For years, the first thing that came to mind when I heard or read that number was the album 5150 by Van Halen. I guess if I think about it, I have known for quite some time that this number stood for a 72 hour psych hold due to concern of people who may be a suicidal threat to themselves or a threat to others. What I can say is that I never thought I would associate it with myself or my life experience. That all changed last week.
I have sought medication treatment for my anxiety & personality problems for several years now. Sadly, of the four I have tried so far, not one has worked. They have, however, given me many not-so-fun side effects that include weight gain, loss of orgasm or even much interest in sex at all, dry mouth, insecurity & a certain amount of shame for even taking such drugs. The stigma of mental illness is something that I can not seem to reconcile myself with. I consider myself to be a highly intelligent, if not highly educated, person. Most roadblocks that have been thrown my way throughout my life I have easily been able to either jump over, walk around or just knock down as I walked through it. This is not the case with my struggle with anxiety. I have written extensively about my anxiety in the past, so I’m not gonna rehash it here. What I do want to focus on in this particular blog post is the results of adverse reactions to psychotropic drugs, the pain & suffering involved with weaning off of these drugs & strange situations one may find themselves in as a result of isolation, confusion & fear.
For the past year I have been taking Zoloft in an effort to curb my anxiety & panic issues. I believed for a while that this medication was helping me. Six weeks ago, I realized that with my situation in Los Angeles quickly deteriorating, something else was off, so I made a visit to a doctor I found on the internet. His determination, in a most non-medical term, was that I was suffering from the “Prozac Poop-Out” as he called it. His suggestion was for me to up my daily dose of Zoloft to 100mg from 50mg. To me, in the moment, that seemed justifiable. Not even considering the consequences, I agreed to this plan & began doubling my dose immediately. It didn’t take more than a day or so for me to notice the difference, the problems, the crippling fear, the severe mood swings. My rationale was to wait it out & see if once the higher dose got into my system, maybe the side effect symptoms would dissipate. Well, they didn’t. What happened next is something that I never would have been able to admit or ever write about until now. I have come to a certain peace within myself & an understanding that I have an issue, it is mental, but it is still, whether I like it or not, an illness.
Here is my 5150 experience~
I have always had a way of finding free or inexpensive services, especially when it comes to mental health services. I am very grateful for that ability. I also believe it has a lot to do with my strong need to be well. I will stop at nothing to get the very best out of the life I have been given a chance to live. I fight my illness, always have. I don’t like it one bit. Imagine if you can, loving something so completely that to be without out it causes you an ache to your very soul. This is how I feel about my desire & almost constant need to travel, either for work or for pleasure. Although, I admit, I haven’t been doing much pleasure traveling in quite some time. I haven’t left Los Angeles in six months now, which in itself is usually a sign that something is wrong. I don’t enjoy sitting around any one place for that long, without a break. Okay, I’m getting off track here, too much back story, not enough relevance.
After my experience with the doctor who doubled my Zoloft & then refused to see me when the side effect symptoms began taking over my life because I was unable to pay for the visit, I needed to dig deeper for help & it had to be immediate. Don’t you just love that? A doctor can alter your life, your mind & your ability to care for yourself with a medication, but they can’t be bothered to see you for an emergency follow up due to your inability to pay. Oh, how I love being American! When I ran into this roadblock, I scoured the internet for mental health services in the area & came up with Exodus Mental Health Urgent Care. It sounded perfect to me. Finally, a place where I can explain what is going on in my mind & they will help me make it better. YAY! My euphoria was short lived when the Nurse Practitioner informed me, after about an hour of being there, that she didn’t feel comfortable sending me home, as she thought I may harm myself. As she was saying these words she also informed me that this was to take place immediately. In that moment I was the property of Los Angeles County Mental Health Services for at least 72 hours, or so they thought!
I have never had a suicidal thought in my life. I have too much to live for, mainly me & my desire to have as many good years on this planet as I can. I refuse to allow my life to be one entirely made up of tragedy & failure. This is why I fight. This is why I get right back up every time I fall down. Needless to say, I was not too excited to hear those words coming out of Erins mouth. I admit that I made a terrible mistake during my conversation with her. In explaining the adverse side effects caused by the Zoloft, I explained something that was happening when I would go outside for a cigarette. I would just be standing there, on the balcony ledge, staring up at the beautiful Griffith Park Observatory & suddenly I would get these frightening thoughts that I was going to fall off the balcony & die. Never did I say jump or having a desire to jump. It was all based in fear. That statement is what caused me to be locked down. It is frustrating when someone takes your words out of context, especially when your freedom is at risk & your mental capacity is questioned like never before. I felt fear, frustration & at the same time complete defeat. Let me explain why I chose that word. I had given up control of my inner battle to the “professionals”. I figured “screw it, I’m not doing such a great job managing my anxiety symptoms, I’ll take the help being offered me”. I made a conscious choice to give in to the resources given to me. I was exhausted & could really use the help of a support system. Seeing that every member of my close knit support system is in Detroit, I needed to trust these strangers. It was not easy, but they gave me drugs to make sure it was much easier, as I slept away much of my first day locked down, before being transferred at 3am to Gateway Mental Hospital. This was the second sign that things were not going the way I had hoped walking into that facility that morning.
I spent 18 hours of my initial lock down in a reclining LazyBoy chair, covered in a blanket, surrounded by severely mentally ill people, as well as homeless people who were in a bad way, needing to be fed, showered, given some meds & a comfy place to sleep for the night. It wasn’t frightening, though it was annoying at times. I guess I was more flattered than annoyed at the male nurse who hit on me during his ENTIRE 8 hour shift. I’m pretty sure that’s unethical, but it was flattering, so whatever. He gave me special privileges not given to the others, such as smoking more & for longer periods of time, where I would just lay on my back on the round table in their smoking courtyard, enjoying the warmth & the beauty of the sky above me. Does any of this sound like it’s coming from a woman who is a danger to herself? I digress…
I am guessing on my timeline, as this weaning off Zoloft, as well as the medications I still have in my system from lock down have clouded my short term memory a bit. It was around 2pm that I was given the Risperdal & Ativan. Needless to say, I was out for around 6 hours. There was no real explanation as to why I was taking the Risperdal, other than to say it was an Anti-Pyschotic (which I was then reassured I wasn’t….duh!) & helped to quiet irrational thoughts. Well, it certainly did it’s job! When I woke up after dark, there was an entirely new & not nearly as friendly group of staffers. The night people do not have the people skills that the day staff did & I was pretty troubled when I woke up to see all new people. The fact that they were unwilling to speak with me, except in short, snippy comments to anything I attempted to ask them. My only choice was to go back to sleep. They informed me that I was to be leaving soon for Gateway at 10pm. I was awakened at 3am & expected to just jump up, climb up on the ambulance gurney (that’s right, an ambulance ride, care of the county) & be strapped down for “safety”. I was really out of it, still a bit woozy from the drugs they gave me, the Zoloft side effects & having just been woken up to leave. It was a quiet & not too long ambulance ride across town. When I arrived at Gateway at 3:30am, I was expected to sit down for an intake meeting & answer all sorts of questions. It was annoying, exhausting, repetitive & the room literally smelled like shit. (I later learned that the staff restroom was out of order & that was where the smell was coming from) After all my belongings were inventoried & taken from me, dozens of papers being shoved in front of me for my signature without any explanation, it was after 4am & time for me to get a few hours sleep. I was shown to my room, where the other 3 women inhabiting it were obviously sleeping on their twin beds. The room was one of three in the ward. The other two rooms only had two beds & also came with their own bathrooms. I wasn’t so lucky, given the time of night I arrived….whatever, just let me sleep already, damn! As I lay down on the small bed that would be my home, it felt as though I was laying on a cold cement slab. Not only did they leave the ward chilly at all times, but we were only provided one small, thin blanket to cover us while we slept. I was told I could ask for another for more warmth the next morning. I still don’t understnad why that lady couldn’t just go get me one. It was a very uncomfortable few hours sleep & I was in for a different kind of awakening the following morning…..the patients.
Come back again tomorrow for the second part of this stories….Gateway Hospital (or as I like to call it now “Gated, Locked Down Looney Bin”)
For now….it’s time for me to sleep. The sleeping pill I was given by my new Psychiatrist is kicking in & I look forward to a full nights sleep for the first time in over a year.
Until the next installment, my friends…….<3