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Personal Stories

Carol J Patterson

The truth is, you can’t heal me without my cooperation, you cannot. There’s no such thing as forced healing.


28 June 1954

Contact info: San Francisco, California, USA

Currently doing: Carol is currently the BUILD Program Coordinator at the Independent Living Resources Center. When at home in her cohousing community, Carol practices yoga, Tai Chi, and goddess work, among other interests.

Mental health experience: Inpatient, Outpatient, Commitment, Psychiatric Drugs, Forced Treatment, Coercive Treatment

Psychiatric labels: Major Depression, Catatonic Schizophrenia, Dysthymic Disorder, Borderline Personality Disorder, Bipolar Disorder, Adjustment Disorder (Mid-Life Crisis)

Psychiatric drugs taken in the past: Triavil, Navane, Artane, Cogentin, Stellazine, Mellaril, Haldol, Lithium

Recovery methods: Yoga, Tai Chi, Self-Help, Peer Support, One-on-one Therapy, Diet, Exercise, Social Activism, Spirituality, Group Therapy, Family/Friends, Art/Music, Literature, Meditation

Greatest obstacle: Being told that if she continued to take medications for the rest of her life that she might be able to hold a job.

Brief History:

At age 18 I found that going to college in Santa Cruz was a completely different experience. In high school I stood out, but now I had joined the “cream of the crop” and felt kind of average. I felt an extreme sense of loneliness and isolation being away from my friends and family. And being shy, it was difficult to make new connections. I found myself feeling worse and worse.

I went to a therapist at first, but she wasn’t helpful. She apparently noted that I was “psychotic,” but didn’t make any other suggestions or attempt to alert me that I might need help.

Needless to say, things did not get better. I finally decided to voluntarily check myself into a hospital. I was given very confusing information when I was admitted. For example, one of the staff came in and told me that there was a hamburger stand around the corner. Well, I went looking for it and the closest thing I could come up with was a small kitchenette! I really felt the orderly was playing with my head.

I finally realized that I was in a locked ward, even though I had entered voluntarily. So I asked to leave. The staff told me that I had to speak with my doctor, but he wasn’t around. I felt they were being evasive and I started to scream. It was then that I was forcibly drugged and sent to my room. If it wasn’t for my family coming to get me, I don’t know how long I would have been forced to stay there.

Going into the hospital that first time, I had seen “One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest” and was terrified with what they might pressure me into. The way the doctors and staff acted confirmed my worst fears.

Unfortunately, this was not the last time I was hospitalized. I was hospitalized two more times, once involuntarily. When I was involuntarily committed, I originally went seeking help, help that I wouldn’t find. I went to the emergency room, but refused to sign the forms promising that I would pay for the treatment. I don’t think it was “crazy”–I knew treatment could cost thousands of dollars. But it resulted in me being involuntarily held.

One of the worst experiences in the hospital was when three guys came into my room. They told me to drop my pants and they gave me an injection of I don’t know what, maybe Haldol. I remember feeling frightened and very threatened–I wasn’t sure if I was going to be sexually assaulted or what.

I also remember being given liquid Navane, which resulted in uncontrolled head and neck movements and tongue movement called “fly-catching.” These are symptoms of tardive dyskinesia, which sometimes results from taking psychoactive neuroleptic drugs. It was never explained to me that there were possible side effects to the medications they gave me. I was not given informed consent. Because I didn’t have a lot of experience with psychiatric drugs, I didn’t realize these uncontrolled movements were a result of the drugs. I thought I was acting like that because I was crazy. When I stopped taking the drugs, luckily, the weird behavior also stopped.

The best part of being hospitalized was some of the people I met, mostly patients. Sometimes while in the ward, a brief conversation with a fellow patient would give me a little crack of hope. I remember one intern in particular who really listened to me. I guess she hadn’t been there forever and wasn’t burned out yet. Well, she gave me a sense of hope and made me feel like I really wasn’t much different than she or anybody else.

At some point this really sunk in and I finally realized that I would be better off caring for myself. I started to really watch my diet, cutting out caffeine for example. I got into Yoga and Tai Chi and started feeling more spiritually whole. I went off of psychiatric drugs completely in 1987. And later in my recovery process, I found out how exhilarating and empowering social activism can be. I was a part of Reise v. St. Mary’s, a successful class action suit in California that required informed consent for people on 3 and 14 day holds. It was so rewarding to win these rights for people after my rights had been so blatantly violated.

To me it was about seeking truth, and ensuring that the public and the mental health system know the truth. And the truth is, you can’t heal me without my cooperation, you cannot. There’s no such thing as forced healing. We have to be active partners.

That to me is what social action is about. It’s sometimes about confronting this giant–it may be the drug companies, public opinion, the legislature–these huge powerful images, and confronting them with the truth. It also means that your voice has to be heard. You have to be loud sometimes. I think it’s really important to be loud, and at the same time make sense and tell the truth.

After my hospitalizations, my career aspirations changed. I went from wanting to be a scientist, to wanting to be a social worker. And I have followed this dream. I went back to school and got my M.S.W. For the past 13 years I have been working at the Independent Living Resources Center in San Francisco.

At first it was difficult to win peoples’ respect because I was open about my psychiatric history as a part of my job. A couple people seemed to think that I only got the job because I was crazy and didn’t have any other skills. So it took awhile to feel accepted, but now I am, and I feel that I’ve helped to educate the people I work with along the way. I don’t feel I have to prove myself anymore.

Interviewer’s Comments: As well as being a strong advocate for people labeled with psychiatric disabilities in California, Carol is also a long time and active member of Support Coalition. We are lucky to have her as a part of our movement.

Year told: