Trust in Mental Health Treatment #5/Where’s Whoopsie #19: Ire of the Storm

The reason I am awake at 4am is below. It is also, apparently, in the papers (or, at least, the digital online copies of the “papers” since it’s 2019 and I don’t remember what any dead-tree paper looks like outside of my intimidating sketchbook…)

I’ve been noticing an uptick recently in the number of media reports of horrible things happening in psychiatric inpatient facilities and other state-funded “care” facilities of various types. There probably hasn’t really been an uptick in the number of them happening, just an uptick in the number of them that I’m immediately aware of given that I now follow a number of blogs that share such things. Sadly, many of these blogs have shared them because the blogger was/is a patient of one of the facilities involved in the scandal, and they aren’t surprised by it. Or, the blogger has shared a personal story of a recent experience at the hands of the system to draw awareness to how even facilities that aren’t in the papers can still act humiliating and degrading towards their clients. These bloggers are trying to create awareness of the full range of mistreatment that occurs at such places via their own past and present experiences. To these bloggers, I’m very sorry for what you’ve experienced and very proud of you all for speaking up, often non-anonymously.

I am more often reminded of such things, even when I’m not actively seeking them out. I’m usually ok with that. Or, at least, I’m usually infuriated and enraged that they happened, but ok with the fact that I am infuriated and enraged. I’d rather know than not know. It was so much worse in my life when I thought I was somehow the only one dealing with this crap, and thus there must be something wrong with me, personally, because of it. Maybe I just wasn’t clever enough or persuasive enough, and, for that reason, I somehow caused what my family had experienced because I wasn’t “good enough” to stop it?

However, two particular examples have proven to be more triggering exceptions to my usual “I can handle hearing about anything because the story first needs to be told if it ever is to change for the better” general attitude. First, there has been a lot of (bad) press recently around an official report released in the state I currently live in. That report documents the sorry state of its mental health system. “Sorry-state-of” systems don’t get press just for being in a sorry state, but once that sorry state results in mandated action with a monetary cost, well, then it suddenly matters. Officials start making noises about “task forces” and “getting to the bottom of things.” Spoiler alert, though, that they never seem to actually get to the bottom of those things. I suspect this is because those trumped-up task forces don’t tend to include any actual patients with lived experience on them, so to paraphrase a well-known aphorism, how did they expect to solve the problem with the same kind of thinking that created it in the first place? Image result for question mark face emoji

Bad press in my current home is a bit more triggering than usual, because, well, I ran away from the 9th Circle of Hell. It hits a nerve when I am then confronted with evidence that the place I ran to isn’t really better. But, I still remind myself that there at least is press and is a report.  The 9th Circle of Hell doesn’t even bother to pay lip service to public reporting, so there would never be a report in the first place. Of all the things I experienced in 2018, none made the papers, even though all of the abuse was substantiated. That’s the most visceral reason I still prefer to read about upsetting stuff than to not read about it. Reading about it means that there is undeniable proof that it happened, and it can’t (forever, or at least so I hope…) be swept under the rug.

I’ll leave to your imagination what the details of the second thing were that only warranted a minor line item in its respective media but still somehow got through my thick mental armor today. I’ll just say some specific details hit close enough to “home” to send me into a quasi-dissociative sleep earlier that now has me time-befuddled at 4am.

I’m debating adding a password-protected post to say more about why that particular story hit so close to “home,” but I probably won’t. Some stories hit closer to “home” than others for any given trauma survivor, but all of these stories are all equally wrong. The degree of Kevin Bacon relatedness to a person’s own story does tend to affect how thoroughly a given survivor will be triggered by news of something wrong happening to someone else, but it doesn’t make any specific example of abuse any more wrong in general, or any more important to share.

PTSD stands for “post” traumatic stress. A lot of our triggers are things that should be innocuous – sights, smells, or tastes that by themselves are neutral or even pleasant – but became inexorably entwined with our worst memories. Other triggers should be triggering to everyone – like other stories of abuse – because they aren’t “post” at all. They are an infuriating reminder that just because the trauma is (temporarily?) over for one person doesn’t mean the same damn thing isn’t happening right this moment to someone else somewhere else.

I am doing my best to heal from my own past, but it sure as Hell doesn’t help when that past continues to be others’ present. Feel free to interpret this week’s Where’s Whoopsie sketch as both an acknowledgment that even when a survivor is “safe”, that the past still leaves its mark and also that, until there are no more stories that can send survivors into “I can’t deal with this right now” sleep to avoid dealing with the un-deal-with-able, that the past really is still impacting our collective present far too much to call the present “just” or “safe.”

PTSD_WheresWhoopsie (1) - Copy
<Image>: An hourglass. The top lobe has a storm labeled “then” that is funneling down into a tornado disrupting a peaceful tropical sunset in the bottom lobe labeled “now.” Text reads “PTSD: When the past won’t let go…”

Need a recap of anything I’m talking about in any post? Check out the Glossary of Terms.


4 thoughts on “Trust in Mental Health Treatment #5/Where’s Whoopsie #19: Ire of the Storm

  1. A sobering post, and I can see why stories like those that hit close to home are so triggering. I too am proud of other bloggers who make these things known, who stand up and raise awareness. It’s disgusting and disgraceful that such things can happen, and more needs to be done to change that. It did make me chuckle when you said “The degree of Kevin Bacon relatedness to a person’s own story does tend to affect how thoroughly a given survivor will be triggered by news of something wrong happening to someone else”. Good use of Mr Bacon, there, but you’re absolutely right. xx

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I can’t fully relate to institutional abuse, but I am sorry that is part of your story and that it is hitting so close to home for you.

    I am also troubled by the general cultural apathy I see toward all victims–of all crimes. Even worse is being treated like ‘the only reason why this bothers me, and not others, is because of my own PTSD or because such a crime once happened to me.’ So I loved the point you made about the fact that this stuff is triggering is because it IS happening, presently, not just in the past. Great post

    Liked by 1 person

  3. What has come to boggle me the most is how biased mental health providers can be in their own thinking. The last good doctor I had pointed out that I had been through a great deal of unexpected change in a short time and it had left me with symptoms of PTSD. She was empathetic, kind, caring, and very supportive of me taking the time I need to rebuild the sense of safety that had been lost.
    The current nurse practitioner is a cold apathetic ‘get over it, it’s not so bad’ type and the contrast is both startling and dismaying. If these people cannot agree on what is ‘traumatic’ to us, are they fit to tell us what it is about us that is dysfunctional?
    Hopefully my complaint to the clinic director at least gets me a new doc or nurse. If it just gets me bounced as non compliant and a troublemaker, well, I’ve been there, done that before, too. Letting it eat me alive simply was no longer an option.
    I cannot even fathom how difficult it is for some to speak up against more cruel and vile abuses in the mental healthcare system. It takes courage and it takes strength, which is in short supply for those of us who have been told for years that our very personalities are wrong. The ‘trust yourself, don’t let fear hold back’ thing quickly becomes, ‘you can’t trust your mental distortions, they aren’t valid.”
    Vicious cycle.


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