Involuntary Treatment Made a Decent Life Possible for Me
by Joseph Merlin Bowers
I had just turned seventeen in early 1964 when I went upstairs in our house carrying a loaded shotgun intending to kill my grandmother. I was convinced that her body was being inhabited by Satan. He had surreptitiously cast out my grandmother’s soul and entered her body himself waiting for a chance to kill me, God. This dangerous situation presented a rare opportunity. If I killed my grandmother’s body, my spirit friends could capture Satan’s soul as it left imprisoning it forever. Without their leader, the forces of evil would be in disarray and the battle of good versus evil would end quickly and decisively with the good guys triumphant.
Reaching her bedroom door revealed her knelling bedside in prayer. I tried to rationalize this, but enough doubt had been cast about my fantasies that I didn’t actually pull the trigger although I tried hard to convince myself to go through with it. A lot was at stake after all.
That night was spent in Middletown State Hospital in lower New York State where I would remain for two and a half months being treated for what was diagnosed as paranoid schizophrenia.
I was a minor and involuntary treatment was allowed. I responded well to treatment and was reasonably sane when released.
Several years later I was working in Middletown when I again became psychotic. I wandered off my job site believing I was James Bond agent 007 on a mission in the states. I entered an unoccupied building upon running out of gas in front of the house that had an unlatched door. When you are psychotic, there are no coincidences. Running out of gas and the door being unlatched were proof positive that this was my house where I stayed when in the states.
When the owners returned I wound up in jail charged with trespassing. After a night in jail I was taken before a judge. In this episode I believed the authorities were my friends trying to subtly give me clues to what my mission was and where I should be doing what. When the judge and to two Bureau of Criminal Investigation arresting officers expressed the opinion that I should sign myself into the mental hospital, I did so. Again I responded to treatment. This was technically voluntary treatment, but the relevant fact was that treatment helped.
Starting at seventeen, I experienced 23 years of recurring psychotic episodes with periods of good health in between episodes. Some might argue that some episodes just ran their course and ended without noticeable treatment and that sometimes the treatment was voluntary. I believe that treatment was necessary to bring me back from the worst episodes and it was sometimes involuntary.
What often happened with me was that when psychotic I pretty much quit sleeping. The longer I went without sleep, the more wired I got and the more psychotic. In these cases, I believe, large doses of antipsychotics were necessary. If nothing else they enabled me to resume sleeping which in itself was a huge help to my nervous system.
An episode in Tucson fell in this category and treatment was definitely involuntary. I had been more mildly psychotic once before after getting married; and when I became ill again, my wife recognized the situation early on. She went to the counselor I was seeing regularly. I was able to convince her that it was my wife who had a problem. In desperation my wife went to the police who told her they could do nothing unless I committed a crime. This was 1979 well into deinstitutionalization
Eventually I set two small fires-the first part of an imaginary ritual and the second intending to destroy what I believed was an ancient, evil demon. I got arrested and charged with arson. I spent a lot of time in the Pima county jail and a little time when possible in a psych ward in a local hospital. At the jail I experienced being hogtied. I found myself lying on my bely on the jailhouse floor with my wrists and ankles bound together behind my back. I also got to experience solitary confinement.
Eventually at the jail they started giving me liquid Thorazine. During the brief periods when I was in a hospital instead of a jail, I was treated. In time I recovered from this episode.
I had 23 years of recurring episodes followed by what has been 29 years mostly symptom free. I feel it not a coincidence that my medication was changed to what I continue to take today 29 years ago.
With the well periods between episodes and the long good streak, I have had a decent life. I have been married to the same woman more than 41 years and we have raised three healthy children who are now contributing adults. I got a BS degree from a large university and have held down numerous jobs. I have among many other things fought forest fires for the Forest Service, worked on oil rigs and my last job was in a large power plant mostly as a lab tech. That job paid pretty well and had good benefits. I retired from it comfortably after 29 years.
Some might argue that my episodes would have eventually ended without treatment. While sometimes perhaps true the bad episodes I believe required serious treatment. The fact that I have done well as long as I have has to be a testament to the medication and to the things I learned over the years often through treatment.
Some might argue that the treatment wasn’t always involuntary, but sometimes it was.
I’m near seventy, healthy, a husband and father who is retired with enough money coming in. None of this could have happened without involuntary treatment. My civil liberties were not taken away when force medicated and treated. I was instead liberated from the tyranny of serious psychosis.