Years ago I was hospitalized for bipolar I disorder, I had hurt myself and I wanted to die. I went to a lovely place to get on meds and get stable. I felt relatively safe there, having been in an institution that was somewhere between Coo Coo's Nest and Girl, Interrupted, this one was different a breeze, even comfortable, and it was my second stay, so I was ready to be well again. This was a place that even when I was being stripped searched (tradition in mental health residential facilities) I felt exposed, but safe. I trusted the nurses and even the other patients, being the youngest one on the ward had its perks, a lot of people proud of you that you're taking care of yourself now instead of waiting like they did. A lot of people relying on you to make them laugh, a psych ward, done well, is a place of comfort and healing, and being part of that feels really good. (I'd like to point out that a psych ward done badly is truly horrifying)
I felt heard, I felt protected, and I felt like I could and would get better.
It was New Years, in fact we all celebrated with sparkling cider and some crackers, at 10 pm, because that was lights out. We comforted each other in our own distant ways, each of us knowing it was hard to be away from family or loved ones, or even just missing home. I was lucky, some of my friends had brought me snacks and cheese to go with our crackers, we shared it was nice.
The next day I was called into my room, a man, and at this point it gets a little blurry, tells me to sit down on the bed. He asks me a few very basic medical questions, then tell me to lie down and proceeded to grope my breasts, calling it a breast exam and then going on his way. I've since had a proper one and I know that what he did was not a medical procedure. Now I don't know how many of you have been in a psych ward, but you're never alone, even when they had to strip search me there was a nurse and a nurses assistant in the room to make sure nothing happened. I don't know if he was a doctor, a orderly, or what; I'm sure he told me, but my memory is fuzzy from that time. There was no reason for a "breast exam", this was a move of power.
I was in just about the most vulnerable position a person could be, adjusting to new meds, manic, coming off drugs, used to being poked and prodded, and scared. But this man came in to my room on the ward, kept the door open, and assaulted me. While he was hiding behind medicine.
Now, over the years I've thought about this incident and decided to push it back into the deep dark crevices or my mind, but the other day I clicked on one of the survivors statements of that horrible man who called himself a doctor and she spoke about being told to trust doctors.
When I couldn't put the trauma out of my mind I blamed myself, I should have said something, I had had always promised myself that I would say something. I couldn't. I was too sick and too vulnerable to stand up for myself. I was also disgusted with myself that I never said anything, because what if he did it to other young women? Or worse? What if my silence was the reason some other woman is walking around with piles of self doubt and shame. That's the hardest part, I don't know when or if I'll forgive myself for not saying something, for going along. I know I have to get there though, the guilt is a burden on my soul that I should not be carrying. It's going to take time though.
We need to do better. We need to do better for people like me, people without money or a voice or celebrity. For working class people who may be hard on their luck. We need to move beyond wealthy people in the industry, who deserve just as much justice as the rest of the survivors, but we also need to remember that there are people out there that still don't have the power to stand up without the potential of a lost job.
We need to do better for the mentally ill, for the disabled, because if I came forward with this story my mental health history would come into question, the fact that I was in the hospital for mental illness at the time would also be questioned. I probably would not be believed. We need to listen to what other humans are saying to each other. We need to help each other.
We need to believe the first person who comes forward, not the 8th or the 9th or the 150th