Marisa Lancione is one of the fiercest women I know. She is a fervent feminist, a talented writer, and a Stigma Busting Heroine. I had the honour of being the Yin to Marisa’s Yang, for a time when I worked with her as one of Stigma Fighters Canada‘s Content Managers, a position that she still holds today. Whatever Marisa does, she does with great passion and tremendous strength. She tells the stories that people are afraid to tell, and she does so with such a strikingly beautiful force that it knocks the wind out of you. There are many people that I respect in this world, Marisa just happens to be one that I hold in the highest esteem. She is quick-witted, funny as hell, and brilliant beyond measure. She is also strong, opinionated, and genuine. Marisa is real, and nothing is more beautiful than that. Thank you Marisa, for sharing your story from Mad Girl’s Lament, for busting the shit out of stigma, and for being a friend. You are awesome.
No one gives a fuck: My journey through the mental health system
By Marisa Lancione
I sat in my doctor’s office crying. It was my biweekly appointment with her and the blanket of depression was heavy on my shoulders. The sun was streaming through her window and I could see kids playing in a field. I hated the sun and its promise of spring. I hated the careless way the children could play and laugh. There is nothing careless about being depressed.
“I don’t know what to do,” I said, putting my face in my hands. “It’s going to be another month before I see a psychiatrist.”
“Well there’s always the Douglas,” she replied gently. The Douglas (Douglas Mental Health University Institute) is the mental health hospital in Montreal. She knows my fears about being admitted into the hospital — I swore to myself it would never happen again. And I’m always weary of presenting myself to any ER for the fear that they will decide it’s best to keep me. Although apparently no one keeps you anymore, unless you’re suicidal or homicidal — and even then it’s unlikely.
I sighed and nodded my head, unable to speak. She quickly typed out the referral to the hospital while I texted my husband. How many times have he and I gone through this? How many hours have we spent in ER waiting room in the 10 years we have been together? Too many.
He picked me up and I got into the car in tears. I could tell by his tense posture that he was nervous, but he would never say that because he wants to be strong for me.
We arrived at The Douglas and walked into a decrepit building. It’s under construction and there was plywood and construction signs everywhere. A security agent greeted us and asked us what we were here for.
“We need to go to the ER,” I said.
“Who is the appointment for?” She looked from me to my husband. Her english was heavily accented with a Quebecois accent.
Ashamed, I replied “Me.”
“I need to search your affairs,” she pointed to my purse and the bag we carried that was full of my pills.
This was a first for me. I had never had my things searched before going into an ER. She took the pens, all of my pills, my keys, my umbrella, and my cell phone charger. She did the same for my husband and took just his keys. His little box of belongings was able to remain with her in the security booth. Mine were going upstairs.
She escorted us into the ER waiting room and there was already someone checking in. He looked normal, like me. There was no neon sign hanging over his head flashing “I have a mental illness!”
“If you need any of your items, they will be locked in this room,” said the security agent. My stomach clenched, they were already locking away my stuff.
We checked in and sat and waited. And waited. And waited. It was over an hour and half before a nurse called my name to do the preliminary interview. I’ll spare you the details of the interview because they’re boring. It was just a series of questions about my current and past mental health. Questions about my family. Questions about my life. Questions that if were asked in any other context would be intrusive. Finally, as we were coming to the close of the interview, the nurse said: “Why did you come here?”
“My doctor referred me.”
“I know, but usually we don’t serve people from your sector. It’s hard for our intervention teams. You will see a psychiatrist today but you will probably be sent to another hospital.”
I completely deflated at her words. It took everything inside of me to not start crying or throw a scene. First, I felt like this hospital was my last hope. It was a specialty hospital for people like me. Second, this wasn’t the first time I have been in crisis and been turned away from a hospital. A number of years ago, I was trying to get into another specialty hospital in Ontario and spent over 4 hours waiting in the ER with my father and then boyfriend (I told you, this isn’t my husband’s first rodeo) only to be told they didn’t serve people from my “catchment area.” At that hospital I didn’t even see a psychiatrist on duty. They just sent me packing. They refused to serve me because of my area code. What happened to the “do no harm” slogan of doctors?
You see, people in mental health advocacy always talk about “seeking professional help.” Well that’s all fine and dandy, but what if no one wants to help you? More and more, I’m realizing that no one fucking gives a shit about me or anybody with a mental illness. The only people who care, like family and friends, have no power to do anything and are left feeling frustrated and helpless as they watch their loved one deteriorate further and further.
Private psychiatrists aren’t taking new patients, those in the public system work less hours because there’s no money which means wait-lists are getting longer, and no one fucking gives a damn. Policy makers, politicians, and doctors themselves just don’t give a fuck. I spent over a month trying to get an appointment to see a social worker who would put me in the queue to see a psychiatrist. It was going to be another month before I actually saw a psychiatrist. The reality is, I could be dead by then. Mental health isn’t a terminal illness, but people die all of the time because of it. And so, in a time of crisis, I turn to a hospital that is supposed to be dedicated to helping people like me only to be told: “We don’t serve people in your area” is fucking ridiculous.
Luckily, the psychiatrist agreed to keep seeing me. Although our meeting wasn’t exactly reassuring. He explained to me what bipolar disorder was (Dear sir, I’ve been diagnosed for at least 8 years with this, I know what I have thank you very much). I left with a script for lithium, a requisition form for blood work, and zero reassurance that anyone gave a shit if I lived or died.
I’d have to call to get my next appointment with him (an aside, I tried calling the THAI clinic where he works about 3 times this week and left 2 messages and I have yet to book my next appointment with him), which would be in a month. He’s giving me a script for a toxic substance and a month seems like a reasonable time to see me again. Oh yeah, he also gave me a blank requisition form and told me to photocopy it and fill it out myself based on the one requisition that he completed; Is that normal? It didn’t seem normal.
So even though the psychiatrist saw me, and will keep seeing me, I don’t necessarily feel like I’m in good hands. My parents are so jaded by the system that they have told me to seek out a private U.S. program and they’d foot the bill. But the reality is, they shouldn’t have to. There has to be a psychiatrist somewhere here in Canada who actually cares about patients. There has to be someone in charge somewhere who wants to see a change in the mental health system. Someone other than those of us who suffer from mental illness has to give a fuck whether we live or die.
But I’m not so sure.
Marisa Lancione is a media relations professional by day and mental health blogger by night. She was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder II 10 years ago. When she’s not busting mental health stigma, she can be found reading, writing, and tweeting. Marisa is also your resident tall girl. You can connect with Marisa on her amazing blog, Mad Girl’s Lament, her Facebook Page, and Twitter.