Don Karp, helps young adults recovering from schizophrenia with practical, science based self-care. Check out his free video, 7-Step Self-Hypnosis Process, by signing up here. His book, available on Amazon, is The Bumpy Road: A Memoir of Culture Clash, Including Woodstock, Mental Hospitals and Living In Mexico. He is a regular contributor to Quora.com and LifeHack.org. His twitter handle is @donsbumpyroad.
“Stand up straight!” Don’t pick your nose!” “Speak like a man!” These
are some of the commands from my mom that I endured as an
adolescent. Dad once said, “I heard you got an A on a report. How
come you didn’t get an A+?”
No wonder I felt stupid, ugly and clumsy growing up. I was in pain but
didn’t know where or how to express it. I was shy, and isolated myself
from my peers.
Fortunately, Mom sent me to camp every summer year after year. I
learned to appreciate nature and developed curiosity about much that
I’d observed. I found some answers to nature’s riddles in science
classes and was more comfortable with test tubes than people.
Mental Patient and Dropout
Entering college, I had a dream of becoming a Ph D biochemist, doing
teaching and research. Eight years later, from inside a mental
hospital, I made my decision to drop out. The dream ended. I was too
sensitive to continue in the academic lifestyle, with its competitive
publish or perish, backbiting, old boy’s club and other harsh realities
as part of the game.
In those days there was no Freedom Of Information Act. I did not have
access to my personal file. After many unsuccessful job applications
(note that employment was not so scarce in the ’70’s), I got suspicious
and had the file sent to a friend. He disclosed my professors
“recommendations”: Don is a campus goodie-goodie.” “Don is brilliant
but remote.” In my opinion those professors acted immorally out of a
conceived stigma, and should have instead told me flat out that they
could not recommend me.
The Counter-Culture Conflicts With My Lifestyle
During the late ’60’s, while still in grad school, I became involved in
the emerging counter-culture revolution: radical politics, communes,
alternative schools, rock music and psychedelics. For me the wonder
of attending the Woodstock Festival was not so much about the music
as it was about genuine brotherly love—sharing and caring for one
another. During the storm our neighbor’s tent was destroyed. We had
no problem taking him in.
This era gave hope for a better world and was quite a contrast to my
academic lifestyle. I’d invested so much, I couldn’t just drop out. The
conflict of lifestyles was exacerbated when I gained awareness from
my inner experiences–experiments with psychedelics. Eventually I
began having flashbacks to those experiences without the drugs. I
thought that someone was putting drugs in my food, that I was being
watched and followed, and I started hearing voices.
Some people ask me if taking psychedelics made me crazy.
I think that they opened the doors to the reality of who I was and to my
past. This was too much for me to comprehend, and created the
One day I took a drive out into the suburbs to get away from it all. I
thought I heard a helicopter following me and, to escape, drove my
car off the road, hitting a tree. I was not hurt and the car undamaged.
Mom brought me to a psychiatrist who listened to my story for ten
minutes and said that I needed to be hospitalized. I didn’t know what
else to do. He was the authority and I had no alternatives.
Ten Years of Hospitalizations
Yearly hospitalizations became a routine for me when I had psychotic
breaks. The stays usually lasted a month, the time it takes to evaluate
My brother had spent some time in Berkeley, California, and
suggested I go there because they had more knowledge of how to
handle dropouts like me. I took his advice and my life became a
steeper roller coaster ride, with even deeper lows and highs.
I joined a group at the Berkeley Rap Center, a free clinic using Eric
Berne’s transactional analysis, and embodying the ideas of The
Radical Therapist, that the main cause of mental illness was
capitalism. To overcome my shyness, the group’s leader gave me an
assignment. I was to go to the campus and meet young women. I
approached one and said, “Hi, my name is Don. My therapy group told
me to meet women on campus.” Her response was: “Hi. I’m Sylvia
and I have the clap.”
One hospital stay was at Napa State. My therapy there was talking to
a medical doctor for ten minutes once a week. He told me that
similarly to a diabetic with insulin, I’d need to take Thorazine the rest
of my life or I’d have psychotic attacks. I was lucky to get out of that
hell hole. I’ll not go into that story here.
As a young adult I was back living with my parents. This became an
increasingly intolerable situation. Finally, after a few months, I acted
out and Dad brought me to the hospital with the same result:
medications and boredom.
How I Beat Recidivism
This was my fifth hospitalization. I was fed up with the revolving door,
and made a firm resolution that when I got out I’d never return again.
As often happens when we firmly take our fate into our own hands,
the Universe cooperates. Three actions helped me to conquer this
First, against the advice of my friends, who said it would be
impossible, I got an apprenticeship at the university with a professor in
the fiber arts department. While in California, I picked up a simple
form of weaving and wanted to get more seriously involved. It was a
very meditative and relaxing activity resulting in a physical product.
This gave me new identity as an artist and kept me busy and off of the
streets and away from the bars.
Second, when I got out of the hospital I did not follow their
recommendations: medications, outreach programs and living in
neighborhoods with other ex-patients.
Third, I entered therapy with a very special psychologist after waiting
two years for her appointment calendar to clear. We had two sessions
with Mom and Dad. She told me that there was a family problem and
that I displayed the symptoms.
She used the Gestalt therapy method, and trained me in dream
analysis. She advised that whenever I heard voices, I should check
out where there might be rejection in my life instead of listening in.
Using this approach, over time, the voices decreased.
During my hospitalizations I was a member of the local chapter of the
Mental Patients Liberation Project whose purpose was to alert the
public of the dangers of psychiatric oppression. We distributed
pamphlets, spoke to classes of nurses in training, held a panel
discussion on suicide and did some advocacy work in hospitals.
Understanding My Purpose
Fast forwarding over many years, I experienced therapies, workshops,
men’s groups and living in intentional communities. In 2003 I retired
from a career as a chemist and moved to a small magical city in
To keep in touch with friends and relatives I sent out a short blog
every few months. Although I’d not seen myself as a writer, I got a lot
of good feedback to that effect.
In ’95, using my journals, I began writing my experiences as a mental
patient, hoping that this might provide some closure on those dark
In 2007, I met a woman who had won national writing awards. She
asked me to send her my manuscript. Her response was: “I got so
involved in reading it that I forgot to go to my yoga class.” She also
sent me several helpful editorial comments.
I began attending a weekly writing group and read several how-to
books on memoir writing. I now wanted to publish, and as I mentioned
earlier, when an intention is strong, the Universe provides for it.
I was in the “zone!” I met my cover artist in a hostel in Oaxaca,
engaged with a web designer I met on the beach who also introduced
me to social media and I got a friend to help me with formatting. I selfpublished
with an online firm that placed me on Amazon with a
paperback and Ebook.
Then came the next hurdle—promotional speaking engagements. In
the audience were friends and relatives. Also there were many
strangers. “Who cares about me and my story,” I thought. I got up my
courage and overcame this fear, finding that everyone has a story and
we all have overlap we can identify with.
As my legacy, I help people who are in trouble as I was . I provide
young adults, recovering from schizophrenia, different forms of online
self-care, as an adjunct to the mental health mill. My goal is not only to
see recovery, but to assist them in actually thriving in life.
I hope my story has given you some encouragement to rise above
your problems and help others. Please add your comments below. I’d
love to see your thoughts.