by Valentine Michael Smith
I was a frightened, violent kid when I was incarcerated for emotional illness at age 13, and I bitterly hated my parents for being the agents of society that decided I had to be locked up. I had gone to school with a gun, and tried to kill fellow students after taking four months of beatings for lunch money, then for any money I could steal. The extortions weighed on me, got me expelled from school, and finally I snapped. I, and they, are fortunate, that I found none of them. The choice between prison and hospital went to hospitalization.
I spent a month shy of six years in mental hospitals. I was raped at fourteen, beaten and left for dead at fifteen, twice tried to kill myself at sixteen, had a knee operated on at seventeen, and started going to a "town" high school and began escaping regulartly at eighteen. I graduated from school the summer of 1965, right when I would have despite a two year gap because of the hospital, heavy medicating and a low standard of schooling while "inside." I was allowed to be conditionally discharged and go to college, but I was reincarecerated in the late winter of 1965 for another year, and was released after a dramatic escape in 1966. The authorities understood, mercifully, that I would continue to run until I could go out in the big world and make my own mistakes. I felt afterward that it was the only true cognizance the hospital people had ever had about me. I learned more about me from myself than I was ever taught by them.
In those years of envelopment by my illness and walls, bars, security windows, locks everywhere, I was violent, bitter, sarcastic, withdrawn, often right at the edge of catatonia in my indifference. I took medication designed to make me close to comatose, because the authorities did not and would not cope with chair throwing, fist fights, assults of attendents with broken furniture. I tried to kill attendents. I tried to kill myself. Another patient and I carried on a five year war where one or the other of sent the other one to hospital once or twice a year with broken bones. I hated my parents, my fellow patients, the nurses, and the numerous doctors I had, most of them foreigners doing their residencies. I hated inside so much that I never really ever conformed.
I got out of the hospital by sheer will. I was so violent that I was told I could not get out at all until I learned to control my temper. At seventeen, I withdrew into total non-reaction, and I was informed I was over-controlled, and that I would continue being a patient until I could properly respond to what was happening around me. I spent five years on Thorazine and Mellaril in staggering doses, and still was a hyperactive teen. I decided I could not waste what everyone told me was a good brain vegetating in a mental hospital for what was said would be "indefinitely." I wanted to live, be married, write, read all the books in the world, see exotic places like China and Russia, be alive, and not sink into passive acceptance as many of my fellow patients were to do.
I felt I had value, and that the institutions were not where I should spend my days. I got out, and though I have never been to China or Russia, I've led a busy life, and one with many joys. I worked in Human Relations and unions because I had gained a sensitivity to people. When people got too much for me, I would work in libraries. My first marriage failed because I did it "the rebound" from the hospital, but the second is solid after a decade. I am alive and well because of, and despite, having been a mental patient.