I want to share some thoughts on the contents of my latest discharge summary from hospital and some implications that have become apparent. The first paragraph of the letter starts: “Anthony Murray, 37-year-old male, resident of Woy Woy, et cetera” followed by a short rundown of admittedly indispensable vital statistics, yet it’s followed by two of the most inventive pages of literature possibly ever penned.
The remainder of the first page is devoted to my hysterical paranoia about Scientology. Now, at this stage, it’s important to make clear that my views on the Church of Scientology have never been particularly strong. Nevertheless, this account holds that I am outrageously aggrieved by some perceived slight committed against me by the Church, and therefore warrants considerable concern.
It was only upon reading the copy of my discharge summary that I began learning of this particular problem, of which I was previously completely unaware. However, my disorientated mind quickly began to recover and realised that, while admittedly I am aware of the existence of the Church of Scientology, a misunderstanding had occurred that preceded an immediate mandatory detention and also resulted in the documentation of a deep-seated and long-standing outrage at the Church.
I recalled a brief intercourse with a lady two months earlier that went something like this: “Why don’t you want to take medication?” to which I replied, “Because I think psychiatry is a sham.” I believe that was the extent of the very brief conversation between myself and the lady, who I later found out was, in fact, a psychiatrist. Needless to say, it hastily resulted in a temporary though adequately lengthy loss of my autonomy. What I find barely fathomable about this simple question and answer is that it resulted in nearly a whole printed page of details about a pathological loathing for and an unwarranted prejudice towards the followers of L. Ron Hubbard. A marvel indeed, but undeniably there it was.
The next page I found just as difficult to believe existed, devoted as it was entirely to some unhealthy obsession of mine with matters pertaining to the spirit: again around 500 words of detail about a confused mind with an insatiable religious bent. I read on, deciphering the text, and again I came to realise how this particular critical flaw in my degenerate character was unearthed. You see, after four weeks of mind-bending boredom within confinement, I requested a family member furnish me with something to help pass the time: the book I was halfway through reading before beginning my involuntary incarceration. Now, of critical consequence, this was a book about Buddhism. Again though, for such an innocuous pastime of mine to morph into an entire printed page of detailed and damning critique of a deep and tortured psyche was nothing short of an astounding feat of doubtlessly a very studious and determined clerk. The output of this unassuming but talented worker truly was, in my mind, nothing short of a creative masterpiece.
I understand that such records are important to document disturbing thoughts and behaviours, which are a danger to individuals as well as the wider community. But I can’t help but muse about the implications of such content if it were to materialise in a slightly less paranoid setting. Imagine, for a second, that this account had originated within the intelligence department of the Khmer Rouge. Six weeks of interrogation, forced detention, and therefore hundreds of man-hours and considerable public expense …. I ask myself what, exactly, was the importance of the report, the personal information gleaned? Or the necessity, with such problems as those documented, to exclude me from free society for a time? Excuse me for grandiosity, but I can’t see the significance to public safety or the personal relevance of those two tidbits of information. What is their damning significance and how could such findings ever be of any importance to anyone?
If we change some parameters within this context, we can construct a scenario that contains a different perspective entirely. What if the discharge summary were not information regarding 37-year-old mental patient Anthony Murray but was instead recorded about his elderly next-door neighbour, average citizen Joe? (Not his real name; it’s Max.)
Now it comes to light that Joe has always had slight reservations about Scientology and is also an avid enthusiast for the Buddhist religion. These sentiments don’t cause him any undue inconvenience and they’re not particularly remarkable facts about Joe; he has many more interesting views and he’s met other people also interested in meditation. But those two facts have taken on particular significance, as they have become a matter of record to the Australian Government.
It’s now been determined by an expert that these traits are aberrations and, in fact, problems for Joe. Joe’s tempted to dismiss this as a hoax until he learns that his liberty can be taken from him indefinitely at any time, because he doesn’t see a problem with these peculiarities. The advice of the expert is that Joe must no longer hold these preferences, and despite thinking the expert’s explanations are insensible, Joe is an honest and law-abiding man and so, in good faith, will endeavour to fulfill his new obligation. Especially considering that dismissing the expert as a crank and refusing his help will likely be a cause of trouble and possibly detainment. As a matter of course, the expert is highly trained and well-paid, and Joe’s assured said expert has only his best interests at heart.
Indeed, Joe doesn’t understand the absurdity of the concern about his opinion regarding Scientology and begins to conclude that perhaps his sharing of opinions is the problem that’s caused this trouble. So, during his morning walk, when his habit is to speak with his neighbour Anthony, he discovers he has very little to say and starts to feel a bit withdrawn. Anthony is surprised in the change that develops quickly in Joe’s behaviour; he’s usually so opinionated! So Joe mopes around at home most days and after not too long, he doesn’t feel like seeing anyone, as he is a bit worried that he’ll say something incriminating. By mid-afternoons Joe usually perks up, as it’s the time for his daily meditation practice… until he remembers it’s actually causing him problems and that his enjoyment of meditative pursuits is unwholesome.
Joe still sneaks in a little reflection as he sits vacantly in his chair at home from time to time, even though it’s strongly discouraged. He got so good at not voicing an opinion that he rarely says anything at all. He threw away his meditation cushion, it was just too tempting. He just wants his old life back. No matter which way he thinks about it, he can’t ever reconcile the expert’s logic. How could Joe have ever benefited by losing two things he held so dear and had not yet failed him: his passionate scepticism of Scientology, and his joyful daily prayer and reflection? How could he ever have become more fulfilled or live a better quality of life, he bemusedly wonders, by changing two things so insignificantly human about him and so undeniably integral to the man that was Joe?
Mad in America hosts blogs by a diverse group of writers. These posts are designed to serve as a public forum for a discussion—broadly speaking—of psychiatry and its treatments. The opinions expressed are the writers’ own.