Five Things I Learned in the Nuthouse

by Treehouse Editors

from Timothy Stewart Johnson, author of I’ll Tremble If You Like

In 1987, my baby-mama convinced me to check myself into a nuthouse because I was contemplating suicide. My four weeks inside ended my suicidal ideation and set me on a path of recovery. It also opened my eyes about certain things I should have known and other things no one should ever have to learn.

  1. My childhood traumas were not funny. I was regaling my therapist with funny stories about things that happened to me as a child. My mother grabbing my ponytail and chopping it off with a butcher knife in front of company, drunk out of her mind. Having psychotic episodes while on PCP, LSD and mushrooms. My best friend holding me at gunpoint and threatening to kill me, and then trying to kill a girl at school for rejecting his affections. The therapist looked at me in horror and said, “Why are you laughing? Those stories are not funny! You were a child!”
  2. Everything I knew was wrong. I knew I grew up in an awesome home. My parents were cool, and everyone loved them. The things that happened when no one was around were simply swept under the rug or dismissed as humorous foibles by a well-meaning mom who simply had a little too much to drink. No one noticed when I went off the rails, and no one ever stopped pretending everything was alright. The truth was a bomb that blew my reality to pieces.
  3. I can dance without alcohol. They don’t serve cocktails in the nuthouse, but they do have parties. The psych techs dimmed the lights and all of us lunatics put our arms around each other and floated around the common area like a clot of fire ants clinging together in a flood. It was awkward at first, but after a while all of our diseases were drawn to the surface by the poultice of music, and the fumes of our pain brought tears of healing, and after, when I looked at the beautiful bulimic girls, and the suicidal young men, and the woman with multiple personalities, and the one who stood at the window at night watching invisible monsters, I saw myself.
  4. Insanity is Real. My friend Melanie told me about her father raping her, and I wanted to hold her, to heal her. When she went missing, I believed she would find her way home and resume being a mom. When they found her behind a dumpster two blocks away and dragged her back to the funny farm to finish facing her demons, her wrists in ragged tatters from a chunk of broken glass, she was not Melanie. She had become Monique. Then Monique faded away and Melanie returned, with no memory of what had happened and no idea who had slashed her wrists.
  5. It’s mostly about the money. My psychiatrist drove a Rolls Royce with her name on the license plate, and she parked it in front of the hospital where we could see it from our unit. Five minutes into my first session, she began a campaign to convince me I was bipolar and put me on lithium. I refused. I didn’t know what was wrong with me, but I knew what wasn’t. The good doctor was later indicted for “…knowingly and intentionally devis[ing] and intend[ing] to devise a scheme and artifice to defraud and to obtain money by means of false and fraudulent pretenses and representations…” She ultimately prevailed and is still practicing medicine, but the Rolls was as real as our mental problems were.