‘Involuntary’ is a word many of us feel uncomfortable using in terms of mental illness.  Personally I have always hated the fact that sometimes an involuntary admission to hospital is exactly what is needed.  I’d like to think that we are always in control of ourselves enough to make the appropriate decisions on care for ourselves.  Unfortunately it’s not the case, and it’s something that has come to my mind this week.

I think I had about four times when the decision to hospitalise me was taken out of my hands.  That’s out of many more ‘voluntary‘ admissions – more than I can count over nearly 10 years.  A couple of times my (now ex) husband made the decision for me, the others saw the decisions made my the hospital staff because there was simply no one around to make that choice for me.

Of course there was no ‘choice‘ for me.  I kicked and I screamed.  Literally.  I was a totally different person than the person I am today, simply because I was so unwell.  I hated my husband, although usually I loved him.  How could he do this to me?  He knew hospitalisation was the last thing I wanted, but he did it anyway.  Ouch!  That really stung!

When it wasn’t D making that choice, it was people who didn’t even know me.  That stung too, and it felt like the whole world was against me and there was no one around who loved me enough to be able to save me from what I dreaded.  Of course, no one was going to ‘save’ me, in the way I meant.

I had all the psychiatric treatment you could imagine across the years, but each time I knew that it boiled down to being my choice.  The ironic thing though, is that even when you are voluntary patient, you know how easily that can change. Strangely you only know that once you are inside the walls of the hospital.   ‘Involuntary’ can get slapped on you so fast that you wonder what ‘voluntary’ really meant anyway.

I started to realise this week just how grateful I now am, for those decisions being taken out of my hands.  I read (as you possibly have too) of a woman, who struggling with mental illness and the ongoing effects of prolonged domestic abuse  committed a crime.  She’s now facing charges for the attempted murder of her children.  Apparently family members tried to have her hospitalised the day before but she wouldn’t accept the hospitalisation.  Obviously I don’t know all the details, but I wish for her that decision was taken out of her hands.  It sounds like she was too unwell to be having to make that choice, and of course the choices she made in the next 24 hours were catastrophic.  I dearly hope that somehow she gets the treatment she needs anyway, instead of the current round of judgement and condemnation.

When I was admitted on an involuntary basis, my life was at risk and I’m ashamed to admit that one time, it was a life other than my own that was at risk.  Me being ‘locked up’ was to save that life.

To be ‘locked up’ at the discretion of a judge was the last thing I wanted.  But had that not happened, I probably wouldn’t be alive today.  And other possible consequences mount up in my mind beyond being able to put into words, nor is it something I want to talk about any more openly in such a public forum.

I am glad my husband signed my rights away those times.  I have no idea how difficult that must have been for him, simply because we don’t have a relationship now where we could talk about it.  It must have broken his heart to see his wife so unwell that he needed to take this step.

To commit someone involuntarily must be easier when the family don’t have to be involved, as was the case for the other two times.  I have never been in a position where I had to direct someone to take a loved one’s rights away but finally, all these years later… I can see that they did the right thing.

So to D, and to those hospital staff, thank you.  I hated you at the time, but you saved my life. For that I will always be grateful.

“The horror of the Pit lay in the emergence from it, with the return of her will, her caring, and her feeling of the need for meaning before the return of the meaning itself”.” 

— Joanne Greenberg


5 thoughts on “Involuntary

  1. John Richardson

    Great post! We have a problem in the United States and particularly here in Texas. We spend billions each year to build and keep up prisons while the facilities for the mentally challenged go unfunded. We just don’t spend much for mental health and it doesn’t seem to be much of a priority. We have a number of cases each year where someone is murdered or someone commits suicide because no psychiatric bed is available in any hospital in the area. In the right case, with the proper record, a person with serious mental issues has a chance in our legal system but so often it involves a high profile trial when serious crimes are committed. These trials by themselves can cost millions and the money would be much better spent taking care of these folks before their condition gets so out of control. Keep squawking Cate! You have the right of it!

    1. LOL. You call that squawking, John? Ha ha! At least I know you’re always honest. 🙂 But on a serious note it’s such a shame that problem exists to such an extent. And not just in the US either. It strikes me that it must be very hard to work in that environment, when your hands are so tied.

    1. Hey Nikky. I remember both those feelings, of the embarrassment as well as the wish that someone would just lift it off my shoulders and make the decisions for me. It’s a really hard one and leaves us feeling pretty alone. As for the embarrassment my first hospital admission was a long time ago now but I know that for a while the potential embarrassment stopped me from doing it. I don’t know who said it to me but someone made me realise that there comes a time when you simply have to put yourself first. What anyone else thinks does matter. There’s no denying that. But ultimately it is you that matters. Seriously. I hope you can find that in your heart, and put aside what others may think. And you know, you realise then who matters. Not everyone needs to know where you are and what you’re doing. They’ll get over it, but maybe if you don’t give yourself the chance, you might not. And that would be devastating to both people who know you and people who don’t. Good luck in finding that brave heart inside.

      1. Thank you so much for your reply. I think the hardest part is to admit we need help. My fear is not really of being judged but more the fear of not being believed, and at the same time, I realize that it’s always me trying to “minimize” what I’m going through.

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