(cont.) "I think every kid understands that you see things in a way that's different than any adult, but for me, it was more than that, because I felt like I was seeing things that other kids couldn't see, either." "I don't know how to explain it exactly, but it's almost like the reverse of being color blind, at least as I understand it. To me the outside world was always very saturated. Colors and shapes bled into each other." "It drove my parents crazy, because they thought I was making it up. They took me to eye doctors and psychologists, who couldn't figure out what was wrong with me." "It's kind of funny when I think about it now, because I remember trying to explain to these 'experts' that I wasn't damaged, I was just seeing things differently than most people." "How old was I? I don't know, probably no older than five. Because once I got a little older and began to understand what I was supposed to say, I said it. I learned to describe the world as I understood others wanted me to describe it, not the way I actually saw it." "I don't think I was that unusual, or at least not in a general sense. Every kid learns to conform, right? And I don't want to sound bitter, either, because I understand that there's often good reasons for conformity. Like you need to develop manners. Society requires a certain adherence to rules. Like you can't go around hitting people you don't like, is one obvious example. I get that. It makes sense." "The problem is when the rules become arbitrary or have no relationship to the benefit of society. What happened to me is that I tried to conform for the sake of conformity, until it finally dawned on me that there was no reason for it, except once you've done it for a few years it's hard to stop, or at least not without breaking down, which is how you end up in a place like this. You lose the ability to tell the different between the good rules and the bad rules, because it's like your inner compass -- your moral compass -- has been warped to a point where it's no longer accurate. Nothing makes sense and you can't function. Or at least that's how it was with me. You have to step back and reassess everything. Some people can't do it. I was lucky. I think I've done okay." "You take an easy case like physical violence, and it's not hard to understand why civilized society can't -- or shouldn't -- allow those who are physically stronger than others to dominate, just on account of their physical strength, and the implicit threat of violence that so often goes with it." "I think you could basically say that everyone has a right to feel 'safe' -- by which I mean free of physical harm -- at any time. Which is obviously not a standard that we always live up to, but it's still a standard." "And then there are other things that I think most civilized people agree shouldn't count against someone in society: gender, ethnicity, and age our probably the obvious ones, but there are various disabilities, too, that I think you could point to that demonstrate the progress of society over the past few hundred years. And even better, in my opinion, is when society starts to value these kinds of differences, where there's a sense of acknowledgement that differences are beneficial, because if everyone looks and acts the same, we might as well be robots or something." "But that's not something you see very much of these days. Sure you'll have people say, 'oh I'm going to treat you as if this part of you doesn't really matter,' but to me that downplays the benefits of difference. The right thing to say is 'you're different and that makes you better'." "If someone had said that to me when I was five or six, maybe I wouldn't have spent so many years lying about exactly what I could see. I mean, really, wouldn't it have been better for everyone if I and others like me -- I mean, now that I know I'm not alone -- could have just said 'yeah, I can see these people and they look like they have light coming through their skin'? It might have helped everyone involved, which at this point, if I'm understanding you correctly, is everyone." Pictures from Fort Tryon Park taken April 16, 2016. Text excerpted from The #Gods Project (Section 2: Interviews with the Institutionalized).