Recovering as a "Religious Fanatic"
In 1970 I had my first psychotic break and was hospitalized at a psychiatric hospital. At the time, I was an atheist who was doing research in experimental psychology and I had delusions of psychology i.e. I kept imagining that the psychiatric hospital was a big psychology experiment. I also imagined that the other patients were actors to act out different parts of my psyche. I did not care about religion and had no religious delusions at the time.
I was devastated by my first hospitalization and I am aware today that the year following my first psychiatric hospitalization was spent in a rather obvious state of major depression. I was going to a psychiatrist who "just listened" which really means that they don't listen at all. They just sit there are ignore you and when you pour out your heart to someone who ignores you, it make you feel worthless. This psychiatrist who "just listened" diagnosed me as having schizophrenia and did not even listen enough to understand that I was in major depression.
I turned to religion because I could not cope. I joined the Catholic Church. Here was comfort. Here was meaning. Nobody ever really explained to me that I needed to stay on my medicine, I was, at first, a compliant patient. Then I took a good hard look at what the psychiatrists had done for me. These were not mental health center psychiatrists - these were highly recommended private psychiatrists. They had screwed up my life. I started out being compliant and the psychiatrists discredited themselves. The second highly-recommended psychiatrist (after the one who "just listened") encouraged me to get involved with a woman. That was a disaster. I was not ready. I told him I thought I was ready to get off the medicine. He made no objection. When I called his office and told them that I was having problems, I got an appointment for a week later. By then I was back in the hospital. Once again, I lost my mind, I lost my job, I lost my friends. Then we are told we have poor coping skills and that we don't know how to cope.
But my religion kept me going and, of course, the very thing that kept me going was what the psychiatrists attacked. Yes, I admit I was psychotic at the time, but I did not find it helpful for the referee who probated me to tell me that I was "overly religious". and when I went to the hospital, my psychiatrist there told me that my religion had made me mentally ill and that he would not let me out of the hospital until I gave up my religion. I was calling priests asking them to help me. One priest told me to "go jump in the lake". Another priest told me I needed more of a sense of humor. I was leaving messages about my pain and turmoil on the answering machine at the Jesuit University. I was careful to call late and just leave it on their answering machine so as not to disturb them that much. They complained about telephone harassment. I know that I would rather spend the rest of my life in the mental hospital than give up my religion, but I didn't see what good that would do. I went off and prayed. Then I went up to the psychiatrist and told him, "I had some wrong ideas about religion." and that satisfied him and he let me go.
In 1980, I understood that the psychiatrists could not get me well, so I had to get myself well and I figured the best way to start was to get around other people who were supposed to be like me, so we started a self-help group in 1980. We were making progress and getting some answers here and there and I was exposed to a Conference on Human Rights and Psychiatric Oppression in Cleveland sometime in the 80's. I went to the first "On Our Own" conference in Baltimore. I was active in the one in Cincinnati.
Something kept haunting me. The glass ceiling. This great wall that separates the CSX or consumer from the professional. I wanted to break down that wall. I went around applying for work as a mental health professional. I was well known as a CSX or consumer. One personal literally laughed in my face. I searched black literature and even got a black mentor to learn how to cope with prejudice. Then I read something Louis Armstrong wrote. Someone asked him "What helped you the most?" and he said "White people because I knew I had to work twice as hard." and I decided that that was the attitude I was going to adopt. I decided that I had to be MORE qualified. A BA degree and graduate work in philosophy and work in experimental psychology and years in self-help was not enough. I went back to college and got my Master's in Social Work in 1988. My black mentor wanted to hire me. He talked about a special position. I already knew that special positions were being created and then discredited. I told him I had an MSW and I wanted him to treat me like a BA. He asked if I just wanted him to throw me out there and let me sink or swim and I said that was exactly what I wanted. In December of 1988 I was, to the best of my knowledge, the first person who, after being public about a chronic mental illness, openly competed with "normal" professionals. The "normal" person who had the caseload before me lasted 2 months. I lasted 10 years. As I requested, I was working with inner city so-called "chronically mentally ill" . Many of my clients were also actively using crack cocaine.
I was viciously attacked in graduate school for being Catholic. One professor said "The Inquisition. The crusades - count the bodies" My supervisor told me I was "value-laden" and in order to become a good social worker, I was supposed to give up my Catholic values and become "value-free". It was assumed that I would impose my Catholic values on all my clients. This was never true - the one time a client wanted help with an abortion, I did not moralize but just said I didn't know much about it but could find someone who did. I found a worker who was comfortable with being open to abortion and I told the client there was someone who could help her, but the client refused and decided to have the baby. I was a very lonely voice in the mental health system advocating for clients to be encouraged to follow the faith of their choice. I always gave my clients a choice between incorporating religion or using traditional psychiatry. They ALWAYS chose religion, and they did VERY well with it. In fact, it seemed they did much better with religion.
All those who saw me work were impressed. I also had about 4 success stories of clients who had been both psychotic and also using crack cocaine.
I had 3 national publications. I applied to other agencies. I was an LISW (independently licensed social worker) with 10 years experience working with inner city chronically mentally ill people and 3 national publications. I could not even get an interview. I told my black mentor. "I thought after I proved myself I would be accepted as a professional." and my black mentor said "Do you know what you call a black man with a PhD? A n****r."
I left the agency and went back into the closet. I have a good job now in managed care. I have concentrated on my religion and have been growing spiritually to where other people seem to recognize me as spiritually gifted.
I am out performing many of my "normal mental health professional" colleagues. My writings seem to move people.
Yes, I know - most people believe that if you take religion too seriously, you will become a mass murderer. Who are examples of "religious fanatics"? St. Francis, Gandhi, Martin Luther King. Were they mass murderers? Who were the greatest mass murderers in history> Hitler, Stalin, Mao. Were they "religious fanatics"?
My recipe to get better than normal to get better than you every were before - medicine and religion and/or spirituality. CSX's or Consumers are people who have had very bizarre experiences - it is a cruel thing to measure them by the norm. You need to tone down the weird factor at work to keep your job, but I assure you, *I* have seen many CSX's who are WAY above normal.
My mind has never been better. I am finally beginning to understand the things I studied years ago as an undergrad. Here are the kind of ideas I toy with - The Vedas teach that you can never know the whole truth. After Newton, we thought there was no more need to scientific research because now we knew everything. Then came Einstein. Then came quantum physics. Now a quantum physicist says with quantum physics we can explain everything. This physicist needs to revisit Heisenberg's uncertainty principle who proves that there are some things we can never know.
My emotional life has never been better. I am moved to tears of joy several times a week. My wri0ting has never been better. My ability to appreciate classical music has never been better. Now, I want to challenge traditional mental health ideas, as I see them doing great harm to society. Let's do away with "mental health". Let’s do away with "normal behavior". Let's talk about MENTAL EXCELLENCE. Let's look at the greatest minds in history - such as the Buddha, Jesus, Socrates, Einstein and let us try to think like them What is clear is that their idea of reality would be unacceptable to a psychiatrist.