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Chapter 1: Dismantled: Our Lady of Madness


On that day in Anchorage, Alaska, at about 10:00 a.m., January 13, 1977, the sky was overcast, the temperature somewhere in the 20s. In the empty hours of the previous night, the silence was profound. A stillness seemed to wrap itself around me, seep into my marrow, and convince me that I existed in eternal loneliness and not connected to my life. Then the voices began.

They would speak in low malicious whispers, overlapping with one another in incoherent words that tumbled and shifted through my frenzied mind. I was convinced the voices had eyes and they were scrutinizing and judging my every move, every word, and every thought. During the past few days, I’d sensed imminent danger, but exactly where from, I didn’t know. “Drifting in and out of television — hovering over the sidewalk — tracking up and down. Monsters everywhere. Look up! Die. Dogs. Evil people. Danger! Kids. Me. Die.  Spooky blue and purple!” One confused thought after another floated around, muddling my mind.

I lost track of time and didn’t even know what day of the week it was. In fact, I don’t remember falling asleep the previous night, or for that matter, the night before that. I do remember lying restlessly in bed beside Richard my husband, stirring and from time to time, getting out of bed and nervously pacing the floor. I progressively grew suspicious, probing every corner of the house as if I were looking for some madman lurking in the shadows.

Deciding what to wear just to take the children to school was incredibly difficult that morning, causing my actions to mirror the gibberish in my mind. In my bedroom, I tried on and took off blue jeans, dresses, skirts, blouses, sweaters, scattering them all around the room in a big mess. My mind continued to slip as I tried to think straight. I could hear a crackling noise at the base of my skull and felt fluid rising up my spine through my neck to the bottom of my head, rushing up the right side to the top of it. The more I tried to untangle my thinking, the more that gibberish floated around in my head. I had always been smartly dressed, even in blue jeans, but that morning this simple decision became a challenge. Finally, I tugged my long, green and white polka dot dress over an old pair of my husband’s blue jeans.

As I walked down the stairs, the children looked puzzled, but not afraid. I put on my husband’s light blue ski jacket, filling the pockets with popcorn kernels, solving the school lunch problem. I continued to add matches, ashtrays, jewelry, and many other meaningless items to my pockets, running around the house to gather them.

My own identity slipped away as my human spirit was drowning, descending me lower until I was nothing. The identity of the Virgin Mary became my new reality. I did not have to be Andrea, someone who couldn’t do anything right; I went straight to the top. I was the Virgin Mary. “Andrea can’t protect the children, but the Virgin Mary can,” the eerie voices in my head told me. “Andrea can’t do anything right. She is nothing and nobody,” they said.

I removed the cover from the birdcage and put it over my head. Our parakeets fluttered around in their cage, startled from their sleep. The white terrycloth cover became the sacred veil of the Virgin Mary.

Suddenly, to my right, I heard bombs exploding. I could see plumes of feathery, white, smoke rising high in the sky before us in a nightmarish, apocalyptic vision. “It’s the end of the world,” the voices shouted in my head. Homes were burning and trees toppled over. I could hear screams of misery and pain as I saw the destruction and devastation all around. I believed that God Himself had chosen me to perform this important task of protecting His little ones. And now, only I, the Virgin Mary, could lead my young troop to the safety of the elementary school.

When we arrived, it was obvious to the school staff that something was wrong. The principal stayed by my side. The words I spoke to him were nonsense, but he remained calm. I repeated one statement loudly a few times, “Jimmy Carter is the Anti-Christ!” The principal didn’t respond; he only listened.

Loudly again, I shouted, “There will be a miracle for lunch today for the children. They will have popcorn for lunch!” At the same time, I was scattering kernels around the hall as I flitted about. I was filled with fear and anxiety at this important task that I had unwittingly undertaken.

One of the secretaries in the school office called the Alaska State Troopers. I don’t know how long it took for the trooper to arrive, but the principal stayed with me until he showed up. The school staff and the State Trooper were all kind and gentle. They did not ridicule me; they were just calm, respectful, and helpful.

The officer did not handcuff me before guiding me to his car. His voice was composed and calm as he questioned me, “What’s your name? Where do you live? Who is your emergency contact? How can we contact your mother?”

As we entered the area, I saw two women and a man standing side by side, looking at me as I was being led to them. The man was wearing a white three-quarter length jacket. At the time, I did not know who they were or what was happening. They stood there with no emotion on their blank faces, more like automatons than humans.

I assumed the man in the white jacket was a doctor. He told one of the women to give me a pill. All I could think was how much I hated pills, and I did not want them. At first, I refused. The doctor gave me a chance to take it on my own. When I still rejected it, he asked if I preferred an injection.

“No!” I cried, desperately wanting to ask them what was wrong with me, but unable to put my emotions into words. What were they doing to me? What kind of pill were they trying to give me? When could I go home and be with my family? Prayers memorized in childhood were the only words that took any shape, but even they never made it past my lips. “Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee.

The doctor spoke sternly, “Either take the medication voluntarily or we will have no choice but to give it to you in a way you won’t like.”

The doctor, nurses, and aides continued to seem robotic, void of either feeling or perceiving emotions. Their only intention was to control me, to force me to do their will. They did not try to explain anything to me or lessen my fears in any way. I might have been more responsive had they taken a gentler approach, but I was emphatic that I did not want either the pill or an injection.

The aides lifted me off the floor, holding me firmly by my arms and carried me down the hall to what would be my room during my hospital stay. I struggled and screamed to be free. My panic and confusion ratcheted several notches as they carried me away. They’re going to rape me! Oh, my God, they’re going to rape me, screamed in my mind.

As they reached the bed, they laid me face down on the mattress. The aides pinned me down as I continued to scream and struggle, convinced of my impending rape. Their grasps on my shoulders and legs gripped me like a vice. The doctor stood over me and seemed to be leering. I heard muffled laughter and snickering bounce back and forth at me from all corners of the room as I tried to turn my head. I could see one nurse holding the syringe; her face was pulled into a ghastly grimace as she stared at me, while the other reached for my jeans and slid them down over my hips.

As the needle drove into my flesh, I struggled to make sense of this nightmare. I realized I wasn’t being raped, but the experience felt similar. It was an aggressive invasion. The drug spilled into my bloodstream, and it was finally over — the crying, the fear, the struggling. For how long, I did not know.

(Note: It was years later that I found out that I was forcibly drugged with Haldol, used primarily for patients who can be a danger to self or others, putting them into a chemical straitjacket. I was not a danger to myself or anyone when I was forcibly drugged. I just said “no” to the medication. In fact, this was illegal since I posed no threatening behavior to myself or anyone. I experienced the chemical straitjacket as I described the results of the forced drugging I received.)

My stomach fluttered involuntarily. I shivered from the coldness in the room. Gradually, I noticed a different sensation. I became even more aware that my body was rigid. I could hardly straighten my arms and my legs were stiff and heavy. I could not open my mouth, could not separate my jaws. I felt immobilized. In a silent whisper, I cried, What’s happening to me? It must be the shot they gave me! I feel like I’m in a straitjacket, but I don’t see it. I can only feel it! 

I was then led down the hall to my room. It was dark and dirty, and dimly lit with flickering lights, casting eerie shadows on the walls. The staff helped me change my clothes. I was still wearing my long, green and white polka dot dress over my husband’s blue jeans. I felt hands lift my arms up, pull the dress up over my head, turn me around on the grimy floor and tug at the snaps on the jeans I was wearing, and then slip the hospital pajamas on me.

I felt embarrassed and ashamed because strangers were removing my clothes and dressing me, but I was too afraid to say anything. I knew no one cared what I was feeling or thinking. They didn’t even want to hear what I had to say. Their earlier use of force had convinced me of that. These people weren’t my friends. I didn’t trust any of them. The trauma of that event had hardened into a deep fear and apprehension. I told myself over and over, “Don’t talk. Don’t say anything. They will hold you down and stick you with a needle again. Don’t let them know you’re scared. Just do whatever they say.”

They helped me into bed for the night. It was the same bed where they had forced me to take the injection. The single bed with a metal frame looked old, especially with the worn out bed clothing that looked faded, lacking color I lay there, trembling under the covers as I listened to the bizarre noises and saw the shadows in the strange room. Dread pooled in my stomach as the bed began spinning, spinning, faster and faster, spiraling out of control.

I felt myself being tugged toward an ominous tunnel of pale light that glowed a ghostly luminous green in the dark room. I floated out of the bed, tumbling backward, head over heels toward the beckoning light. The passage was wide at the top and grew narrower and smaller toward the bottom. The eerie luminous green light emanated from its deepest center.

As I fell into the tunnel, I saw myself mutate. The hair on my head grew dark and long, growing down my face, neck, shoulders, and onto my arms, trunk, and legs. My fingers and toes elongated as I slowly lost my human characteristics and transformed into an ape-like creature. The light came closer and appeared brighter as I plunged deeper into the tunnel. Suddenly I took on another new shape. I became a horse, a black stallion. As I tumbled, my long, black mane unfurled, flaring from my head and neck, as my legs and hooves thrashed wildly. There was nothing I could do. I could not stop tumbling. I continued to fall deeper into the tunnel.

I was silently screaming, Oh my God, now I’m a bird! Why is this happening to me? Maybe the end of the world has come, and I have to go backward in time so I can start over again. A feeling of dread shivered through me as I wondered where I was heading.

As I continued my descent, my body became bulky and cumbersome with an extremely long, skinny neck, a small head, and short protruding arms. I sensed I had now become a dinosaur. As I got closer to the area from where the light emanated, I fell faster and changed more quickly. My mind fixated anxiously on the idea that I might return to nothingness as I continued to tumble deeper into the abyss. I shuddered to think I might reach a cataclysmic end.

I was near the bottom now. I could see the top of the tunnel from where I had fallen. Once again, my appearance changed. Now I was a snake, limbless, elongated, with leathery, scaly skin. I slithered through the opening at the bottom of the tunnel and swiftly splashed into a fathomless, subterranean ocean.

I saw my body had now transformed into a fish. I was finally reaching the end of my journey from the far reaches of the tunnel, magnetically pulled into the swirling, dangerous water. As I spun in circles, I felt the pressure of the water on my fishlike body. Water rushed into my mouth, and I gasped for air. I wanted air! I couldn’t breathe!

Oh, my God, I’m drowning! I’m a fish and I don’t know how to swim! I’m drowning! I was gripped with terror at the thought of drowning, but just as the trepidation began to seize me, I found myself back in bed. The spinning slowly waned until the movement stopped abruptly. Once again, I was in the dark, dank room and the strange green light was gone. I was alone. Although still frightened, I’d survived my harrowing de-evolutionary journey back in time. I had traveled from the present to the beginning of life on this planet. As I realized that it had not been the end, I took a little comfort in my awareness of this thought.

I walked with an exaggerated slowness with small, shuffling movements of my feet out to the large day room on Schraeder Unit. I sat in a chair by the wall and looked around the room. My vision was blurry, but I could detect some patients pacing in small circles, smoking cigarettes. Others milled about the room, appearing to be lost while a few seemed to be in a stupor. None of them had expressions on their faces, neither smiles nor frowns. As they came closer, I could see their eyes; they looked empty and dull. Their hunched shoulders seemed rounded, their heads hung low, and they all walked the same slow, jerky walk the way that I did. Some of them languished in front of the television, but they just stared without understanding the program, devoid of the vitality they’d once had before arriving here. There were men and women — white, Black, and Alaskan Native. Sex, color, and race made no difference here. We were all the same. We were mental patients. We were nobody. We were nothing.

As Joseph Campbell, American writer, and professor in English literature and who worked in comparative mythology and comparative religion said, “The mystic, endowed with native talents…and following…the instruction of a master, enters the waters and finds he can swim; whereas the schizophrenic, unprepared, unguided, and ungifted, has fallen or has intentionally plunged and is drowning.” This is me. I’m not a mystic. I am the “schizophrenic”. And I am drowning. And so started the dark night of my soul taking me on a journey that changed my life forever.

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