1981. I had recently moved back in with my parents, leaving my college quite suddenly. I would soon turn 24 years old and had been on the verge of graduation. Now, trouble.
It was late at night. My mom and dad had no clue I was standing at the top of the stairs in the dark.
I heard them in the kitchen. My dad said to my mom, “What is it, Erna?”
My mom said, “It’s Julie. Her.” I could picture her sour face.
I knew something was up. My mom wasn’t one to share feelings often, even with my dad.
“What, Erna? What?”
My mom lowered her voice, but I could still hear her. “Alan, she gives me the creeps.”
I backed off from the stairs. I wanted to hear no more. I don’t think any more was said between my parents. Silently, I stepped into the bathroom, and closed the door behind me so that the bright fluorescent light wouldn’t give me away. There was the bathroom mirror as it always was, large and looming, covering the medicine cabinet. It did what bathroom mirrors are supposed to do. It never spoke like those in fairy tales. It reflected faces.
What I saw was my own face. Did I expect anything different?
My dad had taught me some very fancy camera stuff when I was younger, about how you can put a plastic filter over a lens, causing a change in which types of light reach the film in the back of the camera, and which don’t. The filters looked like little discs. He had many filters and he explained to me about each one. He said that a good pair of sunglasses is like a camera lens filter, because good quality sunglasses protect you from certain types of rays that are harmful to parts of your eyes.
I thought about the therapy program I was going to. It was called Day Treatment. We had to go to many groups. The program wasn’t helping me, but I kept going anyway because I felt sorry for the people there, and I had nothing better to do. Someone had used the expression, “rose-colored glasses,” and I wondered about this. It seemed like the idea of those medications they were giving the “clients” was to help them see the world differently. Almost like providing a filter for them to see through, to filter out the bad stuff, to provide comfort. Isn’t that what painkillers do? They filter out pain zaps that come through the nerve tissues. In theory, it all should have worked that way, but I know now that the “meds” were making everyone a whole lot sicker and causing permanent injury. “Therapy” seemed like a dead-end street as well. Even when I was only 23, I knew those therapists didn’t know what they were doing, and were causing more harm than good.
But why did my mom say I gave her the creeps? I thought about what made me “client,” one of that community of folks at the day treatment center, someone who belonged there. Yes, there was indeed a “look” about me now. It was as if a filter was over me, a film, a layer of something I couldn’t peel off. You couldn’t see it, but it was there, plain as could be. They say mirrors don’t lie.
I never promised you rose-colored glasses, mom. I am who I am, and I became one of them for three and a half decades. Those doctors and therapists and hospitals ran my life and this, not any illness, is what ultimately split up our family.
I walked out of the mental health system, got rid of the doctors, therapists, and medication over the past couple of years, and I am free of “treatment” now. I never needed any of it and it’s the best thing I could have done for myself.
I have thrown off that filter. Peeled it off. Tough thing, Mom. Do I still give you the creeps after all this time? I am who I am. I can hear those plastic discs falling, shattering. Let the chips fall where they may.