“Psalm 91: Voice from a Mental Institution,” Courtney Shepard


A Response to Psalm 91


Courtney Shepard


This was inspired by Ken Kesey’s book, One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest. It is a response to Psalm 91 from the perspective of a man having a nervous breakdown in a mental institution in the 1950s.


He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High

            will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.


Shadows– no, no, I can’t have any shadows. I must have light everywhere. They didn’t bother me once, but now, I don’t like them at all. Strange things, evil things, lurk in those shadows. But if there are bright lights, then it’s OK. But there must not be any shadows at all, or I lose control.


Surely He will save you from the fowler’s snare

            and from the deadly pestilence.


I won’t get any pestilence, I make sure of it.  I use gloves when I am out in public, and I have a routine for scrubbing my house with bleach three times every day. Bathroom, kitchen, floors. Bleach in every corner and crack, especially the one in the counter against the kitchen wall. No germs, never can there be germs. Germs are horrid, they kill. But bleach kills them. If I use enough bleach, there will be no trace of germs around me. I bleach my skin and under my fingernails to make sure they can’t get anywhere. I used to think that blood could make me clean, but I was still dirty.  Bleach, though, bleach can kill every impurity.


He will cover you with His feathers,

            and under His wings you will find refuge


Oh, no, I won’t get under anything. It could suffocate me. People tell me every minute how they want to kill me, and if I get under feathers, they will use them to suffocate me so I do die. I don’t care if they’re God’s wings or not, I refuse to get under any wings.


You will not fear the terror of night,

            nor the arrow that flies by day.


You know about the terror of the night? I keep all the lights on, but still he comes to me, every night. And during the day, I hear him, too. He’s a voice, and he wants to kill me. Fear? Of course I fear. I fear everything. I fear living another minute, I fear dying right now. What am I supposed to do? I try to stay free from everything, but I’m suffocating. Under what? I don’t know, but it’s real. They don’t believe me here, but I know it’s true. There’s someone who’s suffocating me right now.


Nor the pestilence that stalks in the darkness,

            nor the plague that destroys at midday.


How did you know? It started in the darkness. It’s real, it’s there, watching. That’s why I keep all the lights on. My family thinks I’m crazy, so they sent me here. They started giving me this therapy they say will make it better. But every time they shock me, it just becomes clearer. Now it’s here during the day, too. It has a name, but I can’t say it or they’ll send me back for more therapy and it’ll just be bigger. But you see it, don’t you? Over there. It starts drooling at noon, but it won’t take any food I throw at it. It just keeps staring at me. Drooling. Waiting. Every day, it comes closer. I’m trapped, and it’s out to kill me.


A thousand may fall at your side,

            ten thousand at your right hand,

            but it will not come near you.


No, I told you, it’s coming nearer. Every day. Closer and closer and closer. Those people falling—they’re my friends. They’re like me and they get zapped and zapped and zapped and one day, they go to get the shock, and they never come back.


You will only observe with your eyes

            and see the punishment of the wicked.


It’s not he wicked who are dying, it’s us. We’re dying. The beasts are surrounding us. Sometimes I don’t know what’s worse—the beasts or the nurses and doctors. Or are they really the same? Are You punishing us, God? What did we do?


If you make the Most High your dwelling—

            even the Lord, who is my refuge—

then no harm will befall you,

            no disaster will come near your tent.


I don’t go into tents. They’re too close. They make me nervous; it’s like going into a coffin. Why does everyone want to kill me? I want protection, but everyone who claims to help only makes it worse. I can’t trust anyone, can’t trust anyone, and they tell me I can’t trust myself.  Can I trust You, God? What am I supposed to do?


For He will command His angels concerning you

            to guard you in all your ways;

they will lift you up in their hands,

            so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.

You will treat upon the lion and the cobra;

            you will trample the great lion and the serpent.


Angels, take me away. I want to be gone from here; I want to be gone from everywhere. I want to be nowhere, so there’s no beasts and no nurses and no shocks. I don’t want to see any lions or snakes, please God, no more beasts.  I don’t want to see any beast ever again. Take me away, please rescue me. But don’t have big feathery wings, they scare me, too. I want to know I’m safe, so don’t do anything to scare me.


“Because he loves me,” says the Lord, “I will rescue him;

I will protect him, for he acknowledges my name.

He will call upon me, and I will answer him;

            I will be with him in trouble,

            I will deliver him and honor him.

With long life I will satisfy him

            and show him my salvation.”


I’m calling out to You, God. I’m crying out to You. God, where are You? Where are You, where are You, where are You? The beast is standing up, it’s coming closer. He’s drooling. God, God, help me! He’s right here, God, where are you? I can’t breathe, I can’t breathe. God! I’m moving.  Oh, no, help me break free, no, no, don’t strap me down, don’t take me back there, no more shocks. God, where are you?!















































I authorize Dr. Blumenthal to use any of this work for publication on the web or elsewhere.




Courtney L. Shepard, 12/16/04