“Brainwashed” for Sanity’s Sake? (Sheltering Crazy in America)


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.

33 thoughts on ““Brainwashed” for Sanity’s Sake? (Sheltering Crazy in America)

  1. Kathy, Kathy, Kathy. I’ll say it again: What you are doing is so important. You give a powerful voice to mental illness. Congrats on the op ed being published. I am, as always, so grateful to be on this journey with you.

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  2. ” 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.” If that is insanity, then I too am insane.

    Congrats on the publication in the newspaper. Your writing is amazing, so it is well deserved. Good luck with the boxes.

    Lisa

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    • No, no. I’m not suggesting that I was insane for feeling this way–quite the opposite. I felt that a time-is-money world was the more real insanity, something I had not desire to be a part of. In some ways the hospital seemed a haven from that more insidious insanity on which the world operated–if that makes sense.

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  3. Hey, Woman,
    Great piece today. I relate to it all, have experienced it all.
    My middle class mentality cannot wrap around the poverty, but that ebbs and flows. I’m grateful to have a nice little apartment that’s government subsidized.

    I get the impression that even though you felt safe in the hospital, you look back at that feeling of safety now as an indicator of your illness, like it’s crazy to think you might have belonged there (for awhile) (?)

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    • Yes, yes–exactly–it does seem insane now–though wholely and completely real at the time. I’m gald to know I’m not alone in having felt this way.

      I plan to do at least one piece on government housing, as well, which I was completely happy to have, as well. Isn’t it strange to grow up middle class and then in adulthood experience poverty? It is hard to wrap one’s brain around.

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  4. I am completely blown away by your writing, Kathy– you really seem to have discovered your voice and OWNED it in a powerful way! Congratulations! (And congratulations on having your piece published! I have switched my “catching up” routine and am now reading recent posts to less-recent posts, so my comments will be all over the place…)

    I am a complete homebody who needs to feel safe and secure *somewhere*, so it doesn’t surprise me that you felt “at home” in the state hospital ward. Like you say, achieving sanity is enough of a chore! Looking forward to more and more posts from you.

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    • Wow, I’m amazed that you are “blown away”–I have trouble telling what works and what doesn’t. I think I’m too close to have any perspective.
      Thanks for helping me step back and see this all from a bit of a distance.
      (By the way, when I miss posts, I usually start with what’s most recent. Otherwise, you may never catch up–best to just jump back in and go with the current flow–working backward IF you have a spare moment!)

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  5. Yay for the published post, Kathy!
    This line so stands out to me, maybe because I have days where being placed here and told what is what sounds like the better way : “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.”

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  6. I can totally relate to that feeling of feeling “safe” in a place where you don’t have to worry about day to day things like cooking and cleaning, etc.

    Congrats on the op-ed! That is really fantastic.

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  7. You are a testament to strength in adversity. I agree with Renee. You are an important voice for those who don’t know how to use their own voices. The only wonder about you being published is that it has not happened sooner 🙂 Congrats!

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  8. It’s tragic how “outside” with its wealth, benefits, personal longing, can mend ways to distress of others.
    A city is a big place, let alone the world, people do what they have to do ( that’s what they say, absurd right? ), morality ceases at a point where stress causes strain (everyone has a breaking point), the only thing anyone is capable of is “self-contemplation”, do that I say, guilt always takes over, it will make it right if you are strong.

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    • Indeed, everyone reaches a breaking point, and we can all only do what we can. The world can be a scary place–but also a stunningly beautiful one. Thanks so much for taking the time to comment. I hope you come back again soon.

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  9. Come to think of it, “The Ritual Of Bathing” would also make a good title for your memoir. It’s intriguing and draws you in (just like your story).

    I imagine your experience is similar to how many long-term prisoners feel. I’m reminded of The Shawshank Redemption, and how the one con just could not face life on the outside after being confined for so long and ended up hanging himself.

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  10. Congrats on having your op-ed piece published, Kathy!

    I often think it would be nice to have someone else looking after my needs so I wouldn’t have to worry about it, although I’m way too stubborn and independent to tolerate that for long! Glad you’ve moved past that state!

    Hugs,
    Wendy

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    • Amen! I’m glad tooooooooooooooo! That kind of care comes at a price. But it’s good to have it when you’re so sick. Somehow now it’s hard to imagine/remember how I could have been that bad off. Almost feels like a dream.

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  11. Kathy–
    what a journey…I understand about the hospital feeling safe…sometimes those boundaries are just what we need, so that we can rest and do the hard work of healing and finding our balance again.
    congratulations on your piece getting picked up!
    blessings
    jane

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  12. I am trying to catch up after a crazy week — in the middle of another. Congratulations on the op-ed (and I’m envious — of the publication, if not of what inspired it). I do think you’ve hit on something in this piece, though. A number of years ago, a friend signed herself into a psychiatric hospital for treatment of depression, but left after several days because it felt so safe and comfortable, she was afraid if she didn’t get out soon, she never would have the strength to go.

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