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.