Open letter to inpatient “staff” in all the psych units I was in, regarding those “groups” they made us go to

Dear Brave and Fearless Leader,

I wonder if I were to total up all the “groups” I’ve been to, how many were there, total? I stopped counting how many psych hospitalizations I’d had once the total reached 50. After that, there were no more than 10, but I thought counting them was dumb anyway.

Maybe 30 years ago, that number was a status symbol.  We’d ask, “How many times have you been in?” and we’d ask, “What’s your diagnosis?” and “What pills are you on?” and “What got you in here?” Sure, it was good on a patient resume to have done the worst crime, endured the longest time in restraints, escaped perhaps, and then, endured the tortures you go through if you get caught.

All this, of course, might have been a good fit for me at first. Then I decided it was all designed to keep us sick. And coming back. Around and around the merry-go-round.

Any patient who stays in the system as long as I did will collect a lengthy list of diagnoses. When I took a look at how ridiculous it all was, I realized I wasn’t sick at all. There’s a huge difference between being truly sick and having a diagnosis.

I know people who have been sick. In fact, most of us have indeed been through this. How many got measles, mumps, and chicken pox? Or strep throat? I think if you got anything like that, you need to stay home, stay out of the library or any public place, get rest, and call your granny and tell her to bring over the chicken soup. And probably a few other things.

The “staff” saw us as sick and weak creatures. They claimed we needed to learn from them.  I know what learning is cuz I went to college. I never missed a class. Why? Because in college, we learned stuff. If I didn’t think I was going to benefit from a class, I’d drop it or switch. That didn’t happen too often.  Occasionally there were classes that were required and maybe I wasn’t fond of the topic, but I went anyway because learning is good. I was usually pleasantly surprised. “Wait, this is really interesting!”

Group, on the other hand, didn’t teach me anything, If I once thought it did, I realize now that what you staff were teaching us wasn’t too useful in real life.  In hospitals, there were no human rights groups, no empowerment mentality, and no patient-led groups.  I liked the occasional AA, but…it wasn’t run by you. Outside people did it. Real people. They weren’t collecting a paycheck, either. I went to Mass because it was sometimes the only contact with clergy.

What of “group”? Why did it suck so bad? At first, I bought into it, didn’t I? I even wanted MORE groups. I guess the ones I was going to were kinda boring. I thought it was all making me “better,” but really, I was taught how to be a better and sicker patient.

We’d get taught how to act in group. But group had no relevance to anything. Only to more and more group. We were taught to defer to the leader. I went under that assumption, that this leader was some all-knowing God, for decades. You could tell by the questions I’d ask of this leader. I lost all awareness of who I was, and believed everything they told me I was.

Just watch. A “staff” says, “Go to group!” What percentage of living, breathing, free-thinking adults obey like sheep? If they don’t, you “staff” yell louder. Or you say it in baby talk. We’re too stupid to have heard the first time, so you had to talk down to us. It’s bad to skip our little brainwashing sessions.

Of course, there was always a time I thought SOME groups sucked. But I believed we all deserved better groups, did I not? I criticized group leaders for being unethical when I was young, or not as skilled as they should be. I didn’t do that very often. I thought most groups were great.  Decades later, I tried to point out when in the group that the leader treated us like children, or were demeaning to us.  Now, I believe the whole idea of group is certainly harmful to most patients.  The whole concept needs not to be revised, but abolished.

I remember feeling insulted when we were asked to draw stuff and given children’s crayons. I used my mechanical pencil instead. I started refusing to go when they brought out the Bingo games. I rejected stuffed animal play. I resented that sing-song kindergarten-teacher voice of the leader. I didn’t mind writing. That was my private thing and no one could touch that. I would rather have been doing it at a real desk and by myself. Which is what I am doing now. It’s more conducive to creativity.

But of course, creativity wasn’t the object, was it? No, we weren’t seen as capable of learning. We weren’t seen as sexual. We weren’t seen as problem-solvers, leaders, inventors, artists, students, negotiators, friends, or healers. No, we were recipients. Just that. You assumed our relationships were shallow at best.

Our sex lives were reduced to risk-taking behavior. Staying up late to work on an exciting project was mania. Fatigue was depression or anxiety. If we complained, we were delusional. Pain was med-seeking, so better call in the addiction specialists.  Those that were clever enough to run away were seen as “dangerous.”

I’ll never forget the times I tried to warn other patients about side effects of drugs. I was telling the truth, but I was almost always told to shut up.  I was told, “Other patients aren’t supposed to know these things.” Or, “Not everyone gets these side effects so don’t talk about it.” Or, “We only give a partial list and only if you ask for it.”

I think it was 2000 that a gal said she was being put on tons of Seroquel. I approached her and said, “I think you should be aware that that drug can cause a person to gain tons of unintentional weight. It happened to me, so I thought I’d warn you.” For that, I got chewed out.

But why? I was incredibly sorry I ever took Seroquel. I was trying to protect her. I was trying to help. No, that wasn’t an okay thing to do. Even the gal herself, brainwashed as most of us were, turned against me and said she didn’t want to hear it.

I remember when I was in a religious cult called the Moonies, we were told that if we spoke out against the group it meant we were being led by the devil. So in a similar manner, I got chewed out on one of your “units.” Devil. Sinner. Don’t listen to her.

Then, finally, you claimed I was delusional when I tried to point out the truth. You said human rights didn’t matter. You said dignity wasn’t important. You said we didn’t deserve respect because we were “mentally ill.”  To be imprisoned in those hellholes was defined as a “higher level of treatment.” No, it was worse torture.

In one of the last units I was in, I decided to put in a human rights complaint. The reason it took so darned long to get done was because I was repeatedly told I was delusional about human rights. I pointed out the law over and over. Finally, I got action. The state agreed that I was right and demanded that the “unit” make changes. And that “unit” decided they could pull the wool over my eyes and simply not follow through with the demands legally put upon it. They lied and made excuses for why they weren’t following through. If I weren’t seen as “mentally ill,” they would have taken a human rights complaint far more seriously.

If I had my way, and I had loads of energy, I’d have complained about every single psych situation I was put in. In fact, my complaints were so numerous that those places might be better off closing down, if I were taken seriously. But no, I was a patient. Automatically wrong about everything.

It’s not me, it’s the premise. The whole model needs to go.

The “skills” I was taught were hardly useful. Dialectical Behavioral Therapy meant being treated like six-year-olds. It was boring, and I felt insulted because we were taught common sense. We were told we didn’t have common sense. So we were told, in effect, that we were stupid.  We were taught how to breathe.  After a while, I knew it was bullshit. Why was some kid one-third my age telling me how to breathe, when I’d taken far more breaths in my life than she had? I learned how to breathe the day I was born, well before DBT was invented.

Most of the groups were worksheet-style. This was so the group leader wouldn’t have to do much. Just spend 3/4 of the group reading it aloud (taking turns, like we are in grade school) and the rest of the group explaining the worksheet.  Note that many worksheets were illustrated with children’s cartoons. Like we couldn’t understand the text.

Most of the groups were so insulting that I didn’t even bother to go after a while. Then, I was told I “couldn’t handle group.” That seems to be one of the many ways “staff” gaslighted us. No, it wasn’t that I couldn’t handle it. I chose not to subject myself to any further insults. Just having to be there was an insult.

Patients go to those places and get insulted over and over. It’s torture, but they are hardly aware of it. I wasn’t, either. not for decades.  I thought your groups were great, but they aren’t.



Feedback and comments welcome!