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Saturday, July 17, 2010

My Bouts with Battiness

This paper was written in Joyce Fleming's English Composition I class at Saint Petersburg College.  It was an assignment to write a narrative, and fortunately Joyce (who knew all of us by our first names by second class) gave us broad latitude.  This was a great opportunity for me to put down on paper what I had experience during My Bouts with Battiness.
Wayne Standifer
June 16, 2009
English Composition I
My Bouts with Battiness

It is very simple, really.  I believed things that were untrue.  I believed in widespread conspiracies. I think of Carl Sagan's quote that science is paranoid thinking applied to nature. The emotional and intellectual energy derived from seeing relationships confirmed (even if unreal—especially if unreal) is remarkable and can be fantastic. Not only was I paranoid, I was also in my own mind connected to the powers that be, or I should say, The Power that Is.

My mental illness started in the spring of 1980.  I had been living in south St. Petersburg near Bartlett Park for about six years. I was 36 years old and had been recently employed by the state of Florida.  I began to see that dilapidated cars were parked in strategic places about the neighborhood.  I saw that undercover agents moved into apartments near mine and played their music loudly and feigned violent domestic arguments.  Convinced this was an undercover operation, I typed all the evidence down in about five pages and took it to Mayor Corrine Freeman.  She graciously heard me out in her office while a man in a gray suit stood in the background.

The point of no return came in early May.  I began to think that literally everything related to me. Birds sang or flew by because I was there sitting on a park bench.  Jet planes from MacDill were a sign as they flew low over the neighborhood during air shows at Albert Whitted Airport or other special events.  People I met on the street represented people I had known growing up.  While I was driving in my small pickup truck, if I saw any construction work such as putting in drainpipes along the roadside, then I interpreted this as a sign and tribute to me.  Emergency vehicles came by if I made a mistake in interpretation or made a wrong turn.  I had a class at USF Tampa campus. On my way to Tampa driving on the interstate every car that passed by had something (like a bumper sticker, tag, whatever) that was meant to communicate something to me.  When I got to the campus, I parked and walked through the library and the humanities buildings. Each stop along the way was like a station of the cross and represented something in my life.  (This suggestion that I was Jesus troubled me somewhat since I knew it would be blasphemy to think I was Jesus. Nevertheless, I suspected I was.)  I found my classroom in a third building, but knew I did not need that marketing class anymore and left. On the way out I noticed the Sun Dome and knew that one day the dome would be named in honor of me.

That evening I lay on my bed and read Shakespeare laughing hysterically at his double entendres.  Jet planes from MacDill were flying low overhead.  Suddenly, I dropped the book and lay rigid for a while (but my feet trembled for a moment).  Then I said in an automatic and forceful fashion, my head turning slightly and my jaws working to punctuate every word, that “I am Jesus Christ” (my side suddenly burned), that “I am William Shakespeare,” that “I am Saint Joan” and several other luminaries that I can’t remember now.  Then I said I was someone whose name I did not recognize.  The people in the apartment upstairs said it sounded like a group of people downstairs, but they knew I was having mental problems and called the police.  The police came.  They looked around the apartment. Earlier, in an attempt to get my bedroom situated exactly as required by the heavenly powers (I just felt that things had to be positioned in a certain way), I had pulled my 22 single shot rifle out of the bedroom closet and leaned it against a table in the front room.  The police took note of the rifle and my mental state and put me in the back of the cruiser to take me to Horizon Hospital.  On the way there I began to speak in tongues in a rapid fire, staccato fashion. Neither I, nor assuredly the police, knew what I said. 

I stayed at Horizon for about three weeks.  I took Thorzine as a medication.  I was interviewed by the Secret Service since I had mentioned Jimmy Carter (who was making a visit to Saint Petersburg) and since I had the gun.  I loved Jimmy Carter, however.  When an agent said “I’m Jimmy Carter”, I took him as a mystical stand-in for Jimmy Carter and gave him a hug. While I was at Horizon on the morning of May 9th, the Summit Venture (an empty phosphate freighter) crashed into the Sunshine Skyway Bridge during a violent rain squall.  The bridge collapsed and 35 peopled plunged 150 feet to their deaths ("The Skyway Bridge Disaster May 9, 1980," ).  I saw the news coverage of this on TV.  I thought the whole thing was staged for my benefit and did not really happen.  (During this episode I thought that I was undergoing some sort of initiation test into a secret police organization--perhaps even for the Saint Petersburg Police Department.  But as a policeman told my mother, "we don't recruit that way.") A project I had at this time was to try to arrange my hospital mattress to accord with a diagram I had in my mind.  The diagram was originally given to me several months earlier by a friend who said it was a little joke.  It was written on a page from a notepad and was drawn in black ink with a broad line pen.  It was a profile of a dog's head looking at a triangular figure divided into three equal horizontal sections and topped by a cantilever.  Underneath was the caption, "A structure like this will please the dogs in muddy rainy weather."  Trying to replicate this figure, I placed my mattress on the window sill in my room. A hospital attendant gently told me that I could not do this.

While I was in Horizon, I lost my job with the state.  When I was released to a half-way house, I was still convinced of many of my delusions. But nevertheless I deeply desired a job and through CETA (a federal program to help people get jobs) I got a job with the City at Bayfront Center.  This job turned into a regular position and now some 28 years later I still work for the City.  Over the years my medication and diagnosis have changed. My first diagnosis was paranoid schizophrenia. My current diagnosis is bipolar disorder. My current medication is Prolixin.

I have had several (about four or five) reoccurrences of mental illness since 1980.  My experiences during these occurrences include going into a dime store with some boys I was mentoring and buying every watch in stock and handing them out to passersby’s on Central Avenue.  Also I would go "automatic driving" where I would leave the house not knowing where I was going.   I would make every turn on impulseand somehow not get lost.  (Of course I knew the area and directions north, south, east, and west. So the extent to which this was really driving blind is open to question.) One time I went to Hudson (I didn't know where it was) and walked out on a beautiful point surrounded by sea.  Another time at night I got on the interstate went to Tampa and beyond, somehow ending up in Saint Petersburg again.  I went to Tampa many times late at night—around 2 am. I would play loudly the Beverly Hill Cops soundtrack (I especially appreciated "New Attitude" and "The Heat Is On") and would have a worshipful experience riding with few other cars at that hour on the Lee Roy Selmon Crosstown Expressway.  The towering buildings downtown were all lit up and beautiful.

Once with the mentored boys (about five of them in their late childhood and early teens), I went to Bennigan’s near Tyrone Square Mall.  There was no table for us to sit so they sat us at the bar.  The bartender did a great thing. He mixed dry martinis for the boys. Shaking them and carefully and slowing pouring them into each glass.  Of course, what he shook and poured was thin “dry” air.  There was nothing in the shaker but air.  I gave him a $100 tip.  Then, feeling sorry for the other bar tender, I tipped him a $100 as well.  The boys and I then went to see Home Alone (1990).

Music and movies have special meaning when I am sick.  I saw Thelma & Louise (1991) and was transported to a spiritual realm with the song “Part of Me, Part of You.”  The “grand illusion” referred to in the lyrics I assumed was the real world, not my ill perceptions. Another time (in Jesus mode) I called in to work and referred to my disciples (my co-workers)—calling them by their biblical names (which I could not repeat now).  In Jesus mode I also drove out to the Saint Petersburg Pier late one afternoon and parked near the turn-around by the entrance.  I got out of my truck and told the security guard who was standing there that I was Jesus Christ and this was the second coming.  He asked me to please just move on. I insisted on my perceived truth. He finally called the police and the police took me to a mental hospital. My truck was towed and impounded.

My last experience happened in 1999.  Then, I was running for President of the United States. I thought I had to give a speech in San Francisco.  I drove to the Tampa International Airport. I bought a first class ticket to San Francisco and walked to a coffee shop.  I sat down for a time then leftleaving my ticket on the table.  I walked to a waiting area, and then decided it was important for me to walk through a door marked in red "Emergency Exit Only." I walked through this door and down the steps. I was stopped by security. They called the police and I was taken to jail.  I stayed in jail about a week and a half.  It took several days for them to determine that I was mentally ill and to transfer me to an appropriate cell where I began receiving medication.  The aftereffects of my sickness came when I had to deal with the obligations created during my illness—a later court appearance and additional bills to pay.

This time (in 1999) while I was ill I went to Bradenton to visit my mother who was in a retirement home.  I took her to a flea market in Palmetto and bought her and her friend (who remained back at the retirement home) a couple of cowgirl hats.  I was amused by thinking of them being interviewed on television (after all I was running for President) wearing the hats.  Also this time two of my friends from church met me at a sports bar to discuss my chances for being President.  They were very polite.  So was Andy Hines, the president of Florida Progress—I knew him also through church. One time I went to his home.  He invited me in and we had a discussion around his dining room table. Another time he met me at The Chattaway.  Of course, I was completely out of touch with reality both times, but he was very kind. My preacher also met me at The Chattaway.  He held the door open for the waitress and had a few kind words for her as we entered. I said something to him privately that this was what it was all about. I would rather die than see these courtesies violated.  He bought me a Rubin sandwich, which I found too greasy and spit out of my mouth.

During my later illnesses, my mother was suffering from Alzheimer’s disease.  I picked her up several times at the retirement home under this condition.  One time we went to Tampa, and I checked us in at two hotels in one evening. We would go to the room, sit down for a few minutes, then leave.  The occurrence that I most regret was the stress I put my mother through on a trip on US 19 and throughout some neighborhoods.  I was going fast with the CD blaring.    She was terrified, at one point trying to open the door to get out.  I was laughing and laughing.  If I could take one thing back from all my illnesses, this would be it.

My mother was before her Alzheimer’s very helpful and sacrificial.  She loved me dearly during her last years.  My brother also, though he lived in northern Florida, would travel to Saint Petersburg to visit and assist.  My illnesses were also always undergirded and protected by friendships.  From the first occurrence in May of 1980 when my friend (Carl Jordan) called the police then came to visit me in the hospital, to my wonderful co-workers at the City (Clay Smith. Jeff Foreman, John Twine, and others) who supported me and took me for help and then welcomed me back once the delusions were over, I have nothing but lifelong appreciation and thanks.  I also think of the boys I've mentored over the years and how they welcomed me back.  Finally, I'm grateful for the fact that I lived in a metropolitan area where great mental health services and professional police services were available.

What effect do these experiences have on my daily life when I am more rational and normal—like now, I trust?  The experiences have given me a great respect for the subconscious.  There is much below the surface of our thought—more than we can possibly imagine.  Dreams, alone, should give us this insight.  But basically during the good times of reason, I think very little about the bad times of illusion.  Yet I have an appreciation for the immense psychological power the “high” that can come from paranoia when we begin to connect the dots.  It’s a warning that to keep sane can take a little effort.  And what can I say about the savior complex, the belief that I was Jesus Christ? That's a tough one.  I think of Yeats' phrase from "Under Ben Bulben" "...When sleepers wake and yet still dream,/And when it's vanished still declare,/With only bed and bedstead there,/That heavens had opened."  Let's just say that relating to the Almighty during these times of illness has made my faith more solid.  Finally, as for running for President, I would recommend it to everyone.  How many of us would secretly at times like to be President?  But to admit it would bring great embarrassment—even shame.  Well, because of my illness all of my friends and co-workers knew that I wanted to be President.  Guess what? The world did not come to an end.  People accepted me back into the worlds of friendship and work.  I was embarrassed and ashamed for being such an egomaniac (especially for the boys, who needed strength and steadiness, not a mentor with character flaws).  But in a way this bizarre display was good for the soul.  It served as kind of a confessional. It has given me greater freedom to be myselfnot selves, mind youjust myself.