The implications of going crazy are terrifying, but probably not for the reasons one might think. The thing I find more disturbing than anything– worse than the madness itself, worse than the stay in the hospital– is the sudden and thorough loss of freedom. It had never hit me how fragile an idea freedom is. In the course of a day, people came into my home, put me in handcuffs, and walked me barefoot into the rain, over the pavement of my street, put me in a police car, and I stopped having choices about my life. For the next 24 hours, I was at the mercy of the police and the medical professionals attending me. And all because something went wrong in my brain– not because I had done anything wrong. It’s like I always thought if I just followed the law, I’d never be at risk of losing my freedom. That’s not true. I can be imprisoned for something I can’t even control, or at least, couldn’t control at the time. Nonetheless, and no matter how much it was necessary, it’s a big shock to realize your life can be taken entirely out of your hands even though you haven’t done anything wrong.
I took the picture on the left on February 25th, three days after I got out of the hospital. I decided to take a few selfies in the hopes of getting a good shot for my Facebook profile, just for something to do while I spent a week at home. I hadn’t intended to take a picture like this. When I looked at the raw shot on my phone, I knew I needed to keep it, but not for the reasons I thought I would. I look good, sure, but that expression was new to my face. The first time I looked at that woman, I hardly knew her. There is something raw about me here, a predatory sharpness and defiance I’d not shown before, and even here I stand with my arms tucked back– I think part of me was still feeling the handcuffs. Perhaps part of me feels them still.
As much as I realize this was necessary– hell, I scared myself even at the time!– it’s chilling to realize you’re nuts, and then not be able to stop being nuts even after that realization. It’s like being trapped inside yourself while your body runs around without you. The feeling of being cuffed and hauled (by no less than three police officers) through the street, in the dark and the rain, and taken away from everything that was familiar, not knowing when or if I would get another say in what happened to me, waking up feeling totally normal in a locked ward full of actual (and potentially dangerous) permanently crazy people, not knowing when or if I’d get out again– that feeling will stay with me. It has yet to fade, and I doubt it will for a long time. It may stay in the back of my mind forever. I wasn’t raped, and can’t pretend to understand what rape victims go through, but the loss of control, the level of helplessness in my own life and circumstances– I imagine it rings with a similar tenor.
When the police transported me to a behavioral hospital in Richmond, I felt more unsafe in that ward than I have in a long time. I smooth talked whomever I needed to get out. At first, my family thought my release was my wife’s doing, but it wasn’t. All she did was show up and wait. I got myself out by my own efforts– by hassling people, stubbornly staying in people’s work spaces, talking at length to every person who had a say in what happened to me, and telling them whatever I thought they needed to hear to convince them to let me go. Whatever I needed, I knew I wasn’t going to find it in that ward. I felt the burning need to get out before things got any more out of my hands and I ended up permanently damaged— whether by the other crazy people, or a mishandling of my situation. I succeeded, getting myself discharged before they had even finished processing my admission, leaving the behavioral hospital within four hours of my inglorious arrival by cop car. I got myself out of there– standing in embarrassing pajamas, barefoot, running on about three hours of sleep, still hazy from meds, emotions, and whatever else was left over from the preceding hours of insanity– with nothing but my words, charm, and knowing what buttons to push and with whom– which should be proof enough of my faculties.
I live now with the knowledge that really all it takes is a phone call, and my freedom can be taken away. My entire life, it’s been drilled into my head that I’m an American, and that means I’m free. I must make my own choices, be my own person, stand up for myself, choose my own path. All those ideas are so close to the core of me, and yet in a single night, I was shown how thin those things are, how easily life becomes something else. I’m only free as long as I seem sane. After this episode, that could be even more tenuous. There’s no denying my life, my experience of reality, is very different from many people’s. I’ve never been able to look at the rest of the world and use it as a measure for myself– not when I was younger, not when I thought I was sane, never. There is no one like me, and even on normal days, my experience of life would no doubt look crazy to the outsider. For so long, I think, my life existed in places most people didn’t see it or didn’t pay attention, and now suddenly everything I do is subject to intense scrutiny. At what point will people feel the need to call “help” for me again? How sane am I now? Was I ever?
These are the questions that haunt me. I feel fine. In the past nine weeks, I’ve not yelled, not banged on any walls or doors, haven’t thrown anything out of the house, haven’t felt like the entire universe is crashing through me. I totally recognize I wasn’t normal then, not even for me. The things I was doing were not the actions of a sane person. I slipped so easily into them, though, that I find myself wondering if I’m not a little mad all the time, and the switch just got stuck on high for a while. I haven’t figured out what flipped that switch– turned it on, or off. I felt strange for a few days, but I was still sane right up to a certain point, until something pushed me past that threshold. Maybe it was lack of sleep (I hadn’t slept in about four days), or maybe it was a chemical imbalance, an infection, the result of a seizure, or something else entirely. I also don’t know what made it stop. I passed out crazy in the hospital, and woke up feeling as normal as I do any other day (just really freaking tired). I don’t know if sleeping made it stop, or if they drugged me up so much it jostled my brain, or if realizing what was happening to me through the haze was enough to shake me out of it. I don’t know, but I wish I did. It would be nice to feel like I had a clue how to get myself out of that place should I find myself there again. As it is, I passed out as a madwoman and woke up as my usual self, and I don’t have an explanation for that.
One question I haven’t been able to escape is: why? Why now? I’ve lived a different sort of life my entire life. It’s never driven me to physical madness before, so my main question is why now? What caused this? Is it really as simple as a perfect combination of infection, exhaustion, and stress? Or did those things just make the mask slip for a while? Do I have some disease lurking in my brain that’s just now showing its true colors? Have I always lived with a brush of madness, and until now, I’ve been able to hide it? I honestly don’t know. I feel like I can’t trust my judgement of myself anymore, and that’s a strange feeling.
I don’t know which of these questions I should be most concerned with. I’ve seen a counselor, and a psychiatrist. I’ve talked to lots of doctors. Everyone close to me has their thoughts, fears, and opinions. In this equation, though, no one can see the inside of my head but me. No one knows me but me. No one knows what feels normal to me, and no one wants to think about what it means if my normal and their normal don’t match up. For the most part, though, I don’t worry about other people. I went crazy for a weekend, had a horribly traumatic experience, and a week later, I was sitting in my work office, holding down my job, engaging with the world, functioning as a capable adult– if that’s not resilience and courage, then I must never have either in me. In the midst of it all, I don’t think anyone really noticed how I hauled myself out of that, shook it off, and hit the ground running within days of being discharged from the hospital. I could be embarrassed, I could be cowering in fear, I could be crying in my bedroom about what happened to me, I could be having panic attacks, but I’m not and haven’t all along. I’m living my life, picking up pieces, doing what needs done to take care of myself, all while balancing my full time job, living situation, and the needs of my wounded family. This part of my reality is what reassures me that I’m not crazy right now– a crazy person could not live this life as seamlessly as I do.