I was on my way back from the beach with some friends when I began to feel funny, sort of dislocated in space, not unlike some of my experiences in the cult.
Then something strange started to happen to my vision. I began to see big black spots, and soon had only about half of my vision.
These symptoms persisted throughout the week, and by Friday I knew that something was really wrong.
I had an appointment on Friday with a female psychiatrist I had just recently begun seeing. When I got to her office I told her, "I'm decompensating." I knew the feeling only too well.
It's hard to explain this feeling. The best way I can describe it is to say that normally you have a feeling of an "I", a feeling of oneness and integration, a feeling that there is someone running the show. When you decompensate, this feeling goes away and you are completely at the mercy of the terrors within.
I suppose it's some sort of regression, to a point in time before the personality has become established. All I can say is that the experience for me is unbearably painful, a kind of pain that makes me want to scream with each passing second. The anxiety within reaches an excruciating level.
After awhile the senses break down, the mind turns off under the pressure of the pain. Then come the hallucinations, delusions and other symptoms.
This is what I was beginning to experience on that Friday in Dr. Joffe's office. To her credit, she correctly assessed that I was in trouble. She called a taxi to take me to the hospital.
At that time, I did not have insurance, so I had to go to the Crisis Center, a horrible place, a place where Dr. Saenz from Northside told me he would not even put his dog. I felt the same way about the place, but I had no choice.
There is a great deal of difference, when you are mentally ill, in the care you get with and without insurance. I wish someone would do something about that. I believe that everyone in pain deserves the same level of care and treatment. In this country, that doesn't happen.
I went to the Crisis Center and sat on a chair in the waiting room. I had to wait for several hours and the chair was uncomfortable. I desperately wanted to lie down, as if that would make the pain a little more bearable.
Night came and I still hadn't been seen. Mattresses and blankets were pulled out of a closet and we were told to lie down in the hallway, and there I spent the night.
In the morning the mattresses were taken away and we were sent back to the chairs while an unpalatable breakfast of cold eggs and stale doughnuts was delivered.
Finally, I was admitted to the Crisis Center. The Center was located in an aging huge red brick structure on 30th Street in Tampa. There was a large open dayroom, and a smaller room at the back for smoking. There were beds in the dayroom for those patients who were considered to be suicidal. Even though the smokers were confined to the room at the back, the smoke drifted out of the room and filled the whole dayroom.
Since I was new, I was assigned a bed in the dayroom, as it was not known if I were suicidal or not. As I lay on my bed, the symptoms progressed. The fear paralyzed my body. I was able to move only with great effort.
I couldn't eat. I had no appetite. The fear was too intense. My mouth became paralyzed and I started to drool. The paralysis continued to progress. I was unable to shower myself, so had to be showered by one of the aides.
The worst part for me was simply the passage of time. I would lie on my bed and count and recount the ceiling tiles in the huge room, just for something to do to take my mind off the pain.
I was terrified that the pain would never end. I remember asking one of the aides who was kinder than the others, "Will this ever end?" And each time I would ask her, she would patiently answer, "Yes," and I found that to be a great source of comfort. I always appreciated the kindness of strangers when I was sick.
The worst night came for me when I received a telephone call at the nurses' station from my mother. They called me, but I was unable to move. I couldn't get to the phone to tell her that I was all right.
At one point I went in to see the doctor, and I begged him to inject air into my veins so that I would die. The pain was that bad. Instead, he increased my medication.
This breakdown lasted for several weeks. Each day passed with a monotonous sameness. Eventually I became well enough that I began to take interest in my surroundings and in some of the other patients, and I began to have conversations with a girl my own age who was in the bed next to me. She understood what I was going through because she was going through something similar herself.
As the aide had promised, I did get better. I began to be able to take care of myself. Taking a shower unaided was a great achievement for me. Being able to eat again without the embarrassing drooling made me feel much better about myself.
My doctor made the decision to transfer me to another hospital called the Florida Mental Health Institute for further treatment. This hospital, run by the University of South Florida, was considered to be an alternative to the state hospital in Arcadia, infamously known to and feared by all mental patients in Florida.
I had to laugh when I got to FMHI. The program's director was dressed in orange robes and he had a picture of his guru, Rajneesh, around his neck. He belonged to a cult. I decided not to tell him about my experiences in Scientology. I didn't think he would understand.
The days at FMHI were highly structured. You were kept busy from the time you got up until the time you went to bed. I hated it. All I wanted to do was lie down and sleep, but resting was strictly forbidden. Rest was what I needed.
We did a series of slow exercises in the morning to a new age tape and I grew to hate these exercises because they were so boring. The unit was locked, so then we would line up for breakfast, and be led single file, prison-style, to breakfast in the dining room in another part of the building.
After breakfast came a lecture about feelings, and the same lecture was repeated several times during the day with little variation. Then, in between the lectures we would have activities, like drawing and coloring mandalas, or making houses out of popsicle sticks. At night, there would be a relaxation period where we would all lie down on the floor and listen to the droning words from a tape recorder asking us to visualize our secret places and go to them in our minds.
I hated FMHI so much that I wanted to get well. The intense anxiety persisted, but now and then I would have a spontaneous break from it, and these were like periods from heaven, periods without pain.
These pain free periods of time gradually became longer and longer, and I was getting well. I was greatly relieved. My secret fear, and the secret fear of all patients at this hospital, was that if you didn't get well, you would be sent to Arcadia. This was what I feared the most. I had heard all sorts of horrible stories about Arcadia from patients who had been there.
Eventually, I was well enough to be released from the hospital and I returned to Dr. Joffe.
It was Dr. Joffe who suggested that I pursue a master's degree in social work. She was concerned about my future employment, and she said that a social work degree would be good anywhere in the country. I decided to apply.
In spite of all my hospitalizations, I had close to a 4.0 grade point average at Eckerd, and I had a good score on my GRE exam, so I had no trouble getting accepted into the social work program at the University of South Florida. It was a two year program. The second year, I transferred to Florida State University in Tallahassee, Florida, because I got a sizable scholarship, and so my degree is actually from Florida State.
Between the years 1982 and 1996, I had thirty nine nervous breakdowns similar to the one I have just described. It is a miracle that I was able to complete a two year college degree, and to this day, I don't know how I did it. The breakdowns were shorter, and I always managed to explain my absences in some way or another.
In 1986, I graduated, but I was far from ready to work at a full time job, and I knew it.
All during this time, my lawsuit against Scientology had been progressing, and in 1986, my lawyer called me in to his office in downtown Tampa. The Scientologists, he said, wanted to settle, and so did he. I was against the idea. I wanted to go to court. I had damning evidence that they had hurt me and I wanted a jury to hear my case.
Nevertheless, after one of my frequent hospitalizations, I had returned home to our summer cottage in Michigan to recuperate, when I received a large brown envelope in the mail.
"Sign it," my attorney told me over the phone, "or you will never receive a penny."
I tried to read the document, but the language was complicated legalese, and in my current state of mind, I couldn't comprehend it. But I knew if I didn't sign it, I would have to find a new lawyer, and there weren't many lawyers around who wanted to tangle with Scientology.
So I signed the paper and sent it back to my attorney.
When I returned to Tampa, I went to his office and he handed me a check for $100,000. I didn't want the money. I know that seems strange, but I was so angry at not being able to go to court where I knew I could have been awarded a much larger settlement, that this check meant nothing to me.
I sent $20,000 to my father, as repayment of the money he had advanced to the lawyer. At least I felt good about that, about being able to repay him.
Six months later, I went to a Cult Awareness Network conference in Boston, and while I was there I went on the local television station to give a talk about Scientology.
When I got back to Tampa, my attorney called me into his office. I was told that I had violated my "gag order."
"What gag order?" I asked him, incredulous.
It turned out that in the statement I had signed, there was a clause barring me from ever discussing Scientology with anyone outside my immediate family.
"What happens if I break the gag order?" I asked the attorney.
"Then you will have to give the money back to them," he answered.
I was still too angry about Scientology to keep quiet about it. I felt like a rape victim. I had to speak out. I had to warn others. I wanted to write a book about what had happened to me.
"Look," I told the attorney. "If I were on a beach and I saw a boat sinking off the shore and people drowning, and there was a sign on the beach that said, `No running on the beach,' what would I do?"
The answer was simple. I would run for help. And that was how I felt about Scientology.
I decided to speak out.
I called every television and radio station in Tampa and St. Petersburg, and made dates to appear on various programs. I went on at least twenty radio and TV programs, desperately trying to warn people about Scientology.
I knew I had to give the money back. It was only a matter of time.
The idea of hiding the money was an option. "Put it in a bank in the Cayman Islands," my brother advised. "Buy jewels," someone else advised. But I was stubborn. I didn't want the money anyway. I didn't want anything from Scientology. I felt like they had bought me off, and I felt dirty.
So I simply gave the money away. First, I gave all my friends trips for two to the Bahamas. Then I paid for my sister and her family to come to Florida for Christmas.
I began to make out checks for $1000 each to every children's charity I could find, and also to charities for organizations that worked with schizophrenics. Little by little the money disappeared.
I felt a sense of triumph. I continued to speak out over the airwaves. Now Scientology couldn't get the money back. It wasn't there. I was free to say what I wanted about Scientology.
Now I realize that what I was dealing with was simply my anger. I was in fact like a rape victim. I had to speak out to preserve my own sanity. I felt like there was something terribly wrong in Scientology, and I had to warn others any way I could.
Finally, I bought a computer, and sat down and wrote two books about Scientology. The first, The Road to Xenu, was a novel based upon my own experiences. I published it myself. Now it is on the Internet for anyone to read.
The second book, Understanding Scientology, was written for parents of Scientologists, explaining the organization. It is a thesis on Scientology. A friend and I sold both the books at Cult Awareness Network conventions and through the mail and eventually managed to get several thousand into circulation. I approached a publisher, but he said that not enough people were interested in the subject of Scientology to warrant publication.
But I was satisfied. I had done what I could. I had set up a non-profit corporation, the Coalition of Concerned Citizens, to maintain contact with ex-Scientologists and collect their stories as a kind of body of evidence.
After writing the books, I felt a great sense of relief. Finally the beast of anger inside of me was satisfied. I had done my part. I was exhausted from the effort. But the anger was gone.
Instead of anger, I now felt sorrow and pity. Sorrow for the souls still trapped in this insidious cult. Sorrow especially for the children of Scientology who are warehoused in cheerless buildings without books or toys or the normal trappings of childhood. I had once spent several paychecks on cartloads of coloring books and crayons and books and stuffed toys and delivered them anonymously to the Franklin Street Annex where the children were being kept.
In Scientology, children are considered to be "down-statistics" and are given little attention until they are of an age to be productive. I had heard stories from ex-members who had worked with the children, of children being fed spoiled food and milk with maggots in it.
I felt sorry for all the children who had grown up in Scientology and never known any other way of life. At least I had some life before Scientology to go back to. I wasn't surprised when Hubbard's oldest son, Quentin, committed suicide. His whole life had been Scientology.
I once met Hubbard's daughter, Diana, in the elevator at Flag. I was carrying a pile of piano music and I knew she also played the piano. We exchanged greetings. I always wondered what happened to her. Did she ever come to see the light about her father and about the cult?
I also felt sorry for my friend, Mario, who I knew would never get out of Scientology. I tried to call him once, but he was unwilling to talk to me. So much for the unconditional love inside Scientology. If you become, as I did, a feared Suppressive Person, the love disappears. Instead you become, according to Scientology policy, "Fair Game," able to be "sued, tricked, lied to or destroyed by any means."
Soon after I had started speaking out on radio and TV, I became subject to the Fair Game policy. Scientologists appeared at my apartment several times and threatened to kill me.
One night, I returned home late at night after a piano practice session at the University to find my front door wide open. I went inside. Nothing seemed out of place. But when I went in the bedroom, I saw a stream of red blood dripping down the wall, still wet. A warning, no doubt.
My employer at the mall was constantly harassed and told lies about me. He would be asked when I was due to get off my shift and by what exit I would be leaving. Scientologists came to the mall and followed me, again threatening to kill me unless I made a "deal" with them. It never seemed to end.
But I didn't care what they did to me. I would continue to fight back. Scientology was evil, and I just couldn't ignore it. People came out of Scientology, like I did, with broken lives and broken dreams. I will always continue to fight against Scientology and to get people out of it whenever I can. And keep people from getting into it. Evil ignored, just persists. Someone has to speak out.
I am happy to see that now more and more people who have been victimized by this cult are, in fact, doing just that -- speaking out. I am no longer the only one. The Internet has given a voice to this opposition, and ex-Scientologists are becoming more and more organized. And I am glad.
As for me, I needed to get back to my own life. I needed to work on my own recovery. I had to try to build something from the ashes. Now that the anger was gone, I had to get back to living.