Archive for June, 2013

Institutionalized

Posted: June 18, 2013 by S. Trevor Swenson in Uncategorized
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I’m Not Crazybedlam-william-hogarth
Institution
You’re The One That’s Crazy
Institution
You’re Driving Me Crazy
Institution.

-Suicidal Tendencies
Institutionalized

A new nurse is on a psych ward and she happens across a patient who is completely nude save for dress shoes, white gloves and a top hat. The nurse gets upset at the patient and exclaims”You can’t run around here like that!!”
The patient calmly reassures her, “Oh no one cares what you do around this place, as long as you don’t hurt anyone or yourself…It’s just us loons and the staff.”
The new nurse ponders this for a moment and asks “Well, then what’s with the gloves, and the top hat.
The patient winks at her and says “Well, you never know.”

-A joke I heard in a film once that I enjoyed, yet never quite understood.

 

Yesterday I wrote one of my super-duper-in-a-Mini-Cooper-clever-Trevor Facebook posts. I like Facebook in that it allows me a creative outlet for my poor impulse control. Anyhoo, this is what I posted last night.

I’m frankly amazed on an almost hourly basis that I am neither
A. A Millionaire
B. Weaving baskets or doing puzzles in some institution.

I have many strange, complex, funny and unique theories about mental health, coupled with a rather serious fear of being institutionalized against my will. I suppose part of it was all the bad cliché TV shows and movies that I saw during my childhood. People would get locked up and not be allowed to leave. None of the pipe smoking, maddeningly sedate psychiatrists with the mandatory Van Gogh prints on their walls, or the burly, smiling guys in the starched, white suits and black bow ties would listen to their pleas and assertions of their sanity.

I remember as a little boy asking my mother about mental illness.

“Ma, what’s this word?”
I asked pointing to a page of a book of hers that I had been trying to read, and that I often reference in my writing titled “How To Make Yourself Miserable“.
“Neurotic” she replied before going back to her own book.
“What’s ‘new rock tick’ mean?”
“Neurotic” she corrected me. “It means a little crazy.” she said, paused for a moment and then added, “Everyone is a little neurotic.”
“Even you, Mommy?” I asked.
“No honey, everyone but me.”

I also asked my mom about “crazy people” from time to time.

“People who are really crazy don’t think or know that they’re crazy” she once told me.
“Even grandma and grandpa?” I asked.
“Especially grandma and grandpa.” she said smiling, then paused and told me
“Don’t say that to them, though.”

It’s interesting how adults have to cultivate and nurture a filtering process in their children. Children overhear adults gossiping and like to parrot what they hear. It’s sad that despite my mom’s best efforts, my filtering process is still inconsistent and unreliable at best.

“Ma, is this the lady from work with the mustache who you said needs to get laid?”
“Ma? What’s ‘laid’?”
“Owwww mom, you’re hurting me!”

So, according to mom;

· Everyone is a little crazy.
· It’s called being neurotic.
· Really crazy people aren’t aware of their craziness.
· My grandparents, despite their bland and normal facade were seriously on the flight deck and flapping their arms…and
· This was our little secret.

At some point I must have become aware that there were places for people who were really ‘Coo Coo For Cocoa Puffs’ and unable to conceal it as well as grandpa and grandma. They had to be locked up in “hospitals”. These people were “sick”, and they were locked up so “They wouldn’t hurt other people or themselves”.

“Like when I jumped off the roof with my pillowcase parachute?”
“Yes honey, something like that.”

There were rooms in these places with cushions all over the walls and floors so when these crazy people had a temper tantrum they could bang their heads as much as they wanted and not hurt themselves. This actually sounded fun to my 7 or 8 year old sensibilities. As a curious and not terribly bright lad, I had a mischievous streak and I was occasionally banished to my bed chamber for not eating my vegetables, putting rubber snake in grandma’s freezer, forgetting where I had hidden grandpa’s teeth, trying to cut my own hair or finger painting the kitchen walls. I was none too happy when sentenced to my room, which upon further reflection was really not such a horrible punishment…all my toys were there….and sometimes I would throw a good old fashioned Donnybrook of a tantrum…after, of course, informing the nice lady who had given birth to me “I HATE you!!!” She would respond that I was not her favorite person at that very moment, and if I slammed that door again, she was going to “give me something to cry about” which is a remark that never made one iota of sense to me. Once when my step-mother told me to “be quiet or I’ll give you something to cry about” I foolishly piped up between sobs, “You already did”. As it turned out, she wasn’t bluffing. She was indeed able to give me something additional to cry about. During my tantrums I would have loved to pound my head against a cushion covered wall, or to flail myself about to and fro. I think I smashed my head against a wall once after seeing it on TV or a cartoon and found it to be unsatisfying

Another funny cliché that I remember from childhood were those “Nice Men” (They were always referred to that way) in the white suits who came to take the crazy person away and they always had these huge butterfly nets, which not only cracked me up, but I find myself frequently wishing this practice was going on today. Just as ice cream trucks announce their arrival with that weird tinkling music…I think the nice men in the white suits should arrive in various neighborhoods for regular wackaloon roundups playing a calliope version of Patsy Cline’s “Crazy”…get out of their milk truck with the butterfly nets and chase down whomever forgot their meds or who has been arguing with their imaginary friends in public and at socially unacceptable volumes. Just think of how entertaining Nut-Bar Round Up Day would be in your neighborhood. People would call in sick to stay home and watch “The Running of the Lunatics”. (Which has its own little flavor of irony)

I suppose I am writing about the subject of mental hospitals in a rather cavalier manner. To be completely honest it is because it is something I find both very sad as well as very scary, and all too often I use humor to soften the things in life that upset me. It’s a pity that there is such a stigma in regards to mental health even today. Often things that are really a case of medical and bio-chemical issues are seen as short comings and weakness. I once saw a PSA for depression awareness that read “You wouldn’t tell someone with cancer to “Get over it” would you?” It’s a great sentiment, but it doesn’t always hold up in today’s world. Scientifically speaking, depression is a medical issue. Doctors and scientists have even narrowed it down to certain chemicals in the brain that aren’t flowing properly, or aren’t produced by the body in sufficient amounts. We can call in sick to work for the flu, but not for crushing sadness and a bleak view of life. There are things we can do pro-actively to combat depression or debilitating amounts of anxiety…Exercise, vitamins, better diet and sleep. Ironically these are the same things we can do to combat many physical ailments from diabetes to the common cold.

Plus, the world we live in is often an unhealthy place both physically and emotionally. Yet once again the physical is addressed by society…well sort of. I mean we pretend to care about and legislate for clean water and air. We ban and or regulate certain foods, additives and drugs. But what are we doing to make life less ugly and stressful? We’ve had automobiles around for quite some time now, and yet we haven’t even looked into a horn that doesn’t make an unpleasant sound? I say if we can come up with apps for cell phones that tell us when it’s a good time to go to the bathroom in a movie, then we can design a car horn that says ” Excuse Me” at an effective yet acceptable volume. This would certainly make traffic jams sound interesting.

Part of the reason I am so terribly afraid of being institutionalized is social. I am afraid of what my friends, family and society in general would think of me if this were to happen. Would I be shunned at the annual 4th of July family cookout that I avoid like the plague anyway? I guess it’s like our parents told us when we whined that our friends were giving us a hard time about something. . . “Well, then they’re not real friends”. This was usually true, but I still had to spend 180 school days with these bastards and live on the same street as them year round.

Who knows, maybe checking into a booby hatch is something your friends and family have been hoping would happen for years.

“Scott got taken away in a butterfly net yesterday.”
Finally!! How’s he doing?”
“He seems to be okay. Actually, he’s really enjoying the padded cell. They have to coax him out with candy and comic books.”

In reality, if and when I get taken to the macadamia farm by the nice men in the white suits and butterfly nets, I feel confident that most of my friends and family will come and visit me, bring me toys, crossword puzzle books and goldfish crackers. At the very least I’ll probably receive a “Get Well” card from relatives with whom I am on good terms and yet share a basic contempt with.

Hey, there’s a new industry. Get Well cards for people in rehab or wacky wards. I might just pitch that idea to Hallmark and American Greetings. I might land a desk job and be given a few artists to boss around.

Part of my fear of being institutionalized is practical. I seriously doubt I could swing a private suite, so what kind of roommate would I end up with? I shudder to think. With my luck it would be some klepto AND pyro maniac who would keep stealing my lighters. Or an especially talkative child molester. I don’t think the patients get to pick their own roommates and opt for someone fun like someone who thinks the institution is just some elaborate reality TV show they haven’t been voted off of yet, or someone who keeps adopting imaginary pets. I’d have fun going along with that. “Hey Jacob…buddy, can you keep Fido off of my bed please?” I’m not above indulging someone’s harmless land-of-make-believe excursions.

My friend Pamela is a psych-nurse, and I read the rough draft of this piece to her. She laughed, which was the desired effect. She has confided in me about the patients she likes and those who are difficult. Pam seems to enjoy the more spirited patients, as opposed to the drug addicts who pester her every 5 minutes for their sedatives or methadone. “I told you, your next dose is at 6….not 4:30, not 4:35, not 4:40….” you get the idea.

I like to joke with Pam that I want to check myself into her hospital and make her job more interesting. “Hey Nurse Ratched, it’s time for my meds and a sponge bath!” A good sport to the bitter end, Pam retorted that they have a 300 pound, gay, ex-con orderly who does the bathing. “He’s very gentle.” she assured in me.

I hope that someday everyone who needs help can get it affordably and with understanding from all….Even smart-ass neurotics like me.