What it means to be institutionalized

Once again, it’s been ages since I wrote! Apologies. Here’s a tidbit, albeit not very long or well-edited:

Content warnings: institutionalization, self-harm

I tweeted a brief version of this while inpatient the other day, and judging from people’s reactions it’s not actually common knowledge that some of these things are the reality of being institutionalized. That is, if you’ve never been there, you might abstractly talk about deinstitutionalization, but… you don’t know what you’re talking about. No offense. So here is a list of some of the things I am not allowed to do for myself, or whenever I want, or at all – while inpatient. Reasons include “my own safety”, relevant items not allowed on the unit at all, staff convenience/availability, or a myriad of other excuses. Not all of these things will be applied to every institutionalized person, but I want to give you examples, because it generally portrays the key feature of every institution: an imbalance of power, where “caregivers” are in almost total control of the disabled people they supposedly help. This powerlessness contributes to the trauma of coerced treatment.

Please note that I’ve probably spent a total of under a year of my life hospitalized, so someone who has more extensive marginalization in this area may have had significantly worse experiences than me.

Things I wasn’t allowed to do for myself, whenever I want, or at all:

  • watch TV
  • turn on TV’s captions
  • use computer/internet
  • charge phone
  • use phone
  • wear jewelry
  • do laundry
  • choose clothing
  • access my money
  • access my personal belongings
  • choose my stim toys
  • choose my sensory aids (ear defenders, weighted blanket, etc)
  • choose self-injurious stims
  • choose toiletries
  • get a haircut
  • dye my hair
  • put on nail polish
  • shave
  • clip my nails
  • shower
  • take a bath
  • use the bathroom
  • decide to take a PRN
  • take meds
  • cook
  • microwave snack
  • open fridge
  • choose food
  • eat
  • talk to doctor
  • talk to nurse
  • talk to social worker
  • talk to lawyer
  • see my cat
  • see my friends
  • use tty/text relay/vrs
  • communicate in sign language
  • charge communication device
  • use communication device
  • go outside

… or choose to leave.


3 thoughts on “What it means to be institutionalized

  1. Thanks for writing this out. There are so many incorrect ideas of what happens while institutionalized. In my world, people tend to think it’s really dramatic. I know it can be in moments & that’s how some folks experience it, but I also know lots of people have experiences similar to my own (very brief) experience where it was a lot of boredom & tv & no fresh air.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Tie my shoes. The laces were confiscated and I had to walk in loose shoes closed with a zip tie.

    Breath outdoor air without cigarette smoke. Patients were given cigarettes and I’m not a smoker. When I tried to wander out of range of the smoke I was told I was too far away so I stayed inside and didn’t get outdoor breaks. It was quieter inside anyway. The phone was in the hallway (no privacy for a call, nor anything to sit on) and I could actually hear who I was calling while the others were out.


    1. Thanks for your post. It obviously triggered some strong memories for me. I trust the CW you put at the top applies to the comments as well.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s