“Anal-haqq!!” Maarifa cries as the needle goes in.
She is now on Churchill 4, the general psychiatry floor where she will ultimately live out a year of her life over various points in her young adulthood. She has drawn her inspiration from the famous ecstatic Sufi Mansur Al-Hallaj, who was killed, martyred for heresy in 13th century for this repeated claim. She uses the Arabic for ‘I am the Truth’ as a reference, in order to create a footnote of her spiritual martyrdom.
This is the third dramatic forced injection of the night, two had already taken place in emerg before her admisssion to the floor. The ‘best practise’ of ‘start low, go slow’ with the emergency administration of Haldol had been abandoned in the desperate attempt to bring Marifa under control. Nor had the medical staff the Faye ‘Institute’ for Mental Health accommodated the evidence of South Asians’ higher sensitivity to the drug. The treatment turned out to be paradoxical, or perhaps the mania too powerful, or perhaps the Truth itself was being martyred. She had kept rising until the end. What makes someone who they are? What justification do we have to destroy the person inside the body? This ecstasy of Truth she had become was soon annihilated by the drugs of sanitizing modern civilization in the name of mental hygiene. She was gone but not dead.
This treatment would leave the shell of the human body and mind in tact, the soul banished to non-existence by science, the windows to the heavens shuttered and locked, and the conscious experience lowered to that of a dull hell. Any period of time in hell is eternal, because by definition if it is on that level of bad the perception of hope of escape does not exist, time does not exist there. Such a hell is experienced as real and eternal when consciousness is in it, and yet it comes to an end when consciousness leaves it. Such is the way of redemption, to hell and back. Psychiatric survivors’ can explain this journey. Few talk of the heavens, somehow such a voyage is far less believable to the ‘normal person’ who pities the mentally ill and must hold them in a low station. The survivor who can travel thusly and speak of it has learned some important secrets of the universe, of perception, time, and relativity.
When one can accept physical suffering and death, it is because it is not the worst horror. Even in trapped pain where no aggression has occurred and accidental death is imminent, as someone who has accepted risks, hiked in the back country and finds themselves in a crevasse, unable to escape, there is some mercy. Marifaa knows that her suffering is not the same as when physical suffering is present, and understands that pains in her body are mild compared to what is possible for humans. Marifa can be a universal empath by virtue of her ability to daydream, but cannot be for very long – one can only go there as a visitor. She understands she has been spared of the worst, but she understands what these are, she understands what the worst is, and what it is to feel it and know that even worse is to come, she understands what horrors consciousness can hold, and the forgiveness of death, and the cycle where pain does end. This does not negate that existence is always now, and when the end is not in sight, the eternal is present. Marifaa has entered this hell, and she’s been here before. Each time, there is perceived no way out, but if the way out has been made before, there is a sliver of hope. The first time was in fact the worst because the way had never been made, but eventually Marifaa would know the worst had passed.
Suffering of this kind is the emotional wastelands of guilt and darkness, the unrecoverable divorce of the soul from the individual, buried within the pain of successive worsenings of experience and proof of her damnation. This is how time feels when one’s experience is of being trapped forever. Eternity is not bound by linear time, nor is it contradicted by it changing. But it does change, and by its changing this eternity of damnation leads to reconciliation and the redemption of the damned, of good and evil and restoration of the encompassing unity of the divine. Within that understanding, all things are God, all things which are separated are not real, thus hell’s pain is that of the convincing lie against the soul that it is unworthy of love. She would reside in hell. This place is like a hall of mirrors on your worst bad hair day, illusion upon illusion convincing you that you are this one placed in a bad light. Like a trial so convincing the innocent confess their guilt.
Marifaa’s stable enlightenment that would bind her mystical and human worlds in fluid harmonies would emerge from this journey. She would come to understand what psychiatric survivors when they say ‘I’ve been to hell and back.” She would come to understand that her understanding of her favorite subjects of time, consciousness, reality, God, religion and love were ultimately to be accepted, and even communicated, though not without risk, in the social world. Until she decided that the ultimate safety lay in surrender, a better interpretation of the word ‘Islam’ than submission, and that the Tantric Sufi path she was on would take her past the notion of ‘servant of God’ in Christianity’ and passed the upping of the ante in Islam of ‘slave of God’, all the way to the ultimate freedom of ‘prisoner of God’, the condition that allowed her to reject ultimately any other form of imprisonment, in particular those traps and detentions of her own making. Until she found peace with paradox. Until she would allow herself to just be, and follow with devotion a path of unconditional love for all beings, starting with herself. She would be here, leave here, so sometimes pay a visit, she would have to learn the path end to end, from darkness to light. That’s a sort of bipolar extremism.
At this moment though, she was fighting a holy war with a godless culture, with conventional religion, with all dogma, with the will of a society to live reality as a subjugated cynicism, a jihad against the insanity of the sane. The only consistent principle she had left was her rejection of violence and this even she had walked up to the line, though she had not intended it. She had expressed provocation and chaos whose consequences later drove her to her 10 year ‘moratorium’ on deeper questions that she felt had led her to mania. She had threatened order and culture, and been arrested by police, spent a night in the drunk tank, then taken in by police again after asserting her authority by standing in the road and stopping a city bus outside the downtown homeless shelter where she was employed, with nothing more than the confidence of her mighty presence (that always seemed to leave her unscathed), before finally ending up at the FIMH emergency room after eight days of wakeful and electric bliss energy, then to be restrained by orderlies in order for nurses to carry out doctor’s orders to chemically restrain her wild mind.
From the point of admission, she has been caught in the Kafkaesque rules of the psychiatric institution. She is on a ‘form’ which erroneously claims she was naked in public, information exaggerated by loved ones concerned that like earlier in the week, she would not be admitted. The ‘form’ requires at least 72 hours of involuntary treatment and confinement, and it will be renewed with a second ‘form’ which will keep her for 2 weeks, followed by an inelegant strategy whereby she can gain greater movement about the hospital by being a ‘voluntary’ patient’, and where by rights she may leave ‘A.M.A’ (against medical advice), but where the doctors have come out of their negotiations with her about gaining ‘level 5’, to a decision to advise the patient that they intend to ‘form her’ if she leaves the hospital grounds (she has yet to gain ‘level 6’).
The more pressing problem for her is that she disagrees with the decision that declares her incompetent to decide about treatment, and from her point of view this disagreement is quite on point, as she is experiencing a level of competence that far outpaces the insight of the decision-makers. She wants to negotiate. She would like to refuse Haldol, and would accept Lorazepam. She has already been the victim of drug marketing, whereby she was told she would receive ‘Ativan’, (the brand name for lorazepam), but being unfamiliar with the name had refused it. This decision had led to an order for Ativan and Haldol, which terrified her. She realized her negotiating position was weak, and they intended to administer the drugs by needle, so she agreed to taking the meds orally. She was then horrified to discover that the new order of drugs by needle was irreversible, and resisted with the full force of her adrenaline. This resulted in several ‘code whites’, with white-coated orderlies and extra nursing staff from other floors rushing to her to provide the restraint, to forcibly expose her buttocks for the order for I.M. (intramuscular) injection through the gluteal route. She would repeat this process of refusing P.O. medication to assert her autonomy, and then surrendering and agreeing to it once the injection order was in, long after she was aware that once ordered it would not be reversed, giving her the right to resist the physical assault that would come, as a form of protesting its harsh afront to reasonableness and negotiation, to sanity.
After weeks of more reasonable dosing, the antipsychotics would eventually achieve their desired result of depressing noradrenaline, norepinephrine and dopamine in her brain, and Marifaa would become defeated and humiliated, agonizingly depressed, but pleasantly docile. She would sleep, first a little, and then up to 14 hours a day Her meek fragility would be regarded with compassion by the sweeter nurses. Her beauty would shift from provocatively sexual, intellectually daring and charismatic to mournful pathos and self-absorption. She would spend her days in passivity and social paranoia, suicidal thoughts and dark despair, unable to find a human connection with psychiatrists or anyone else. The medical staff would eventually find her depression to be severe and frustratingly impenetrable.
But before this, the drugs would amplify her charge. She was about to shift from her tribute to Al-Hallaj, which she understood more as an invocation of symbolic language that would not be understood except by its possibility to be narrated later, into fanafillah – the extinguishing of the ego, mystical dissolution into divinity, self-annihilation. And in that space of surrender, her being was about to be entered into by God herself, as the Messianic Christ. She does not remember this. But she understands more than any doctor how her and others experiencing Messianic delusions can arrive there by way of bearing the cross of being more than what is permitted and understood, by the way of passion. She can remember ‘the speech’, her address to a group of 8 orderlies that surrounded her in the emergency room, enough to provide sufficient security allowing her to sit in a mudra position in a state of utter openness before the crowd, channeling the divine, able to speak plain truths to the agents of her persecution, the Pharoah’s men. Channeling God, or total sacrilege, either way she will pay a price. After the third shot of Haldol, her memory of the next few days is erased. She is bemused years later when a friend recalls her “Jesus moment”.