No Wonder they Thought I Was Crazy
Cleckley called it The Mask of Sanity. Others have called it moral insanity and moral imbecility. But some, Kevin Dutton, for example, call it super sanity. To use an expression which I really detest, it is what it is and I am what I am.
I’m living in what is called an assisted living institution. It’s a place for elderly people who need help in the day-to-day business of just living their lives. I’m probably the most functional person living here. I could probably manage just fine if I had enough money. My partner took ill and had to be hospitalized. When she left the hospital, it was to come here. She had some serious problems that required this kind of serious support. The immediate impact on me was the need to move. We had been sharing the rent in our lovely, two-bedroom apartment and I couldn’t afford to pay it by myself. I considered all the options. To my consternation, I discovered that, while we had been living in blissful ignorance, the rents around us had skyrocketed. We had been living in a town that had rent control and, yet, every apartment cost over a thousand dollars a month. My first apartment had cost $42.00 a month. Of course, that was a long time ago. Rents have been going up steadily while income stagnated. Of course, that’s an old story I’m sure everyone is familiar with. But the difference in rents I encountered when I had to move from our apartment was another story entirely. I can only liken it to the game of Monopoly. Whoever manages to own the most expensive properties like Park Place can turn the other players into paupers rapidly. All they need to do is land on that property with hotels on it and they can be wiped out. This is the world I find myself in.
I am paying over a thousand dollars to live in my assisted living facility. But that includes meals, cleaning and laundry. In even the smallest studio apartment, I would pay as much as I’m paying here but also have to pay for my food and utilities. I thought of moving to some place like Florida where the cost of living is more modest. I also thought of sharing a place with someone else. But the option of moving in with my partner looked like my best bet. Here, my meals are all provided. Someone cleans our apartment and does our laundry. I have internet access and TV and telephone. The facility has an option they call independent living by which we were able to move into an apartment which doesn’t have full kitchen facilities but does have a mini-refrigerator and a microwave. Since we don’t have to make our own meals, that is enough. My partner was sufficiently recovered to be able to move with me into one of those apartments. Not only don’t I have to be responsible for full housekeeping. We also have the advantage of being connected to a community of other residents. The facility provides entertainment and some transportation. It was a big adjustment for me. I had always lived near public transportation. Now, I was living in a place that was isolated. But I learned how to get around. I became a big walker. I always had been but now it was a big part of functioning in the world around me. I learned the bus schedules too. In short, I have found a place to live. I was also able to preserve my relationship with my partner. Having each other makes a big difference. Most of the people here don’t live with a significant other. Some make relationships with other residents. And we strike up friendships.
It’s very different living here. I see it as a place we have come to live until we die. Of course, some people will change their situations before they die. But we are all waiting for death. I realize, everyone is going to die. But death is pretty remote to most people. Here it is a lot more immanent. We have seen people we know die. What is more significant, we see people’s health decline. My partner is exceptional in that her health has been steadily improving since she moved her. But the existential fact that we are living on borrowed time is a lot more obvious living here. Many of my fellow residents have dementia which is like Alzheimer’s or senility. Having spent two years in a mental hospital during my teens, I have already had the experience of living with people who were out of their minds in various ways. In the nuthouse, most of the “crazy” people had schizophrenia. Their symptoms were different from those with dementia but for someone who still has her marbles, it’s not so different.
There are a few residents who are unable to communicate. One woman I am thinking of hardly ever speaks. She is fat and confined to a wheel chair. One time, I saw she had wet her pants and I told a staff person so she could get changed. The woman, being unable to speak, couldn’t have asked. Once in a while, she screams at the top of her lungs. Just screams. No words. I saw this woman as someone who was living in a Hell so profound, I couldn’t imagine it. I would be screaming too. I’ve been here almost two years. I have come to understand this woman somewhat over that time. I have noticed she has some pretty cool t-shirts; shirts indicating a sense of humor. I have dyed part of my hair pink. A staff member told me that this woman wants to die her hair pink too. I don’t know how she managed to communicate this desire but I gave the staff member information about how she could do it. The point I’m making is that I now see her as a person not just a blob. It’s mind-boggling to learn what everyone was in their younger lives. We have professors, chemists, marines, union organizers, teachers, ex-bikers.
One can learn a lot living here. One lesson is tolerance. There are so many kinds of people here. We’re all in the same boat. We all have to get along. We are all more or less dependent on the staff, on Social Security, on family… Dependence was something I never took kindly to when I was younger. I was a kid who couldn’t wait to break free from my parents and do everything on my own. Even getting into the nuthouse was one way of declaring independence from my parents, although they still supported me financially and I was subject to the rules of the hospital. A few years since leaving the nuthouse, I quit high school to get a job and my own apartment. I was 17-years-old when I moved into my own place. Having someone else decide when I could be fed was an experience I have been finding difficult.
Being unable to communicate is a form of sensory deprivation. Nuns and monks sometimes practice silence as a form of extreme asceticism. Prisoners, especially those who have been kidnapped, often have this imposed on them. Even when someone is allowed to speak, s/he sometimes knows better than to say what is really on hir mind. That’s why speaking truth to power is considered an act of courage.
Lately, I have realized that I, myself, have experienced the isolation that comes with the inability to communicate. In fact, I grew up with it. It’s not that I was unable to speak and it’s not that I was afraid to speak. I just thought nobody would understand me if I did. So I usually didn’t bother. I sensed a deep, wide divide between myself and other people. It’s almost as if they are a different species. Ever wonder what it’s like for a pet to have to live with humans? I have a pretty good idea what it’s like. The nature of members of this other species was that they were unpredictable. They just didn’t make sense. In time, I developed the ability to predict much of their behavior. It still didn’t make sense but at least I was able to control it. I knew if I did A, I would get the response of B.
Adults throughout my childhood have commented on what a quiet child I was. They didn’t seem to spend much energy trying to figure out what was going on behind my silence. If someone doesn’t speak, s/he is often dismissed. I dismissed the mute woman in my residence until recently. If people don’t say anything, people assume they have nothing to say. But shrinks deal with their ignorance and lack of interest by slapping a diagnosis on the silent one. I was given the diagnosis of schizophrenia. I didn’t learn about my diagnosis until a couple of years ago. I guess if someone doesn’t communicate, they must be crazy. The nuthouse I was in between the ages of 13 and 15 also labeled me schizophrenic. I have never had so much as one psychotic episode. I was never on anti-psychotic medication. Nevertheless… A shrink I saw in more recent times explained that the diagnosis was just a sign of the times.
I still feel alienated from most people. I still don’t think they can understand me. But I have been communicating for quite some time. I think my time in the nuthouse was a turning point. I had one shrink while I was there who seemed to hear and understand me. At least on many points. I also found people I could relate to among my fellow patients. These were the ones who were lucid like me. My closest friends were about my age. I remained friends with one of them until very recently. She was the first person to tell me I was a psychopath. She told me she had talked with some professional and described me. The professional made the diagnosis. I didn’t know much about psychopathy but I immediately sensed the truth of her statement. I realized I didn’t have what other people call a “conscience.” I didn’t feel this kind of emotional connection with my fellow (wo)man. I lacked any sense of obligation to others. It was good to know there was a word for what I am. I stayed in touch with this friend off and on the rest of my life until one time I asked her if she remembered telling me I was a psychopath. She didn’t remember and her reply chilled me. “I not impressed with those people,” she said. Like I was interested in impressing her? I kind of wrote her off then. I was surprised at how uncaring I felt about her. She just wasn’t relevant to me any more. She had been very upset that her mother was dying, something I couldn’t relate to. Both of my parents died and I hadn’t felt anything. However, a year or two later, I decided to make another attempt to reach her. When I tried to contact her, I found out she was dead.
I now communicate with people on various levels depending on the person. I am close to a few of them. I have been in love a few times. I feel little or nothing about most people. I keep that to myself. I have learned how to be charming. I have a few t-shirts that say I’m a psychopath. I doubt many people believe it. I find that amusing. The internet has been instrumental in enabling me to reach out. My blog is the biggest means by which I express my real self and actually reach other minds. Growing up, I learned that I’m not as alone as I thought I was. I have found kindred souls on Facebook and the blogosphere. Living here has made my cyber-connection all the more important. I stay vital and alive here. I hate Ajit Pai who would deprive me of connection. I don’t think people will put up with that but anything that even threatens to take it away arouses my enmity.
We are only here for a brief time. My time approaches. I’m in my 70’s. I wish the world well. I hope folks can get things to work better. But I’m glad I don’t have it all ahead. I’m biding my time, finding fun and constructive things to do with that time and always discovering things about myself and the world around me.