Monday, December 30, 2013

Open Letter to Martin H. Stein, (Formerly) Neuropsychiatrist

Hey Marty,

It's been a few years. You may not remember me but the name is Marisa.
When we first met in January 1983, I was a suicidal 14 year old with a self-injury problem who had begged her parents to hospitalize her. Unlike many of my peers at Dominion Hospital, I'd asked to be there. I WANTED help. I was desperate for it. Previous treatment and inpatient stays had been about crisis management and I was far beyond a temporary crisis.

It's true I'd given my outpatient doc a load of bullshit. Not because it was fun or to waste his time but because I was honestly afraid I was already beyond help. If he believed I was schizophrenic, he might see to it I was locked away where I truly thought I belonged. Hey, young teens aren't known for their rational thinking.

Before our first meeting, nurses, mental health workers and other patients on the unit had built you up to psychiatric god. I was so lucky to have you as my doctor. You were the best and a true maverick in your field. You were known for helping the sickest kids and if anyone could help me, it would be you. Given the level of desperation to have hope in something more than what I'd known until then, it's no surprise I swallowed the hyperbole whole.

 It's still a struggle to sift through memories of those years, in particular, that first 3 month stay as your patient. Among those memories was the narrow, converted closet you used to meet with patients on the unit. I remember that first side hug, when you told me you could help. I remember giving you a history that included my first memories of sexual abuse at the age of 5 and the alcohol use that began when I was 12. I remember the first frightening night, sleeping in a bed by the door of a room across from the nurses station, with the other high risk kids. I remember the odd experience of comparing self-injury scars with another patient, each of us jealous of the other. I remember feeling a tentative safety in letting my walls down enough to let go of all the hidden things.

I remember with crystal clarity, the Pepto Bismol pink quiet rooms. It was in the room on the right where you called me a liar when I didn't remember the details of scratching up my left wrist the night before.

I remember being in the locked room. I remember my roommate in the next room telling me to admit I'd taken a pin and scratched my wrist after we were caught smoking. It was, after all, why we were in seclusion. I remember using my thumbnail over the course of that night to dig away the skin across my forearm as punishment for losing myself again.

I remember sitting in a tearful ball on the floor while you towered over me the next morning, informing me with the stern voice I would come to fear, that I would remain in that locked room until I recanted the lie of losing time the night before. Sadly, part of me did stay in that room for nearly 18 years. I remember your cologne so vividly that for more than 10 years, any scent with a hint of yours caused panic and anxiety beyond imagining.

I don't remember how long I was in that room. Only that a nurse removed me against your orders when it was discovered I'd not needed to use the bathroom since the door was first closed. A day or 3, I still can't be sure.

But I do remember the next visit to your closet, where I sat with head bowed, as you told me you'd had enough of the bullshit and I wasn't to speak of "forgetting" things ever again. I remember the label of liar being applied with such determination that no nurse would dare disagree or worse, to believe what I tried to share.

I remember that despite it all, your hugs and approval were desperately wanted and I did everything I was able for a momentary taste of it. Even if it meant conforming to what I knew was a false reality. I finally acknowledged the truth as a lie. It was something I'd learn to do well for many years.

Less than a week into that stay in Dominion, I gave up. There was no breakthrough that day but there was certainly a breaking. Under the mask of a kid who sought your approval, who put up with your confident diagnosis of Bi-polar, the disabling side-effects of Lithium, the recanting of the diagnosis, the experiments with anti-depressants and anti-psychotics, the lack of medical treatment for a broken hand which is deformed to this day, lived the madness you refused to see. It would continue to eat me alive long after you were just another bad memory.

The degree of damage you caused wouldn't truly be known for 19 years.

December 1985
This is a picture of the kid you knew. The 16 year old you last saw. The physically and mentally scarred kid The Great and Powerful Stein said would never live a normal life. This kid with dead eyes and barely the ability to smile through the massive doses of drugs you prescribed. This is the kid you consigned to life of nothing more than institutions, if I didn't manage to kill myself first. This is the kid you armed for her own death when you put her in charge of her own powerful and dangerous medications. This is the kid I was when you'd washed your hands of me... a 16 year old with no other goal than to die because the best believed her hopeless.

August 1986
This is a young woman who found out she was loved despite her madness.

I won't bore you with details of the first 13 years after I last spoke with you or the lingering distrust for those in your field.

I will tell you a simple computer engineer from South Carolina saw something you couldn't. He not only saw all of me, he accepted every part without even knowing there were words to describe it.

I will tell you that when I could no longer keep wearing the mask you insisted upon, a young, inexperienced pastor saw what you couldn't and helped my husband and me find the doctor and trauma specialist who would eventually help me see and accept all of me.

I'll tell you that the engineer (now systems administrator) and I have 5 incredible children. We have 3 grandchildren. We have an imperfect and wonderful life.

I still fight the occasional darkness... but love living far too much to seek an end to it. I still have unsure, fearful moments but not enough to punish myself.

I write you now only because you're the last piece of a past yet laid to rest. I'm sorry to admit the knowledge you'll never again be able to legally practice has not been enough for my own peace of mind.

I don't write this to add to the humiliation you say you've suffered, though I do believe justice is served.

I write this to say good bye to the damage done to a kid who was too young to see your narcissism for what it is. I write this knowing that in a few years, if your name again comes to mind, there will no longer be strong emotions connected to your memory. I write this to tell you, in spite of your confidence to the contrary, I am here and I am whole and yes, you are just another abuser who could break but not end me.

The chances you'll see this are slim but it's worth hoping you'll one day think to Google yourself and see this and remember...


Marisa (Quintana) Feathers

Washington Post front page article from 2003
Companion article
Final article

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