Last week I had one of the hardest dreams I have had in a very long time. The feelings were excruciating, horrifying really, and incredibly real. At the start, I was probably around age 14, confiding in a therapist. Although I am terrified to, I reveal to him that I can see spirit right in front of me. I immediately find myself inside of a small room, and feel that I am in a mental institution. All of my perception is profoundly altered. I am aware that I am taking the drug Haldol, a powerful anti-psychotic medication normally given to people with profound symptoms of Schizophrenia.
I lose all perception of time. I long for my former life, but am also barely conscious. At a certain point I realize my mother is in the room, sitting right behind me. I am trying to convince her to let me out, but I have trouble speaking. My mouth is extremely dry, I actually pull cotton out of it. I pull a tampon out of it. I am horrified. I can’t even form a thought, the Haldol feels like someone is jumping on my brain and that my perception is flickering in and out. Have five minutes passed? Five years? I don’t know.
I see pictures of myself being a good member of my mental institution community. I am participating happily in the art class. I am helping others heal. I am terrified that my mother will see these pictures and want me to stay locked up. I am doing so well after all. I look at her and realize that it is no longer my mother but a version of myself, and I am spewing vile words, that I can never be trusted, that I have no integrity, that I couldn’t handle getting out of here. That I am not strong enough, not disciplined enough. The Haldol is so debilitating, but I finally get the words out—
“I know I am crazy, but I still have feelings.” And then I wake up.
It feels important to mention that I have never taken any prescribed psychiatric medication—I’ve never been diagnosed with any mental disorder, as a matter of fact. I have always been terrified of this and resisted it in so many ways. For me, having a diagnosis meant I was going to be stripped of my power, of my autonomy, of my dignity. What I did not realize that it was this fear that was keeping me institutionalized, and that I have been doing all of these things to myself. By working so hard to keep any of my experiences that might be considered ‘crazy’ or ‘weird’ or ‘abnormal’ hidden so that I wouldn’t be labeled as such, I have kept my spirit locked in a tiny room, drugged, disoriented, unable to express my pain.
It’s a turning point in the dream, when I am finally able to speak, speak to this part of myself that has kept me down, tortured me and silenced me, allowed me to do anything but just be myself, and feel the way I feel.
And so in this dream I see some light. In seeing my own struggle I feel some resolve. How much longer will I keep myself institutionalized? How many more months will allow my energy to be drained, my connection to the deepest yearnings of my soul cut off, trampled on, numbed away? I’ll say these words like a mantra, I may be crazy, but I still have feelings. I may be crazy but I still have feelings, still have feelings, still have feelings. In so many ways, they are the primary thing I have. I have the way things feel to me, I have the way I experience the world, and I know I must honor that completely. This dream helped me see how I have denied myself this, and worked so hard to destroy my own light, and keep myself locked away. Truly, the more I think about it…the more it opens up.
Of all the self-destructive behaviors I’ve engaged in, I think my most shameful (and the one that would probably be most likely to garner me some kind of mental diagnosis, although it’s not exactly difficult to come by these days..) is punching myself, pinching myself, and slapping myself. Basically, physically abusing myself. Self-harm I guess they call it, but that’s always been a somewhat bland term to me because so many things could fall in that category. I wish I could tell you the first time I did it. I might have been really young. It has always been a somewhat instinctual reaction to a wide variety of external stressors. But I know when it got really bad—when I was 17. Thus far, that has been the lowest part of my life. I sunk into a deep depression that expressed itself in a lot of ways—I lost my appetite, experienced extreme insomnia, the whole nine. But I also began consistently hurting myself, and to extremes. During school these powerful waves of self-hatred would pulse through my body and it would feel like the only viable option was to expel them in some way, to punish myself.
As the depression continued I eventually began relating to this heavy punishing energy as a demon that lived at the back of my throat, pulling at my tongue, taunting me, spewing this vile hatred into my ear. In my notebook I began referring to him as the MOC (Master of Ceremonies). He completely controlled my life. Whatever he said went, and I could never get him to shut up unless I hurt myself physically in some way.
And what was his biggest threat, the biggest reason I was such a terrible failure? That I was crazy. And wasn’t I? Hearing voices telling me to hurt myself? Isn’t that basically the definition? This is why I was always so careful to hurt myself privately and to hide all of my self-harm from anyone. I was completely terrified of cutting myself, A, because the sight of blood has always made me ill, and B, because I thought that if I cut myself then I would definitely be seen as crazy—or perhaps what I was most afraid of—needing help.
I did not want help. Mostly, because I didn’t want to be someone who needed help. Those people were weak and unstable and untrustworthy—and weren’t being ‘good’. I was supposed to be good and happy and help other people because my life was so blessed. And how was I ever going to that if I needed help? I did not want anyone to know of my pain, because having pain at all was shameful. Plus, I had way too much of it. I had to be punished for it. And so I was, and so I did. Over and over.
I wish I could say I never ever do this anymore, but I can’t. I can say that I do it significantly less. Like maybe once or twice in the last few years, and with a lot less severity. At least 13 years since I’ve left a bruise on myself. When you self harm you sort of start to count things in this way, like ok I just slapped myself—but I didn’t slap as hard, I was a little more gentle this time.
As with so many of my self-destructive behaviors, I am on a healing journey with this one. And this blog post right here, paired with this dream I had last night, feels like a really important milestone. Because I am speaking my pain to all of you, and I am opening up my closet and letting all of the skeletons out—especially the one that has me convinced that you will all think I am crazy.
And you know what? It feels really good. Because somehow, some way, today—so what if I am crazy? I’ve got my feelings, and I’ve got to own them. It’s the only way….no, it’s my way. And I love it. So much gratitude for anyone who took the time to witness me here, like this. And courage to anyone out there that may be hiding some of their pain for fear of judgment. Maybe I am ‘crazy’, but I still have feelings. I’m not going to let those voices keep me locked up anymore. And as I have learned time and again—for me, speaking up is the way out.