You would have only assumed me to be confident, prepared, and poised to impress if you happened to encounter me in the halls of the Maryland State House.
But what you probably wouldn’t have noticed is that I was deliberately shifting my weight on to my left side. This posturing was to counter the unsettling, embarrassing, and uncontrollable shaking of my leg.
The formal and official environment of the government legislative branch, coupled with my inexperience as a mental health advocate, had boosted my adrenaline. The result was a pesky case of the shakes.
I was there along with NAMI Maryland leadership in support of House Bill 607, a bill that would approve funding for CIT (Crisis Intervention Training) for the Maryland Police force.
I was there to tell my story to the Maryland State House of a positive outcome after interacting with a CIT, trained police officer. Because of this officer’s advanced training in mitigating the destructive consequenced of arresting, charging, and incarcerating an individual for their behavior during a mental health crisis, I was able to testify for this dedicated committee of Delegates instead of languishing in jail.
I worked on my speech for weeks. I was taking care to be brief, descriptive, and direct in telling the tale of a traumatic experience that led to a hospital admittance instead of a jail sentence.
But before my testimony began, I was awarded confirmation of success in the form of comments made by a Republican delegate that typically did not support progressive reform to police department policy in favor of the mentally ill population.
He had read my testimony submitted in written form before the hearing. As opening comments were allowed, he presented his position by publically stating, “I don’t know if the woman who offered her story is here and will be speaking today. But her story is remarkable and inspiring. I was dramatically impacted and moved by what happened to her as a result of CIT. I will be voting in support of this bill thanks to her story.”
Excited and encouraged by his words of support, I was anxious to give my testimony. But in preparing my speech, I did not consider that I would have a 2-minute limit for which to tell my story. And after I began, 2 minutes later, I was beeped by the monitor to alert me that I had overstepped my limit. I awkwardly condensed the rest of my story as best I could to deliver the critical points to the audience.
The next day I was prepared with a revised script to present to the Senate committee. There was no unexpected beep for exceeding my time limit. And this time, there was no uncontrollable shaking in my legs.
Below is the script for my testimony in the House.
Dear Chairman Smith, Vice-Chair Waldstreicher, and members of the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee
Testimony bullet points
- Summary of what psychosis is like
- Interaction with the police officer
- Police officer’s response and how it helped and affects me to this day
Overview of what psychosis is like
My experience with mental illness is rooted in a nightmare. And I don’t use that word lightly. If you can imagine living in a horrible dream, one from which you can never wake up, that’s what psychosis was like for me.
I believed I had discovered I was part of a secret government program. I thought that the CIA was watching me at all times. I was convinced that I was delivered a constant stream of secret messages embedded in subtle conversations with strangers, the imagery on TV and print ads, and coded into the English language itself.
Interaction with the police officer
One afternoon, my boyfriend took me out for lunch. During this lunch, I began to notice messages through the restaurant’s TV.
Angered by my delusions, I became convinced my boyfriend was part of the government and threw a drink on him. I ran out of the restaurant and began screaming for the police.
How the officer’s response helped and affected me to this day
Once the police officer arrived, still reeling for delusional thought, I attempted to punch him in the face.
Rather than arresting me, he listened to my boyfriend’s claims that I was experiencing a mental breakdown. He decided to take me to the nearest hospital.
It is clear to me that this police officer trained to handle a mental health crisis. His decision could have led to incarceration, devastating fines, felony charges, and restricting access to psychiatric counseling and medication.
Instead, I went on to receive medical care and intensive therapy. My ongoing recovery, as a result of this police officer’s training and kindness, allows me to stand and tell you my story today. I urge you to support Bill 607.