SO, almost a year ago I said I was going to write about my experience at the mental health facility at the North Chicago VA. It has taken me this long to work up enough courage to even begin. I may even have to write it in bits. It will probably come out raw and rambly. Sorry.
A little background on me:
In 2009, while deployed, I started seeing a therapist. I was working on a lot of things I was struggling with-familial issues, depression, anxiety disorder, self-harm (not suicidal), and bulimia. One of my battles got scared by an anxiety attack and my Unit put me on suicide watch. Really? I was so mad. They came to the gym, took my weapon, escorted me to my room and put me under 24/7 observation for an anxiety attack. My Therapist cleared that up, but the damage was already done. It was this that actually started the distrust in my Unit that ended up having me discharged. I hate it so much. There was no truth in the accusation that I was suicidal. Sometime Around October, I survived a rape attempt by another soldier. This is more common than you would believe and that’s a shame. In November, I was molested in a locked taxi in Britain. Throw that in with all the other things I was dealing with, I hit a low. However, I was so ashamed of the sexual assault I had gone through that I never brought it up to my therapist. I felt like I had brought it upon myself, because I let myself be in vulnerable positions. That took a lot of therapy to help me realize that no matter what, it is never the victims fault. Ever.
Flash forward to April of 2010, two months since returning from Iraq, 1 terrible boyfriend experience later, I felt so isolated and was at an extreme low. I had moved in with a friend, and because I had been so sheltered for so long (sorry, mom and dad, but it’s true) I had no idea how to function in the secular world. I had a great temp job with the National Guard, I had a nice apartment, but I felt so out of it. I still wasn’t suicidal, but the therapist I was seeing was concerned for me. She diagnosed me with Borderline Personality Disorder, which I still don’t agree with-I will hopefully get a re-evaluation one day.
Anyways, she told me I should self-admit to the Inpatient Mental Health Facility. At this time, I was living in Milwaukee. Unfortunately, that VA had no room (speaks volumes for how many vets struggle with mental illness) so they sent me to the North Chicago VA. Had I known what would transpire there, I would’ve never, ever, EVER agreed to going there.
This is where it’ll probably get emotional and really dark. I will definitely ramble. Again, I’m sorry. This Psych Wing was the most traumatizing experience in my life. I got there, and checked in. I wasn’t even allowed to wear a sports bra at first. They were the most degrading staff ever. They treated us like we were extremely handicapped toddlers. We had coloring pages, had to sit in these uncomfortable plastic chairs ALL DAY in one room, unable to leave to rest. We couldn’t have snacks and were served small portions at dinner. How that is supposed to help us with getting help, I can’t say. I hit my lowest point and did attempt to strangle myself. I am still so ashamed of this. I have never told anyone, but I am coming to terms with it. I hated this place and my life so much, and felt so hopeless, that I gave up on life.
Jess, one of the most amazing people I know (though I haven’t heard from her in years, she touched my heart) found me and got the staff. I thank her for saving me.
I went onto high alert, but they didn’t tell me. They watched me use the bathroom. Here comes one of the first worst experiences of my life. I had an anxiety attack when I found out they were going to stare at me while I used the toilet. Had I had some warning, it wouldn’t have been as bad and I probably never would have had a panic attack. I calmed down, but it was too late. Because I had yelled and gotten upset, they called in men to grab me, restrain me to a bed in a completely vulnerable way-all arms and legs out-, and knock me out with a drug. I still have night terrors from this. I am actually crying while writing this. It was made more traumatizing because of the vulnerability I already felt from the sexual assault. This would not be the last time they would do this to me.
When I woke up from this, I felt so out of it and violated. I woke up in a ball, since I guess sometime during my knocked out time they had come in and undone the restraints. Talk about feeling the most violated ever. I actually don’t even know how long I was put out for.
A few days went with not too much. I never saw a doctor or therapist. They just issued me medicine and watched my every move. I would walk the halls to pass the time and get hit on by one of the staff members. Not classy, by the way. My parents went through a lot of trouble to come see me. That also spoke volumes to me. That was a turning point for my relationship with them. I eventually was granted to ability to wear a bra. Finally, the uncomfortable feeling of being exposed was subsiding.
Come to the day when they would decide that they were going to discharge me. Some doctor I had never met sat down at a big table with a bunch of other people I had never seen. When she looked at me coldly and told me she was putting in for me to be discharged, I got extremely upset. Just yelling, no violence. I stood up, said I was done, left the room, and stomped around the hall for about 30 seconds yelling and crying. The military was my life. I love the military. I miss it so much. I calmed down and slumped onto my knees. Again, it was too late. Even though I had calmed down on my own again, I was picked up by a bunch of men I don’t know. I was terrified and I know I struggled. I held on to my sports bra strap because I didn’t want to endure the trauma of being strapped to a bed again. Again, I’m crying while writing this. I seriously hurt so badly just thinking about it. They proceeded to CUT OFF MY BRA and strap me down. They drugged me again, and I can’t even begin to describe the feeling of fighting your hardest to not lose consciousness, feeling terrified of what is going on to the point you feel that primal response to fight. It is something I hope you NEVER have to endure unwillingly. Again, I woke up unstrapped, completely unsure of how long I had been drugged up for. My parents had been turned away that day.
The worst part was that I was told I couldn’t check myself out. I couldn’t leave once I got there until someone decided I was “fit enough” to leave. Feeling like a trapped animal is an excruciatingly painful experience.
I was there a total of 10 days. I can’t even remember how they decided I could leave. I was just so freaking glad to be out of there.
After that, I kept going to therapy. I was so bitter. I was so angry. I was so traumatized. My therapist wasn’t much help. I had a friend call the cops on me because I was taking too many of my anti-anxiety pills at once to try to sleep because the trauma left me wide awake at night. I ended up at the VA psych ward in Madison for a night. Luckily that one is aimed for old people so we were allowed to sleep and eat when we wanted/needed to. They saw me and told me they agreed that I didn’t need to be there. That one trip is what kept me from giving up on therapy. Thank you, MADISON VA for not being as bad.
The nightmares aren’t as often, usually only when I think about it, but for at least a year after, I would wake myself up with my own screams. Poor Damian would wake up panicked. I had more night terrors/mares from this than from the rape experience.
I just needed to tell my story. I needed people to know how the VA treats vets, as I was not the first to endure this. Jess had also been strapped and drugged. I’m sure countless others have been as well. This is not humane and it does more damage than anything.
So…the only thing I ask is that you don’t judge me. This was nearly 6 years ago, and I have made huge strides in my life. I am not the person I was then, though the trauma lingers, like a cold, dark shadow.