Way back in 1989, I was in the process of battling some truly powerful "Dark Forces." These malevolent powers were closing in on me from all directions, apparently working in unison to accomplish the task of rendering me powerless. Why these ghouls thought that I posed any threat to their underworld activities is beyond me. Suffice it to say that I was ketchin' it from all of my people. My wife could not be pleased, my daughter was wearing "all black" and never communicating with me, the young nymph at work was trying her dead-level-best to roll me over and was very angry when I did not respond to her advances. My employer was dissatisfied with my work performance, even though I worked all of the time and did my darndest to succeed. Never had there been such heaviness upon these shoulders; I began to weaken; actually, I began plotting actions to keep me from weakening. If they all wished to see me fall, then that's what they would witness.
I became quiet and reclusive, and was prone to times of uncontrollable trembling and weeping....needed so badly to get away where nobody or no thing could get to me. I had recently heard of a co-worker being admitted to Greenleaf Hospital for the purpose of treating her "clinical depression." I thought, that's it! I immediately walked across the parking lot to my physician's office and spoke with him at great length about my problems. He said that if I truly wanted to go to Greenleaf that he would sign the order and make it happen. He said that everyone could use that kind of retreat at least once in their lives.
So, home I went, and told my spouse that I would be leaving for "a while." She helped me pack, loaded the car, and drove me the fifty miles to "the nut house" where I walked hesitantly through the front door.
A very nice and caring healthcare professional greeted me as I passed through the gate of freedom that was to hold me securely for the next fifty-six days. She asked me to empty my pockets and explained that all of my possessions would be kept safely under lock and key until I was "well." She had me step over against the wall for a photograph; if this was not prison, I needn't have gotten any closer. I glimpsed the photo, and thought, "My God, I look awful;" my eyes appeared as lifeless as two burnt holes in a flannel blanket. Nothing was left of my soul. I truly am in the right place, I admitted to myself.
I was shown to my room. it was clean and quite comfortable in its furnishings. I was directed to change into comfortable clothing, and was then taken on a tour of the facility. I had no idea what awaited me, but I expected the worst. After all, it was an "insane asylum."
Groups of patients looked up as I walked by. Some smiled, but most looked as forlorn as my photograph had. Most of them seemed to be in "twilight." That's the drugs, I thought to myself. Will I be reduced to that level? I hope not.
It was explained to me by my nurse, that as a newcomer I would be placed under "suicide watch" for a couple of days. "Is that truly necessary," I asked. She said it was simply following protocol. "Must obey the rules if we wish to get well." Every day, in every way, we must get better and better.
I ate my first meal at a small table, all by myself with a stern-looking Psych nurse watching my every bite. I asked when I got to be with the people, and I was told after dinner, that I might go to the activity room and play cards or dominoes. There was to be no TV or phone calls. If I wished to smoke, then I must go to the nurse's desk and request permission to light my cigarette.
I finished eating and went to the "Rec" Room. I introduced myself to several folks. The woman who was obviously the Matriarch said very matter-of-factly, "Why are you here, you are not sick." An air of suspicion soon permeated the table of folks. One guy even decided that I was sent there by the CIA to undermine their secret networks of operation. That being, where to get drugs, cigarette lighters, sharp implements, whatever one needed could be had by knowing the right people. Gee, that's still true today.
I tried my best to reassure the group that I was there for the same reasons as were they. For the most part, the doubt seemed to dissolve as we talked and played a game of "Bull-shit." Time for our dope, somebody said, and we had to line up and take our drugs. They were placed in a pile in our hand and we were given a paper cup of water as the nurse watched us take our meds. Nobody told us what we were taking; we just had to swallow them without question.
My first night was so fitful. I could not rest, even though my soul cried out for sleep and peace. Finally, I was brought some Visteril, and I slept until 3:00 pm the next day. I fell so much better that I went out seeking the people. Everyone was in "class" I was told, and that I would be joining the classes tomorrow. Before long the patients began returning from their activities, and it was time to eat again.
Folks were friendlier than yesterday, and several asked me if I was feeling better. I was, and I said so as I thanked them for asking. The big suspicious guy approached me cautiously, still convinced that I was a "G" man. I said, "Sir, to graduate from CIA school, a student must demonstrate 15 ways to kill a man silently with their bare hands." He seemed satisfied with that explanation and never bothered me again. Then it was medicine time again....apparently I had slept through the mornin' meds. I swallowed mine without hesitation.
I played some cards and listened to the heart-rending stories from the devastated patients in our group. I hurt so badly for them, and realized that as problems go, mine surely were not the most severe.
Next morning, after breakfast and meds, we went to "Trust School." It was explained to us that most of our worst issues were as a result of our not knowing and trusting our fellow human beings, and that we were all in this thing together. Known as a "Ropes Course," these exercises were designed to teach us trust and reliance from our fellow human beings. We had to walk a tight-rope. Nobody would do it until I did. I believe that I was a little unsteady from the drugs, but I got it done. The group smiled and followed suit.
Next, we had to climb a tower, cross our arms over our chest, close our eyes, and fall through space to the waiting arms of the "trust group" below. Nobody would go until I did. I must admit, it was a thrill, and I did trust my people to catch me, which they did. More activities followed, and after I would go first, then the wonderful group would take their respective turns. It felt so unusual to have so many people look to me for leadership. It actually felt warm and fuzzy. Keno, a leader of men, I liked it.
The longer I stayed at good ol' Greenleaf, the more respect, understanding, and appreciation I had for the patients who resided there. By and large, through no fault of their own, these ordinary people had been forced to endure extraordinary circumstances, and were fortunate enough to be sent to a place where like-minded folks could hear them, help them, trust them, and love them.
My stay there was among the most enlightening and fulfilling experiences that life has shown me to this point. One Person has been more important to me, and she knows who she is. Hey, did you ever have that recurring dream where you were unwittingly sent to the "nut-house," only to find out that the patients were totally sane, and those who ran the Asylum were truly the "crazy ones?" Guess what, TRUE STORY!
As an interjection to please my most noteworthy critics, I am inserting an account of the first and only time that I observed any insane behavior in the "loonie bin," (on the part of the patient's, that is!)
On or about my third or fourth evening, as we were having our "supper," as we say in Texas, a young and obviously agitated Oriental woman, ran screaming and ranting into the cafeteria. She ran straight up to a little old Granny who was eating by herself. The enraged young woman grabbed all of the plates, bowls, cups, and glasses and hurled their contacts at Granny, who sat there in obvious shock. Next, the angry lady grabbed a fork from the floor, that's when I realized that nobody was going to stop these activities.
Once again, it seemed that everyone (Staff included) was waiting for Keno Kendali, to take care of business. We were approaching "critical" so I walked over and insinuated myself between the snarling Japanese girl, and the sweet little ol' lady. The attacker was quite frail-looking, so disarming her was quite simple. I asked her name and she quietly said Imogene; "Come walk with me, Imogene, and you will feel much better." Then the "white-suits" appeared and popped her with a gargantuan hypo, and she did feel much better in no time. Later she was to become my "partner" in many of the "Trust Exercises" that we were to accomplish; and she turned out to be such a sweet and pleasant young lady who was merely over-loaded with life's problems. Go, Imogene!, the best of life to you.
Upon my dismissal from the hospital, my Psychiatrist informed me that just as he'd suspected, I did not have true "clinical depression," but rather was working too much and trying to satisfy too many people who did not have my best interests at heart. Very wise man, that doctor, but then that's why he gets paid the big bucks. I sometimes remember my wonderful co-inmates and sincerely hope that they are doing as well as I, me, that CIA plant, sent to undermine their network of human activities.
Travis Perkins, Author
As Told to Travis Perkins