By Russell Baugher
I woke up to two EMTs standing at the foot of my bed. My mother stood beside them. They told me kindly and respectfully that if I went willingly there would be no police involvement.
I quietly obliged.
They walked with me out of my bedroom, down the stairs, through the garage, and into the back of the ambulance. They told me to lie down on the stretcher. Next came the straps. The straps were a formality, they said. Standard procedure.
With no lights or sirens, the ambulance made its way to the nearby psychiatric hospital. It was a hospital I’d been attending as an outpatient, until I stopped going. That’s why they’d come to get me.
Before the hospitalization, I was a high school student who’d stopped going to high school. I’d been taking antidepressants since the age of eleven. Drowsiness is a common side effect of antidepressants. It usually goes away in the beginning, but not always. Because of my near constant struggle with drowsiness I just wanted to stay home and sleep all day.
I wanted to quit school.
Back at the psychiatric hospital, I was a teenager standing in a padded room. There was a male standing approximately three to four feet in front of me. We were the only people in the room. He told me to remove each article of clothing and place it on the small bed beside us.
Shirt. Pants. Socks. Underwear.
He asked me to turn around. He asked me to bend over and down. I followed his instruction as he inspected my clothing for any unpermitted items. The last part of the search involved standing unclothed (fully naked) as he finished his inspection. The empty pile of clothes on the bed were, at one point, loosely in the shape of a person. No doubt resembling me much more than I did.
After his inspection, the strip search was over. He permitted me to get dressed and took me to my room. In my room, there was a window, a small bed, and the standard wooden desk that seems to be in every psych hospital.
This was my second time in a week as an inpatient in a psychiatric facility. The reason for the first hospitalization was the same: non-compliance with school. In the previous hospital, I sat at the wooden desk in my roomate-less room and imagined being somewhere else. Somewhere where I wasn’t the only kid. Because at that hospital, I was the only kid. I was the only adolescent on an adolescent unit, which meant I was the only person there.
According to staff, it was unusual for kids to be hospitalized there during the school year. I stayed with the adults on the adult unit during the day before returning each night to sleep on the empty adolescent unit. I don’t know that I felt alone at the time. I think you have to feel like you matter before you can feel alone.
As a 15-year-old inpatient, I was given the antipsychotic drug Mellaril — also called Thioridazine. This medication shut me down from the inside out. It wasn’t a black-and-white shutdown for that would’ve been too kind. This was an ambiguous shutting down. This was a loosening of the concepts of basic humanity. This was the temporary voiding of gender, and the introduction of a pause before every future primitive response.
Thioridazine has been studied for use as a male contraceptive because of its ability to prevent ejaculation. Something I found out (ahem) first hand. From dry mouth to dry ejaculation, the side effects were evolving. But I was wearing down — my teenage awkwardness replaced with apathy. The rough seas of raging hormones became stagnant. Perfectly still. A stillness set to the tune of “The Losing Horn” from the television game show The Price Is Right. Each episode of The Price Is Right concludes with the host signing off: “Please help control the pet population. Have your pet spayed or neutered.”
In my mind, I was now part of that population. I was controlled. I wasn’t sterile, but it made no difference. I did not respond with rage. I’d already seen the room that rage gets you. It’s where I stood naked, as a stranger went through my clothes. I had no choice about taking Thioridazine so they saw no need to caution me. For the next ten years, my drug cocktail would include antipsychotic medication. At thirty and medication-free, I’m still recovering from that period of shutting down as a teen and the more than a decade of antipsychotic use that followed. The stifling of my youth led to the suffocation of my adulthood. I needed a chance to develop. I just needed a chance to breath.
I needed a chance to be a teen.
from Birth of a Patient
Russell Baugher was given one diagnosis and one medication at the age of eleven. By the age of twenty-five, he’d taken forty different psych meds for the half-dozen diagnoses he’d received and seesawed through several hundred pounds of weight gained while taking antipsychotic medication. He was managing the supposed disease of mental illness in relative isolation, believing that he would someday be the death of himself.
At twenty-five, he decided to take a chance on not being sick. He’s been free of psychotropic drugs for the last ten months – after five years of slow and careful reductions.
He didn’t learn to survive as a patient, but he did learn to endure. It’s something that aids him greatly in his time of continued healing, as he works to complete the transition from patient to human being.