Isabel Eckes

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Isabel Eckes

I have been dealing with my mental health for at least 3 decades, since I was about 12 ( maybe even younger), but it actually never occurred to me that I had any mental health” illness” or “disorder” or whatever people like to call it, until I was first put on a 5150 (involuntary 72 hour hold) in 1998, when I was 25. I had already attempted suicide a decade earlier, in Belgium, but my attempt was really just dismissed as teenage “stupidity”, rather than what it was: very severe depression.

When I was put on my first involuntary hold in ’98, I was very shocked, very confused, and frankly, absolutely terrified. I thought when the therapist I had sought out, because I wanted help with my recurrence of OCD, self-injury, and anorexia, that I would establish a consistent therapeutic relationship, but instead, I was handcuffed, and driven to the psychiatric emergency room at San Francisco General Hospital, which was in its self a terrifying experience, then I was unwillingly dragged through 2 sets of locked doors, and straight into a tiny cell, where a couple of nurses removed my clothing and put me in a hospital gown, then walked out and locked me in. I was in a total panic, I banged on the heavy steel door, begging to be let out, or for someone to come and explain to me what was happening. Somebody came alright, actually about a half dozen people came, grabbed me, threw me onto the bed bolted to the floor, which only frightened me more, so I started resisting, trying to get away, then I was strapped in leather restraints by my wrists and ankles, all of which I had never experienced before, and none of it was explained to me. I really could not think of anything I had done deserve this, so I started thinking and claiming that I was kidnapped by the government, and locked up in some sort of lab where they would do drug experiments on me.

That is actually in essence what happened: I was violently taken against my will, to a place that was unknown to me and unexplained, I was locked up there, I was tied down and then injected with drugs I had never heard of, plain and simple. The whole thing was “crazy making”, and everything I said was interpreted from a “psychiatric” viewpoint, and sounded psychotic to those doctors and nurses, I was sent to the locked ward upstairs, where I was repeatedly tied down and drugged, because I was either trying to “escape” that hell, or because I would dissociate and scratch myself or bang my head into the wall, because I had been so overwhelmed with anxiety and desperation. I already had PTSD, and this experience was just adding to that. My friends and family and employer and co-workers, didn’t find me until days later, they had filed a missing person’s report, when they did find me there, they were as confused as I was, and I was so drugged, that I did seem sick enough to need to be in a hospital. I could not think straight at all, I was drugged at least twice a day with Haldol, which only made me extremely restless and jittery, and lots of Ativan, which made me sleepy, but unable to actually sleep. I was told after a week or so, in one of my clearer and calmer moments, that I was diagnosed with schizophrenia, and as long as I complied with taking meds, I would be let go. So, I complied as best as I could tolerate, got out, went home where I lived with my boyfriend, went back to work, and I struggled terribly with anxiety and hopelessness from the hospital experience,After a week, I totally fell apart again, and cut myself, and my boyfriend took me back to that hell hole, and from then on the psych ward became a revolving door. Two decades later, I have been hospitalized over a hundred times (in different states, and in two countries), 99% of the time involuntarily, and diagnosed with about 20 different psychiatric illnesses, by too many psychiatrists to remember. I have been involuntarily drugged, I also voluntarily took meds for periods of time until I realized they were not helping, I also voluntarily agreed to having ECT when my daughter was just a baby. I have nearly died because serious medical conditions were dismissed as “mental”, I have developed a dangerous heart condition from been drugged too much and too long on psych meds, etc.
I don’t deny I already had mental “problems” when I was younger, but I was managing, I was coping, and until I came to San Francisco, I was never forced to be in a hospital or take meds. I also know and admit I struggle with my mental health now(pick a diagnosis, it’s been stuck on me), but I also realize more and more that hospitalizations are very unhealthy(only good if there is no other way to keep me safe from harm), and that psych meds do me more harm than good.
For the past 13 years, I have been very focused on my daughter’s happiness, health and well being, and doing everything I can, to be the best mother to her as possible. I still end up in the hospital from time to time, mostly for “dissociative” problems, and mood problems, and at times brief psychosis, but no matter what, I don’t lose sight of my daughter and I am always motivated to fight to get back to being with her, and continuing to make progress within and without myself as well.
I do think that the most PTSD I struggle with now stems from my experiences in the mental health system, rather than from anything else. That said, I have also had some good experiences in the mental health system, which actually saved my life more than once, and I am very grateful for the individual doctors and nurses who made those experiences possible.

 

Hi. My name is Isabel, a.k.a. “Izzy”.
I was born in Belgium in the early 70’s to a couple of hippy parents, my dad was American, my mother Belgian.
I lived parts of my childhood and early adulthood in both Belgium and California, I never spent enough cumulative formative years in just one country to truly adapt any of the culture’s customs, so I always feel like a foreigner, an “alien” I speak multiple languages(4 very fluently, and another 2 less fluently, but good enough to get by), and don’t have a consistent preference for one language or another.
My childhood was rough, I was bullied a relentlessly, for many things, for being of the wrong nationality, for speaking the wrong language, for being too skinny, too tall, too sick,too poor, for having divorced parents…everything and anything seemed to be fuel for many bullies to give me a hard time.
At home, things were not good either, I was very often alone, on my own from a young age, often not with enough food or eat , and sick and in pain with often little to no care…But, I also had a good deal of nice times, traveling, going to nice jazz clubs, horse riding, dancing, playing music, and I even had a couple of good friends for about 2-3 years in middle school.
I finished high school in Belgium, despite being very depressed, and preoccupied with sever OCD, and an eating disorder and having medical problems and having been kicked out of the house(maybe because my mom’s boyfriend didn’t like me, maybe because I smoked too much pot, maybe because I tried to kill myself, it’s unclear).. I barely succeeded in completing high school, just because I was so depressed and anxious, but I made it, and I attempted to study in college multiple times, studying different things, such as criminology, anthropology, psychology, theater costume design…I was always quitting and changing my mind about what to study, so I ended it up without a degree, despite years of college.
The happiest time in my adolescent life, was living and working as a volunteer in an Albanian refugee home, in Italy.I was part of a team helping Albanian teenage boys who had fled Albania, and then were bought and sold and traded as sex slaves. I finally felt like I was doing something useful and that I was appreciated .I was very grateful to be able to help and be treated with kindness and appreciation, finally.
After my “volunteer tour”, I moved back to Belgium, but I was too depressed there(it was always grey and rainy, and my family ties were not good there either), so I decided to move to San Francisco for a few months, to take acting classes and to just soak up some California sun.
I first stayed at my grandmother’s house, then moved in with my new French friend(who soon became my boyfriend), I got a job in a shoe store. Before I knew it , I was “grounded” in San Francisco. Then my grandmother started getting sick, and despite the fact I had not known her well, I was getting to know her, and had never felt so loved by any other family, so I tried to care for her as best as I could and as much as she would allow(she was a very independent woman). I became emotionally very close with her, but then she died on Christmas of 1998, as I was sitting at her bedside in the hospital.
When my grandmother died, I started to struggle more again, with symptoms of depression anxiety, OCD, anorexia, self injury. I really, did not want my symptoms to get out of control , so I sought the help of a therapist, and what happened then, was the beginning of my “mental hell” experiences(described above, in my essay).
I now have an amazing daughter, who is almost 13, and “living” was never so wonderful and exciting until my daughter came into my life. As opposed to before my daughter was born, when all I wanted to do was die as soon as possible, I now want to live a long and healthy life, mostly for my daughter, but also for myself.
I still struggle with mental health problems, and I sometimes end up in the hospital, but I am staying focused on what’s best for my daughter, and I am also becoming more and more motivated to advocate for others with mental health struggles as I become more confident as an advocate for myself.
I have completed a training as a mental health educator, and I have recently set up a blog about mental health as well, just in an attempt to share the knowledge I have accrued through my life experiences, I hope to help as many people in their journey coping with and healing from mental health struggles and pain.
I am also returning to college, starting next week, now at age 44, to study towards a degree in working with “troubled/ struggling” youth.

By | 2019-02-28T07:58:36+00:00 February 28th, 2019|Categories: Stigma Fighters|0 Comments

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