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My Time in a Mental Hospital

For Sadie’s naptime today, I had really wanted to also crawl into bed and take a nap. But as I sat rocking her to sleep just now, this blog post pulled and lunged at my chest the entire time, so here I am.

I’m doing it.

Braver versions of me have wanted to write this post for a long time, but the shame has always been too great, so I haven’t.

A friend of mine who shall remain nameless and detail-less called me a few days ago and said: “I just got out of the mental hospital and I have No idea what do or how to feel and I only know of one person that has been through this before and that’s you. Can you give me some advice?”

We talked for a long while, and I listened to all of her post-mental-hospital dilemmas with a heavy heart and a ready smile.

I am proof that there IS life after a mental illness hospitalization, and I also know how Incredibly hard it is to be a human, or to feel like a human, after the experience.

I reassured her that 1 in 3 Canadians experiences a mental illness in their lifetime, which statistically means there are far more people in her life that may have experienced a hospitalization other than just me, but when I got off the phone, that fact started to really grate on me.

We have the Bell Let’s Talk campaign, which has gotten a lot of people normalizing their experiences of mental illness on various social media platforms. We have some really wonderful human resource professionals in larger and/or more progressive companies that are equipped to handle employees’ mental illness concerns and help guide their conversations with employees/employers following a mental illness event, such as a hospitalization or extended leave of absence. I’ve recently seen billboards all along the highway demonstrating scenes of two people in various contexts (boss/worker, husband/wife, middle-age lady/friend) discussing mental health concerns with a tagline that says “Mental Health: Every Action Counts.”

These are all REALLY wonderful initiatives, and they’re starting to pave the way to ending mental illness stigmatization, but I am one of the Most outgoing, heart on my sleeve, share a shitty experience with anyone if I think it can help them type person I know-

And it’s been over 5 years now, and I Still Can’t Talk About My Time in The Mental Hospital.

That’s how bad it was.

So this- what I’m about to write- is for my friend. And for anyone who might find themselves in this situation in the future. And for anyone who Has been in this situation before and might find comfort in knowing that someone else received the same inhumane treatment while hospitalized. This is for you. But really, it’s for anyone to read, and anyone to share. If we’re going to normalize mental illness, people need to hear these things, talk about them freely, and not be ashamed.

I was hospitalized 5.5 years ago, in May of 2015.

I was in a very manic phase of my bipolar, and my friends were scared.

I was very hyper, super social, spending money frivolously, unable to sit down or stay still.

I had recently come back from a trip to the Dominican Republic, where I had had an allergic reaction to Dominican sand fleas and been treated with prednisone in a Dominican hospital.

I had returned to Canada and had been telling these friends I could see the bugs traveling under my skin and that I had rented a hotel room downtown because I knew the fleas were all over my apartment and I needed to get away from them for the night.

Clearly, I was not in my right mind.

The girls were scared. They didn’t know how to help me. I’m not sure of their end of the details, but someone apparently Googled or asked a friend who knew mental health things, what they would have to do or say to get me committed to a hospital.

I had invited these friends to a pub I loved in Kensington that night for drinks and steak sandwiches, and had invited them to my hotel room downtown after.

They arrived at the pub in Kensington. We had some drinks. I buzzed around wildly. At some point, I went to the bathroom.

When I stepped out of the bathroom stall, there were three uniformed police officers standing in the very small ladies bathroom.

I asked if everything was okay, were my friends okay?

The two male officers asked the female if she was comfortable taking me, and when she nodded, they left.

She asked if I was okay stepping outside with her. I said ‘certainly.’

When we walked out, I saw the two male officers comforting my three friends. They were all in tears.

I had no idea what was going on.

The officer asked if I was okay getting in the back of her car so she could ask me some questions. I said ‘of course.’

She told me that my friends had called in, saying that I had invited them to my hotel room downtown that night to party, but that when they left, I was going to kill myself.

I burst out laughing, it was so absurd.

I apologized to the officer and said I had no such intentions.

I explained that I had a history of episodes of severe depression and that when depressed, I definitely thought of suicide, but at this point in my life I was quite happy with how my life was going and I had zero plans to end my life.

She explained that even though I had said that, she was obligated under the Mental Health Act to take me to the nearest hospital with an opening in psychiatric emergency, and that the officials there would make the decision.

She was very kind and just doing her due diligence, so I wasn’t mad at her at all. Plus- I was already in the back of her squad car, so what choice did I have?

She brought me into the Peter Lougheed Hospital and transferred me into the ‘care’ of psychiatric emerg.

Please- for the sake of this story as it unfolds now- pretend that this was you.

You came into emerg willingly. Though shocked and confused as to how you had gone from enjoying a steak sandwich and a drink at a bar with your friends, to the back of a cop car to a hospital, you came willingly and obligingly.

Now the police officer hands you to a security guard who orders you to strip.

He hands you a flimsy gown, the blue, worn cotton kind with the ties in the back.

You emerge in your flimsy gown.

He orders you to hand over your clothes.

You do.

He instructs you to remove your favorite necklace, the one you like to swing back and forth on its chain when you’re anxious, like now.

He tells you to take off your ring, the one you haven’t been without in years.

You do.

He tells you to hand over your cellphone.

You tell him that no one knows you’re here. Your sister, your stepmom. Your Mom, your Dad. No one has a clue you’re even in here. Can you please quickly call just one of them?

No! He barks. Give me your phone- NOW.

You do.

He directs you to an area that reminds you of a bad animal shelter. Concrete. Cold. Grey. Plexiglass. Pens. Three cages, for humans.

He tells you to step into one of the three rooms and wait for a doctor.

You do.

When you enter, the door bolts behind you.

It’s now 11 pm. No one knows you’re here. You’re cold. You’re basically naked. The room is freezing. There are no sheets or pillows or blankets on the ‘bed’ in the centre of the room. Let’s be honest- the ‘bed’ is a slab of cold metal. It looks like a slab you would see in a morgue.

You notice there are stains all around the base of it. Blood? Urine?

The walls are grey. Cold. You step closer and see that there are more stains on these walls. Bloody fingerprints. Scratches made by fingernails that etch out phrases like ‘Welcome to Hell’ and ‘Satan lives here.’

You need to pee. There is nowhere to pee in this cell.

You knock on the door.

No one hears you.

You knock again.

You begin to wonder if you might pee down your legs.

You bang as hard as you can.

The same security guard finally hears you. Stomps down the hall and asks ‘WHAT?’ through the Plexiglass.

You hop foot to foot and point to your privates.

He opens the door. Motions for you to follow him. Leads you to a bathroom.

As you slip inside, he says ‘Leave the door open.’

He doesn’t watch, you don’t think, but for the first time, you realize that you are now a criminal.

It doesn’t matter that three hours ago, you were a warm body, wearing its own clothes, smiling and eating a sandwich at a pub- here you are. Stripped of your clothes. All of your possessions. Shoved into a cell, guarded by someone with handcuffs, and can’t be trusted to pee with the door closed.

And for What?

Being a human.

Being a human with a mental illness.

I waited in that terrible cell and got interviewed by two psychiatrists over the course of the next 8 hours.

Under the Mental Health Act, a person can be detained against their will if two psychiatrists agree that that person is a danger to themselves or to others. When those two psychiatrists sign the form, the person is thereby ‘formed’ and shuttled up to the unit reserved for mental illness.

I came in around 10 pm to that awful holding cell and was formed somewhere around 8 in the morning.

The porter who comes to get you from that awful cell doesn’t tell you that you were formed. They tell you they’re taking you upstairs for further medical testing, and then they tell you to get into the wheelchair.

I didn’t need a wheelchair, but I was just so glad to be freed from that awful cell, I would have gone anywhere.

The pleasant wheelchair pusher chatted with me all the way up the elevators and onto the unit, where they buzzed me in through three sets of giant, locked doors.

I had no idea that I would, involuntarily, spend the next 30 days of my life on that unit.

Over the next 30 days, other people got to decide what I was allowed. For example, for the first 12 days of my stay, I was not allowed access to fresh air.

As someone who, in my manic phase, copes with the excess energy racing around my brain by running and rollerblading long distances, this was perhaps an even greater blow than my initial incarceration.

In the place of exercise and fresh air, I got incarceration and Copious amounts of sedatives.

I had hoped that maybe while on the unit, I would get some group therapy. Maybe get to leave the unit for a cooking class or an art class? Nope. I didn’t get access to those either.

I found pamphlets around the unit detailing a process by in which people held there involuntarily could have access to a lawyer and could argue for their early release.

On day 15 of my stay, my trial was held. A boardroom table full of people who didn’t know me got to read my medical files, hear me speak for 2 minutes, and decide if I needed another 15 days.

When we lost the trial, my lawyer said that I was the closest he’s ever come to a win on a mental health trial, and that we had only lost by one vote.

He apologised for the loss and handed me my medical files that had been used for the trial (which I’m 99% certain was illegal- as he instructed me to hide the thick binder under the clothes in my laundry basket).

When I reviewed it later, a nurse with a rather poor command of English had written on day 11: “Patient believes she has no oxygen in her body.” I remembered the moment I had spoken with her precisely. I had said “depriving people of oxygen is a sure way to make them crazier.”

When a room full of doctors reads that the patient believes her body contains no oxygen, clearly that patient isn’t going to win their vote.

In total, I spent 30 days of my life there.

I met some wonderful people on the unit. I had some wonderful friends visit the unit.

I got copious amounts of heavy sedatives to knock my ass flat and bring my chemicals down from their manic high.

And finally, I got out.

On the day of my release, I told No One.

I put back on the clothes and the jewellery that were taken from me. I used my confiscated cellphone to call exactly no one, and I walked home.

I lived 14 kilometres from the PLC Hospital and I walked every single kilometre away from that hospital, by myself.

I was Free.

I felt the sun on my face and the breeze in my hair in a way that I had never truly appreciated before.

And then I had dilemmas, much like my friend is facing now.

Where do you tell people you’ve been? How do explain your absence?

What do you say to your boss? Your coworkers? Your friends?

And then bigger dilemmas.

Can this happen again? Will this happen again?

How can I avoid Ever going back to that Hell?

And so it has been 5.5 years from when I was eating a sandwich in a pub and then suddenly incarcerated, because of a lie that my friends told. It’s been 5.5 years since I’ve had all my rights and freedoms stripped away from me. It’s been 5.5 years since a group of people in a hospital setting got the right to treat me like a criminal because I have a chemical imbalance in my brain.

I still find it Very hard to trust people. I find it Especially hard to trust people professionally, because the people that called me in were my work friends. I find it Very hard to live with my bipolar heart on my sleeve like I truly wish I could, because at any point in time, no matter how hard I’ve worked to stay on my meds, eat healthy, stay in touch with my psychiatrist, keep accountability with Ryan- someone could, at any point, call in to the police and say that I want to kill myself, and all of my rights and freedoms can be stripped away from me again. This is a Very hard probability to live with, and I shouldn’t have to live that way.

I wish that mental illness was treated like cancer.

You get to walk into the hospital yourself and keep your clothes on. Come sit in this nice comfy chair. I’ll put a heated-up hospital blanket on you and ask you where it hurts. I’ll offer you a glass of water. You can take your meds and cozy up on that chair, knowing you’re in good hands.

You can call your friends and tell them where you are. They won’t be afraid to visit. They’ll be tender and treat you with empathy when they visit. They might not understand what having cancer feels like, but they don’t have to. They just have to know that you’re unwell and it’s not a happy time for you. They’ll bring cards and flowers from the office.

The cards will say: “Thinking of you” and “Get well soon.”

And you will.

My Abortion Experience

A friend wrote me the other day to thank me for posting brave things on this blog. We had a lengthy discussion about abortion afterward. We both agreed that we were ‘pro-life personally and pro-choice politically’.

There’s a lot of debate going on about abortion these days, as some American states are trying to strip those rights from women’s bodies and women all over social media are fired up about it. I LOVE when women get fired up.

But I am not a politician. I have zero desire to start a political debate with this post.But I do have a huge, burning desire to get women talking about their own experiences with abortion.

Same as anything human rights related, I believe the more we talk about our personal experiences, the more we can affect positive change. If we keep hiding these realities that women go through, we increase the stigma around them- and even worse, we continue to suffer in silence, believing we are alone. I don’t want that for any woman.

So here’s my story.

I had my abortion September 1, 2005 at the Peter Lougheed Hospital in Calgary at the age of 19. The fetus was 7 weeks, 4 days.

I had the abortion because I was in second year of university; the baby was unplanned, I still lived in my Dad’s basement, and in order for a baby to work, I would have needed to feel 100% confident that my family would stand by me and help support me in my new life as a young mother still living in her parental home.

I did not have that support.

While acting as if the choice was mine to make, my family hinted fairly obviously that abortion was the only logical choice (“You’re going to ‘take care of it’, aren’t you?”). And my boyfriend at the time, while incredibly sweet and caring, said “I’ll stand by you, whatever you decide.”

To give a 19-year-old girl who just found out she was pregnant all the decision-making responsibility is too much. A girl in that situation needs options laid out for her. A professional. A therapist. Many different females’ points of view and advice. I didn’t have those things then.

So, at 19- on a family summer vacation, surrounded by male family members and no mother figures, and immersed in many sound bytes such as ‘surely she’ll ‘take care of it’ and ‘our family doesn’t ‘do’ teenage pregnancies’ …  I made the decision to terminate.

I had my abortion September 1, 2005 at the Peter Lougheed Hospital in Calgary at the age of 19. The fetus was 7 weeks, 4 days. The ultrasound tech did my ultrasound pre-dilation and curettage (D&C), which is common practice, (gotta make sure there’s still a fetus in there before you start the procedure), and I asked her if I could see the image of my baby before I was wheeled into the operating room.

I know in my bones and my soul and my heart and my everywhere that even at 19, scared shitless, already in a hospital gown about to wheeled into the operating room, that I 100% would have made the decision to keep the baby if she had have just let me look at it.
Once.
Just once.
I asked her if I could see the screen.
She said no.
I asked her again, a little more forcefully this time.
I was 19. 
I didn’t know how to advocate for myself very well yet at 19.
I’m a force to be reckoned with now, but at 19, I didn’t know how to Demand that this older woman show me MY OWN fetus that she was looking at, on her screen.
I was laying down on the bed. 
Her computer screen faced away from me. I couldn’t see it from that angle.
My baby’s image was on it.
The image that would have shown me its beating heart- she had it in front of her- I just needed her to swivel her screen so that I could see it.
She said no.

I still Hate that woman, to this day, for denying me the right to look at my OWN fetus before she turned off her computer and went to tell the doctors that I was ready.
When I asked her the third time in a now very sad and shaky little voice if I could please see it, she said: “There’s nothing there to see. If anything, it just looks like a gummy bear.”

(Side-note- by the grace of God, my first ultrasound for this little baby Sadie that lays sleeping beside me right now, was coincidentally, at Exactly 7 weeks and 4 days. 
My abortion ultrasound was on September 1, 2005.
My Sadie’s ultrasound was on August 28, 2018.
13 years later, I FINALLY got to see what my baby looked like at EXACTLY 7 weeks and 4 days-
And I BAWLED tears of joy when the ultrasound tech in Canmore said:
“Would you like to see its heartbeat?”
A 7-week, 4-day old fetus HAS a heartbeat, looks NOTHING like a gummy bear, and was and is just about the most magical, coolest damn thing Ryan and I have Ever seen.)

Sadie’s First Photo: 7 weeks, 4 days
Us after her first ultrasound and seeing her beating heart for the first time

Back to September 1, 2005.
That stupid woman wouldn’t let me look.
So she told the doctors I was ready.
They knocked me out.
They removed the fetus.
I woke up.
I was in pain.
I cried.
I put on a giant maxi pad.
My boyfriend at the time carefully and lovingly walked me to his vehicle.
We drove home in near silence.
I was in pain.
We went down to my basement bedroom at my father’s house.
The rest of the family was still on vacation.

It was just us.
In the basement, in the dark. 
Crying and sleeping.
I told him I thought it would take a week for me to heal.
(Haha. 19-year-old me. What a girl. It’s been 14 years and I’m still healing.)
University started September 8th that year.
So I gave myself 7 days to grieve.
We stayed in the dark. We cuddled. We napped. We watched movies. We didn’t go out. We didn’t tell our friends. We didn’t really talk about what we were doing or feeling. We grieved to the best of our young abilities.

Then university started back up, so I told my grief to stop.
Grief doesn’t work that way.
It’s not ‘convenient’. It doesn’t stop or start when you tell it to.
It just hides and comes back in other forms.

I went back to university.
I stopped talking to all my other friends.
I found it hard to give a single shit about so and so’s make-out sesh with Timmy that weekend, or how so and so’s manager at Chili’s was a real cow and wouldn’t let her have Saturday off for Kate’s party.
It’s not that their concerns didn’t ‘matter’- they very much did- it’s just that those were not the concerns I had rolling around in my head.
My concerns were: ‘what is the meaning of life?’ ‘Is there a God?’ ‘If there is- why do shitty things happen?’ ‘Am I bad person?’ ‘Did my baby have a soul yet? If it did, where did it go?’…
And when those are the questions in your head at 19, you find it hard to relate to your other girlfriends. 
So I found religion.
Religion was talking about those bigger questions.
Life. Death. Souls. God. 
Forgiveness.

It was then that I began my life’s chapter as an overzealous, newfound, born-again Christian. That phase lasted about a year and a half and there were some really good points to it, but I am no longer an overzealous born-again Christian. I am an Emily, who loves and believes in God as she always has, but no longer needs to love God and other people in a militant and accusatory way.

At the end of May 2005, 9 months after the abortion, I suddenly broke up with my amazing boyfriend who loved me very much because ‘Jesus told me to’; I told all my family members they were ‘going to Hell because they hadn’t accepted Jesus into their hearts’, and I stopped talking to all my closest friends except for one because ‘they were all sinners. That was the beginning of my first bipolar episode, but that’s a story for another time.

In that same year, post-abortion, I went back to university like I promised my family I would, and I went from a solid B student to a consistent 4.0 GPA. One of the Biggest reasons I terminated my pregnancy was because “Kreibergs don’t have teenage pregnancies” (My uncle’s words) and “Kreibergs go to postsecondary and become academics. We Kreibergs are a family of high-achieving academics” (My father’s words).

So in that post-abortion year, I held a 4.0 GPA with a full six-course per semester load, worked three jobs before, during and after school, broke up with my boyfriend and became an evangelical Christian. I moved out of the apartment that my wonderful boyfriend and I had recently moved into, and onto the couch of a dear friend of mine who had recently just become a born-again Christian as well. While she brought her questions about Jesus and faith to her Christian friends and family, I delved into books. I spoke to no one. I left the house never. I lost 20 pounds in 2 weeks.

I spent all three months of that summer in a basement suite on a pullout couch that was now my bed, devouring every single book I could find on all the major religions of the world. I wanted to know about sin (when I killed my baby, had I committed one?), forgiveness (if there was a loving god, could even baby killers be forgiven?), faith (how to get it), love (what was it? Did I even know anymore?), and the afterlife (where had my baby’s soul gone and when could I get to meet him/her?).

To put it very bluntly- I went off the complete deep end.

Years later, in therapy, a therapist asked me if I thought I had Post Abortion Stress Syndrome (PASS). According to Psychology Today, PASS is the “name that has been given to the psychological aftereffects of abortion, based on Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).”
https://www.google.ca/amp/s/www.psychologytoday.com/ca/blog/somatic-psychology/201010/post-abortion-stress-syndrome-pass-does-it-exist%3famp

There is much disagreement in the psychology community as to whether PASS actually exists-

To say that it does means that abortion is jarring enough to some women that it gets it own corresponding psychological term and treatment-
And to say that it doesn’t get its own psychological term and treatment is to negate the many traumatizing experiences of women like mine wherein which having an abortion was an incredibly damaging psychological experience.

Here’s what I have to say that is personal and not political about abortion trauma:

If anything that I have written about my abortion experience triggered a response in you, and you want to check out the signs and symptoms of PASS, the following is a link to a quiz on a really supportive online community where other women can go to safely discuss their post-abortion experiences.

https://www.afterabortion.com/quiz.html
XO, Em