I have always feared being put somewhere against my will. Sequestered, hospitalized, institutionalized, these are abject fears I have had since I was very young. The idea that others would have control over what I did, where I went, what I ate, who I saw… these are more than just fears, they are like nightmares, too horrible to contemplate. My greatest fear when I went to see a therapist in my early twenties was that I would be put away somewhere, so sure was I that if my secrets were revealed I would be thought too damaged to live among my peers. I made my therapist promise that if I told him what was on my mind he would never allow me to be admitted to a mental hospital. It was after he assured me, swore he would honor my requests that I was able to finally begin telling the truth.
On Homeland (the Showtime series beginning its second season) there is a scene with the main character being committed to a mental institution, forced to take medication, her speech garbled and slowed, her facial expressions a slow motion blur of terror, rage and pain, her eyes wild, like a caged animal, while her intelligence burns bright. The well-meaning staff speak to her as though she were a child, incapable of reason, they tell her to calm down. They tell her to take deep breaths and count to ten. They doubt her ability to make decisions, they speak to her in voices cloaked in a calm-like veneer, their irritation still bleeds out, their condescension is palpable, their dislike for this person who is inconveniencing them is still vividly apparent.
And I thought of all the people we have met who are like those well-meaning nurses and staff. They do not view those who are neurologically different as equals, not really. They believe they have proof of this. They do not believe, even though they may say otherwise, that people who cannot speak or who do so intermittently are competent, capable of insightful thoughts, or have anything of importance to say. They alternate between ignoring the person, to speaking to them as though they were still a toddler. They are visibly uncomfortable. These are the people who have concluded that because someone cannot verbalize what they think candidly and with ease, they must not have anything of importance to say. Thankfully most of the people we meet who are like this have not devoted their lives to working with this population.
But now and then I meet someone who has. They believe they are doing a good thing, a noble thing. They believe they are helping. They believe that the people they are trying to help are living happier lives as a result. They believe this with all their heart. They give words, as though gifts, in grammatically correct sentences, believing people can be trained to say things and do things that will be understood by the majority of the population. They think that if they can force someone to stop moving their hands or legs or twirling bits of string that the person will be better for it. They do not consider that this may be detrimental, that these actions are necessary to their concentration, that they will actually learn more and be able to concentrate better if they are allowed to do these things that are seen as unusual.
As I watched Claire Danes in the role of Carrie Mathison, I felt that old familiar terror I used to feel when I imagined if people knew me they would believe I needed to be put away somewhere and locked up. I was reminded of all my old fears that who and what I was, was broken and needed to be fixed and that I was not like others who seemed so pulled together, so calm and happy. On the show, Homeland, the more Carrie tries to convince the staff that she is fine and calm, the more out of control she appears. Having to prove oneself as competent is a difficult, if not impossible thing to accomplish, if those you are trying to prove to, already have made up their minds to disbelieve.