John Michael continues his series Life Is a Sweet, Tender Bruise, reflecting on life and people encountered, writes about the misuse of medications in state facilities.
At one point in my street adventure, I found myself in a mental hospital in Fort Worth and one in Wichita Falls. I was a little manic in the spring after coming out of a deep depression. I am going to condense this story as I want to make a larger point about medication. I was much angrier back then and defiant, although I have never been a physically violent type.
A big guy like myself, people may be a little scared at first based on appearances, until you get to know me some. It may have been how I was presenting myself emotionally back then, though. Any time I had an angry outburst in the hospital, no matter how short it was, they insisted on giving me some kind of medication to calm down.
I was in the Fort Worth hospital a couple of times actually and got out the first time while refusing all medications. It really took the doctors aback. I was calm enough and, after a week, they couldn’t figure out a diagnosis to pin on me and had to let me go.
The second time I was in there, they were insisting I take a calm-down med and I was not having it, so, at one point, I was surrounded by a bunch of big techs and security officers. I was impulsive back then as well.
I said, “Let’s wrestle.”
In short order, I was pinned to the ground and a syringe was slid into my ass.
That turned out to be a mistake on my part. The hospital later took me to court, to have me forced by the state to take their medications. I’m glad at least there was a legal process. I almost won as well, despite my overly deferential lawyer. But the judge used that “let’s wrestle” comment to determine I may have been a physical danger to others, even though I never made a single move to hurt anyone. It scared me how easy it is and how bold the state is taking over the life of someone in distress.
Soon, they sent me to a smaller hospital in Wichita Falls. There I started taking their meds and writing my doctors about how the medications were affecting my body and mind and begging to have them reduced. Once, during dinner, I was surprised to look down at my plate and find it empty. In other words, the medications were messing with my short-term memory, my sex drive, and my muscle strength was reduced to nothing.
After three weeks of the back and forth, I wrote a letter to the Wichita Falls newspaper explaining my grievances, and I made sure the doctors saw that I was sending it. They let me go the next day, believe it or not.
I’m not trying to come off as some kind of defiant hero here. Two things were driving my thinking at that point. The first being, I had been on psych meds at a couple of different points in my life and knew I did not want to go that route. The second being, we act like the pain inside us is even too much for God to heal over time, and God is where I put my faith and he has brought me such a long way toward some real happiness.
I’ve read enough spiritual material to know that what may look like to others as a “mental breakdown” is often a spiritual emergency, awakening, or initiation; to treat them completely and only psychologically is to bury a lot of gentle people in a medication nightmare.
It scared me how easy it is and how bold the state is taking over the life of someone in distress.
One day, I had some insight. I realized the doctors were sad and had some compassion but just had no idea what to do with all the “customers” our society keeps sending them. The medications can mask and reduce anxiety and depression but does nothing to deal with the underlying problems that created anxiety and depression in the first place.
There are a lot of families’ black sheep in our country who may never learn to function that well in our economic system. Despite the fact that they aren’t serious lawbreakers, they still spend some time in a mental hospital getting “balanced” on medication. And then they are shipped off to group homes who just essentially house and feed them while they zone out on large doses of tranquilizers and anti-psychotics and wonder what the hell happened to their lives.
That is the path of a homeless friend of mine who I met here in the valley. I will occasionally pick him up at his group home and run him into town here in Lewiston so he can do some banking and run errands. I was saddened this week, because of the medications, his fine motor skills were taking a beating. He couldn’t open a straw or a pack of gum, and to watch him trying to eat lunch made me want to cry. He had also fallen a dozen times at the home and was taken to the emergency room once because of it.
You find a lot of people on the streets with high anxiety exactly because they prefer that feeling over being medicated in a group home somewhere.
I’m much kinder now than back in the day and I don’t judge the medications as much because I know some are grateful for the relief it provides from their anxiety. Five years ago, everyone from the doctors to my congressman and the local newspaper would have been hearing from me about my friend’s situation, and that may still happen, we shall see.
I did talk to the woman in charge that day and kindly pointed out my concerns. She was in complete agreement and said they were working on a better med balance. She did say one thing that made me react cynically, in my mind at least. She said his anger was down. I was like, No shit, to myself, along with every other human emotion. Let’s med everyone into compliance and zombie land so we don’t have to stress about dealing with people in distress.
Since coming off the streets, I have not been able to keep a job for more than six months which has allowed me a lot of reflection time, rest time, and a chance to get to know the people in my life on a deeper level. One thing I know is that we are moving too fast. Our society also ranks personal success, economic or otherwise, very highly. So, we have a bunch of people who I think feel pretty isolated from others, with little intimacy and warmth in their lives, pursuing some kind of success.
As a result, people in our lives who can use some extra love and attention just don’t get it. As if they’re saying, “If they can’t forward my success, what possible worth could they have?” Or perhaps truer, “I wish I had some time for you truly, but I have other things I need to focus on.”
I have seen my friend angry at times and he has always had a high level of anxiety, but I have never seen him violent with anyone. He can tend to pester others and I imagine some of the staff at the group home find him hard to deal with. If I had a thousand things to do, I imagine I might grow tired of being pestered. But I know that he is pestering people to love him. He also has a great sense of humor, some real charm, and a kind heart for anyone brave enough to suffer openly. To med a guy like that to the point where he can’t open a straw just seems like a sin to me.
Because I have had the time to rest and to connect with others, my heart is starting to unfreeze some and I feel more safe as a human all the time because I realize that the people I care for, also care for me back. Maybe I have neglected pursuing success as a writer or filmmaker, and I do hope for success in those areas, but if it doesn’t, I will be fine, because my heart is happy and well-connected to those around me.