History - Oral Histories

Diana Lewis Story in (Word* | also PDF*)

Oral Histories of People at AMHI - Diana Lewis

Interview with Diana Lewis
[at AMHI in 1976 or 1977 and one other time]

September 17, 2003

Interviewer: Karen Evans

KE: Let’s start by talking a little bit about your experiences at AMHI. The first question is why did you go to AMHI?
DL: I had a nervous breakdown.

KE: Can you expand a little bit about that? Were you suicidal?
DL: I was delusional. I was hearing voices that were going to kill me. They diagnosed me as a paranoid schizophrenic. I was also going through a hard time with my divorce and stuff and I was working like 2 jobs and it was just too much on me.

KE: When you think about AMHI, what memories come back to you? These can be either positive or negative.
DL: The first memory that I remember when I was there was I don’t remember how I got there. I don’t remember why I woke up in the men’s room. I was on the floor of the men’s room, and I can’t think of who I first talked to, one of the doctors and asked him why I was in there, and they didn’t know why. Probably it was the meds they gave me. I don’t know what it was, and that was my first – like when I woke up – I was like, “Uh oh, where am I?” you know type of deal.

KE: Do you have any type of memories of AMHI?
DL: Yeah, I remember the Red Sox playing that year and I was supposed to go to the Red Sox game and – so we ended up watching it on TV and I remember people pacing back and forth. Everybody was doing their own little thing.

KE: How long were you there? Do you remember?
DL: I believe I was there 8 months.

KE: Were you there one time, or were you there a couple of times?
DL: I was there twice.

KE: Okay, and do you remember the years you were there?
DL: One was in ’76 or ’77, and the other one I’m not really sure.

KE: Thinking of the 2 different times you were there, did you see changes over time? Were they better, were they worse?
DL: They were better.

KE: So they had improved.
DL: They had improved from the last time, yeah.

KE: What was life like at AMHI? Tell me about a day in the life for you at AMHI.
DL: I remember that we went out and we played baseball. We’d eat and I would get meds 3 times a day and then there was 10 o’clock curfew to go to bed, and I just remember playing baseball and watching TV mostly.

KE: Were there people at AMHI that affected you in appositive way? Can you think of a staff person, or maybe another patient that you remember having a relationship with that was very positive?
DL: I remember talking to a counselor up there all the time and telling him how I felt for that day and stuff and they said that I would get better, but I have to help myself. They would tell me how good I was doing and that I would be going soon.

KE: Were there any negative people up there that you maybe had a little hard time with, staff or patients?
DL: No. I get along with everybody.

KE: Who helped you the most while you were at AMHI?
DL: I think my counselor.

KE: What was the culture like at AMHI? How did you relate to other patients and how did the staff interact with the patients and how did the patients interact with other patients? What was the atmosphere like?
DL: The atmosphere was like when you were watching TV, there were a bunch of people doing like puzzles, things in the books –

KE: Crossword puzzles?
DL: Crossword puzzles and whatever, and I really think that everybody basically kept to themselves. There were all in their own little world.

KE: What was your treatment like when you were at AMHI?
DL: At first I didn’t know where I was and then after a while I realized where I was. They put me on the right medications. At first I think I was taking Thorazine and then after that they changed it because Thorazine works opposite on me than it does on other people. It gets me hyper.

KE: So you had med therapy. Was there any other kind of therapy that you had while you were up there?
DL: I am not really sure. I can’t remember.

KE: You had a counselor; you said that. Did you mean with a psychiatrist?
DL: Oh yeah, and I met with a psychiatrist. I would talk to the psychiatrist and tell him why I was there and I had to tell him that I was better or whatever so I could get out.

KE: Did you have treatment plan? Do you remember?
DL: Yeah, I did have a treatment plan when I got out.

KE: You talk a little bit about the activities. You talk about baseball and things like that. What other activities did they have for you while you were up there that you were involved with?
DL: I don’t remember what else – other activities – they had. All I remember is baseball.

KE: How did staying at AMHI affect your family? Did you keep your relationship with family and friends?
DL: Yep, and my friends and my family came up. They supported me when they came up, and I would get visits, and my mother ended up talking to the people to see how I was doing.

KE: You don’t remember your age at that point do you?
DL: No.

KE: Can you think of anything else you would like to share about AMHI?
DL: No.

KE: I would like to talk a little bit about your experiences and thoughts for today. So I first want to ask, how are you doing today?
DL: I am doing good today. I am on medication because I have diabetes, and I have bipolar and I have medications for that. I have been doing really good since September of last year, and I’ve been keeping my doctor appointments.

KE: What are you doing with your life right now? Are you working? Do you volunteer any place? What do you do with your life?
DL: Right now I am seeing doctors and going to appointments. I am not working yet. I do plan on getting a part-time job because I just got exercise in September. I just got my own apartment in April for my birthday present and so I have been on my own because I was living in a Shalom House for a while, and I have been on my own since April.

KE: How does that feel?
DL: Oh my god, wicked good.

KE: Are you still connected with your family and friends at this point?
DL: Yeah, and I am still connected with Shalom House. Shalom House really did good for me too.

KE: What kind of relationship do you have with your family and friends?
DL: Close.

KE: With regards to your mental illness, have you ever experienced discrimination or stigma?
DL: There was discrimination when I was living on the street.

KE: And can you talk a little bit about that?
DL: Well on the streets everybody thinks you are a bum or whatever and that you can find a job or whatever, but they don’t realize that you have an illness, and an illness really brings you down. You don’t even feel like living, you know what I mean, so why would you go out there and work if you don’t even feel good about yourself. Today I feel good about myself.

KE: That’s good. That’s good that that has happened. The word around the mental health field is the word “recovery”. What does the word recovery mean to you?
DL: The word recovery means my health getting better, doing what I am supposed to do like taking my pills and medication.

KE: Has spirituality played a role in your recovery in anyway?
DL: Spirituality when I was down and out I would say, “Well you got to go do something.” So I would get up and push myself anyhow because I have a good spirit.

KE: Okay. What was your greatest challenge?
DL: My greatest challenge was probably getting help. I didn’t know where to get the help at first.

KE: So knowing the resources would be really important to you. How have your hopes and goals changed since you spent time at AMHI?
DL: Goals are doing good because I feel like I am free now that I’ve got my own apartment, and I am doing good, and I can take care of my own apartments now. Back then I needed help with it, you know what I mean, so I think I am doing really good.

KE: You know that we are in the process of building a new psychiatric hospital up in Augusta? It is going to be called Riverview Psychiatric Center and I am wondering if you have any advice that you would like to give the staff that will be at this hospital from your experience at AMHI? Would you like to share any thoughts?
DL: Well, you know, they are there to help people and I hope they’re kind souls because the other day my sister went to [another hospital] and she got worse because the woman there was rude and they didn’t help her like she needed the help. She needed to be checked on and she wasn’t. I hope these guys check on the people and ask them how they’re doing, and stuff like that, because that helps too.

KE: To have a caring person, in other words, someone that is compassionate. Is there anything else that you would like to share with us today with regards to either your stay and AMHI or your thoughts for today?
DL: Yes, I remember, not me, but a few other people they were chasing and restrained them with straight jackets. They called them “Love-me” jackets at the time, and another thing when I was first up there they had me on Thorazine and that works different on me then it does other people. It makes me hyper, and I remember there was a wire on the window so you couldn’t get out the windows, and I remember I had the corner of it all ready down so I could jump out the window and run away.

KE: I want to thank you so much for this interview, Diana, and I wish you the best.
DL: Thank you.