And Then I Thought I was a Fish

IDENTIFYING INFORMATION: Peter Hunt Welch is a 20-year-old single Caucasian male who was residing in Bar Harbor, Maine this summer. He is a University of Maine at Orono student with no prior psychiatric history, who was admitted to the Acadia Hospital on an involuntary basis due to an acute level of confusion and disorganization, both behaviorally and cognitively. He was evaluated at MDI and was transferred from that facility due to psychosis, impulse thoughts, delusions, and disorientation.

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Observations of a Straight White Male with No Interesting Fetishes

Ever wondered how to justify your own righteousness even while you're constantly embarrassed by it? Or how to make a case for your own existence when you contribute nothing besides nominal labor to a faceless corporation that's probably exploiting children? Are you clinging desperately to an arbitrary social model imposed by your parents and childhood friends? Or screaming in terror, your mind unhinged at the prospect of an uncaring void racing to consume the very possibility of your life having meaning?

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This is the story of a boy, a girl, a phone, a cat, the end of the universe, and the terrible power of ennui.

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The Episode, Part 14: Released Back Into the Wild

Composed on the 6th of August in the year 2011, at 9:29 AM. It was Saturday.

Every place I went was relatively safe. My parents’ house, a tourist town winding down for the season, a hippy festival with friends, a mental institution, and finally the University of Maine. If I’d been in Brooklyn when this all happened, I’d be one of those guys you see the police tasing in the subway. I doubt I would ever have survived, much less recovered. The thinking that led me to jump naked from a pier in the wee hours of the morning, and try to urinate in a electrical outlet, could just as easily have led me to believe I could stop a subway train with my head. Then again, aside from the rare exceptions, I did seem to have some tiny sense of self-preservation that kept me off window ledges, so maybe I just would have wandered down a subway tunnel and starved to death a month later.

Much as I love Brooklyn, I do a mental self-checkup at least once a day. If anything seems slightly amiss, I pour a stiff whiskey1[1] and call someone to watch me. So far, they’ve all been false alarms or brief, anxiety induced flashbacks. If it ever lasts longer than an hour, I’m catching the first flight to Bangor and checking myself back into Acadia.

Part 14, or “Released Back Into the Wild”

This is from a report from an interview I had long after I had recovered:

He states that he also believed that he was the living dead, and his job was to get people to quit smoking. He subsequently was admitted to the Acadia Hospital. While obtaining an EEG he evidently eloped and stole a car from the parking lot. He states that he was experiencing a delusion to become a taxi driver and to go and do good deeds. Hw was stabilized on Risperdal, however, he reports that he was just as crazy when he left as when he went in.

I’m not sure how they decided I was okay. Enough good eye contact and apparent cognitive intactness, I guess. Also, my dad had been steadily coaching me in how to appear normal, and was doing a better job of it that the combined medical resources of Acadia Hospital. He would give me tips on when to shave, what to wear, what not to say to doctors or anyone else, and he told me to get a post-it, write “don’t be stupid” on it and put it on my door. It occurs to me that this would be a fantastically insulting thing to say to somebody if they weren’t obviously crazy, but it saved my ass at least a dozen times while I was at college.

I remember my exit interview with the head doctor. I had decided long ago that he was The Devil, and we were to do long battle in the future, but he had lost his control over my growing power, and had to let me out of the afterlife holding center. He said I was doing fine and ready to go, and he shook my hand. He had a strong grip, and I was still wearing the key rings on my fingers, so it hurt a bit, and what I thought at the time was that the hellfire emitting from his hand seared the electromagnetic conducers into my aura, even as they protected me from his evil.

Those were my thoughts during the handshake that got me out of the mental institution.

Mental institutions are social institutions. They try to make people safe for society. Much as I harp about how little they did for my actual psychosis, they never pretended they could cure me, and told my family I would probably be crazy forever. Their job was to rehabilitate me to the point where I could be somebody else’s problem, or at least function without constant supervision. All institutional psychology is ultimately economic behavioral psychology: how much money will it take to make this person less of an overt problem? If we can get $30,000 out of an HMO now, will it save taxpayers the $80,000 a year it would take to put them in jail? I don’t deride anyone who tried to make me okay, even though they had no understanding of what was going on in my head, and sent a raving psychotic back to college. They medicated and trained me to not jump off piers and buildings and get in trouble with the police, and I thank every person who helped in that effort. I would like a psychological science that could untangle all the shitty wiring that was going on in my head connection by connection, but that’s an unrealistic dream. They did what they could.

My case is rare only in the fact that I did finally snap out of of this protracted psychosis, and can examine it from the perspective of sanity. The one thing I hope helps the psychological profession in the future, if they don’t already know it, is that anti-psychotic medication never made me less psychotic.2[2] They just made me less active. Also, all the eye-contact and friendly demeanor notes had nothing to do with my grasp on reality, they had to do with my mood and a dim grasp on what was expected of me.

I don’t know how or why I came back, but I submit that it was not the gentle guidance of people trying to shoehorn me back into useful-member-of-society mode, though they did do a good job of that. More likely, it was the constant challenges to my imagined reality, and the need to function in the real and complicated world that everybody else functions in. Dangerous as I potentially could have been, college probably cured me. Had I stayed in the institution, I would never have recovered.

I packed my things once more, since lo and behold I was actually leaving this time. I said my goodbyes, and traded phone numbers with Pocahontas. There were guitar lessons involved, after all. And, you know, I was as in love with her as it’s possible for my brain to be.

They made me leave in a wheelchair. This was policy, and I still think it’s weird. I’ve needed to be in a wheelchair a couple times in my life; they hadn’t happened yet, and I was at no point physically disabled during my time at the hospital.3[3]

I remember chatting with the nurse as she wheeled me out and called a cab; she was also someone from my past, I don’t remember who. I had a smoke outside, and she mentioned something about choosing where you want to be and the kind of world you’re going to live in. I was heading to college to conquer or save or bless or whatever it was. There was a very strong secret agent undercurrent, and the need to remain under the radar. Mostly, there was excitement to be free, and back in the much wider and more interesting world.4[4] I had successfully navigated the afterlife halfway house or the NOC training program or the electrostatic assassins’ guild hazing or whatever it was, and now I was out to complete some new mission or purpose and it was one of those turning moments, all portent and possibility. My brain was loose, not really holding on to anything, and I felt close to the meditative moment on the deck in Lamoine, like I was at a nexus of an infinite number of corridors made of slices of time in potential universes. When the nurse asked me what world I wanted to be in,5[5] I had some tiny inkling that the world was not right, that there was something just a bit off.

I stamped out my cigarette and said, “This one,” not really knowing what this world was, but know I wanted something solid and real, and “this world” was something good that I should be trying to find.

As the taxi covered the ten minute drive back to campus, I settled into to full 007 mode. There was much to do.

Once I arrived at my room, it became clear that none of it would get done. My room was a tripper’s paradise, even in its half-unpacked state. An oriental rug on the floor, beads and flashy little toys everywhere, a collection of tiny stone and metal animals that served as totems, little boxes filled with marbles and bits of turn of the millennium technology, notes, drawings, a few stuffed animals that had survived my Need to Become a Man back in chapter six, a plastic key chain ring with a woman’s torso and a baby in a ball that popped out of the stomach,6[6] tapestries hung around the walls and ceilings, and more. My room was a perfect storm of LSD, middle-class taste and money, and rat-packing tendencies. I spent five hours arranging things, then another two rediscovering my recently returned cell phone.

I managed to stick the “don’t be stupid” post-it to my door. I think I was running out to go achieve something about thirty or forty times in the first couple of days, only to be turned back by the notice that I might be being stupid. It also occasionally turned me back when I was going to class, but that was still good advice, because my classes weren’t actually classes to me. I had a hell of a line up for a crazy person: computer science 201, communications 102, the theater class I’d signed up to during my grand theft auto, a formal logic class, and some other less interesting bullshit.

I kept up with the theater class, and wrote a number of pieces it must have been painful for my classmates to read. I remember the worst of it, which was me titling each paragraph of my play synopsis with “Part 1, Para Uno, Primero” as if it was some kind of clever pun. It might have been, if everybody had been exactly as crazy as me, thinking the same things, and I’d been cleverer at the time. Nobody read their own work, so when I think back on the poor kid who had to read my nonsense during that class, I wince, and feel sorry for the both of us.

I never actually made it to a computer science class, and this may have been the most rational thing I did, since I was still a luddite at the time, and would have been outed immediately.7[7] The other classes were were worlds of fun. Formal logic was the code of all codes, and I doubt anyone else who truly loved the discipline would feel differently. Even if I didn’t understand a single thing in that class in a semantic manner, it did seem like I was being taught the code of the universe. I don’t think formal logic is the code of the universe, but I do think there was something to discipline that spoke to my brain in a practical way.

Not so with the communications class. There, I wrote mad symbols, knowing beyond a shadow of a doubt that this was a class whose sole purpose was to give us insight into the language of our alien visitors. I spent the first few classes of that course writing random symbols in my notebook, trying to crack the code of the alien forces descending upon us.

I still hadn’t seen stars.

Leaving my first communications class on a cloudy day, I felt the presence of aliens in the sky, waiting to descend. This was okay, somehow. It seemed like the clouds were constricting around the Earth, and I wondered who among the studentry was already an alien in disguise. One, I was sure of, and that was my friend BigDrug. This is a little unfair, since we’d been enabling one another for the entire previous year. He got me into acid, I got him into kiddy crack.8[8] I distantly recall one session, on 4/20/2000, wherein Heineken9[9] had all the weed, but wanted to drink, BigDrug had all the beer, but wanted Ritalin, and I had all the Ritalin, but wanted weed. You can imagine how this played itself out, and at the end, Heineken made a dash for the bathroom, and we listened to him throw up for about fifteen minutes. Finally, I got up and said, “Well, I’m calling it,” and proceeded to shake uncontrollably until I snapped forward, bounced off the table, grabbed for the chair, took it down with me, and twitched on the floor until I blacked out. I came to about five seconds later, with BigDrug gaping at me.

“Dude. What the fuck?”

When he tells this story, he describes spending the next hour thinking “What’s going to happen to me?”

BigDrug and had partied in each others’ rooms all year because we lived directly across the dorm wing from each other, on either side of the bathroom that connected the hallways, so it was a ten-second commute, we both had double rooms with roommates who’d been kicked out of school, and we both liked doing lots of drugs. He was the most charismatic 20-year-old I’ve ever known, with big smiles and an easy, funny manner, and told some of the best stories I’ve ever heard. Most of the jokes I make about my present day ego are stolen from him. His lovability made up for the fact that he’d blown out his episodic memory with copious hallucinogens: he would regularly look at you intently for several minutes, nodding while you talked, and making little “mmhm” sounds, then suddenly stop you and say, “Sorry dude, I was totally somewhere else, what were you talking about?” Things that stayed in his room for more than a month just became his, though he’d come round if you described exactly how it wasn’t his for ten or fifteen minutes. He also once blatantly stole one of my stories, and had convinced himself that it’d happened to him, despite the fact that I could call people to verify that it happened to me.

So his charisma plus his weirdness made him a perfect Alien invader. I called him fifteen times one day while he was out with his parents, taking every thing I saw as some kind of signal from him in a complex game of cat and cat. When I finally did run into him, the alien delusions had dissolved back into the standard 007 Jesus-bot sent from the future, so I didn’t try to grill him on his species’ plans.

I eventually found my way to the computer lab, where I spent about an hour selecting my helpers from the Microsoft Office animations. That fucking paperclip was the most fascinating thing I’d ever seen, and I tried, futilely, to communicate with it properly, but it just bounced around saying the same thing. I flipped through the others, I forget what they were, but none had the dynamic personality you apparently get from being a bent piece of metal for holding paper together. Still, I might have need of them all, so I noted each for later. I walked out past the pool table, and was about to play, but couldn’t defend playing with balls that were actually planets and suns, because I might fuck up the universe if I didn’t know what I was doing.

Here, I believed I was in Hell, but Hell was a fantasy playground, where everything was possible and death was a moot point, so it was time to have fun. This merged with my image of Heaven, and Heaven and Hell just became opposite views of the afterlife in general, encoded according to your ability to enjoy it.

There were many, many complicated delusions, though none more complex and socially fucked up than the one that I’ll be describing in the next chapter.

The last one I’ll mention here is the closing eye. I was looking for my friend CrazyBiologist,10[10] and never found him during my insanity, but I found the whiteboard on his door, and I drew a closed eye of Ra, which is one of the five things I can draw like an untalented 8-year-old. He asked me later why I drew it.

“Well, you remember the climax in Fight Club where he looks at Tyler Durden and says ‘My eyes are open’ and shoots himself in the mouth, because he realizes Tyler is just a complicated escape from things he won’t admit to himself? I was running around on all these cracked out delusions and according to The Rules I couldn’t communicate with anyone properly or tell them what was actually going on in my head, and I probably couldn’t have explained it if I was allowed, so it was like trying to send signals to the real world from a dream. When I went to your door, I was still insane, but I knew, for a few moments that something wasn’t right, but I didn’t know what, or even have the words or understanding to start figuring out what it was. I just knew I wasn’t seeing things properly. So I remembered the Fight Club scene and drew that as a message to tell you, ‘My eyes are closed.’”

Next week

The light and the void.

1 I quit whiskey four years ago. These are the only times I drink it.

2 Shortly after posting this, I was informed the industry does know this, but there is wide-spread belief to the contrary.

3 Aside from being thirty pounds under weight when I got in, and by the time I left, I was a normal-ish 150 lbs, since I got no exercise and ate little but carbs. A few months later, I would look in the mirror and feel fat, which is as disturbing as anything else.

4 Orono. I was excited to free in Orono. On a college campus. This is what great drugs can do to you.

5 Or something like that. Whatever it was, it was a weird thing to say, especially to a psychotic person.

6 One of the weirdest things I ever bought. I joked that it was an instant abortion keychain. This joke never made me any friends, but I thought it hilarious.

7 And now I’m a “Senior Software Engineer.” Go figure.

8 ADD medications used recreationally.

9 You know who you are, if you’re still alive.

10 Not crazy like I was, but the kind of eccentric person people think is crazy, but is actually perfectly rational and just doesn’t give a fuck what you think.

You're right, this diet is working out great!

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