Quite a number of years ago I received a telephone call from L.A. A young man who told me, “I’m working on a ship as a seaman and I’m awfully afraid I’m going to go into orbit.”
I told him I thought it would be inadvisable to continue working on board that ship. So he got a job working in a mine. And he found that even if he were a mile deep into the earth he was still obsessed with the fear of going into orbit.
And he came to Phoenix to see me. I don’t know how he got my name or why he chose me, but I do know he saw a NUMBER of psychiatrists and they all wanted to give him shock therapy—electroshock therapy—because of his delusion that he was going to go into orbit.
Now I didn’t think he should get shock therapy. I had him get a job in a warehouse. And he was afraid he was going into orbit. And that delusion was so persistent that he couldn’t count as far as ten without having to stop and reassure himself that he was not YET in orbit. He was entitled to perspire because of the heat but not perspire THAT much! But he was dreading so much going into orbit.
I tried to distract his mind by asking him to count his steps as he walked along the street and to memorize the street names. But that, “I’m going to go into orbit, I’m going to go into orbit”, obsessed him . . . interfered with him. He couldn’t get very much sleep because he was afraid he was going to go into orbit. And fjnally I realized I couldn’t do anything for him except settle down with him and EXPLAIN to him, “Now apparently it is your destiny to go into orbit. Now the astronauts go into orbit, and there is always an end to the orbit . . . they come back to earth again. And as long as you are going to go into orbit why not get it OVER with?”
So I had him take salt pills and a canteen of water and I had him walk about fourteen hours a day along the tops of MOUNTAINS around here, and he had to come in at 10:30 at night to report that he had not yet gone into orbit. But he slept well, as you would walking around on mountain tops with a canteen of water and walking for about fourteen hours a day. And finally he began to get just a little bit dubious about going into orbit.
Then his sister came to me asking if he could go to California where she lived. She said her husband had a job but that he would not or could not fix up things around the house. And she had a picket fence that needed some painting, a gate that needed to be repaired, some shelves to be built, and so I told the young man he could go to California because he would be in sight of mountains and he could take his canteen with him and his salt pills, and if he got a sudden feeling that he was destined to go into orbit he could get up on top of a mountain so he could go easily into orbit.
Now a few months later he came back and said, “That was a delusional psychotic idea” and he didn’t know what had made him so crazy and he felt that I had saved him from hospitalization at the State hospital.