Crazy…loony tunes…I knew I was losing my mind. The fear of insanity and eventual death took me in a direction that would lay the groundwork for most of my life.
On admission to the psychiatric ward I was asked many questions concerning alcohol and drug use. I lied. I couldn’t function and thoughts of suicide danced in my head. This was my first introduction to Kingsway Psychiatric Hospital. I had great hopes to get well here, everyone was so nice and I was fortunate to be sharing a room with another “nice” girl just like me. Also being “bi-polar,” another name for manic-depressive, we were two peas in a pod. She was overly friendly and seemed eager to share her story. It was during a manic phase that she’d gotten on an airplane and flew to Mexico — I guess to shop — and her husband had to fly down and bring her home. We instantly became friends and I was sorry when they moved me out of her room. She made me feel normal.
Once I settled in I felt an overwhelming need to go home. I felt good, and claimed there was nothing wrong with me. Gathering my things I called my husband. We did not get too far when the insanity took over again and I dumbfounded, returned. At the beginning my illness came in cycles, I was able to have “up” times ever so briefly until I would plunge into blackness, and it seemed an eternity before I would come up again. As these times of resurfacing grew less and less I felt hope slip away, leaving a pitiful acceptance that this may be the way I’d live out my life, to watch the world and know my sins.
Month after month I’d watch as the other patients got well and left the hospital. I regressed further into myself, the one who stood alone. After a lengthy period of hospitalization it was suggested that maybe a long term facility might be considered. I’d become visible “proof of failure” shuffling up and down the halls in oversized, overstuffed happy face slippers.
Eventually they moved me away from my newly found friend, my only friend and hid me away in a room by myself. “Eye aversion” became the customary gesture when making contact with other patients. Everyone oozed embarrassment, after all this could happen to them. Knowing that I was making everyone uncomfortable, including the staff, I decided to hibernate in my room only appearing for meals, which I did not eat. The staff pressured me to sit by myself in the dining room only to stare and push my food around the plate. My state of mind weakened to the point that my already paranoid thoughts took a turn for the worst, projecting a procession of images that were not real.
More and more the thoughts were taking over. As feeble-minded as I was, I knew this was fatal. Over and over I would rehearse evil thoughts deserving punishment. It was then I conjured up a plan that would prove I was not the looniest loony tune in the bunch. In my near catatonic state I would uncover the truth that there were other patients of like mind who’d been there longer and were much or more deranged than myself. They had not been threatened with “long term.” My strategy began by observing these two patients whom I considered to be functioning at my level. One was a guy who’d been there before I’d arrived and who spent his days in prolonged unconsciousness while propped up in the TV room. At night he would come to life and spend the entire evening gabbing with the nurses, cultivating his social life. His girlfriend, who was totally devoted throughout this whole process, would visit religiously every day carrying on an animated conversation with herself. She believed this was good therapy — for whom, one might wonder.
The other ray of hope was a girl from the program who rode the bus and instantly fell asleep the minute they’d gotten her settled in her seat. She would forever miss her stop. On many occasions she would end up touring round trip and arrive back at the hospital just to do the same thing over again. Both of these patients were presently receiving active treatment with expectations of going home one day. Here lay my “proof.”
On my better days I would make an effort to interact with any living thing that would acknowledge my existence. Diligently pretending to be “normal,” this weak attempt was easily seen through. “It’s hard not to act crazy when you’re in a place like this,” were my self-defeatist thoughts. So I devised a new form of solitude by sitting and staring comatose-like. I’d become a leper, unacceptable even to myself.
I never knew why I was hospitalized but knew I fit in with the crazies. I’d never been told that not sleeping or eating and experiencing thoughts of suicide were symptoms of clinical depression, not that it would change anything, it would just make it easier to explain to others who were as uniformed as I was. “IT” had a name. No one told me that I’d get better. All I ever heard was “long-term.” My family came on strong at the beginning but one by one began to dwindle away as my condition failed to improve. I could almost feel their embarrassment as they tried so hard to act as if there was nothing wrong. Amidst the frolicking clowns and stone faced corpses, they stoically carried on. Tortured with guilt every time they looked at me, they found it too much to bear. “You’re better off dead,” came a lifeless murmur somewhere within. I realized then, that even though I didn’t believe in God, I knew there was a hell.
No one would speak to me; I was just a shell certain everyone was reading my thoughts. The staff would barely put up with me and out of duty dragged me along on outings. This one time the group was to take a bus to a Chinese Buffet. At this point I still didn’t eat; even the word food was nauseating. Arriving at the restaurant I began imitating the others, sauntering up to the buffet putting dabs of this and that on my plate. I could sense that people were looking through me, a walking corpse. It wasn’t until later as we were waiting for the bus to take us back to the house of fools that I fell into a trancelike state and stepped from the curb. I don’t know who pulled me back; I would just regret that I was still alive.
Well into my stay I was called into my psychiatrist’s office. Sitting in the seat opposite his desk, my thoughts began to take shape “this shrink will drive me nuts.” Then he spoke, “Before rounds the staff meets to discuss the progress of patients, their meds and treatments. It has been suggested that a new medication be tried, you’ll be starting it today. This was totally their idea, I just went along.” He had made his point. With these remarks I could literally feel myself being drawn into a place of fear. This doctor, from the beginning, had been very cold, very businesslike and very mean. I would never forget how he made me feel. In years to come I could find no peace around this until I wrote a letter to the administration urging them to investigate this doctor for the damage he’d inflicted. I received a form letter from them but don’t know if it went any further. I guessed that they had gotten lots of crazy letters like that.
More and more as I graduated from one institution to the next, I began to put together a picture of certain “professional” staff manning these asylums. Their use of intimidation and over-riding sense of power became the norm. It was obvious that this select few had control over you, knew it and abused it. I felt helpless and feared expressing any ill feelings as it would be their word against mine and who was going to believe “crazy” me? There was no sense complaining to family members, because those who were misusing the system became transformed whenever family and friends came around. At times I would break down and somehow find the courage to bring it to their attention but I was quickly put in my place. I came to realize that if I did report anything, I’d suffer the consequences. I did whatever they wanted. If one would treat me badly, I had no choice other than to accept their behavior while the remaining staff looked the other way not wanting to make any waves. In an attempt to keep the peace I would stuff my fears, I would not go to anyone nor tell anyone because no one really wanted to know. And this was the way with my psychiatrist — I would lie, telling him what I knew he wanted to hear, begging for parole. We were both aware that he had the power to have me committed — a word I quickly learned to fear. Living in numerous institutions I’d come to the conclusion that there was a euphoric high for a certain few, knowing they had that kind of power over someone. It was a total loss of one’s dignity.
As my thoughts became darker, I was convinced my medication contained poison. I began watching the staff closely when it was time for medication to be dispensed and became an expert at finding secret hiding places in my mouth. I became a pill stasher. I had quite a collection stored in my room before they caught on. The punishment was to sit at the nurse’s station every evening with pill and paper cup in hand and remain there until all the medication had been given out. This performance continued as the nightly parade of junkies, the walking wounded, lined up for their fix. A humiliating practice disliked by all.
I was allowed to go home on weekends and it was during this time that I would plot my demise. From my parents nursing home I’d secured a container of aspirin. At that time everything was bought in bulk and was easy to smuggle, no one would ever notice it missing. In the meantime I kept watch over my stash, fearful that my husband would dispose of it as the hospital had warned him to destroy anything with which I might harm myself. I planned the perfect time, kids at school, husband at work. I was not afraid to die — I was more afraid of living. Tightening my coat as tightly as I could around my neck, shawl over head and gloved, I clutched my beloved aspirins to my chest, for these would soon become my savior. Trudging through mountainous banks of snow I arrived at a place where I thought I might rest. Suddenly from out of nowhere came my nosey neighbor, whom I cursed. There was nothing more I could do. What was amazing was that, gossip monger that she was, she told no one. My secret was kept hidden. Little did I know that someday I would be grateful.
Summoned once again to my psychiatrist’s office, I slithered under the door taking my familiar posture “head hung low” while nervously twisting a Kleenex in my hand. I had a feeling I knew what he was going to say. “Uh huh,” the doctor cleared his throat. “I’ve called you here to inform you that there’s nothing more we can do for you. Furthermore I’m giving you notice that you’re dismissed from this hospital as of today,” and out of nowhere I burst, “and may God have mercy on my soul!” This came more as an eviction notice and in a way I guessed that it was. Gripping the sides of my chair, I looked at him for some kind of reassurance that I understood what he was saying. What I heard him say was, “no hope,” it had been stamped on my forehead. By this time he’d turned his chair to face out the window, a slight smile had formed on his lips as he gently snored.
At some point I came to the realization that I’d never entertain the possibility of being well. Endless hours of darkness, a fugitive trapped within, never a reprieve just a continual act of violence upon my mind. I could stay here no longer.
Once again I made an attempt to consume a lethal dose of condemnation, enough to kill one’s spirit, in the hope of committing myself, if not to Heaven, then to a merciful oblivion.
Little did I know there was another plan.
At the Kingsway Psychiatric Hospital I was treated as a patient, not a person. Loaded to the gills with sedating tranquilizer’s I became a walking no mind, wandering in a medicated haze with a gown tied snuggly up the back forgoing what little self respect remained. I knew I must leave. Before signing myself out, I was abruptly notified they were discharging me on grounds of “hopeless.” Quickly throwing everything into a green garbage bag, I walked. No farewells, the only one who noticed my departure was the discharge nurse, I had become non-existent. And so I played the part they’d chosen for me to play only to validate the part of me that still remained. Tossing my bag into the trunk I was in search of higher realms, in search of bringing light into the darkness.
I was being discharged as a hopeless, long term zombie, an incurable lunatic. In the last vestiges of sanity we heard rumors about of a clinic in Rockport and quickly I was moved from one institution to another, seizing the slightest inkling of hope while my thoughts held me hostage. Uncertain of a healing and out of sheer desperation, slowly I clawed my way towards the light. Little did I know that this would be the place that was going to save me.
Mental illness brings forth images of misfits lost to society, locked up, pitied and shamed. In disgust the “normal” ones choose to look the other way. “They belong with their own kind,” they retort. Trapped within this illusory world there’s nothing left but a desire to give up. Saddened to the core, we shake our head; what’s the use? Forever scorned we abandon what little dignity remains and join with them. Forced to look within, all that remains are ugly, distorted people who cannot speak until the voice is silenced. Struggling to correct my ego with another ego; fearlessly it had come up to feed once again.
The only consolation for creating this storm is that it brings quick relief to a mind riddled with uncertainty.