In much the same way I have mixed feelings about LSD, I have mixed feelings about the psychiatric profession. Most people do. The facts were these: I needed to be off the streets and under watch. I probably needed to be medicated. Other crazy people are possibly not the best company for a crazy person. Nobody really understands what psychoactive medication is actually doing to people; it’s scattershot aimed at symptoms.1 Most medications cause side effects, and those side effects are medicated with other medications with side effects, and voila: you’re taking five pills. I know people who can’t function without medication, and have been frustrated with friends who habitually stop taking them and become bipolar wrecks within a week. I know friends who never needed drugs, but were on them for three years before they managed to wean themselves and recover their personalities. All drugs create habitual forms of dependency, whether they’re chemically addictive or not. Marijuana is famously non-addictive, and just as famous for obvious lifestyle dependencies people build around it. Most prescription drugs are significantly worse for you and more addictive. People have been trying to medicate me for anxiety and depression my whole life, and thank god I’ve never let them do it, since I wouldn’t be able to maintain the dissatisfaction with life I need to continue to write. I also learned how to deal with those problems on my own, for the most part, and the occasional panic attack is a small price to pay for the neurotic urges that force me to keep busy. When I was institutionalized, I needed to be medicated, because I was dangerous. But there’s something important about the anti-psychotics and all the other mood stabilizing drugs they put me on: not one of them made me less crazy. Not one. All they did was prevent me from acting on anything, or speaking up. In fact, I developed more elaborate delusions throughout my stint in the nuthouse, because my inactivity meant I got less feedback about what I was thinking, so less opportunity to have some external input. The whole time I was there, only my dad piped up with “You know that’s crazy, right?” providing me brief moments of me thinking “Oh shit, there’s something wrong.”
My mom’s take:
Acadia Hospital is the mental hospital for people with health insurance and old boyfriends working in the ER at Eastern Maine Medical Center. I still believe it was lucky you didn’t end up in one of the crummy state hospitals, but I remain unimpressed by the treatment you received there. The focus seemed to be on getting you to stop acting crazy, not on getting you to stop being crazy. They put you on anti-psychotic drugs, the chief effect of which is to make you do anything anyone tells you to do. No wonder mental hospital staff love those drugs—they make their lives so much easier. But they seemed to not be paying attention to your actual experience. I arrived one day to see you and they met me with grave expressions and told me you’d been stealing things from the other patients. When I went to your room you said, “The strangest thing happened today. I walked into my room and there was a really nice pair of shoes there. I put them on and they fit great so I walked around wearing them for a while. Then I went back to my room to take a nap and when I woke up they were gone.” So this is what actually happened: All the rooms looked exactly alike. They had moved you to a new room by moving your stuff while you were in a group session. You had gone back to your original room and found the shoes that belonged to another patient, but you didn’t understand that this wasn’t your room any more. The staff’s conclusion: Peter is a thief. Peter’s conclusion: shoes appear and disappear with no explanation.
The doctors’ reports of me being responsive or clear-eyed or making progress only came about because they told me what they wanted, medicated my thought-to-action connections into oblivion, and provided a dearth of stimuli in which I could form a comprehensive delusion better suited to my environment. The times I left my environment, it tended to fall apart, which I think was ultimately better, because painful as it was and crazy as I acted, I needed the incongruity of the real world and my delusions brought to a head. Being in an institution with doctors who talk around you and nurses who think they’re in on your jokes and a bunch of other crazy people who actually are in on your jokes2 is not a place to rebuild reality. What they ultimately achieved was to teach me to give less evidence of insanity. I suppose that’s all they can do, because they had no real means of looking into my head. They could only decrease the probability that I would kill myself or someone else in the future, and get me to act according to their terms, even if their terms weren’t an especially useful set of terms in the outside world. I don’t begrudge them their efforts, nor am I unappreciative. But I recovered because I was lucky, not because I was treated, though had I not been treated, I’d probably be dead. Psychiatry has a long way to go, but it’s doing the best it can.
Part 9, or “Welcome to the Nuthouse”
So I can explain the inappropriate hypersexual remarks, even if I don’t remember what they were. When they unstrapped in Heaven, Hell, or Purgatory, or the reincarnation zone or the Defending Your Life3 afterlife, or wherever, they put me in a room for a physical, and in walks this cute redheaded nurse in her late twenties. I of course thought she was my girlfriend from college who committed suicide the year before, which made perfect sense since I was dead. Naturally, I put her on the visitors list and left it at that, my other family and friends were still alive, so they couldn’t visit me, and though Jake was dead, I’d killed him, so I assumed he wouldn’t want to see me just yet.
After I was processed, they put me in the common area. The first day is very blurry for me, but I remember I was underwater, and had to breath through a straw. I wandered around in my shorts, sucking on the straw, and at one point wrapped a towel around my hand and tried to punch through the plexiglass door that locked us all in. It didn’t go so well, and a very nervous man came up to me and said, “You shouldn’t do that, because it people very nervous.” I nodded, but couldn’t respond because I was still breathing throughout the straw. Eventually my mom showed up with clothes.
Here’s my mom:
When I arrived at Acadia Hospital shortly after the ambulance, they wouldn’t even confirm that you’d been admitted. The privacy laws meant I wasn’t entitled to any information about you unless you authorized it. I stood there clearly prepared to make a scene and finally someone realized it was a stupid pretense and I might have useful information for the doctors so they escorted me to the ward where a doctor was conducting an intake interview. You obligingly told them you had taken every kind of drug you’d ever heard of during the past week, which they carefully wrote down. (You assured me later that this was not true but the staff at the hospital remained convinced you were a heroin addict.) You also told them you’d had sex with your mother. Thanks very much for sharing that little Oedipal fantasy—they started giving me the hairy eyeball.4
The problem with the drug thing at this point is I was trying to be accommodating, and thought my past was different than I thought it was, so every time they asked me if I’d done something, I just said “yes” and worked it into my backstory. Anyway, the staff put me in a room with my clothes and told me to get dressed. This was a moment that makes it clear why I needed supervision: unbeknownst to anyone until the moment this writing goes public, when they left me alone to change, I was on a destroyer god kick, and it was my duty to lay waste to the world, but I needed energy, so I grabbed my wand of power5 and was about to urinate into a light socket to recharge. Fortunately, the tie on my new pants was too difficult to undo, so I just pissed myself and decided that was good enough.6
I was under 24-hour watch the first couple of days. My first night I wandered around with one of my guards, and hung out under a spot in the hallway with eight lights arranged in a circle in the ceiling. This spot was alternately the Tardis, a transporter, or the eight suns of a different planet during my stay. I tried to steal a nurse’s watch off his wrist. Not so successful.
Eventually, and finally, I went to bed, and I slept. For the first time in two weeks. This didn’t cure me. I had no dreams that I recall, and when I woke, I assumed my brief unconsciousness was me going back in time to fix an old college relationship, and the world would be savagely different. It was and it wasn’t. I got breakfast. I was still in the afterlife.
I watched TV for the rest of the day, believing I was causing all the tragedies in the news.
I can’t break down the next few weeks chronologically, so the next few parts will be describing relationships and a few key events.
Here are some introductions to the people who stuck out:
Truckette was a tits to the wall ex-trucker and construction worker. I have no idea why she was in there unless it was about drugs, or unless her entire past was a lie and she was making it up as she went. She told stories about bailing out of oversized gravel trucks as they barreled over cliffs. She was a drunk, a fighter, and a wall of a woman. Writing this now, I think she may have been pulling a One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.
This guy was the stereotypical gentle giant. He was an amateur wrestler who was in for trying to kill himself. He had the personality of Woody Allen on heavy sedatives. He was about two hundred pounds, mostly muscle, and all nerves.
This nickname makes sense if you’re from Maine. OtherThinGuy didn’t talk much, and I never found out what he was in for, but I felt we had a bond because we were both underweight.
This is probably unfair, as I have no idea what her marriage was like. But she came in with her husband and gave a teary report of never having stood up for herself. Naturally, they put her in a room with Truckette, and within a week she was swearing like a sailor and not putting up with “any of this goddamn bullshit.” When I visited the institution a year later, she was the only person I recognized.
This is also unfair, but as my mom mentioned, when they moved my room, I went into what was now someone else’s, and it belonged to ShittyFriend, a shy, bespectacled girl, probably in her mid twenties. I found a tape recorder. On the tape recorder was what sounded like an answering machine message, with an angry female voice screaming, “I can’t believe you did this shit, what the fuck were you thinking, you fucking bitch?” I don’t know what this was about, and since ShittyFriend was so demure most of the time, I expect the actual shitty friend owned the voice on the recording.
Probably wasn’t Powhatan; most likely she was Penobscot, maybe Passamaquoddy. She was a crack addict with a husband who had taken her kid away. She was about forty, and looked good for a non-crack-addicted forty, and I was smitten on sight. Because she was a native American goddess, of course.
There we were, all deemed unacceptable to society, and mostly left alone with each other, although under constant watch. We had puzzles and group therapy and awful snacks at our disposal. It was a cauldron of madness with no context outside the carefully calibrated probing of the psychiatrists overseeing our cases. Our meals, smoke breaks, and activities were regimented and led by variously competent nurses, many of whom were former or future patients.
One other weird thing started here.
Once I was in the institution, I didn’t see stars. This is likely a combination of cloudy weather, extensive outdoor lighting at night, and me just not noticing, but from that point until I made a full recovery, many weeks later, I didn’t see a single star.
1 This may have improved in the last ten years, but I doubt it.
2 Or at least laughing at something at the same time as you.
3 I highly recommend this movie. Keep and eye out for Shirley McLain.
4 Whaddayagonnado. Told you this was unabridged. I have no idea where this idea came from, but I assume it was because I’d been reading Freud in the last couple of months.
5 You guessed it.
6 Counting the number of times I should have died in these three months is a futile exercise.