Crazy and scary

“After all, we are crazy and scary.” – Philip Dawdy, Furious Seasons

Dawdy’s comment was sarcastic, but it’s been reality in my life.

During my recent stay at a mental hospital, I went to bed alone in my room one night because my roommate had been discharged earlier that day. I usually stayed up past the designated bedtime, reading a plethora of books and writing my thoughts for this blog on a notepad. At around 2 a.m., I covered my head and got ready to fall sleep on my right side as I normally do. Unfortunately for me, I slept facing the wall instead of the other bed. Shortly after, I heard someone creep into my room shortly. Hospital staff were still conducting bed checks so I convinced myself that the hospital had allowed an emergency patient in at 11 p.m., and she was settling in. However, that didn’t sit well with me. I hadn’t seen that happen during the week I’d been there.

But my heart was racing and the rustling around on the other bed – audible without sheets – didn’t sound right.

The patient – who turned out to be man rumored to have a history of sexual assault (his real diagnosis couldn’t be disclosed to patients) – slowly rose from the bed and stood to the left of my bed, behind me, in between the two beds separated only by a dresser. When I began to hear steady, heavy breathing, I became paralyzed with fear. (Now I know why those characters in the movies don’t run when you tell them to.) My heart raced – what was I to do? I knew this was a male patient and I didn’t know if he would rape me or not. I wasn’t strong; he’d overpower me.

My right hand slipped under my pillow and clenched the taboo flashlight I’d sneaked into my room past the hospital staff’s unsuspecting eyes. (I’d been so cooperative when I arrived, they trusted me to rummage through my confiscated things without being watched.) For the first time in my life, I was glad I’d broken a rule designed for my safety.

I clutched the flashlight, deciding what to do. Should I scream and risk an attack? Would he kill me? Could he kill me? Worse: What if no one heard me?

He gently pulled the covers off my feet. He began touching my exposed left foot, feeling it, caressing it, tickling it. It was the weirdest thing. I am normally ticklish, but this was too creepy; nothing was funny about having some creep touch my foot. He did this for perhaps 3 minutes. Then he pulled the covers back over my feet and walked over the other side of my bed where I was facing the wall. I was still under the covers, pretending to be asleep, yet I was quietly panting. My heart raced even more.

Then I heard rubbing. Rubbing. Like rubbing of the skin. You know where I’m going with this. This, uh, rubbing picked up speed. I remained even more paralyzed. I really didn’t know what to do now. His genitals were exposed and I was vulnerable.

I began to clear my head. I consciously slowed my breathing down and thought of all my possibilities. I’m generally a worst-case scenario girl: I know what I’d do if I got a knife held to my throat, if a bus or train overturned, or if a plane were to crash. But nothing prepared me for a possible assault at a mental hospital.

I gathered all my courage together, pretended to begin waking up and shone the flashlight toward the door like I was going to use the restroom in the middle of the night. And there he was. Boxers down, genitals exposed with his hand on his penis in the middle of masturbating.

I yelled like bloody hell. He said, “Shhh!” I ran past him to the door and out into the hallway. None of the residents heard me except the lone hospital attendant left for the night shift. The attendant went after him and essentially sent him back to his room. I was given a cup of water and I asked to call my family. I talked to my husband, explaining what happened. He was more than pissed. But it was after 2 in the morning and there was nobody there, save one hospital attendant and a nurse for each floor. After the call, I was given 1 mg of Ativan to help me relax and fall asleep. I’d taken Ativan before with positive effects so I more than happily took it. Otherwise, I really would have been too anxious and scared to sleep. The hospital attendant said I could lock the door if I wanted to. I did. About a half-hour later, I fell asleep with the overhead lights still on.

When I awoke, the hospital staff had been notified of the incident. No one seemed to take it seriously except a nice staffer who was willing to listen to me in my total freakout. But she couldn’t do anything since she was guarding a girl who was on 24-hour suicidal watch. The floor nurse asked me if I wanted him moved downstairs. I said yes. She warned me that they’d be trading him for someone else with a similar history. Did I want to be moved downstairs? I asked, “On the floor with the guy with the same history?” She said, “Yes.” I said, “No. I want out. Today.”

I debated calling the police. Other residents – bipolar and depressed like me – said I should. I thought it was futile. My family called and encouraged me to do it anyway, so I did.

The police came. One lone officer. It was me, the police officer, the director of the hospital, and some other staffer. I explained my situation and the officer said, “Well, we can’t do anything about it since he’s in here.” I argued, “He nearly assaulted me. You can’t take him to jail or press charges?” The outcome was obvious. The hospital and policeman thought I was crazy; in turn, I was scared of my predator.

I went to morning group and saw him lurking around. I was nervous and scared. What we he do? I essentially tattled on him. Thankfully, I’d told a couple of the “sane” guys on my floor who I was somewhat friendly with. They promised to be my bodyguards and essentially antagonized him. Everyone wanted to talk about what happened to me in group and address security in the hospital. The person running group wouldn’t allow it, said it was a tired topic, and we should talk about something else.

After a long, hard battle fought against the hospital by my husband and mother, I was released that day.

So yeah, Dawdy, you’re absolutely right. We are crazy and scary. Welcome to the life of a patient in a mental hospital.


  1. Stephany said,

    April 25, 2007 at 12:23 pm

    You courageous woman. I linked you up on my blog with this. Thank you for telling a story that people just have no idea exists inside psych hospitals. –stephany

  2. Stephany said,

    April 25, 2007 at 12:48 pm

    BTW–I attained discharge quickly, once the letter I wrote to the Governor of the State of Washington landed in the hands of the Director of my daughter’s ward. I received a letter later, calling this “the incident”; and thanking them for commending their staff on being hardworking and under paid. We have a real crisis with mental health care; and it’s more than wanting mentally ill people to be medicated.[as the current media blitz is holding a candle regarding treatment].

  3. Polly said,

    April 26, 2007 at 12:04 am

    I’m so sorry you had to go through that. I’m lucky enough not to have been sexually assaulted or sexually harassed in a psychiatric hospital (only outside them). It does remind me of being on wards with people I was scared of, though, and I’ve got to remember to post about that someday.

  4. Ruth said,

    April 26, 2007 at 1:24 am

    Thanks again Marissa for telling it like it is. Although I was generally more scared of the male nurses than the male patients, I do recall a brief period spent on a locked ward where I was the only female. The male patients did nothing more than stand outside my cell (and it was a cell – three bolts on the door, up, down and across) and stare at me, but it was spooky nonetheless, and the safety of placing a female in an all-male ward didn’t even appear to be a consideration. And the censorship of group discussion you describe is just so typical of how staff/management respond to these issues. It’s great that your husband and mother were able to intervene successfully.
    There are few basic issues that health departments and other service providers need to consider if they have any interest in ensuring the safety of psychiatric inpatients, females in particular. One is that in acute wards (especially state/public ones) there are likely to be more males than females. Another is the layout of the wards themselves and how much privacy they allow (keeping in mind that privacy can be both a good and bad thing). Finally, there is the attitudes of ward staff, and the ignorance and insensitivity that occasionally characterise them – I recall a case in Australia where a female inpatient was being continually followed and harassed by a male inpatient and when she reported it to staff, was told “How nice, you have an admirer!”

  5. April 26, 2007 at 9:05 am

    “I recall a case in Australia where a female inpatient was being continually followed and harassed by a male inpatient and when she reported it to staff, was told “How nice, you have an admirer!””
    That’s sick.

  6. Gianna said,

    April 26, 2007 at 10:08 am

    I never had anything that scary happen to me, but I’m with Ruth–I was harassed by male psych techs/nurses. I don’t believe I ever had a problem with a patient. One guy with the guise of being concerned about me–and I being to young and too naive to feel anything other than extreme discomfort–would caress my arms and shoulders and say how he really wanted to see me when I got out. He gave me his phone number. It goes without saying I never used it.

  7. Mark said,

    April 26, 2007 at 11:34 am

    I (male) had a guy take a full wizz on me and my bed at night when in the mental ward one night. He mistook me for the bathroom, or wanted to make me angry and have a fight. No locks on the doors and the guys bed was in the same room. In my time on the ward patients were so medicated there was no way in hell they could get sexually aroused, so male/ female segregation was not an issue.And there was no way anyone could stay awake after getting their night time meds.

  8. personwho said,

    April 27, 2007 at 1:09 pm

    I’m so sorry this happened to you. It’s outrageous but not uncommon that the police would not press charges. At the University of Virginia psych. unit, a male tech. raped 3 women but was only charged with assaulting 2 of them and was allowed to keep working for 2 weeks, alone, at night, unsupervised, after the first woman reported being raped by him. One reason that these crimes aren’t prosecuted or aren’t won if prosecuted as in the assault of a teenager at Whisper Ridge here in Charlottesville, is that victims’ mental health records can be used against them in court, there is no rape shield law equivalent for people assaulted in psych. units.

  9. Stephany said,

    April 27, 2007 at 8:44 pm

    Here again–to also say, I am sorry this happened to you. I was also glad you screamed[and could]. Most of the hospitals my daughter resided had 3 patients to a room. No locked doors. I feel this is a really important issue to bring up, because not many people in the general public have been inside a psych ward to see this setting. I’ve actually had a difficult time finding docs who have been to where they sent my daughter.
    I also want to leave focus on how it’s not just the patients doing harm to others. It is staff, therapists and the like. Whether anyone wants to believe it or not–it is in fact true. There are sick people in this world who take advantage of innocent people.
    I speak from experience. A male therapist took advantage of an 18 year old I once knew.[me].

  10. February 22, 2011 at 10:33 pm

    […] has me wondering whether going back to the psych hospital might be the right thing for me to do. (Despite the fact that the sexual offender masturbating by my bed five years ago still haunts me to t….) I feel like I’m sinking. I feel like I can’t take anymore. I’m doing really […]

  11. May 2, 2014 at 8:46 am

    […] in June 2000. In November 2006, I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and wrote a post about it. I briefly suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) after a stay in a psych hospital. In May 2010, I wrote a post about trying to conceive with […]

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