Longer Novel Excerpt – Group Therapy in the Mental Hospital

An Excerpt from my NOVEL-IN-PROGRESS ‘THE SKEIN’

Shungyosai, my main character, is in the mental hospital after being dosed with LSD at a Halloween bonfire party. In the hospital he meets a guy he calls the regular, a patient with severe mental health issues who occasionally checks himself in when the real world gets to be too much. The Regular takes on a mentoring role for Shungyosai. Also in the group therapy is Riley, a girl around Shungyosai’s age (18 at this incident).

Riley was a bit on edge. I had been watching her because, for one, she was a girl around my age, and I was locked up with her. I thought I could at least dream of her while the mind numbing meds had me drooling and shuffling along the bleached fluorescent floors. It’s so strange thinking, to yourself, oh geez, a crazy chick, I bet she’s a lot of fun, while you’re literally in her peer group doing therapy in the mental ward.

They can stifle all sorts of chemical reactions you think are your divine right through medication, but that realization that you’re as good as a lab rat in a maze with a contentious thought of breeding, it’s humbling and self-mitigating. My punk ethos could hardly survive the inversion of the crazy rage style into this clinical comported thing. I sat in the chair waiting on an easier exit, but Riley couldn’t sit through it, it seemed.

“Is this group session supposed to help us in some way, or is it just to keep us busy for a while so we don’t climb the walls?” Riley asked.

“Well…” the nurse running the group responded.

“I mean, should I be expecting deep work and be anticipating breakthroughs, or is this a babysitting session just distracting us from how generally incompetent the level of care is around here?” Riley imputed.

“Well, we can talk about that. If you feel like you’re not being cared for…” the nurse said.

“Oh, my God,” Riley howled.

“What can we do better?” the nurse asked.

Riley delivered the command sardonically, “You can unlock the door.”

“Alright, then. Let’s talk about getting into our thoughts. We can’t make the decision to let anyone out in this session, so let’s talk about something else while you’re waiting,” the nurse said, her tone practiced and bored.

I almost rolled over in a daydream of mounting an heroic escape with this queen of disaster. At the end of the day, the hospital would be a fiery pit of ashes, and we would be on the road in a stolen car, top down. Hers.

“Adolai, you haven’t shared here before. Why don’t you tell us a bit about what brings you here.”

For some reason, I decided not to mention being dosed at the Halloween party. I had an inkling I might have something inside me worth teasing apart.

“I guess I’m not sure,” I offered. Why was I participating? I think I decided I would show Riley how it was done. That you could humor them AND best them at their own game. “I get confused a lot about… relationships with other people. Like, I put myself out there, but the shit I get back in return, results definitely vary.”

“Mmmhmm, go on,” the nurse said not looking up from a clipboard she was playing at.

“I wish I could control… more.”

I took the dive. “I’m not sure, precisely, whatever ‘moorings’ are. But I feel like, you know the saying ‘loosened moorings’. That’s where I feel like I’m at right now. Like, in my normal life, even if it’s not the case, everything seems organized and tied down, everything down pat. Another weird phrase, ‘down pat’. But being in this..” I wanted to say cage but instead said, “place… It’s like I’ve been unlocked from the background of the everyday. Like everything could just float away into the unknown. That everything is up for grabs and could change, in a dangerous… weightless way. Like even the floor, I could just lift off or fall through if I wasn’t focused on myself here right now sitting in this chair in a conscious way. And it’s not just me, but the whole system of everything. Things seem unmoored, again. And oddly beautiful. Because any thing in this different landscape has invisible wings that allow it to hover here, strangely announcing itself as part of the scene. Things could just burst in some unknown direction at any time, it seems. I’m both terrified and thrilled.” I felt I had spoken my piece, put myself out there. I awaited the world to return my energy.

“That’s nice. Does anyone else have something to share,” the nurse said.

And, nothing. Again, just this empty feeling of a blank canvas mocking my attempt to contribute. I could laugh or cry, who would judge. I bit my lip, rolled my head back with my frustrated eyes bulging at the painfully bleached white ceiling, and slumped into a vision of free Riley and myself from this prison of detachment. 

Time and boredom reasserted themselves as the keyholders of this dominion. My body and mind clutched tight to a feeling of youthful escapism, closing my eyes hard and shuddering. I wanted no part of it. 

“Okay now I’m going to hand out these sheets,” the nurse or whatever she was said. I was with Riley now, in silent open rebellion against the incompetence on display, but stuck uncomfortably in silence, drugged, useless to resist.

She started passing around a stack of pages, labeled at the top in big block letters RATIONAL EMOTIVE BEHAVIORAL THERAPY (REBT) and covered on the front and back with only slightly smaller text.

Just then The Regular opened the heavy door and wandered in. The nurse looked up and he said “they said I had to go to group today,” by way of explaining the interruption. He sat relinquishingly into one of the plastic chairs.

“Alright, looking over this sheet. Albert Ellis developed Rational Emotive Behavioral Therapy based on the idea that our thoughts have a lot of control over how we feel about the things that go on in our lives. The quote here, “People are not disturbed by things but rather by their view of things.” – Albert Ellis.”

The regular leaned over and whispered into my ear, “Stolen from Epictetus.”

“What’s that?” the nurse asked.

“I said Albert Ellis got the idea from the philosopher Epictetus. ‘We are disturbed not by things but by the views that we take of them.’ M’am, yes, M’am.” The regular was being more animated than usual, like he was trying to rouse myself and perhaps Riley as potential conspirators. “Alright, well, we’re talking about Mr. Ellis’s ideas today. So let’s not try to derail the conversation too much, please.”

The regular sat back, shrugged it off. Maybe he was just fucking around as he waited out another term hiding out in his safe space.

“The ideas we have may be causing us to process things incorrectly, like a faulty computer having a glitch process.

Let’s look at how this can happen. And how to fix faulty beliefs that may end up in depression and frustrations. And you see, it’s as easy as A, B, C, D, E.”

A – Activating Event / Adversity

B – Irrational Belief

C – Emotional and Behavioral Consequences

D – Disputes or Arguments

E – New Effect

So, the activating event, A), comes into our computer. Say you apply for a job you really want and think you absolutely deserve to get, but you find out you didn’t make the cut! This activating event or adversity might lead us right to the irrational B) belief that we are not good enough, that we are a failure. The C) Consequences, emotionally and behaviorally may be to not try again or to give up, or to have a less positive attitude moving forward. But we can D) – Dispute! The Irrational Belief at step B), and say, but wait a minute, I think I am good enough. Maybe there were just a lot of people applying, or this particular job wasn’t a great fit at this time. And I can move ahead to step E) – New Effect! That says, I will get back out there, and try again! And not let this be a setback that gets me down and makes me feel all kinds of unnecessary heavy disappointment. See?

I had a breathless urge to call out, or at least lean over and whisper to The Regular, ‘unless your computer program runs this ABCDE program over and over to no avail, falls into an infinite loop of failure, just never getting any step-A input that isn’t adverse to the system. Fatal Error, so to speak.’ But I held my breath.

We broke after a brief discussion of our own ‘faulty beliefs’ and had about an hour before the lunch trays were brought up. On exiting the group room, The Regular started up on more philosophy, but I was in the mood for my own reflections. I listened half-heartedly to his diatribe as we sat in the common area. I still had no books or anything else to distract myself with, so sat there and listened for the time being.

“More on that attribution of ideas thing,” the Regular told me. “You know, how they are pushing Epitctetus’s ideas as their own. Packaging ancient wisdom as self-help. Especially the bit about the mind being a computer. You know, Schopenhauer was the first philosopher to read the ancient Eastern philosophy texts and incorporate them into his work. He found parallels in the Upanishads and, for instance the concept of Maya or the veil of illusion, likening it to Plato’s cave. But what really bugs me about the therapy they were pushing is the idea that the mind is like a computer.”

I felt heavy and tired and could have closed my eyes and nodded off right there. He was boring me and I thought about how much I play the part in every day interactions. Instead of just saying, ‘look, I’m not interested’ I had to act and play nice so that I didn’t make enemies, while we were stuck in here together. I couldn’t get up the energy to walk off and just fixed my face and beared through it.

The regular was still talking, saying, “Schopenhauer makes it clear that it’s the human body that makes us aware of the being of the universe. We are instantiated with our own finite being, an object among objects, and its our own individual perception of this experience that lets us understand the thing-in-itself. We only know the universe through our own corner view as it were. We grasp the meaning of the underlying Will that is everything, we feel its depths, how it moves and becomes throughout everything that lives, only through our own probing and coming to knowledge of it in ourself. Kant was right that we can’t know it… completely. Schopenhauer offers a way back to some knowledge though. Rather than being cut off entirely. After Kant closed the door on knowledge, Schopenhauer opened a window.”

“Hey,” I said, “I was thinking about what she said about that system, the ABC thing. What if you never get a good A-input. What if it’s always disappointing? Like, I’ve been thinking that. If you are trying to have hope but it just always gets shut down, in some way.”

He stopped. “Are you even listening to what I’m telling you? What am I talking about right now?”

“Um, I guess,” I said. “I just don’t get it that well.”

“I guess,” The regular spouted, “You have to be familiar with a lot of the background of philosophy to understand. Kant was a major figure who destroyed like, metaphysical hope for people by saying that we can never know the objective reality, see. Because we are trapped by our senses. All we can do is interpret the data according to our receivers.”

I said, “Huh, that’s interesting.”

The Regular appeared exhausted all of a sudden, and sat back next to me.

“Well, you’re a computer guy, right? So what would you do if you kept getting bad returns. Change the program, right?” he asked.

“No, but I mean, that’s what I’m saying, if the program you have keeps getting fed a bad input. And you can’t change it,” I told him, and looked for an answer from him.

“Sounds to me like you need a new program.”

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