November 16, 2014
(Note: It took a while to post this because I wasn’t sure I wanted to be so raw and honest with the world. But I decided tonight it was a story that needed to be told. Too many people suffer. And, of all things, I offer this as an offering to Peace Officers who work so hard to help people.)
I read a story in the news this morning about two a.m. Stressful events in life negatively affect the brain, causing long-term damage. Really? Who would have guessed? One stressful event can change brain chemistry. I’m not complaining here, just EXplaining. I survived child abuse and rape as a minor and managed to go forward and earn my PhD. I survived a plane crash and went on to become a scholar of eastern wisdom and meditation. I survived the death of my son, 20 years old, and continued to teach. I survived breast cancer and managed to tend to my husband, a Vietnam Marine Vet and 30 years with AZ DPS, to his last day as he died of colon cancer. I held his hand as he died. I have been violently ill, probably from stress, since then. Brain damage? Ya think? Probably.
Even given my stubbornness to overcome these events and continue to live, I am broken. Over and over again.
Here’s one thing I DO NOT need: to be handcuffed and incarcerated.
Because despite all of these atrocities, I have NOT committed a crime—at least not in many years. Sure, I swiped some cash from my boss when I was a teenager. I have since paid it back. I have driven after drinking a little too much—never again. I have committed myself to the vows of a bodhisattva (someone who does not violate the ten commandments and loves others as much as themselves, just like Jesus Christ, though I do not claim to be so noble—but I try.)
It is now nearly three a.m. I am drinking whiskey and smoking a cigarette. Go ahead and judge me, and stop reading now if you prefer.
Ever read the short story, “The Yellow Wallpaper?” If so, you’ll better understand this post. If not, perhaps you should check it out. Women in our culture and in our world have been horribly abused. Years and years, every day. Probably every minute. Because we live in a misogynist world. Period. No need to even discuss equal pay or sexual abuse. Medicare pays for penis pumps—seriously—and the Supreme Court has said women don’t deserve contraceptives.
I only mention this because 80 percent of the people I spent last weekend with were women. And because I was assaulted by two male sheriff officers.
And here’s why: I want to die. Seriously, I don’t want to live in this world anymore. I’ve seen too much pain, too much suffering, and have been chronically ill for over a year with an un-diagnosable illness that causes me to vomit violently most days for over two hours. It is debilitating, exhausting, painful.
And yet, I wake up every—whenever, at least a few times a day, and tend to two rescued dogs, I manage to pay bills and my financial life. I manage to keep my house clean (with the help of my sister, Monica). I manage to love and share light as much as I can. As the Beatles so perfectly said, “I get by with a little help from my friends.” That’s all I can do. I cooked for Uncle Harvey this week. I do what I can. When I can.
And yet—it’s still true. I want to die. Why? Because the pain of my life is unbearable. I challenge you to think of surviving just one or two or three of my experiences—losing a child and a spouse, surviving cancer and having your breasts amputated, living through a plane crash, being injured and watching people die, holding the leg of a man bleeding out in the middle of a horrific storm and managing to save his life while watching a twelve-year old girl burn to death. Just imagine.
Perhaps I should get to Chair 28.
It is now three fifteen a.m. Still drinking whiskey and smoking. I am bruised from head to toe, literally. I have scratches and bruises on my face, my arms, my legs, my feet. I won’t even go out to the grocery store because I’m so embarrassed, humiliated, depressed. I look like someone who has been dragged behind a truck in gravel. And that’s how I got to chair 28.
I’m only writing this, though it is truly humiliating to me, because I love you. LOVE YOU.
Last week, I learned that my adopted Uncle Harvey was dying. I knew this, of course—we all have to face that. But I am not ready for another death. I am not strong enough to be with him every minute and hold his hand, as I want to do—as I did with my husband, Charlie. He is every bit as good of a man as Charlie was. Volunteered for the army near the end of WWII, cared for his ailing wife for over 20 years, worked an honorable job in the mines that probably caused his illness, and was kind. I love him.
I went to visit him last week in the nursing home. Held his hand. Talked. Laughed. Cried.
On Friday, I was terribly sick. I was drinking whiskey, which is the only thing that stops my vomiting (go back to judgment if you want, but it’s true). I called to talk with Harvey. He told me, in his weakened voice that I was a good person, that he loved me, that I was his hero.
HIS hero? This man who has done so much? No way. I am not a hero. I am a sick person who is just trying to be good enough not to go to hell. Seriously.
And so I ended the conversation and started to cry. All of the world’s pain collapsed upon me. I wanted to die. I would never—could NEVER kill myself. As I said, I’m committed to not harming myself or others because of my beliefs. But that doesn’t stop the emotions, the feelings. It just means I won’t act upon them. Never. Ever.
One of my dearest friends was here visiting me. Another friend was on the phone. I was honest. I wanted to die in that moment.
I took out the gun from my dresser drawer. I knew it was not loaded, but I checked again. Clip empty, chamber empty. The gun was given to my by my late husband. And I wanted to die.
I shot at the floor five times. No bullets; no ammo. I made sure. Again, I was just in pain. Sad. Suffering.
My girlfriend was with me. She was hysterical. I was sad. I was not suicidal.
I pointed the gun at my head and pulled the trigger. Of course nothing happened. I had made sure of that. I was drunk. (Dear Lord, this is such a humiliating confession—I pray it helps one other person.)
I pulled the trigger over and over. I knew it wouldn’t kill me. I wanted to die, but I honestly believe I could never do that to my family and my friends. I may be sick—and there is nothing I can do about that. But I WILL survive. Somehow. Hopefully with a little help from my friends.
My friend was now in total panic. I had no lethal weapon. I was not hurting myself or anyone else. I was just expressing the pain I felt.
But the phone call was made. (Using passive tense intentionally.)
Almost four a.m. now. I should be sleeping. I cannot.
And I could not sleep that day, which is what I was I trying to do. When I get overwhelmingly sad, I try to sleep. But my talk with Harvey made me so sad and so angst with this realm of pain that I could do nothing but cry and pull that damned trigger.
Cops are on the way.
My friend left me alone to talk to the dispatcher. She went outside. I wanted to find her. I needed someone to be with me, and I knew that.
I have about 12 brick steps leading up to my front door. I went out, searching for her, and stumbled, wearing only my bathrobe, I stumbled. I fell hard, down the stairs. Bruising my face, arms, legs, and back. All the while crying out my friend’s name. I just wanted to be loved. Ever feel that? Yeah, me too.
But now the cops have arrived. My friend is up at the end of the driveway. They won’t let me talk with her. I spend 20 minutes talking with a sheriff deputy.
Yes, I have a gun. Yes it is in the house. No, it is not loaded. No, there is no ammunition in the house. I am bleeding and bruised. This is not acknowledged.
Next comes handcuffs. Put on my wrists behind my back so hard they cut my skin. I am hurt by the fall down the stairs, so the deputy literally throws me into the back of his car. On top of the cuffs behind my back. They bite harder and I cry. I cry for twenty minutes while driven to Kino Psych ward.
I am a prisoner.
I end up in seat 28.
I talked with a psychiatrist that night. He agreed I was not a threat to myself or anyone else. I was not a criminal. I was just sad. I was heart broken. I was grieving. But because of Arizona law he could not release me. I was a prisoner for being sad.
And you know what? All you need to do is call 911 right now, and I will be imprisoned again, against my will. Because I have no rights. No Miranda. No arrest. My house was searched, my property seized. All with NO crime. And no search warrant.
Yes, I was sad. Yes, I wanted to die. Did I have a loaded weapon? No. Did I threaten anyone else? No. Did I commit a crime? NO!
I wasn’t taken to jail. I was taken to a much worse place. The CIC, Crisis Intervention Complex. Where people are treated like criminals, but worse. Guards watch your every move. You can’t enter the bathroom without escort. And you can have no personal belongings. There are no beds, only chairs. Men and women are in the same room. Of course, most of us were women. But the men were scary.
I befriended the guards and the “technicians.” I know how to play this game. I want to be safe. I was vomiting so violently at one point, the guard on duty left the bathroom unlocked for me. Such a beautiful kindness.
I was in chair 28. I was a prisoner in the United States without having committed a crime. This is WRONG. It’s just wrong.
People who suffer from mental illness should NOT be treated like criminals. I should have been at home with my pups watching stupid TV shows. I should be free. But instead, I spent almost 24 hours in chair 28. I did not sleep. I did not eat. I grieved. And I helped people. The woman next to me, the crazy girl, the guard. I will go this week and donate books to the ward. Those people need love and education, NOT punishment. I will try to volunteer to teach there.
But one thing. Next time someone tries to put me in handcuffs without any reason, I will fight. Freedom is more important. And yet, given the current legal system, I will probably end up first in the CIC and then in jail.
I share this humiliating story because the mental health system in this country is horrid. And if you or anyone you know suffers from mental illness, whether from DNA or life’s beatings—please treat them (including you) with kindness.
We can create a better system for dealing with those who are suffering. I’m not talking about the criminally insane—I’m talking about people who are sad or stressed, and who need help.
This story is my first contribution. Let’s work to stop this abuse.
(Side note—all the doctors, nurses, and technicians at the facility were kind. Actually the psychiatrists I talked with agreed with me that the system is terribly broken. But what to do with a friend who is sad, wanting to die? HUG THEM!)