Breaking the Stigma -Mental Health & Inpatient Care -with Walker Brauer

Cherry Creek Trail, Cherry Creek, CO – 2021

Only minutes after the blog launch of Mae Flower, I was contacted by an old high school friend about wanting to collaborate on an interview piece about inpatient mental health care. To be honest, it surprised me.

Walker Brauer reached out to me via Snapchat message – maybe the first time we’ve spoken in years. I remember Walker as the teenager who welcomed me into the “secret computer room” of our K-12 school. Walker, and two of his friends allowed me into their nerd-sanctum during free periods, where we’d play online shooter games, mess around with Photoshop and once, I watched the group hack into a teacher’s computer drive. Walker always struck me as a grounded, but high-energy geek (in the best way possible). I never anticipated, years later, Walker would want to reconnect to talk about his experience with mental illness.

A large piece of Mae Flower, is breaking the stigmas associated with mental health. Both Walker and I have been admitted to inpatient psychiatric care, and I’m happy to share the interview between us- highlighting just a few aspects of the experience. I’m happy to have collaborated with Walker, and hope to continue the conversation around similar content.

To Walker: Thank you for your time, vulnerability and courage to tell your story to me. Your initiation on this project was the driving force, and I can’t thank you enough. Wishing you nothing but a smooth transition and journey.

TW & CW – ! This interview is about inpatient care, mental health struggles and has themes of suicide, self-hard and other content that may be disturbing to some readers – proceed with caution -!

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J – Give us a brief life-story?  

W – I’ve suffered with mental illness my whole life, from trauma in my early years until winding up a dissociative adult. I can’t remember how long I’ve had issues with my mental health. From suicidal idealization, to abusive coping strategies; it was only since the age of 19 – that I had begun actively seeking help for my conditions.

J What’s been your experience with inpatient treatment for mental health? 

W To summarize it best, in a single word, humiliating. The lack of patient rights in some clinics is basically prehistoric. Combined with the fact that all of my hospitalizations, besides the most recent, have been for “the thought of wanting to harm myself” and more recently a “wellness check”. I find a barrier between the clinical trials being conducted and (I) the patient, who has a concern for what is going on. 

J If you’re comfortable sharing – what events lead up to your last admittance?

W Well to start, I was starving to death (quite literally) eating about once every other day at best. While in the midst of a quarrel with neighbors at my apartment complex, while being stuck in a small town with no transportation. I was overloaded by stress and someone came to my apartment and tried kicking my door in. I held the door shut laying on my stomach on my living room floor, to prevent intrusion; basically it triggered mania. I was so deep in psychosis, in-fact, that I began abusing myself again – which lasted until I was calm enough to go to my landlords, and have them call the police over the attempted intrusion since I had no working telephone of my own at that time. When the police came, I was in a full blown PTSD and manic episode, and couldn’t talk to them. They said they were “just conducting a wellness check”, and I was able to convince them I was no danger to myself so they let me be. I moved in with a friend, and then my uncle, and for a few weeks after the incident. I was still in a state of mania induced reality, so, I had my grandfather bring me to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN. I was placed on a 72 hour emergency hold, and during this hold I was still crazy enough to be admitted to the Generose floor of the building to undergo psychological treatment.

Walker Brauer – A picture from 2012 I posted on my Facebook

JHow long was your stay? 

W – After having some episodes during my 3 day hold, I was transfered to a more specialized portion of the building where I was held for just over a month.

J – In my own experience being admitted to psychiatric inpatient care – I remember being stripped of my cell phone. If I wanted to call my parents – even to just let them know I had been admitted, I had to use an old-style payphone in the central room. What was your experience?

W – Although some inpatient clinics I’ve been to have been worse, I would rate the Acute Psychiatric Ward of Generose East at Mayo Clinic a solid B minus. I could use the phone during the day, but the only writing utensils I had access to were crayons, markers, and atrocious pens.

The worst thing that happened – I was prescribed the wrong medication which made me more insane. I was ordered to attend tele-court over the whole ordeal, and they basically stripped me of all of my rights by the end of the hearing, where I was given as a ward of Olmstead County to Mayo Clinics treatment team, and was no longer a free citizen, or even a functional mind. It took them about 2 weeks just to realize I wasn’t a crazy person normally, and change my medicine to something that actually didn’t induce psychosis in me. Which really felt like eternities. After I had been treated though, I was still to do as the hospital said, since I was originally placed on a 6 month court hold, I would have had to go to an Intensive Rehabilitation Trial or IRT, if I had not been able to be pardoned to go and live with my parents instead. 

J – What are your critiques for places such as the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN? What can places like that do better for patients admitted for psychiatric care?

W – I think patient rights and decent humanitarian values are a must. There were nurses antagonizing patients and people who were thrown through the court cycle ringer even worse than I had gotten. One man literally fled the building while outside on recreational time. I think it would take a lot of understanding on how to build more trusting bonds between care teams, and patients (or clients as were called). Though changes to the monopolistic corporate machine which is hospitals in America, I don’t know how hopeful of this to be in the future.

J – From my own experience – I wasn’t allowed to stay in my room during the day- as I was deemed a “danger to myself”. My day to day included given choices between playing darts in the rec room with my counselor, group therapy and my “reading materials” (which I was required to complete before discharge). What was your day to day like? 

W – Literally, most of my day to day was just looking at the clock. Counting up the days I had been in there, since I had no idea when I could leave almost the whole time. I would wake up early, make my bed, get some coffee (luckily we had caffeine) and then read or color until it was time for group. I made friends with some patients so I had some people to talk to. All in all though, my day to day, was boredom, until more boredom, sometimes group. We at least could go outside for an hour a day on weekdays, and had recreational therapy group but it was pretty basic boredom the rest of the time.

J – What do you want people to know about inpatient psychiatric care? 

W – Inpatient psychiatric care is intensive, it’s very hard. You need to know you’re ready for a change in your life when you get there. If you wear a facade, they are going to get your treatment wrong. I think people should know how careful they should be when they’re living brain tissue is being metaphorically operated on. 

J – How did you feel after being discharged?

W – Like I was finally free from jail, just another random human who was actually able to take charge of their own life again. The medication they put me on has helped, so that’s also a benefit. All in all, I’m back to being exactly who I need to be to take care of myself.

Walker Brauer and I – Homecoming 2013

J – What does self-care mean to you?

W – Eating right, making sure I stay active enough, mainting healthy thinking, meditation when I can’t. Self care means knowing that living with mental illness is a struggle, but wanting to live needs to come first. 

J – Have you been through therapy or counseling?

W – I had been through both categories as a child, after getting in trouble in school a lot. As an adult, I can say I have no need for either practice anymore.

J – What advice do you have for anyone struggling with their mental health? 

W – Remember that your life matters, that people care about you and a reason to keep trying is a good practice. I would say, get closer to your friends and cut off the people who don’t care. Make sure, you are your own, first priority.

J – What are things that bring you joy? 

W – As someone who suffers with depression that’s kind of hard, but I could say. Embracing possibilities and facing fears usually leave me feeling the most accomplished.

J – If you had to describe your “garden” – what would it look like?

W – On the side of lake, a patio, dirt hauled into buckets, tomatoes growing, flowers in bloom, and the smell of hardwood and warm soil. A campfire with a few people sitting around telling jokes, mostly a quiet space for me and those few people who tolerate me. 

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