Mental Health: Psych Ward Shuffle

Simon is codependent – emotionally dependent on others. Clinically, the term is “schizo-dependent.”

He needs other people to survive – to an unhealthy extent. He can be dominated, or he can be controlling. When he hits a crisis moment in his life he lapses into an world of his own creation. He can become violent.

Dominic Desmarais      Files Mental Health, Codependency

CodependecyHis affliction has led him to periods of confinement at two Montreal-area psychiatric facilities: the Philip-Pinel Institute, and the Louis-H. Lafontaine Psychiatric Hospital.

Simon would rather forget how his 2011 began. Mental health issues had plagued him for 15 years. As the year began, he nursed hopes that his life would turn around.

He had published his 5th collection of poems. At the bar where the book launch was to be held, a group of musicians stood ready to sing some of Simon’s poems. Friends and admirers assembled for the event.

At that moment, Simon plunged himself into a deep abyss of paranoia.

 “I was fighting over royalties with a long-time colleague,” he recalls. “My life was lurching from failure to failure.” Believing his friends were out to steal his poetry, he stood them up.

The Gathering Storm

Simon had been in therapy for violent behavior since 1997. “I was a brutal man,” he admits. “The doctor said my violent streak was tied to my mental illness. I was living in a fantasy world.”

This young and talented poet was having difficulties getting along with others. Terrified of rejection and abandonment, he lapsed into a fit of paranoia. He imagined that his friends were out to get him. Right at this moment, he met a woman.

“I didn’t want to date her,” he says. “I was afraid of making commitment. I’m codependent. But I asked her out anyway. And I learned a lot. Even though my illness led me to prison and psych wards.”

Simon is a hopeless romantic. When he falls in love, he falls hard. He commits himself totally to any relationship. Despite his mental troubles, his new girlfriend tried to help him as much as she could. Witness to his violent episodes, she encouraged him to seek help at the Louis-H. Lafontaine Psychiatric Hospital.

His condition improved. Simon felt better. For a while.

“I thought she’d stolen my camera,” he recalls. “I threatened to kill her. I ransacked her apartment. I was in another world. I was taking my medication, but not the right way. I was supposed to take it after meals, but I was wolfing it down at night on an empty stomach. She phoned the cops. She was scared. She saw another side of Simon.”

Jail Time

His girlfriend did not file a complaint. But the police did: “I was taken to the station, and spent the night there. In the morning they took me to the jail in Rivière-des-Prairies. It was Easter weekend, so I spent 4 days there.”

At the same time, Simon was fighting the building manager of his adult public housing complex. The manager of the complex wouldn’t let his girlfriend move in. After a fight with some of the other residents, he threatened the manager: “I told him, you’ll see how Italians settle things.”

Expelled from his apartment, Simon was charged with uttering a death threat. He now had to deal with 2 separate court proceedings arising from his death threats.

“That’s when I fell into a deep depression,” he says. “My problems really began. I was already unwell.  My emotional problems were ruining my life.”

On his release from prison Simon had to appear in criminal court. He was forbidden to contact his ex-girlfriend. He was sent to the Pinel Institute to be assessed. In the end, Simon was found not criminally responsible for his actions. “I didn’t end up like Dr. Guy Turcotte,” he says with relief – a reference to the cardiologist who stirred much controversy when he killed his children, then was found not guilty by reason of insanity. “But I could have ended up like him if it hadn’t been for my ex’s help.”

Simon spent a month at the Pinel Institute. Locked in his room nights, he was granted two outdoor recreation periods per day – in a courtyard surrounded by high brick walls. “It might have been labeled a psych hospital, but really, it was a prison,” he recalls. He was placed on a wing with 7 other patients. The area was patrolled by guards and orderlies.

The door to his room opened each morning at 9 a.m. “You had the right to stay in your room if you wanted to. But if you wanted to get better you were better off going out.”

Long Days

His daily routine included TV, board games, card games, and waiting around for those 2 rec periods. “The days were long,” he recalls. “You could only make or recieve 4 phone calls a day – 2 in the morning and 2 in the evening. The Institute had to clear every call.”

On weekends, he had a right to an hour-long visit per day. He had to take his medication. All patients had to wash themselves 2-3 times a week. All clothes were issued by the Instuitute: “They weren’t your own clothes. Not even the underwear.”

During his month-long stay Simon met with a psychiatrist on 2 or 3 occasions. These meetings, coupled with observation reports on his day-to-day activities, were used to evaluate his state of mental health.

Because he had been found not criminally responsible, Simon did not have to face criminal court judge again. “There was going to be a hearing, but in front of an administrative tribunal. It wasn’t scheduled for another 3 months. While I was waiting I had to stay at the Lafontaine Hospital.”

Simon was still not a free man. This psych ward stay was designed to reduce the likelihood of another violent outburst. So he was held involuntarily at Lafontaine Hospital, awaiting a psych assessment in relation to the other death threat charge. But he felt less constrained than at Pinel: “I had a deal with the court that let me leave the hospital to work. I spent 3 days at Café Grafitti working on the launch of my 6th book of poetry, L’éveil des emotions (The Awakening of Emotions). I had the right to leave from Friday night to Sunday night. I had to say where I was going and what prescription I was given by the doctor I met with twice a week. The Hospital was in control. I wasn’t really free, not even at Café Grafitti. I had to keep a schedule, even though I’d calmed down. But it was way better than staying full-time confinement!”

Privacy, Clothes

Unlike Pinel, the Lafontaine Hospital was no prison, Simon says. “At Pinel you have no privacy. At Lafontaine I had my own clothes. I could wash them right there. I had my own locked dresser. I had to ask an orderly to open it, even for personal hygiene items.”

But for Simon, both places had one thing in common: “I really wanted to get out! You knew when you’d arrived, but not when you were going to leave.”

Despite jail and psych hospitals, Simon was still incapable of carrying on with his life without his girlfriend. He stayed in touch through his mother. When he was released from Pinel he asked the court to remove the restraining order. “I won the right to see her with her consent,” he explains. “So we kept going out for a time. But my codependency took over. We split up.”

Simon says his time at both psych institutes provided an opportunity to step back and look at the big picture: “It gave me time to reflect on the relationship with my ex. We both have stuff to work out. I took the breakup very badly. But I’ve decided to move on.” This schizo-dependent mulls over the meaning of love: “Was it the great love of my life, or just my codependent nature at work? All I know is that my pride took a real beating!”

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