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.

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, 9 p.m.

I entered the room with no idea what to expect. I had been in a psychiatric ward before. Maybe 20 years earlier to visit someone. Scared the hell out of me. I had been in a hospital much more recently. Could never stand them. I had even held a job that required regular visits to a local detention center and watched plenty of movies or shows involving prisons.

In other words, my mind had plenty of memorized context for the sensory input it was about to receive. Which may or may not be helpful considering I was only barely able to hold myself up at this point due to the combination of my peaked physical exhaustion and complete emotional meltdown.

The nurse opened the door, reached inside, turned on a light and I shuffled in behind wearing my stunning ensemble of matching hospital gowns with tan slipper-socks trimmed those indiscriminate white rubber zig-zags to keep my feet from sliding out from under me.

To my right the wall stretched the entire length of the room. This was the wall that the headboard of the bed rested up against. A much simpler bed for a hospital. Lacking all the up and down incline gizmos and buttons. Just a simple headboard and footboard with a typical twin size, blue plastic lined box spring and mattress. It was unmade with two pillows, folded sheets and a blanket laying on top of it. On the wall was also a dry erase board. Not like a typical 2 x 2 one that I was used to seeing in a hospital declaring who my doctor and nurse for the day were. No, this one was large. Very large. Maybe more like 5 feet tall by 4 feet wide. While it did list the medical professionals on shift, the majority of it was designed to provide a morning to evening schedule for my day. Most of which was blank. Made sense for a new arrival at this time of day.

Straight across from the doorway was a wall that primarily consisted of three components. On the right side in the corner, joining up with the fairly plain wall I just described was a floor to ceiling wooden shelf unit. Sort of a closet with a door, but instead of a bar for hangers (or as I would later put together…for hanging myself) it simply had spaced shelves for folding my belongings and placing them in the closet. It was only 18″ or two feet wide, and then met a window that covered the entirety of the remainder of the wall. From desk height to ceiling. Looking out over the Chicago night. It was double-paned with the blind actually enclosed between the glasses. On the opposite wall was a switch that provided electronic control of the blinds. The panes looked extremely thick, which I am sure was also protective as in the days to come I would ponder throwing my desk chair through them and plunging myself to my death on the sidewalk below.

From the closet to the far wall was a single piece of marble or some stone. Interior design has never been my thing. It started about a foot lower than desk height and ran for about three feet as a sort of window seat. Over the next eight days, it would become one of my favorite places in the hospital. Then it rose to desk height and ran the remainder of the wall. There was a simple chair under the desk.

After a brief wall starting just to the left of the doorway was another doorway. This led to the bathroom. Similar to a handicap accessible bathroom at any other facility, this one was designed to provide everything in a single, undisturbed flow. As I discovered with the closet, this had to be very purposeful. No way to hang myself. No way to even harm myself. Even the toilet was of a very strange, almost indescribable form including a massive ring that would make it nearly impossible to even significantly harm myself with in any manner. If one wanted to hurt themselves in here, the primary choice would be bashing your head against the wall with whatever will you could muster. Otherwise, you were out of luck. No shower curtain. No hand rails. Even the place for soap or shampoo was a natural cut out of the material which the walls were made of.

The same held true for the sink, mirror, and beauty area outside the bathroom that consumed most of the rest of the remaining wall to the left of the door. Like the shower and toilet, no faucets or handles. Just small silver push buttons to provide the desired effect.

Strangely enough, there was an air of “nice” to it all at the same time. The subway tile in the bathroom, the small floor tiles, the marble (or psuedo-marble) material used for the desk, the electronic blinds with some amazing views of one of America’s largest cities. Yes, it was institutional…and clearly a hospital…but at the same time, I couldn’t help think a few days later that it was a few tweaks or modifications away from a reasonably impressive studio apartment. One not that much smaller than I had inhabited for 13 months of my life not that long ago. One that could probably fetch a pretty penny at this height in the sky and with these views in a city such as this.

All those thoughts would come at a later hour. At this hour the thoughts were simpler. More primal:

“I’m so tired.”

“How long will I be here?”

“What will tomorrow look like?”

…and the main one…

“No one here knows me. I don’t have to ‘be’ anyone in particular. Tomorrow morning, I get to define who I am and what I look like to these people. That seems very freeing.”