[Hpn] Articles on Psych Wards and on PTSD
Tue, 10 Jul 2001 19:18:09 -0600
This message contains 2 articles which appeared in the July Denver VOICE.
They are posted here with full reprint permissions for newspapers dealing
with the issues of homelessness. Article 1 is a serious article on PTSD.
Article 2 is a humorous article on Psych Ward 72 hour holds. I am the author
of both. The complete text is in this message.
Reprint permissions are granted with the following restrictions:
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Let me know you are going to use it and send me a copy of the publication.
Katlyn Autumn Lynn
Have You Ever Been Victimized?
I try to live a calm sedate life these days. At one time I was a
high-pressure adrenaline junky. I enjoyed the pressure, the thrill of people
exploding all around me. I reveled in my sexuality and felt secure in my
home. I always had fun with people in almost any situation and thought I was
a good judge of character.
Then came the assaults, the rape and attempted rapes, beatings while hand
cuffed, beatings while having seizures, threats of gang rape and death by
people who could easily deliver. Then came PTSD, which stands for Post
Traumatic Stress Disorder. I try to live a sedate life these days.
When you have PTSD something breaks inside you. Certain events trigger what
is known as a flashback. This isn’t some psychedelic flower child kind of
fun thing like you can get from having done LSD in the past. In a PTSD
flashback, you detach from the current reality and re-experience the trauma
that was once inflicted upon you. When it happens you are pretty much
powerless to make it stop. The experience is very, very real.
As for my flashbacks, they usually entail all of the emotion and physical
trauma of being gang raped. I feel the threats to my life, each blow to my
head, my sides, and more. I feel the insertion of something vile and
disgusting between my legs, it does not bring pleasure. It brings horror,
revulsion, desperation, and pain. Mostly pain. I feel their hate, their
rage, the consuming desire to see me die a violent and painful death that
emanates from every pore of their bodies. I hear their voices full of hate
and repressed fury pouring out of them onto me.
I wish for death by any means just so long as that death is granted now
before they manage to get any satisfaction out of their actions. I can’t
stop the flashback but I can die. That will make them stop. This way I will
win. I find some way to bring about my death, a knife, pills, a razor, a
bus, anything. This has to stop now!
Sometimes you can take an anti-psychotic drug such as seroquel to stop the
flashback. Sometimes it just goes on for hours and you try to survive.
Surviving a flashback for me involves mentally following through on suicide.
Often people around you decide to call an ambulance. When I was in a shelter
ambulances were called at least 5 times. Other times you just wake up in the
hospital. I try to lead a calm life these days.
A male friend who witnessed me having a flashback remarked that he would
gladly kill the men who did this to me. He was angry but I wouldn’t give him
names. He had no idea what happens to a woman after an assault. His
girlfriend later confided her own experiences and how she was plagued with
flashbacks for years. These are the kind of events that bring some woman
closer together and drive them further apart from all males.
If you are a male and are hugged by a woman who keeps her elbows down and in
front of her while she puts her hands on your shoulders, this should tell
you something about her or about yourself and how you are being perceived.
She is keeping the option open of pushing you away and has certainly had
some experience that has taught her to beware.
Flashbacks are triggered by news stories involving murder, rape, prejudice,
or any kind of violent acts. They can be triggered by aggression from men,
sexual pressure, anger, veiled hostility, bigotry, and even seemingly
innocent actions. There is no medication that helps PTSD other than the
drugs you can take once you know there is a flashback under way.
Many women on the streets have PTSD from sexual assaults. A large number of
people don’t believe it’s a real disorder or that it results in disability.
What do you think you would be like if someone managed to take away your
sense of security and well-being? Imagine that you know from experience that
a police officer can invade your home, assault you, make your
significant-other watch while you are beaten and raped, then file false
reports. Imagine that you know that at any time while you walk down the
street at night a man might appear, pull a knife on you and demand you go
down on him while he pulls out something that smells of old urine, filth,
old cum, and feces. Imagine being accused of inviting an assault and
attempted rape not because of what you did but because of who you are –
someone who among other things has no home and spends too much time on the
Once your childhood sense of invulnerability is gone, once you know this can
happen to you, that there is nothing you can do to prevent it and it can
happen any time or place, you become cautious. I try to live a very calm
life these days. Angry males scare me. I’ve seen seemingly sane men go from
being friend to attacker. Police scare me. I’ve seen people in authority
positions go from upholder of the law to sadistic pure evil, afraid of
nothing, unwilling to stop for any reason. I’ve seen jailers go from guard
to torturer. Colorado scares me.
PTSD is real. Don’t doubt it. The next time someone says they have PTSD,
treat it seriously. In time counseling can help but it takes a long time.
PTSD is not a short coming or mental defect. It is the result of extremely
violent crime inflicted against the victim. A person suffering from PTSD has
been victimized. For some it happens as a result of sexual abuse as a child,
for others it results from violence inflicted upon them as adults. This can
be violence of any kind including that encountered in war. In each case the
victim has had their basic human rights, their very right to exist,
viscously violated. PTSD is real. It is disabling and can be seriously life
threatening. I am not at all the person I used to be before all this
happened. I try to live a nice quiet, calm life these days. There is no
Psych Ward Survival Guide
So you’ve found yourself in the psych ward. Don’t worry, you’ll survive.
Unless of course, you smoke and you happen to be in Saint Anthony’s. If that
’s the case you may be in more trouble than this tutorial can hope to
On your first day you get to relax, the world is at your command. Remember
you’re nuts and now is the time to establish yourself in your new community.
There are a few guidelines to follow and I’ll do my best to relay them to
you. There are also some things to find out and a few things you should
never do under any circumstances. Trust me, I know.
Get used to the term “72 hour hold.” What that usually means is that the
admitting physicians or social workers were nervous enough about letting you
back onto the street that they decided instead to make you disappear. Since
at this point in time true invisibility is still impossible, they’ve opted
for the next best thing. They’ve made you somebody else’s problem. You’ll
need to make sure you are on a “72 hour hold,” as this tutorial is based
upon that premise. If your hold is more than 72 hours, just half the
ingredients for each day.
Now if you are homeless, you may not want to get out after only 72 hours of
having a bed, pajamas, food, telephone, occasional television, and a washer
and dryer. Obviously you’ve already got the first part right. You didn’t
tell them you were homeless when you were admitted. If you had done that you
probably would have won no more than a free cab ride to Stout Street Clinic.
This is the other way they can effectively make you disappear by making you
somebody else’s problem.
If you are lucky enough to see a psychiatrist on your first day you’ll need
to ask them a few things. First, find out how long your hold is. You need to
do this for two reasons; first to be sure it’s only 72 hours and second, to
let them know that you know. Next, ask them about their treatment approach.
If you hear the following words “electro-shock,” or, “shock therapy,” or,
“Fort Logan,” follow this guide and get out as quickly as possible.
Be sure to let you loony flag fly in this all-important first day. Don’t
shower or employ any means of personal hygiene. Looking unkempt is good. You
should know that everyone on staff is making notes about you. Psych ward
staff are usually truly wonderful caring people. This is important. They
want to cure you and to be cured you must have clear signs of illness. It’s
all about contrast. Start out loony so that you can be miraculously cured.
It looks good in their reviews. They are nice people, help them advance.
Start out loony so you may be healed.
Now I’m only going to say this once: hoard food. Just when you decide your
starving, they’ll always close the kitchen. This applies in any institution
be it jail, rehab, the shelter, or the psych ward. Keep in mind that hiding
your food in the light fixtures may dry it out. If you are getting meds at
night, you can always try the, “aren’t these supposed to be taken with
food,” line and hope they don’t bring you the standard 6 saltines.
If you choose to associate with the other patients and you are a girl
person, try to ignore the male persons who think the psych ward is a great
place to “pick up chicks.” These people truly are nuts. Contrary to this
last suggestion, you may find that you have been sequestered along with an
exhibitionist. This can be fun so long as they are not your roommates and
they are of whatever gender(s) in which you happen to be interested at the
time. Remember the definition of an exhibitionist – they want to be watched.
Go ahead and take a good long look if you want. You are in a psych ward, now
is not the time to be ruled by inhibitions!
Now let’s talk about escapes. I’m not talking about escapes from the ward; I
’m talking about escapes from the other patients. You’ll want to escape when
you find yourself listening to their story of actions and reactions that
while seemingly logical, well thought out, and normal to them are scaring
the crap out of you as you realize the depths of their dementia. Of course,
the folks in the psych ward are quite safe when you compare them to the
un-medicated folks in the shelters.
Perhaps the best escape is the snack room. “Hey! I think they just opened
the kitchen,” I’ll be right back. If you just came from there you can try,
“want some crackers?” Of course be careful not to supply drinks. Either they
will get up to get some water or you can go for water. “Oh shit it’s time
for my meds!” See how well that one worked. It just snuck right in on you.
Finally, there’s the tension breaker. Pull out the plain m&m’s and say, “It’
s time to share m&m’s with nuts.”
You are now ready for day two. Get up a little late and pay moderate
attention to hygiene. There’s no need to be disgusting. Ask the desk for
shampoo, a comb, hair dryer, deodorant, towels, mirror, toothpaste,
toothbrush, your make-up (unless you happen to be a boy person), a pen, some
paper, and a razor. The razor is just to give them something to say no to so
that you can get all of the rest. The writing stuff is so you can send a
letter to the editor of the Denver VOICE and comment on how well this
technique worked. Or, in case of catastrophe, in which case you obviously
misread this article, how your 3-month stay in Fort Logan is coming along.
By day two you’ve probably started going to groups and may have noticed a
strange phenomenon. There is a decided trend towards the majority of groups
being run by overly perky but very cute young woman while the rarer
specialized groups such as substance abuse and dual diagnosis (substance
abuse + mental illness) are led by, ahem, less than compelling men. I find
this to be a very strange trend worthy of analysis.
This suggests some things. The first of which I’d believe even without the
compelling evidence. The male patients always believe even though they are
mental patients on a 72 hour hold with all their issues exposed, they have a
chance to score with the cute overly perky female councilors. Thus they pay
rapt attention at all times, complete all assignments, and are willing to
discuss themselves openly. After all, this is a great place to “pick up
As for the less than compelling and rarer male councilors, the fact that
they are scarce suggests that while the patients must not respond as well in
general, they do respond better in this case as males have a higher degree
of credibility as crazed substance abusers. Now I know that males aren’t
really more likely to be crazed substance abusers but I still give them more
credibility in this area. They’re just better at it I guess. Still their
scarcity suggests one unavoidable truth. The women aren’t fooled. We know
that we aren’t going to “score” with the male councilors but still we pay
attention. It doesn’t have to be about sex (at least not all the time).
So the conclusion, the overly perky cute female councilors are better for
everyone. Don’t fret though, if you are not female, cute, or overly perky
but think you will eventually settle on a career as part of the psych ward
staff based upon all of your experience as a patient, there are always
exceptions. You’re not ready to play doctor yet though. Remember, you still
have only two days to be cured and get released.
By now you have started to get to know some of the other patients. Treat
them well, even the ones who are having trouble adjusting to their
medications. After all, you will start seeing them on the bus as soon as you
are released. Sooner or later, you see everyone on the bus. And if you don’t
see them on the bus, you’ll see them at Stout Street Clinic. Sooner or later
you see everyone at Stout Street Clinic.
If you are getting bored try hanging pictures in front of the security
cameras. This way you’ll find out how attentive the front desk is at any
given time. It will also let them know you are getting restless and are not
suited for long-term confinement. And besides, this is the only way you’ll
gain the respect of the other patients as head loony on a rampage. Why would
you want to have their respect? Television. There is only one T.V. and
probably only a few books. So unless you want to read Rebecca of Sunny Brook
Farm and watch Little House on the Prairie you’ll need at least some control
of the television.
It’s now time for day 3. This is the day you get sane. Get up early and pay
scrupulous attention to personal hygiene. Take a shower and get ready to be
released in just over 24 hours. Wash your clothes in the washing machine and
start using the right buzz words. This doesn’t mean “I’m getting stoned as
soon as I get out,” it involves words like, “release plan, aftercare,
follow-up appointments, and these new meds are really working, gee I’m going
to miss you so much!”
On this day you’ll want to attend all groups participating in break throughs
for yourself and others. You are Earnest Angley and your motto is “You are
Healed!” You look sharp; you have a huge appetite, and are early for
everything. For girl persons you’ll want to beg, borrow, or steal some kind
of illuminator to put under your eyes so the psychiatrist can say, “even
your eyes look brighter!” Fortunately most of the psychiatrists are males in
psych wards and as such will know nothing about cosmetics. Typical males.
Talk to your staff representative about financial aid if needed. Since your
treatment plan is still likely not complete, be sure to get it finished by
bugging your staff person. Finally, write yourself a nice little relapse
prevention plan making up anything and anyone appropriate to mirror your
strong commitment to good mental health. Tell the staff early in the morning
that you’ll need to see your medical doctor and your psychiatrist today. If
you do get to see them, talk release plans. You feel great; you look great
and dog-gone-it people like you. Ask what time your ride should be there
tomorrow but be sure not to leave until after you get one last free
breakfast of coffee and re-constipated eggs. And don’t forget to take some
sugar, salt, pepper, ketchup, cereal, towels, sheets, and a new set of
hospital scrubs home with you. Have a nice time and don’t go back.
If you follow this guide and land in Fort Logan remember the papers you
signed when you were admitted. Anything that happens to you in the hospital
is your own fault and if they kill you it was all your idea in the first
place. Kat can be reached by email at the following address: