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July ’20: 8 Days at a Psychiatric Hospital

I was taken to John George Psychiatric Hospital for being naked in public.

A car drives through an intersection in a suburban area, passing a crosswalk, tree, and sign that reads "Naked in Berkeley 2020".

👕

The patient uniform was a blue-green uniform with a loose top and elastic-banded pants. They provided grippy socks, but I maintained being barefoot despite occasional exasperation of staff.

I was not allowed to be naked, even in my room. I was only safe to disrobe in bed.

My roommate had been to John George a few times. She was a passionate young woman with a good heart. 

The patients at John George were varied. Some would chronically cuss and would be soothed by listening to music on wireless headphones. Most were pretty normal and were caught up in difficult situations.

I made many friends among the patients. They were perceptive, clever, and funny people. They would periodically be medicated into drooling, dazed stupors.

I kept active, engaging in improvisational exercise, socializing and writing about my experiences. Many of the nurses and other patients lauded my enthusiasm, but it was referred to as mania in the psychiatric reports.

🥼

The nurses were as varied as the patients. Some genuinely believed in the institutional model, most saw it as just a job to pay the bills (and found themselves befriending  patients), and some were trying to be a force of good in a sick system.

I had a designated psychiatrist who would periodically visit. I opened up about the absurdities of my life: being told I was the chosen one, feeling pressure to do something great, finding society to be oppressive, etc. In my desire to get genuine feedback, I overlooked the obvious cues that he was exhausted, pressed for time, and looking for any reason to prescribe medication. Everything I said was declared to be delusional; I was reported to be “bipolar,” “schizophrenic,” and, most plausibly, “hyperverbal.”

🍽️

There were regular meals with limited catering to dietary preferences. “Vegan” was consistent, but not “gluten-free.”

Fortunately, they had oranges, apples, and nectarines available during every snack time, which was frequently declared throughout the day. Most patients coveted the sandwiches and plastic wrapped cookies & crackers. I opted for the fruit, of which the nurses gladly gave me extra.

🌿

There was an herb & flower garden we could visit during midday activity sessions. I picked edible flowers and herbs to add to meals, which I carried around with me for a couple days until the lunch where I offered them to others: an especially nervous-controlling nurse declared they were unsafe for consumption and banned me and everyone else from picking herbs from the garden. She said they sprayed they herbs with pesticides, but the nurses who tended the garden said they did not.

👚

One of the nurses who was very supportive of my active lifestyle brought me a pair of yoga pants and a purple form-fitting shirt, so that I would be seen as an equal with the staff.

🩸

I had a blood test taken. An irritated psychiatrist delivered the result that I had a perfect panel.

💉

It was an open secret that no one is allowed to leave John George without being medicated first.

I never consented to be medicated, so over a prolonged process of defending my rights in trials-by-phone, they declared I did not have rights to reject medication.

I was given two options: take the drugs orally or they would inject them intravenously.

I said, “I do not consent to taking drugs. I am a sober person.”

They begged me to just take the drugs orally, as they didn’t want to force drugs into me.

I said, “It is your choice to obey.”

Three nurses grabbed me and I went limp, so they dragged me into the room and injected antipsychotics into my butt.

I felt violated. My limbs moved slower. After processing my feelings with my mom on the phone, I relaxed and the effects of the drug lifted after a few hours.

The following night, a nurse made a pass at me in my bedroom, asking for me to take my clothes off. I declined firmly. I then reported it to the lead nurse, who reassigned him. It appeared unlikely that there would be any reprimand or effect on his employment status.

🧫

During this time, COVID-19 was causing staffing shortages. Some staff openly discussed the possibility of the facility shutting down; most patients present to these conversations were too medicated to listen or comprehend. 

🚶🏼‍♀️

Before I was to leave, the psychiatrist insisted I promise to never go naked in public again.

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