I sat in on a presentation on sexuality among mental health patients. The whole topic is a little like making love to a Porcupine. There are many points to consider. I wasn’t as fortunate as some patients but there was certainly sexuality among us. I can remember smoking and drinking coffee while people rolled on a blanket in front of me kissing. I enjoyed the coffee more. There were certain stairwells that were considered intimate no matter the weather. We were also blessed with a well treed knoll on the hospital property. We called it “Pecker Hill.” Even when I was not well the naming was evident and amusing. I know of one poor individual who didn’t quite make it to the hill and found ecstasy among the long grass not far away but apparently far enough.
We can laugh or shake a finger but I was without an intimate encounter for 7 years. I don’t know about the 7 year itch but I wallowed in the 7 year rash. Had the opportunity presented itself to me I’m not sure I would have made it to the long grass.
The World Health Organization defines sexual health as a state of physical, mental and social well-being in relation to sexuality. Being on a locked ward for me was just that. If my footsteps had boundaries you can imagine the same on my sexuality.
I can remember being on the Forensic Assessment Unit on a vacation from jail. One day I walked by the common area and saw a hairdresser giving a patient a haircut. I was months without a trim and was eager to find out how this all worked. I paced by a few times and finally asked if I needed an appointment or money both of which I was without. I needed neither and when I sat down I was astonished by being touched. Usually you check how much hair is falling on the floor but each time my scalp was touched that’s all I could focus on. All my visits for months were from behind glass and my fellow prisoners were not known for hugging.
If we are placing individuals in situations where touch is unlikely it becomes imperative to introduce a healthy replacement. Some in the psychiatric community are unlikely to encounter touch because of their symptoms and or resulting circumstances.
Part of sexuality is a connection. Consider what it would be like to go for months and years without being touched. Even those of us who have the benefit of touch can recognize its power and importance when we visit a massage therapist. The social, mental and physical benefits can only translate into improved mental health and overall well being.
Segregation; the Hole is deprivation of everything. I was psychotic for most of this deprivation but pulled an important truth from the experience. I had a cheap French/English dictionary in my pillowcase. I wrote a note from the Hole to one of the guards who were bilingual. In choppy French I wrote the following:
“I need love and touch I beg you, more.
I’m not crazy or madness, truly yours
I’m tough and strong angel.
Please mention it nay not what
In any manner that push me by heart and has your friendship; we shake on it.
Please mention it nay not what.”