I had mentioned this in an offhand way in a post and someone said it would be a good thing to write about. Over the DECADES I have written about it extensively, trying to understand that part of my childhood that is positively connected to the present.
My dad was a professor at one of the USA’s largest universities. Mom was a housewife that took care of 4 kids. Were 5 kids but 1 died before I was born. THAT has always made me wonder if that was part of the story of my year in a mental hospital.
I am going to cut out the extra pages here and just write memories and observations that came out of what happened. How I went from nut case to boring old bastard now.
I had a good suburban kid life, looking back. For decades. Stereotypical house in the suburbs. No crime. Plenty to eat. Small house with 3 bedrooms and kids stacked up bunk beds. The usual bunch of dogs. There was a sort of dark family secret that affected ME I was told but I don’t remember it ever having affected me the way they said it did. My oldest brother was 7 and playing on the local school playground with another kid, age 5. The younger kid had brought a jackknife to school with him and was playing with the knife and it ended up in my brother’s back. Teacher called Mom told her there was an accident at school. NOT that my brother was bleeding to death. Mom assumed it was just some stupid thing. No details. Dad had the car and mom called him to get my brother. Dad found brother a bloody mess and sped with him to the hospital. A few days later he died. These days, big scandal. The teacher would have been fired and sued. It all faded except for the murmurs of what happened. I always thought it happened at the old school across the street. It occurred to me recently that unbeknownst to me, I probably played on the same ground my brother was stabbed on. My parents were both traumatized by it but kept on. Stoic folks. My dad was overprotective in ways I could only see many years later. After my parents died, I found momentoes of my brother’s funeral hidden in the house.
I was a very sensitive child. I heard that I was near death at age 18 months of spinal meningitis. Thanks modern medicine for saving my life! After losing my brother THAT was traumatic for my mom. I was a sickly kid for a while but got stronger. I suspect that illness affected my mind and emotional make-up. I was an anxious kid. I went to school and so much seemed to scare me. I cried out of fear often. It got worse and worse. I know the teachers had no idea how to deal with it. I have vague horrifying memories of being in a class and feeling overwhelmed by sheer TERROR. I believe these days they would be called “panic attacks”. Back in the early to mid 60s nobody knew about such things. Second grade came and I was a bigger mess. Freaking out and a teacher from hell that believed in screaming at frightened kids freaking out screaming at me. Poor woman. As an adult I feel for her. I was so disruptive in class with my crying panic antics that my parents were given an ultimatum: Make me take second grade over again or put me in a mental hospital.
I got the mental hospital.
That hospital no longer exists. It was torn down for a mega-hospital complex. It’s a shame because it was a good place. I think about 10 floor high. It had a swimming pool, gym, and a nice playground outside. I believe it was a teaching hospital. I remember lecture halls in part of it. The Psychiatric hospital for children was only part of it. I have been able to figure out that it was a teaching hospital with the children often under observation.
I think I remember a feeling of being very special going there. All the kids were out-patient status. We went in for maybe 6 hours like a regular school and then out. Either my mom or dad would pick me up. Dad worked nearby so that was helpful.
I find myself breathing heavy while writing this. Odd.
There were classes and times with the shrinks. Sessions were recorded with a machine called a “dictaphone”. I remember the blue plastic cylinders. There was always a bowl of candy on the desks. It was like an interrogation so many times. Always asking about what I felt and about the family life. I remember 1 person would visit my family house and sit off to the side and observe our dinner conversation. It was surreal. Do you think we would be natural? No. My mom would often give the woman a loaf of homemade bread or some other such food she made. It was one of the stupidest ideas I have ever seen for psychiatry. Normally, the family would eat and dad would do a lot of yelling. Damn that man loved to bark at the kids! ME especially. I was often if not always the kid the subject of his anger. I think the whiskey and beer he drank after getting home from work may have affected him. Nobody talked about THAT back then.
At the school/hospital there were therapy sessions. There was swimming and playing in a gym. The teachers often wore white coats. The kids were from the jungle. Predators and prey. There were abusers and victims. I do not recall getting beaten like other kids. I was bullied and teased a lot because of course I DID still cry. Bullies love it when they can break you down sobbing. Some of them did. My worst memory is of being held by my ankles head facing down out of a window probably on the 8th floor. I feel I remember it so well. The texture of the outside of the building. The small cars and people below. The sweaty arms of the kids holding me and that slipping feeling and then yanked inside shortly after the Attendants had broken through. The kids I was with had gone Lord Of The Flies and pushed the teacher out of the room after grabbing that person’s keys. They went totally nuts in that playroom or whatever it was. I remember vaguely the madness. The screaming hysterical joy it seemed. The dramatic jingling of keys and then ME being pulled in. I have probably never been so scared in my life. I believe I remember one of the kids being in high school with me later. He always DENIED having been in THAT place but his denial of “that place” was an admission. HE was one of the predators but in regular high school he was just another common kid with bigger kids to beat his ass if he got out of line. I recall seeing kids beaten by other kids. Kids bloodied. I remember a teacher snapping and jumping on a big kid that thought he was so badass and smashing him into the playground and showing him what it was like AFTER that kid had savagely beat a little kid. It was a lot of fists and kicks stuff. No weapons. TERROR. Yes… that seemed to sum up so much of what happened there: TERROR. The teachers and attendants did their best. They took us out on field trips and I think the kids I palled around with envied me going to the beach and parks etc. But there was that constant predator and prey crap. For some odd reason, I remember one little kid running down a hall with some bigger kid chasing him as he screamed. I remember being locked in a “quiet” room once and I think it was probably because I had gone hysterical. It was a small room with tiny tiles on the walls and a slit window I was able to look out of. I suspect they did that to calm me down or keep me out of harm’s way. I remember the cafeteria hamburgers fondly. Was probably shit but I liked the dry things. Institution food.
I do not remember how or why I was released back into the regular school system after 1 year. I know I still had emotional issues. I was sort of BRANDED by the hospital experience. I know it was a big part of the paper work that followed me. I would still freak out crying but it became less. I recall a music teacher bullying and screaming at me and I would fall apart in class. She had her own issues. She was so cruel that for many years I toyed with fantasies of revenge. Creepy shit like “hey old woman… remember little ____? PAYBACK TIME!” Yeah you sick fuck, go beat up an old lady. I look back at her with compassion instead. Could I have handled ME in a class? Teachers have their own lives. Then they have to deal with crazy freaky kids? Wow-what stress for THEM!
I grew out of that crying thing but was still very anxious. It marked me. I had to see counselors for check-ups. In high school, I turned to drugs and alcohol to self-medicate. I have seen so many kids that thought they had a monopoly on the weird outsider kid thing. Oh I invented it! ;-) I had a father that mentally and emotionally abused me. Beat me a few times but I thought it was normal because I was a bad student. It was not right I found out later. HE had his issues. Again, looking back, those beers and whiskey or brandy after work altered his behavior. In a way my dad and I were a bit alike. BOTH self medicating. I drank and smoked cannabis whenever I could get it.
I continued to have anxiety problems after I barely graduated from high school. I had 0 self esteem. Assumed I was ugly and no girls would want me. Looking back at some old photos, damn I was a good looking kid ;-) Just fucked up inside. Full of fear of life. I hid in fantasy worlds in books. I remember how my basement room was covered in fantasy art posters and I lived on fantasy and sci fi books. My dad got me a job cleaning lab equipment after I graduated. I hated it. I was having constant anxiety. I quit and it was a personal affront to my dad. He tortured me mentally every day and I finally snapped and tried to kill myself with a poison gas mixture I heard about. I went up the light tunnel and back and felt foolish for living and fucking it up. Could not even kill myself right! Reminds me of the shit kids write on this journaling site. Yeah, y’all got monopolies on self pity and misery.
I had some bullshit jobs and lived with my parents. Suffered severe depression so bad I could hardly move. Finally dad got sick of me and shipped me out to another state to live with a brother and work in a sawmill. Hard horrible work with incredible amounts of drinking. Few months of that and trying to drink homesickness away then back to my parents. 1 year of that and then I got a factory job.
Anxiety stalked me all my life. For years I paid for therapy thinking I was a mess inside. I had panic attacks and tried to hide from getting out into society for fear of having them. What I learned was… EVERYONE IS AFRAID. I learned that I needed to and NEED TO face what I fear. I was terrified of Jury Duty but learned it is something we just have to face and live through. It is an annoyance. Deal with it. I eventually accepted that. Most of what we fear is something we create a fear of. There was nothing for me to fear when I was a kid. It may have been a biochemical thing. I think what made things worse for me was RETREATING FROM WHAT I FEARED. I have had to deal with facing a fear of travel. I use logic. WHY do I not want to go some place?
Because I have no sense of wanderlust. No interest. The negatives outweigh any positives to me. Flying? HEIGHTS of any kind terrify me and that seems a normal fear.
I spent much of my life believing I was not “ok” like other people. I saw therapists and read libraries of psychological writings. I have gone from being a Christian to now Identifying as something of an Atheist Buddhist. My great lessons in life are that everyone is fucked up. Nobody has a monopoly on pain and suffering. I was never a very weird person because in my youth everyone was weird. Many just hid it better. I learned to EMBRACE what others saw as being weird or crazy or … whatever the labels were. I learned that I am a GOOD man. A kind man. I care about others. How did I become that person?
That fucked up kid crying in school was the genesis of the GOOD KIND EMPATHETIC COMPASSIONATE MAN I AM NOW.
Because I remember a kid that was deaf in high school. He talked funny and people made fun of him. I felt a connection with him because of what I had experienced. EMPATHY.
You see I am glad for what happened when I was a kid. I am glad for my drug and alcohol use. I learned empathy for others. I knew suffering and could relate to those that suffered. I knew what it was and IS like to be bullied. I faced bullies in the factory. I learned it is ok to NOT lash out at them and be seen as weak because it keeps you out of the state penitentiary. I honed my HUMANITY in my youthful and even later mental illness. The best of our humanity IS Empathy, Compassion and a Loving nature. You can get your emotional ass beat and if you come out still feeling compassion for others and not a bitter hateful angry mess… damn you got it made! Got the world by the ASS because you GOT YOUR HUMANITY! The world did not beat you down.
I used to think I was a failure because I did not go to college or at least finish it like others. One psychologist told me something Beautiful. He said,” ____ You are just as smart or smarter than most of those people at that University.” It was like the Wizard telling me I had a fucking BRAIN! It was something that my dad should have told me but never did. All he saw were the bad report cards. The notices about my skipping school and how WE all had to see family therapists because I was caught drunk and high in school a few times. I recall a therapist telling my dad something very simple: “Spend more time with your son. Go fishing with him”. He tried but he hated it. He just never liked me. He tolerated me. I have learned to not go boo hoo trauma! Not all parents love their kids. They just do not have it in them to feel that. I learned that writing this. Insight for me. In my fathers last year or so he was probably more honest than ever with his emotions. HE HATED ME. THAT…was on him and not me.
My father hated me and I made a conscious decision to NOT HATE HIM OR ANY OTHER PERSON. That too was that little kid. Just as, as a kid I saw how crazy (violent) the others were, I decided that was not for me. Better to be that nice sensitive kid WITH HIS HUMANITY INTACT than to be like the angry hateful people. Like my father was.
We do not have to be the child we were, but we can be a better adult BECAUSE OF THE CHILD WE WERE.
I knew some very bad people working in the factory and they were examples and lessons of what not to become.
I loved and lost women but it was regretfully a growth experience too late. It was also a lesson of how we are constantly changing IF WE LET OURSELVES. I had to let go of my own self-perceptions to change and become the person I am now. I see that in so many people. Let go of your negative self-perception and allow yourself to be the good you are. Let go of caring what others think of you and be the positives you think and FEEL you are. I carried a burden of so many seeing me as “crazy” or some other NEGATIVE term and I had to let it go. I recall being in a high school alumni group. I saw where someone had started writing about someone of my name. I just shook my head in disgust. Someone kept a shitty memory of me for over 40 years. Sorry but that is not me. That is just someone they SAW as me. I am not that negative descriptive. This is why I often have a rough fuck you attitude toward many. I know my reality. I do not let others foist their illusion of me on me.
Irony of my childhood time in the mental hospital is that the psychiatrists summed up my crying in school as I was afraid of being killed like my brother. Sorry guys. Wrong. I had always thought my brother was killed at the school across the street ;-)
I know this was word salad. I got carried away. It was good to get it out. If anyone read this, thanks for listening.