April 1, 1988
Looking at the ten prominent dignitaries of the commission appointed by the Governor of Oregon to investigate mental hospitals in the state, I could see heads turning among the curious spectators to the side. A hush in the room, all eyes on me, I started to read from the papers on the table in front of me:
“…..I do not presume to speak for all those labeled ‘mentally ill’ but I do speak for SOME. I have experience as a patient at Dammasch, OSH, the Crisis Unit at OHSU, Woodland Park and one aspect of the outpatient program. I can describe vividly for you what it FEELS like to be on the other side of the fence. I can tell you WHY we have to be brought to Dammasch in handcuffs, how it FEELS in the quiet room when the staff refuses to unlock the bathroom door. We don’t FEEL ‘fascinating’ or even ‘interesting,’ two words used by psychiatrists at the last meeting to describe some individual case studies.
We FEEL anger; we FEEL frustration; we FEEL helplessness; we FEEL pain; we FEEL anguish. We feel too much or we don’t feel enough. We FEEL embarrassment – for having been born, and sometimes we apologize simply for taking up space on Planet Earth. Many of us have been told all our lives that we have NO REASON to feel the way we do.
For example, and on my mind today, my 28 year old son-in-law, abused all his life by an alcoholic father. A court ordered therapist in Clackamas County told him, ‘I can understand you’re angry but I can’t understand why; you caused your own problems.’ A few months ago she point blank accused him of malingering and lying. Day before yesterday he died, of adrenal cancer. (That therapist had an alcoholic father; my son-in-law was in trouble because of alcohol.)
At your first meeting, a doctor attempted a brief description of what it’s like to be psychotic. Having been psychotic six times, I can say it was an extremely inadequate description, describing very inconsequential things, not even getting close to touching on the way of BEING IN THE WORLD I experience during psychosis. She also described talking to her father just before her appearance at that meeting; it appeared she had a very good relationship with him.
In 1980 I had what psychiatry terms an auditory hallucination, hearing tones coming from an FM radio. Like tones used in pure tone audiometry, they rose and fell, in pitch, duration, decibels. They began to take on an ’emotional’ feel; I began to interpret it as a communication from my dead father. Though I heard no words, the tones meant things like, ‘I know how you feel,’ ‘I know what you’ve been through,’ ‘Everything’s going to be all right.’ He communicated and comforted through the tones.
Why is that significant? Because I had no conscious memory of having been comforted. Ever. By anyone.
There’s probably not many people in this room today that can even begin to imagine what it’s like to live in a world where one has to go into an altered state to experience the feeling of being comforted.
I’m here today on behalf of those like me, those I don’t know and those I do, like five women, victims of incest over a period of years, now labeled manic depressive and caught in that hell. I want to ask you to look into the alternatives, some of the latest theories about what CAN be happening, what I have learned by myself, that something POSITIVE can come from ‘mental illness.’
For the past 300 years science has defined man as a closed system. Orthodox psychoanalytic theory is based on that belief of the human as an isolated, totally separate entity, and that as isolated individuals, ‘we’ have something ‘wrong’ with us. TODAY science is defining man as an open system with an integral flow with the environment…Science is now saying that what we believe makes fact. Because of the beliefs of those in power, in control, SOME of us are held in bondage in ‘mental illness’ and not allowed to pass through to the other side, to be transformed, to reclaim what we were born with.
I was 3 years 10 months when my father volunteered for the army during WWII. During the first week of psychosis in 1971, I questioned for the first time the meaning to ME of what I had been taught all my life, that God is like a ‘Good father.’ I had had a good father. He STILL left me. Where did that leave me?
Alone, I’ve had to finish what my father started – ME. My father died for me and for this country. My father died for the cause of freedom. I’m here today because, for the first time in my life that I can remember, I’m free. Not only free FROM ‘mental illness,’ free FROM the living hell of existence on the dangerous mind, body and emotion controlling drugs, but free from the undercurrent of pain, free from feelings of total worthlessness, free from fear, free TO TRUST…people, life, even ‘God’, free TO FEEL love, to feel LOVED, free TO BE WHO I AM, not what my mother says I am, not what my Calvinistic religion and culture say I am and not what psychiatry says I am.
Last summer I had the opportunity to travel across this country with a group of people on a motorcade celebrating the bicentennial of the American Constitution. In Washington, D.C. they had a ceremony in front of Lincoln Memorial. It was hard for even me to believe as I stood with my back to Washington Monument and this nation’s capitol, hearing the sound of my voice bouncing off Abraham Lincoln from the big outdoor speakers as I sang the song they insisted I sing, ‘Una Paloma Blanca’ with all my heart in the last line, “No one can take my freedom away.'”
But it was a long hard road to that…..
“Who are you?” a gentle, masculine voice asked behind me. I turned and through the crowd got a good look at the stranger sitting at the end of the table, too young and too pretty to be exuding that much relaxed authority, the kind of man that tends to rub me the wrong way. Reflexively flippant, I asked “Why do you want to know?”
My first encounter with Jess Campbell, he did not impress me. There was no way of knowing that during the coming years no doubt would be left in his mind, or mine, about who I am. He would become, not a guide, but an essential, elemental catalyst for the long, lonely, hazardous psychic journey I would make with only blind faith in the polestar of my instinctual core. A clinical psychologist, he was the director of the County Mental Health Department facility for previously hospitalized people, Day by Day House. I would not see him again for another year.
“Still sitting on the couch, I once more opened the Bible at random to read and interpret another passage. This time it fell open to the passage in John where the woman pours the oils on Jesus’ feet and dries them with her hair. I read it, nothing. I read it again, still no illumination. So one more time; FEELING erupted, TOTAL FEELING. I sat there, immobile. I thought, ‘That’s how somebody FEELS when they think they’re someone in the Bible…My God! I’m SCHIZOPHRENIC!!’ I’ve seen movies with Indian women who do their thing at a death and I don’t know why but I started rocking back and forth and wailing. Not crying, not screaming, not moaning – wailing. I KNEW I HAD LOST CONTROL OF MY MIND!!”
Sitting across from me, Jess’ eyes were misty with a veil of tears as he watched me tell my story of the summer of ’71 while the other client with us sat listening. Quietly, he said, “Perhaps it was a kind of death,” an inexplicably strange statement to me, and sitting in that crowded lunch hour McDonald’s, the sounds of chattering voices became muted, like they were coming from a different room as I watched his sensitive face.
“I don’t know how long before I talked my husband into taking me to the doctor but that’s what I had to do, talk him into it. I took my papers with me, my first writing, papers I ‘felt’ were important for ‘mankind.’ (The only papers I’ve destroyed.) When the doctor stepped inside the room I said, ‘My father was killed when I was 5, my mother developed epilepsy when I was 17, my son became deaf, I ‘ve had a baby that died, I had a baby as a result of rape, now I think I’m somebody in the Bible, I’m schizophrenic, do something. I have an appointment with a psychiatrist on September 18 at 4:00, but my mind isn’t going to wait till September 18 at 4:00.’
The young doctor took a step back, tilted his head to one side as he scrutinized me and said, ‘Not many people appreciate the fact that they’re schizophrenic,’ ordered a hypo for me and said ‘Call the mental health clinic in the morning.’ I remember the ride home through the haze of the sedative; Jack got lost.”
“Did you call the clinic the next morning?” Jess asked.
“No, again, I was too far ‘out of touch with reality’ to know I needed to call the mental health clinic.”
“Why didn’t your husband call then?”
“I don’t think it even occurred to him to call FOR me. A few months before I had laid in bed for a week, with strep throat, too sick to take myself to the doctor and it never occurred to him to TAKE me to one. A few days later, a day I was ‘in reality,’ as I told the Nazarene minister about the experience I started to demonstrate how I had just accidentally opened the Bible to that page, picked up the Bible on his desk, opened it with my thumbs at random the very same way and though I was sane at that moment, I had a strange feeling well up. It opened to the VERY SAME PLACE!!” I continued as we started getting ready to go back to Day by Day House.
DBD had an enticingly relaxed atmosphere. The easy, comfortably stimulating days continued for weeks. Going to DBD up to five days a week there were many things to do, people to talk to, with no pressure to do any of it. Though Jess was not my therapist we had many discussions as we wandered about the house and yard or stretched out on a soft emerald carpet of grass under a blossoming apple tree.
It had been a long four years leading up to the spring of ’75 and sitting on the green grass in the sunshine talking about my feelings, four years during which the remnants of a world I had managed to salvage from a lifetime of trauma were finally shattered into seemingly irretrievable fragments.