Author’s Note: The following is an excerpt from the solo play Certified, written and performed by Jan (JD) Derbyshire. In this interactive piece, the audience is endowed as a Mental Health Review Board and determines JD’s sanity by the end of the show. The work premiered at the Vancouver Fringe Festival in 2016, was reworked and presented by Handsome Alice Theatre in Calgary, 2018, and reworked again for The Uno Fest in Victoria 2019 and the FoldA Digital Arts Festival, Queens University, Kingston. The show will be part of Vancouver’s Touchstone Theatre’s 2019/20 season and One Yellow Rabbits High Performance Rodeo in 2020. The play was used as inspiration material for the fictional memoir Mercy Gene; the man made making of a mad woman. The book awaits publication.
JD: OK. Being certified insane means being kept against your will in a psychiatric facility. You are incarcerated but inside a hospital. Less bars, mostly just on the windows. And no guards, just nurses, but male nurses, big male nurses. A lot of ex-biker gang guys, who get sober and become psychiatric nurses. FYI. The long and the short of it is this: you are certified to protect yourself from yourself. And sometimes to protect others from you. More later. You start out being certified for 72 hours, three days. And if things still aren’t looking good, you are certified for 30 days, and that 30 days can be reviewed and renewed until you are no longer a danger to yourself or others. Following so far? Great.
Now, there is something called a Mental Health Review Board. At any time during your enforced stay, if you feel like you’re not crazy anymore, you can make your case to a Mental Health Review Board. If they agree with you, they’ll let you go. If they disagree they’ll make you stay.
I never went up against a Mental Health Review Board when I was certified insane because, at that time, I was also suffering from the lowest self-esteem of my life. People thought it was about the Stigma but I blame the paper slippers. It’s hard to have any game in paper slippers. I’ve always thought that would be great though, to be told you’re sane again. I mean even when they let you go from the hospital, they don’t certify you sane. I think there should be some kind of paperwork or at least a rubber stamp across your forehead … SANE. Maybe it just shows up under black light or something. I’m a little ashamed to say, but even though it’s been years since I was certified insane, I want that. I want some people on the outside, looking in, to tell me I’m sane.
I believe I am sane now. I know that’s all that should matter. But, hear me out. One of the symptoms of psychiatric illness is thinking you don’t have one, when really you do. This is why I need your help. You are my Mental Health Review Board. Usually, it’s composed of three people: two psychiatrists and a mental health professional like one of those Hell’s Angels nurses. But I wanted a wider diversity of humanity to determine my sanity and I really couldn’t think of a group more suited to the task than people who still come to live theatre.
Did everyone get three cards on their way in? One red, one yellow, and one green? Great. When all is said and done, you will vote on my sanity with those cards. When asked to do so, you will hold up a red card if you think I’m still certifiably insane. You will hold up a green card if you think I am sane. Go dog go. You will hold up a yellow card if you aren’t quite sure but think I should proceed with caution. And please don’t worry about getting it exactly right. Psychiatry isn’t a precise science. There are no diagnostic tests to prove or disprove that you have a mental illness. Diagnosis involves what we call educated guesses.
So relax, have fun. Turns out close doesn’t just count in horseshoes and hand grenades, it counts in psychiatry, too. What else? Oh, absolutely everything is up for grabs to help you figure out if I’m still crazy after all these years: my appearance, my grooming, clothing, facial expressions, gestures, speed of movement, sense of calm and ease, where I pause, where I stumble, how I say what I say, how I look at you, where I look at you, what I take seriously, and when I’m glib. I love that word: glib, glib, glib.
I will now set a timer for 50 minutes. Why? Because that’s precisely the amount of time you have to prove yourself in front of a real Mental Health Review Board. Not that you’re not real. I know you’re real.
So what the fuck happened? Thanks for asking.
(JD on mic)
In the worst of it, thoughts, ideas, feelings, fly over the corpus callosum like cows gone mad in an endlessly repeated nursery rhyme. There’s always some cat playing fiddle on the corner and a good sport of a dog laughing. For culinary reasons outside sanity’s protocol, the dish always runs away with the spoon. The fork and the knife remained, gleaming for the attention they felt they deserve. “Avoid sharp, pointy things,” one of the airborne Bovines reminds on her last pass over the moon. And this piece of advice makes the most sense of the trillions of synapses and snippets of sayings and opinions and trivia fighting to be heard in your head. Facts and fictions merged into factions. Run on sentences start limping badly. Memories surface like milk-soaked photos, you can’t even begin to see what they might have been. It’s a cerebral dog’s breakfast, brought to you by Kellogg’s: snap, crackle and pop. Logic hides in the bomb shelter, rage riots, moments are stolen. You try calling the mental police, but you can’t remember the number. 8 … 8 … 86 … 867 … 8675 … 8675309. (sing) 867-50309. Jenny, I found your number, oh no, not Jenny, not now. Outside the window, the grass growls, you can hear a squirrel’s heartbeat, the leaves on the cherry trees scream green. The emotional rollercoaster kept on going. (carney voice) “Do you want to go faster?” Fuck Yeah!
You fly off your amusement park moorings, overshooting the sound of mind completely and landing in the street with nothing but a pack of cigarettes and a rant. You start batting Starbuck’s coffee cups out of people’s hands, denouncing them all as addicts of North America’s most insidious drug … coffee. You pop up on a metal paper box and pontificate on the dangers of caffeine. “Caffeine does not give you energy. It stimulates your nervous system and that’s not energy, that’s stress. The energy you get from caffeine is on loan from your adrenals and your liver and the interest you pay is high: anxiety, depression, hypertension, hypoglycemia, mood disorders, say what? So give it up Starfucks, Starfucks, Starfucks.”
(JD mimes knocking coffee cups out of hands in slow motion)
It was sort of like that, from what I can remember.
I vividly recall what happened next. Some handsome boys in blue came, put some lovely matching bracelets on my wrists, gently helped me into the back of their pumpkin—ah, a squad car—and took me to the hospital. I was admitted against my will.
Section 34, Mental Health Act. R. S. B. C. c.288
Reasons for Involuntary Admission.
A medical doctor signs a medical certificate to keep you because the medical doctor is of the opinion that a) you are a person with a mental disorder that seriously impairs your ability to react appropriately to your environment or associate with other people, b) you require psychiatric treatment in or through a designated facility, c) you should be in a designated facility to prevent your substantial mental or physical deterioration or to protect yourself or other people, and d) you can not be suitably admitted as a voluntary patient.
And then things got weird.
(JD moves to mic. Sung to tune of Girl from Impanema)
Lithium adds some Zyprexa
Serequel twinned with Effexor
Respiradol, Zyban and Prozac too.
Wellbutrin, Xanax and Paxil
Tegertol and Chlorpromazine
Olazepine, Ativana and Celexa.
Oh what a wonderful feeling
To hit an emotional ceiling
Never too high or too low
Numbed out with nowhere to go.
(The music becomes distorted as JD’s body slowly collapses and slowly shuffles just past centre stage. When the music stops she stands tall again)
I was definitely calmer.