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Tom Durkin: Crazy talk

You can’t catch schizophrenia from a toilet seat. A blood transfusion won’t make you bipolar. Looking in the mirror won’t turn you into a narcissist.

There is no such thing as mental illness. We’re not sick. We’re not contagious.

We have disorders, not diseases.

The clinic

“Do you hear voices?”

“Yeah, but I don’t listen to them.”

The intake nurse narrowed his eyes at me.

I shrugged and gave him a faint smile. “I do … and I don’t.”


“Shakespeare wants a case of Pepsi-Cola.” I was 16, on the verge of falling asleep. I shot out of bed. That voice scared the hell out of me. I did not imagine that. I HEARD it, and it was right there in bed with me.

Been hearing voices every now and then ever since. Not a problem. It’s just what is. The voices never say anything particularly relevant or interesting, so, yeah, I don’t listen to them.

Never again

1993. I’d had an emotional breakdown at work. Nothing violent, just crying on the floor. Humiliating for me. Scary for everybody else. It was suggested I check into a mental health clinic, so there I was.

The nurse snapped an ID band around my wrist. It read: Durkin 29B.

This was a voluntary admission. Just an evaluation.

Only it wasn’t so voluntary. Sure, I could leave, but there was this thing called AMA: Against Medical Advice. If I managed to escape or demanded my right to leave AMA, my insurance wouldn’t pay for my visit to Hotel Mental.

It was late Friday afternoon. Any evaluation would have to wait till Monday.

It was cold

I was still under the illusion back then that the mental health system could “fix” me. Silly me.

In addition to being bone-chilling cold, the place was cheerless and institutional. I don’t remember much. I was stressed out.

I do remember the woman with one arm who taught me when it comes to crazy, I’m an amateur.

And there was the tattoo guy who wanted to give me a tattoo. He went catatonic at breakfast, and they took him away still sitting in his chair.

They said he was faking it. If so, he was really good at it.

Talking to god

There was a courtyard where there was sun and a modicum of warmth. That’s where everybody went to smoke. I didn’t smoke, but I craved the light and warmth.

I made a joke about something Lilly Tomlin said, ” How come when you talk to God, it’s called prayer, but when God talks to you, it’s called schizophrenia?”

“Yeah! That’s not right!” said our schizophrenic colleague.

Shrink wrapped

Come Monday, I got to see a shrink. After a brief conversation, he said, “You don’t belong here.” I concurred and went home, agreeing to come back for weekly group therapy.

I went back. Once.

I didn’t like the therapist’s I’m-OK-and-you’re-not attitude, and I told her so. I’d already had years and years of therapy. Not going to get emotionally naked for you, lady.

Treatment resistant

For 20 years, I was a failed experiment in better living through neurochemistry. All I got were undesirable side effects. They finally told me I’m “treatment resistant.”

Not sure if they were talking about my neurochemical physiology or my attitude.

Self disclosure

When I write about my mental health or my homelessness, my friends get embarrassed for me. They feel such intimate self-disclosure is bad for my reputation.

My reputation? Self-disclosure is my reputation.


I am blessed. When it comes to mental disorders and homelessness, I am one of the fortunate ones. I’m what shrinks call a high-functioning individual.

Well, most of the time.

Disability resistant

Because I’m bipolar, I’ve been advised several times to apply for Social Security disability.

I’m not disabled so much as I’m different.

If I’d given up and accepted the disability curse, I never would have had the amazing life I’ve had. Been to “the big show” in Hollywood, Sacramento and Silicon Valley.

Sure, there was homelessness and suicidal depressions in between, but the going up’s been worth the coming down.

Still crazy

I’m crazy, and I have the 13-page diagnosis to prove it. Besides bipolar, I have three borderline personality disorders: passive-aggressive, avoidant and schizoid.

When you consider my heroes are Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr., passive-aggressive doesn’t sound so bad.

True, I work hard to avoid conflict and confrontation, but it’s taught me the skills of talking my way out of fights and co-opting my critics.

As for schizoid, you wouldn’t be reading my column if I didn’t think differently from you.

My people

I see so many homeless and mentally dysfunctional people in Nevada County, and I think to myself, there but for good fortune, go I.

Therefore, I advocate for homeless and mentally disordered people, because somebody has to.

Let it be me.

Tom Durkin is a freelance writer, editor and photographer in Nevada County and a member of The Union Editorial Board. He may be contacted at tjdurkin3@gmail.com


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