Part 1 of 2 In the midnight hour of my parents’ spacious San Marino home, I begin thumping my head repeatedly against their floor-to-ceiling windows. There was never intent to hurt myself, I enjoy the thunder-like sounds.
“Winston, why are you doing this?! Pleeeese stop,” my aunt Joyce, visiting from Hawaii, pleads from across the room.
The night before, I found myself screaming at my parents at the top of my lungs, voice going hoarse, neck veins bulging. I force them to sit and stare at each other, convinced their affectionless relationship is one of cohabitating, unfeeling zombies. I see no love.
Positive they are hurting themselves, I decide to hurt myself, so they can stop hurting themselves. An Ed Norton scene in Fight Club was my inspiration. Watching him assault himself was the pièce de résistance of the film. He got everything he wanted. So there I was, pounding my head against the glass.
My cold but concerned father, a cancer physician, calls 911. Sirens sound, lights turn on, the front door busts open. A tall San Marino cop wrestles me to the ground. My heart pounds. The cop mashes my face against the light brown hardwood floor. Another cop handcuffs my wrists, metal squeezing deep into my flesh. I can’t breathe. An ambulance transports me under the glaring, fluorescent lights of Las Encinas Hospital, a place for psychiatric patients. My father attempts to soothe me, placing his chilly hand on my forehead. I want to spit in his face. If only I weren’t strapped to a gurney.
This is my first 5150. A danger to myself or others. One of several to follow. I don’t believe in this moment that medication is the solution, a lesson I will have to learn the hard way.
It wasn’t always like this. The first 20 years of my life I was diagnosis-free, excelling in academics, music, and athletics. I was a gentle Christian kid, loved basketball, liked Bible studies. I took people to church and told silly jokes. Having a girlfriend escaped me in college, however. So here I was. My mind unraveled the months prior with falling grades, bizarre behavior, and festering aggression. The National Alliance on Mental Health reports 75% of lifetime mental illness begins by 24.
A right-thinking person could have avoided the hospital, maybe written a note to his parents or protest their company. Something subtle. But I had some obsession with trying to make everything perfect, by hook or by crook.
During my first hospitalization, I’m terrified, caged in the sterile confines of whitewashed walls with no way out. I tell myself that worshipping Jesus will free me, like his disciples when they were in jail. When that doesn’t happen, I tell myself I’ll find a way out by day three, just like Jesus found his way out of a tomb.
Delusions are symptoms of psychotic disorders, per the DSM-5. The National Institute of Mental Health reports 3 percent of the US population will experience a psychotic episode in life.
Making things difficult, I refuse medication. I escape the locked ward the third day (think Shawshank Redemption), only to find the aforementioned police at my parents’ place ready to drive me to the hospital. Once I’m back, a judge releases me after a commitment hearing, saying involuntary commitment is unnecessary.
I confuse the judge’s decision as a declaration of mental stability. Off meds, I partake in risky behavior, punching my father, lighting fires inside my parents’ home, smoking at gas stations and living in my car. On meds I graduate from UCLA (2003), teach in private schools and make friends.
But I keep trying to quit meds. I stop abruptly, my mind frazzles. I dress up like Osama bin Ladin, then steal and lose my cousin’s dog after a 400-mile trip. I swear the San Jose deejay is sending me messages through the radio, confirming my soon-to-be famous status. According to Neuroscience Research Australia, psychotic relapse is the recurrence of untreated psychotic symptoms.
In 2004 I track cars as I’m driving on the Bay Area freeways, comparing the queue to a baseball lineup. I’m the fourth car, I must be the cleanup hitter. At night I sit on the street, trying to predict the color of the next car I’ll see, as if this can be known.
One day I enter the San Francisco Airport, convinced I’ll meet a romantic partner, but it’s another delusion called erotomania, where you imagine someone’s in love with you, but they’re not. I spend a fluorescent-filled night organizing pieces of trash from garbage cans: This is where I’ll keep the metallic-looking things. This is where I’ll keep the paper. In the morning, I return to the parking lot to find I don’t have enough cash to exit. I reenter the airport in socks (I’ve tossed a fresh pair of red Skechers).
“Can I help with your luggage?” I ask, aware tha