Absolutely nothing. Except perhaps to sweep those things that people would rather have swept, under the rug.

The problem with the Involuntary Treatment Act (ITA) isn’t in the law. It seems to be perfectly well written. The problem is in its enforcement and interpretation absent the lens of recovery centered treatment and the concepts of informed consent and “unconditional” care.

The whole point of the ITA is to provide care to individuals in crisis who would not otherwise willfully engage in treatment for whatever their behavioral health issues may be. I’ve personally had the ITA law thrown at me more than half a dozen different times over the course of my life in Washington State and once in Massachusetts. The law is codified a bit differently there but that is beside the point.

Each time it’s happened, I’ve felt like I’d been driven to the point insanity by those closest to me; and this may, in the end, as I am now coming to believe, amount to intentional or negligent infliction of emotional distress under Washington’s common law.

The first time I remember being force medicated for my “manic depressive” aka “bi-polar” condition was when I was at the King County Correctional Facility (KCCF) just shy of a decade ago. If you’re interested, you can read the back cover of the first edition of the book Mania, that I published in 2020, to get an idea of the circumstances surrounding my arrest, incarceration and subsequent treatment with the King County Mental Health Court under the supervision of King County District Court Judge Johanna Bender.

The fact of the matter is, nothing actually happened, and I believe the initial allegations (what was written in the police report) amounted hearsay. I was high, I was drunk, and I apologized, but I never actually “grabbed” anyone, and I didn’t deserve what happened to me afterwards.

I spent years of my life on litigation, but don’t believe I ever received what some might call a “fair” hearing. When I turned around, except a few close friends who were willing to show support, no one was in my corner to advocate for me except me. The way I handled the fall out of that debacle took those years off my life. I could have been spending them on other, more productive endeavors like playing baseball or starting a family, but my soul couldn’t carry on with the outcome. Those were my choices, and today I have to live with them.

Since that time, I’ve begrudgingly carried the stigma of the mental health “disability” label. I’ve always struggled with what to put in that box on job applications. Yet, the first edition of Mania clearly references “the muse that is my manic-depressive condition”- I own it. I can’t, and nor do I wish to change the past, but I also do not wish to sweep it under the rug as some might want.

Luckily, today things are changing, because real change is always slow. Luckily, I’ve found recovery. Luckily, I’ve started to take it seriously, and to take exactly zero of the blessings bestowed upon me for granted. Today I’m in a position to actually advocate, and to help others advocate for themselves. I’m grateful for that.

Today the Washington State Healthcare Authority has a Peer Support Counseling program. I’m happy that they do, and I’m happy to be participating in it. I hope more of my recovery brothers and sisters take on peer support roles in their respective communities, whether they be related to substance abuse or mental health, whatever the case may be.

I used to identify as a manic-depressive, anonymous alcoholic. The alcoholic-in-chief, Bill Wilson, in his “big book” said a whole chapter could be written about me. In my opinion, that may all be true, but it was toxic.

Today I choose to identify as just another person in recovery; and if I can do it, you can do it too.

Mr. George Artem is a Spring 2024 America’s Future Writing Fellow, a self-published author working on the second edition of his book Mania, and a member of the Seattle Recovery Community. In 2014, Mr. Artem was incarcerated in pre-trial solitary confinement and force medicated under the Washington State Involuntary Treatment Act at the King County Correctional Facility.

In 2016, Mr. Artem sued the King County Correctional Facility pro se and took his case to the United States Supreme Court where his Writ for Certiorari was quietly denied in 2020. Shortly afterwards, Mr. Artem became a Justice Sandra Day O’Connor Scholar at New England Law | Boston where he studied law during the COVID-19 pandemic.

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