Mad in America: For Me, Self-Love Requires Both Mercy and Defiance

Hi All,

This is a very brief and personal sharing about needing and being able to find self-love. Please click on the Mad in America location of the article if you wish to see the comments and take part in the discussion.

Best wishes,

Michael

This entry first appeared at Mad In America on December 6, 2015.

This is my 31st article on MIA and the most personal. It’s about being tender and loving with myself when I’m suffering, and how for me that means being merciful and defiant at the same time.

As a boy who was abandoned by my parents at an early age, I’ve always felt vulnerable to the disapproval and judgments of others, afraid of being shunned, forgotten and rejected.

Especially when I was in madness, I felt freakish and alien – an outsider, as if looking in on the warm world of others from outside a window pane, the window condensed with moisture on the inside from delicious food cooking – with me unseen standing out there in the fading light of evening – while happy lives of family occurred inside the houses with the safety and warmth, and warm dinner food and love – of them all together, in a vision that broke my terrified and isolated heart.

But I somehow realized that love can be portable. That I could carry it in me like a little flame in a secret chamber of my heart.

So even when I was homeless sleeping in the rain under a tree with bugs crawling all over me or sleeping in the dugout of the high school baseball field, I could hold that loving grace through the night.

People who knew me then looked at me strangely, I know – the pre-med Michael now an unwashed wild-eyed denizen to be dodged on the street – them crossing to the other sidewalk side when they saw me approaching.

But I held my heart light closer then to balance the pain of those chance encounters.

So when I figured some of it out, I realized I’d never digested the poison pill completely – the one marked “unworthy of love.”

I refused. I said fuck that – I deserve the mercy they’d give a dog. I’ll give it to myself. I’ll love myself if no one else will.

And I did. And I still do.

I’m almost 70 now but I had a dream recently that proved to me how much my defiance has always helped me embrace love.

I was being led along a mountain hillside with a rope around my neck in a procession of captured slaves by mounted horsemen with long spears or pikes – the mounted King’s men.

For some reason, unbidden the words welled up inside of me…

“There’s one thing I’ve always wanted to say… ”

And then I shouted at the top of my lungs knowing it would bring my certain death…

“FUCK THE KING!”

“FUCK THE KING!”

At once to my left a huge mushroom about 10 feet tall erupted from the hillside. It was full of numinous vibrant energy and the sky over it became a mosaic of thousands of small shimmering patterns of ecstatically beautiful circular energy, as a huge chorus of voices intermingled in sustained notes of sacred release all brought about by my treasonous and blasphemous defiant cry against the tyranny of the king.

I can still hear that long sustained note of a thousand souls in my head.

Love is my birthright – and I believe it’s yours too. Please don’t let them tell you otherwise.

There’s a love that doesn’t wait to be claimed, received.

There’s a love that doesn’t wait and long to be returned.

There’s a humble love that just is, is.

A hidden flame that just burns, burns.

 

Why Involuntary Out-Patient Treatment Isn’t Necessary – A First Person Account

This entry first appeared at Mad in America on August 2, 2013.

The last sentence in a recent New York Times article entitled “Program Compelling Outpatient Treatment for Mental Illness is Working, Study Says” tells of the police taking a man to get his monthly Haldol injection under the involuntary treatment law.

For years I worked on a community based team that helped homeless people in extreme states who had histories of being frequently hospitalized.

I met them wherever they lived – on the streets, under bridges, in abandoned buildings, and in parks. I formed close, trusting connections by being open-hearted and harmlessly helpful. I wasn’t trying to “treat” them or enforce medication compliance.

Many people made remarkable changes because I had truly befriended them, pursued them with compassion to where they lived in isolation, helped them get food, wash their clothes, find safe housing.

It breaks my heart to see that police-state tactics such as forced Haldol injections are understood to be the only thing that can reach some people. I know it isn’t true.

I remember the supervisor of our county hospital psychiatric emergency unit contacting me, because a long-time homeless man who I was helping, hadn’t been there in over six months.

He had been the most frequently-hospitalized person in our large county mental health system. He often had been brought to psychiatric emergency by the police – sometimes several times a month. He had spent long months in the state hospital.

The supervisor really couldn’t understand that my simply spending time with him on the streets almost every day was making the difference.

But it was.

That simple friendly contact – when we are not forcing anything on someone, but instead are harmlessly helpful and kind – is precisely what helps someone relax and choose to pursue the basic things they need, like food, clothing and shelter.

But more, that frequent time spent with me simply listening and warmly feeling concern for the homeless man, began to gradually reduce the intensity of the extreme emotional state he usually was in. He became more and more present in the moment, more lucid and at ease.

That gradual shift into a more focused and relaxed state, has happened with many other people in extreme states that I have spent time with in that heart-centered way over the past 35 years.

You might want to see one of my related MIA blog essays, “Responding to Madness With Loving Receptivity: A Practical Guide.”

I hope that our society doesn’t persist in the fear-induced reaction that forces people in our communities who are experiencing extreme states to experience violations of their human rights as well.

It’s not right, and It’s not necessary.