How I Overcame the Revolving Door of Insanity, by Don Karp

Guest Blogger

Don Karp, helps young adults recovering from schizophrenia with practical, science based self-care. Check out his free video, 7-Step Self-Hypnosis Process, by signing up here. His book, available on Amazon, is The Bumpy Road: A Memoir of Culture Clash, Including Woodstock, Mental Hospitals and Living In Mexico. He is a regular contributor to Quora.com and LifeHack.org. His twitter handle is @donsbumpyroad.

Early Development
 “Stand up straight!” Don’t pick your nose!” “Speak like a man!” These
 are some of the commands from my mom that I endured as an
 adolescent. Dad once said, “I heard you got an A on a report. How
 come you didn’t get an A+?”

No wonder I felt stupid, ugly and clumsy growing up. I was in pain but
 didn’t know where or how to express it. I was shy, and isolated myself
 from my peers.

Fortunately, Mom sent me to camp every summer year after year. I
 learned to appreciate nature and developed curiosity about much that
 I’d observed. I found some answers to nature’s riddles in science
 classes and was more comfortable with test tubes than people.

Mental Patient and Dropout
 Entering college, I had a dream of becoming a Ph D biochemist, doing
 teaching and research. Eight years later, from inside a mental
 hospital, I made my decision to drop out. The dream ended. I was too
 sensitive to continue in the academic lifestyle, with its competitive
 publish or perish, backbiting, old boy’s club and other harsh realities
 as part of the game.

In those days there was no Freedom Of Information Act. I did not have
 access to my personal file. After many unsuccessful job applications
 (note that employment was not so scarce in the ’70’s), I got suspicious
 and had the file sent to a friend. He disclosed my professors
 “recommendations”: Don is a campus goodie-goodie.” “Don is brilliant
 but remote.” In my opinion those professors acted immorally out of a
 conceived stigma, and should have instead told me flat out that they
 could not recommend me.

The Counter-Culture Conflicts With My Lifestyle
 During the late ’60’s, while still in grad school, I became involved in
 the emerging counter-culture revolution: radical politics, communes,
 alternative schools, rock music and psychedelics
. For me the wonder
 of attending the Woodstock Festival was not so much about the music
 as it was about genuine brotherly love — sharing and caring for one
 another. During the storm our neighbor’s tent was destroyed. We had
 no problem taking him in.

This era gave hope for a better world and was quite a contrast to my
 academic lifestyle.
I’d invested so much, I couldn’t just drop out. The
 conflict of lifestyles was exacerbated when I gained awareness from
 my inner experiences–experiments with psychedelics. Eventually I
 began having flashbacks to those experiences without the drugs. I
 thought that someone was putting drugs in my food, that I was being
 watched and followed, and I started hearing voices.

Some people ask me if taking psychedelics made me crazy.
 I think that they opened the doors to the reality of who I was and to my
 past. This was too much for me to comprehend, and created the
 psychosis.

One day I took a drive out into the suburbs to get away from it all. I
 thought I heard a helicopter following me and, to escape, drove my
 car off the road, hitting a tree. I was not hurt and the car undamaged.
 Mom brought me to a psychiatrist who listened to my story for ten
 minutes and said that I needed to be hospitalized. I didn’t know what
 else to do. He was the authority and I had no alternatives.

Ten Years of Hospitalizations
Hospitalizations became a routine for me when I had psychotic
 breaks. The stays usually lasted a month, the time it takes to evaluate
 anti-psychotic medications.

My brother had spent some time in Berkeley, California, and
 suggested I go there because they had more knowledge of how to
 handle dropouts like me. I took his advice and my life became a
 steeper roller coaster ride, with even deeper lows and highs.
 I joined a group at the Berkeley Rap Center, a free clinic using Eric
 Berne’s transactional analysis, and embodying the ideas of The
 Radical Therapist
, that the main cause of mental illness was
 capitalism.

To overcome my shyness, the group’s leader gave me an
 assignment. I was to go to the campus and meet young women. I
 approached one and said, “Hi, my name is Don. My therapy group told
 me to meet women on campus.” Her response was: “Hi. I’m Sylvia
 and I have the clap.”

One hospital stay was at Napa State. My therapy there was talking to
 a medical doctor for ten minutes once a week. He told me that
similarly to a diabetic with insulin, I’d need to take Thorazine the rest
 of my life or I’d have psychotic attacks. I was lucky to get out of that
 hell hole. I’ll not go into that story here.

As a young adult I was back living with my parents. This became an
 increasingly intolerable situation. Finally, after a few months, I acted
 out and Dad brought me to the hospital with the same result:
 medications and boredom.

How I Beat Recidivism
 This was my fifth hospitalization. I was fed up with the revolving door,
 and made a firm resolution that when I got out I’d never return again.

 As often happens when we firmly take our fate into our own hands,
 the Universe cooperates. Three actions helped me to conquer this
 malady.

First, against the advice of my friends, who said it would be
 impossible, I got an apprenticeship at the university with a professor in
 the fiber arts department. While in California, I picked up a simple
 form of weaving and wanted to get more seriously involved. It was a
 very meditative and relaxing activity resulting in a physical product.
This gave me new identity as an artist and kept me busy and off of the
 streets and away from the bars.

Second, when I got out of the hospital I did not follow their
 recommendations
: medications, outreach programs and living in
 neighborhoods with other ex-patients.

Third, I entered therapy with a very special psychologist after waiting
 two years for her appointment calendar to clear. We had two sessions
 with Mom and Dad. She told me that there was a family problem and
 that I displayed the symptoms.

She used the Gestalt therapy method, and trained me in dream
 analysis. She advised that whenever I heard voices, I should check
 out where there might be rejection in my life instead of listening in
.
 Using this approach, over time, the voices decreased.

During my hospitalizations I was a member of the local chapter of the
 Mental Patients Liberation Project whose purpose was to alert the
 public of the dangers of psychiatric oppression. We distributed
 pamphlets, spoke to classes of nurses in training, held a panel
 discussion on suicide and did some advocacy work in hospitals.

Understanding My Purpose
 Fast forwarding over many years, I experienced therapies, workshops,
 men’s groups and living in intentional communities. In 2003 I retired
 from a career as a chemist and moved to a small magical city in
 central Mexico.

To keep in touch with friends and relatives I sent out a short blog
 every few months. Although I’d not seen myself as a writer, I got a lot
 of good feedback to that effect.

In ’95, using my journals, I began writing my experiences as a mental
 patient, hoping that this might provide some closure on those dark
 times.

In 2007, I met a woman who had won national writing awards. She
 asked me to send her my manuscript. Her response was: “I got so
 involved in reading it that I forgot to go to my yoga class.” She also
 sent me several helpful editorial comments.

I began attending a weekly writing group and read several how-to
 books on memoir writing. I now wanted to publish, and, as I mentioned
 earlier, when an intention is strong, the Universe provides for it.

I was in the “zone!” I met my cover artist in a hostel in Oaxaca,
 engaged with a web designer I met on the beach who also introduced
 me to social media and I got a friend to help me with formatting. I self-published with an online firm that placed me on Amazon with a
 paperback and Ebook.

Then came the next hurdle — promotional speaking engagements. In
 the audience were friends and relatives. Also there were many
 strangers. “Who cares about me and my story,” I thought. I got up my
 courage and overcame this fear, finding that everyone has a story and
 we all have overlap we can identify with.

As my legacy, I help people who are in trouble as I was. I provide
 young adults, recovering from schizophrenia, different forms of online
 self-care, as an adjunct to the mental health mill. My goal is not only to
 see recovery, but to assist them in actually thriving in life.

I hope my story has given you some encouragement to rise above
 your problems and help others. Please add your comments below. I’d
 love to see your thoughts.

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Originally published at fightingforfreedominamerica.wordpress.com on January 30, 2016.