How faith and art saved me from the horrors of the psychiatric ward

Jacqueline Lee

May is Mental Health Awareness Month. The Art of Autism is focusing on blogs of those who have a dual-diagnosis.

By Jacqueline Lee

At the beginning of January, I started two government internships concurrently. The first internship was a paid one which essentially laid me off once they were done – while the other was unpaid. It kept pushing me to commit more time then I could possibly offer. Both offered what an internship nowadays offers – more stress and frustration that has become the new norm for entry-level jobs here in America. Although these both sounded good on paper for a recent college graduate, timing-wise, perhaps it was a clear sign that I was starting to over-work myself.

Although I had graduated early, during the roughly over three years that I spent at UC Riverside (UCR) as a Studio Art major, I had been battling against myself and the shortcomings that I’d carried on into college. Prior to UCR, I had immersed myself stubbornly in any free arts program that I could get my hands onto while in high school – during which I not only attended the regular 8 AM – 3 PM, Monday through Friday schedule. I also jam-packed my weekends and some of my weeknights with extracurricular activities like Art Center’s Saturday High, Ryman Arts and ­Burbank’s Animation Guild. To top this busy schedule off, I was still grappling with my parent’s on-going child custody fight and being shifted between virtually two households from kindergarten to the beginning of high school.

During my college years, I maintained my frenzied schedule – which was essentially my coping mechanism away from so many triggers and life’s stigma against children of divorced parents. Not only was I fighting against society’s stigmas, I was also figuring out what my boundaries were and re-establishing a support network that education had always provided me unquestionably. From the get-go, I always knew that my love-hate relationship with art was my vice and my blanket away from people’s questionings – from the stimulants that kept trying to figure out what my disability or “craziness” level was.

From an outsider’s perspective, the arts is an unchartered territory rift with more risks then benefits. Yet, what seemingly no one seems to get beyond their fanciful love of Pablo Picasso and Yoko Ono, is that the arts is just like any field. Its only caveat is that it doesn’t hide its oddness behind masks like the fields of business and sciences does. The mystique behind the arts is quite like religious faith – or, rather, today’s equivalent of the humanities are fields which cold, hard clinical data cannot hope to measure properly. I myself didn’t realize how healthy and “sane” seeming I was to society through being an artist until I was placed in the hospital under the CA Penal Code 5150. In other words, I was placed under an “involuntary psychiatric hold,” pig-penned in the hospital’s psychiatric ward, whereby I underwent a series of still traumatic tests where the hospital ran numerous drugs through my system as safely and fast as they could.

This is virtually any average person’s worst nightmare turned into reality. Think of every pop culture horror about psychiatric wards’ sci-fi – electrocution, yelling, near close-calls of fist-fights and more. Yet somehow, I miraculously spent only six days there – which is quite rare since anyone under a 5150 is rumored to spend closer to weeks, maybe months. During those six days, time felt infinitely endless – I was so drugged up and put under so many tests that I literally was barely cognizant of my surroundings, let alone understanding the contents of the documents I was signing off on. However, the one thing that ended up being my saving grace and the motivation for everyone else seemingly trapped in the hospital’s psychiatric ward ended up being the one thing I was grappling with – a combination of spiritual faith and art.

During those six days, as I determinedly went out of my way to befriend every person within my sight that looked like they needed some positive reinforcement, I literally felt like I was saving more lives just by spending time with them. Even if it was just a spare five minutes or a shouted “no, you are a danger and you don’t understand what consent means,” I could feel the power and impact that my words – my whole being really – had on everyone else there as the youngest and perhaps, seemingly prettiest girl.

I carried the torch of feminism like a proud banner and used that to safeguard myself from the other dangerous psychiatric patients who would revolve their gazes up and down my body, peeling layers off from the shapeless hospital gown. Yet despite being so loopy on drugs and my body becoming so battered by the fresh bruises from blood drawings, I can still recall my repeated mantras of “no, you are not being patient enough” and just how firm my “no’s” shouted, whispered “no’s” were – as they echoed hollowly across the dilapidated, but scrubbed clean and disinfectant smelly, ward halls.

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Through disseminating issues dealing with communication and ethnicity, Jacqueline Lee’s work deals greatly with the perception of things – particularly in breaking down hierarchies. Her personal hobby revolves around mitigating issues within the cross-sections of the community, government, non-profit and arts fields. Through applying the concept of community placemaking, she endeavors to use the arts to stimulate and link communities together.

Currently, she’s embracing her recent bipolar diagnosis – this is in addition to her long-time Aspergers (autism) diagnosis since childhood. Jacqueline’s blog can be found at http://www.leloar.wordpress.com.

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If you are autistic and have a mental health diagnosis and would like to share your insights email theartofautism @ gmail.com.

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