Furtively, I sought the opinion of Gary, my drinking buddy and best friend of nearly twenty years. I asked him what he thought of my entering a place called Morningstar, a North County treatment facility for people afflicted with schizophrenia. I had been diagnosed with schizophrenia, and Gary had a dry and irreverent view of my disorder. When I am not taking my antipsychotic medication,
I have florid delusions about very imaginative subjects. After telling Gary about my elaborate Bigfoot delusions, he offered to take me out to the woods, turn me loose without my medication, and collect me a few months later so I could write down all the things I believed had happened to me. He figured we'd be able to sell the stories.
We met over a beer, and I probed for Gary’s opinion of the program. I would have to be in the facility for a year or two, and they wanted me to go off my medication. There was no guarantee that the program would work. Yet one of the Morningstar therapists told me that if it did work, I would not only be normal, but super-normal in my ability to deal with stress. I would need neither medication nor therapy ever again, he said.
Gary mulled it over. “Well," he finally pronounced, “at least when it’s over, it would be a good adventure."
That clinched it for me. I was going.
So it came to be that on October 20,
1980, I joined the program’s five other residents in a red-tile-roofed, upper-middle-class house in an Encinitas neighborhood.
I settled into Morningstar quickly. I became friends with the other residents and got to know the therapists. However, I was mystified by the jargon and the method of treatment. I enjoyed the curious attention I received from one of the female therapists whom I will call Andrea. By the time I left a year and a half later, I was a true convert to the central idea of the program, which was that we were to become actively aware of our feelings and so learn to respond to them appropriately. '
Some of the people in the program weren’t so appropriate in how they dealt with their feelings. One woman would “escalate” frequently and demanded tremendous energy from the staff and residents. Being off medication, she was actively psychotic and extremely paranoid. She would become hostile and violent and needed to be restrained. Both the staff and residents would hold her facing into a comer in a room until she settled down.
I was terrified of “the corner.” A person who did something inappropriate was forced to stand in the comer until he could “deal." The person had to ask permission to deal, then the assembled therapists and residents would decide if they would give permission. If permission was granted, the person was allowed to turn around and had to tell what had happened to get him into the comer, what he was feeling when the misdeed occurred, and how such a situation would be handled differently in the future.
Morningstar therapists told me that the antipsychotic medication I was taking damped down my feelings and that to work out my problems, I needed to stop taking the medication altogether. I was frightened about doing this, but they gave me emotional support. At Christmastime of 1980, I went cold turkey, and it wasn’t long before I was as wild and irrational as the woman who had been escalating so frequently when I First arrived.
By then Andrea and I had formed a close bond and had decided that she was going to “re-parent” me. Reparenting was a vital part of the Morningstar treatment. It was based on the premise that schizophrenia is a sane response to an insane situation. We were supposed to have learned to be crazy due to the treatment we received as children. We needed to unlearn this craziness, and to do so we needed to be reparented.
I didn’t think it was such a bad idea.
Shortly after going off my medication, I developed severe insomnia. I would lie in bed awake till dawn; I would then get up and go through the daily routine of therapy and household chores. Then I would go to bed, only to lie awake all night again. After four days of this, I was extremely irrational and terrified. I thought I was going to die.
I don’t remember what happened, but I am told that the consulting psychiatrist prescribed some Valium for me, and I finally fell asleep. I have only fragmentary memories of the next several months.
During the period I was off medication, I was actively psychotic, paranoid, wild, and irrational. I was confronted, put in the corner, and taught communication skills. Some of the residents responded to this, but I was completely out of control. I was in treatment to get to the bottom of my childhood experiences and repair myself. At the time, however, I thought that the outer-space invasion had started.
The first hint I had of the invasion came while I was listening to the stereo in an alcove of the house. I noticed that there was something peculiar about the chandelier. Hanging from its arms were cut-glass crystals. I realized that it was a steering mechanism, some sort of navigational device for plotting a course through the galaxy.
The summer before, I had taught nature lore at a camp, and since then I had tried to learn more about astronomy.
I have a bachelor’s degree in biology from the University of California and had a pronounced interest in anthropology. These natural interests became distorted over a period of months into a complex and amazingly coherent picture of the invasion from outer space.
I, of course, was one of the local Earth leaders who was to mobilize the population to resist the invasion. We were in an intergalactic war, and Earth had been informed of the invasion only because of the seriousness of the situation to the rest of the galaxy. In my delusions. Earth was a backward civilization just entering the space age.
We had been under observation for some time by other civilizations but had never been interfered with because they wanted us to follow a natural course of development.
The invasion of our own Milky Way galaxy by an alliance from the Andromeda galaxy was beginning. The war was initiated because our galaxy had valuable resources that the Andromedans had depleted in their own galaxy.
The invasion forced a unification of the divided factions in the Milky Way. A key factor in the conflict was a neighboring galaxy, which also had an alliance of the civilizations within it. This alliance could swing either way but was remaining neutral so far. n
What was particularly fascinating for me was to understand the different humanoid species involved in the invasion. There were full mammalian species like ours, and there were marsupial and reptilian humanoid species as well. I spotted one of the marsupial types in a health food store one day. She was dumpy and rather unattractive. Each galaxy had an array of each of these types.
I had even begun to decipher the languages of the invaders. One of my therapists, who at one point told me he wished he knew what it was like to be crazy, asked me to explain my language delusions. More than happy to have a receptive audience, I picked up a crayon used in regression therapy and proceeded to lecture, writing notes on the white refrigerator.
I had sketched out quite an elaborate schema explaining the outer-space languages when the house manager walked in. She stopped the lecture, told me to scrub the writing off the refrigerator, and demanded to talk to the therapist upstairs immediately. The incident didn’t bother me because I had suddenly realized how to say “fuck you” to the capital city of the invaders. The proper pronunciation was “shainuh lasha,” and I only needed to find a way to use this information to fight the invaders.
After months of delusions about the outer-space invasion, things took a turn for the worse. One sign of this trend was the time I found part of the mouth of one of the reptilian invaders in the group room. It was a white, slimy piece of flesh. The reptile had apparently been blown apart by the small-weapons firing going on in the neighborhood. One of the residents insisted that what I found was part of a fish that he had caught — but there was no way that I was to be convinced of that.
About the same time. I figured out that the reptilian humanoids invading were not doing so of their own free will. They had small computer circuits implanted in their brains that were controlled by another society in Andromeda. This very sinister and terrifying scenario was intensified by the fact that the third galaxy, which had been remaining neutral, decided to align with Andromeda in the war.
I became more frightened than usual, so frightened that the staff handcuffed me at night when I slept. To make matters worse, I realized that my own brain had been damaged by the electromagnetic weapons being fired in the area. At least that is what I thought when I was taken to the County Mental Health psychiatry ward.
County Mental Health was quite a relief after the turmoil and confrontation I had experienced at Morningstar. I felt some discomfort when the medication they gave me first took effect, but before long I was striding around the outdoor courtyard, holding forth on various subjects in the mild June weather. The Life Flight helicopters frightened me because I thought they were involved in the invasion, but in general I had calmed down.
After nearly seven weeks, the staff at CMH decided that I should be released. They gave me a small bottle of pills and an ill-fitting outfit put together from a clothing storeroom. I was soon wandering the streets. I spent the next two weeks sleeping behind stores, begging for money, rummaging through trash cans for food, and smoking cigarette butts I picked up in the streets. I did all of this because I decided that I didn't want to go back to Morningstar and had no place else to go. Morningstar hadn't been notified of my release and couldn’t determine my whereabouts.
At one point I tried to hitchhike to the San Bernardino area, where my sister lives. I got as far as Tierrasanta and ended up hanging around the front of a bar listening to the band playing inside.
At closing time, a police car came up, and the officers began asking me questions. I figured they must have had something to do with the invasion from outer space and, according to the Geneva Conventions, I did not have to answer anything but my name, rank, and serial number. So to each question they asked, I responded with my name and my social security number, the closest thing I had to a serial number. I was uncomfortable when they determined most of what they wanted to know from my driver’s license. They put me in the back of their squad car and drove me back to the County Mental Health psychiatry ward.
At CMH I decided that I’d rather remain free, so I told the examining psychiatrist that I was tripping on psychedelic mushrooms. He gave me an injection of antipsychotic medication and released me. I continued to wander the streets aimlessly until I found my way to the downtown Rescue Mission. At that time the mission, a place for the homeless to sleep and get a meal, was located on Fifth Avenue near Market. During the day when there was nothing to do, I wandered in and out of the posh art galleries in the neighborhood. At night I relished the hymns we got to sing during the worship service, but the meal that followed would normally be less than appetizing. It was nice to have food regularly, though. We were required to shower and were given a bunk.
On my third night at the Rescue Mission, I got confused and lost my bed-check number. As a result, I was turned out of the place and ended up sleeping in Balboa Park. At about 4:00 a.m., two policemen rousted me out of my comfortable nest under some bushes.
They interrogated me. Remembering my training from Morningstar, I tried to answer each question clearly and directly. They finally gave me a citation for sleeping in the park and told me that they could take me to jail or trust me to pay the fine. I responded that I would pay the fine. One of the officers said I had a face only a mother could love and only a cop could trust. With that they sent me on my way.
At that point I started getting angry. I had been ill-fed, dirty, and cold for about two weeks, and I was tired of it. I went back down to CMH to turn myself in.
The woman at the front desk disgustedly told me that she didn’t think I needed to be on a psychiatric ward, perhaps thinking I was a bum. She told me to leave, which intensified my anger, so I walked down to Mercy Hospital and tried to turn myself in there. To this day I can remember the face of the nurse who, with great patience and kindness, explained to me that it would be very difficult to get me admitted to the psychiatric ward. I told her that I had just gotten a ticket for sleeping in the park and I didn’t know what else to do. She offered to make an appointment for me with the social worker at County Mental Health. I accepted and was soon fidgeting quietly in the hallway at CMH.
The social worker arranged for a prescription of the antipsychotic medication I usually take and found a downtown board-and-care home near City College that had a bed to spare. The people from the board-and-care picked me up. and I was soon settling into my new living quarters.
The first thing I did at the board I and care was to mail in the fine for sleeping in the park so as to do my duty as a law-abiding citizen. I soon became friends with a Puerto Rican man who sang salsa songs and drummed the conga parts on his knees. The two of us wandered around the neighborhood, and on special occasions we pooled our money and bought a bottle of rum, which we would drink with Coke in the alley behind the home.
It was a blissful and carefree life — a kind of rest and relaxation after the outer-space invasion and the streets. I was stabilizing on my medication and starting to decide on what to do with myself, when Andrea began calling and visiting. She had gotten my phone number from Morningstar, where I left it after I picked up some clothes.
My relationship with Andrea had been stormy, and the attraction between us further complicated the situation. When she got in touch with me, she decided to resolve this unprofessional aspect of our therapeutic relationship. She found a new boyfriend with whom she became quite infatuated.
The summer wore on, and before long Andrea arranged to have me live in another board-and-care home in Carlsbad, closer to Morningstar. In addition, the psychologist who had been so interested in my outer-space language delusions was assigned to me by the director of the program as a primary therapist.
In the light of these new developments, I moved back into Morningstar in the fall of 1981. Just about a year had passed since I originally entered the program. Once readmitted to Morningstar, I tried very hard to not repeat the mistakes from my first go-around. I decided to cut back on my medication in small increments rather than all at once. This was in keeping with the Morningstar theory that to deal with our issues we needed not to take medication. I tried to deal with my therapeutic issues one at a time rather than take on too much at once.
Once reinstated at Morningstar, I found diversion in frequenting the clubs in North County. I liked to dance and follow the bands. I had reestablished a relationship with an old flame in the San Bernardino area.
Because I was taking my medication, I was cogent, and some of the new interns questioned whether I was really schizophrenic. At the suggestion of one of them, an ex-military man, I wrote a letter to vice president George Bush expressing some opinions concerning the Iranian situation. Bush had been director of the CIA, and I made suggestions as to how anthropologists might be used in various situations.
As I gradually cut back on my medication, I found that things that would normally bring up a certain amount of emotion were much more intense. By Christmas my feelings had become extremely raw. I started to have spells of paranoia when I went dancing. I felt uncomfortable and thought people were talking about me.
After Christmas I became even more paranoid, directing bursts of hostility toward people in the program. About the same time, my thinking started to edge over the line into irrationality. I would drift back and forth between intense but normal reality and equally intense delusion. During the time that this was occurring, I found out that Andrea was going to have a baby by the man she had been seeing. That disturbed me because I still was emotionally attracted to her, and these feelings became intensified because of my unmedicated state. Because Morningstar policy was rigidly against medication, I was reduced to sneaking medication to prevent the delusions from snowballing.
I became quite disturbed by the fact that in the North County area a number of clubs were going out of business or were changing hands. This was probably due to the economic recession going on at the time, but in my delusions I decided that it had to do with a Mafia ring active in the neighborhood.
In this period after Christmas, I began to develop a clear picture of the local activities of the Mafia: the waitresses in the neighborhood coffee shops were being manipulated by these gangsters*I busily unraveled this tangle of crime, hoping that I might get a chance to do something. I got my chance one day while I was out for a walk.
I had decided that I had an unofficial connection with the CIA, something that had grown out of my letter to George Bush. I thought that it was only proper that I have a gun. I went into a sporting goods store and bought the only thing I could afford — a B.B. gun. I strolled around the neighborhood with it until I found myself in front of a coffee shop. Suddenly things fell into place. The owner of the coffee shop was the Mafia kingpin who was responsible for all the nefarious goings-on in the neighborhood. I went to get him, proud to be doing my duty for the CIA.
I sat down at a booth, laid down my gun, and asked the waitress for the owner. When she replied that he wasn’t there, I pointed the gun at her stomach. I ordered a cup of coffee, which she went to the kitchen to get. While there, she called the police.
Approximately two minutes later, five police officers burst through the back door of the coffee shop with shotguns and pistols ready. I was quickly arrested and taken to the Vista jail. On the way to jail, I confessed to everything I could think of.
At the jail I was given some antipsychotic medication, and after about two weeks on this regimen. I started to regain normal functioning. For another two weeks I sorted out what had been delusion from what had been real during the previous few months. As the gravity of my predicament sank in, I became quite depressed.
My trial on charges of assault with a deadly weapon was delayed a number of times, but I was finally found not guilty by reason of insanity. I was committed to Patton State Hospital for four years, the maximum sentence for the crime. This is standard procedure for people found not guilty by reason of insanity.
While I was in jail, I received a favorable reply to my letter to George Bush. Encouraged by this, I wrote a letter to Ronald Reagan about how to deal with the Russians.
Sitting in the shade in the fenced courtyard at Patton, I regaled my friends with opinions about international politics.
I told them that I had written a letter to President Reagan about my ideas. Just then someone stepped outside the door of the unit and announced that I had a phone call. I joked that it must be Ronald Reagan who was calling. I walked inside and picked up the phone.
“Is this Ralph?”
“Yes. Is this Ronald Reagan?”
“No, this is Gary.” *
“Oh, Gary — how the hell are you?" “I’m fine, but you obviously aren’t.”
We chatted a while and finally wrapped up the conversation. I asked him to have a beer for me because it would be a while before I finally got out.
“Yes,” he chuckled, “I guess I’m drinking for two now.”
I said good-bye and ambled back into the courtyard, looking for adventure. □
The names of the author and the other people in this article have been changed. The author spent two years confined to Patton State Hospital near San Bernardino. He is now on parole in the San Diego area and is a graduate student at San Diego State University. Morningstar was closed down in 1982 due to budget cutbacks. Its sister program. Hanbleceya, still operates in Lemon Grove.