I Was Fifteen

Ted Chabasinski, JD
24
433

This vignette is part of Ted Chabasinski’s autobiography in progress.

I was fifteen.  My birthday had come and gone and, as always, no one had noticed but me.

I was fifteen, and I had been in Bellevue and Rockland State Hospital for more than half my life.  I knew that I would be there until I died, becoming one of the crazy patients in Building 58, hanging from the bars of the porches — raving, screaming, making noises like animals in the zoo.

It was Easter now, and I was home in the Bronx for a visit with my father.  It took me several days before I could get up the courage to buy the bottle of aspirin.  I had asked Doctor Nicolau about whether you could kill yourself with some common things.  Like, could you die if you ate too much salt?  Too much cheese?  A lot of aspirins?  I had hoped he would think I was only expressing a kind of scientific curiosity.  He assured me that, yes, if you took enough aspirin, you could die. You could kill yourself with almost anything if you took enough of it, he said. I was glad that I had not aroused his suspicions, and that he had told me what I needed to do to kill myself.

I went to the drugstore and bought a pack of Kent cigarettes and a bottle of five hundred aspirins.  I wanted to be cool like everyone else, like the other boys smoking in the section, like the tough guys in the movies.  And I knew these cigarettes were the best, because it said in the newspaper ads that they used a very scientific filter, made of asbestos, just like the filters they used in atomic energy plants.

That night I stood in front of the bathroom mirror, inhaling smoke as best I could, choking and coughing but trying very hard to look cool.  I tried to blow smoke rings like a movie star, but I could barely breathe.  I tried hard for several days, and I never got the hang of it. But it helped me distract myself from what I needed to do, and was terrified of doing.

Finally I realized that I couldn’t put it off any longer and I took a big glass from the kitchen and mixed over half of the tablets in lukewarm water.  My glass of poison tasted terrible, I could barely swallow it, and I had to leave some in the glass.  I went to my room and waited to die.

I felt a little dizzy, and very afraid.  I couldn’t face going back to Rockland, but death was beginning to feel even more scary.

I went to the living room, where my father was drowsing on the couch as he always did, smoking his pipe and watching television.  It looked like a wrestling program, where Gorgeous George was prancing about, pretending to wrestle people but just putting on a very weird but popular show.  I thought it was just as crazy as anything I’d seen in Rockland, except that people liked it, I suppose.

“Daddy, I just took hundreds of aspirins, and I feel sick.”

“What?  Sit down and watch TV with me.  Gorgeous George is on.”

“Daddy, I just took two hundred aspirins so I could kill myself.”

“What?  What?  Kill yourself?  What?”

I felt dizzy and sat down on the broken easy chair.  When I tried to get up I nearly collapsed.

My father helped me to the bedroom and called the doctor.

Soon the doctor arrived, and asked me what had happened.  I was still able to talk sense, and said I had taken the aspirins.

“Why did you do that?”

“I wanted to kill myself.”

“Well…”  The doctor began talking to my father.  He said that two hundred aspirins would make me very sick, but my life was in no danger.

I don’t know whether I was happy or disappointed to hear that.

“Ordinarily I would send him to the hospital to have his stomach pumped,” the doctor said, “But if I do that, they’ll put him on the psychiatric ward, and I want to protect him from that.”

Even in my increasingly dazed state, I almost laughed.  Still, I knew better than to say anything more.

The doctor told my father to try to get me to drink soapy water so that, hopefully, I would throw up and get rid of some of the aspirins.  My father tried this but my stomach was insistent that I keep the aspirins, my deliverance, in my body.

For several days, I lay in bed, semi-conscious, barely aware of my surroundings. Then Rockland sent a car and a couple of attendants to pick me up.  One of the attendants was Mr. Carville, the man who played the saxophone.  On the way to Rockland, he kept patting my knee.  I knew he was gay, and I got slightly freaked out, wondering what he meant.  Eventually I realized he was trying to comfort me.

But you had to be careful about things like that, because if people thought you were a faggot, it was one of the worst things that could happen to you, almost as bad as being a crazy patient in Building 58.

They took me to the infirmary in Building 10, and I think I was there for several weeks.  After a while I could walk around, but I was in a state of great confusion, and I was having hallucinations.  I heard the voices of crowds outside the building saying “We want Ted!”  I heard my followers demanding me day and night, I who was a hopeless schizophrenic, someone barely human.  Every sound whispered to me, making me feel I was a person of importance.

And, apparently, because I was not fully conscious for a long time, I was wandering around to other inmates’ rooms, not able to take care of myself, the closest to being actually crazy that I  have ever been.

Finally, they sent me back to Building 37, and almost as soon as I arrived in the familiar place my mind cleared of the delusions and hallucinations, although often in the background it sounded like voices whispered to me, even though I knew they weren’t real.

I was still only fifteen, and still trapped in Rockland, and still completely despairing.  I had tried to escape my fate and I had failed.

Now I am much older, and I wish there were some way I could go back and comfort myself, and tell that child, still inside me now but sixty years away, that his life was going to be better.  But at least I can comfort other children now, fight for them, give my life the meaning that the psychiatrists tried to deny me. Yes, in some way Rockland and Bellevue left me with something worthwhile, some knowledge of how I should live, some direction to my life that even now keeps me moving forward.

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Ted Chabasinski, JD
Still Crazy After All These Years: Ted Chabasinski, now a patients' rights lawyer, was taken from his parents when he was six years old, experimented on with a course of electric shock treatment, and then sent to a state hospital for the rest of his childhood. He writes about the power of psychiatry and how it is abused, especially against children.

24 COMMENTS

  1. Bravo! First of all, you and I are not old. We are mature and much wiser than many for having lived through our experiences. Keep writing, Ted. Your words are perfect and important and tell such a sad story. You are now making such a huge difference in the lives of those you are helping.

    • Absolutely beautiful…can totally relate…planned out something similar…to escape the abuse…..bought Tylenol when I was at Gould Farm in 1984 cuz I thought the medical rescue would get me kicked out of there. Never followed through. I heard there were suicides there, though. Begged my parents to take me out…..Jeez. I can relate totally and this story needs to be told in full. Keep writing. Incredible.

  2. person of importance
    because
    you
    are

    you’re a human teddy

    and i think you’re …

    funshine!

    funshine, fights grizzle the bad guy (psychiatry), and he won!!

    hilarious that the other characters are “oopsie” and “wing nut” LOL

    “But at least I can comfort other children now, fight for them, give my life the meaning that the psychiatrists tried to deny me.”

    Yep, You’re FUNSHINE! A Human Care Bear, for REAL. Maybe Mad In America is …. a Care-a-Lot.

    ?

    http://youtu.be/Sd_9V1prA2Y
    Care Bears Adventures in Care-a-Lot(Belly Blanked)

    Thank You, Ted.

    *smiles*

  3. Great writing Ted!

    And I had no idea about the asbestos cigarette ‘filters’. The history of the tobacco industry and its customers is a great reminder that humans have this uncanny inability to identify when they are living through an age of snake oil, every age has its snake oils, its things that sound scientific and safe, but are later found out to be outrageous things.

    Psychiatry’s neurotoxic garbage will join the dishonorable ranks of asbestos cigarettes eventually.

    The history of asbestos cigarette filters:

    http://www.asbestos.com/products/general/cigarette-filters.php

  4. Hi Ted,

    I’m the blogger who’s processing Judi’s archive. Thank you for leaving a comment a week ago.

    I think your vignette answered questions I had about you when I was writing the post. I am again amazed and moved by your humanly emotion to live; I think you wouldn’t tell your father you Od’ed aspirin if you didn’t have the strong desire that lead you to this day.

    I’m looking forward to reading your autobiography!

    Shuko

  5. Thanks Ted! When I was in San Francisco many years ago I heard you speak for the first time. I cried then in solidarity with you. I have shed buckets of tears for my own loss of self to psychiatry and for all those who have been hurt it. You are outstanding in your commitment to our common cause over the decades. You have helped so many people to break the silence of oppression and continue to do so. Hopefully many more will speak out fearlessly until the firm, toxic, overbearing, fraudulent chains of psychiatry will be no more. WE SHALL OVERCOME!

  6. Thank you, sir. I have read this twice. Once earlier in the day, and then again tonight.

    I have been held captive in the psychiatric hospital a couple of times, and I always wonder what it is like for the kids. Here in New Hampshire we have two different wards in the state hospital for children. There is the one for the very young kids, like eleven or twelve years old and less (the pre-pubescents) and we have one where the older kids are. It’s strange. You seem them in the building, always in a group (the adults can get individual building “privileges,” but the kids don’t), most often as they are coming from the gym, where they engage in some serious play time and exercise, or from the library. They have the irrepressible spirits of children. I have always watched them, and they just don’t look disturbed in any way. They just look like kids. I’m sure that they have lives that are as complex as what the adults in the hospital go through. An institution is still an institution. A label is still a label. A psychiatrist is still a psychiatrist, and drugs are still drugs. Being away from home and a regular life is being in a kind of penitentiary, and you still want to escape.

    Thanks for sharing this. I really do always wonder what it’s like for the kids. You are obviously a humane and decent individual, and it’s nice to know that some people do escape. I am something of a nut about wanting to know the history of my state hospital, and I have had mental health workers who had been working at the hospital for thirty or forty years tell me the stories about the children they had seen who then spent their entire lives at the hospital. There was one girl that I was told about who had a bizarre, Kafkaesque story. Her father had simply left his daughter in the hospital, a perfectly normal girl, while he traveled to Europe on business, and unfortunately he died while she was there. She then spent her entire life as an inmate of the hospital. She had no one on the outside to help her leave — to find a job and an apartment and actually be able to leave. She was trapped there. I’m not saying that she was a better or more deserving person simply because she had never had problems. Far from it. But once you are caught in the system, it is almost impossible for most of us to really ever escape.

    I hope to see more of your writing soon. You obviously have a very important story to tell.

  7. A very sad and well written with a (never ending?) good outcome, sir.
    Is this long-term incarceration still going on, today?
    In Germany, as an adult, a well behaved and compliant patient can expect to be released in 6 to 8 weeks (personal experience, schizophrenia).
    Does anybody know of german lawyers of good quality? Off course no additional work on your side should be involved, i am save as i am, now, i guess. 🙂
    But for those who havent found it,yet:
    http://psychrights.org/

    Thanks and good luck.