To Whom It May Concern,
I have a degree in electrical engineering from Cornell University and a strong career track record with Microsoft and other technical organizations. After five years working for Microsoft's Research division, I left that job to pursue other callings. My girlfriend and I did extensive traveling, which was very new and opened a lot of doors for me. I slept more than usual, and developed strange abilities to remain conscious during dreams and investigate those environments with nearly the same degree of lucidity of waking life. This led me to a series of doubts about the objective "reality" of the world we lived in.
Combining that with the stress of trying to balance my relationships, finances, and projects became too much for me to handle. By 2003 I hit a breaking point and wrote a lot of strange things that were quickly interpreted by my friends and neighbors as insane. I broke several of my possessions...and gave away many others. I also ran around near where I lived in Belltown at odd hours, doing things without having any obvious reason: hanging out with the homeless people, leaving packages addressed to myself and enigmatic gifts around the building, or artistically rearranging the cigarette butts on the sidewalk. I even went so far as to pull a fire alarm and then deny doing so.
Eventually I was picked up by the authorities for jumping around outside my building with a drinking straw and yelling at people, and sent to the hospital. What should have been a calibrating experience turned out to be the start of a terrifying adversarial relationship with the mental health and criminal justice systems. Speaking of the first time a person enters a forced-treatment situation, Ian Chovil notes that:
This first involuntary hospitalization becomes an important memory of what mental health services are like. It is definitely not the ideal way to introduce someone to a medical condition they will have to adapt to and manage on their own for possibly the rest of their life. [...]
Without the trauma of involuntary hospitalization and treatment it is much easier to engage the patient, essentially win their trust.
From the perspective of someone who fell in with this forced treatment system in Seattle, I will say that the trust is not deserved. Even though I had no record of ever harming anyone physically, or struggling with the police, I endured a tremendous amount of physical and psychological torture. Indeed, the most severe handling is not reserved for those who commit the worst crimes, but those who challenge the legitimacy of the authority structure. The more that I was treated in this fashion, the further I would retreat into my delusions...because they seemed the only way I could survive the circumstances.
I've documented my experiences with Harborview's psychiatric ward, where I was isolated in a blank box with no roadmap. I was caught in a Catch-22: they wouldn't converse with me until I was calm, and I decided I would try to call for help until someone would speak to me as a human. Repeated modes of physical restraint were employed against me for using the intercom, and this was the most inhuman and terrifying experience of my life:
I have also spoken about my rather excruciating experiences with King County Jail, where I didn't even know I was being taken to a "special floor" because of my psychiatric designation. Sent into a dirty environment without socks, underwear, or any form of supplies...and not given a chance to make a phone call, I again used the intercom asking for answers or to speak to someone in charge. This dispatched me into a dungeon-like environment where I would spend the next two weeks in isolation, terrified and delusional, and again facing the implicit Catch-22:
The themes are very similar in both cases, and they reflect the sad truth of how the disenfranchised are handled by mechanical processes performed by humans, but which lack human responses. Patients and inmates are handled like cargo, and standing up for the idea that you have some sort of rights will get you silence and disdain. Acting out will push you further into situations that are intended to implicitly demonstrate "who's really in charge", and that you only have rights "in the movies"...which creates frightening scenarios that can only exacerbate one's mental state.
These accounts show that these issues are not confined to the pages of "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" or "The Count of Monte Cristo", but are tangibly operating today. Others have pointed out that today's "Psychiatric State" has replaced the "Religious State" that the Constitution was expressly trying to avoid, and this further complicates the issues of those who are trying to be heard. My particular perspective on this was very dangerous to me, since I assimilated these experiences as being part of a spiritual war against the people who were doing this. I thought that some otherworldly power was using me to test just how far they would go against a non-violent individual who had crazy ideas. Rather than be good and quiet when given no roadmap, I continually demanded something approximating "customer service".
If someone on the street did what prison guards or the hospital employees did to me in captivity, they'd be in tremendous trouble. Yet these systems have been homogenized to the point where though the buildings may be different (hospital, jail, court, psychiatric facility), it is the same mental health establishment in control at all points. There's only an illusion of American freedoms and the process you might have learned about in school, and even the court has been co-opted:
I do know that I spent most of the last year in an altered state of mind. Even so, Martin Luther King said that "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere." I have a hard time with the gravity of facing a world that is unconcerned with what is being done to those who stand up for their rights, whether they have a mental illness or not.
Thank you for your time,