Part 7 in multipartite post, The ‘Madwoman’ v. the Madness of the State.
Curiously, providing the right answers to the state’s Designated Examiners’ verbal bubble sheets awarded me neither further investigation into my biographical experiences nor apology from the State of Idaho.
Instead, on the witness stand, Dr. Sonnenberg offered still an alternate diagnosis from the diagnosis testified by Mr. Stanciu which differed still again from the diagnosis that Dr. Abbasi and Ms. Dalrymple echoed after one of my electrical engineering brother-in-law’s raging tirades that he further repeated via email. According to Dr. Sonnenberg, an awareness of gubernatorial elections in Idaho in the early 21st century means you suffer bipolar disorder.
At 8:10 in the evening of 23 May 2014, I asked one of the staff members if I might please review my file, as seemed to be indicated as permissible by their hospital rules. She told me that I would have to wait until I was released from the hospital before I could prepare my defense for the state’s case against me review their paperwork that they had amassed in the process of violating my civil liberties. The charge nurse on duty interrupted our conversation to scold her subordinate, “This is in the wrong chart,” before ripping a packet of paper out of the fat, three-ring binder labeled with my name, then giving me instructions for gaining access to my chart that differed from the instructions given by her supervised staff member, differed from hospital policy as cited by the psych tech on duty, and differed still again from the hospital’s printed rules, which were vague enough to allow for these multiple interpretations:
“For that you need a doctor’s permission.”
During my next meeting with Dr. Abbasi, she denied me access to medical or legal documents on the circular logic that I was not receiving treatment.
“What do you mean, I’m not receiving treatment? I have asked for talking therapy to assist me through this traumatic experience. May I receive psychotherapeutic care?”
“We don’t do that here,” she snapped, before continuing petulantly, “You’re not taking meds.”
(Though, still more paradoxically, she had yet to prescribe meds.)
That abuse would come later.
“You also don’t have art supplies here.”
“What do you mean?” repeating my question, but in a tone that managed to be both condescending and sing-songy little-girl voice at the same time, “There’s markers and pencils on the table.”
“I don’t consider a bucket of crayons and stencils photocopied onto office copy paper to be art supplies. If I give you a list, could you have your staff order therapeutic supplies and provide functional studio space?”
Without asking what supplies, in my educated art professional expertise, I might recommend for their therapeutic value, Dr. Abbasi again denied therapeutic care, again affecting a whining tone, “Well, anything else might hurt our other patients.”
“Who is the public defender assigned to my case?”
“I-I think that’s assigned at the court.”
“What time do I leave for court?”
Passing the buck, “Staff will tell you when to be ready.”
(In reality, staff communication with patients in advance of court appointments is every bit as poor as Idaho’s Department of Health and Welfare’s communication in scheduling appointments with their clients.)
“Will I be allowed to bring my backpack or documentary evidence with me?”
More sing-songy little-girl voice, “I don’t think so. You don’t need your backpack. You’ll go to court. The judge will review your file and make a decision. And then you will come back here. You will have a chance to present your case to the judge. I think it’s just oral. You don’t need written documents. Ask the Ada County Sheriff if you can take your things with you.”
(Note that, according to the psychiatrist who controls access to my legal files, the judge has already decided on a verdict before my “trial” ever begins. She finds nothing peculiar in a one-sided proceeding. The sheriff’s office gets to decide whether or not the state will permit me to submit evidence in my own defense. Earlier, a psych tech had misinformed me of my legal rights, stating that if I received two “positives” from the Designated Examiners then I would not go to court at all, instead get shipped to the state hospital for an indeterminate sentence, so I felt grateful to learn that Idaho’s mental health system was willing to spend taxpayer dollars at least going through the motions to maintain the façade of democracy.)
(For a lay audience, note that a “positive” in the field of psychology is not a good thing. It means you’re behaving badly.)
“Will the room where I meet with the public defender have access to wifi?”
“I think so,” she shrugged, again communicating the mental health professionals’ disinterest in or ignorance of the judicial process affecting the very real lives of the clients under their control, “Most offices do.”
Would it surprise you to learn that Idaho’s broken mental health system denied me the opportunity to meet with a public defender in an office in advance of my court appearance?
My first court appearance was scheduled for the morning of 27 May 2014, coincidentally fourteen years to the date of my wedding that Ms. Dalrymple dismissed as a delusion, with no attempt to fact-check marriage records from the City and County of Salt Lake, an anniversary that I struggled to remember during the half dozen years or so that we were married, and that my ex-husband unfailing celebrated, in a charming switcheroo of traditional gender roles that reveals the artifice of our culture’s male/female dichotomy.
Coincidentally the deceased date of one of your former colleagues at the University of Utah and tenured, full ranking professor who taught my introduction to philosophy, honored by Salt Lake City’s former mayor and throughout his lifetime active in the ACLU, NAACP, and Amnesty International:
If anyone wants to get cranky about the education of school girls, you can blame – or credit, depending on your personal perspective – Peter Appleby, Ph.D., the dead white man who encouraged me to pester his department chair to schedule their course offering in feminist theory for Fall 2000. More often than not, men have been bigger supporters of my education and efforts to rise above oppression than women, all too often victims who become abusers without escaping the vicious circle of their trauma narrative to become a survivor, a term that I use to denote not necessarily in the criminal justice sense of being a victim not killed by a crime, not merely a victim who has endured trauma, but an individual recovered from traumatic experiences, neither victim nor abuser: a healthy human being empathetic of and able to help ease the suffering of others.
My meeting with Alan or Allen Malone – who also did not carry what the graphic design and marketing industries describe as print collateral, or a business card, to encourage healthy communication with clients – of the Ada County Public Defender’s office occurred not in an office equipped with wifi, but in a steel-lined concrete holding tank the length and not quite twice the width of a concrete bench that would have been just long enough for me to assume a prone position, had I or my captors been so inclined. I wore shackles. He showed up in a rush, already talking before he walked into the cell, wearing mismatched, cheap wool-polyester-blend slacks and sports jacket fraying at its edges.
I suggested a continuance so we could discuss my case prior to my court appearance.
Mr. Malone first did not hear me, and continued talking, wasting precious minutes explaining simplistic judicial procedure as if I was a slow, stupid child, and the hours that I’d spent observing mock court at the S.J. Quinney College of Law and in real courtrooms in Utah, Oregon, and Washington were mere delusions.
“Yes, I understand. I put one of my ex-husbands through law school. He is now a prosecutor with the Department of Justice in Oregon. Do you have a laptop, or may we access an office with wifi?”
“I have no wish to harm anyone, neither myself nor anyone else. Could I get these shackles removed prior to stumbling into the courtroom?”
“I’ve tried for years to convince them of that,” Mr. Malone complained about his personal frustrations with his job to his unemployed, imprisoned client, “The judge won’t allow it.”
“How long do we have to talk in here?”
“About three minutes.”
“It’s going to take longer than that for you to understand the details of my case for you to be able to defend me.”
“The best I can offer is to ask for a continuance.”
The judge agreed to continue my hearing to two days hence, after which Mr. Malone leaned toward me and plaintively murmured that he would “try” to meet with me prior to the next scheduled court date. I did not get a chance to ask the public defender why he would waste the court’s time and taxpayer dollars with a continuance based on defendant’s lack of access to counsel if that lack was not going to be filled prior to another court date, but it looks and sounds to me like the Ada County Public Defender could use the help of an educated graphic designer with excellent time management skills and backend coding experience dating back to the late 1990s providing support to the research sciences at the University of Utah.
For that matter, the Ada County Prosecutor might significantly increase his budget and improve communications with his clients if his FAQ page did not condescend to a world wide web audience on both sides of the aisle. Particularly if his site was designed well enough to obviate the 1990s-era FAQ page convention altogether.
Court documents that I glimpsed reading upside down while Intermountain Hospital staff debated over their individual interpretations of institutional policy depriving citizens of access to legal counsel listed a Mark Peterson as the Ada County Public Defender. Without an online staff listing or improved communication from Alan Trimming, I have not been able to determine if another lawyer was initially assigned to my case, or if the mental health court needs to refresh its boilerplate-?
I gratefully inhaled precious minutes of fresh air and natural sunlight while Ada County Sheriff’s Deputy J. Roach, a petite, mousy blonde white woman wearing frosted blue eye shadow, paused during her duties transporting me from the court back to the locked psychiatric facility. Standing behind her squad car while I patiently waited in the back seat, Officer Roach bonded with a white male colleague simultaneously arriving or departing in another sheriff’s vehicle by complaining, “…she was in my face, and fighting, with all the staff struggling to restrain her when I picked this one up.”
Intermountain Hospital cameras should confirm my perspective of her transport arrival, when I queried if I might bring documentary evidence to court with me. She allowed my written journals, other writers might feel encouraged to know if they ever find themselves in similar circumstances.
Graphic designers might be amused – or horrified, depending on their personal experiences with the law – to learn that your own writing that is typeset, pages designed, and your design book bound with your own two hands, is too dangerous for a court of law, even if your portfolio includes the letterpress printed wedding stationery of your ex-sister-in-law whose ex-FBI father sat outside the apartment where Patty Hearst was raped into suffering Stockholm Syndrome, as well as your graduate thesis on trauma and recovery, if mental health professionals have decided that your education has no applicable value to the cross-disciplinary fields of law and psychology and that your family history is a delusion, without first attempting to corroborate facts from public record.
Docilely waiting while Officer Roach barked orders for the correct posture to assume while she applied shackles to my ankles and wrists, I explained that I provide valuable witness to the federal investigation of the corrupt private contractor handling the State of Idaho’s mental health services, and hoped that she would be more professional in her transport duties than Meridian Police Department. To her credit, her cuffs were tight enough to restrain me without bruising.
After court, standing in shackles patiently waiting while Officer Roach fumbled with the locked back door leading to the ICU ward of Intermountain Hospital, I glanced over my shoulder and queried, eye to eye, if she had been describing to her colleague her memory of transporting me from the hospital to the court. Unblinkingly, she assured me that she was referring to another patient whom she had driven earlier.
Perhaps she confused her dates. My court appearance was scheduled for 8:00 a.m.
Another patient with a history of acting out as Officer Roach described was also scheduled for court that morning.
Except she was scheduled for Canyon, rather than Ada, County.
Maybe Canyon and Ada Counties share transport services?
What is the drive time between Canyon and Ada County Courts?
Could Officer Roach have had time to pick me up from Intermountain Hospital, shackle me, drop me off at Ada County Court, return to Intermountain, pick up, shackle, and drop off another involuntarily held defendant at Canyon County Court, and return to Ada County Court to pick me up to return to Intermountain Hospital, all between 8:00 a.m. and well before 8:45 that same morning?
Didn’t Officer Roach remain in the courtroom as security throughout my proceedings?
“Do you work?” Officer Roach snarled at me in the accusatory tone of a low-level bureaucrat disenchanted with her job, or maybe its pay level, who nevertheless still sincerely believes in the bootstrapping mythology upon which the American Dream depends.
“Where do you work?” Officer Roach continued her impromptu interrogation. By then, I knew better than to list bullet points from my cv, which continually awarded me with the diagnosis of suffering “grandiose delusions” from Idaho law enforcement and mental health professionals.
“Poverty is not a mental illness,” I observed, “If the due process of law is accessible only to the wealthy, then we do not live in a democracy.”
Recognizing the commonalities between the FBI’s investigation into Idaho’s Gladiator School and the facility that I have dubbed Skittles School after listening to both staff and patients joke about the quantity of pills prescribed combined with the lack of mental and physical care provided by the state-sanctioned second-generation pharmaceutical experiment visibly failing nationwide, at 8:45 on the morning of 27 May 2014, I placed a call to the FBI office in Boise. At 8:55, I left voicemail for Kevin Malone, the U.S. Attorney listed in the Boise area phonebook that I was able to obtain from staff at Intermountain Hospital. I am not at all surprised that neither office returned calls from an involuntarily committed patient, given the stigma of the label “mental illness” in a nation battling over Second Amendment rights and poorly educated in the field of human psychology.
Midday following my first court appearance, Dr. Abbasi curtailed my spiritual meditative practice and another of my daily hospital-regulated one-hour quota of access to sunlight and fresh air to keep me waiting in the foyer of the men’s ward, crammed with infrequently washed bodies wafting toxic second-hand smoke fumes, until she decided she was ready for another of our unscheduled appointments.
How many constitutional amendments does that violate in just that one interaction?
While she finally acknowledged that it is irrational to base a psychological evaluation on speaking to police who failed to investigate crimes reported and relying on the perspective of abusive family unrecovered from their own childhood traumas, she did not seem to follow the logical conclusion that meant she was the psychiatrist acting on her irrational judgment when she lent her authority to the “diagnosis” plucked from the sky by my electrical engineering brother-in-law who, in June 2013, raged at me, “IF I WANT TO ABUSE MY CHILDREN, THAT’S MY BUSINESS,” and by an email dated 19 January 2014 had spun around his trauma narrative many more times, from denying, to avoiding responsibility, then finally blaming me for his bad behaviors, describing my speaking about multigenerational abuse in our family while explaining examples of healthy communication in hopes of persuading my family to uphold their own terms of our contract as, itself, abusive, concurrently fulfilling another of the delusions of a white, male property owner raging at his multiracial, destitute sister-in-law: “IF ANYBODY’S GOING TO BE A VICTIM IN MY HOUSE, IT’S GOING TO BE ME!”
At the time I responded, calmly, “I am not a victim,” to his look of shock or confusion, “You do not have to choose victim or abuser. There is a third thing still: survivor.” And further explained, “Your logic is how abusers rationalize their abuse.”
But of course, as I learned through this experience, a clinician’s follow up questions would be:
Are you suffering hallucinations?
Do you see or hear things that others do not?
Are you feeling suicidal?
“How are you feeling today?” Dr. Abbasi followed her robotic procedure for psychiatric examinations without having first established safety for her patient.
“I was in court this morning. The hearing was continued, but I don’t remember the schedule because it is difficult to take notes without a writing tool and while your hands are chained to your waist,” I explained, “Could you tell me the time and date of my next hearing?”
“Your. Hearing. Was. Continued,” the psychiatrist who refused to allow me access to legal documents of my own proceedings read to me slowly, her finger following a line of type across a page clipped into that enormous three-ring binder labeled with my name. She looked at me, baffled, as if she had never heard of a continuance.
“Yes. I know. I was in court this morning,” I repeated slowly. “Please don’t condescend to me on legal stuff. You remember that I put my ex-husband through law school, right?”
That now-familiar supercilious glint returned to her eyes, “Have you talked to Belinda since?”
Then it was my turn to look baffled. In between court first thing in the morning and our conversation mid-morning, when the psychiatrist discriminated against her patient’s spiritual practice and coincidentally impeded physical and mental well-being, when would I have escaped to talk to Region IV Mobile Mental Health Unit staff? Why would I talk further with the severely traumatized young staffer in need of psychotherapeutic care, investigation, and closer supervision by her superiors without my lawyer present? When would the Department of Health and Welfare begin to do its job, investigating reports of domestic violence before those bad behaviors spill into Idaho’s classrooms, criminal courtrooms, and cemeteries?
Another interview, rather than fact-checking my biography or my cv, Dr. Abbasi decided she would invent a family history for me.
“I think I work with your sister at the VA,” she told me slyly, reconfirming my sister’s name. While my sister has a fairly common name, to my knowledge, she is not employed at the VA hospital; she used to be a school teacher, years ago promoted to household management. Was the psychiatrist diagnosing her patient through gossip and innuendo rather than fact and observed behavior?
Forgoing research of my medical and psychotherapeutic records, Dr. Abbasi instead reported she had again talked to my brother-in-law, who embroidered his imaginary narrative still further, this time reporting to the psychiatrist that I had previously been diagnosed with schizophrenia: an electrical engineer repeating terms that he has heard me use from my scholarship in human psychology and psychoanalytic theory to describe the behaviors of others that I have observed in my family and in the process of job searching, only he has zero comprehension of what those terms mean, beyond quite clearly understanding that if he can attach a label to me then he can retaliate for my speaking out against the abuse of power that I observed and experienced in his home. This from the man who, in June 2013, jeered at me for the work I have accomplished in psychotherapy, who further jeered at abused children generally.
Prior to my second court appearance, after yet another night of sleep disrupted in 15-minute increments with flashlights shining across my face, staff shouting at me when I stepped out to the brilliantly fluorescent-lit hallway to ask them to again please find a better method of checking on their patients than using flashlights, “I DIDN’T SHINE MY FLASHLIGHT IN YOUR EYES,” and, “I’M NOT SHOUTING,” staff again decided to schedule a blood draw at dawn’s early light, while once again neglecting to communicate that schedule to their patient prior to dawn. That is Intermountain Hospital’s standard procedure, I had learned by then, for preparing their patients for court. The facility’s first attempt to draw blood from my veins, just two days and sleep-deprived nights after St. Luke’s had already filled five vials, had gone like this:
For the third time in one morning, staff disrupted my waking ritual of tea and meditative writing practice to inform me that they needed to draw more blood. Staff members failed to communicate among themselves my reasons for declining their bill-padding expenses to the State of Idaho, only checking their check boxes that I had “refused” treatment.
“Again? The ER just drew five vials.”
In this third attempt to communicate with their patient, the white male staff member finally came equipped with the results of the blood tests from St. Luke’s, and he did his best to interpret them for me, “Well, your potassium is low.”
“Yes, I thought it might be. That is why I’ve been sucking down the bananas,” referring to the communal fruit bowl that staff sometimes stocked and sometimes made available to patients in a communal break room.
And something else that I did not quite catch, and still a third item on the list, ALT. I did not recognize the medical jargon, so I inquired, “What is that?”
“Umm. I don’t really remember.”
I looked at him kindly. He had the grace to look embarrassed.
“That’s really more of an RN thing. They don’t talk about that so much in LPN.”
“It’s okay,” I told him gently.
“So you should get new tests.”
“Because your potassium is low.”
“Taking more blood will not increase my potassium levels,” I observed, “I will keep eating bananas.”
He looked like he was in pain.
“I understand that the medical industrial complex would like me to take more tests. I don’t feel the urge,” I added, “But thank you for telling me the results of the tests from St. Luke’s.”
Once again, at dawn on the morning of my second court appearance, passive aggressive staff threatened that any refusal to arrive at court dizzy or light-headed from lack of blood or adequate nutrition would be a mark against me with the judge.
Once again, DE Lawrence Stanciu dropped by the hospital-regulation open door of my room as I was changing from my shower and tried the same maneuver of grilling me immediately prior to court, as if hoping for a different result. I patiently repeated that I was preparing for court, and would not be able to meet with him until afterward.
While Dr. Abbasi may have been unfamiliar with the legal term continuance, she was dead accurate in her prediction that I was only permitted to defend myself orally, with no defense available to me that was comparable to the fat written record established by the facility holding me against my will and without access to competent counsel.
On the stand, Mr. Stanciu described me as “gravely disabled,” “extremely delusional,” and “manic” for describing my autobiographical experiences, accused me of “talking about the government” for explaining how my personal witness testimony is relevant to recent, ongoing, or needing to be reopened federal investigations, and describing my job-seeking experiences meant that I suffered “delusions of grandeur,” and, further, that I exhibited a “paranoid fear of psychotropic medications” and that my educated opinion more deeply informed than his own meant that I was “not able to make informed decisions.”
Dr. Sonnenberg readily admitted in open court that he performed no further evaluation beyond reviewing the notes of the first Designated Examiner who refused to fact-check his coworker’s files, the psychiatrist who refused to request my mental and physical health history let alone recommend an investigation into systemic failures within the Department of Health and Welfare, and again checking with my abusive family. Yet nevertheless he produced a “diagnosis.”
Disrespecting my educated professional opinion or perhaps unaware of CDC research dating from the mid-1990s linking psychosis, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia to childhood trauma, the Ada County prosecutor concluded that “she has no insight into her mental illness or need for treatment.”
Of course I could have chosen to again ask Mr. Malone to ask for another continuance in hopes he might better manage his calendar before negotiating another date with the judge, but after suffering through 10 days of the mentally and physically harmful environment of Intermountain Hospital, I wasn’t sure how much longer I could physically and mentally endure a facility that is little more than a dispensary for cigarettes and pills.
Scuttlebutt from other patients – the recidivism rate astonished me, like witnessing one class reunion after another, and that alone speaks to the failure of the state’s Skittles School – taught me the state hospital environment might be preferable. Frequent access to an outside patio. A smoke-free facility. An entire room – not just one coffee-splotched circular table around which we crowded four or more chairs and scribbled nearly atop each others’ 8-1/2×11 office copy paper with well worn markers or stubby pencils – dedicated to arts and crafts. Gym access. A library. Internet access to press ever onward with my job search from the protective enclave of yet another state institution. A lawn-scaped campus with red brick buildings. Field trips to the booming metropolis of Blackfoot, Idaho. It would be much like grad school. Even rumors that the food was better, or even better that I might be able to sign up for KP duty.
Prisoners work in the prison kitchen, right? Peeling potatoes. Or something. Maybe I could teach them how to make gnocchi and fresh-baked Italian loaves?
I survived one Idaho institution. Barely. I could survive another. Maybe I could even find an intelligent, compassionate psychiatrist somewhere in Idaho familiar with Freud and Lacan, perhaps Julia Kristeva or Judith Butler’s work Undoing Gender, referencing psychologist Jessica Benjamin on intersubjective communication-? Maybe even someone interested in pursuing innovative, fiscally competitive research, with access to sample size population we could form control groups, conduct double-blind studies, and publish the results-? If they would let me bring my bed, computer, and therapeutic cat, maybe I could negotiate to stay longer than just a year-? A year isn’t really long enough to accomplish much.
My fiction has been warmly reviewed by a graduate of CIA-funded, nationally recognized Iowa Writers Workshop, read aloud on Radio Free Moscow, and published in a Chicagoland literary journal that receives public funding from Illinois Arts Council as well as private sources, including the MacArthur Foundation. I find it amusing that the editors incorrectly spelled my name. That can happen when you try to run a business operation on volunteer labor. That short story was also originally titled Hitting the Ground Running, not “Hit.” I think you might like it. One character is a prosecutor. The judge is adorable. The public defender provides comic relief. I encourage you to order numerous copies of any literary journal, send to your friends. The problem with our current mechanism for arts and humanities funding is so little of it trickles down to the level of labor. Your cultural production staff. Otherwise known as meaningful workers. Much like STEM researchers, we used to rely on academia for salaried jobs. With both public and private campuses imitating corporations run by CEOs, those funds have also dried up. A five-year reprieve from my abusive family should give me enough time to finish a novel, working 10–14-hour days, and it will be my pleasure to edit my journals from the chapter on involuntary commitment so they will weave right into long form fiction.
Still, an involuntary hold is not the same as constitutionally protected freedom.
The prosecutor was permitted to glance at his notes while questioning his witnesses, but the judge would not allow me to refer to the bullet point list that I’d prepared in advance of my hearing, anticipating and refuting with higher authority or deeper knowledge every single one of the State’s accusations, hoping that even if I could not provide proof of my innocence without access to the Internet or data files stored on my own computer, I could at least sprinkle a grain of reasonable doubt and the judge would weigh the greater public good against my personal experience of injustice. While the judge permitted me to carry my then-current journal to the stand, she forbid me from even turning the pages previous to my notes of the prosecutor’s presentation.
Of course Mr. Malone from the Ada County Public Defender’s office again arrived at court unprepared to cross-examine the state’s witnesses, let alone provide expert witnesses on my behalf. “I tried to return your call,” he whispered plaintively, again sharing his feelings of overwhelm with his job while his unemployed, shackled client listened patiently, “But…” A scheduling conflict arose.
Neither the prosecutor nor the public defender seemed to notice when the State’s second Designated Examiner could not remember even the location of his “psychiatric examination.” The judge did not seem to find anything peculiar about judging based on single-sided evidence, as if that has become the norm for justice in her courtroom.
I was not even permitted to bring Mr. Malone’s borrowed pen with me to the stand, all the better to listen to the judge’s instructions, a listening technique that proved helpful even to the Oregon Department of Justice prosecutor with ex-FBI parents who neglected to model or teach healthy communication skills to their children.
Since the judge, the prosecutor, and the Department of Health and Welfare all agreed that I presented no threat of harm to myself or anyone else, the issue in question seemed to me to challenge the State’s circular logic that I was both performing my job search too well, awarding me their diagnosis of “grandiose delusions” and not good enough to relieve myself of dire poverty, qualifying for the definition “gravely disabled,” and thus meeting the criteria for involuntary commitment to the state hospital. Still more paradoxically, the State failed to explain how rubber-stamping the label “mentally ill” across my forehead and keeping me warehoused in a locked room would attract potential employers.
Likewise, Dr. Abbasi never prescribed a “you’re hired!” pill from her magic medicine chest.
While the psychiatrist at the state hospital eventually countered the judge’s judgment with his opinion that I did not meet the requirements for involuntary commitment, after I inquired of his clinician how much money she would like to add to her annual budget, she repeated much the same response as academic hiring committee telephone interviewers across this nation whose level of preparation for and contributions to our interviews generally included, “Uhh, that’s a good question. We weren’t expecting that question,” or, “That’s a lot of questions.”
The state clinician’s version, “I-I’ve never been asked that question before.”
The state psychiatrist repeated the refrain that I have been hearing for six years, though I welcomed his direct face-to-face communication as a refreshing change from bulk batches of bcc emails, despite his speaking in something of a high, strained voice, “We don’t want to hire you.”
Well, it’s not that I’m so hot to stake my tent in Blackfoot, Idaho.
It is that I never pass up a job networking opportunity.
And it is irrational to diagnose extreme poverty in the post-Great Recession United States as “mental illness.”
Not that there’s anything wrong with Blackfoot. It looks to be much like any other community across the United States. Architecture that degraded over the last 200 years, surrounded with concrete cube big box stores. A community designed around the gas-guzzling vehicle, rather than the human being. A small, but devoted, group of community members struggling to revitalize their downtown historic district. Empty storefronts. Maybe a handful of local restaurants sometimes with but more likely without inviting ambiance. No place else to go before or after unloved Americans wolf down dinner. A visible lack of education in the arts or graphic design.
As a designer visually analyzing the state’s psychiatric facilities, it is visibly abundant to me that the combined absence of professional graphic design skills, staff passive aggressive communication skills, and lack of physical or mental health care are the equivalent of exacerbating social problems and flooding money down the drain.
When I queried about the career prospects for someone receiving her brand of treatment for bipolar disorder, Dr. Abbasi’s reply again managed to be both sing-songy, little-girl voice and condescending, dismissive, once again communicating that she had listened during only a small portion of our interview, tuning out my graduate level education and expertise in trauma and psychoanalytic theory. Instead of applying my educated skills to the workforce, she urged defrauding the government:
“Oh, the nice thing is, you can go on disability. And you’re smart. You’ve been to college. You’ll get a job.”
Is it that I talk too much, or is it that Idaho’s mental health professionals do not possess my listening skills? Easily distracted, with difficulties focusing? Mental capacities challenged or frustrated by concepts connecting disparate dots to see the cohesive whole, what in art we teach as gestalt, a term from the field of psychology, otherwise known as critical thinking?
Because I am not responsible for the actions of past clients or potential employers, it does not seem to me to be fair that I should be judged on any behavior besides my own. Bootstrapping nostalgia aside, as the job candidate, all I can do is the best I can do in any given day, week, month, or, as my personal Great Recession story unfolds alongside this era’s global events, year. After year. After year. As the years go by, I have dramatically increased my professional skills far beyond any the art and design faculty at Idaho’s flagship institution were prepared to teach me, and I was already better experienced with setting priorities and accomplishing goals than business faculty unable to imagine, in 2006, a beverage market outside either Coke or Pepsi, hence the boundaries I placed on my brother-in-law’s unreasonable expectations for time spent performing manual labor for his household in exchange for not much more than a roof overhead.
Without notes to refresh my memory during those few minutes on the witness stand or now, as I recall, I briefly outlined my educated expertise in critical theories of identity, trauma, and the taboo, and my graduate school experiences where the law that the University of Idaho failed to uphold was Title IX. After she asked, seeming as unfamiliar as Meridian Police Department with federal education law, I explained to the judge that Title IX was supposed to guarantee women with equal access to education, and then asked if I could give just one example of my job networking experiences that would explain the value of my communication design skills to the business world.
“Be quick about it,” the judge snapped, by her tone communicating to me that she had already stopped listening and/or supports violent, antisocial behavior disrupting K-18 campuses nationwide.
With experts at the nation’s major banks describing my art, design, and technology skills as essential to re-envisioning a sustainable economy replacing our current and seemingly never-ending war economy, and yet campuses, corporations, and communities across the country still seeming to expect me to provide not simply job skills but also my own salary, I was the sole artist in the room – to reference business writer Daniel Pink on that imperative if we are to solve global communication problems – who attended the collaborative breakout session of the 2010 Seattle Designers Accord, along with other graphic designers, interior designers, web designers, industrial designers, architects, and business consultants, and, from my university teaching experiences, the only participant with a ready example of what collaboration, or healthy communication, looks like in practice, while Boeing engineers wrapped up the session by wondering aloud, “But what happens when management says collaboration, and then we all go back to working in our individual cubicles?”
The cost of top-down, hierarchical, dictatorial, executive management words not matching their actions, or, what in psychology terms is called passive aggressive communication, in business?
What happened next was Boeing went into $12 billion in cost overruns on their 787 Dreamliner, and the last I checked the world still awaits results of the costliest search so far in history to learn what happened to one of their 777 models when executive management does not listen to their educated professionals.
Passive aggressive communication is expensive.
Passive aggressive communication is bad for business.
Passive aggressive communication is harmful to our communities, families, and individual well being.
After first ordering me to speak quickly, the judge then accused me of “talking nonstop,” and for her that was “proof” of Dr. Sonnenberg’s “diagnosis,” because Idaho’s mental health court judge did not understand the value of healthy communication in real-world, business dollars. Barely lifting her own gaze from the paperwork on her bench, the judge also accused me of arriving at court with dilated eyes, and since she sees that all the time from defendants arriving from involuntary lockup at the area’s psychiatric facilities, her past experiences contributed to her judgment. I have very dark brown irises, my eyes further obscured behind the glare reflected off my glasses from the twitching bright fluorescent lights in her low-ceilinged courtroom, and I think we could probably find a medical physician competent to explain those conditions are inadequate for determining pupil dilation.
The American Psychiatric Association either does not make its expertise available to the general public, or it needs my help building a searchable database for DSM-5:
May I suggest that, despite derogatory dismissal of my visually educated expertise by everyone sitting in that courtroom, the judge judged me on nothing more than aesthetic: fashion design and class and perhaps also gender discrimination? A destitute woman in chains must be guilty; who in her right mind would choose abject poverty in this era of what the theorists like to describe as late capitalism?
Imagine the difference in outcome if we had begun our conversation with me dressed in my black silk pin-striped business suit, inviting the judge into a conference room on your campus before asking, “How would you like to add $12 billion to your budget next year?”
Imagine if Mr. Malone had partnered with a visually educated wife who helped him select his wardrobe, then would he be able to more persuasively argue that shackled defendants deprive his clients of access to fair trial?
Now imagine if all mental health professionals and law enforcement were better educated in critical theories of identity to recognize that class, like race, sex, national origin, ethnicity, religion, and, arguably, sexual orientation, are not choices, but givens we are born into? As business writer Malcolm Gladwell researches so thoroughly our culturally recognized “successes” and “failures,” success depends less on the individual than on those givens and our community of mentors and peers, his results more recently affirmed by sociologists at Johns Hopkins University. What if mental health and law enforcement professionals were able to think critically, stepping back from their initial hypotheses, setting aside their personal biases and feelings, and weighing evidence instead of determining their irrational conclusions?
During the same 02 June 2014 hallway conversation when he confused dates and names, setting higher mental expectations for his clients than he holds for himself, Mr. Stanciu freely admitted his personal, passive aggressive rationale that superseded any professional analysis for his “diagnosis” of my mental health:
“You’re belittling my expertise,” he whinged, “And the expertise of my colleague, Belinda.”
Because I had trusted that the Department of Health and Welfare would concern itself with the health and welfare of the citizens of Idaho, its white, male property owners and their dependents as much as its own staff and incarcerated clients?
Because I had asked for his business card to better follow up after our first in-person conversation and his subsequent failure to investigate his coworker’s inappropriate response to my claims of domestic violence?
And noticed that the state hadn’t even bothered to preprint his name on its generic communications collateral, hoping to draw to his attention the importance of graphic design in healthy communications?
Or, as any professional graphic designer could tell you, maybe the State of Idaho is undermining the professionalism of its own designated examiners?
“You’re undermining my authority,” he continued to whine his martyr narrative, before strutting his psychiatric vocabulary, accusing me of “perseverating on these issues that do not make sense” when I again inquired if he had researched Ms. Dalrymple’s email files or checked public records to affirm my biographical and professional experiences.
Sharing none of Mr. Stanciu’s fragile ego and happy to learn new things, I asked what “perseverating” means, is it related to “persevere”?
He looked triumphant, as if his goal was to compete with me rather than to help me, and repeated his rote-memorized opinion that the “best practice” for treating traumatized patients is medication. He cut me off, mid-sentence, when I expressed concerns about the debilitating side effects that I was experiencing from the meds prescribed by Dr. Abbasi, snarling, “Talk that over with your doctor.”
“I tried to do that. She seemed unfamiliar with the side effects, and referred me to the nurses. Their printout from an online source confirms all of the harmful side effects that I am experiencing, but instead of scaling back or changing meds, she doubled the dose, and added more.”
After my first nosebleed, Dr. Abbasi flat-out denied that side effect of her prescribed remedy from mental health professionals who diagnose as “delusional” biographical experiences that differ from their own personal autobiographies, insisting, “Oh, no, that is just changes between heating and air conditioning. [In late May/early June in southern Idaho’s desert clime that begins to warm in March, sometimes as early as February?] What you can do is just sleep with a little bit of Vaseline up there.”
Further, as the manufacturer warns, Dr. Abbasi’s prescription is inappropriate for someone with my history of suicidal thoughts and behavior prior to psychotherapy and art-making leading to full trauma recovery.
Mr. Stanciu again accused me of “refusing” care, insisting that meds would help the mental health professionals “gain some insight into what is going on with you.”
Or the mental health professionals could learn to respect their clients?
“Far from ‘refusing’ care, in asking for psychotherapeutic care to assist me through this traumatic experience, I am seeking more care than what is provided here.”
“That’s the combative behavior that I was talking about,” Mr. Stanciu snapped, forgetting that he had initially described me as cooperative rather than combative, and, with his next sentence, communicated to me that at least one mental health professional in Idaho has no concept that all relationships between any two individuals are two-way streets, or dialogue, snarling, “Try working on those relationships.”
In the power structure of our relationship, Mr. Stanciu was in the position of greater power over me, but cast himself in the role of victim and passive aggressively blamed me for the state’s abuse of my constitutional rights, “Your stay here is costing the state $1,000 a day,” he raged.
Would here be a good place for me to point out, as I explained to Ms. Dalrymple, the social relevance of her listening to my expertise, that the first court-ordered psychologist to analyze another of my adopted shirttail cousins diagnosed Ted Bundy as a passive aggressive personality? While no family genealogist is especially eager to connect the dots of the sprawling, multigenerational abusive clan, whether or not we are “really” related bears no relevance in assessing my critical thinking abilities. I am not playing Six Degrees of Separation from Kevin Bacon when I note that the 20th century personification of “born” evil was the product of incest rape, or into an adverse family environment with rigidly constructed and brutally performed gender roles.
This is another game, with darker repercussions, where all society loses.