Present Day, May 7th, 2017

There is this thing called “The Wise Mind”. If you are not familiar with it, here is the 30-second overview.

It is assumed that we operate through two different lenses within our mind. There is the Reasonable Mind. The Reasonable Mind is largely based on research. Statistics. The ability to make decisions based on the information that is provided. Analysing it and thinking it through to a “reasonable” solution.

Then there is the Emotional Mind. The Emotional Mind is largely based on…well, emotions. Whichever ones are present at the time: fear, anxiety, joy, happiness, anger, stress, and the list goes on and on. The emotions of the moment hold sway in bringing about an “emotional” decision.

The Wise Mind is located in the Venn diagram overlap. It is able to take reasonable information, combine it with emotional feedback, and come to a place of wise decision making.

Healthy people spend the majority of their time operating from the position of the Wise Mind. Especially as the decision looms larger with its ramifications and impacts. However, I would contend that MOST people operate with at least some leaning towards the Reasonable Mind or the Emotional Mind. Not necessarily an unhealthy leaning, but a bias none the less. This contention on my part is not without plenty of agreeance, potentially including yourself. It is all very similar to the right brain/left brain theories many of us grew up listening to.

I would also contend that unhealthy people (especially HIGHLY unhealthy people) are operating from an almost exclusive Reasonable or Emotional mind position. AND…that as you delve into the world of emotionally or mentally ill individuals, you will find an exclusive mind operation in many instances.

Which brings me (or us) to me (or us). Here is what I believe I have learned about myself recently through reading, studying, reflecting and therapy interaction regarding the Wise Mind.

First, on a day-to-day basis, I have grown up through the first 40-plus years of my life operating with a Reasonable Mind largely to the exclusion of the Emotional Mind. I thrive on intellect. Logic. Information. Data. Facts. The tangibles. Let me emphasise, not only with a leaning towards the Reasonable Mind but with a barrier being erected to block out the Emotional Mind. And for a given period of time, things progress rather smoothly.

Then along comes a trigger event. A piece of information. A moment of activity. A human interaction. Something that the Reasonable Mind can not make sense of. It simply cannot handle it in and of itself. However, due to the barrier, rather than being able to move into the locale of the Wise Mind, the pendulum radically swings to break through the wall into the Emotional Mind causing a complete meltdown. Now decisions instantly begin to be made from strictly an emotional point of view. Illogical. Radical. Fear founded decisions.

Proactive becomes reactive. Rational becomes irrational. Informed becomes ignorant.

Looking back, the people who have witnessed these swings in my life have most often responded to my rantings with “You aren’t making any sense.” (i.e. Not reasonable) Or “What’s going on?” (i.e. This isn’t making any sense) Maybe “Where is this coming from?” (i.e. These dots don’t logically connect)

It’s coming from a place of complete imbalance. A mind operating like a teeter-totter with the evil kid on the playground doing that thing where he pushes off the ground with all his might to send you on a downward death spiral only to immediately drop his fat ass to the ground again and shoot you right back up in the air.

Ironically enough, the solution seems quite logical. As I operate from the place of the Reasonable Mind I need to continually be pressing myself to open up more and more emotionally so that I might find myself moving towards center. Towards the home of the Wise Mind.

Problem is, one of the other factors working in the Reasonable Mind is past experiences. And past experience tells me this side of the wall is where I want to stay.

Present Day, March 26th, 2017

Today is a personal retreat day for me. I’m loaded and prepared. My Chromebook, headphones, journal, novel, Kindle, A Guide to Rational Living, and of course…I will go through copious amounts of iced coffee.

My wife and I pre-planned a number of these retreat weekends throughout the year. Time for me to catch my breath, and try to reset anything that might be trying to misfire in my mind. I say “weekends” because that is the goal. So far, personal calendars and weather have transitioned them to single day getaways, which is fine for now. However, as winter gives way to spring, summer and fall…I look forward to hauling the camper out for overnight trips with a little more nature and a little less corporate America.

Today? This will do.

There is an agenda, but a loose one. An alternating of mediums between productivity (such as blogging), relaxation (such as likely taking in an episode of my newest addiction…The Blacklist), and mental health productivity (such as getting down some life application notes from my journey through Abert Ellis’s book). But it is loose. I won’t feel guilty if I don’t achieve all of these things (at least, that is what I am telling myself at 9:15), and I haven’t set times as to when I will move between events or activities. Just going with the flow. As much as I know how to.

If you have mental health issues, or a beating heart, you should schedule some of these.

If you have a significant other with mental health issues, or a beating heart, you should allow them to.

While we all seem to thrive in various levels of community, I believe we also all have needs of resetting as individuals.

It is no magic formula or guarantee of sanity. It is just what we are doing. What we had recommended to us to do. And what for today, I’m glad (and thankful to my wife who is covering the family business and kids) I have the opportunity to do.

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.

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 8th, 2017

I need him to like me best. Not want. Not wish. Need.

No amount of study regarding rational emotions. No therapy. No medication. It does not appear that anything will change that. And that isn’t even the worst part.

He is a cat. A type of animal I have distained all my life and vowed never to share a domicile with. He’s not even my cat. My wife’s Valentine’s Day gift cat. And it gets even worse.

The moment prompting this reflection involved an elementary school age daughter. It appears that during the previous night when I was thoroughly drugged and thought the loyal feline was by my side, he had ventured to her room. Spent some time with her. Checked out some of the other relational options in the house.

Nope. We aren’t there yet. But we are getting closer. This  information saddened me. Then it frustrated me. Then…wait for it…it angered me. All within a rapidly escalatory matter of moments. So I attempted to come to the rescue of my absurd emotions.

“Well, you might have to start closing your door when you go to bed. We can’t have him waking you up on school nights.”

If you think this sounds like ridiculously childish behavior for a grown man, you’re right. It is. And now we have arrived.

Upon reflecting on these emotions for this cat and the subsequent interaction with my daughter, the internal humiliation begins. The loathing. The anger. The self-hatred.

It is a life cycle for myself. For thousands of us with Bipolar. For millions of us with a mental illness. We experience immature, over reaching, inappropriate emotions for a given situation. All of our therapy and treatment goes out the window as onlookers think we should just “grow up” or “get over” ourselves. Then, later, we do. And the knife cuts very deep. The knife of misunderstanding of what drove our motives. The knife of embarrassment. The knife of shame.

This time I started to binge eat. Some pretzels. A peanut butter and jelly roll-up. A Ding Dong. Child food for the grown man who had behaved like a child. And with each bite, I had another reason to hate himself.

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.