Mental Health Hospitals Aren’t Filled with the “Criminally Insane”

(Trigger Warning: Discussion and pictures regarding depression/suicide) 

Take it from someone who knows. Something I’ve never quite liked about this community is these “asylum challenges” for Sims who are deemed “insane” or otherwise mentally ill. The hospital I was in, wasn’t run down, didn’t have cheap furniture, there was no one holding me against my will, etc. And often the people who were fellow patients were rich, did have aspirations to further their already prominent careers. There were people from all social classes and walks of life. And no one was outwardly would one would think of as “insane”. It could be your kindergarten teacher, a councilperson, a stay at home mother, anyone. Those are some of the people I met.

It’s one thing when you’re looking at it from an entertainment standpoint, not ever truly knowing what mental health/behavioral health hospitals are like, but for those who’ve been in that situation the severity of an illness that incapacitates millions of people every day. May is Mental Health Month. I’ve always tried to inject parts of myself and life experiences into my stories and characters, no truer example of that is when I wrote for Apollonia De-Sai, mother of my protagonist Reagan Leeds in my first Sims story.

Apollonia, like a lot of black women, came from an environment where mental illness was looked as a taboo and not openly discussed within the black community/family. She’s a woman who came of age in the 80s and had her children in the 90s when we still didn’t talk about these issues. Sure, with newer generations, younger people are more open to discussing mental health disorders, but there is still a significant stigma attached to it. A lot of people are ashamed to admit they’ve dealt with depression, suicide attempts, cutting, etc. I have gone through all of that. I’m not incredibly young, I’m an 80s kid and didn’t get proper help until I was 24 years old.

When I wrote Apollonia’s first POV in 2014, I went back in time to her birthplace in Trinidad and Tobago and her journey to the United States in the late 80s. Apollonia had dealt with anger problems and unbeknownst to her, depression for years. But she like a lot of people believed that having depression or anxiety automatically meant one was crazy. She didn’t “seem” depressed. Apollonia didn’t get any help until she overdosed on pain medication and ended up in a mental health hospital; even then it wasn’t easy for her to accept she had an illness. She was already well into her late 30s by then.

I wanted to present that part of Apollonia’s POV from the most honest place I could, from personal experience. Maybe her stay at a behavioral health institution in Queens, NY wasn’t as exciting as being strapped down in a straight jacket. It didn’t contain scenes from ‘One Out of the Cuckoo’s Nest,’ but rather it was more of a serene and therapeutic environment, based on my firsthand account of being an inpatient. I have no shame in telling people that, and I’ve been open about that part of my life for several years now.

Since it is Mental Health Month, I wanted to reshare some of the scenes from chapter 39 of Reagan Leeds: Run The World.  Apollonia also “wrote” an article (What No One Told a Lil  Black ‘Ting About Depression and Suicide) for S.H.E magazine several months ago about her experience and journey dealing with mental illness. You can check that out here. I’m a mental health advocate, and I have at times consulted with my brother a psychiatrist for his perspective as a professional for my story.

Thank you, as always Happy Simming
-Camille

Excerpt from chapter 39 ‘Apollonia’

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After being in this shitty apartment over the last few years, it became clear, that my career would never get off the ground in the way I hoped. Constantly being turned down for every good part I auditioned for began to take its toll on me. I kept hearing in my head, my mama’s voice: you’re just a little black ‘ting from an island country…you’ll never be famous, Apollonia. I tried shaking my head as hard as I could, unable to get her voice out of there. I watched the heavy dark rain drops fall over New York City. If I can make it here, I can make it anywhere. Well, apparently that wasn’t true for me. I failed miserably.

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The last few years seemed to go by in a blur. It was as if only yesterday, I moved to the Bronx. I packed my clothes one night, got a taxi and left my children. Reagan and Kennedey are in college by now. It’s not like I don’t ever think about them, I do. Knowing Reagan, the only thing about college, she was enjoying was the partying. Kennedey, is loving to learn as much as she can and probably taking on way too much for herself at once. An overwhelming sense of shame and guilt came over me. I slumped down to the floor, holding my head.

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What kind of person am I? How could I do that? How could I leave my own children behind? I asked myself. For what purpose? My dreams did not turn out the way I envisioned when I got here. Silly and foolish I am to even believe in dreams. For one glimmering moment, I thought I had a small chance to live the life I set out to live when I first came to this country. Never again, Apollonia, never again.

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I grabbed a bottle of vodka and stretched out on my bed. I don’t usually go for hard liquor, but wine wasn’t going to cut it tonight. I didn’t bother mixing the vodka with anything, I just took it to the head. I looked up at the peeling paint on the ceiling and the bad speckling job I did when I first moved in. I glanced around the apartment. What a dump. My house in Miami may have not been the biggest or the nicest, but it was clean and I lived in a good neighborhood. I couldn’t say the same now.

This couldn’t be life. Of the three books I took with when I left Miami, Reagan and Kennedey’s baby books, I also brought my Bible with me. I don’t really know why it’s been years since I’ve read it. There was a time I looked to the Scriptures for strength and encouragement, but I began to reject it the more my parents told me to give up everything I loved and focus on the Bible. In many ways, they ruined it for me. Every time I tried reading Matthew chapter 6 or the or Psalms, I kept hearing Daddy say: Prayer and supplication, prayer and supplication, Apollonia. You must pray and do things the way your mama and I tell you.

I sometimes looked in my Bible when my girls were younger and I thought to myself, maybe God doesn’t like me, maybe His word isn’t for people like me. Perhaps He knew my faith was never as strong as it needed to be. He looked inside and could see how selfish I was. ‘I am searching the heart, examining the kidneys, even to give to each one according to his ways.’ I recall thinking, God knows I’m no good. I looked over at the numerous prescriptions on my bedside table. I had muscles relaxers and pain medications from my workouts and auditions. I never liked taking medication, but these days, I could barely get out of bed without popping one because of all the pain I was in.

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All of this thinking about my children and how it is a very real possibility that God sees me as wicked made very uneasy and anxious. I felt scared. Scared of what the rest of my life would bring me. Afraid that nothing would ever be right again. I didn’t feel happy. That wasn’t anything new, I couldn’t remember the last time I felt happy. Not when I married Raymond, not even when I gave birth to my children. Anything my family has ever said about me inevitably became true. I wasn’t anything. Nothing Apollonia De-Sai ever did would matter in this world. If I died tomorrow, none of my family would know about it. I go by my Nani’s maiden name, Alexander. No one in New York knew I had children or where I came from.

Reagan and Kennedey were going on with their lives, but there was no doubt in my mind they both hated me. I was their mother, but I wasn’t there for them. I never told them I loved them. I abandoned them to live out some stupid ass fantasy as a famous dancer. What a joke I am. I opened the bottles to my Soma and Oxycontin, popping first just a few of each in my mouth. I took another swig of the vodka to wash the medication down. Within in minutes I began to feel very relaxed.

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I grabbed the vodka and the rest of my Oxycontin. I got up from the bed and staggered over to the sofa. I felt hot and thought lying on the floor would cool me off. I opened the bottle back up and spread out a number of pills on the rug. I had every instinct to put every last one in my mouth. I couldn’t think very clearly about anything, except for the pain I felt inside. I reached for the vodka again and accidentally knocked it over. Nothing spilled from it, I didn’t realize I drank it all.

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If there was ever a time for me to talk to God, it would be now. I didn’t ask for His forgiveness or the forgiveness of my children, no I simply begged to not wake up. Please just don’t let me wake up. I don’t mean anything by this, I’m just tired. So, so tired.

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My stomach lurched and began feeling queasy. I managed to pull myself up from the floor and slowly drag my feet to the bathroom. I’ve never felt so sick in my life. Maybe if I threw up everything, I wouldn’t feel so bad. To this day, I don’t remember what happened when I made it to the bathroom that night.

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I didn’t even remember how I got back into the living area. The only reason I know I passed out by the sofa, is because my neighbor, Laura found me. She later told me, she banged on my door before discovering it was unlocked.

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Laura immediately called the paramedics and off I went to the ER. I’ve had low points in my life before, but I will always look at that time as the lowest in my life. Seeing how my kids grew up and knowing I have a grandbaby makes me thankful every day I didn’t stay asleep for good. I don’t know, maybe God was watching me and maybe He did hear my cry.

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I don’t remember much about the night of my overdose. I barely remember being in the hospital and getting transferred to Flushing Meadows Behavioral Health, which is a mental health hospital out in Queens. My mind was still very foggy the morning I woke up in the hospital.

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I set up on my bed and looked across the room. I got in late last night and went straight to sleep. Now, as I looked around the room, I could see that there was another bed in there, but I didn’t have a roommate. Thank goodness, because the last thing I wanted, was for some weirdo invading my privacy. This is such bullshit, I thought. I’m the last person who needed to be in a place like this. I wasn’t some ‘psycho’. I looked down at what I had on. How did I get these clothes? They were mine and then I remembered Laura coming to the ER with a bag of my stuff.

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I got up, showered, and brushed my teeth. I had no idea what to expect when I walked outside of my room, but I could imagine it would be very much like ‘One Flew Over The Cuckoos Nest’. After I dressed and ate breakfast in my room, I was told to see the nurse at the nurse’s station. I had no idea what the hell she could want, but I needed answers. I needed to know how to get out of this place.

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“Good morning, Apollonia. How are you feeling today? Any thoughts of harming yourself?” asked the Nurse, who I referred to as Nurse Ratchet. “Excuse me? What the fuck kind of question is that? You don’t know me,” I replied, completely offended. Nurse Ratchet looked slightly confused. “Uh, I have to ask you if you’re having any thoughts of harming yourself,” she repeated. Again, I had no clue as to why this stupid woman would be asking me that.

“Of course not! Why would you ask me that?” I demanded. “Well, Apollonia, we are required to ask the patients questions about their symptoms, what brought them here. You came in because you tried to harm yourself. Now, again, I need to know if you have any of those thoughts right now. Also, how is your depression and anxiety today?” she asked. I shook my head, still unable to understand what these questions could possibly have to do with me.

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“Like, I said before, no I don’t. I didn’t try to “harm” myself for your information. Neither do I have depression and anxiety. Where are you hearing this bullshit?” I asked. “It’s right here in your chart. The doctor in the ER stated you were suffering from both depression and anxiety. The same doctor wrote orders for you to be treated in this facility because you overdosed on pain medications and vodka,” answered Nurse Ratchet, matter-of-factually. “I’m only saying this once again. I am fine. Who the hell do I see about getting out of here?” I asked. “That’s not up to me. You have to see Dr. Parsons first. He’s your assigned doctor and should be making his rounds shortly,” she replied. “Fine,” I said and walked off.

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I started to head back to my room, and contemplate what my next move would be, when I was summoned to a small conference room to meet with the inpatient psychiatrist. “Good morning, Apollonia. I’m Dr. Parsons, I’m the doctor you’ll be seeing while you’re here in the hospital. First, let me ask, how are you feeling today?” he asked , staring at me from across the table. “Fine,” I replied, flatly.

“Are you having any self-harm thoughts?” he asked. “No,” I replied, starting to feel more irritated by the second. I watched him jot a couple of things down on his pad. There wasn’t anything remotely interesting about the man. He’s obviously a super boring person leading a mundane life. His questions to me, seemed as if he were just going through the motions, like he’s asked these same questions hundreds of times in the past.

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I asked Dr. Parsons when I would be able to go home, to which he could not give me a definite answer. For someone who went to medical school and made good money, he certainly did not have too much to say. All he did was ask me about my personal history and what led to me “wanting to harm myself.” I swear, the next person who makes that assumption is going to get a fist to the face. “Look, like I told that dumb nurse out there, there is nothing wrong with me. I had a backache the other night and I drank a little too much, okay. Don’t assume that you know me, because you don’t,” I snapped. Dr. Parsons didn’t seem to take my combativeness too seriously. He made a couple of more notes and told me of the drugs he was prescribing for me to take while I was here.

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I left the conference room as soon as I had finished talking to the doctor. I went out into the common area and grabbed a book to read. I couldn’t tell you what it was about. I just needed to get my mind off the fact that I was in a place like this. I sensed someone watching me and looked up. “Hi, how you doin’? Mind if I sit down?” asked the man. I shrugged, indicating that I didn’t care one way or the other. “I’m Maurice,” he introduced himself. I rolled my eyes and didn’t respond.

“You gotta name?” asked Maurice. “Yes,” I replied, dryly. “Well, what is it?” he asked. I sucked my teeth, it was obvious this foo’ wasn’t going to leave me alone. “Apollonia,” I said. “Like Apollonia from ‘Purple Rain’?” wondered Maurice. Was this guy serious? “I was in high school when that movie came out, so no,” I snapped. “For real? Damn you look, hella young,” responded Maurice, in surprise.

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Since I had nothing better to do, I listened as Maurice told me the reason why he was in the hospital. He had a problem with alcohol and checked himself in here a few days ago. He wanted to know if I’d been to any groups, to which I told him and that I didn’t plan to. I admitted the reason these people said I needed to be here. “It’s such crap. I never had any mental problems before. These assholes only want money from me,” I complained. Maurice claimed he knew how I felt, but said I should try one of the groups. Apparently it looks good for you if the staff and doctors know you’re participating in different activities. I had no desire to sit around a room with strangers and share my personal business.

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Nevertheless, I took Maurice’s advice and went to the next group therapy session that started. I came in and sat down, half listening to the mumbo jumbo the group therapist was talking about. He talked to the group about common behaviors and self-destructive patterns people tend to have. I looked over at the other patients, who eagerly shared their own experiences. I found it very crazy, pun intended, perfect strangers would talk about various symptoms they have, what mental illness they suffered from, and their experiences with drugs and alcohol.

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As silly and close-minded as I was at the time, I didn’t believe I had anything in common with these people. One of the women talked about how she heard voices and saw hallucinations. What the fuck kind of shit was this? Another lady said she’s been a cutter for over ten years and this was her seventh hospitalization. I shook my head, I couldn’t relate to anything these folks were talking about. They’re the kind of people who need to be in the hospital, not me.

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The group therapist, whose name was Jon, turned his attention to me and asked what were some patterns I’d seen in my past and how did I deal with my depression in the past. He made himself seem very friendly and like he had the ‘right’ to ask me such intrusive questions. “I don’t have any patterns cause I don’t have depression,” I replied. A sympathetic look spread across Jon’s face. “Apollonia, it’s perfectly fine to be open in group. Anything we say in here is confidential. Don’t be afraid to open up,” urged Jon.

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“Look, do you see my face? I don’t give a damn if this is confidential. I don’t know you people. Spare me with this psycho bullshit, okay?” I said. “Apollonia, it’s not bullshit. These groups are designed to help you,” countered Jon.

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I hastily stood up. “Fuck out of here with all of that. Where I come from, we don’t stay high on Prozac. You can keep your little American Psych 101. I’m not here for this,” I said angrily and walked out the room.

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More than anything, I began to feel very frustrated while I was in the hospital. How the hell did I get here? When I thought about what life would be like for me, I never imagined this. I didn’t think I could get any lower than this. Over the course of the next few days, I continued to be defiant with the hospital staff. Maurice said I only made things worse for myself. He advised me that I needed to tell the doctor and nurses what they wanted to hear. The longer I put off participating in my “therapy”, the longer they would try to make me stay. Even if I petitioned to sign out against medical advice, the hospital could petition the court to make me stay here. I didn’t feel like going through such a hassle. I decided to play nice and be a good girl. I didn’t share in the groups, that I refused to do, but I made myself go to a few and answer the nurses and Dr. Parsons’ questions without an attitude.

After ten days, I was told I could go home. The hospital social worker set me up with a therapist to see as an outpatient. I acted as if I would go, but really had no intention of talking to some stranger about my personal business. I had bigger problems, Laura called me and said I’d been replaced at the bar for missing so many days. When it rains, it pours. Now I had no job and no income. My little savings were just about gone. This couldn’t come at a worse time. Before he left, Maurice gave me his contact information. Desperate, knowing I couldn’t afford to keep my apartment, I took him up on his offer to come and stay with him. If I’d known back then what I knew now, I would’ve stayed under a bridge than live with Maurice. I rue the day I ever met that son of a bitch…

You can read the rest at Reagan Leeds: Run The World

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