I finally made it to The Looney Bin.

Having people not think me “crazy” has traditionally been something that I held in very high esteem. It started very early on, with strange visions and knowings I quickly learned to keep to myself. It worsened after my mother killed herself when I was 14, when the thick tar of depression started to envelop my psyche.

This fear of being called crazy reached it’s apex at 19, as I approached a mental break. I’d been your typical rebellious-experimenting freshman, especially intrigued by ‘shrooms and quite the lil’ stoner. I also delved into eastern philosophy with zeal, something that seemed to reawaken those visions I had squashed as a child. There were many magic moments, but I was ungrounded, to say the very least. Trying to “act normal” despite my ontologically-oriented mental state presented challenges.

The “crazy” experience happened the summer after freshman year, 2002. My mind stayed on a purely ontological level for four days, dealing with the mundane seemed positively ridiculous ––and I wasn’t shy about expressing so. I meditated at deep levels for the first time, ideas I would later study in philosophy classes running through my head whilst blowing my mind. I felt so good, but of course I wasn’t at all a functioning adult in this capacity. (I have an article coming out in The Numinous soon about this experience! Shame has officially fucked off.)

Those four days were labeled a “mental break” by a shrink, but now I think of them as an uber dramatic preview to a mental state I would be comfortable in much later, a preview likely brought on by repressed trauma, ungrounded living, and bodily dysfunction (B12 deficiency’s associated with mental breaks, I also have a cyst on my pineal gland): but a sacred preview nonetheless. I’ve had many similar experiences since, though less intense and with no experimental prequel (often coinciding with astro events), and now call the centeredness of that dreamy mental state home––15 years of mindfulness training later.

But, as always, I digress. That experience happened in my small Alaskan hometown, and afterward I felt just crushed by embarrassment. A family member had tried to send me away to a mental institution, something that was communicated to me by another freaked out teen whose parents had prevented it from happening. It seemed so perilous. I continued to struggle with depression but was terrified of the “looney bin” images Mother Culture had given me, so I kept my struggles to myself.

But a couple of weeks ago it finally happened, I had another 4-day mental experience––but this time it was about healing. It was preempted by finding out that I didn’t get Disability, a precious hope I apparently had been clinging to with dear life, now I know was all those 4 of Pentacles were about in my tarot readings! I screamed so deeply it terrified me, threw things around my apartment, and then fell to the ground.

Once there, the suicide storm rolled in fiercer than ever before. I tried my usual methods to distance myself from it, but nothing was working. I called 911 and three police officers arrived at my house shortly after. I had calmed down externally at this point, with occasional bursts of tears. They stared at me like, “You seem fine, for an emotional woman.”

After a good half hour of trying to convince them that I wasn’t fine, that I feared I wouldn’t make it through the night, I got direct––”I want to kill myself but I want to live more, can you help me or not??” They finally caught what I was throwing and called an ambulance because apparently liability laws wouldn’t let them just drive me there.

It took forever to arrive, and my physical symptoms grew out of control as I usually use cannabis to medicate, but these cops had been in my house for the last hour. Then I remembered––we legalized it! So I toked up right in front of the police officers, to my delight. (And to theirs, ‘cept one.)

The ambulance ride was quick, but the check-in was miserably long. After an awful 6 hours alone in a room inside the ER (in several ways, the experience wasn’t dissimilar to my 4 days in jail) – I was finally brought “upstairs”, a mysterious place that had only been alluded to. When I asked for more information the nurse nervously evaded answering and quickly left my room. While waiting, images from movies and TV about mental wards flashed through my head. I was terrified I had made a horrible mistake…

My fears were soothed at about 4 am, when I arrived in my room: no roommate, even my own bathroom, and a nurse asking about my health conditions and pharmaceutical needs. Morning came all too quickly, but it was with a fine breakfast and an invite to join the others. This scared me and I asked if I could eat in my room. The kind man assured me that was just fine, but encouraged me to try to make it out for lunch and for the group classes.

Once I hit up a group class I realized that I had absolutely made the right decision.

I spoke my truth and was received with not only warm compassion, but genuine empathy! These people KNEW what it was like. I was grouped with people that were primarily dealing with depression, something I know all too personally, and well as bipolar disorder––something my mother struggled with. My heart glowed with acceptance as I listened to others’ stories and I realized that no one there was “crazy.” (A nasty word.)

We talked story, we made stuff, and we personal-growth’d. The teachers of the group classes were brilliant, teaching coping mechanisms and interpersonal techniques without a hint of condesension––a fear of mine, of course. They didn’t mind my excessive questions, and I think I learned a lot. (I did learn that I don’t like taking pills all day, the whole experience is a bit foggy/kinda intoxicated, really. Glad to have “emergency happy pill” medicine though.)

There was a more severe ward semi-connected to us and there were a couple of lockdowns due to events happening there. One of them was during a group, right as we were wrapping up: since we were all stuck there I offered to teach a meditation class. It was only the second time I’ve done that, so it was a big deal for me.

I interlaced the meditation by speaking about how we are not our thoughts, even the really scary ones that feel so real. How our heads are filled with mental constructs and evolutionary reactions––things that are smaller than the real us. I quoted Pema Chödrön, talking about how we are the sky, and our thoughts are just the weather. I talked about how to detach from our thoughts, why it’s so important. It was very well-recieved, and we continued to talk about mindfulness and mental health until the next class came in.

On the whole, it was a really wonderful experience. I was feeling pretty shaky the last couple weeks, like I was in some kind of after-shock state. But the last few days I’ve started to feel like my old self again, indefatigable in my optimism and drive to get the fuck out of this situation. Wish me luck, and if you’re debating getting help (for anything)––just do it.

* Edited for clarity on August 31st, 2020; I’m not actually sure if I knew about the pineal cyst when I first wrote this, but I was blaming myself for a lot of the 2002 event so added the science clarity and toned done the saucily-presented “taking responsibility.” (Fuck shame, man, fuck it.)

** It’s also interesting to note all of the “you seem fine” struggles I’ve had in relation to chronic illness here, now that I know I’m actually autistic — NT’s have a hard time reading our emotions. Ah-ha!

*** Also, I truly had a mental break this month. I’m not sure what happened in 2002 was really the same thing, they were so so so very different. Nonetheless – I’m not sure anyone could have a mental break on purpose, but I feel the need to specify THEY ARE NOT DESIRABLE. Commit to a meditation practice to get trippy ass cool experiences!


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