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.
The scene unfolded in a time decades before. Possibly the 50s or 60s. In a remote Texas or Oklahoma like town. Possibly Kansas where there seemed to be more dust than asphalt and more sheriffs than police. It was early enough for people to still be out on the streets and late enough for them to be scattered as darkness fell. It was a time when he knew the law was as likely to invoke immediate justice as they were to allow a court of law to do the same.
He hopped on the first bus. He was wearing a long, dark brown trench coat under which he concealed one hand holding a long, kitchen style chopping knife. The blade still clean, shining and sharp for use. He made eye contact with no one. Said no words. Gave no indication of his looming plan.
A few stops went by, and then he sprung his plan into action. He stepped off the bus and walked roughly a block down the street. Then he began to cut between streets and blocks heading towards the path of another bus route. Roughly halfway there he approached a random individual from behind. He grabbed them by the shoulder, spun them around, and with a quick, violent motion thrust the blade into their gut. Almost before they could audibly express their pain or register shock on their face he withdrew the blade allowing the victim to fall to the street, and began his run.
He knew the clock had started and it was now only a matter of time. As he crossed city blocks in an up-tempo jog he spotted the next city bus coming. Desiring to avoid any human contact and prolong the carnage as long as possible he waited for the bus to come to a stop and approached it from behind. When it began to depart, he jumped on the bumper grabbing hold of whatever grip he could find with his free hand and rode the bus for a few city blocks.
He then jumped from the bus, began crisscrossing his way across town and enacted the plan once again.
Another thrust of the knife. Another innocent victim fell.
He found no joy in this. No pleasure or rush. Merely, he felt this was how it must end.
This went on for three, four, maybe a half-dozen victims until he noticed between bus hops that he had made a mistake and somehow managed to jump on an earlier bus route looping himself back towards where he started, and into a net of law enforcement. Now it was time to find out how this would end.
He could see an officer in front of him, and another approaching from behind. He fell to his knees, dropped his knife, and intertwined his fingers behind his head. A clear sign of surrender. Hands ready to be cuffed. Justice ready to be carried out.
That is when he noticed it. The approaching officer was holding a knife. A very large knife. As the officer drew closer, he realized it was not a knife at all, rather a machete. And it was at that moment he became aware of what type of justice he would be facing. He turned slightly to catch a glimpse of the officer behind him and could see the shine of a restaurant style steak knife in his hand. That would be the officer who would reach him first, and he would not go down without a fight.
As contact was made they began to grapple with the knife causing both parties to get nicked and cut. By this time the machete bearing officer had arrived along with another, and they were simultaneously taking hacks at this heinous criminal’s limbs. He felt the first significant strike cut into the calf muscle of his leg.
I felt the first significant strike cut into the calf muscle of my leg. And then another. I began to toss and turn. Wrestling with the officers, feeling the pain of the cuts. I began to moan and prepared to cry out when my eyes popped open, and I sat up in my bed. Heart racing. Terrified. But once again aware of my surroundings and reality.
In some ways, this was nothing new. I have had nightmares since I was a small child that resulted in my waking up with screams of terror. So many that my parents eventually resorted to simply shouting from their room, “You’re okay. Go back to sleep.” But I wasn’t okay. I’m not okay.
The dreams always focused on my death. Acts that should result in my death but never did. Endless gun shots. Falls. Car wrecks. Stabbings. More than a human would ever withstand in any one instance. But in my dreams…in my nightmares…I would never die. Just kept experiencing the pain.
This was different. I was the man in the dream. At the start, I was the man hurting others.
I got on a train in August of last year. I was taken into protective custody. Custody to protect me from me. Custody to protect others from expressions I had shared indicating that I was thinking about carrying out acts against others. Others who have hurt me. Others who have told me I’m okay.
But I wasn’t okay. I’m not okay.
There’s an infestation in my mind’s imagination,
I hope that they choke on smoke ’cause I’m smoking them out the basement,
This is not rap, this is not hip-hop,
Just another attempt to make the voices stop,
Rapping to prove nothing, just writing to say something,
‘Cause I wasn’t the only one who wasn’t rushing to sayin’ nothing,
This doesn’t mean I lost my dream,
It’s just right now I got a really crazy mind to clean.
Gangsters don’t cry,
Therefore, therefore I’m,
Mr. Misty-eyed, therefore I’m.
Can you save, can you save my—
Can you save my heavydirtysoul?
Can you save, can you save my—
Can you save my heavydirtysoul?
For me, for me, uh
Can you save my heavydirtysoul?
For me, for me, uh
Can you save my heavydirtysoul?
Nah, I didn’t understand a thing you said,
If I didn’t know better I’d guess you’re all already dead,
Mindless zombies walking around with a limp and a hunch,
Saying stuff like, “You only live once.”
You’ve got one time to figure it out,
One time to twist and one time to shout,
One time to think and I say we start now,
Sing it with me if you know what I’m talking about.
Death inspires me like a dog inspires a rabbit.
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…
Three months ago to the date my mind came unhinged. Three months ago to the day I was taken into protective custody. After more than 24 hours on the run. After the involvement of law enforcement officials from at least two different states. I was determined to be a danger to myself, and therefore to others. I was detained. Admitted to Northwestern Memorial Hospital. Checked into the Psychiatric Unit. Began my first even inpatient treatment for Bipolar II.
Today in America is Thanksgiving Day. A day of mass family gatherings. Mass eating. Mass focus on what we are “thankful” for.
So, the question is asked, and the response is in many ways almost expected –
“What are you thankful for?”
“I’m thankful just to be alive.”
Except, and I know this will not be popular with many or even understood by most, it just isn’t that easy.
I look at it this way. There is this vast spectrum. On one end of the spectrum is “I am thankful to be alive.” On the other end of the spectrum is “I wish I was dead.” But in the middle is this massive gray area. The area where I, and I am guessing many people with mental illness, live many of our days.
Don’t jump too quickly to conclusions. This is not a declaration of being suicidal. In fact, maybe quite the opposite. It is a declaration of being alive enough to be honest. To be real. To be transparent. To recognize that “thankful to be alive” is way too simple of a response to describe where we live. Mentally. Emotionally.
Than what am I today? I have thought about that throughout the week. I am tired. Staying mentally and emotionally healthy is exhausting. To say the least. For each warning sign I have previously written about [Saturday, August 27th (Hospitalization Day 3)] there are seemingly countless activities needed to combat them.
And there are therapy sessions to attend. Meds to take. The financial implications of both to fret over. Books to read for their daily practical applications. Reminders to set. Situations to avoid. All while attending to work, family, and spouse. Fulfilling the roles that life brings the way of any given individual. Roles that don’t get suspended just because one struggles with a mental illness. And just like those roles grow tiring for the common person…as I see it through my bias eyes, exponentially so for someone living daily with Bipolar, or Schizophrenia, or Borderline Personality Disorder, or Manic Depression, or countless other diseases.
Is it possible to be thankful that I am not dead without being thankful that I’m alive? To be thankful for the many daily experiences that bring me joy, or peace, or love, or happiness, while simultaneously having the occasionally wandering mind to the eternal rest of simply no longer being?
For me, and I venture to guess many others, the answer is “Yes”. The answer is that there is this gray area in the between. A gray area that fills that space of pause when someone looks at me and says, “So, what are you thankful for?”
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.