I haven’t always felt it over the last few years, but I am not a dumb person. I try really hard to make sure that I’m being thoughtful, reasonable, and wise when I make decisions. I’m a person who tends to think a lot about what she says before she says it.
Yet, more often than not, people look at my diagnoses before anything else.
Too many times, I’ve tried to express opinions or concerns about my treatment and been met with patronization and dismissal. I walk into appointments and before I even have a chance to say anything about myself, it’s assumed that I’m so broken that everything needs to be spoon-fed to me in the most child-friendly, bite-sized pieces. It goes beyond trying to be understanding or accommodating. It’s a lack of respect.
I have so many examples, but let me tell you about one. It’s long, a little rambley, but I think it’s worthwhile nonetheless. It’s only from a single program I took in October at a local hospital; don’t think this is the only instance — yet another one happened just last week. This shit is constant.
Having My Feelings Openly Mocked
I’ve briefly mentioned this day program in the past — both in the lead up to my post on the difficulties in recovery and in my post on overly long waitlists. Admittedly, the program didn’t last long, but it did significantly discourage me very quickly. I started on a Tuesday in October. The next Tuesday, I left early and never came back. Here’s why.
The program worked within a repeated weekly schedule, much like my school used to. The program was not overly exciting, but I don’t think that it was meant to be. On Tuesdays, the last module before we left for the day was called ‘Mind Connections.’ From the first day, if I’m honest, I hated the module.
Initially, I was excited for the module; I love problem-solving. We were handed sheets of paper printed with word puzzles and ‘riddles’ and asked to solve them. Instead of interesting logic puzzles and traditional riddles, these were the kinds of riddles designed to trick you. Some left out information so that you would make the most reasonable assumption others just were misleading; then, when taking up the ‘worksheet,’ you would be told that you were obviously wrong! Ha, ha!
You can probably tell, but I still get really riled up by this module. Here are some examples of the questions we got:
How much dirt is in a hole that measures two feet by three feet by four feet?
My answer: 24 ft3
The ‘right’ answer: There is no dirt, it’s a hole! Ha, ha, ha!
But, a concrete hole can be filled with dirt. It can be filled halfway with dirt. If you dig a hole in the ground and then toss some dirt in the hole, are you really going to tell me that there is ‘no dirt’ in that hole?
In California, you cannot take pictures of a man with a wooden leg. Why not?
My answer: … discrimination? No Californians have wooden legs? Something to do with the water?
The ‘right’ answer: Because wooden legs don’t take pictures, only cameras can. HA, HA, HA!
Well, OBVIOUSLY. Why would I ever look at that sentence and think it wasn’t talking about using a camera?
I swear, I kept thinking back to my days in elementary school when everyone thought these types of things were hilarious… Do you know why they were hilarious? Because they’d trick you. Way more than not, you’d get it wrong and then they’d point it out and laugh at you. In my mind, these are designed to make you feel bad.
Admittedly, I might be more sensitive to this than is standard, but I don’t think that this is the best choice to help people that are already beating themselves down for being ‘lesser than.’
This module didn’t cheer me up; it was never fun for me. It was all about embarrassment and humiliation, a trying test in patience. And I don’t think that it’s an uncommon reaction.
Now, since I’ve spent almost 400 words ranting about this module, it might surprise you to know that its inclusion in the program wasn’t my major complaint. My issue was actually how the nurses reacted to my feelings around the module. Going into the program, I told the intake nurse that I had an issue with anger being my go-to reaction to cover for my emotion. And let me tell you, my first day was a very anxious-anger-filled day.
So, after being in the hospital for over six hours, I was reaching the end of my rope. We were taking up the day’s worksheet of ‘riddles’ and anytime I offered an answer, I was met with laughter and a not-so-gentle correction. I was getting angrier and angrier and I felt no desire to hide it.
Suddenly, I heard one of the nurses, Alice§, pipe up and point out how frustrated I was getting. “Look how mad Maddi is!” she laughed.
I was equal parts shocked, angry, and offended. Because, well, what even…? This mental health professional that I had met six hours earlier saw me in emotional distress and decided that the best course of action was to point it out to the group of strangers and laugh. Charming.
I didn’t even make it out of the hospital that day before bursting into tears. Her reaction made me feel even more ridiculous and wrong.
The next day, I went to my assigned nurse and told her that I had felt offended and I wasn’t sure how to address the issue. My nurse told me that Alice§ probably didn’t mean to offend me and that she would let Alice know how I felt.
No one ever addressed the issue with me again. I received no acknowledgement, validation, or apology. Just plain nothing.
I lost all faith in Alice, and I began to lose faith in the program. They couldn’t even handle a single emotional incident with grace and compassion, so really, how could I trust them with anything else?
When I Tried To ‘Play Along’
The next week, ‘Mind Connections’ came along again. This time, I had decided to throw myself into it and try my best to get in on the joke. The program’s head nurse, Jane§, joined us for the afternoon.
This week’s module started off a little better with some kinder exercises. What does a ‘jiffy’ measure? … List the only four words in English that end with ‘dous.’ Until, we went back right to where we were the week before with this gem:
One day, two mothers and two daughters went shopping for shoes. Their shopping spree was successful — each bought a pair of shoes, and all together, they had three pairs. How is this possible?
I figured it out fairly quickly (no biggie); there were three women shopping: a girl, her mother, and her grandmother. Now, the question definitely implies that there are four individuals shopping, but hey, I’m throwing myself in. In line with the question, I turned to Jane§ and suggested that there might actually be three daughters shopping. Even though the grandmother’s mother wasn’t there, she is a woman, so she is by default someone’s daughter. I laughed. I was trying to joke around and go with the flow, I was trying to improve.
Jane§ shut me down, immediately. Her response was an almost perfect deadpan, “No. There are two daughters, just like in the question. Don’t worry, you’ll get it.” I was so taken aback. I tried to explain that I had ‘solved’ it and that I was just making a joke. She wasn’t having it.
The module had been explained to me as being a way to help promote problem-solving and ‘out-of-the-box’ thinking, but here was the head nurse refusing to do exactly that. It was condescending and hypocritical. I took a breath and tried to move on, but it just kept festering.
Angrily, I asked Jane, “Don’t you think it’s important to consider that there may be many ways to answer the question correctly?” In response, she leaned over to me, put her hand on my desk and said, “Well, you can think aaa-ny way you’d like to.” Her tone was dripping with superiority. With all of my restraint, all I said was “Well, that’s very condescending.”
Cue the crickets. Radio silence. No apology, no acknowledgement, no request to talk to me privately, just nothing. I was seething. Silently, I packed up my bag and walked straight out. I barely made it through the door before the crying started; I collapsed in tears in the stairwell.
The last thing I did before leaving was ask the information desk for the information of the program’s director.
My Formal Complaint & Giving Up
I got home that day and I was so upset. Straight to bed and confident that I wasn’t ever going back to that damned place.
Late that night, I got it together enough to email the head nurse a very simple email. Honestly, I was half expecting that they’d follow up with me before then, considering the nature of the program and my exit.
Her response came the next morning, and as expected, there was no apology, just the ever-so-dismissive “I am sorry that you felt hurt and disappointed.” No acknowledgement of her actions, her missteps, just my implied overreaction. How dare I have emotion. How dare I be offended.
That day, I called the program director and forwarded her my formal letter of complaint. We set up a time to meet at her office and discuss it.
I prepared myself a lot for that meeting. I printed out copies of my email to Jane and her response, I printed extra copies of my complaint, and I prepared two pages of notes on my itemized complaints about the program. I psyched myself up emotionally and I even looked up Canada’s laws on recording conversations.
I showed up for our meeting, hit record on my phone, and I waited. We walked into her office, and right away I was wary. She had on the dreaded ‘therapist voice.’ If you’ve never heard it, it’s the kind of tone you would use to speak softly and reassuringly to a bruised child. It is not the voice you use to speak to a grown-ass woman whom you respect.
Very quickly, I realized that she did not take me seriously. I don’t believe for a second that I would have received the same reception had I been a cardiac patient with a complaint. I don’t believe it would have been the same if I weren’t alone.
I got that response because I’m a psych patient, not a cardiac patient. It’s because I’m crazy, I’m broken, I can’t be taken seriously.
I listened to that meeting for the first time today. It lasts fewer than thirty minutes from my car to the elevator back out of the building. I didn’t even bother mentioning a single one of my many notes. I was in a losing battle.
I’m crazy, I’m broken, I don’t know what’s best for me, and I’m not allowed to have a say.
But clinicians should absolutely listen to us. They should respect us. I already struggle to listen to and respect myself, so I don’t need anybody else reinforcing that idea. And every day that I get further from this place, the more I forget what it’s like.
We need a say. We need to be heard. That’s how programs improve, through feedback.
If this has happened to you, feel free to let me know all about it — I could use some company in my grumpy corner.
§ Any names used are pseudonyms.