“To feel”

The coronavirus has quite possibly saved my life.

For the past two years my time hasn’t been my own. It belonged to  the criminal justice system. I found myself incarcerated and on the verge of losing a room I had at the time due to unpaid rent for the few months I had spent behind bars. In an effort to maintain the housing unit I opted into a program called behavioral health court. From what I understood of the program at the time it was in essence a trial diversion that would grant me my freedom early if I participated. Part of that required that I take psychiatric medication and attend weekly court hearings for progress reports. I was desperate and little did I know of the difficulties that would unfold in the following months as a result of giving up my time and in truth giving up my health into the hands of a diabolical system.

The room was small but I was happy when I first saw it. I even neglected to see the other units the landlord offered to show me and immediately chose the first one I was shown. Room 119 at the Hotel Seneca. I finally had a place to call my own after having spent a year in a homeless shelter. The possibilities we’re endless and so was my foolishness.

For those of you familiar with shelter living you know first-hand how they work. One thing that immediately becomes apparent to you is that you really don’t have much time to do anything. Most shelters require you to be inside at a certain time which discourage a vibrant social life and even full time work. So I, like many who live in a shelter, spent the days either at the library, park or getting wasted the first of every month.
I soon began using the personals section of Craigslist to hook up with people which helped pass the time and break the monotony of shelter living. A year went by and one day I was surprised when one of the shelter’s staff called me to his office and announced that the city had found me a place to live. I was free from the shelter.

With my newfound freedom and time I became a different person in a matter of weeks. I soon found myself having an extreme amount of energy and along with the free time I now had the city seemed to come alive. Since the Hotel Seneca was conviently located in the heart of downtown I would fly in and out  of there almost every hour and in less than a few months I had exerted myself both physically and mentally to the point that I suffered what many would call a psychotic break.

I soon landed in jail. So behavioral health court became my ticket out. I started taking the pills that were prescribed to me and I was soon eligible for release. The first couple of weeks I was helpless and at the mercy of the demands of the court. In the beginning I was required to seek a primary care physician and mandated to keep taking the pills I started taking while in jail. In a week or so I stopped consuming them not because of the harm psychiatric medications cause (that I would find out later) but because of the self stigma of taking them. The judge that presided over my case soon found out and my weekly progress reports became more frequent and terrifying. Remember, one of the conditions of my early release from jail is that I take psychiatric medication and if I refused I risked getting remanded back into custody. This meant that each visit to my weekly court hearings carried with it the likelihood of going back to jail which in San Francisco is in the same building as the court room. Imagine. While your fate is being decided weekly a few floors above you there are inmates in their cells. The stress inevitably caused another psychotic break. This time I was referred to a 3 month long rehabilitation program which was the first of four I would ultimately be committed to. The freedom I thought I had by gained by agreeing to be in behavioral health court didn’t exist. I was trapped but although I was in bondage I found the tools and the opportunities that would free me.

Although I began taking psychiatric medication again to avoid possible jail time I started researching what these pills do in fact do. A couple articles, forums and online testimonials convinced me. It wasn’t in my best interest to keep taking these pills. So upon my release from the last rehabilitation program I managed to lower the medication dosage and began weaning myself off of it. Unbeknownst to my doctor I began pulling each pill capsule apart and dumping out the majority of the contents and leaving behind a few grains. I was well aware of the withdrawal symptoms I would possibly face and so I began taking steps. I purchased a melatonin supplement to help with sleep and acetaminophen for pain relief. Surprisingly I only experienced one mild headache after a day of not taking the psychiatric medication. My sleep on the other hand became disturbed so the melatonin along with frequent naps during the day came in handy. I began counting the days. After about a month my sleep patterns normalised and even though I began meditating twice a day I wasn’t out of the woods just yet. According to information I received online nutrition played a key role in managing withdrawal symptoms. So I purchased a multivitamin, fish oil(krill) supplements and little by little I began incorporating a healthy eating regimen. I threw out all the processed food I had been eating and began buying fruits, vegetables and fish. I also made it a point to visit either the park or the beach everyday. Although I was still a participant in the behavioral health court program the recent outbreak of covid-19 (coronavirus) essentially closed down the courts. No more weekly court hearings. No more intimidation. The diabolical system had lost it’s teeth. I became free.

Now before you begin thinking that all is well let me fill you in on a few things. First of all, the coronavirus has essentially left me to my own devices. In-person meetings with therapists or anyone who could help during a possible crisis is basically out of the question. Secondly, waking up at 3am in the morning to meditate isn’t pleasant when you’d rather curl up in the fetal position and drift back off to sleep again. Thirdly, eating healthy and taking supplements costs money and even though I’m on welfare I’m still dependant on a system that also in all likelihood is as diabolical as the criminal justice system. And finally, daily trips on public transportation to a frigid park and beach in San Francisco at 5am in the morning isn’t as pleasant and carefree as it sounds.

But I can say one thing. I’m three months into this thing and I’m living healthier than I’ve been living in the past eight years.

COMMENTARY (08/17/2021):

I wrote “To feel” around the time San Francisco first implemented it’s mask mandate. All of a sudden
employees at my local CVS wouldn’t let me in without one and my social worker sat far away from me
during our weekly meetings as though I had the plague. It’s eerie how I had mentioned the possibility of
experiencing a crisis during the pandemic and that being precisely what ended up happening. Despite all
the effort I had put into mindful living I couldn’t contend with arguably the most powerful force on
earth. Old habits.

In short I found myself with a lot of free time and money that I didn’t know what to do with. Coupled
with a strong urge to experience some normalcy, having had spent months in rehab, I eventually started
buying high-grade marijuana at a local dispensary. I smoked not merely for the high but also for the
sense of autonomy I had long associated with smoking weed. I tried to relive those carefree moments I
had experienced years earlier. Needless to say I was left unsatisfied. The highs lasted mere minutes and
soon I found myself broke, hungry and paranoid.

Subsequently I also found myself ushered back into the criminal and mental health care system.
However the approach I’ve taken now in my wellness is a far cry from the way in which I allowed myself
to be handled when I participated in BHC. For one thing I’ve taken a more proactive and involved
approach in my own treatment. I simply refuse to become one of those perpetual patients trapped in a
vicious web of fear and codependency.

Sovereignty is a must.

Anything else is unacceptable.