On July 24th, Dainell Simmons
had a meltdown. He lived at a group home, an innocent-looking little institution that pretended to be a normal house. Staff called the police. The police killed Dainell.
Do you know the worst possible label you could be given in psychology? It's "A danger to self or others." If you're "a danger to self or others", your rights vanish. You don't get to make decisions. You don't get to be treated with respect. Sometimes, like Dainell, you don't get to live.
I have been hospitalized in a mental ward, twice. I was labeled "a danger to self or others".
I remember being in the hospital. They told me they had me on a 72-hour hold and I would get out in three days. Then when three days were up they said they didn't count weekends. Then they said I wasn't getting out even after three weekdays. Being constantly jerked around and lied to like that--as an autistic person, I am badly thrown off by unexpected events--pulled me into a meltdown. I cried uncontrollably and ran to my room.
I evaded restraint. Other patients were not so lucky. I remember hearing one man screaming repetitively before they tied him down. But I know what it's like, because my stepfathers used to pin me down whenever they liked. At the hospital, I got lucky.
From the hospital, vivid, a flashbulb memory: I'm lying face down, upper body on the mattress, which has been displaced by the force of my collapse onto it, legs sticking out over the floor. I'm screaming into the mattress. Above me hover several shapes. I'm only conscious of them as oppressive presences.
My animal instincts tell me: Freeze. Freeze. No moving. Like a mouse under the shadow of a hawk, I lie absolutely still, screaming, paralyzed by instinct that tells me that if I move they will think I am a threat and they will pin me down.
I manage to calm myself eventually. They give me Haldol, and then I can't think anymore.
What if I had been bigger, or male? What if my instincts, honed under the supervision of childhood abuse, had not kicked in and forced me into that survival freeze? Might I have died, too?
If I had died, I wouldn't have deserved it. Neither did Dainell. He died, and I survived, because of a quirk of neurology that told me to stay still, a quirk of biology that made me female, short, and unthreatening, and the luck of not being in the wrong place, at the wrong time, with the wrong police officers. Most of the time, people who are "a danger to self or others" don't die... but sometimes they do.
I am a little bit comforted by the fact that Dainell died fighting. When he had that meltdown, he calmed down before the police got there. When they told him they were going to handcuff him and take him to the psychiatric ward, Dainell fought back. He didn't want to go, and from what I can tell, he didn't need to go. A half-hour meltdown from an autistic person is a normal occurrence that needs rest, not hospitalization, to recover from. When he made it clear that he didn't want to go, they didn't listen, because if you are "a danger to self or others", then what you say doesn't matter. But he tried anyway. He didn't have the instinct to freeze that I had. Maybe he hadn't been beaten down. Maybe he still knew that no matter what they tell you, you're still a person and you deserve to be treated right. I don't know.
We've lost another. When will they see that we are fellow humans?