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Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Nightmare Alley

What Dreams May Come

For a decade I had the same recurring nightmare; that I would walk into the Augusta Mental Health Institute for some kind of meeting, the doors would close behind me, and I couldn't get out. The dreams always started off with me having to go there for something innocuous. Once inside they inform me I cannot leave. I check all the doors, I am crying; I plead with them. No matter what I say, no matter what I do, I have to stay there. Locked inside.

Although I do not remember exactly when I had the first nightmare, I do recall it was sometime after I was released the first time in September of 1999, into a group home on personal recognizance bail, so I would be in therapy.

postpartum psychosis, AMHI Natachia barlow ramsey room baby hunter postpartum psychosisI would wake up in a cold sweat and feel the same thing everytime. This weighted down, surreal, out of sorts feeling. Empty space. I don't think I've ever been afraid of a place, or afraid of anything really, as I was afraid of that AMHI. Just being there the five months I was initially sick with Postpartum Psychosis was incredibly scary.
One of the worst things about AMHI is that people mess with you. Staff included, and even when you try to tell someone, you are often not believed because "you" are the crazy one. You're the one who is in the hospital for being sick. There are some real assholes working in mental health hospitals, people who really just like being in control. They shouldn't be allowed to work with people who have a mental illness. Now that's not to say that everyone is bad. They're certainly not, and if you can find the good ones and form genuine relationships within those confines, do it.
I spent the next 16 months at the group home. I attended therapy, went to school, got my GED, and started working. My trial came about in January of 2001, just a couple months shy of two years from when I had been first admitted to AMHI. I remember standing there holding my attorney, John's hand, and as the juror's filed in. I felt as though I couldn't breathe. I had to stand up to hear the verdict. I was already crying because I knew that even if they found me NCR I was going right back to AMHI.
It had taken them just over an hour to decide. John said that could be a good thing. I was so worried.

The jury foreman read the verdict; Not Criminally Responsible. The Judge thanked the Jury, and John told me I should look at the Jurors (I hadn't been able to for the entire trial), I tried to look up, but I still felt to awful to face them. As they filed out, they gave me kind looks and some of them were crying too.
After they left, the judge addressed me and said he had no choice but to remand me to the commissioner (send me back to AMHI). He also said he didn't think there was anything he could do to me that would be a worse punishment than what I had already been through. Which I thought was a very kind thing for him to say.
So John sat with me at the Sherriff's department, while I waited for a transport down to Augusta. It didn't matter that I wasn't sick. It didn't matter that I didn't meet any criteria for being hospitalized. I arrived at AMHI around 8pm and went through a complicated process where they admitted me onto an acute unit. I felt like I was having an out of body experience. I just sat in that bed looking around. The smell was familiar and made me nauseous.
They didn't even have room for me initially so they put me in a conference room. I stayed there for a couple days before they moved me into this old SRC (Single Room Care but better known as Solitary Confinement or Padded Rooms/Strip Cells (Which every unit still had, this particular room just wasn't one anymore)) room that was now supposed to be a regular room, but was dark and dreary. Eventually I was moved into the room in the photo above. I stayed there the majority of my three years there.
That room... I had someone get me glow in the dark glue, and I used one of those tiny paint brushes to paint some onto a long strip of scotch tape. I tore the tape into little pieces and stuck them to the ceiling so it looked like stars at night. You had to improvise on everything there. Sticky Velcro was used to hang things on the wall.
I don't know why but remembering trying to make a night sky full of stars just made me cry.
So the battle to get out started. It would be in 2004 that I would be in my own apartment and not until 2008 that I would be fully released from the commissioner, Free. I would talk in therapy all the time about those recurring nightmares and wonder if they would stop when I was fully released. You see as long as you remain under the commissioner anytime the hospital deems it necessary or perhaps you've just done something that most human beings do all the time and get a slap on the wrist for. Like bouncing a check. Well, you can get pulled back into the hospital and you have to start the process all over again. You lose all your "privileges". You have to petition the superior court again and wait. It's a nightmare.
So, when I finally got fully released in 2008, yes I stopped having those nightmares and I was so glad. I have other nightmares but not about AMHI keeping me locked up anymore and I am so thankful for that.


  1. natachia, three years confined, plus several more in the system- even though you were found not criminally responsible and were not a threat to anyone. that to me sounds criminal.

    your courage in writing about your experiences is, really, just stunning. your honesty and eloquence are appreciated.

    quite simply, thank you.

  2. Eddie,

    I so appreciate the words of encouragement. It really does mean a lot to me when someone reads my blog and it touches them.

    Thank you so for the kind words.

  3. Natchia,
    I too was 'locked up' in various mental hospitals over a period of 6 months which is NOTHING compared to what you have been through. I agree that the staff tries to play tricks on you, and unfortunately I never got any real help. Just drugs and fear. I also have nightmares of being locked up again. The only reason I have been able to heal the bit I have is because I am in society. Locking people up for mental illness helps no one. Thank you for sharing your story so openly!