Thursday, August 25th, 5 p.m.

I sign both forms. One is an “Application for Voluntary Admission.” The other a “Rights of Individuals Receiving Mental Health and Developmental Disabilities Services” for the state of Illinois. I do not read either of them. I am way too out of it. Too exhausted.

After roughly 24 hours on the run, preceded by another day more or less ‘off the grid’, followed by being taken into ‘protective custody’ almost seven hours earlier and now heading towards 36 plus hours without negligible sleep, I’ve got nothing left.

On the first form, I am able to designate my wife as someone to be notified of my admission, and whenever my rights are restricted. Someone has indicated that I am a “threat to harm self” on this same form.

The ‘voluntary’ nature of the form is somewhat interesting. I was brought in by Chicago police officers. I submitted to them ‘voluntarily’ at the Amtrak station. Primarily because I was not sure where things were going if I did not. As they walked me from the train platform to their office, I wondered if I could have reached for a gun that did not exist and been put out of my pain. I wondered if I might have put up a fight and found myself face down and being handcuffed. When they opened the door for me to exit the police cruiser at the hospital I wondered if I faced the other direction and began running down the street if they would have given chase or shrugged their shoulders and said, “Eh. His call.”

They stayed with me until hospital security took over. Hospital security had me in their eyes and was never more than a few feet away until I found myself on this restricted access floor of the hospital. A floor still populated by security, and as I would later find out…with plenty more at their beck and call. Security brought me food. Security took my possessions. Security escorted me to the restroom. Security monitored my moves even as I signed this form.

In a day or two I will read the back side of this “voluntary” form. The side that indicates that I have the right to “request” discharge. In writing. After which I may be discharged. within 5 days (excluding Saturdays, Sundays, and Holidays). I am arriving on a Thursday. The Thursday roughly 10 days before Labor Day. A holiday. The days immediately begin to count off in my head. If I am deemed to still pose a risk to myself, I must file a “petition and 2 certificates with the court.” What kind of certificate? What kind of court?

In a day or two I will read the back side of this “voluntary” form and realize that while my signature indicates that my getting in was of my own choosing…getting out, well, that is just a whole ‘nother story!

The second form gets even scarier. Talk of labor. Talk of seclusion. Talk of restraints.

None of this carries some shock factor of not realizing my behavior of the past 48 hours was not worthy of serious consequences. Rather, it carries the shock factor of realizing how far gone my behavior of the past 48 hours reflects I have gone. How far from sanity my journey has taken me. How badly I need to be here.

And the reality that whether I voluntarily wanted to be or not…this was where I was going to be.

Sunday, August 28th, 3 p.m.

They call it the “Meditation Room”. Or the Quiet Room. Or some were referring to it as the Comfort Room. I don’t like to be comforted.

One of the touted highlights of the room is a weighted blanket. Apparently, a blanket that when you wrap it around you, feels like you are being hugged. I don’t like hugs.

However, just three full days in and I am getting the feeling from my head nurse that they realize both of these dislikes in my life, and are not about to let me out of here until I enter the unknown that is this room.

So, being as it is Sunday. Being as our agenda today is very light. Being as I am considerably bored. And being as I do enjoy quiet which there is very little of today with the poor folks who struggle with psychotic episodes wandering the halls…I’m going to give it a shot.

Upon entering the room there are a few things that immediately catch my eye (a rather odd cliché use of the singular, don’t you think?). First, there is a massive flat screen on one of the main walls. I could really use this thing for football or hockey games! It is playing some nature scene. A quick grab and scan with the remote reveals that I have some choices of location and season. The background sound is a mix of nature white noise with a Yanni vibe of New Age composition providing an admittedly soothing effect when brought down to a subtle level. I’m a big fan of winter and it is a roasting late end to summer, so I naturally go with the winter season in some Alaskaeske (yeah, I made that up) like setting.

I also notice a couch and a few rather comfortable looking chairs. Mind you, I’m in a psych ward of a hospital. Comfortable chairs are hardly the norm. Hard plastic is more like it throughout the ward, and wooden in my room. These are padded recliners. Chairs one could actually fall asleep in (as I will soon discover!). The couch is also of a more overstuffed and out of the setting piece of furniture that looks very restful.

The lighting in the room is a bit more subtle than the rest of the hospital floor that has become my home. There are a few blankets and stuffed animals on the couch which lends at least some creepy factor to the isolation that one discovers in this room. By way of reminder, I have hardly been left alone for minutes since arriving here, including regular bed checks during the night. There are cameras in even this room, but they are of an almost hidden security nature so this feels like being alone for the first time in days. All of which means I don’t need this moment to be filled with mini-bears staring at me. I place them on one end of the couch, grab one of the blankets, and cover them up.

Now, into a recliner. But first, I grab this infamous “weighted blanket”. It is actually quite heavy and I find it very hard to imagine it having any comfort level at all. For kicks, I wrap it around myself, and wouldn’t you know it…it really does have the feel of someone wrapping their arms around you and giving you a big hug. Probably a rather soothing experience for some of the people staying here. For me…eh.

With that said, I decide to hit a recliner, pop up the foot rest, lay the blanket over the top of me, and breath deeply as I watch the nature scenes pass by on the big screen in front of me. I figure I will appease the parties that be by staying in here for 10 or 15 minutes. Then I can say I gave it the ol’ college try and be off the hook.

…an hour later there is a knock at the door which awakens me from a deep sleep.

Well…that worked.

Wednesday, August 31st, 1:30 p.m.

I found myself growing more and more used to the routine, and even finding my personality with no part of it probably harder to squelch for long than my natural competitiveness. All of which meant that eventually, I was going to need the daily time of recreational therapy to shift away from coloring and crafts, into the realm of the stock of board games that resided in the room.

This day seemed like as good as any for taking that plunge, and my timing could not have worked out better when our hospital staff member actually suggested that we try a game of Scattergories together. I am a fan of the game, but was a bit perplexed by a certain aspect of it. As I would later learn, these “therapy” hours were being billed out to my patient account at a clip of $125 per day. Call me crazy (which my location at the time might well have suggested I was…am), but it would seem like for that price we would have someone guiding us through the playing of the game who actually was familiar with the rules of the game.

That was when the “true” me sprung forth. I just can’t…or choose not to…or don’t know how to…or however the fuck you want to interpret it…I just don’t let it go when someone thinks they know how to play a game, but when compared to the instructions or formal rules of the game make it clear that they do not. This would prove to be no exception. So I did what any reasonable person who has ditched his job and family, jumped on a train, fled the state, been placed in protective custody and had his shoelaces removed less he off himself would do…I took over. And for better or for worse, she let me. She tried to guide us, but I think she grew weary of my correcting her (not the first one to experience that phenomenon in an encounter with me). Eventually she, or at least the other clients (because crazy people prefer to listen to another crazy person rather than the sane ones…I know, crazy…huh?) looked to me for game guidance. And I? Hell yeah. More than happy to provide it.

This all fit into what I would come to consider the abnormal normal. The abnormal normal was when I was doing something completely normal, such as playing a game of Scattergories with a group of adults, in a completely abnormal environment, such as a psych ward with the group of adults being people I really don’t know from Adam.

Other examples would come to include brushing my teeth (normal) with a prison toothbrush at a sink that required constant pumping to continue the water flow (abnormal). Placing an order for my dinner (normal) an entire day before with fairly decent certainty that it might not arrive as what I ordered (abnormal). Checking my email (normal) while someone paces behind me swearing loudly at another individual who does not visibly exist (abnormal). Or putting on my socks (normal) and them having those little no-slip rubber stripes on them and the face of a small teddy bear (abnormal…at least, for my wardrobe).

I can’t remember who won the two games we played that day, which means it is highly likely that neither of the winners was me. That’s just how I roll. But I do remember who knew the “right” way to play the game, and for that afternoon at least…that felt normal.

Friday, August 26th, 4:30 p.m.

I felt grimy. Dirty. And with good reason. I had not showered or bathed for more than three days.

I have always been somewhere along the continuum between vain and neurotic when it comes to personal cleanliness. And unnecessarily so. Truth be told, I simply don’t stink. Short of five days in the woods, body odor is just not something that tends to overtake me. All of which had made this particular period of my life all the more palatable.

However, after a morning of work, followed by a day on the run from authorities, 10 hours on a train, being taken into protective custody, sitting in the psychiatric emergency ward before being transferred for admission to a psychiatric unit. Sleeping for the first time in days, and then navigating my way through the first eight hours of awake treatment…it was time.

I entered the bathroom in my room, turned towards the shower, and noticed a few things. There was a shower head protruding from the wall with a smoothness and angle that practically mocked anyone who would attempt to grab a hospital gown and hang themselves from it.

There was a roughly half-dollar size silver button just above waist high for me. It reminded me of the kind you find in state or national parks where I have so often camped. Which immediately made me think of two things. One, this was going to be a timed shower. I would depress the button, and the water would run for a given period of time. At which point I would have to keep pushing the button to enjoy any extended shower (though I would soon learn that unlike a campground, two or three depressions provided quite a lengthy cleaning). Two, there was no temperature control.

I found this reality fairly frightening. I like very hot showers (and even hotter baths, something that I was obviously not going to be enjoying anytime soon). There was no way they were going to allow the type of self-lobstering I do at home in a room occupied by any number of patients over time with different temperature preferences and tolerances. I figured I was in for some cold showers. I was wrong.

I was smart enough to depress the button for the first time from the side, and let the water run for a bit to warm up. Future applied application of this first experience would let me know that a good first run through would really get the water up to temperature.

There was no shower curtain. No ledge or lip to the stall. Just a strip of drainage located in the floor where you would expect to find a tub wall or shower ledge. No chance of tripping I guess. I laid down a towel on the other side of the drain strip to serve as a bath towel for when I finished up (Another one of my “things”. Have to stand on some form of textile material when I get out of the shower. No feet on tile for me.). When I thought the water was warm enough, I stepped in.

For the next few minutes, I almost felt human again. The hot water hit my oily hair and began washing all the surface dirt from my body. I lacked my 3 in 1 body wash or post-shower cologne, but none of that mattered at this moment. I just bowed my head, stood under the refreshing rain, and for the first time in days began to feel muscles relax.

And then I sobbed. A good ol’ fashioned, eye draining, gut-wrenching sob. Which almost felt as good as the shower.

Wednesday, August 31st, 6 a.m.

It is strange the things that we find ourselves missing.

When I awoke on this eighth day away from my home, I found myself overcome by a sense of homesickness. This is not an emotion I am used to. I have spent a lot of time…well, maybe more than the average person…in my life traveling. And for the most part, have always enjoyed it.

Eating out. Hotels. Extra and/or extended time alone. Not a problem for me.

But today was different. Maybe it was the constriction of the walls of a psychiatric ward. Maybe it was the fact that I had not breathed in the outdoor air since being delivered to the Emergency Room by the police (with no idea at that time that I could possibly still be here at this time!). Maybe it was simply that I am a creature of habit and the loss of my routines and habits was starting to weigh on me.

In any event, I was homesick and took a few moments on my bed to mind map some of the big hitters…

No shocker my wife was at the top of the list. Talking with her. Spending time with her. And yes…of course, sex with her!

I missed the routine of life. Free access to my computer and the freedom it gave me to track and follow one of my life long addictions…sports! As summer was about to give way to fall, I missed being outdoors. Even for such things as lawn care, or a grueling bike ride for exercise sake. I missed one of my all time favorite forms of relaxation…television. Yes, we had access to some screens in the ward, but it was first-come-first and majority rules and our scheduled activities rarely allowed for the match up of a start and stop to a show. Plus, aren’t we all of the online streaming generation now anyway?

I missed work. I think I have always been a hard worker. Have never been able to vacation for very long, or survive an extended period of time without my mind wandering back to it. I have always found value, maybe even an unhealthy identity in my vocation. To take that away for a week was starting to leave a void of worth in my life.

Then there were two simple food items. Because to be honest, the food overall wasn’t bad. In fact, we had quite a bit of choice and freedom. But the coffee was awful and so I missed my Starbucks, and god how I missed soda!

They say “absence makes the heart grow fonder”. Maybe absence is how patients grow better. For me, the safety and security of the unit were falling out of balance with the reality that this probably was not how I was meant to live the rest of my life. There were yearnings in my heart for such basic things that attach themselves to normal living and make us want to return to where we are from. Things that have pulled me back other times when I have run.

As I contemplated the day ahead, I realized it was time for my thoughts to begin shifting stronger from what got me here, to what I was going to do differently when I got out. Because that day was likely not far away.

Wednesday, August 24th, 10 a.m.

I had “disappeared” roughly 24 hours earlier. Checked into a hotel in my own version of “off the grid.” At the time, I thought I was just riding out the storm. Giving my mind a chance to settle. And for a short period of time, it did.

But then, near the end of the 24 hour period, it (being my mind) snapped. I snuck back to the home I would no longer view as mine, packed a duffel bag with a few “necessary” items to put the highly irrational plan in place (which I had developed as my mind began racing out of control.) Then, in my desperation, wrote two quick notes on a single piece of paper.

In my 30 year battle with Bipolar I had written “goodbye” notes. None quite like this…

And never anything like this…

Because I didn’t believe I would ever leave a note again.

Wednesday, August 31st, 6:30 p.m.

I plopped down in the chair at the computer to do a little post-dinner reconnecting with life back home. I had been inpatient for almost a week now and was feeling largely on the upside of healthy. Which meant that it was helpful to have access to such things as email and Facebook for staying in touch with what a “normal” life would soon look like again.

Walking towards to the workstation I had noticed on the flatscreen TV in this particular patient lounge the playing of a now rather dated movie “An Officer and a Gentlemen.” Quite famous in its day, it actually pulled in 3 Oscars and plenty of other awards. I did not remember too many details of the movie and asked the few other patients in the room if any of them had seen it before. The unanimous answer was no.

Focused on the task at hand, I was typing away at the computer when the memory hit me. I don’t know where it came from, or how the brain works and pieces back together fragments from 30 plus years ago, but it happened this time around. Much like the scene of intense fucking that I had witnessed two days prior (see Monday, August 29th, 10 p.m.) what was about to unfold in front of our eyes might prove to be quite a trigger…especially in a psychiatric ward.

SPOILER ALERT (probably highly unnecessary as if you haven’t seen it yet…you probably aren’t going to): in a darker version of the death of Goose during the classic Top Gun, there comes a point in this movie where the character played by Richard Gere discovers that his best friend in the movie has hung himself. Discovers…as in…walks in on him hanging there. For all to see. As in…for all the patients in the vicinity of this particular television in this particular psych ward to see. A Hollywood version, granted. But a suicide depiction in a rated R movie nonetheless.

I sounded a brief warning simply letting the people in the room know that a rather disturbing image is about to unfold, and they could do with that thought whatever they chose.

There are things you can’t get away from. Images that I am not sure ever leave your mind. At least, not mine. That is why I have always sworn that, if god forbid such events transpired, I do not want open casket funerals for any of my children. Or my wife. Or am I willing to come view the bodies during preparation. Or am I willing to come identify any bodies by their faces. No. That shit does not go away for me. At least, I can only assume it won’t and I have no intention of finding out whether I am right or wrong. I have no intention of allowing those types of images to be the final images seared in my retinas and memories of those people!

Maybe that is why this movie image stuck in my mind. I saw the movie at roughly the same time that I attempted to commit suicide myself. Twice (the suicides, not the movie viewings). So as the movie rolled, before the scene even arrived, it flashed into my head. A clear, reasonably accurate image from a movie I had not seen in decades. An imagine of a man hanging there dead while his friend clung to his body. An image that I’m pretty sure no one in a psychiatric hospital needed to see.

And yet, I turned my chair towards the TV, left the computer behind, and watched. Transfixed. Reinforcing an image that needed no help.