Elisa, you departed this world in 2002. To others you remained invisible, but for us, you remain unforgettable.
22 years after her first admission to a psychiatric hospital, Antje Dreist, who was born in 1967, published her memoir Fatum. In the form of poems written mainly in rhyming couplets and fragmentary episodes from her life, Dreist describes her path as determined by others. Dreist reveals a care system permeated by power, which pursues its own interests, uses people as “objects of administration” and denies them their own autonomy if they resist.
In 1991, her experience of abuse and her fear of external control were diagnosed for the first time as the result of a paranoid-hallucinatory psychosis. With this diagnosis, she no longer had a voice to those responsible in Neubrandenburg and the surrounding area. What Antje Dreist uncovers is shocking and proof that there is a need for reliable supervisory bodies to uncover the abuse of power in the psychiatric system.
“I ONLY REMEMBER SMELLS”, Antje Dreist describes her first experience with an adult man at six or seven years of age.
Today I only remember one assault when I was given a drug at around 6 or 7. I only felt a hand on my thigh. The air smelled like alcohol. I could see dentures in the man’s open mouht. Then I fell into a deep sleep. How could I have known as a child that this experience would haunt me forever? My mother didn’t want to know anything about what happened. Maybe she already suspected what was going on but did not want her daughter to destroy her world. After this traumatic experience I started to change. I was more sensitive and thoughtful than the other children. I often hit my head against the floor for hours at school just so someone would hold me in their arms. I don’t remember what happened between the ages of 10 and 14. Nevertheless, I was a good student. My parents cared a lot about my academic achievements. They wanted to give me the best possible education, but never asked me about my own life goals. Instead, they wanted me to fulfill their ideas about who I was. After years of a life determined by others and an education oriented towards unconditional obedience, I had already reached the end of my strength at a young age. After finishing my engineering studies in 1989, I left the GDR with my childhood friend. When we arrived in Bavaria, the border had already fallen, so we drove from there to the relatives of the then partner to Bielefeld, who provided us with a room. The relationship with this man was marked by both psychological and physical abuse.
My move to my relatives in Berlin in 1991 was supposed to be a new beginning for me. Sensitized by my own experience of abuse in childhood, I “probably” misinterpreted a scene witnessed in the relatives’ apartment. I filed a complaint with the police for sexual abuse of a minor, which led to me being kicked out of the Berlin apartment. At this point, I moved into a Berlin attic apartment by myself; I was mentally unstable, withdrawn and felt abandoned. I walked around Berlin disoriented until, in this state of mind, I called my mother again.
THE FIRST ADMISSION TO A PSYCHIATRIC CLINIC
After all the years of emotional stress and eternal conflicts at home, I wanted to establish a friendship with my mother, whose way of loving I had never understood. We met in a coffee shop in Kreuzberg. I described my traumatic childhood experience to her. She looked at me with disbelief and walked out. The time of the past had left its mark on me. A few days after this talk with my mother, under the supervision of my brother and sister-in-law, psychologist Sylvia D., and in the company of two psychology students, I was ordered to be removed from my attic apartment and committed to the Charité psychiatric hospital in Berlin. The reason for this was what my family considered to be abnormal behavior (criminal charges, revelation of my sexual abuse and my personal withdrawal). When I called for help on the street, a person unknown to me was able to prevent the forced intervention of the psychology students sent by my sister-in-law, who wanted to drag me into their car. I got away from them and returned to my attic apartment. A few days later, a social worker I trusted introduced herself to me and advised me to go to the psychiatric clinic where she would accompany me. The people in charge there had already been informed. My family told the psychiatrist that since I was 20 years old, I appeared to have changed dramatically; I was quickly agitated, closed off and increasingly broke off contacts with friends and my parents. The desire to relieve the pain of my childhood memories by contacting a medicine man living in Africa was dismissed as a crazy idea. My experience of abuse, the deprivation of freedom and heteronomy I experienced during my childhood because of my parents, as well as the external control I experienced from my relatives, who also worked for the authorities, were documented in my medical records in the future as “disturbances in thinking and experience with bizarre, clearly absurd, delusional and relational phenomena, combined with signs of a considerable distortion of reality”. Since 1991, doctors have documented Enuresis nocturna [bed-wetting] up to the 5th grade and a suicide attempt I made at 15 because of an “anti-social friend”. All of this is documented in my medical records. During the first psychiatric examination, the psychiatrist diagnosed a paranoid-hallucinatory psychosis on the basis of a medical history obtained from third party sources. This was done without taking my perspective of things seriously and by using test procedures that, according to current scientific findings, are questionable.
It is undeniable that after the suffering and victimhood I experienced in childhood I was psychologically abnormal, and my perception was distorted when I was committed to the psychiatric ward. After all, it was the experiences of being observed, of external determination and of outward violence that had destabilized me psychologically and manifested themselves in the course of my life in the form of a mental illness. Since my first admission to a psychiatric clinic at the latest, my perspective on things would no longer be taken into account in the future; in particular, my experiences at home and the sexual abuse I had experienced no longer played a decisive role in my diagnosis.
This assessment can be supported by the following sentence of the psychiatrist from the Psychiatric Clinic in Neuruppin in 1992: “The third party anamnestic information collected by us essentially coincides with the epicrisis” from 1991. This was largely based on my parents’ presentations and was repeatedly used for subsequent diagnoses. My aunt, the public health officer A who was working at the time, also shook her head in disbelief at the Charité after my revelation of abuse to her and left me alone at the hospital.
DOCTORS AND AUTHORITIES: GOOD ACQUAINTANCES OF THE FAMILY
After my release from the psychiatric hospital in Neuruppin in 1992, I initially returned to my parents’ home. I was treated as an outpatient by psychiatrist Dr. Rader, a fellow student of my aunt, the medical officer A, not far from my parents’ place of residence until 1994. After my visits to the practice there, my parents were informed about what I had talked about before I had even arrived home. In my case, confidentiality should no longer have any relevance for other responsible parties over the next two decades.
After my second stay in a psychiatric hospital, my mental condition deteriorated considerably when I found out about my parents’ plan to have me placed in a home. They regularly received assistance from the chief physician of Neubrandenburg Psychiatric Hospital, Dr. Rainer Gold, who repeatedly persuaded me during my time there that a life in a home would be a better alternative for me. Ms. Angelika Beier worked in close contact with my aunt, the medical officer Dr. Opolka, and strongly supported this plan. Despite the high dosage of psychotropic drugs and the related side effects I experienced, association Landjugendverband e.V. hired me as a mentally ill rehabilitant as an office assistant in Neubrandenburg starting in 1992. In association Landjugendverband e.V., an association which was subordinate to association Bauernverband where my father worked, psychologist Schubert, a close friend of my sister-in-law psychologist Sylvia D., examined me regularly. For some time now, psychologist Schubert had also had private contact with the management of association Steg e.V. and with the psychosocial institution which psychologist Schubert had co-founded. As a result, the exchange between my relatives and the other authorities responsible for mentally ill individuals in the region was perfected.
After my first few stays in psychiatric hospitals, I repeatedly felt that I was being watched and that I was completely at the mercy of the injustice I had sustained. I also told my attending physicians about this total surveillance, which only resulted in an increase in my dosage of medication. My personal matters could now be shared in the network of psychologists, doctors and social workers woven around me. After I was dismissed as a severely disabled person by association A, further attempts at integration followed, which were unsuccessful due to my mentally unstable condition. In the end, my application for an EU pension was approved in 1998. I left my parents’ house and looked for an apartment in Neubrandenburg. Further stays in psychiatric hospitals ensued. In Neubrandenburg Ms. Angelika Beier felt responsible for me. There had been a professional relationship between the social worker Angelika Beier, who still works for the Social Psychiatric Services today, and the medical officer Dar. Opolka, who had already retired from her service, on account of her field of responsibility. This enabled a further expansion of the cooperation between my parents and all the authorities responsible for me in and around Neubrandenburg, which lasted until the year 2015. Those responsible not only had an insight into my medical records, but also into all the necessary medical records of people from my social environment. Since I had been diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic, I had no means of taking action against this total surveillance imposed from the outside. To whom should I turn in my physical and psychologically unstable state, weakened by the use of neuroleptics, with a plea for help without risking my next commitment to a psychiatric hospital?
THE PSYCHIATRIC CLINIC IN WILHELM-KÜLZ-STRAßE
Instead of prescribing me a suitable psychotherapy, no doctor, neither outpatient nor inpatient, asked for my version of my childhood, let alone sought another way of providing relief for me, although the staff would have had the opportunity to do so during my numerous stays in the psychiatric clinic in Wilhelm-Külz-Straße: On the contrary, I have taken a wide range of medication in the last 25 years of my life.
At the regular rotation of staff in Wilhelm-Külz-Straße, after I had told him about the history of abuse, an assistant doctor who was working there at the time asked me “if it had been nice”. I was to be talked out of my severe childhood traumas and the abuse I had experienced, and the chief physician of this psychiatric hospital expressly forbid me to deal with close confidants from my environment in order to remove even this last healthy influence from my life. Was it one of the tasks of a psychiatrist to convince a woman suffering from abuse and psychological mistreatment that her own memories were indistinct and that her childhood thoughts were simply imaginary?
Why did I always hear the same questions from those responsible for me? Why now and not earlier? Oh, that was so long ago. Patients who make such statements do it themselves. That was only affection. “We as those affected are taken into the burden of proof. […] What the perpetrators no longer have to do, we are thus burdened with.”
Was it one of the tasks of psychologist Schubert to make fun of me in the presence of her colleagues in both association A and the city administration? How did psychologist Schubert come to the conclusion that my late friend Simone Stark was dangerous because of her “illness”? Is it the task of Ms. Angelika Beier to send her invitations to the “caregivers” in an authoritative and easy-to-read manner, to invade the private sphere without prior notice and to force a lively exchange between the authorities and the parents without the consent of the people concerned? Was it one of the tasks of the staff of the psychosocial institutions to play the early pensioners off against each other and to take pleasure in it, because the sedated patients could not respond quickly? Nor do I understand why, before I was admitted to psychiatric hospitals, those who had caused my psychologically unstable state with their years of misconduct towards me could adopt a position on my life. Why didn’t any of the doctors take me seriously?
Did my parents truly believe they could help me in crisis situations, their daughter raised to be unconditionally obedient, by sending the authorities to my home without my consent, only to be able to consult with the doctors, psychologists and social workers again afterwards? On January 22, 2001, I filed a complaint with the Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania Medical Association against the chief physician, Dr. Rainer Gold. The letter referred to comments made by the doctor to me in which he described me as a malingerer and told me he wanted to prevent my social contact and informed my parents about me via the association Lichtblick. When I had to be treated as an in-patient in the psychiatric clinic in Wilhelm-Külz-Straße because of a depressive episode, this doctor urged me to withdraw the complaint. Many years have passed since then.
For decades, I have lived in fear of forced institutionalization. Only since I went public with my book in 2013 do I feel reasonably safe. With my current doctors and counsellors, I am in good hands for the first time in decades. In the meantime, I have found a few supporters. My life could have been different if I had had the right therapy. After years of being told that I imagined my life, I simply could not withstand the external pressure of the doctors and authorities and the side effects of the medication. Unfortunately, this can no longer be reversed. Those responsible are never held accountable for their misconduct towards the patients and are publicly celebrated for their lifetime achievements. A cooperative and interdisciplinary healthcare system is essential to provide support to patients regardless of their clinical history. The fact that such a system invites abuse is not only confirmed by my history. The influence of my parents, doctors and authorities on my life was powerful, too powerful for me to ever resist. Those who were responsible for me in crisis situations in the past treated me with medication, disregarded their duty of confidentiality, put me under pressure and therefore steered me into a hopeless situation. And all I wanted to do was work through the traumas of the past. After all these years, there are no words to describe the suffering I feel. I do not deny that I am psychologically ill after all this. But how could I have ever become healthy under the conditions described? As a now 48-year-old woman, who can live and think independently. And yet, I am denied complete access to the files of the social-psychiatric service according to the facts previously presented in my earlier publication, which is called Fatum. By what right? To whose protection? The schizophrenic Antje Wienberg, born Dreist, was actually declared mad by her environment. It’s a good thing that I haven’t lost track of things despite the numerous medications I’ve been given. Nevertheless, my body was irreversibly damaged by neuroleptics. The fact that people are no longer taken seriously after decades of taking strong neuroleptics proves my story.
Today I would like to know how many mentally ill people in the region have had experiences similar to mine.