July 21, 2009
The bad thing about being in the mental institution is that everyone there is crazy.
It really wouldn’t be so bad if not for that: it’s clean, it’s quiet, the food isn’t bad, and on top of that, there are plenty of doctors, so if you choke on something or have a stroke or a heart attack your chances of survival are increased.
But then, on the other hand, everyone’s crazy.
And when you’re crazy, that’s not what you need.
They don’t let you just sit around in there. You always have to be doing something. Sometimes it helps to hide in the bathroom. Then when they come to drag you into group therapy they don’t see you and you escape for a moment. But usually even then they figure it out after a while, and the thing is there are no locks. There are no locks on the doors in the mental institution.
Except the ones that lead to outside.
Lots of the people in the mental institution are aware of things you might be missing. There are people around, invisible people, and always these people are speaking. The people in the mental institution find themselves in a bind, because they know these people are not there. But still, these people keep asking them questions, and saying things to them, and it’s rude not to answer. So often what you find are people talking to people you don’t see, and also denying it. Passing it off as a joke or a theory.
“If Satan was here I’d want him to know I’m not guilty,” they say. “Not guilty! I’m just saying!”
Satan is big in the mental institution. The lady next to me was telling me about him. Actually I think she was telling herself– or maybe Satan– or then, maybe me.
Sometimes it is hard to tell about Satan. He’s everywhere, you know. All around.
One time we had to fill out these worksheets. The worksheets had a drawing of a lake on them.
“Every action is a stone,” the therapist said, “a stone that you throw in the water. You think it’s just a little thing, but then it causes ripples. I’d like you all to think about that.”
We all sat there and stared at our lakes-on-the-worksheets.
“I need to go to the bathroom,” someone said.
The rest of us sat there. We had to fill out the sheets. We had to describe an action we had taken and then explain the ripples it had created and how those had affected other people.
I wrote about an unfortunate incident I had experienced regarding a pair of scissors. I don’t know what the other people wrote about, and what’s more I don’t want to know.
The girl to my right was very inventive.
“My stone is illusory,” she announced.
“What?” said the therapist.
“Illusory,” said the girl. “Wherever I throw it, it doesn’t matter; it has no effect.”
I was very scared of the girl with the illusory rock. She kept talking to herself about what she had and had not said aloud and if she had or had not said it aloud in the future or the past or in the minds of others. I was glad her rock was illusory; that meant she couldn’t hit me with it. But still I missed sitting next to the lady who liked to talk about Satan.
I had a roommate in the mental institution. I don’t know his name, though, and he didn’t either.
“I’ve had ECT 54 times,” he said, “and it’s great, but I can’t remember things.”
One time he searched the room for a long time.
“What are you looking for?” I said.
“Oh here it is,” he said, taking his wallet from his pocket.
He found his ID. It had his name, but I don’t remember what it was.
There was a clock on the wall over the armoire. The clock said 11:59. There was a second hand, too, a little thin red one, and it kept bouncing off the 12.
“Hey,” I said, to the guy in the other bed, “is that clock broken, or is it me?”
The two of us sat there and stared at the clock.
“I think it’s broken,” he finally said, “because the time is staying the same time.”
I went down the hall and explained this to the nurse.
“The battery’s probably dead,” she said.
“Yes,” I said, “but could it be replaced? I am dealing with issues of reality.”
“A janitor will be right up,” she said.
But the janitor was not right up.
I went into the bathroom and stood there for a while. It was hot in there. My roommate took lots of showers. Personally I did not like to shower in the mental institution. I don’t know, it made me nervous; it was weird.
After a while, I couldn’t take it anymore.
Actually, it was only a couple days.
“I need to go home,” I said to the doctor. “I can’t be here, these people are crazy.”
“These people?” he said.
“Yes,” I said. “They’re crazy and it makes me really nervous.”
“And you?” he said, tapping his pen on the table. “Are you not, in your words, crazy?”
“Me?” I said. “Of course not,” I said.
“Does it seem like a strange question?” he said.
“No,” I said, after a while, “No, I guess it isn’t. But the thing is, I’m fine. I was crazy for a while, but then I got better, and now I’m fine.”
The doctor sat there and stared at me.
“You’d know if you were crazy?” he said.
“Of course,” I said. “It’s kinda obvious. Why, have you never been crazy?”
“No,” he said. “No, I have not.”
I didn’t know what to say to him after that.
The next day I got to go home. I’ve never been so happy to leave a building in my life. Outside it was cool and there were trees and lots of noise. I sat staring out the window in the car.
Back home, everything was the same as before. There was a lot of dust everywhere, but that was as per usual. I went into the kitchen and sat at the table.
It was good to sit there again.
Over the next couple months I had to see a lot of doctors. They all wanted to talk about the mental institution.
“It’s a great place,” they said, “and you shouldn’t be afraid of it. You should go there any time you feel like it.”
Out here in California the loonies run the state, and as a result we have laws. These laws make it very hard to commit someone or hold them against their will. You can’t make people take their medication; you can’t chain them to the wall.
The doctors wanted me to sign away my rights so my family could commit me if things went wrong.
“No,” I said. “That’s not going to happen.”
People argued and cried but I ignored them.
I tried to explain about the clock on the wall; they all looked at me like I was the problem.