Solitary Man

Ecumenical Advocacy Days 2015There’s a movement that’s been active for a number of years to get rid of solitary confinement. There are prisoners in America that are put in solitary for years and years. Eventually they go mad. This is not a secret – the very first prison built by the Quakers in New York put human beings in impossibly small and dark bricked up rooms so they could ‘contemplate’ what they had done.

And they went insane.

When the movement to release these prisoners to the general population succeeds, the prison staff notices an interesting effect. When the cells of these prisoners are opened and they are told they can now be out and about among other human beings, they don’t want to go.

They cower in the corners of their cells. The environment that has driven them insane is the only one they know. They literally have to be dragged out screaming.

Of course, most Americans never hear about this and have been conditioned to regard prisoners as less than human anyway. I write about this not as a plea to end endless solitary confinement (although I do) but to simply remark about this phenomenon.

I recently applied for another job inside the VA where I work. It is for a program that is worthwhile and helpful to Veterans. The time has come and gone from the interview and I don’t think I got the job and I don’t care.

Amazing isn’t it? I could have given my eyeteeth a year ago for any release from my present work environment.

But strangely, I have become used to the daily paranoia, insane make-work, incompetent and craven management and the stark realization that it probably never will get better.
After almost seven years, it is the devil I know.

Yes, even after the SWAT team incident and the yearlong inquisition (what a show!) intended to fire me or drive me to suicide, even after all that, my fevered mind imagines that as bad as this was and is, it could be worse somewhere else.

And now that I have survived all that they threw at little old bipolar me (I was using my condition as an excuse, the Director said), I find that I am, in a sick way, proud to still be standing. Other people have come and gone and, despite the odds, my strange behavior and my spotty work record, I remain – bloody but unbowed. Well, unbowed to a degree.
I contemplate this. Wouldn’t I want to get out of here? Well, yes. Well, maybe. I don’t know.

This is how sick minds work. Sometimes, we make a friend of the things that have made us miserable because we have become used to them – and we have the knowledge that things could, and have been, worse.

I have changed jobs many times – some were my choice, some not by choice. Every time I started a new job, it reminded me of the first day of school, I’d be filled with hope and anticipation that would inevitably be smashed within a few days or weeks.

Someone once told me that all jobs suck. I know this is not true. I have had a few jobs that did not suck. But they were long ago and far away and in fields that no longer have a future. Like it or not, I am in government to stay.

For the moment, everything is under control. I realized that I if I did get this position, I would not approach it with anticipation and excitement, but with dread. And, of course, I hate myself for this.

But I understand it. If nothing else, as I age, I understand more of why I feel and react the way I do. The trick is in acceptance and accommodation – as much as is possible.
And so I am here, still standing, still looking over my shoulder, but strangely comfortable enough with the situation not to want to leave the cell.

This entry was posted in bipolar, existential dread, PTSD, regret, work and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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