Crazy Life: Mind of the Prisoner

To make it sound fancy, I suppose, I would call it the mens de captivus, meaning “the mind of the prisoner.” This is something ~ one powerful trait ~ I noticed while in the Samson Group Home. To expand on this definition, mens de captivus means “the whole mentality (perspective, world view) of the individual (almost) completely cloistered within a relatively small, insular community.” 

Many of the fine people with whom I lived displayed a mens de captivus at least to some degree ~ that is, their whole world essentially consisted of the “cloister,” or group home. Within this there were certain activities and relationships that proved very important, which are not (perhaps) nearly so important on the “outside.” Buying and selling cigarettes, for example, while technically not allowed, was a daily occurrence.

The relationships with mental health technicians (MHTs), therapists, and the group home director proved in many ways to be more fundamental than their relationship(s) to family and friends. I suppose this was due to the immediacy and constancy of those relationships. Of course, their/our relationships with one another were very important, and this all became at least somewhat dominant in group home life.

Consequently, life apart from this local, confined community ended up seeming rather foreign and, perhaps, frightening. While many, if not most, of the groups sessions were on some basic life skill (BLS), you could look around the room and see that some consumers were quite obviously not paying any attention, while still others (however few) were even falling asleep! (Granted, these sessions could be boring, but still…)

One fellow resident hit the nail on the head when she said, “It’s really sad. It’s heartbreaking… These people look so defeated. It’ s like they’ve just given up, like they have no hope!” True, and the emptying of any hope for life beyond the group home community was filled with a mens de captivus, that is, an entire life-perspective and feeling grown from within the “cloister.”

And this is really where I believe the Church, and other religious institutions (i.e. temple, mosque, synagogue, etc.), can really make a palpable difference. If good church folk can not only come by to visit, but somehow make arrangements to help integrate group home residents (or “consumers,” as they are called) into the larger, outside community, it would make a world of difference.

Well, this would be an act of connection beyond the four walls of the group home. I believe that it would at least disrupt the mens de captivus, which would be fundamentally positive. The mens de captivus certainly needs to be disrupted! Resident/consumers are ultimately not helped by being confined so much of their time within a mentally/emotionally/psychologically disabled “cloister.”

I remember very well getting up in the morning just in time for breakfast, followed by an early morning shower, followed by morning meds and then day treatment. We ate lunch at day treatment, and afterwards I would feed the birds (and squirrels, racoons, and opossums) and the fish in our backyard pond. After this, I sometimes laid down for an half-hour nap, but then I almost always went ahead and did my chore.

Interspersed throughout my day were, of course, requests to buy or bum something. (This is just part of the local, cloistered, group home life.) And, too, we shared many items and even cut (and sometimes styled) each others hair. Living this more or less complete life, largely sectioned off from the rest of humanity, it became easy ~ too easy, really ~ to forget what it was like to live an “ordinary life” in society-at-large.

thGRVRKD0NPart of my own hope and dream now is to do something to alleviate this mens de captivus, opening the prison door, so to speak, gently leading individuals back out into the verdant fields of promising life in the wide world we inhabit. Yes, it can, and often is, frightening; then again, true freedom (authentic liberty) is scary if for no other reason than the fact that the immediate future always stands open to innumerable possibilities with very few guarantees. Is it worth it, though? Yes! Most assuredly!

For previous installments in the ‘Crazy Life’ series, see…

Crazy Life: Hanging in the Balance

Crazy Life: Meeting the Mystery of God

Crazy Life: Humiliating the Already-Humbled

Crazy Life: A Little Less Crazy? But Still Guilty

Crazy Life: Dreams and Dreams Again

Crazy Life: In Praise of MHTs

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Crazy Life: A Little Less Crazy? But Still Guilty

I eventually came to embrace my diagnosis of bipolar with major depressive disorder. Yes, more than once in my past I’d experienced a hypomanic episode with feelings of grandiosity, decreased need for sleep, racing thoughts, sensitivity, distractibility, etc. as well as marked feelings of depression, which brought opposite feelings of worthlessness, emptiness, hypersomnia, thoughts of death and/or suicide.¹ There is even more to it than this: I sometimes found myself almost completely dysfunctional.

carrie-fisher- princess-leia-11I say I finally embraced my diagnosis; however, this was not fun or easy. It did help some to know I was not alone, either in the group home or in the wider world. For example, “in 1997, (Carrie Fisher of Star Wars fame) suffered from a psychotic break…” and says of her experience, “At times … being bipolar can be an all-consuming challenge, requiring a lot of stamina and even more courage, so if you’re living with this illness and functioning at all, it’s something to be proud of.”²

Strangely enough, after I embraced my diagnosis, it seemed to change. I realize I’m not qualified to state this emphatically. Then again, who knows me better than me? And I can read the DSM-5, and I’m intelligent enough, in my humble opinion, to comprehend the diagnosis… So, with that said, I felt like I “moved” from bipolar disorder to dysthymia, or persistent depressive disorder, which was, again in my opinion, a better state of affairs largely because my depression was mild to moderate, not severe.³

Thankfully, I was allowed to decrease my medications and even stop taking two prescriptions altogether. As I’ve mentioned before, I had been taking 2000 mg of Depakote per day; this was lowered to 1500 mg, still quite high. I was also taking 600 mg of Seroquel per day, which was lowered to 400 mg. Finally, the psychiatrist lowered my intake of Prozac from 60 mg a day to 40 mg. So I was very pleased, because, after all, I don’t want to take more medicine that is absolutely necessary!

It was during this same period of time ~ perhaps six to eight months into my stay at the Samson Group Home ~ that I began really wrestling with my past. Horribly distasteful memories leapt to the fore of my mind, over and over again, and I felt deeply and strongly compelled to cry out (within my soul) to heaven, pleading, “Oh God! Please forgive me! I’m so, so sorry! Please forgive me!” And I couldn’t shake these awful memories. They flooded over me like tidal waves.

I h2908254-YZHLFGOH-8ad a really hard time believing I’d made so many foolish mistakes in life, that I had sinned so profusely, that I’d been so stupid so many times… And there was nothing I could do to undo my past. The load of guilt was crushing, but it was weight I had, throughout my life, placed upon myself. I could blame no one else; it was time for me to own up to my own gross shortcomings and follies … to embrace these just as I’d embraced my diagnosis.

I did. This did not make any of it go away, but it did mysteriously relieve some of the nearly unbearable pressure. I suppose in doing this “owning up,” I was consciously laying claim to part of my personal, soulish property, so to speak. I was looking upon my very Self in a clear mirror, seeing myself for who and what I was, coming to better grips with what kind of transformation had to take place and to what degree. None of this was easy, and it’s still anything but smooth sailing … but at least I am sailing, not drowning!

Thank God, the almighty, for forgiveness!


¹ Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5), 123 – 139, 296.41 – 296.89 (F31.31 – F31.81); Note: I believe I specifically have Bipolar II, cf. Susan Krauss Whitbourne and Richard P. Haglin, Abnormal Psychology: Clinical Perspectives on Psychological Disorders, 169; or see the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), “Bipolar Disorder,” as accessed on 10/02/2018 at www.nimh.nih.gov 

² Whitbourne and Haglin, Ibid, 168 – 169 

³ Cf. DSM-5, 168 ff., 300.4 (F 34.1); Whitbourne and Haglin, Ibid, 166; or see NIMH, “Persistent Depressive Disorder (Dysthymic Disorder), as accessed on 10/02/2018 at www.nimh.nih.gov


For previous installments in the ‘Crazy Life’ series, see…

Crazy Life: Sally Dumped and Deserted

Crazy Life: Ecclesia et Mentis Morbum

Crazy Life: Just Can’t Say ‘No’

Crazy Life: Hanging in the Balance

Crazy Life: Meeting the Mystery of God

Crazy Life: Humiliating the Already-Humbled

Crazy Life: Meeting the Mystery of God

“It is easier to gaze into the sun, than into the face of the mystery of God. Such is its beauty and its radiance.” ~ Hildegard of Bingen

“The brilliance of contemplated beauty opens the spirit to the mystery of God.” ~ Angelo Sodano

I cannot recall exactly when it happened, but I remember I was going to sleep one night and it just suddenly hit me, that is, the awesome mystery of God. An image of an endless, dark and inscrutable ocean welled up in my mind. I instinctively knew it was a representation of the Divine, and it frightened me. The great swells of water seemed to threaten me, and I actually found it hard to breath.

HEY7221This image, with all the attendant feelings, came back many more times, (and has recurred since I left the Samson Group Home.) Along with this I realized something rather simple, something that should have been obvious all along, and that is: I really do not even begin to comprehend God in his essence. I also realized that God truly is completely overwhelming.

It struck me ~ this simple yet profound truth ~ that I could quite literally drown in the Divine. The more I thought about all of this, the more I felt like I was suffocating. I reached the point of terror, the a terrore Dei. And I could not escape…

You cast me into the deep,
    into the heart of the seas,
    and the flood surrounded me;
all your waves and your billows
    passed over me.
Jonah 2.3 (NRSVCE)

Yet at about the same time the beauty of the world around me struck me with nearly overpowering force, even, or especially, the simplest things: fish jumping up out of the pond behind the house, birds pecking around the yard, and squirrels scampering about; the fox and racoon at night, along with the opossum family, and the dogs barking in the distance. All of creation seemed to radiate intense beauty that in turn pointed to ultimate Beauty, which I identified with God.

During this time is when I began throwing out the leftover bread from lunch. For some reason, I’d suddenly began to feel it my duty to share our food with our kindred creatures. In fact, tossing out the bits and pieces of bread brought with it a deep feeling of peace. I felt as if I were somehow embracing life in the raw, if only a little. It was deeply satisfying and ultimately healthy… It was like a prayer in action.

This is when I began passing over from the more traditional religiosity of Christianity to a certain degree of mystical spirituality, and one without many words. More and more often I would bow my head in prayer, focusing upon God, speaking nothing, just centering on the Divine. And this was enough… It still is enough. In fact, for some reason, prayer with words began to feel strangely inadequate. I felt like I was falling terribly short when praying verbally … so I prayed while praying nothing and everything.

All in all, this was an exceptionally calming experience, even with the overwhelmingness of God. Really, I eventually began to crave the “ocean of the Divine.” I began to fall into an eerie kind of love ~ but true love, nonetheless ~ with this God of Mystery. No, I never really sacrificed the core of what I’d believed most of my life. I still counted myself Christian, (and still do today), but this was a new and powerful, ongoing experience for me, taking me to another, deeper level of life.

But in a strange sense, I also felt like this was, perhaps, the first time in my life that I’d begun to genuinely believe, having now had an authentic confrontation with God… And my whole life became for a time like a cocoon, within which I would be transformed into someone (or something) totally other than I had ever been before.


For previous instalments, go to:

Crazy Life: My Testimony, Part I

Crazy Life: My Testimony, Part II

Crazy Life: My Testimony, Part III

Crazy Life: My Testimony, Part IV

Crazy Life: Sally Dumped and Deserted

Crazy Life: Ecclesia et Mentis Morbum

Crazy Life: Just Can’t Say ‘No’

Crazy Life: Hanging in the Balance

Crazy Life: Just Can’t Say ‘No’

He simply cannot say “no” to anyone. This was especially evident when everyday several different people would ask him for cigarettes. Like all smokers in the group home, he received his daily ration of one pack, and he was a pack-a-day smoker, so he would end up short of smokes by the end of the day. If he had some spare change, which he usually did, he would then buy somewhere around five to six smokes from those individuals who both better conserved their supply and could do without a couple. 

By no means am I advocating smoking, especially one pack a day, but this just happens to nicely illustrate the point. This “John Doe,” who was so meek and mild, simply could not say “no” or set any kind of personal boundaries. My take on this, at least after a few months getting to know him, was that this was part of his overall psychological troubles. Clinical psychologist Bruce Kugler might agree:

There is no psychological disorder per se about the inability to say no, but it may be viewed as one of many symptoms of various disorders expressed as an inability to say no and set limits with others.

He continues:

Low self regard, having felt beaten down and undeserving of having one’s feelings and needs go along with being overly compliant and not able to set limits with what others want of us

David Kronemyer of the University of California, Los Angeles, goes so far as to say that this condition refers to “dependant personality disorder, defined by the DSM-5 as ‘a pervasive and excessive need to be taken care of that leads to submissive and clinging behavior and fears of separation.'”² However, I’m somewhat skeptical of this diagnosis, as this John Doe meets only, perhaps, three out eight diagnostic criteria for dependant personality disorder. Nevertheless, it was/is certainly disruptive in his life.

John was always very quiet, very unassuming, and compatible with everyone. But several individuals used him like a vending machine: They wanted it, he gave it (if he had it to give.) Of course, this was not his only struggle … perhaps the least of his struggles. He also frequently heard voices and, point in fact, ask me more than once if I was hearing anyone speaking in our room at night. I never did, but he quite evidently did and, naturally, it was disturbing.

I don’t know how exactly his lack of personal hygiene fit in with his schizophrenia, but the mental health technicians (MHTs) were constantly having to point-blank tell him to take a shower, brush his teeth, change his clothes, etc. Maybe, after all, he was/is dependant on others. Well, during my 14 month residency in the group home I came to know his habits and daily routine, but I never really got to know him personally. It was as if there was very little there to really, truly know.

This sounds sad, perhaps even somewhat derogatory, but I don’t mean for it to come off this way. It’s just that “John” went through his simple schedule and daily patterns and no more. He slept, ate, drank, smoked … attended day treatment, went to group sessions, and … that was pretty much it. Well, of course, he showered and changed clothes when he was told. Beyond this there was very little. He had family, and his mother, who was in terrible physical health, came to visit twice while I was there, but no one else.

Truth be told, I don’t know that he expected any more than this. He’d been in several group homes before moving to Samson. By the time I met him, this just seemed to be his way of life. So far as I know, “John” had no expectation of leaving the group home system. So far as I could tell, he had no real aspirations, which was tragic. And he is still there, of course. In fact, I saw him yesterday, and he did manage a friendly smile and barely audible “hello.” Such is seemingly the extent of his communicative abilities.

Surely I will go back to the Samson Group Home to visit. I’ve made this commitment, anyway, and I fully intend to keep it. After all, some residents there, including my “John Doe” roommate, may never leave… A few will only leave if they are transferred to another facility because they have no where else to go, and they simply cannot take care of themselves without significant help. This is the sad truth in group homes and like facilities across our country, though… All the more reason to get involved as we can!


¹ Bruce Kugler, “What is the Psychological Disorder of the Inability to Say No?” as accessed on 09/27/2018 at http://www.quora.com 

² DSM-5, 301.6 (F 60.7), “Dependant Personality Disorder,” 675; See this interesting article based on the DSM-5, and/or this article as well


Crazy Life: My Testimony, Part I

Crazy Life: My Testimony, Part II

Crazy Life: My Testimony, Part III

Crazy Life: My Testimony, Part IV

Crazy Life: Sally Dumped and Deserted

Crazy Life: Ecclesia et Mentis Morbum

Crazy Life: Sally Dumped and Deserted

The only visitors she had were the voices in her head… During my entire 14 months in the Samson Group Home, no one ever came to visit her ~ not family, not friends ~ and from what others told me, this “Sally Doe” had been there for many years. Of course, none of the therapists or mental health technicians could divulge to me her background or personal information, but from what I did end up knowing, I concluded that she had simply been dropped off and forgotten by her loved ones. Very sad, to say the least…

One time in a group session, Sally expressed her heartfelt desire to go home, wherever that may have been. That was when I realized that despite the severity of her schizophrenia, she remembered family, at least some of the time. But then it was hard to say anything about the reliability of the memories Sally had; after all, there were times she believed herself to be pregnant, or to be a movie star, or some great singer (and she did, in fact, have quite a bluesy, Janice Joplin-type voice.)

Still, she knew she had family. Presumably, her family still knew they had her. They just didn’t visit her. One might quickly conclude they no longer cared, if ever they did care. I know this is what I thought and, honestly, still think; however, it also eventually occurred to me that it might be too psychologically, emotionally difficult for them to visit Sally. This may seem like a lame excuse, but I knew nothing of her family. Who knows what difficulties they struggle with and how vicious those struggles might be?

Did you know that “there is a high heritability to schizophrenia … with heritability estimates ranging from 64 to 81 percent?”¹ This being the case, then, it’s possible that Sally is not the only one in her biological family to struggle with this, or some other, malady. The lesson here (for me, at least) is, “Do not pre-judge! Especially when you don’t know the whole story!” Nevertheless, it was sad to see her day in and day out, seemingly so alone in the world… Funny, though, Sally didn’t seem too upset by her situation.

Point in fact, Sally is mostly happy, although the voices that speak to her do upset her from time to time. She talks to them all through her waking hours, and every so often you might hear her burst out with, “Leave me alone!” or “Go to hell!” or some other virile reaction. Otherwise, Sally is an adorable, happy, 40-something year-old with one of the most beautiful smiles you can imagine. Couple this with the fact that in many ways she is so like an innocent, little girl, and you can’t help but fall in love with her.

Ah, but what about so many of the others with whom I lived? Sally Doe was not the only one who never received visits from family or friends. Tragically, out of anywhere from 14 to 18 residents (at any given time) around eight to ten never had friend or family visit … or even call or write! It’s like they’ve simply been abandoned. According to Natasha Tracy, writing in 2012, oftentimes someone…

… is just left because of the pain and stigma of dealing with a mental illness. Sometimes people just can’t last through the stress of illness and treatment. Sometimes people really are abandoned by those they thought loved them unconditionally

Well, this is one of the important reasons I’ve determined to go back to the group home from time to time just to visit. Perhaps my determination no to forget will make some positive difference. I certainly hope and pray so… Just out of curiosity, what about you? Would you feel comfortable visiting a group home for the mentally ill? If not, of course, that is understandable. If you’ve never experience any kind of mental illness or been hospitalized or lived in a group home, it can certainly be uncomfortable!

Ah … but there are so many in need of pure, genuine love and camaraderie. I think of my second family still residing in the Samson Group Home and my heart aches near breaking. By the way, this is where the Church (and, I suppose, mosque, synagogue, temple, etc.) has really “dropped the ball.” Do you know that during my entire 14 months at the group home, we never received one visit from any church (or other religious institution)? Yes, someone might come by to pick someone up for Sunday service, but…

More on this subject later. It’s an important topic, I think, and perhaps in openly, honestly addressing it we might encourage more interaction between Church and the mentally ill. 


¹ Susan K. Whitbourne and Richard P. Halgin, Abnormal Psychology: Clinical Perspectives on Psychological Disorders, Seventh Edition, 151; for an interesting, informative article on heritability, cf. Natasha Tracy and Harry Croft, MD, “Schizophrenia Genetics: Is Schizophrenia Hereditary?” as found at Healthy Place

² Tracy, “Fear of Abandonment Due to Mental Illness,” as accessed on 09/24/2018 at Healthy Place


For previous articles in this series, go to:

Crazy Life: My Testimony, Part I

Crazy Life: My Testimony, Part II

Crazy Life: My Testimony, Part III

Crazy Life: My Testimony, Part IV