakPoint®” and “Prison Fellowship Ministries®” are registered trademarks of Prison Fellowship.

Good Links:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bethlem_Royal_Hospital

http://www.bethlemheritage.org.uk/

http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/asylums/etc/faqs.html

http://www.afscme.org/publications/6042.cfm