Present Day, April 28th, 2020

FURLOUGH – day 23

I have daddy issues. Where to begin with them would be a larger challenge than I am interested in undertaking today. 51 years of history is a lot to try and rehash. Leave it to say there is a past that includes emotional and physical abuse. Therefore, at the advice of numerous professionals, following my hospitalization, I cut all contact with him (and my mom). That was in 2016.

As time passed and I began to feel more managed in my illness, I hesitantly reached out an olive branch to him. We started to communicate once again. Sporadically. Superficially. Electronically. But communication nonetheless. I cannot even remember when this was. I do not know if it is the bipolar, or medications, or old age, or whatever else it could possibly be, but I have great difficulty with memories and dates.  I would guess it was maybe a year ago. Give or take. We had definitely been shut down for multiple years.

I digress, what is the point of all this? Simply to try, and in incredibly inadequate terms, communicate that our relationship has been strained at best. Which makes it difficult to know how to respond in times like this. Not times like a pandemic. Times like a heart attack. As in, he had one. A rather major one.

This past weekend he was admitted to an ER. They attempted a heart catheterization but found three blockages too major to handle with stints. So tomorrow or the next day they will be going in for a triple bypass. Open heart surgery.

He is currently in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Not that he is from there. He is from Northern California but was traveling on business when he had the heart issues. My mom is with him, sort of. With the Covid-19 restrictions, she is unable to actually enter the hospital and actually be “with him”. And I am here. Across the country. The semi-estranged son, responding to the situation as best I know how through text messages of support and interest.

Of course, this gets one’s mind racing through all kinds of thoughts. Due to our relationship, I had already wondered what I would do if my father ever passed away. Would I attend the funeral? Would I be emotionally/mentally in a place to face my family whom I have not seen for years upon years? Would it even be healthy for me to do so, physically or mentally? Would it be more unhealthy for me to not say “good-bye”? What does it even mean to say “good-bye” and does it matter whether it is done in person or from a distance? These questions have been thrown around in therapy, but never with any resolution. Never with any gameplan or finality. And yet, within hours, not likely, but possibly, an answer could be needed.

Of course, the pandemic adds all kinds of layers to the thinking. Or maybe not so many. There is the risk of catching Covid-19 during travel. There is the challenge of social distancing at all times, including a funeral. There is a need to self-quarantine for 14 days upon returning to my home state. And there is all the anxiety that plays into these realities for my bipolar mind to wrestle with.

I have a therapy session tomorrow. He often asks, “So, what are we going to talk about today?” and I often answer, “Well, I don’t know.”

Guess that will not be a problem this week. We will see if we can come to any finality this time around.

Present Day, March 31st, 2020

FURLOUGH – day 3

The weather has been in our favor. Right up to today. Today the temperatures have dropped 20 to 30 degrees, and the rain has moved in. I had actually been doing a pretty good job of getting outside and getting some fresh air. Not so much today. Things are more gloomy. Things are more homebound. Things are more challenging.

But nothing like what my daughter is experiencing. My daughter is really my greatest concern at this point in my life. That is because she is a senior at NYU. As in New York University. She lives in Brooklyn and is pretty much locked up like the rest of us. Unlike the rest of us, she is in many ways all alone. Hundreds of miles from home. Maybe not what she considers home anymore at 21 years of age, but what I still consider her home. And now she is trapped in the epicenter of it all.

She is smart and cautious. So I do not have to worry about that. In fact, she has not left her apartment for about five days now. No stepping outside. No fresh air for her. Totally penned up. Groceries are delivered, and needs are taken care of…for now. All of her classes have gone to remote learning, giving her something to work on and occupy her mind. At the same time, all of her classes have gone remote giving her something to mourn the loss of. Per her own words, her classes were not designed to be handled on-line. They are seminar-based classes and she misses seeing the other students and professors for interaction. She misses dreaming of a graduation that has been postponed (which may just be a fancy word for canceled). She misses the excitement of four years of college culminating in a family celebration that she has now been robbed of. In other words, she has plenty of unhealthy things to occupy her mind.

Meanwhile, I have my fears. They may not be rational, but they are real. I read the headlines, though I keep myself from reading too many of them, and read about the situation in her very city. In fact, the situation in her very hospital. It is not good. As long as she stays locked up and healthy, everything is fine. Yet if she somehow contracts this virus, things could go downhill fast. And that worries me. That gets my racing mind going. What if she is sick and all alone? What if she does not know when to get help? What if she does not get help in time?

It is a terrible thought to think of your child dying. Even worse to think of a child dying at such a young age. Even worse to think of a child dying in a hospital hallway all alone. Or on a ventilator. Or in an apartment. All incredibly morbid thoughts, but all thoughts that find their way into my somewhat paranoid cranium.

It is part of mental illness at a time like this. Part of the bipolar mind. It exasperates the worst of emotions. The fear. The fatalistic thoughts. The restlessness. Feelings of worry. And of course, all of these things lead to irritability, loss of interest in previously enjoyed activities, change in eating habits, and more.

So I struggle on. Hoping that she will be alright. Hoping that she will stay patient and stay smart. Hoping that this insidious disease will pass her door.

Present Day, November 12, 2017

There is a strange but somewhat consistent and often proven out as true phenomenon surrounding death. I have witnessed it myself. It typically centers around the passing of an elderly person. In this scenario, it is often a grandma or grandpa who has been on their deathbed for some time hanging on by god only knows what power. Everyone, including the medical professionals, anticipate that their last heartbeat would have…should have…already occurred or take place at this very moment. But it doesn’t.

In fact, it is not until a certain visitor arrives. Maybe a loved one from out of town, an estranged child, or just someone with more of a life than the ability to simply stand vigil. It is with their arrival that things begin to change. Yet the arrival is not enough. Typically there is a very specific act, let’s call it “words of release” that are uttered…and death comes. Almost instantly.

“I made it grandma. You don’t have to fight anymore. I love you. Goodbye.”

“It’s okay dad. Be at peace.”

“We promise to take care of everything. Please don’t worry anymore. Just rest.”

And the battle to stay alive ceases. The last breath is drawn. Tranquility comes.

At my worst, this is how I feel. Like I am just waiting to be released. To be freed to quit fighting the demons in my head and find peace. Maybe it is just a survival mechanism or subconscious form of self-preservation, but without that release, I struggle to take those final steps. I envision them. I feel them in the depths of my being. But I am held back by something or someone who will not allow me to “go.”

I think the suicidal urges and ideations of someone with a mental illness are maybe hardest to understand from the outside looking in. The darkness of them is impossible for me to put into words. The tangible “realness” of each impulse.

I have just come through a rather dark period. I mood chart daily and have a level that indicates a particularly bad, desperate kind of day. After having only two of them through a four-month period I had six of them in three weeks. It was rough. And there were days when I just wanted to be released. I just wanted those closest to me to indicate they would be fine without me and that I could finally end the pain. To just hear the words that would allow me to end my torment.

They weren’t spoken and I survived another fall. Is it just me? Does anyone else know how this feels? Has anyone ever longed to know that it’s okay to never again want to feel not okay?

I wonder at times how my life will end. Will I get old? Face cancer? End up in a hospital or hospice care? Whatever the scenario, I think I will be holding on loosely. And when the words come…I will go. Quickly.

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.