Episode 71: Kelly
In this episode, Kelly, a college student, shares her story of struggling with depression and being the survivor of a traumatic event that led to an unsettling and abusive experience in a psychiatric hospital.
Intro Voices 00:04
Where do I go? It only happened once. I think I was singled out. The phone calls began about one month ago. What is hazing? Something happened to me when I was younger. I'm worried about my safety. He said he was sorry. Can someone help me? Where can I get help? Can someone help me? This is You Matter, a podcast for the NYU community developed by the Department of Campus Safety.
Karen Ortman 00:36
Hi, everyone, and welcome back to You Matter, a podcast created to teach, inspire and motivate members of the NYU community who have been victimized in some form or fashion and to identify resources both on and off campus that can help. I am your host Karen Ortman, Associate Vice President of Campus Safety Operations at the Department of Campus Safety, and a retired law enforcement professional. Today, I welcome Kelly. Kelly struggles with depression and was recently the survivor of a traumatic event as a college student that led to an unsettling and abusive experience in a psychiatric hospital. Kelly is here to share her story in an effort to advocate for patients in psychiatric hospitals, as well as spark an open conversation related to the stigma associated with depression and other mental health issues. Kelly, welcome to You Matter. It's great to have you here.
Thank you. It's great to be here.
Karen Ortman 01:35
Tell me, at what age did you know that you suffered from depression?
I really think that my depression started to get extremely bad in middle school around the ages of like 13/14 years old. It was definitely hard. That was when I was kind of just being introduced to all the social media sites. It was really easy to get sucked into all of that. That played a part too.
Karen Ortman 02:02
Sure. So when you reflect back to when you were 13, or 14 and you believe that's really when depression started for you, what is your recollection of that time? What experiences do you recall?
I was extremely sad, extremely exhausted all the time. I didn't really understand it, because I don't feel like I got a great education in my school about mental health. I was definitely keeping it all inside, not talking to my friends about it, not talking to my family about it, I would be up till five o'clock in the morning. It was a lot, especially at that young age. I feel like it you don't really learn about depression or mental health much in middle school.
Karen Ortman 02:48
Well, right and it's and it's those stigmatized issues, really, which is the point of this conversation today, which I'm very grateful to you for your willingness to have it. So, you're 13/14, and you think that's when it started for you? Can you distinguish back to that time at 13/14, prior to your introduction to social media? Was there a stark contrast for you regarding these experiences prior to social media, and then the onset of social media in your life?
I think so. That was when Tumblr was really, really popular. It's just an endless stream of whatever you're looking at, and you can follow things that you relate to so, I was really only following things that were showing me sad quotes, sad videos and like - depression, is it sucks you in. Then, also being sucked in with the social media. Kind of like almost a double whammy.
Karen Ortman 03:53
Did anybody in school recognize any changes in your demeanor or your behavior academically? Did you suffer?
I did not suffer academically, but a couple of my teachers did ask, you know, you look a little sad today, or are you doing okay? I had actually also been seeing a therapist at that time in middle school, and she's really the one that recognized it and talked to my parents, and then I talked to my parents.
Karen Ortman 04:26
So was it at that time around 13/14 when you discovered you had depression and sought help, for depression? Was that useful for you at tha age?
It was extremely useful, because I learned how to healthily cope at a young age. And I'm also very grateful that my friends and family were supportive. I think it's important to catch those kinds of things early. I'm very grateful and very lucky, because I've learned how to get through my bad days through meditation, and how exercise can help?
Karen Ortman 05:04
Can you speak to things that you recall as a middle school student that were indicative of your depression, but might not be considered by others who are listening, as signs of depression? Can you shed any light on your experience that might relate to someone who maybe is going through something similar and just has not come to the conclusion that there is a possibility that they might be experiencing what you did?
I mean, I remember I did have a great friend group, but I always felt this overwhelming sense of aloneness. I felt like nobody understood me. I was always exhausted. I think that was the biggest thing, I was always exhausted, but I couldn't fall asleep.
Karen Ortman 06:02
So how did you get to sleep?
I would just lay there pretty much, or cry, then I would finally fall asleep. I think another thing is that I really threw myself into school to try to distract myself, I was overworking myself, putting too much pressure on myself as a distraction, which I think had an adverse effect. I was also really stressed out.
Karen Ortman 06:26
Tell me about your life once you got to high school. Now you know, you have depression, you're in high school, what was that experience?
I did start medication for my depression. I started with SSRIs, but I have a bad reaction to them. So I tried something else, which to this day still really works for me.
Karen Ortman 06:44
What are SSRIs
They're the generic of like Zoloft, and all of those. I have a really bad reaction to those, s o my doctor found something else.
Karen Ortman 06:58
Was high school more manageable for you?
High school was actually pretty bad for me, too. I moved schools and being the new kid is definitely very difficult, especially when it's a new state. Um, I was bullied pretty severely by a lot of the people in my high school. They put it to group chats, and they would say mean things to me, they would make fun of me. That really triggered my depression. It was in high school that I was also diagnosed with anxiety, so it was both. That was when I really think, at the time my rock bottom. My sophomore year I couldn't get out of bed, I couldn’t go to school.
Karen Ortman 07:43
How scared were your parents?
My parents were very, very nervous and very worried. They did everything they could to help me. I was seeing a therapist
Karen Ortman 07:55
So when you had those low moments in high school, you're a rock bottom, as you referred to it, how did you overcome?
It was really, partially my parents. Also, I think you just have to get to a point and you're like, I can't allow myself to feel like this, it's not fair to me. My mom always preaches self-worth, like you are worth it, you are worth getting better, you are worth doing things for you. I ended up joining the gym, I got a job. There were things I was doing, I could interact with people and feel like I was able to accomplish things. That helped, that helped me a lot. I think seeing that I could be having a bad day and maybe go to the gym for a half hour and do a workout, and it's like, wow, I can do this even though I feel mentally horrible.
Karen Ortman 08:51
Did you feel better afterwards, even a little bit?
Yeah, working out is something that really helps me really helps me. It's like a refresher, my pilot is reset in my mind.
Karen Ortman 09:02
Yeah. I've heard other people say the same thing. I'm glad you found an outlet for you too, that's great. So, you're you're in high school and your depression is diagnosed, now you have anxiety that you were diagnosed with as well, of course, you're thinking about college. Did you have any concerns about going to college?
I was definitely very nervous because one of my triggers for my depression and anxiety is being stressed. College is stressful, and that's when I plummet. When I get overwhelmed, I shut down. Definitely very nervous.
Karen Ortman 09:45
So tell me about the selection process. That must have been stressful.
Yeah, and I was still like kind of in a lower kind of place when all of that was going on. Another thing with my depression is it constantly tells me that I am not good enough, that I'm dumb. So, I had it in my head that I didn't do well enough, I'm probably not going to get into anywhere I want to go.
Karen Ortman 10:12
Meanwhile, you did do well academically in high school and in college.
Yeah, that's the tricky thing, my mind was telling me one thing where my grades were telling me something else. I couldn't see that at the time.
Karen Ortman 10:33
So you decided on a college?
I did. And I only applied to three.
Karen Ortman 10:37
That was my self doubt. I got into all three. I chose the one that I visited and felt home at.
Karen Ortman 10:47
That was how many years ago?
That was my freshman year of college 2018.
Karen Ortman 10:55
Okay, so you graduated high school in 2018?
Karen Ortman 10:59
Okay. And you were a college freshman in the fall of 2018. You go to the school of your choice, and we'll just say that it's regionally located, where?
Sort of Southern.
Karen Ortman 11:18
Once you are there. You had an experience that changed your life?
Karen Ortman 11:24
A very bad experience. I mean, this happened within the first three weeks. When I first got there I was very happy. It was actually the best I had been doing mentally in a very long time. I had just gotten into my dream sorority; it was the only one I wanted. I was so excited. I always wanted to go to college and join a sorority. It felt like everything in my life was finally coming into place. I went to my first sorority mixer and the frat that we were mixing with was a frat that was best friends with my sorority. Initially going into this, I had a weird sense of comfort because, everybody that I was speaking to was also really close with all of them, though I didn't know anyone very well at all. It was like the first week, I got there and I'd had a drink or two at the pregame. It went completely fine. I actually had a quiz in the morning, but I wanted to go to show my face and leave by like 11:30/midnight so that I could still go to my class the next day. We get to the frat party and I was speaking to this guy. You know, we're always told don't accept open drinks, I knew this, but again, that weird sense of comfort that you have when you're with people you kind of know, you're somewhere where they tell you to trust it. The guy handed me an open beer, which I drank. After that I really don't have much recollection. One of my friends was calling me, calling me, calling me and apparently I answered and was sobbing, saying I'm not okay. He found me outside in the grass sobbing. I'm only telling this from what I was told from others, because I don't have any recollection. He called an Uber and put me in the Uber. He said that I passed out in the Uber and he thought I was dead, because I was completely unconscious.
Karen Ortman 13:40
And this is a friend of yours and not the person who handed you the beer.
No, this is a different person. He brings me back into my dorm and I am distraught, sobbing I'm not okay, I'm not okay, I'm not okay. i was pretty much having an anxiety attack. My roommates tried to change me and stuff like that, but I couldn't stand and I couldn't sit up. So, like they said, they sat me on my bed and I fell face first off my bed. I had no control of my body.
Karen Ortman 14:15
Do you have any recollection of anything up to this point?
I have nothing.
Karen Ortman 14:20
Then I start sobbing. I was saying, like, I want to die, I want to die, I want to die. That's when they called my parents. My parents were very far away in a different state, so, they're like, what do we do? Call an ambulance. I still don't remember this. They take me to the hospital,
Karen Ortman 14:43
Who takes you to the hospital?
The police took me to the hospital and still I have no memory of this. I was freaking out. I'm also kind of claustrophobic so when people are trying to hold me down or grab me I freak out even more, they ended up up giving me something to calm me down prior to seeing what was in my system or anything like that. When they did that, apparently my heart rate dropped so low that they had to put me on oxygen, because I didn't have anyone in the room there at the time to make sure I was being taken care of properly. They knew I came from a frat party, they knew I had been hurt there, and they didn't do a rape kit either
Karen Ortman 15:23
Okay, at any point, were you told that you were slipped a date rape drug?
In the morning one of the nurses came in and sat me down and she said, listen, my daughter's a student at this school, and we've been finding that these guys have date raped, drugging girls with stuff that we can't test for, because they're making it themselves. Later I did find out who the guy was and some stories that were very similar to mine.
Karen Ortman 16:00
So you're still in the emergency room. At some point, you're taken to the emergency room slash psychiatric section.
That's where I was brought originally, because I said that I wanted to die, yes.
Karen Ortman 16:21
A statement like that triggers special attention and special care from a psychiatric professional. So, what happens while you're in that part of the emergency room?
I don't remember anything until I woke up in the morning, and that would be the next day around my nine.
Karen Ortman 16:46
The next day after the incident.
Yeah, the next day after the incident. I was woken up by someone who was there to evaluate whether I should be sent to a psychiatric hospital.
Karen Ortman 16:59
This was a doctor; I assume?
Yes. I do want to say that I still felt completely out of it when she was talking to me, because they had given me something to calm me down. Prior to this, I still felt very loopy.
Karen Ortman 17:19
Did you have any idea why you were in this facility?
No. I woke up probably the most confused and petrified I've ever woken up in my life. I had my parents next to me. I was in a hospital with like a thing in my arm. I actually woke up in my own pee, I peed myself apparently while I was sleeping, so I was like, oh my gosh I don't remember getting here. The only thing I remember is being in a frat for 30 minutes.
Karen Ortman 17:52
When you woke up, you had a missed call on your cell phone?
Yes, I woke up with a missed call from the sheriff's office.
Karen Ortman 18:04
And did you have any idea why the sheriff's office would be calling you?
No. I was already absolutely terrified. I just remember being even more scared and just lost.
Karen Ortman 18:19
How did you know that it was the sheriff's office calling you because I'm sure the sheriff's office phone number was not in your address book in your phone?
He left me a voicemail.
Karen Ortman 18:28
Okay. And what did they say?
That they had charges that they needed to drop off to me.
Karen Ortman 18:38
And what did that mean to you?
I at the time was extremely confused and had no idea. I was thinking oh, no, I probably got in under age. That's that was my guess.
Karen Ortman 18:53
That's fair. Okay.
I was like, okay, I'm in the hospital. Okay, I'm pretty sure I got drunk. Okay. I was probably stumbling around. Obviously I'm here so, that's what my guess was?
Karen Ortman 19:05
And your your parents were there at that point?
Karen Ortman 19:08
Were they there when you got the missed call?
Yes. They were there.
Karen Ortman 19:13
Were they as confused as you were?
They were concerned.
Karen Ortman 19:18
So what happened next?
So, the first lady interviewed me and was talking to me about whether I should go into the psychiatric hospital and I just kept telling her that I don't remember saying those things, I don't feel those things, I am not suicidal, I do not want to die. I just kept trying to reiterate that I was hurt, I was drugged, I was not me, I was not myself, that's not how I feel, okay. That didn't really seem to matter. It was either, you know, voluntarily commit yourself or you're getting committed anyway.
Karen Ortman 19:58
Because of the statement that you wanted kill yourself.
Yeah. So it's the illusion of a choice that they were giving me. I kind of just felt trapped. After that, the sheriff's officer comes in and hands me a charge for assault of a healthcare worker.
Karen Ortman 20:17
And what was that about?
So one of the nurses claimed that I hurt her during my panic attack when I was brought in after being drugged and possibly hurt by someone.
Karen Ortman 20:32
Do you have any recollection of doing anything? Do you know, at all, what this person was talking about?
No, I had no memories. I was confused that I was even in a hospital. I was very confused by that, because I was clearly not myself. I would never hurt someone. I was in crisis. I went to the hospital to get help and I really just got my life blown up in my face more than it already did.
Karen Ortman 21:04
So traumatized by a frat guy, given too much stuff to calm me down, almost have my heart stop, then I wake up with charges, and I'm traumatized again. Then, I'm traumatized by being told I have to go to a mental hospital. This was all in, I guess what, a span of 12 hours. I was only 18 years old at the time, in my first three weeks of college.
Karen Ortman 21:31
Did you ever learn who made this allegation against you? What the basis for the charge was?
Apparently, I called my parents in the hospital, and the woman said, if she does anything to me, I want workers comp. I think it was a situation where, hey, maybe I can get money out of this or whatever. So victimize the victim...again.
Karen Ortman 22:03
Did you ever see this person face to face, who made these allegations?
I did not. I don't think so, if she was there, I wouldn't have known because I don't remember.
Karen Ortman 22:16
So you're in the hospital. You get served with these papers?
Karen Ortman 22:20
What happens after that?
After that? I agreed to voluntarily commit myself to a psychiatric hospital for three to five days, because I think if you are involuntarily committed, it's two weeks, maybe? I'm not sure I know it's longer. I was petrified, because I get very scared when I feel like I'm trapped in something, it's a trigger for me. When I was first diagnosed with depression and anxiety, that was one of my biggest fears, because I've heard the horror stories of what goes on and what can happen to people.
Karen Ortman 22:59
So one of your biggest fears was being in a psychiatric hospital, and being committed?
Karen Ortman 23:07
So once you decide to voluntarily commit yourself, what happens next?
They had us waiting for a transport team for probably 18 hours. They kept saying, oh, they're going to be here in two hours, they're going to be here in two hours. Next thing you know, we're sleeping in the hospital. My parents get cot beds to sleep on.
Karen Ortman 23:38
At any point did they allow you to take a shower?
Karen Ortman 23:44
No, I did not get to take a shower. Finally, at about, I don't know, I would say like, four or five o'clock in the morning they find the transport person to take me like two and a half hours away from where my school is. I mean, again, I'm not from the state that I was in, so we don't know where we're going. They put me in the back of the transport ambulance and they won't allow my parents to ride with me.
Karen Ortman 24:17
When he strapped me in?
Karen Ortman 24:20
Do they tell you? Why not?
Karen Ortman 24:23
I'm like, can I please have my parents drive me? Can they please drive me? No, sorry. No. Nobody was very nice.
Karen Ortman 24:31
So nothing was explained to you?
No, it was like being transported to jail. Nothing was explained to me at all. I'm sitting in the back and I remember this, it breaks my heart to even think about this, but laying in the back with my arms strapped in which, again, I'm claustrophobic so I'm like really nervous, laying on a cot and all I can see through the back is my parents’ headlights driving behind me and I was like, this is really happening, wow. I was afraid to show any emotion, to show any fear, to show any anxiety, because they think that I'm, and I don't want to use this word, it's very negative stigma, but I was like, if they think that I'm crazy then I'm going to get stuck in there forever. So, I'm sitting there and I'm in my head, and I'm like, come on, we're gonna pull ourselves together, we're gonna get through this.
Karen Ortman 25:32
You really had a lot of strength to get through what you're telling me you experienced.
Thank you. I was just, I mean, you hear about girls becoming the one that has their life blown up when someone doesn't serve them. I was like, this is really happening to me right now.
Karen Ortman 25:55
Wow. So your parents are able to follow the ambulance, and you get to the location?
Karen Ortman 26:05
What happens once you arrive?
Oh, it's like six o'clock in the morning. None of us have really slept in like hours, like, a day, and then they start interviewing me asking me questions about why I'm here, kind of getting answers from people about what is happening, but not really. They took my shoelaces from my shoes, took all the laces out of my shorts, and everything like that.
Karen Ortman 26:34
Were they compassionate, and empathetic once speaking with you?
Not really, nobody was like, it's gonna be okay, or you're in a safe place. I felt like I was going to jail. The treatment in the facility was horrific a best.
Karen Ortman 26:56
I mean, if I was really in dire need of help in that facility, I think that I would have never gotten out because they really didn't care about our wellbeing.
Karen Ortman 27:11
What happened for you once you get in there? Your shoe laces, all ties are removed, which, I understand.
I didn't understand that. No one really explained anything to me.
Karen Ortman 27:26
Which is so unfortunate, because there's a reason why they do that, and it should have been explained to you. So what happens? Are you placed in a room?
They walked me into, it was like a group facility with ages, you know, 18 to whatever, because it was the adult side.
Karen Ortman 27:45
Is it all women or is it mix now?
Men and women.
Karen Ortman 27:48
They walked me in, and they're like, here you are, everyone's in there.
Karen Ortman 27:57
Do they say, hi, this is Kelly?
No. No introductions, nothing. They gave me a brown bag for my clothes, I put it in my room that they showed me, that I shared with three other people, I think, and that was that. You know, everybody in the hospital was very friendly, we were all kind of our own support system, because we didn't really see a one on one therapist at all really, it was just a psychiatrist that you talked to for like 10 minutes. I think I saw the person who's supposed to be your caseworker once on the day that I was being let out. They kept our room at 60 degrees, just freezing, I had one thin blanket and one pillow.
Karen Ortman 28:42
Do they purposefully keep the room at 60 degrees?
I don't know, but I mean, I was shaking, freezing and they check on you every 15 minutes and if you have someone who is on suicide watch, every five minutes. The nurses were not compassionate about the fact that we were sleeping. They're supposed to come in quietly and look for your breath, but they would just stomp in the room, and we would all like kind of wake up and move and then they do it again in 15 minutes.
Karen Ortman 29:12
So it was startling.
I saw the doctor the first day I got in. He told me I don't really know why you're here, you don't need to be here, you should get out tomorrow. Next day, I see another doctor, he tells me I wasn't told that by the other doctor I don't know what you're talking about, you have to stay until I think you're okay. So, I'm like wait...
Karen Ortman 29:37
They don't talk?
No, nothing. We had one group therapy session. Sometimes we would do music therapy, something else, and when we went to go eat for lunch, you line up like jail.
Karen Ortman 29:52
Walk us out in a straight single file line. You get in line for your food and you sit down, and what really threw me was, there was a girl in there for a sexual assault, she opened up and told us about that. There were male patients talking to her, and bothering her, and trying to hit on her. She was extremely uncomfortable and nobody was doing anything about it. It was us that were like, come here, come here, come sit with us, like you're okay. There was another girl there who was in a really bad place that she didn't want to eat, she couldn't even cut her food, and us, the patients were cutting this girl's food, feeding her and the helpers were just sitting there doing nothing.
Karen Ortman 30:40
So like, I was just watching all of these people who need help not get the help that they deserve. It broke my heart because everyone was so kind. We all were there for each other about where were the... but the professionals weren't. ...professionals supposed to be taking care of us?
Karen Ortman 31:01
Did you receive any feedback or commentary from the other patients, your roommates? Had they been there much longer than you? Was their experience similar to yours? Could anybody offer anything positive about the professional help that they were getting?
No. There were a couple people in there for similar situations like me where like, they shouldn't have been there, but it was just like, you have to. There was a girl in there who, you know, sometimes if you're on certain medication, a side effect is suicidal ideation.
Karen Ortman 31:42
She was in there for that. She was like, I don't even have depression, I just started a new medicine for my anxiety and it made me feel this way; confused why I'm here. Nobody gave us any positive words. We would sit in a circle and they would ask us a survey; how are you feeling today, one to five, do you feel like this, one to five.
Karen Ortman 32:07
Not at all what I would imagine a psychiatric facility to be.
No. What was a really traumatic part of this, um, I got woken up to someone saying, get up. Just like that, "wake up". That's how they woke us up every day. This was at 6am this day, and she goes, "we need to take your blood", I said, okay do you mind telling me why? "I don't know. Just get up. You need to go in there, and we need to take your blood." I mean, I was terrified to show any emotions or really asked many questions because I was like, well, what if they say that I'm being mean, or...
Karen Ortman 32:51
...they use it as a reason to keep you.
Yeah, what if they say that I'm angry, or I'm too sad, or I'm anxious. So, I'm like, okay. I take my blood in there. Go back to bed. No reason why, didn't tell me. It was like they didn't look at us as people. It was really awful. I was terrified. My parents had visitation a couple times. They came, they saw me, brought me books, brought me some new clothes to change into.
Karen Ortman 33:27
You were allowed to wear your own clothes?
Yes. What really did freak me out though, and I get why, but we were with men and women, and there weren’t really actual doors on the bathrooms. There was like a little curtain that kind of covered you. It's very uncomfortable to go to the bathroom in a room that's not really secure.
Karen Ortman 33:53
Especially after being drugged and not knowing what happened to me. Overall, it was just traumatic and I was just trying to stay strong; get through the five days and then we'll figure it out, then I can cry. Don't cry for five days., just go with it, smile happy, you got this.
Karen Ortman 34:21
That's just heartbreaking as a parent to hear your story. To know that's your internal dialogue, stay strong, don't cry. How did you how did you ultimately get out of there?
I thought this was very odd, but no matter what anybody really said, anyone that voluntarily signed in was released Sunday at five. There was a girl in there the day before she got released, said that she was feeling suicidal and they let her out the next day.
Karen Ortman 35:08
Because she was a volunteer.
Karen Ortman 35:11
Or, a voluntary commitment.
I guess so, but you can't sign yourself out. If you want to leave, you have to go before a panel of judges in order to get out even if you voluntarily sign yourself in.
Karen Ortman 35:25
So how did that process work for you?
They released me on their terms, because I was afraid that if I tried to do that, and got told no, I would be there longer.
Karen Ortman 35:35
So you got out after five days?
Karen Ortman 35:38
And this facility was in the same state as the school you attended, obviously?
Karen Ortman 35:48
But you didn't go back to your university?
I went back for the rest of the semester.
Karen Ortman 35:53
So you did do that?
I went back for the rest of my semester. I actually went to class the next day, because I was worried about my grades. They wouldn't let me get my schoolwork in the hospital. I had to talk to my teachers and stuff. And actually, my university gave me an underage drinking strike and put me on probation. Even though they have an amnesty clause, and they claimed to care a lot about mental health, and I went to see the, you have a caseworker person when you get in trouble with underage drinking at the University and I went to see them. I had looked up all the amnesty clauses, I looked up the things that they had done at the university for mental health, and I was like, listen, with all due respect, I'm a little confused why I'm here right now. In the handbook, it says blah, blah, blah about amnesty, also blah blah about mental health. I went to the hospital for being potentially drugged and having an anxiety attack. Then, he went to talk to a supervisor.
Karen Ortman 37:12
So what was the outcome of that?
They didn't give me a strike, they gave me probation for a year at the university, and I had to do an alcohol class.
Karen Ortman 37:24
Whatever happened with the charges that the sheriff's office that they called you about?
My charges at the sheriff's office; I found an attorney, and we met with him and he was meeting with the prosecutor. The charge there carries, I think. it can carry a year jail time. So, I'm petrified that I'm going to go to jail. I'm afraid to even cross the street without a crosswalk at this point. Especially after the experience you just had. Yeah, terrified! I'm also still trying to go to class, so that was kind of crazy. They offered me a plea deal the first time and it was, I think a weekend in jail and probation. We ended up getting the charge knocked down to something else, which was a year of probation and community service in a healthcare setting. If I was to violate my probation or get in trouble in any way, I went to county jail for six months.
Karen Ortman 38:35
On charges that you have no recollection...
No recollection. ... of being part of. Yes, on charges I got after being drugged, and having a panic attack, and being in the psychiatric part of a hospital.
Karen Ortman 38:52
So is your sentence complete?
It is finally over. I think that was the hardest thing in my life for me, because I was afraid to do anything. I remember calling my mom and saying I feel like I'm losing myself. I'm afraid to be me. I'm afraid to do anything. I feel like if I live like this for a year, I'm going to finally get through it and then I'm not going to know who I am because I feel parts of me that are so great, my happy parts, and my adventurous side of me going away. I was afraid to drive. God forbid I got pulled over, what if somebody rear ended me and I go to jail?
Karen Ortman 39:35
That's so scary and so sad.
Yeah, like my friends would ask, oh, you want to hang out? Oh, you want to do this? I can't. I can't. When I was living at my university I was terrified every single weekend. What if one of my roommates is drinking in the dorm, then what happens? I got the charges September 20, and it took all the way until January for those to be resolved. Once we realized how horrible this was going to be, is when I decided not to go back to my university.
Karen Ortman 40:16
So you left your university?
I left after finding out the first plea deal. He thought there's no way that you could really get charged for this after what happened to you that doesn't even make sense. Once we found out, okay, you are, we sat down and decided maybe you shouldn't go back, and I did. I went to community college for a semester, because I missed the deadline to apply for the spring somewhere else. Then I applied and finally found a university the next year in a different state, in a different state closer to home.
Karen Ortman 40:52
Well, I'm glad that you did that. You’re still a student, I believe you have another year to go.
Karen Ortman 41:04
How has the experience at your prior University sort of forged your path going forward?
For a while it was very hard because I was having PTSD nightmares and didn't want to see a therapist for a while because I was afraid of getting mental health help after what happened to me. I no longer trusted hospitals...
Karen Ortman 41:33
Right, because there was a betrayal there.
...because I went somewhere to get help, and I got PTSD. I didn't want to tell anyone because I was afraid that they would judge me. The community service part of my probation I did when I was at community college. Every single time I had to do it in a healthcare setting, which it's almost impossible to find somewhere you can volunteer because I was not a med student, and I was on probation. I got hung up on like eight times trying to find a place. When I finally did the walls in the hallways reminded me of the hospital. So I would be like...
Karen Ortman 42:14
...while I'm trying to do this, but if I didn't do it, I went to jail. I think it took finally getting a therapist again, and talking about this to start to help me. The dreams were really bad. I would wake up, panicking and I was like, I can't live like this, especially while trying to do school.
Karen Ortman 42:41
How are you today?
Karen Ortman 42:45
I think that I am finally doing a lot better. I credit that to getting involved with the mental health club. I'm a part of that school. Joining that gave me a support system at school, with people who had been through similar things and people that I could talk to, and the support from my parents and my friends. I was so afraid to tell this story and tell people that I had been in a psychiatric hospital. When I finally did, my friends were like, oh, my gosh, I'm so sorry that happened to you...if you need anything. Teachers were understanding, people were much more receptive than I knew.
Karen Ortman 43:27
Yeah well, you had a really negative experience, it seems, with everybody you encountered, and for that I feel for you, because I think that there are many professionals out there who would empathize with you and be helpful. I'm sorry it took you so long to find that. It's okay. It's a process but... So let's talk about your future and where this experience is directing you.
It has definitely given me like a clear path about what I want to do with my life.
Karen Ortman 44:17
Which is what?
I do want to go to law school. I want to eventually change mental health laws and mental health protocols so that someone does not end up in a facility that treats them the way that I was treated, and to help give women a better outlet for when things like this happen. I was terrified to come forward, because what if I wasn't believed? Everyone in my sorority is going to hate me. Years and years of publicity, and trials, and sitting they're reliving and reliving. At the time I was like, I can't even handle that. I can't handle it.
Karen Ortman 44:58
I think you're going to do great things with your life. What advice would you give others who have experienced not only what you went through, but what your peers all say, in that psychiatric facility they went through as well? Can you offer any constructive guidance for another Kelly out there?
I think that the biggest thing for me was remembering that one, I am not crazy, I'm allowed to have my emotions. This was not my fault and it's okay that this is taking you so long to heal, it's okay to have those bad days now but don't let them take over your life because you deserve more than that. You are stronger than you think. I did not think that I could get through this, but there's a silver lining. This is what I tell myself through hardships, the struggle WE DRANK. To use this horrible experience as a reminder that you can get through literally anything life throws at you, if you can get through that - that that scary test, that scary job interview, that other hardship that may happen later in life - you got through that one already, so you can get through this too. That's what I tell myself in order to keep going forward.
Karen Ortman 46:33
And your mom is right, you're worth it.
Karen Ortman 46:37
You are worth it.
Karen Ortman 46:39
And you're worth having an amazing life, you're outstanding young lady. I'm so honored to have met you.
Thank you. I'm honored to be here with you today.
Karen Ortman 46:50
Are there any resources before we close that you can recommend to other college students or to anybody based upon your experience?
I think a big one for me is the mental health club that I'm a part of at school. It gives you a nice sense of community not at home. You don't have, maybe, your regular friends or your family members that you talk to a lot, and just having that group to meet once a week and talk and share. Sometimes we do meditations and things like that. That's another thing, meditation, the app headspace has a discount for college students, instead of it being $70 for the year, it's $10. You get to take little courses, and meditations, or like guided talks for any literally anything managing anxiety, managing stress, managing trauma, that's something you can do on your own. And really, just the club, and also I do try to find positive social media pages. So I follow some like daily meditations or like positive vibes only. Just seeing that little reminder, like you are strong or you are beautiful, or just those little messages help a lot.
Karen Ortman 48:12
And I would like to suggest that if anybody has any questions that they would like to ask Kelly in particular, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I will pass those along to Kelly. Is there anything that I have not asked you that you would like to share?
I think just a reminder that although there are bad people, not everyone's bad. I know for me, it took me a while to figure that out because I was terrified to talk to any therapist. I now have an amazing therapist who is caring and understanding, and I built a trust with. You can really rebuild that trust with mental health professionals, it just takes a little bit longer than we want it to.
Karen Ortman 49:02
Yeah. That's very helpful so thank you. I want to thank you once again, for coming to You Matter because I know that your story is going to make an impact for others. So thank you.
Thank you so much for having me.
Karen Ortman 49:17
Thank you once again to my guest Kelly and to all of our listeners for joining us for today's episode of You Matter if any information presented was triggering or disturbing, please feel free to contact the Wellness Exchange at 212-443-9999 or NYU's Department of Campus Safety and their Victim Services Unit at 212-998-2222. Please share, like, and subscribe to You Matter on Apple Podcasts, Google Play, Tune in or Spotify.