From Tribulation to Triumph

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My name is Dr. Carol Ray and I enjoy reading, writing, going out to eat and going to the movies. I have bipolar disorder.

In the summer of 2011, I was working at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C. One night I experienced a mental crisis due to my not having access to my medicine. A few weeks earlier, I had renewed my insurance. Yet, when I tried to fill my prescription, the Pharmacist said that she could not refill it because there was something wrong with the membership portion of my insurance. This occurred on a weekend; therefore, I had to wait until the following Monday before I could call the insurance company. As a result, about two to three days later, I experienced severe depression and mania in one night. I also experienced hallucinations and delusions. I was in a serious mental crisis.

When an individual with a mental illness, or other serious illness, is unable to have access to medication, this situation can be critical, or even life threatening.

The hotel staff had called 911 for an ambulance, but the police arrived instead. After the officers arrived, I recall sitting on a bench outside the hotel. Police officers were walking in and out of the lobby.

After a while I saw a police woman, motioning with her hand to me and smiling. She said, “Come on.” I felt safe until I was handcuffed. I was not gently placed in the police car. I was thrown into it and taken to jail. I had never been arrested before. Never!

While in jail, I had recurring hallucinations. I was placed on suicide watch, and in time, I felt worse.  I was not given medication; therefore, I went downhill fast. I remained in jail for six days. After that, I was transported via police car  to a state hospital. By that time, I was unable to walk, talk or feed myself.

It took six weeks to recover. Then I was transported back to jail to spend one night (a policy) before my court hearing. I should have been immediately released into the custody of my parents before appearing in court. At the jail, while I (and another inmate) were sitting in the waiting area, handcuffed to our chairs, an officer who was carrying our medicines to a locker, said, “Wow, this is a drugstore!” He may have been kidding, but this was no laughing matter. No one should joke like this, especially a police officer whose job is to be protector of the public. He was so insensitive to our feelings.

While in jail this second time, I was not given my medicine on time. I worried that I might have a relapse and have to go back to the hospital. I told the officer on duty, a few times,  that I needed to take my medicine. She always answered, “The nurse is not on the floor yet.” Inmates with a mental illness, should always be given their medications on time; if necessary, the jail needs to hire more medical personnel to handle this problem.

During this experience, many of the officers saw me when I was experiencing my health crisis.  When I returned, fully recovered, each one of them said to me, “You look good!” I heard one officer say, after leaving my cell, “Did you see her, she looks good!” It encouraged me to hear this. Another police woman, who knocked on my cell the next day, asked me, “Carol, are you ready to go to court?”  I had been nodding; when I awoke, I told her yes. She looked at me and said, “Why don’t I give you some time to get ready.” She obviously had excellent sensitivity training! It showed she cared. When it was time for me to leave for court, another police woman came to my cell to handcuff and shackle me. She asked, “How are you?” I replied “I am fine.” She told me I looked good and I thanked her. The moment was bittersweet; her statement gave me hope in a difficult situation.

My experience was horrible to endure. It was only the grace of God that brought me through this ordeal. Thankfully, I now have been stable for six years.

Having a strong support system has helped me tremendously in the following ways:

(1) I have received full support from my parents; (2) After recovery I attended an outpatient behavioral health agency. (3) I attended meetings with other mental health clients. I learned about ways to successfully live with my mental illness, and we shared our experiences with our illnesses. (4) I delved into my writing. As a result, I recently had a book published that will soon be available to the public. It is entitled, “Ph.D.’s Have Bipolar Too: My Story”. (5) I began designing greeting cards that I hope to sell one day. (6) Keeping my appointments with my doctors (both mental health and primary care doctors) has also contributed to my continued good health. (7) Finally, I have developed a closer relationship with God, which has helped me tremendously.

Many people have mental illnesses like mine, and sadly many have gone through the criminal justice system due to a crisis.

The jail and prison systems are the largest mental health institutions.

When individuals are in crisis, too many are being arrested and jailed. This is not the solution. The criminal justice system, as it relates to mental health, is broken. Funding should be provided to study the solutions to fixing this problem.We must make everyone aware about the practices of criminalization of the mentally ill. Training and awareness needs to be adequately funded in order to educate all law enforcement about how to recognize and treat those who are in a mental health crisis and those who are incarcerated that have a mental illness.

Another problem needs to be addressed. Pharmacists follow certain guidelines. When an individual with a mental illness, or other serious illness, is unable to have access to medication, this situation can be critical, or even life threatening. Therefore, policies need to be changed. If there is a glitch with a patient’s insurance, there must be guidelines to help that individual with a serious illness receive medication, even if only enough to help the individual until the insurance agency can handle the matter.

I believe that we go through ordeals in life to help others. In telling my story, I hope to help those who have had a similar experience and to shed light on the need to fix a broken system.

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