Present Day, July 4th, 2017

10 p.m.ish to 6:30 a.m.ish

10 p.m.ish to 6:30 a.m.ish

10 p.m.ish to 6:30 a.m.ish

Eight straight days. Something I had not experienced for almost 24 months prior, and have not experienced since. Not for eight straight days. Not for even three straight days.

Being hospitalized for a mental illness is a few things. It is a chance to hit the reset button. It is an opportunity to learn some coping skills. And it is most definitely an opportunity to get rested up. It is NOT the real world. Especially my real world. Or most anyone’s.

My real world goes to bed around 7:30 p.m. on Sunday, Monday, Wednesday and Thursday. Around 9:30 p.m. on Tuesday and Friday. Around 10:30 p.m. on Saturday.

My real world wakes up at 3 a.m. on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday. 6:15 a.m. on Wednesday. 5 a.m. on Saturday. And when I fucking feel like it on Sunday.

My real world is NOT 10 p.m.ish to 6:30 a.m.ish. And if there is one single thing I miss most about the hospital…or possibly one single thing I disdain most about my job…it is this reality. The routine. The peace. The quiet. The calm. The restfulness of a circadian rhythm with a common time to bed, and time to arise. An occasional up later here or there. Sleeping in a bit longer on the weekends. Enjoying the splurge of a few weeks vacation, some holidays, and a personal day or two each year. But sleep.

I was talking to someone the other day whose path I cross in the manner of daily business. They have stayed in their position (or a similar one) with the same organization for roughly 15 years. Their longevity has earned them eight weeks of PTO (Paid Time Off) per year. They suggested that I had to consider that it was all inclusive. That was holidays, personal days, sick days, vacation days…you name it. I suggested they had to consider that was two months out of 12. One sixth of the year, less weekends. Paid.

I take off one day a week. It costs me $90 to have someone cover a portion of the tasks I would do if I worked that day. Were I to take a vacation, it would cost me a payment of $300 per day to the company that I am a distributor for. Yes, I knew this going in. No, it was not the brightest part of my decision to become an independent operator.

Why this post? Why today? Because it is July 4th. Independence Day. And American holiday if there ever was one. My hometown firework display is scheduled to begin at 10 p.m. by which point I hopefully will have been in bed for roughly three hours, and asleep for no less than 2.5 of those. I awoke at 6:30 a.m. today and headed out for a few hours of work. It would have been earlier and it would have been longer except for the fact that my wife is a champ and rose at 5 a.m. to handle a couple more hours of the work that awaited.

In days, and jobs, gone by I would have scheduled a vacation or personal day for yesterday. Gave up one day of time off to buy a four-day weekend. I even put seven years in at one company that gave off Monday when the 4th fell on a Tuesday. Why have people work on a day when you know you aren’t going to get much out of them?

Rhythm. Sleep. So critical to my mental health. So easily attainable. In the hospital that is.

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.

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.

Present Day, April 2nd, 2017

It started at 2 a.m. a few days back. March 29th to be exact. The pain came on a like a lightning bolt stabbing me in my lower back. Right side to be exact once again.

After roughly an hour of cringing, curling into a ball, and sitting on the toilet with the shower curtain wadded up in my mouth to keep from screaming and waking the rest of the house…it subsided. Until 4 a.m. When it hit again.

Needless to say, the Wednesday morning 6:30 a.m. alarm came far too early. Though fortunately for me that any other day of the week the attack would have hit in the midst of my launch of the 3 a.m. workday. I attributed both attacks to something I had eaten the night before. Maybe too much dairy. I have always had a rather sensitive system. And with the pain gone for the time being, it seemed like it must have been something temporary.

Until roughly 4:30 p.m. that same day. When it struck again. This time, harder than ever. This time, powerful enough to leave me vomiting into the toilet. This time, too strong to ignore. I had heard of pain that could make you throw up, but I had never felt it. Until now.

My wife and I attempted Urgent Treatment Center no. 1. A 90 minute waited with a way overcrowded waiting room. Especially for the display of pain and nauseau I was experiencing. Urgent Treatment Center no. 2. 45-minute wait (I’m not sure these people understand the definition of the word “urgent”). It didn’t take that long for them to notice my pain, and by the time I was escorted to an exam room they indicated they would never be able to run the tests needed or provide the pain medication necessary for the condition they thought I was clearly facing. Namely…kidney stones.

Off to stop no. 3. The Emergency Room. A few hours later, two shots in my ass containing anti-inflammatories, muscle relaxants, and more importantly – morphine! A CT scan, and sure enough, the discovery of an 8mm kidney stone which I was simply and initially advised by a nurse was a “pretty good size stone.”

While I awaited the doctor and further instruction, I found this on my phone indicating that my little 8mm gem fit the worse case scenario of both sides of the graphic –

The doctor provided further pain medications and a few other necessary prescriptions along with a follow-up appointment with a urologist within the next 48 hours to resolve the challenge I was facing. The next day we would discover that the referral was “out of network” and that an “in network” provided could not see me until the coming Tuesday afternoon. Yep, that’s right, six days from the initial attack (still 2 more days from today!).

These are the big things for normal humans that can become the unmanageable things by bipolar people. My wife joined me at 3 a.m. the next two days for work as the pain medications had me so drugged I could hardly stay awake while driving down the interstate. The same pain medications that can leave you plunging into the lethargy of depression, a state that I happened to have just pulled myself out of about 10 days ago (see recent posts). Not to mention the anxiety and unknown of when the next attack will come. The compounding stress and reality of mounting medical bills. The fear of exercise or strenuous movement that could once again dislodge the stone and send me into excruciating pain resulting in becoming stagnant for a number of days and giving inactivity the opportunity to dig its claws deeper into my life with weight gain and unhealthy daily life practices.

I don’t believe in god, and part of the reason is simply a hope. A hope that he or she doesn’t exist. Because if the mother fucker does he is an unrelenting bastard that can’t seem to find it within his means to just leave me alone for awhile. An abusive childhood. Teenage suicide attempts. An adult life battling bipolar. A heart attack two years ago. A mental breakdown last year. A multi-thousand dollar kidney stone trauma this year. I have to hope that there isn’t some being up there who could look down upon me, along with millions of others, and just say…“You know, I think he has probably had enough for awhile. Let’s just let him be.” Yeah, I’d rather just hope he doesn’t exist. Believe he doesn’t exist.

60 more hours to go. Hoping that a relatively tiny ass stone, though rather big ass in the perspective of its location, stays put and doesn’t send me back to the bathroom shrieking in pain. Back to the pain killers falling back into the haze. Hoping that this next life stretch can be navigated and maybe, just maybe a period of normalcy experienced.

Unless of course, this just is normalcy, in which case…well…my bipolar mind is best not going there.

Friday, September 2nd, 10:15 a.m.

“Your insurance is ass.”

It could not have been said more accurately. Yet it was still a bit of a surprise coming from her professional mouth.

We were in our discharge meeting preparing to review financial obligations. My wife, myself, and the social worker. She had walked in the door, greeted us, and opened the meeting with, “Okay, so, your insurance is ass.”

As sole proprietors of a business, and myself the sole employee, we obtained our insurance through the Affordable Care Act (which I remain a fan of). It had a $5,000 deductible, a $6,875 out-of-pocket maximum, and a drug formulary deductible on top of all that. We are talking ‘hasn’t been wiped in a month baby’s ass’ bad.

Here is the thing, and I don’t claim to know the solution, but it doesn’t seem like the best way to send someone off from their recovery from a complete mental health breakdown is to hand them a $7,000 bill that they have no idea how they could ever pay. It is kind of like handing out those little shot bottles of liquor as parting gifts at AA meetings. However, that is what we were facing. Our portion would be $6,875 plus whatever meds I needed filled to continue the drugs I had received in treatment. In practical terms for us, just under 4 months of my take home pay. I might have to sell use of my ass on street corners back home to pay it.

The social worker was sweet and did all she could to help. She advised us of grant assistance that was available and how to apply (still waiting for final word on that after 5 months). She gave us vouchers for meds at the in-hospital Walgreen’s that ended up valued at hundreds of dollars and set me up for 30 days. She did all that she could, including lightening the moment with that opening we will never forget.

We will never forget the details of the bill either. Just over $32,000 for 8 days. Including $125 for each 45 minute recreational therapy session. I enjoyed them. But there were eight of us in supervised coloring and board games. Doesn’t one grand for a small room and a supervisor playing Scategories with us seem a bit excessive?

The most shocking charge was the psychological profile completed of myself. It included 15 minutes of assesment instruction, 90 minutes of direct assessment, an hour reviewing the results with me (fairly insightful), and whatever time was spent by the psychologist reviewing the assesments. Final tab…Eight Large. As in, $8,000. And that didn’t even earn us a copy of the results. We had to request those upon returning home.

Yep, our insurance was…is ass. Unfortunately, only one thing comes out of there.

Present Day, February 5th, 2017

It was a pretty logical response. Fairly in line with what I expected. Mainly surprise. Possibly with a slight undertone of shock. Throw in a dash of disturbed. But again, mostly what I saw coming.

I had just told my wife that there were times I missed being in the hospital. The psychiatric ward. Inpatient treatment. Yesterday was the five month anniversary of my returning home, and it was not without its nostalgic reflections on the upsides of my time there. I knew some explanation would be necessary. And I also knew she would be open to hearing it and receiving it without offense. She’s loving like that.

So we talked for awhile about this emotional challenge of mine with the following points being shared –

One, there is a freedom from stress in freedom from responsibility. I have five children that I love and care about. A wife who I am deeply tied to. A turtle, dog, 17 chickens…and now a cat. All a part of my life routine. However, all of these things come with varying levels of responsibility that add to the stress and tension of anyone’s life, let alone someone struggling through a challenging period of their mental illness. There is something about waking up in an environment where those responsibilities are out of your grasp.

Two, there is a lack of panic in leaving behind financial burdens. Now, I couldn’t fully experience this because I knew that the business I owned was awaiting my return back home or would fall back into the hands of a larger entity. My wife could only keep it afloat for so long. However, for some patients without jobs or personal ownership of a corporation, the burden of finances can quickly disappear in a hospital, and to some degree even for me. You see, I knew my “out of pocket” health insurance max, and I knew how much a hospital stay runs. It only took a moment of math to know 48 hours in that my respite was no longer costing us anymore from a treatment standpoint whether I was there one more or ninety more days.

Third, who doesn’t appreciate an environment where you really don’t have to be an adult for awhile. My food showed up three times a day as predicted. Monotonous and bland at times? Yes. But predictable, and for many of us with mental illnesses…finding routine and predictability can be half the battle. Or more! Laundry was free, if I even wanted to do it. Socks. Gowns. Bedsheets. Towels. All provided. Hell, someone even cleaned my room. Not quite like a Hilton, but a helluva lot easier than keeping said home with humans and animals clean.

Fourth, anonymity. I started with a name. And that was it. From there, anything anyone knew about me was of my choosing. Clean slate. I had a first name and had obviously flipped my shit to some degree somewhere out there. That was it. My identity from that point forward was all in my control. No history. No past. No future. No present. Just a name. And that may sound like a lack of an identity. And a lack of an identity may sound like a very sad existence, but when you have loathed and hated what has become of your identity over a 47 year period…anonymity makes a stay in a psych ward quite appealing.

Fifth, I was at a really good psychiatric unit (Northwestern Memorial Hospital). Not just the physical facility, which was outstanding, but the staff. They really cared. Maybe I would have outworn my welcome. But I surely didn’t in the eight days I was there. They listened. They were helpful. They offered insight. They were available. They invested. They cared. Aside from loved ones, that can be pretty damn hard to find out here. And can alone be enough to make you want to be back in there.

Well, there are other reasons, but you get the idea. At least she, my wife, did. I shared how there were individuals in with me who seemed to have begun to make a living staying “inpatient”, and to some degree I could see why. More so on my stressed out days. Yet maybe a little bit always.

Five months ago I stepped out onto the sidewalks of the Miracle Mile in Chicago and breathed in the September air amongst the hustle and bustle of pedestrians and automobile traffic. I was glad to be going home, but it felt a little different. A little uncertain. A little scary.

That feeling hasn’t gone away. And every now and then I can picture waking up on that little twin hospital bed, putting on my double tied gown, heading down the hall toward the small dining room for breakfast and think…yeah, I miss that.