In our last episode, our Intrepid Hero was standing at the doorway of his mental health jail cell holding his pajama pants up lest they fall down since the drawstring had been cut from them and standing in shoes with the laces cut while staring into the eyes of a fellow actor as the effects of the world’s most fucked up hangover courses thru his system.
This is the real-life moment Jimmy Barclay and Rodney Rathbone meet each other in a psychiatric hospital…. aaaaaaaand ACTION!
“I… I wish I’d known the other day…”
That is as best as I can recall the first words that Steve Burns said to me in this moment of utter shock and confusion.
I want to be upfront about something here: Where this story is going is all the stuff I don’t like talking about in my life. So, I really am uncomfortable sharing this part of my story, but I believe it’s necessary and am willing to take the hit on the chin for the sake of greater whatever.
One of the reasons I am hesitant in sharing this stuff is, again, these are real people who are still alive and much of my memory from this period of my life gets totally wiped out and destroyed due to the heavy effects of the medication that are about to be uploaded into my brain and body over the course of the next week in the hospital.
As a result, my memory of a lot of this stuff is super spotty.
And this is probably the one moment in my life that I have replayed 100,000 times in my head.
Did this really happen?
Did I hallucinate it?
Did one of the actors who I had just recorded with actually work in the very same hospital that I was committed to?
Have I invented this story?
I DO have an overly active imagination….
I don’t remember much of the conversation we had, other than that it was brief and that he expressed a tremendously sincere empathy and care.
The very first person to ever show me compassion and sensitivity and respect as a mental health patient was an Actor.
Remember this theme.
It will repeat.
Remember this when people tell you that Actors suck and Hollyweird is evil.
And keep in mind… this is 1993.
Do you have any idea what it was like to be a mental health patient at the ripe old age of 16 in 1993?
I bet you’re thinking, “Gee Dave, being a teenage mental health patient in a lockdown facility in 1993 was probably really cool and awesome and lots of fun and one of your Top Five: Best Life Experiences? Right?”
I’m sorry to burst your bubble, but, being a 16 year old mental health patient in a lockdown facility in 1993 was not Top Five at all.
Not one little bit.
It was precisely the opposite of awesome.
This is the story of:
The Worst Thing To Happen of All Time Ever™
I think part of the reason I don’t remember much of the conversation is because I was completely overwhelmed with sensory data. The discomfort of my clothes not fitting. The chaos of the activity as all the patients already in their routines are running around in various states of chaos or medication-induced stupor.
There’s so much to take in and process. And as a sensitive, shy kid who hated things like going to summer camp, this was all that same energy of kids running around who seem to know each other and there’s nurses barking orders and somebody at some point is telling me it’s breakfast time and because I didn’t order my meal the night before I’d be getting the standard morning breakfast.
At some point Rodney Rathbone leaves the conversation with Jimmy Barclay to continue his work. I seem to recall he mentioned that he would check in on me or follow up. I really don’t remember.
And it’s at this point that I just wanna throw out there…
This is the moment I doubt more than any other in my life story.
WHAT ARE THE ACTUAL ODDS THAT THIS IN-PERSON MEETUP IS OCCURRING AT THE PRECISE MOMENT I ENTER THIS WORLD OF MENTAL HEALTH?
I mean he literally was 3-5 steps from my door and I opened it and stepped out and we literally bumped into each other.
WHAT ARE THE FRICKING ODDS?!?
How does someone raised in a religious environment and believing that everything happens for a reason and that there are no coincidences in Evangelicaltopia not end up believing that god placed this person here?
Specifically for me?
And so, again, I will pose to the reader… what are the odds that out of 7 billion people on the planet the very first person I would bump into in the first 5 seconds of my first morning of my first hospitalization just happened to be one of the adult actors I had just been recording with literally the day before?
Is it Coincidence?
Is it God?
I have no idea because this moment has never made a lick of sense to me. In the moment, the feeling I got was that as I was praying to God about to open the door saying, “I don’t belong here! Help me!!”
And then I open the door and there is standing… help. That I know. And me being the little codependent shattered soul I am, that was precisely what I needed in that exact moment and here it was.
How could you not believe it was god at work?
And you’ll see as the story unfolds how this moment would be so confusing for me for the next 3 decades because the overwhelming feeling I got in this moment was, “It’s going to be okay”
And dear friends and readers…
it was NOT going to be okay.
BUT I DON’T KNOW THAT YET.
What I do know is that God has clearly answered my prayers, because I’m a Fricking Evangelical™ and God has my back. I’ll be fine. It was just a mistake.
At some point, Steve Burns gets about his day and my one familiar face in this scary environment disappears. Who knows where he went or what job he does here… it’s a mystery. But, hey, the Lord works in mysterious ways, right?
*** BTW. It’s at this point that I’d like to absolve Steve Burns of any and all HIPAA Act restrictions. If anybody asks him if this actually happened or not, he has my permission to share his thoughts on my situation. Maybe he’ll confirm the whole thing was a hallucination and that it never happened! Or he may prefer to stay out of the Dave drama…(sorry Steve)***
While my shell-shocked brain and overloaded system is completely fritzing out I am led to the nurse’s station for a morning check-in. The nurse explains how the system works. You have to do all the things, eating, taking meds, going to therapy sessions in order to score points. More points equals more privileges. More privileges equals more freedom and the sooner you’ll be outta here.
Easy enough to hack. As an obedient Fricking Evangelical™ I am super good at rules and following them and not making a stink or sticking out in any manner or displaying bad behavior. I’m a good guy. I’ve got the Holy Spirit in me!
One thing I learn really quick is that the OTHER kids in here are pretty bad. These kids have massive, MASSIVE problems.
Criminal records. Lotta drug addiction. People in gangs. Talking about premarital sex?!? A lot of bad life decisions in this crowd.
It’s also at this point that I want to describe who my fellow inmates were at the asylum.
This would be the first time in my life, where I would be around a much more diverse community of people than probably any other time in my life up to that point. Remember, I was raised in white suburbia. And I’ve spent most of my life around upper-middle-class white evangelical suburban Anchorbabylandtopia™.
Poverty? Crime? Drugs? Sex?
These are things sinners do in “dangerous neighborhoods”.
(code for non-white poor)
And I’m not one of them.
I’m a Fricking Evangelical™.
Jesus loves me.
I don’t commit crimes.
I don’t use drugs or booze.
I’m a GoodKid™.
I’m not supposed to be here.
This is all one big mistake and I just need to be good enough to get out of here.
The cast that I would find myself sequestered with would change during that week. A new kid arrives every day. An old kid leaves. There is a constant flow of people.
This hospital also seemed to be a place that kids from out of state came to.
There was the gangbanger from Philadelphia who was the alpha of all the kids. Bigger than everyone. 17. Tough kid.
There was the 16 year old Joker style white boy who did every drug known to man who liked to burn himself with cigarettes.
A young woman would turn 18 the week I was there and she would stare across the courtyard at the adult side of the hospital as the patients sit outside smoking cigarettes. At some point she demanded on her 18th bday to be moved to the adult side. I would see her a day later smoking a cigarette looking like she was the happiest person on earth.
All the kids here talk about smoking and drinking and drugging and sex-ing?
A common theme in these hospitals is to have one of the well-behaved patients show around the newer patient. I am handed off to a 13 year old blonde girl from one of the Dakotas. KD.
This little 13 year old somehow is the house mom of this place. She’s in good with all the gang members and druggies, and somehow seems more confident and like she’s been here before. Not just been here for a long time, but more like this is not her first rodeo.
And at some point that first day, she casually tells me something that blows my mind after we get to know each other a bit more [btw, being in the hospital is very similar to being an actor. You develop these compressed, intense relationships with likeminded people in an environment where people are having to spill their guts about their most personal trauma… and some of these kids had really awful stories. WAY worse than mine. Gang fights, drunk parents, sex abuse, just all the bad stuff. And you get to know people and trauma bond in the way that strangers aboard the Titanic suddenly become besties trying to help each other into the lifeboats in the dark in a freezing ocean. You bond in ways that are hard to explain. KD and I would stay in contact for years afterwards. Finally, stopped hearing from her around 2000/2001. If you’re out there and still alive KD… I haven’t forgotten you and I hope you are well.]
So what did she casually tell me that blew my little Fricking Evangelical™ brain?
You know you are in a different world when a 13 year old girl tells you she wants to get pregnant so she can have a baby so there will be someone in her life who will love her.
Not later in life when she’s an adult… she wants the baby NOW.
Read those sentences a few dozen times and chew on that.
I am utterly blown away. I do not fit in here. I do not understand any of the suffering and pain that these people are having.
I remember that first day not wanting to eat whatever crap food they delivered to us on trays (this hospital experience the food was brought in on carts and individually prepared rather than cafeteria style) and because I had not been able to fill out what meal I wanted the night before I was given the Generic Food of Sadness™.
I always struggle to eat things I don’t like. Like I really really struggle with that. Food has always been a source of stress for me. And here in a hospital environment where you have no control over any food or snacks, you have to eat whatever the options are. But I can’t.
I push the glop around on the tray into ever smaller piles hoping to make it look like I ate.
“If you don’t eat they put a tube up your nose,” the 13 year old tells me matter-of-factly.
Well that doesn’t sound like fun.
Foreshadowing Narrator: It is, in fact, not fun.
I spent as much time in my room during that first day. Each day in a hospital setting is like a month. You go through so much, and meet so many people, and are inundated with a new routine that’s forced upon you. And you’re also going through massive personal trauma and severe health complications. And the therapy work is BRUTAL.
And the nurses are all kinda shitty to you. Like loving and supporting sick people through the worst health crisis of their lives in not something anyone in this building gives a damn about– except Steve Burns!
And the ones that have the gold crosses and you think you’re gonna get special treatment because you, too, are a card carrying member of the Holy Spirit Club™ and she’ll be sympathetic, right?
I am not getting lovey dovey vibes off her. She’s kinda harsh. If you’ve ever seen One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and hated Nurse Rachet with her gleaming gold cross and vicious demeanor… that shit is real AF.
Some people like to control other people.
And nursing is one of the few vocations that women are encouraged and allowed to have careers in Evangelicaltopia. Which is interesting when we later will learn that the church doesn’t believe in mental illness. And not all of those gold-cross nurses believe you are actually sick.
Some of them are just there for a paycheck.
And now they view YOU as a sinner.
And again I’m experiencing something that I didn’t expect. Nobody here is really nice to you. Maybe one or two counselor are kinda cool by default for not being totally shitty to us. But, there’s certainly no sympathy. Nobody here is receiving get well cards and flowers and teddy bears for their suffering and healing.
In fact, usually when family members are visiting the end results are patients emerging with bloodshot eyes and tear-stained cheeks while mom and dad huff off in a sour mood because of whatever was just discussed behind closed doors.
It’s a tense environment and it sucked. It doesn’t feel like a hospital. It feels like jail. You’re searched. You’re watched with suspicion. You’re ordered around all day.
By the end of that first day, I was starting to trauma bond with my cellmate/roommate and had fully explored the cell/room from top to bottom surely to find a way out of here that no one had thought of before.
Oh yeah, all of this is happening while I am angry and pissed that I am here. The angriest I’ve ever been in my life. This was clearly an overreaction by my folks and I hate this place and everyone in it.
I. need. out.
Friends, it’s amazing how quickly our Intrepid Hero became institutionalized.
By the end of that first day I had found that one of the electrical outlets plates by my bed could be removed– clearly this had been somebody’s stash spot for contraband. But the plate, when you pulled it out still had a single screw attached.
I use the screw to begin etching my name into the safety window like all the other inmates had in years prior. And that’s when I realized… YOU COULD SCRATCH THROUGH THE GLASS!!
I can get out of here!
And for the first 2-3 days, I would return to my room as often as possible, because those kids out there were surely trouble makers and I need to go home.
I’ll never pretend to kill myself ever again.
That’s all it was, a cry for help.
I was tired.
I wasn’t thinking clearly.
I just need to clear my head and I’ll be fine.
At lunch that first day, one of the inmates started describing to me the best way to break up an 8ball of cocaine if you can’t find a razor blade.
These are words I’ve never heard before.
Bragging about gang shootings and fights and drug abuse and 8balls.
I. DO. NOT. BELONG. HERE.
I’M A FRICKING EVANGELICAL™.
JESUS LOVES ME.
I HAVE THE HOLY SPIRIT IN ME.
By day 3 I had really started working a good groove into the plexiglass window. As an experienced prisoner of 3 whole days I’m already a hardened veteran of incarceration and will find my way to freedom like Andy Dufrense from Shawshank when I am rudely interrupted-
“You know at some point they’re gonna see the damage to the window… even if you manage to jump through they’ll just send a squad out to find you and you’ll wind up back here…” my roomie said from a place of experiential knowledge.
Never heard him come in.
How long had he been watching?
He was the only other guy like me. Same background, upper middle class white kid. Surely, TimChadDuaneBob gets me.
“I don’t belong here with the rest of those bad kids…” I said gouging out another 1/10,000th of a layer of plastic shavings– I’ll be able to bust through this window in at least six months.
“Riiiiiiiiiiiiight. You think you’re different from us. We can tell.”
“I AM different from them. I don’t do drugs or smoke. I don’t drink. I don’t skip school. I don’t steal. I’m not some shitty gangbanger. I’m not like them.”
“What do you mean them.”
“Them. The drug addicts and the gang bangers. We’re not like them.”
“Bro… you think because I’m white I’m not in a gang? I run a tagging crew. That’s why my folks sent me here. To avoid criminal charges for getting popped.”
My roomie who I was certain was just like me is not at all like me?
“Sorry, I wasn’t meaning you… I can’t stay here.”
“You weren’t meaning me because you didn’t know I was in a gang. You thought you had more in common with me than them? But I have more in common with them than with you.”
“Oh. I’m sorry… I didn’t–“
“Look. The fastest way out of here is do the program. Just do the stupid points… and you’ll be home. The more you resist the longer you’re stuck here. Also… they’re gonna want to know what you’re using to scratch the window and they’ll come in and toss the room and that little hidey spot will be discovered and nobody can ever use it again.”
It’s a hard thing to face when you have to just suck up your rage and give in to the system in order to survive. I placed the outlet plate back into the wall.
I wouldn’t scratch the window again.
Instead, I would start palming things– pencils and paper mostly and hide them in the wall so I could write if I needed to.
That would start a trend that would follow me in other hospitalizations. I have a tendency when locked down to squirrel away little things for my creative use and control. It wasn’t something I did with awareness of why I would do it until years later. But little things, anything that I could take back to my room.
Something that they couldn’t take from me…
It was amazing how fast these little quirks come upon you in a severely restricted environment like this.
“By the way…”
He stops me as we head out the room to play pool/eat/therapy group/whatever,
“Do NOT tell ANYONE that I am in a gang.
They’ll make me do the gang program with the others and I ain’t doing that shit.
You get me?”
It’s an implied threat: Do NOT be a rat.
Boy, I’ve come a loooooooong way in 3 whole days.
I’ve attempted suicide, tried to escape from my prison, bonded with 13 year old institutionalized foster kids who trade sex for love, and now been not-so-subtly threatened by my gangbanger roomie who is operating incognito.
WHAT THE FRICK HAS HAPPENED TO MY FRICKING LIFE, GOSHDANGIT?!?
Remember… I don’t swear at this time in my life.
I’m a Fricking Evangelical™.
The group therapy sessions are my biggest hurdle. I am literally terrified of opening my mouth and saying “I want to die” because:
1. I am in severe denial that want to die. And
2. I come from Evangelicaltopia… you don’t go to therapy… you go to church! Just give me a Bible and send me to Youth Group and I’ll be fiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiine.
But, one thing that’s interesting about this therapy stuff… IT’S SO EASY TO SEE WHAT’S WRONG WITH OTHER PEOPLE.
And man… when you know as much of the Bible as I do… the answers to fixing your life are right there. There wasn’t a single other kid whose problem I didn’t immediately know the answer to. I was helpful! I give great advice!!
There is a trait that most Fricking Evangelicals™ have: the ability to know all the answers because The Bible says so. (< good article)
Man it’s all so easy.
Just DON’T do drugs. Easy.
DON’T smoke. Easy.
DON’T have premarital sex. Easy!
HOW HAVE NONE OF THESE PEOPLE NOT HEARD OF THIS?
And I knew WHY. Because they aren’t filled with the Holy Spirit like I am.
They’re not… SavedDave™.
But I am.
My walk with God is strong.
I do the lights and sound at church for the worship team.
I know all the verses.
I win verse memorizing contests.
I’m a little go-getter in my tucked-in shirt and khaki’s and short hair cut neatly trimmed above the ears.
I’m the responsible kid.
I’m not really supposed to be here.
And these kids and the bad language they use. Tsk Tsk.
It’s precisely at this moment of God’s Perfect Comedic Timing™ that I want to shift a perspective away from our Intrepid Hero and jump the first person camera into the mind of… PhillyGangDude.
Does this dude see a well-put-together Christian teen who never swears and has all the answers but maddingly never shares any of his own baggage with anyone? And every time I– PhillyGangDude– talk about the real shit this kid who has all the answers starts judging me. Every time I say “fuck” his nose scrunches and he looks at me with condescension and derision and holier-than-thou silent expressions. He’s the Anthony Michael Hall of our quasi-BreakfastClubMed life here.
What does the rest of the room think of this kid? Helpful? Or Insufferable?
Back to Dave.
And my oblivious self is really genuinely thinking, “I do not belong here with all of these sinners.”
One day… after I’ve been answering and solving everybody else’s life problems and completely ignoring my own, PhillyGangDude has had enough.
“Maaaaaaaaan, would you SHUT THE FUCK UP AND LISTEN.”
See, I had been trying to help him out with his ganglandtopia proble—
“SHUT. THE. FUCK. UP. AND. LISTEN.”
*Dave sits paralyzed in terrified white boy fear of scary brown person who is mad at me*
“I-I am listening. To everybody.”
“No. You are judging everybody. You ain’t listening to anyone. You’re one of these annoying fucking churchboys who thinks you know the answers to everything. HOW COME YOU NEVER TALK ABOUT YOUR SHIT? You just here eavesdropping on all of us?”
“I… I… I’m trying to participate.”
“But you’re not participating. You’re playing therapist.”
“I’m helping. I’m listening to your stories and giving feedback, right?”
“Right. But you sit there on your throne looking down at us and acting like your shit don’t stink. How come you never share or participate? How come you don’t take anyone’s help.”
I have no answer and stammer in silence.
He presses me again and suddenly words from god knows where erupt out of me and shock the room:
“BECAUSE I DON’T NEED HELP. YOU ALL NEED HELP. YOU ALL HAVE ACTUAL PROBLEMS. I DON’T. I’M HERE BY MISTAKE. I DON’T WANT TO BE SELFISH TALKING ABOUT MY PROBLEMS WHEN YOURS ARE WORSE THAN MINE.”
Remember the story of the time my voice cracked in the studio and the room got deafening silent?
This was another one of those moments.
PhillyGangDude looks at me like I’m the dumbest motherfricker on the planet.
“Bruh… all of us are here for drugs and bad behavior. YOU TRIED TO KILL YOURSELF AND YOU THINK YOUR PROBLEMS AREN’T AS BAD AS OURS?!? You got more problems than all the rest of us combined.”
Denial is such a massive subject I’m gonna save it for later. But I will say, that this was the moment upon reflection when the Denial was so squarely upon me and so obvious to everybody else and I was too ignorant and immature to recognize it.
I’d never been through it before.
I’m not “mentally ill”.
That’s code for crazy.
And I know I’m not crazy–
I’VE GOT THE HOLY SPIRIT IN ME!
Nothing less crazy sounding than that phrase.
Crazy is for people who sleep on the streets and end up in jail.
That’ll. never. be. me.
I’m one of the best voice-over actors of my generation.
I’m gonna get out of here and go start my career…
Hopefully my parents will realize that not letting me act is making me sad and maybe this whole experience will show them to ease up on me and let me act. And then I won’t be sad all the time anymore.
That’s my problem.
And ain’t nobody in this hospital gonna help me with that.
But Philly GangDude was speaking some SevereTruthShit™ and I had NEVER been called out like that before.
I can feel my ears burning and my face flush. I’m speechless and I AM NEVER SPEECHLESS. Good Lord I always have too many words.
I am shook. I can’t argue his point. Yes, on the surface of it… it would seem that someone trying to kill themselves probably technically DOES have more severe problems than others. But, that’s not possible because I don’t have any of those other problems those kids have.
I go to church.
I do lights for the Worship Team.
I’m in Youth Group.
I’M JIMMY FRICKING BARCLAY
Like you could not have more Jesus flowing through me.
It’s not scientifically possible to cram anymore Jesus inside Dave Griffin with how overly full I am with Holiness and Spiritocity.
I wasn’t even really trying to kill myself…
It wasn’t that serious of an effort anyway….
If I REALLY wanted to I could do some damage…
I was just stressed!
PhillyGangDude just stares right through all my bullstuff.
“You tried to kill yourself,”
He says in disgust.
“And you judge me for fucking and smoking and stealing cars?”
“That’s because you’re a dude who makes bad life decisions and I’m not!“
I. really. wish. I. hadn’t. said. that.
All my prejudice is on display.
Prejudice I don’t even realize I have.
Like, I do not at this point in my life believe I’m racist on any level.
I can’t be racist…
I never use slurs goshdangit!
Once again the whole room just freezes because this HolySpiritFilledWhiteBoyDisaster™ just doesn’t know when to shut the frick up.
“What the fuck you gonna teach us bout bad life decisions Suicide Boy?” PhillyGangDude laughs.
It is a hard thing to type out the words: I was an ignorant, racist, elitist, unsympathetic, JesustopiaKnowItAll.
I really believed I was better than those other kids. And I would believe that for a long time. And I was sooooooooooooo wrong. And it would be years before I could realize it.
At some point during that week I would sit down with my first ever Psychiatrist. And in this meeting the psych starts probing and asking questions.
How is your appetite?
How are you sleeping?
Always tired but hard to fall asleep when I do sleep it’s for all day.
Thoughts of self harm?
Sure who doesn’t?
Do you think about killing yourself?
Right, just like everybody. Who doesn’t want to die?
And this was my real understanding….
Doesn’t everyone think like I do?
Isn’t everybody else always sad and miserable?
PhillyGangDude, “Nah man… why the fuck would I want to die?
That’s some real sick shit.
You fucked in the head man.“
That Psychiatrist would prescribe to me a brand new drug that had just entered $$The Marketplace$$–
In 1992, Paxil would be approved by the FDA for use in humans. In the late 80’s early 90’s SSRI’s would hit the market as a new solution in the war on mental illness and severe depression. Psychiatrists were thrilled that they had new weapons and tools to work with to prescribe to patients.
One thing that was largely unknown was…
how those drugs would affect adolescents.
My journey on Paxil is about to open a rabbithole to a shootshow of epic mommyfricking proportions.
I am in massive Denial that I’m suicidal.
I have just been prescribed enough Paxil to kill a horse.
What could possibly go wrong?!?