Throughout nine long years of extreme neurosis, I’ve harbored a slow-burning resentment of America. This was because I knew the country adds to the agony of mental illness a combination of scorn, aggression and dismissive indifference. I–and all psych patients–feel the contempt of our fellow citizens, sometimes overt, always present. Nobody believes us when we express our pain, or indeed respects us at all. I know this. We all know this. And over the past six months, the radiant embers of my discontent combusted into a firestorm of hatred.
It started after the gun massacres. In their desperation to blame the deaths on anything but the weapons that caused them, White Bread America again turned its heavily armed focus on the mentally ill. “Our” cynical politicians exhaled hot air about the mental health “system”–always in pseudo-compassionate scare quotes–then promptly abandoned their charade. As always, New York’s narcissistic bastard of a governor, Andrew Cuomo, was the first to fulfill the political world’s fantasies. What did the ersatz progressive do? Force caregivers to report their sickest patients to law enforcement and allow the remorseless, stop-and-frisking NYPD to beat down patients’ doors without even a pretense of due process. That’s mental health reform in the U.S. of A.
America’s collective hatred grew from there, and so did mine. The more brutality I saw “my” country inflict upon my people, the less startled I was. It didn’t surprise me at all to hear redneck idiots call for revoking our voting rights. After all, the State of Maine’s constitution contains a clause enabling its legislature to do so–and in 1998 “Mainers” voted to retain that provision via referendum. I was actually relieved to see people–their people–the American people–settle for harsher involuntary commitment laws. That’s because I half-expected they’d force us to wear big red P’s (for psycho) on our clothes, to alert the dumb masses of our threatening presence.
Speaking of which, how did the people of this “great” State react to mental health cuts? With outrage! Why? Not because mental illness ruins lives, or because the cuts mock decency, or because no man deserves to suffer the horrors of psychosis, but because untreated psychos threaten “our” safety. Peering over the white picket fence, those people see only threats, Others, monsters and things.
The things you think they see are, to their minds, unworthy. Another personal anecdote is in order. I recently interviewed with a bureaucrat to get help with my problems. He spent an hour asking pointless questions, more interested in entertaining himself than in helping his patient. Then, with three minutes left, he asked “And what do you have?” Exasperated, I replied “severe obsessional neurosis.” “Oh.” Thus another American truism surfaced–out of sight, out of existence.
This habit drives me to distraction. The American mind cannot grasp facts beyond the visible and obvious. I wonder why that is. Maybe it derives from their movie addiction and the triumph of simplistic visual storytelling over actual thought. Alternatively, perhaps American linearity is literally the product of their fixation on commerce. In the pursuit of cash, nothing matters but the material prize. At any rate, the simplistic style in American thought debilitates its capacity to understand hardship.
We, the mentally ill, are the consistent the victims of the linear American mind. If nothing is obviously wrong, Americans assume nothing can be wrong. If we say we cannot work, it’s because we must be indolent. If we contribute little financially to their society, it is because we ourselves are worthless. In their minds, it is impossible for a person to suffer and not look the part. Take it from a recent newspaper editorial, which made that argument explicitly. The piece was cruel, ignorant and comparatively gentle.
I have felt the harsh consequences of American ignorance. Over the years, teachers and others have insisted my pain is illusory.
They refused to grant me reprieves from work because they refused to believe I needed them. The College of William and Mary revoked my admission when they realized I am really truly sick. One of them stood menacingly before me and spat that she would never let me “get out” of doing things “just like everybody else!” As if the stupid fucks had any concept of struggle.
Increasingly, I hate such people, comfortable Americans who have never suffered at all. They invent travails for themselves to rationalize their absurd self-pity. They are narcissistic. They are heartless. They are ignorant. They are entitled. They are stupid. I hate them. I hate them. I hate them more than anything on earth!
And I hate this country, too. It tears me apart to say that, because I once took pride in being loyal. I read this quote,
“And as the moon rose higher the inessential houses began to melt away until gradually I became aware of the old island here that flowered once for Dutch sailors’ eyes–a fresh, green beast of the new world. Its vanished trees…had once pandered in whispers to the last and greatest of human dreams; for a transitory enchanted moment man must have held his breath in the presence of this continent, compelled into aesthetic contemplation he neither understood nor desired, face to face for the last time in human history with something commensurate to his capacity for wonder”
and swooned in amazement that, in 1727, my own ancestors felt the power of an unknown continent. I revered the idea of America, but not anymore. Now, the flag burns to ashes in my heart.