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.

Friday, August 26th, 7 p.m.

The drawstring of a hoodie. As in, sweatshirt. No big deal, right? Probably not to most people. Maybe not even to most people in my situation. But I had given it quite a bit of thought.

I had been taken into protective custody roughly 36 hours earlier when the Amtrak Police called out my legal name and I made the ill-advised turn in their direction. Since then, aside from hospital staff, I had remained largely anonymous. Other patients knew me only by that same, legal, first name. A name I never used in real life. They did not know where I was from. Why I was here. What circumstances resulted in my arrival. A name. That was it.

In my mind, that would all change on this decision. Not reasonable or realistic, but any sane person with Bipolar would never claim to be (see what I did there?). Why would it change? Thanks for asking. The hoodie was representative of the university located in my hometown. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Up to this point, I had spent my time in the ward sporting that sexy double hospital gown look. Which, interestingly enough, I have no idea why I had never been taught earlier in life. Take note to save future embarrassment of the exposure of your parts. Arriving at Northwestern Memorial and taking my clothes off I was instructed to put the first gown on like a coat, and the second one on like stepping into a coat (in other words, backward day at elementary school). No more vertical smiles from my backside!

However, regular clothes were allowed. Which means that the hospital had in their possession the duffel bag of clothes that I had been admitted with. All available to me. And it was rather cold in those hallowed halls. As the weekend approached, I was being given the opportunity to retrieve some personal items and get a bit more comfortable for the coming days. With a caveat. Actually, a few of them, but the one relevant to this story is…no drawstrings. Yeah, you know why.

I could have my hoodie, but they would have to pull the string from it. Then I would have to sport the university sweatshirt in the potential face of questions. Questions about by my identity. At least, who I was going to purport to be over however long I would reside in this location. Would I give up my hometown? Would I explain how I got from there to here? Would I share why I was here? Would I share the name I truly go by? Family size? Job? Life history? Countless other things that all raced through my fractured mind in a tsunami of awareness that the awaiting group therapy and individual therapy would likely require significant stretches of transparency.

I choose the hoodie (and other clothing articles). Over the next week, I would divulge my nickname that is to me my common name. I would answer many of the previously mentioned questions. I would learn what parts of my life I am comfortable with, what parts I am humiliated by, and what parts I still do not know how to simply be honest about. Metaphorically or in reality…the drawstring of a hoodie was the tip of an iceberg.

I still wear the hoodie often. It still lacks a drawstring. It is a reminder of my time in Chicago. One of many, including one I will eventually add to serve as a daily reminder. But that is for another day.

For this day the ice was broken. My home revealed. In some ways, I had just truly arrived.

Thursday, August 25th, Late Morning

Time was no longer of any relevance to me. I knew I had stepped onto the train at roughly 1:30 a.m. I knew that I had stepped off in Chicago roughly 10 hours later with a time change. Sometime around 10 a.m. I knew that I had lasted less than 5 minutes in Union Station before being taken into protective custody by Amtrak police. Since then…I knew nothing of time.

I had been searched, along with my possessions. Phone calls had been made by the authorities. Questions asked. I had been placed in an Amtrak Police Department SUV and transported through downtown Chicago to Northwestern Memorial Hospital. I had sat in a registrar’s chair with the police standing over my shoulders and answered the most basic of questions that come out of our mouths by reflex.

Now I was sitting in a triage station. The police were still standing watch at the edge of the partially drawn curtain. We were joined by two members of the hospital security team. Also with badges, but clearly not with the level of training or authority that a police officer has experienced. They were wearing latex gloves and began asking me for a number of personal possessions to be placed in sealed bags, cataloged and locked in a hospital safe that god only knows the location of.

Drivers license. Credit cards. Cash. Insurance cards. Items of value less my clothes and cell phone. Listed out by number. Placed in those FedEx like vinyl envelopes that you tear the strip off and glue seal to itself. I was handed a pen, the first time I can remember someone actually making something available to me, and asked to sign as to my verification of the contents. Muscle memory scribbles provided through the haze, daze, and clouds of my mind.

My duffel bag was placed in a larger, clear hospital drawstring bag with my last name written in large letters with black Sharpie across a large white block. My shoes as well. And then of course, the inevitable, “Strip down to your underwear and t-shirt, and put on these gowns. The first like a normal shirt, the second backward.” Soon to be my 24/7 wardrobe for days.

I was left alone to change. Not really. The curtain was drawn three-quarters of the way as I followed the instructions. A wheelchair was provided without request, and I was separated from my possessions. Told they would meet back up with me in a bit. A change of location was imminent, and I could tell this was when I would be separated from the sane citizens who had come to this hospital for broken arms, rashes, fevers, or “physical” illness. I knew this was when I would enter the type of place I had only entered once before, and that was as a visitor of a patient. What little I could feel was solely dedicated to the emotion of fear.

Fear at the awareness that my mind was truly broken. Fractured. Maybe beyond repair. Fear of movie depictions of psych wards and mental institutions. Fear that maybe no one out there would ever want me anywhere but in here. Fear that this would be where I needed to end it, but might lack the means for just that very act.

I began to be wheeled toward an elevator. The Amtrak Police offered words of well wishes and health to me. I wondered if they would ever think of me again in this life. How many “me”s did they deal with every day?

How interesting it is that such a life pivoting moment for me, was likely just another couple of hours in the midst of a long week of work for them. It is no exaggeration to say that every day from that moment when they called out my name in Union Station forward has been forever altered…by three people whose names I never received or will ever know.

Three people who took me from the man on the train to the man in the ward.

Wednesday, August 24th, 11:15 p.m.

After an entire day on the run and on the move to try and avoid what my mind perceived was an imminent capture I felt like I might have finally reached a place of temporary safety. Ironic really. If anyone had managed to track my credit card or train ticket purchase, they would know just where to find me. However, I was convinced that I had managed my affairs in a secretive enough manner that this Amtrak station in a different state than my home at this time of night would be a hide-out where I could let my guard down for the time being.

With the train not set to arrive, board and depart until roughly 1:30 a.m., I was finally able to settle enough to think through my plan, and develop a number of possibilities or scenarios regarding how this would all unfold from here.

A) The simplest choice was to ride the ticket all the way out. That would put me on the west coast in the Seattle, Washington area. Under this plan, I intended to do a couple of things during the multi-day trip. First, every four hours take some Tylenol PM. Second, eat nothing. Third, drink only enough water to take said Tylenol PM. I have a number of health issues, that this simple formula could probably combine with to put me on death’s door over a few day period, or at the very least…fuck me up real bad physically which would make some form of OD or suicide all that much easier.

B) The other choices were more complicated…and quite dark. One involved contacting my parents as the ticket would be taking me through northern California where they reside. As I was raging with anger against them at this point for all the responsibilities I felt they bore for where my life and mental health had ended up, it seemed like an appropriate time to address those. There is no need for morbid details other than to say, many of us have watched stories on the news of adult or teenage children who have killed their parents and then taken their own lives. Many of us have wondered who could do such a thing. I was pretty sure I had figured out the answer to that question. And had become just such that type of person.

C) Under another scenario they lived and were merely tortured for the rest of their existence. It would play out something like this. I would contact them. They would come get me at the train station. As they are infatuated with rescuing people, they would have loved the opportunity to intervene. I would have traveled home with them. Let them “seemingly” nurse me back to health. And then killed myself in their guest room so they could walk in on the bloody mess and forever have that imaged seared in their minds. Yeah…I know. Remember, this was not a healthy state I was in.

D) There would be endless stops along the way in no-name towns across America where I could simply walk off the train, disappear, venture off to the middle of nowhere, and let the end be the end. Likely never to be found. In my mind, likely not to be missed for very long.

E) The most likely scenario in my mind at the time…no idea. Get on the train. Don’t eat. Don’t drink. Stay on a steady diet of Tylenol PM. Transfer in Chicago. See what happens from there.

Well…what happened was that I was taken into protective custody. More or less arrested without a fight. Admitted to the Northwestern Memorial Hospital psychiatric unit. And so the story continues…

Thursday, August 25th, 10:05 a.m.

As they opened the glass doors etched with the Amtrak police logo the thought passed through my mind in almost too fleeting of a way to even realize it had been there. Like a whisper…grab a gun. How quickly it all would have ended.

But I was almost catatonic. For the past 24 hours I had been living in a state of the deepest depression my emotions had ever delved into. I had not been asleep for well past that amount of time despite being on a regular diet of Tylenol PM every couple of hours. In fact, looking back, I had been operating on roughly six hours of sleep since 3 a.m. on Monday, August 22nd. Six hours in the past 75 with more diphenhydramine in my system than could be anywhere close to healthy.

So surrounded by three officers creating almost a bubble around me, I simply moved within that bubble until coming to the stereotypical hard, plastic, waiting room like chair next to a desk where they asked me to sit down. They put on latex gloves as they obtained my permission to search my bag. My person. I must have given it, though I have no recollection. Maybe I just shook my head. Maybe they simply took my lack of resistance as compliance. Maybe…

For those who have never been there, though I know many of the readers of this will have been, it is almost beyond reach to describe my state at that point. There was no awareness that my plan had been foiled. There was no understanding, or even curiosity of what they were going to do with me next. There was no plotting, calculating, or weighing the gravity of my situation. There. Was. Nothing. Were it not for the beating of my heart and the oxygen flowing in and out of my lungs…I had practically ceased to even exist.

Based on my limited experiences in life, I cannot imagine a person being alive while feeling more dead. To this day I can remember there being three officers. I can picture one. Vaguely a second. No idea what the third looked like. There was an office I was sitting in. No concept of the color of the walls or the placement of objects.

But I do remember this. Two of the officers could not stop talking to me. I believe the third had gone to call my wife. And all the two could say…over, and over, and over, and over, and over again was…“We have all been there.” “There is nothing to be embarrassed of.” “We all know how you feel.” “Everyone has experienced this.”

Really? This? How can you know how I feel when I don’t feel a fucking thing!

It is interesting now as I work through my therapy and recovery to look at some of the most profound underlying challenges in my emotional life. One of, if not the greatest, is a deep-seated, passionate, foundational feeling of anger. Hostility. Rage.

And it is interesting that at this moment of my life when I have never felt less alive, the one emotion that found a way to keep embers alive was that one.

“Shut up! YOU HAVE NO IDEA HOW I FEEL!!!

Wednesday, August 24th, Mid-Morning

My mind has an amazing ability to be rational while behaving completely illogically all at the same time. Maybe it is that tug-of-war previously described. The battle between an emotional desire for death and a natural wiring for self-preservation. And maybe exemplified as powerfully as ever the morning when my thinking seemed to come completely unhinged.

I was ready to run. But how?

The simplest option was my vehicle though this carried a couple immediate downsides. First, highly traceable were anyone to actually start looking for me. Second, I didn’t trust myself. My most common form of suicide ideation has always involved a death while driving. Head on into a tree. Or the cement post holding up an overpass. Or maybe even other traffic. The problem being I wasn’t ready to die. Not just yet. I had some things I still needed to take care of. Important things. I needed more time.

Commercial flight was another option. With an active passport even flight out of the country. I knew this would cover the most distance the quickest. There is an airport in my hometown, and two larger ones roughly an hour away. Again, immediate downsides. In today’s age everyone would know when I got on, where I got on, and where I was getting off. I could run, but I couldn’t hide. And things would move way too fast. My plan was still unfolding.

Then it hit me. A train. Trains move slower. However, here was the greatest benefit…they stop. A lot. And as far as I knew, there would be no record of when I got off and didn’t get back on. Disappearance was totally within my grasp. So I got online and bought a train ticket. From the nearest Amtrak station, roughly 70 miles away, to somewhere in the state of Washington more than 2,000 miles away. I can’t even remember where.

I do remember that it would not leave until roughly 1:30 in the morning on Thursday (more than 14 hours later), would require one train transfer in Chicago, Il, and a second in Sacramento, CA far from where anyone would be looking for me. If I found the stamina and willpower to stay alive, I would be buying almost 60 hours to tie up loose ends, finalize any communications that were important to my peace of mind (an ironic thought, I know), and finally have achieved the isolation and distance necessary to end my life.

I purchased the ticket on a credit card that I was confident my wife had forgotten about, and even more confident she lacked the information to access online. I would later learn I was wrong on both accounts.

Almost three months later, the processing and logic seems all so clear. As if it was yesterday. It has not always been so. It wasn’t that day. It was almost as if all these thoughts took place in a hidden part of my mind and the actions simply followed. As if my desire to die couldn’t shut down the natural wiring to keep me alive. To buy time.

Getting on the train gave me a 12 hour goal to stay alive for. Being on the train gave me a 48 hour window of anonymity.  The self-preservation part of my brain won this tug of the rope. And in many ways pulled me into an almost trance like state that would dominate my psyche for the following day and a half.

Thursday, August 25th, 10 a.m.

He said my name. My legal name. A name I have never truly gone by for any extended period of time, but that doesn’t really matter. It’s still my name. So the natural reflex was to turn towards him. To make eye contact. It was a quick glance. I immediately turned back away. And immediately regretted having every looked.

I had seen him a few moments earlier. As I came off the Amtrak platform into Union Station he stood in the middle of three uniformed officers. They had an appearance that they were waiting for someone. For whatever reason, it never crossed my mind that I could be that someone. I was multiple states from home. I am a nobody. What could they possibly want with me. I merely kept my place in the masses, made the turn into Union Station, and headed to my left.

That is when I heard my name. That is when I made the turn. The glance. That is when my plan came to an end.

He called my name out a second time and I knew my options were few. I could run. I had more or less been running for the better part of 24 hours. However, the lack of food, liquids or sleep were clearly taking a toll on me. I could just act like I wasn’t the guy. Like I had just turned out of curiosity. But something told me they had already seen it in my eyes. That these were professionals, and they knew I was their man.

So instead, I turned to them and pleaded, “Seriously? Here? In front of everyone? You’re just going to embarrass me like this?” As if there was some form of embarrassment taking place in front of the passing throngs of people who wouldn’t know me from Adam…less a person or two who had been with me on that god forsaken train for the past 9 hours and might recognize and gawk.

“No. We don’t want to embarrass you. We just want to talk to you. We can go in here.” And they led me through some glass doors clearly etched with the words Amtrak Police Department. With full uniforms including badges, tasers and guns, they were daunting enough. Amtrak police have the full authority of local police. I was more or less dealing with Chicago Police officers. Chicago. Not Po-Dunk USA. Real cops in a major US city. And the only real thought going through my head was, “How am I ever going to kill myself now?”

They asked if I had any weapons on me. They asked if they could search my duffel bag. They asked if it was okay to contact my wife and let her know they had found me. They asked if I needed anything to eat…maybe some McDonald’s. I just stared. Stared off to nowhere. Because all I wanted was to go to sleep. And to never, ever wake up.