My twenties began as my most carefree days ever, then rapidly crumbled into a time of fear, failure, and a complete loss of my sense of self-worth. After my first unanticipated stay in a psychiatric hospital, I immediately felt the stigma. You can’t, after all, tell a stranger you’ve been in a psychiatric hospital and expect him to look at you like you were no different than the patient suffering from appendicitis or a mild form of malaria. Yes, those last two have been known to be fatal, but if you survive, no one questions your value as a human being. Psychiatric patients, however, are damaged in a way the average population finds difficult comprehend. Indeed, even the field of psychology fails to validate their field with its inability to apply standard scientific methods for diagnosing; relying almost entirely on listening to patients and observing their behaviors.
After my first involuntary hospitalization, I tried to will myself away from any more humiliating stays in one of those painful, prison-like facilities. First I tried to forget anything was wrong with me. But when forgetting proved impossible, I thought my only true relief would be suicide. Little did I know the very act of trying to kill myself would bring me back to the one place I wanted so much to forget.
I’m quite intelligent, I’ve been told. I mean, I’ve never had an IQ test to prove it nor do I want one. But I’ve struggled most of my life to see myself as intelligent. Elementary school through junior high, school was relatively easy. High school and beyond, even in some of my favorite, most memorable classes, I found it difficult to maintain anything above a C – average. Once in a while someone would look at me as I lugged around books and talked about my passions and they’d assume I was one of those Stanford-bound kids or something. Then, when I confessed my grades were not good enough, I’d see a frightful look of disbelief in their eyes, like I should have yelled “spoiler alert” before the conversation even began. Lesson: grades and academic awards are not accurate measures of intelligence.
Later, in conversing with my psychiatrist, she lamented about how she wished I were less intelligent because the more aware you are of the world you live in, the more painful the stigma against mental illness is. A less-intelligent person diagnosed with manic-depression (or any kind of higher-functioning mental illness) will live in a sort of blissful ignorance and the pain of stigma won’t bare so deep in them.
It is for this reason temporary stays in psychiatric hospitals are very important for many young, high-strung individuals diagnosed with serious but manageable mental illnesses. It was in the hospital, after a suicide attempt, where I learned the benefit of dreaming about the beautiful things I’d like to do in life. Having a future to hope for diminishes the desire to die young significantly.
This is a relaxing project I did a few times in art therapy: simply cut out pictures from magazines of people, places, and things to remind you of things you want to do before you die and things you enjoying doing now.
I made my book while I was still in my twenties. If I’m ever going to do any of the athletic stuff I have a lot of work to do to get my body in shape. But many of my dreams remain, even now that I’m in my thirties.