When Experience Generates Wisdom

Detained without Rights in British Columbia

The Vancouver Sun, September 23, 2016, featured an opinion titled: “Charter challenge to B.C. Mental Health Act long overdue.” The Community Legal Assistance Society had just launched the challenge because BC law takes away the right for those detained to consent to or refuse psychiatric treatment.  Even a trusted family member or friend cannot act on behalf of the patient. This means that they can be forced to take psychiatric drugs, have electric shock treatments, and even told where to live.

For years, I was a psychiatric patient but never detained under the act.  However, I lived under the cloud of the legislation and was extremely careful about challenging the professionals, especially about questioning my medications which, as it turned out, were causing many of my psychiatric symptoms.

So when I read a newspaper article December 14, 2017 in the Globe and Mail where a  woman defended BC’s detention system for those with mental illness, claiming that forced treatment benefits some people, I just had to reply. I wrote a letter to the editor stating that “It is scandalous that BC’s powerful Mental Health Act (MHA) strips detained psychiatric patients of their rights and freedoms.”  The Glove and Mail did not publish the letter.  

Then January 14, 2018, the Times Colonist in Victoria featured an op-ed about a man who could not get mental health care and viciously attacked someone. This is my chance I thought, and wrote the following letter to the Times Colonist.

“I was shocked to read the mother’s account of her son’s attack that showed gaps in mental health system.  The psychiatric system allowed his poor treatment, thus causing this tragedy. Seeking solutions is a top priority. We must be careful of knee-jerk solutions such as locking people in institutions. In BC there are 11,000 BC citizens detained per year under the Mental Health Act. Each one still has rights under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Keep in mind that most people with mental health issues are more likely to be victims of crime rather than the perpetrators.

There are caring, dignity-saving, effective solutions. I know because I was a Master’s prepared nurse who has read the literature and witnessed sloppy care when I worked in mental health.  I know because I was a long-term psychiatric patient who fully recovered.

BC must:

  • Rethink mental health care, and during the process involve those with lived experience in a meaningful way.  
  • Reinstate the office of the Mental Health Advocate.
  • Support an independent voice for us with lived experience.
  • Rewrite the Mental Health Act to ensure human rights, fair processes, and accountability.

When we offer compassionate mental health care that helps patients live as equals in our communities with fulfilled and engaged lives, everyone benefits.”  The Times Colonist published it January, 29, 2018.

Community Legal Assistance Society’s report: Operating in Darkness: BC’s Mental Health Act Detention System http://www.clasbc.net/operating_in_darkness_bc_s_mental_health_act_detention_system

 

 

 

Now to spend time with Anna, my little dog, who is anxious to play after resting in her house which was a Christmas gift.

 

Prescription Drugged Drivers

Have you ever followed a slow driver who is making erratic lane changes or straying over the centre line? You probably thought: drunk driver.

Years ago, that erratic driver could have been me. I do not know how I actually drove back then, but for thirty-seven years, with a drug-fogged brain, I drove a car. I was a prescription drugged driver.

Believe it not, it was forty-three medications prescribed to me by psychiatrists and family physicians that were muddying my brain, causing memory problems, confusion and sleepiness. Not that I took all the drugs at once, but I was swallowing a fistful daily.

I was the one who put the pills into my body, but the physicians, what was their part in my drugged driving? When they prescribed a drug to me, if I was told anything by the doctor, it was to wait a few days to get used to the new drug before driving. But, really, how does an intoxicated person know they are intoxicated? Unaware of my impairment, I drove my car many times and could easily have had a car accident or even killed someone. Luckily, before any car accidents, I was off all the medications.

Prescription drugged driving is complicated. One person may be impaired from taking a medication while another is not. A medication might impair a person in the morning, but not in the evening. What is clear is that impairment from prescription medications can cause deadly road accidents.

Driving safely is everyone’s responsibility. If you or a loved one is taking one or more prescription medications, it is recommended you consult your pharmacist or your physician for information. My recommendation, based on my experiences, is to ask questions, expect answers, and keep asking questions.

More information:

“Drugged driving more fatal than drunk driving, report says” https://www.cbsnews.com/news/drugged-driving-more-fatal-than-drunk-driving-report/

“…approximately 35% of people killed in accidents in Canada had drugs (includes legal and illicit drugs) in their system.” https://www2.gov.bc.ca/gov/content/transportation/driving-and-cycling/driver-medical/driver-medical-fitness/driver-medical-fitness-information-for-medical-professionals/quick-access-to-chapters-and-medical-conditions/15-psychotropic-drugs

“Regular use of multiple medications can adversely affect brain function and has been linked to cognitive impairment and memory loss.” https://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/02/27/cocktail-of-popular-drugs-may-cloud-brain/

“Canadians over the age of 65 take an average of nine medications daily, including prescription, over-the counter and herbal blends. Read about the impairing effects of medications on older drivers.” https://canadasafetycouncil.org/senior-safety/drugs-and-older-driver

The following site offers a free tool for motorists to check if their medications might affect their driving ability. http://exchange.aaa.com/safety/substance-impaired-driving/roadwiserx/#.WhkpeHlrzb0

Little Green Friend

 

I was lying on my bed, sobbing. Who cares? What’s life worth anyway? I just can’t keep it up anymore. That was years ago. It is fifteen years since my escape from swirling on the merry-go-round of psychiatry and still, the ghosts of my past can haunt me but when they do, the emotional intensity just isn’t there.

My garden makes all the difference. It is mid-summer now and my early morning garden walk-about sets the tone for the day. Early this spring, I noticed two eyes peering at me from beneath the overhanging greenery of the pond. A little green frog with tiny red eye stripes had made its home in the watery muck. This was the time of year that I thoroughly clean the pond, a recycled kitchen sink, and fill it with crystal clear water. I like it that way and now I had a resident frog thriving in the muddy stale water. Who was I to evict it? I put off the spring cleaning. I watched the frog as it hopped around the garden and splashed back into its home. Each day, I trickled water into the pond and in the evenings, I listened to its calling. On sunny days watched as it warmed itself on the nearby greenery.

I worried whether I should clean the pond. If I didn’t, would the water be diseased and if I did, would it disturb the frog? Finally I compromised. I gently wiped away the worst of the dirt, leaving sufficient muck for the frog. During the cleaning, the frog watched from the rock plants. When I was finished, it splashed back to its home. I read that green frogs are shy, but this little one allowed me to work around the pond without jumping away or into the water. It even “posed” for a photo. We had formed a relationship.

After a morning’s hour in my sanctuary-garden of listening to the hummingbirds, savoring from the sweet scent of the honeysuckle, breathing the cool air in the shade of the Pacific crab apple tree, and now watching my little green friend, I am assured that all will be well during my day ahead. The garden is for sharing and that is good.

Melting Anger to Change the World

One of the guests at the launch of The Daisy Project: Escaping Psychiatry and Rediscovering Love in May asked about my anger. And yes, I am angry at my wrongful psychiatric treatment for so many years. The mental health system failed me. I know others face injustices too. Life is not fair. A dear friend of mine nearly died from a serious medical error.

I recently read a letter to the editor under the heading “Social Assistance is failing British Columbians.” The writer, a seriously disabled man, was going hungry to make ends meet. The other morning, as I drove to town, a woman was walking along the sidewalk holding a placard that read, “It costs a lot more to rip a family apart than to support it.”

Blaming, judging or admonishing those harmed or even killed because of misguided professional medical practice, government policies or workers not using their heads is not just unfair, it is immoral.

There are so many injustices in this world that my mind boggles, and I know that others are also overwhelmed. What seems like the easy way out is to shut down and do nothing, but that really doesn’t feel good. It seems to me that the best way to challenge injustice is to treat every person we meet with radical respect and awe, listen with curiosity and show care with an open heart.

I know that when others show me respect, listen carefully and offer care, my anger melts away. I suspect that others too feel valued when they are similarly respected, listened to and cared for. Love goes deep. Love is contagious and, ultimately, it is love that will make the world a better place.