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.

Present Day, January 24, 2017

Tonight I will pop my first Risperdal. For those of you who don’t know, much like me a few weeks ago, it is an antipsychotic often utilized for treating people with schizophrenia, autism irritability, and in my case…Bipolar.

Following another rough spell a few weeks ago, it was determined that an up in my Depakote and the addition of another medication may be warranted. Once again, for those of you who don’t know, this shit is pretty tough to get right. For example, when I’m put on 1250 mg of Depakote following 8 days of inpatient treatment and chug along in pretty good health for a few months…is it because of the Depakote or because of my quality treatment at Camp Northwestern Memorial Hospital? You never really know until the next crash, and maybe not even then.

So…here we go again. The original plan was a fairly new drug called Latuda. That is the brand name for it. My name for it is “Turn Around and Bend Over and Take It Up the Ass Twice Daily.” Why? Because it came in at just over $400 for a 30 day supply or a cool $1,100 for a 90 day by mail supply. Seriously, thank you Mr. Big Pharma for wanting to do your community service to those of us in the throws of mental health challenges. (sarcasm)

Plan B switched over to Abilify. A much better plan at $40 per month or $120 for a 90 day supply, but still enough to make me want to cry on top of therapy costs, the other 10 pills I take each day, and god knows what else hits my pocket-book over the next 11 months that make up the dream year of our Trump 2017.

Finally, which is actually a pretty appropriate way to phrase it as it involved almost two weeks, plenty of conversations and voice mails, and more people than ever should have had to be involved, we have landed on Risperdal. $5 for 30 days, $12.50 for 90. YES!

Of course, the list of side effects is long and illustrious, including increased hunger which should help me keep up my post-hospital pace of weight gain. Drowsiness and trouble sleeping are on the list (don’t ask…I did, and it makes my brain hurt thinking of the answer), which for a borderline insomniac who has to get up for work at 3 a.m. could be an interesting piece of my life puzzle. And on the more serious list, “painful, prolonged erections” which at my age does not seem like a problem at all (nor do I think my wife will see it as one).

I once again need relief. The depression is one thing, I’m learning how to rest my way through those bouts. But the racing mind…so exhausting. While attempting to nap today, I literally awoke to my own snoring. At the time, I was deeply immersed in a dream, whilst simultaneously writing this blog in another part of my mind, and in yet another cavern fighting back the inner demons that never seem to need a rest (thus last Saturday’s Musical Truth).

Bipolar is rarely treated with a single drug. If a cocktail is discovered, it rarely stays consistent in mix and dosages for the long-term. It is an unscientific crap shoot (not a term the professionals would use, but one that many of them will admit to). This is my next shot. Will see if it works…or just produces an even larger pile of crap.

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.”

Thursday, August 25th, 10:26 p.m.

It is right there in the notes. The patient log. A direct physician’s order to provide me with 50 mg of Seroquel my first night in the psychiatric unit. Something to help me sleep, which I had basically not accomplished to a significant extent for more than 48 hours and to a healthy extent for weeks. Not to mention its assistance with depression and Bipolar Disorder.

However, it never came. In fact, I went to bed that night finding it extremely odd that after more than 12 hours in “protective custody”, emergency room care, and settling into the psych ward I had yet to place a single pill in my mouth. Not even a Tylenol PM.

Looking back, I fell asleep relatively quickly and slept relatively well. With significant emphasis being continually placed on “relatively.” Let’s face it, I was completely wiped out. Trashed. And I was resigned. For the moment. There would be future bouts and attempts to take back control of my situation, but not now. There was no way I was getting out of this room, in this ward, in this hospital, in this city on this night.

So I laid on the bed. The door was cracked with a stream of light coming in from the darkened halls. At the time, I assumed I was not allowed to close it completely. Subsequently I would learn otherwise, though leaving it open sure made the periodical nurse visits to check my vital signs and bed checks a bit more peaceful.

A mattress, sheet set, and pillow that would have on almost any other night of my life made sleep nearly impossible felt unusually comfortable compared to the lawns, benches, and train seats I had attempted to rest upon for the past two days on the run. The blinds had been left open to my right. A window that largely covered the entire spans of that wall in my room. The night lights of Chicago that could find their way to the 14th floor twinkled and flickered.

I do not remember all my thoughts of that evening, nor how long I remained awake. This one thing I do remember feeling deep down inside my heart…I was a mere shell of whoever I was born to be. The seven-year-old boy playing Little League. The 8th-grade member of the Junior High basketball team. The High School All-Northern California Honor Band trumpet player. The honor student. The Master’s Degree recipient. The husband. The father. The sole proprietor. They were all titles. All history. All accomplishments that seemed to belong to someone else.

Not a different person. The same physical body. But someone else. Someone other than this man lying on this bed in this room on this night. What was left of the mind of this man. What was left of the emotional stability and strength of this man. It had once again been fractured and broken in a more profound way than any of the times before.

And I had no idea if there would be found even enough left of “me” to truly constitute the person that was me.