As, I suggested yesterday, mental illness for me meant an ever-evolving sense of place. It meant, more specifically, my middle class experience of home quickly degenerated, as I found myself in the most secure and restricted units of state-run psychiatric facilities.
And what was most strange about this already bizarre devolving was the feeling that I belonged there—that I was safe. I not only felt secure, I felt contained nowhere else, believed I belonged in those narrowed limits of opportunity and options.
Tell me where to go; tell me when to eat. I was fine with all of that. Just don’t make me face a time-is-money world where feelings mattered less than what one earned and the kind of car one drove. This all drove me to the brink and back, and I wanted to be nowhere near the edge where “me” met world, where folks felt fine that I was on the edge of nowhere and falling off.
At Parkside Hospital in Oklahoma, I wrote about feeling okay with my incarceration, recording on March 19, 1990:
. . . I worry a lot about the outside. This place feels so safe and secure—except for the fact that my animals are not here. They’re really the only thing I miss . . . .
I remember that the hospital, ironically, allowed me a feel a glimmer of hope—less like a complete failure, since I didn’t have to face the fact that I couldn’t function—that I couldn’t complete the tasks of daily living. In the outside world I faced my inadequacies on every front. Since even brushing my teeth felt like an over-whelming task, I couldn’t manage to do much else, let alone cook or clean. In the hospital, however, I only had to brush my teeth—nothing else was expected of me. So I was free to feel success even on these very limited terms. Once I’d showered or combed my hair, I didn’t then have to face fixing myself something to eat, seeing that the dishes were done, the floor was swept.
In the hospital’s shelter I could actually luxuriate in having accomplished a shower and change of clothes, since sanity was a huge enough task in and of itself. I lived moment by less-than-sane moment, reaching for some semblance of sanity—some semblance of safe, if only in the ritual of bathing. The hospital was where I managed to literally bathe, so that my thinking, as well, could be baptized in the basics of sanity. Here shelter meant washing (brainwashing even), a sacrament of clean.
(to be continued)
Note: We just found out that our 20 foot container from Haiti should be delivered to our home in Lexington on Thursday or Friday. This could impact my ability to post later in the week, as we will have 66 boxes to unpack in an already full house.
Also, I forgot to mention yesterday that my post “Leaving the Seclusion Room” was published as an op-ed in this past Sunday’s Lexington Herald Leader. Editors at the paper changed my title and a few sentences here and there, but if you’d like to take a look, click here.