Asylum Seekers (Another Chapter in the Chronicle of Crazy)

Note: This piece continues the story of my psychiatric hospitalization in the spring 1990 (begun two posts back).  To read part 1 of this sequence, “Another Chapter in the Chronicle of Crazy,” click here.  To read part 2, “Forgetting the Seclusion Room ,” click herePart 2 concludes with the following sentence:

But mostly I walked that hospital hall alone, alternately fighting and forgetting a psychosis that whiplashed between extremes of nothingness and nowhere . . . .

. . . . This whiplashing made me acutely aware of my own nothingness, the fact that at the center of myself a huge hole swallowed and indeed devoured all I thought I knew about myself and the world around me.

I was nothing.

The world around me a vacuum—nothing but emptiness sucking.

Suddenly my experience of myself shifted.  I was not who I thought I was.   

I was nobody.

I was nowhere.

I saw myself stripped of all seeming substance, of all that seemed solid and predictable in the face of free-fall.  I was naked and drowning—bare to the glare of what others called crazy.

If I was indeed, out of touch with reality, as the doctors told me, what did that mean?  And if I couldn’t trust my own mind, what could I trust? 

Inevitably, this possibility that I couldn’t or shouldn’t trust myself terrified me.  And my mind, though insane, was adaptive enough to not consciously fear itself.  Instead, I displaced this terror in all directions, becoming terrified of everything—terrified of nothing.   I couldn’t articulate at the time exactly what I feared.  I was only and always overcome with dread.  I knew something was terribly wrong.

As I look back on it now, I imagine I wanted out.  But not so much out of the hospital, as out my own mind, a mind that, if insane, was no longer an asylum in its own right.

As Anne Sexton said:

O mother of the womb
did I come here for blood alone?
O little mother,
I am in my own mind,
I am locked in the wrong house.  (“For the Year of the Insane”)

So in the end, it was terror that made me walk that hospital hall alone–alone in the most existential sense–exiled not only from the rest of the world by mental illness, but exiled by mental illness from myself.

This is the terror of mental illness–terror from which we seek the ultimate asylum–an asylum that ends stigma, increases awareness, guarantees hope for all who suffer.

Ultimately, this is what it means to “reinvent the event horizon”–to bring back from the brink all who suffer, all who are marginalized by any stigma, especially the stigma that is mental illness.


Since May 1st marks the beginning of Mental Health Awareness Month, I will republish this entire 3 post sequence as one on Monday, May 2nd, along with art that illustrates my journey.   In an effort to raise awareness and erase stigma, please share these posts with those you love sometime over the next month.

34 thoughts on “Asylum Seekers (Another Chapter in the Chronicle of Crazy)

  1. What a brilliant idea Kathy. Will do. The whole piece reads so well, you bring us with you and let us gaze through a tiny fracture, window, to witness with you that bit of your journey. You will have little editing to do for the memoir. Keep it flowing girl. Have a great weekend.


  2. I have thought of depression that the worst part is it turns people into strangers to those they love and to themselves, but reading this, I guess it isn’t only depression, but all mental illness that does that.


    • Most mental illness is terribly painful, so much so that most folks who have expereinced it don’t talk about it. That’s how misperceptions develop. If more people told their stories, stigma would be lessened and understanding would be increased!


  3. This is chilling. To be seperate from others is terrible, but to be seperate from oneself has to be the most terrifying feeling of all. Through all of your posts, I can see myself in a much milder, more fleeting sense. More like moments, rather than days or weeks or months.


    • Yes, Renee, it is indeed terrifying! Sounds like even in your own normal you have a sense of what this kind of intensity is like. I’m imagine that’s what makes you such a great writer! Happy weekend, Renee!


  4. I’m not so sure I could have shared with all what you have shared with, actually, the world. This takes a very strong mind and willingness to “open up ones Kimona”, for all to see. Thanks for letting me walk down this road with you. Warmest Regards. BG


    • That’s EXACTLY what it’s like, Mark! Exactly! The only difference it that when your mind betrays you, then you have no basis for negotiating reality. It is the most fundamentally disorienting thing that can happen to a person–especially as you move from believing your mind, even though it’s delusional, to accepting what you are told–that you were out of touch with reality. It is the ultimate mind f***, if you will.


  5. I put myself in your shoes with the help of your writing and am petrified-it is so real and unimaginable – you are so brave to relive it- no wonder you’ve suffered from “writer’s block”…


  6. Hi, Kathy,
    I found you via the Freshly Pressed blog on journaling and had to come visit your site. There is so much we have in common. I am also bipolar and started my blog as a way to share how I use my illness as a tool for consciousness (thinking in the back of my mind that the posts might eventually become a memoir). I’m also a mixed-media artist, and I’m in the process of finishing a novel.

    I’ve read several of your posts. The relationship you have with your illness feels very familiar—mature, a result of long and serious personal work, held with a gentle, lovingkindness. I look forward to reading more and getting to know you. Please come visit me when you have time—my cyber-coffee pot is always on.


    • How great to hear from you! I can’t wait to check out your blog! Sounds like we DO have a lot in common. How long ago were you diagnosed? I really look forward to learning more about your story–thanks so much for stopping by! And I will come by for that cyber-coffee!


  7. So many of us have a family member who has been diagnosed with mental illness. So many of us have endured the trials and tribulations associated with mental illness. So many of us have suffered and are still suffering because all the medications and therapies have not changed their diagnosis. We have to continue to educate ourselves; be strong and caring and remain available. The stories we could tell…….. The lessons learned…….. The strength we have……….. For the love of a family member………..


    • Thank you so much for reading. I’m sorry to hear you have a family member suffering from mental illness, if that is indeed your situation. Regardless, you are so correct–we need to educate ourselves, be strong, and be willing to share our stories. I appreciate your taking the time to comment and hope you will come back. I look forward to checking out your blog!


  8. I just got caught up with you, and have to say (write) it again: You are one incredibly brave woman, sharing your story as you do. And your writing makes it so real for me (if that makes sense). I feel as if I was there with you.


    • Thanks so much, Robin. It’s great to hear from you. I’m glad you think I’m brave–mostly I just feel it’s my obligation to share this story of hope. So many are suffering and discouraged. Enjoy your Sunday.


  9. How terrifying to lose that intimate and trusting connection with your own mind– even the possibility of it petrifies me! You are very brave and courageous to share these stories, but I know that they are helpful to people both with AND without mental illnesses! Breaking down stereotypes and reducing stigma, one brilliant post at a time– congratulations, Kathy!


    • Thanks, Dana! It was a really, really scary time, for sure–and likely something most people don’t talk or think about. In that regard, I hope these posts do help to break down stereotypes and reduce stigma. Hope you’re having a good weekend!


  10. You know, it’s very difficult if not impossible to fight these mental enemies when there are outposts in you head, but as we all know, “if you want the fruit, sometimes you have to go out on the limb.” You have sure done that with these 3 articles written from the heart. I appreciate you sharing this with all that care to read and maybe interpret. I wish you the warmest regards on Derby Day.


    • Same to you BG! Glad you enjoyed these posts. They are supposed to republished as an op ed in Sunday’s Lexington Herald Leader–tomorrow, I believe. Thanks so much for reading! Hope to see you soon————–


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