Stolen by the System

Tomorrow is another day and I know that I will once again start to build up the bricks of hope, but today, I just cry as I bicycle home in the icy cold wind with the first snowflakes of the day beginning to fall. Deep inside I feel the flames licking at my icy rage at the injustice of a system purporting cure but which is in reality the stealer of souls.

There he sits, staring, his eyes vacant, his face, young yet stiffened and expressionless, trapped in a man-made disease found naturally only in the old. His fingers drumming and tapping are yellowed by the constant cigarettes being lit end to end in a chain of smoke and glow. He is restless, an inner agitation has invaded his body his right leg bouncing up and down, he twists and turns unable to find peace within. Yet all this he does not notice for his mind is blunted, his senses dulled, he is primitive, behaving like a lout, shocking me as I battle to readjust to this shell of a person who once was vibrant, shining in his intellectual prowess with his debonair attitude, charming young and old alike.

Stunned, I struggle for words as I stare at him from across the table. Glancing briefly, he turns his head to the right and stares up while saying, “So, what shall we talk about?” I retreat to the safety of my professional role, start to talk of voices and voice hearing, that there is a connection to life and life stories and that “of course recovery is possible”, adding, “that if I can recover, then anyone can.”

I’ve lost him, I can see that and I feel a sense of great regret, for my shock has overwhelmed me and, like him, I have no words. I take a deep breath, recover my forces and try to engage in the trivialities of an everyday that I know nothing about. “What do you like, what do you do?” But does he answer, does he care, a shrug of his shoulders is all I get. “What are your dreams, what are your hopes?” I try again. “Become a champion chess player” he says, “school and later university” but adding as an afterthought “I’ve dropped school I want my own place and besides I’m so tired, I need more energy.” Finally a sentence I think to myself and I cast out a new net trying to engage. “I heard you moved to Christiania, lived in a tent, what was that like, was it fun?” That seems to grab him and a smile cracks his otherwise frozen face. “It was great!” he says “I lived out there, nobody about; I stopped all my drugs and opened my mind.”

He scratches his cheek and I notice his chipped nails filled with grime from weeks of doing, God knows what and think back to when I saw him last. Then his hands were smooth and cared for, his nails were buffed, clean and cut and once again I try to readjust to this new shell of a man sitting before me who is so recognizable and yet not. This parody of a person who once was and whom psychiatry purports is now the true fixed person, cured, courtesy of them, has lost his essence, his being, for that has been stolen, stolen by the system in the name of cure. I know as I sit across from him on the other side of the table that unless I find his soul hidden deeply within the dark recesses of the psychiatric system he will remain trapped, a zombie, forever marching to the trumpets of the psychiatric machinations.

He has left as quickly as he came, a place round the corner, cheap food, better than the hospital he says and I am left sitting in a café, filled with people laughing, children playing and wonder; am I the only one who notices these empty shells, like the man who sat at this table for a brief space of time? I look again at the children playing, wondering; do their parents know that their child might one day be one of those empty beings too? I get up, leaving my half-finished coffee and the warmth of the almost full café, and step out into the icy cold wind, it looks like snow, I unlock my bicycle almost not noticing my face is wet with tears.


  1. Such a poignant piece!! This story reflects so many of my own feelings, about my young adult child whom I have difficulty in recognizing these days. Fumbling between hope and despair, but at the end of each day I choose hope, I have too!! I will share my hope with you and your loved one. Olga, thank you for sharing.

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