Once you’ve seen one laughing academy you’ve seen them all. “Laughing academy” is one of my metaphors I call a state hospital. I also call them, and anyplace like them, crazy houses and madhouses. They really aren’t all that much fun to be confined in, but then I was in and out of them a full ten years of my youth. It was a heck of a place for a young man to have to be. I went in, in 1975, and didn’t get out of the state hospital system until about 1985. By then, my twenties were gone, and my girlfriends were gone too. As far as the ladies were concerned, I was damaged goods. My family was pessimistic about how I would get along in a lifetime commitment with a woman. Me too.
I happened to be an inpatient on a psych unit in 2013, which is a short term unit and ordinarily has more mellow inpatients than a laughing academy. Psych units are a lot more easy to take emotionally than any state hospital. I was in the psych unit to get my psych med’s adjusted. My chemistry was out of balance. I met a woman there who was positively wonderful. I needed to talk. She was a good listener. We spent a lot of time together, talking on the psych ward. She and I were mature, up in our sixties or so. What an elegant lady. How do you make romance out of that?
I was trying to get into a group home so I could leave the psych ward. The door was locked. The elevator controls were locked. Was just plain tired of the whole business. Three group homes came to interview me. Two of them complained I had psychiatric issues and wouldn’t take me. My therapist told me I have grounds for a civil suit there, but it’s not worth the aggravation. My bother was on the phone, over and over, reaming me out about the fact that I have a chemical imbalance. It was hardly news to me. It didn’t make much sense, either. He knew already. The man was upset.
They were all retirement communities designed to help seniors with their various disabilities. I’m a senior with disabilities. Those administrative folks were trying to make life hard for me. My brother chewed me out over the crazy house phone, two or three times in a row, so I chewed him back. I’m not going to sit still and take that from my own brother. We were clearly having a family moment, on a phone with an eight inch cord on my end. I wanted to hang up.
I chewed on him until I thought he’d hang up before I did. But he didn’t. Brother stayed on the phone. How else do you treat your brother on a crazy house phone? I thought about, and calmed down. He said I had to shape up, or go to a state laughing academy. That’s what I thought he said. It was a threat, at least I thought so at the time. I was all bent out of shape there for a while.
My brother was all upset, because he was busy talking to people I wasn’t, with a whole different agenda than the one I had. I had been cooperative and passive since I’d been in that place. What was eating him? Brother wouldn’t even come visit me. I wanted to get discharged to the community. The doctor was talking about it. Brother did not understand my illness. I thought all this. It would not let me loose, but at least I had professionals to turn to. Who did my brother have?
He wasn’t even familiar with the meaning of the term, chronic, anymore than he was familiar with the psycho-therapeutic process. Getting close to four weeks behind a locked door, and asked the social worker and doctor to have a talk with my brother. So I guess he got two phone calls to have to deal with, from the professionals. I don’t know what’s come over me these days. I once did two and a half years behind a locked door. I used to do time like a jail bird.
Now, why was it that I was so worried about four measly weeks? It didn’t add up. I was getting jumpy, figured there was a sniper on one of the rooftops outside the unit, waiting for me. My girlfriend had gone home a long time ago. I had seen all the wild things decompose into nothing, in my mind’s eye, and seen all the human-built things de-construct. Whatever was going in with my mind was like tripping. It was quite the dream or hallucination, or whatever it was. I know I was sober.
Then I had heard about how sight and sound would de-constitute, and existence would simply disintegrate. I wasn’t worried about it. I knew I’d be with God. I thought I was supposed to be a herald. I was seriously tripping on all this stuff. No doubt about it. The lion would lie down with the lamb, and the leopard would lie down with the kid. I have been to the mountaintop, and have witnessed the glory of the Lord. My life was in danger, just like Martin Luther King, Jr, and the Kennedy brothers. Had a few screws loose or a flashback or something.
I told some staff person on the ward, and they asked me why I was so certain my assassination would occur that particular day. I didn’t have any idea how to answer that question, so I stopped talking, to keep from sounding like an idiot. That little speech of mine should have convinced anybody, but it didn’t convince that young lady any. The third group home took me in. But a group home is not a laughing academy by a long shot. I’d been bouncing of the walls of that psych ward until my patience was running thin.
A group home’s a retirement home. So much the better. I get a private room to sit and write with my laptop on my lap until the cows come home. We even stopped at my favorite restaurant on the way to my new place. When I got home, my stuff was already there. Hey. Big brother’s OK in the long run. So, when I arrived at my new home, I figured my darned “cat” was already out of the “bag,” proverbially speaking. I decided I would act naturally and with confidence, the only way I know to how. Do like myself, talk like myself. Be myself. The boss and just about everyone on the staff were really nice to me right away. Still are.
Figured most people won’t have any idea how blitzoid on psych med’s I really am, even if they do bother to look at me. I look like an ordinary Joe. They wouldn’t know I’m not playing with all 52. I spend a lot of time writing in this place. Used to call it Author Central when I first got here. My laptop wasn’t working and I wrote long hand. Figured if I’m in my own space, doing my own thing, I’m not as too likely to get in a jam elsewhere. Of course I’ve got to go to meals in the dining room with everybody else, but that’s less than half what I was used to. The food’s pretty good here. I finally settled at a table where there’s some really nice ladies.
It happens to be a lot smaller crowd here than the last place was. That other place was a retirement home too, with a hundred people converging on the dining room three times a day. This place has about half that. The powers that be can call the place what they want, but it’s still an institution, like any old psych unit and any old state hospital, except for one thing. The people here are a lot more civilized than at either one of those others. That incidental about institutions is really true for me. I happen to be institutionalized after ten years in a laughing academy.
I saw a movie once, where a guy does fifty years behind bars, gets out of prison all at once, without sunglasses. He did his time, go find a suit that fits, he’s getting out. That old man hangs himself by the rafters, because he’s become completely institutionalized. The only thing he knows are those walls and those bars, the noises and sounds of prison. Maybe a lot of people didn’t get that insinuation, but I do, like a lead brick. I can remember this one laughing academy, closer to the city than what I was accustomed to. I kept asking the doctor to let me out sometimes, just to get some fresh air, go to the canteen up the hill for a cup of coffee, that sort of thing. You know. Maybe you don’t.
I wanted to get alcohol and drugs, got a bad case of the Jones-es. The doctor knew it.
One time, when mother was still alive, she came visiting me at the laughing academy, where I was doing long term, took me out to get a steak somewhere. I started crying like a child as soon as I walked out door of that ward. I’d been on the inside for a long time. Mother was like Mother when I cried, but she really didn’t understand me. How would she go about understanding? She had never been institutionalized, spend some real time locked down.
I’d been watching the horrors about the way this world is, on the news on the TV and didn’t know what to expect when I went the outside. I was scared out of my wits. Frankly, I expected a bullet any minute. At the steak house I had to get past the horror in my heart before I could ever walk into the building. My horror imagination was going a mile a minute. It was way back when they still used to let us inpatients walk off the ward at all. The doctor always told me no for my ground parole requests. In fact, she was turning me down for about 18 months after I got there.
I was familiar with the suspicions and paranoia of smoking grass, with smoking hashish, and smoking PCP, but this was an enormous, paralyzing fear which would almost shut down the usage of my legs all together at first. In fact, I am accustomed to not only the effects of drugs, but also the effects of a chemical imbalance in my brain. It was about as challenging as to drive that really curved country road the whole way home, forty five miles from the city. I got through lunch that day, after I got a hold of myself, and made it through the trip to the store mother took me to as well.
Eighteen months I was going to the doctor’s office, talking to that doctor till I was blue in the face. I got tired of talking after while, and asked the doctor what she wanted from me. Perfectly rational question. She said she had read all my charts, from day one, when I was twenty. She said I had a drinking problem. She offered me ground parole to get to the program, to get myself some help. She had already made arrangements right there on grounds. Was I interested? I reached for that offer like a drowning man reaches for a life preserver. It had been a year and a half, and I wanted help alright. I was ready for it too, and I wasn’t kidding.
It was not all fun and games at the state hospital. Out at Takernon Center one day, one of the fella’s went off. I don’t know what he was hitting, but the staff unlocked the dorms, went in the office and locked the door. It was evening when this happened, and staff had gone and unlocked all the doors to the dorms. It was a young fella I didn’t know too well. I asked friends I encountered whether they were OK on my way to my rack. Everybody said they were fine, so I went to bed for the night. I never heard of that young fella hitting or hurting anyone. He got upset.
Then, when I was down at the hospital closer to town one evening, my buddy Randy went off. He was banging things around. If anything could have gotten broken, Randy would have broken it, but wards are pretty bare. At one point he slammed the upper part of the French door. Staff had locked themselves in the office like they had out in the country. Randy quietly walked up to me, personally, and asked me to call an ambulance. Since we were in a state hospital, I was uncertain if they’d send an ambulance, so I made an excuse and walked away from my friend.
Another time, Randy and I got a day pass together. We went all up and down the streets of the town where we were. He grew up right there, so he showed me all the places he’d gone to, growing up. We went back into a part of the residential area, to the kitchen door of his mother’s house. The door was locked. Randy reached for a key, but there was no key. The young man couldn’t go home, because he could get in. He had no key anywhere. He was banished, locked out, disenfranchised in his own home, in his own hometown. We were only young men in those days. I think that incident would have set me off too.
Randy’s homeless now, weather-worn, disoriented. I suppose his Mother’s dead. I know mine is. Where there was that motherly love, now there’s nothing. He wanders his hometown, delirious. We used to be friends at the state hospital. If he’d get medication he’d be fine. Last time I saw Randy, like several earlier encounters, he had no idea who I was. I decided to let him go, and omitted speaking to him. I wonder how that arm’s doing. That’s what happened to a lot of us when the closed down the institutions. We got put out on the street. I moved since then, to be down by my brother. He and I don’t fight that much anymore. I consider myself fortunate to have a place.