I’m Not Crazy

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Lonny Shavelson

Selection of photographs and oral histories from
I’m Not Crazy, I Just Lost My Glasses

Joyce Kasinsky

My parents were commies, and when I was a child the FBI would come to the door. I think that was where my paranoias originated.

My dad died in 1966 and we moved. I spent a lot of time packing stuff, and I guess people were talking about me. I thought there were people who would shoot me from the rooftops.

I was visiting a psychiatrist. She said, “Why don’t you go and check out this hospital.” I said, “Jesus, at least while I’m in there they won’t be able to shoot me.”

They had me on Thorazine and I developed migraine headaches that would last all day. I left the hospital with the intention of killing myself, but then I got outside and I felt no migraines.

My apartment is in a very small building and the landlord and manager sort of know that I’m sort of crazy. They treat me as though I’m unaware of things and generally dumb. It bothers me immensely. My income is from social security disability and it’s not much. It’s just depressing that I will have to spend forever in this place.

The nitty gritty stuff that goes on in your life day-to-day—how difficult that can be for somebody who’s out, even for somebody who’s been out for some time. One time I had this enormous temptation to present myself in the emergency room and say, “Take care of me.” I didn’t do that, and I’m very proud of myself.

My biggest fear is that they’ll call the cops and cart me away. One morning I couldn’t find my glasses, and I was running around the apartment screaming. So the cops were at my door, and I thought, “Oh my God, this is it.” They told me they thought someone was hurting me. “I’m not crazy, I just lost my glasses.” I said it about seventeen thousand times. It’s just that hideous fear because you’ve been there.

Marti Brokaw

It’s only recently that I’ve actually made the statement, I am mentally disabled. I cannot have a job and make a living.

I lived with my family until I was 31. When they kicked me out I took some jobs—housekeeper, attendant. It was extremely painful. I was being exploited and degraded.

I have half a dozen misdemeanor convictions, for bashing windows, pouring paint on a police car. I was looking for a career place to live, but I couldn’t get more than 60 days.

I’ve had fairly lightweight contact with the mental health system, on an open psych ward. I said, “Please, check me in, there’s nowhere for me to go.” And they did.

One year ago I walked out on the streets thinking I was going out there to die. But I got off the streets by walking into Support Services Shelter.

It’s a refuge and a sanctuary in the women’s dorm. Men confront me on the street all day and I have to defend myself. But they don’t bother me at the shelter. These guys need that bunk.

I feel that my life is better being mentally disabled than if I was not. Everyone who’s adjusted to manage in the world pays a price. Most people’s jobs are really a matter of slavery. I will not permit myself to be degraded and abused.

I don’t think I’m sick. It has to do with an integrity, and a self love.

Vivian Bard

Even my mother’s called the police on me. That hurts. You have a problem, they lock you up—give you pills when you need food and a place to stay.

I was 23, a mother, a father, and a full-time employee. I was tired, kind of having hallucinations, quoting the Bible. It led to the psychiatric ward.

At medication time they rang a little bell, “Medication, take your med­ication.” You had the medication and you made your bed, and the rest of the day you’re just watching TV. and walking up and down the halls.

One thing I found very difficult to take was the restraints. It was a very horrible experience to be in restraints, tied down, no bedpan, nothing. It haunts me.

I thought I would never go back. I tried working part-time but had hallucinations, voices. They shipped me to the state hospital. They had dances on Saturdays. But you can’t be very close to the males, even though you’re grown. I was there for nine months.

I’m always going to have to take medication. Always going to face the possibility of being locked up, in restraints, hospitalized, low self-esteem, thinking of suicide, insomnia, heavy smoker, drinking coffee by the pot.

This year I was hospitalized again. I was pregnant with my second son and I was by myself. I ended up on the streets and the police found me at two in the morning. Back to the hospital. Take your medicine and watch TV.

It was really difficult because I wanted the baby to make it. My man had nothing to give the baby. Not one diaper.

I thought the baby should be in a foster home. lt took a lot out of me. My man was very angry with me for doing it. He felt so hurt. I tried to explain to him that it’s a temporary thing.

Jim Crotty

The thing with food is that I was looking for a great explanation. When I was down it was, “Oh, too much sugar, that’s the problem.”

When I first went to the hospital I was so thin, so weak. They said I’ve got an eating disorder. Wow, now I know what I’ve got. Eat the right food and that takes care of everything.

In the hospital—”Rah, rah, Jim, you ate all the food on your tray.”

I felt great! I got to the point where I was gaining weight, but I was still sad. I discovered that I’m angry, extremely angry. And then I was bawling my head off. I get angry when I want to cry, and I cry when I want to be angry.

I think I’m the type who does look for the great overall explanation.

I had all these ideas about proper diet, but I became nuts. It was crazy to want to starve myself.

The eating disorder is a mask for other sadness. I didn’t want to acknowl­edge the real changes that would have to go on. I always wanted to be different and special—I eat this way so I’m different than you. Letting go of that— it’s hard. Right now it’s tough because I’m still feeling lonely.

There’s kind of a perverse pride in being able to get so thin. I was a freak. I’m not going to lose weight again. I’ve set a weight goal of 145, and even that’s too low. I want to be much more than that.

Brad Lichtenstein

I was going to be a rabbi and I began to look at my spiritual self. In a magical moment I stepped out of reality and felt myself above my body. It was the beginning of all things—the essence of all things.

The spirituality grew stronger. One evening I had a spontaneous writing from God. Every 2100 years there is a being who occupies the earth and brings enlightenment. The writing said I was that being.

Finally, I just let it all out. I said, “I am the Messiah. I need to deal with why people are starving.” I began speaking of the second coming of Christ, and I was in the hospital that afternoon. The diagnosis was schizophrenia, thought-voices.

They began to talk to me as if I were a child. They took my clothes and I had to put everything into a locked box. From my huge position of the Messiah, I was degraded to being less than a person.

The medicine cut off the voices immediately. I was impressed. But I was still the Messiah. I’ve had too many profound experiences to not believe I am the Messiah.­

Our socialization says that you don’t talk on buses and you don’t say you’re the Messiah. The last time I told my doctor I still thought I was the Messiah, he said, “Take some more tranquilizers.”

The voices are gone. I have a good job now. But if they say it is bad to think you are the Messiah then they haven’t cured me. I can’t lose God’s message that I am on the right path.