What you are about to read is an account of some happenings earlier this year. It’s not at all a pretty story, and could possibly be triggery to anyone living with a mental illness, or with someone with a mental illness. Please proceed with caution
There is a not-so-happy little place called Alvarado Parkway Institute, in La Mesa, California. I ended up there four times in 2016, the last time being voluntary. The first three times were for suicide attempts. The fourth was an attempt on my part to not try again.
API has many hallmarks you might expect to see in a movie like One Flew over the Cuckoos Nest. They engage in something I call “punitive therapy.” The logic, as I see it, goes a little like this: Oh, your being admitted to our hospital? Well, excellent! We will make you as miserable as we can, until you straighten up and stop being a snowflake. There are four wings in the hospital, the Open Wing, the Forensics Wing (where prisoners are housed, whenever they go batshit like the rest of us.), South Wing for the elderly, homeless, and extreme depression, and the North Wing, which houses the violent patients, suicide attempts, and perverts.
Barring Forensics, I was in every wing. I got off easy the first three times, what with my reason for being admitted. I spent a brief stint in the Open Wing, but was transferred to the South Wing a day later, because I’d had a seizure, and they could keep a better eye on me in that part of the facility. The next two times, I was placed in South.
The fourth time, I asked to be admitted. It was New Years Eve, an event that is closely associated with Aunt Tudi. We used to sit and watch the ball drop and sip eggnog, as we discussed the passing year and what our plans would be for the new year. I had already been rattled by many of the events that transpired during the last half of the year, and I knew that if I tried to tough the night out, I would attempt another suicide, just to stop the memories and grief. I figured I’d stay for a few days until the dust settled, and I had already enrolled in a different insurance plan that would allow me to go to a different hospital
I was wrong. I remained on the Open Wing for almost two weeks. at which time the Mother Unit was going to come pick me up. But the day she was supposed to get me, she never showed.
I tried calling her to no avail, so I finally gave in and called Matt. It was then I found out that the Unit was in the hospital and had been since the day before. She had to get a stent in her heart, as she’s got congestive heart failure. I lost my mind, which isn’t a good thing when you’re locked up in a place for people who have lost their minds. I asked if I could stay a couple more days, which the doctor agreed to OK.
The next day, I finally talked to the Unit, having gotten her hospital room phone number. We weren’t two minutes into the conversation, when she started fussing at me for turning Matt down for a ride. I was called rude, inconsiderate, and so on and so forth. I tried to explain that I decided to stay a little while longer, because I felt that Matt should be close to the Unit, and I was all the way out in La Mesa. I was trying to do what I though was the right thing. And I got bitched at.
Then I really fell apart. And I made the mistake of telling my doctor that I was again experiencing suicidal ideation. The next day, I was transferred to the North Wing. The place reeked of putrified happiness. My blood pressure sky-rocketed, so they had to give me an Ativan. I was so freaked out in the Wing, I refused to leave my room.
Now API has communal showers. You ask the nurse to open the shower for you, you clean up, come out, and it’s someone else’s turn. Now, I have this issue with touching things that naked strangers have touched. I can’t do it. But the next morning, I was forced to do it. On the other two wings, they were perfectly happy to allow me to take bird baths and wash my hair in the lavatory. I was always clean. I never stunk. But this one particular nurse had it in her mind to make me shower no matter what. She escorted me down the hall, then threw me into that shower, which induced another panic attack as a result. Another Ativan for me.
As previously mentioned, I refused to leave my room, which meant I couldn’t attend group sessions, nor did I want to, as I had nothing in common with any of the other patients, and I didn’t trust them or the staff to protect me from them. The problem is, they monitor your group activity and, if you don’t attend, they will keep you longer.
Because of that, my doctor, who spent all of two minutes with me each day, kept me for another two weeks. In the North Wing. It got to the point where I requested to change doctors. When he found out I had done that, he stopped my sleeping pill, which was the only way I could sleep in that hell pit. And it’s the only thing that keeps Aunt Tudi from calling me in the night, since it was nighttime when she would need me the most.
I spent the majority of January in this hospital, simply because I needed help with my depression and complicated grief. But they made me worse. I experienced a psychotic break from lack of sleep. As I understand it, I was running down the hall, trying to find Aunt Tudi before she died. At least that’s what they told me. And I was nearly catatonic from sleep deprivation by the time I was discharged.
I finally got my shit together, though, thanks to the hospital under my current health plan. They listen without judgement, they work with you individually, and they provide tools that help people with mental illness better manage their symptoms.
What’s so funny is, API’s motto is “A Culture of Caring.” The only thing they care about is lining their pockets at the expense of both patients and the underpaid staff. Don’t get me wrong, there were many good people at API, but they were overworked, stretched thin, and shown little, if any, appreciation. You can’t mistreat people, then expect them to get better, or have morale, respectively.
One more thing about API: They need to better train their staff to deal with people who are simply depressed, or reserve a place just for those with depression. When you begin mixing vastly different people with a rainbow of symptoms, nobody wins. I spoke with many fellow patients who were depressed, and they agreed that it was detrimental to their mental health to be in an environment where you're treated like a criminal or someone who has dissociated from the world.
I’m so glad I will never darken the doors of Alvarado Parkway Institute again. I hope that someday, both the patients and the staff run amuck and burn this psychiatric bog of eternal stench to the ground.