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Sunday, January 15, 2017

My All Time Favorite Psych Patient

My Favorite Psych Patient

My favorite psych patient was Candice (name changed to protect the innocent).
One reason she was my favorite was because she said she wasn't crazy and I believed her.
Nobody else believed her.
It is odd that I did, since I think half the world is crazy.
But Candice was not crazy.
Definitely not crazy.
Trapped, maybe. Crazy, no.

I met Candice at Central State Hospital in Kentucky while I was on my Psychiatric Affiliation as a student nurse back in 1964.

Arriving at Central State Hospital, I had NO idea what lay behind the picturesque grand entrance.

It was a gorgeous early autumn afternoon in Appalachia, and the grounds of Central State were akin to the grounds surrounding the Tower of London.


So misleading.

Our contingent of five students stepped out of our respective cars into the early afternoon golden sunshine, birds wafting about, paved walkways surrounding the old buildings, benches placed strategically here and there among fine old trees and shrubs.

Peace and happiness, even a hint of old wealth, surrounded us.


So misleading.

The grounds, 350 acres of woodland and meadows (and buildings enough to house 1800 resident lunatics and a prison for the criminally insane, plus a dormitory for students of the insane) were impressive.
Before you judge me harshly for speaking of “lunatics” please be advised that Central State had only recently changed its name from the Kentucky Asylum for the Insane, having previously given up the name of Central Kentucky Lunatic Asylum.

Nobody at Central State was afraid of the word lunatic.
Lunatic is an easy enough word to understand, and we students all knew that a lunatic is somebody who is insane (a much harder word to define).
Lunatic was a word we slung at friends and family from time to time.

Going through the wide old doors to Administration, the asylum seemed to have a proper hospital atmosphere.

Even before settling into our dormitory we had our first class right there in the Administration area! It was a class on politics and finances, to prepare us for what we would see that the public had not deemed worthy of shelling out money to change.
It was a class on assigning blame for what we would witness during the following three months of study.

After settling in at the dorm, and learning that Central State was totally unlocked except for the criminally insane (a prison facility so far away we couldn't even see it), we were told it was our responsibility to lock our doors to our rooms and never go to the bathroom alone at night because even the dorm building was unlocked! In short, we were told and taught by example that you are safer on the grounds of a lunatic asylum than on the street.


But be sensible and take a friend with you everywhere you go.

There were rumors of a cemetery there on the grounds, but I never came across it.

Dinner would be served later.....and we discovered accidentally that all menus and meals were prepared by recovering lunatics.
Ghastly, ghastly meals.

On our first full day there we had our second class, in the Administration building again.
 Bright and early.
This class was a movie, “Shades of Gray”, and was used to help us understand that while we would be looking at deeper shades of gray, we were not unshaded ourselves.
“Don't judge. You are not 100% mentally healthy either.”

This is the time when the word “insane” began to become a little uncomfortable for us, like the word “old” becomes uncomfortable when you hit 60.
“Lunatic” became a word that closed in on us also.

Crazy makes crazy, and before long some students were seeking secret professional counseling to see “Just how crazy am I?!!? Am I ok?”

After our class on crappy finances and uncaring public, and our class on how we are “ mostly probably light gray most of the time”, we were given the thin educational structure of: take yourself on a tour, observe & take notes.

The doors to the patient areas swung open for us.

Image result for images of wonderland of lunacy

I was looking at a Wonderland of Lunacy.


Eventually I found Candice, who turned out to be my favorite patient.
We heard about her in a lecture because her psychiatric case was discussed as “our most baffling case”.
Candice had been committed because she spoke of voices she heard, and she would not deny that she heard them.
She was committed for treatment six years before, she had been evaluated and evaluated and counseled....and she just would NOT give up her story!  Committed in her late 30's, she was now middle aged.
The baffling thing was that she showed no other signs of mental illness, and test as they could, no expert could find one other inkling of anything wrong.
Still and all, if you are going to hear voices, you are NOT going to be discharged.

I was on the look-out for Candice. She didn't hang around her sleeping cot, but trolled the grounds which were, as previously mentioned, 350 acres of woodlands, paths, meadows, and some fenced off areas marked unaccessible.
Image result for images of benches under autumn trees

Eventually our paths crossed and I, being extremely curious, struck up a conversation, “May I walk with you?"
She told me all. How sane she is. How they want her to lie to get out. How she can't do that. She hears voices. Not disturbing voices, but she doesn't know where they come from and she thinks they should help her find out where the voices are coming from.

Candice took me up to the top of a considerable knoll overlooking the paths. “I hear the voices better up here”, she said. “It's like I am an antenna.”

Candice proved to be gracious, mannerly, intelligent and very well dressed and groomed. She knew she did not belong in an asylum, but when you hear voices......well...

I knew Candice wasn't crazy. But I also didn't know how anybody could escape from Central State.  (It was easy to "escape", but the local police were handy at returning any escapee!)

There was rumored to be a cemetery there on the grounds, but I never discovered it.

Candice didn't seem unhappy, strolling through nature, so maybe an asylum can be an ok place if your mental health is good and you spend more time in nature than listening to psychiatrists and staff.

Candice taught me one of the greatest lessons in life: NEVER CLAIM YOU ARE SANE.
It just does not work.
 Always say, “Well....I know I'm not completely sane......but no, I don't hear voices.”
Lie if you must.

Honesty is never the path out of a lunatic asylum!
That being because we are all lunatics!

Do not tell anybody you are sane!  There is nobody sane to hear you!

To get out of the asylum, pretend to be a lighter shade of gray, a little less insane than you are. That might work.

Some time ago I read that some people pick up radio transmissions through their teeth fillings!
I immediately thought of Candice.
Nobody was talking about that possibility at Central State when Candice needed help finding out where the voices came from and why she was an antenna.

Of all the sick people on earth, I think I feel sorriest for the people with significant mental illness.
Not only do they suffer, but it IS true that society pretty much mistreats or abandons them.
'Tis human fortune's happiest height to be
a spirit, melodious, lucid, poised and whole.
Second in order of felicity,
to walk with such a soul.   
                                                                           Sir William Watson


The only thing worse on earth than being a lunatic,
is being married to one.

Shades of gray, people.
 Shades of gray.

Perhaps your nurse,
perhaps your patient,
I remain grateful for your visit.