Doctor: “On a scale of 1 to 10 with 10 being your best day ever, how have you been feeling?”
Me: “Wow…umm…2? Maybe 3?”
Life is hard.
Doctor: “On a scale of 1 to 10 with 10 being your best day ever, how have you been feeling?”
Me: “Wow…umm…2? Maybe 3?”
Life is hard.
…lack of concentration
followed by stuck in bed…
…and more pounds
…and more reminders.
There is a strange but somewhat consistent and often proven out as true phenomenon surrounding death. I have witnessed it myself. It typically centers around the passing of an elderly person. In this scenario, it is often a grandma or grandpa who has been on their deathbed for some time hanging on by god only knows what power. Everyone, including the medical professionals, anticipate that their last heartbeat would have…should have…already occurred or take place at this very moment. But it doesn’t.
In fact, it is not until a certain visitor arrives. Maybe a loved one from out of town, an estranged child, or just someone with more of a life than the ability to simply stand vigil. It is with their arrival that things begin to change. Yet the arrival is not enough. Typically there is a very specific act, let’s call it “words of release” that are uttered…and death comes. Almost instantly.
“I made it grandma. You don’t have to fight anymore. I love you. Goodbye.”
“It’s okay dad. Be at peace.”
“We promise to take care of everything. Please don’t worry anymore. Just rest.”
And the battle to stay alive ceases. The last breath is drawn. Tranquility comes.
At my worst, this is how I feel. Like I am just waiting to be released. To be freed to quit fighting the demons in my head and find peace. Maybe it is just a survival mechanism or subconscious form of self-preservation, but without that release, I struggle to take those final steps. I envision them. I feel them in the depths of my being. But I am held back by something or someone who will not allow me to “go.”
I think the suicidal urges and ideations of someone with a mental illness are maybe hardest to understand from the outside looking in. The darkness of them is impossible for me to put into words. The tangible “realness” of each impulse.
I have just come through a rather dark period. I mood chart daily and have a level that indicates a particularly bad, desperate kind of day. After having only two of them through a four-month period I had six of them in three weeks. It was rough. And there were days when I just wanted to be released. I just wanted those closest to me to indicate they would be fine without me and that I could finally end the pain. To just hear the words that would allow me to end my torment.
They weren’t spoken and I survived another fall. Is it just me? Does anyone else know how this feels? Has anyone ever longed to know that it’s okay to never again want to feel not okay?
I wonder at times how my life will end. Will I get old? Face cancer? End up in a hospital or hospice care? Whatever the scenario, I think I will be holding on loosely. And when the words come…I will go. Quickly.
“Is it real…or is it in your head?”
I heard a version of this line recently during one of my guilty pleasures, Stranger Things. It reminded me of another question I often like to repeat: “Why is it either/or rather than both/and?”
There seems to be a suggested thought that if things are “in your head” they are not real. It is one or the other. This actually goes contrary to a rather significant pile of historical philosophy that says quite the opposite. Namely, that if something is real it is because it is “in our heads.”
More importantly to me is the fact that what is in our heads is very real to us. Depression. Suicidal ideation. Grandiosity. Voices. These are not just whims or figments of wild imaginations. For someone with a mental illness, maybe even someone without, within our minds, they are very real. And therefore, by natural consequence, outside our minds, and in our daily lives…they are real. As real as the chair I am sitting on or the computer I am blogging on. It is not some either/or declaration, which is really a way to convince us that they are not real and we just need to accept that to be healthy. It is a both/and, which really means we have to develop skills and techniques for coping with our reality of thoughts and existence.
You actually can see this portrayed in Stranger Things. Those who have experienced “the upside down” have had a very real experience which is now haunting their lives AND minds. Those who have not…are not sure what to believe. At least those who choose not to simply scoff away what they are hearing. They ask the question because we all seem at some level to desire a black and white line. Reality…or in our heads. We think they should be separated rather than embracing a merging. A merging of what people experience mentally and within their reality.
It is my belief that this merging is critical to empathizing, understanding and even helping a friend or loved one with mental illness. When someone operates from a paradigm that tries to exclude what is taking place in our minds from our reality it only makes us feel crazier. Maybe even makes us crazier. However, joining in with our paradigm, where what we are experiencing mentally IS our reality…that can remove a sense of isolation and loneliness from our lives. Not to mention providing a greater sense of unity between mind and reality for the individual attempting to administer care. And it is obviously also my belief that at some level we all would benefit from a greater merging of the two in our lives.
Not either/or. Both/and. Not “real…or in your head.” In our heads…and therefore, very real.
We should get chips.
We are expected to take our meds. Go to therapy. Get our sleep. When we do not, best case scenario we are ostracized. Worst case, we hear the old song and dance denying the existence of our illness. Our “mental” illness. But in a world that would never argue the importance of positive reinforcement, there is no system for it. At least, none that I am aware of.
Maybe we are told that our health is its own reward. True. But I think chips would be better.
If you are an alcoholic who has made a living being drunk you are rewarded when you go a week without a drink. A month. 90 days. 6 months. 9 months. A year. And you should be. Those are significant milestones on the road to recovery.
If you have abused drugs throughout your life, people applaud you as you pick up your token for seven days without abusing. 30 days. 3 months. And more.
Why? Because we live in a society that believes that when you have been facing a significant battle, it will aid your success to feel that very success. To be recognized for what you have accomplished. For people to say, “Hey, that is no small task you have just completed. Congratulations. Carry this with you and take pride when you hold it.”
Yeah, I think we should get chips.
At the end of this week I will complete one month on my new job. 30 days. Small potatoes for some people. Not for anyone with bipolar.
My wife recently congratulated me on going a year without spending a night away from home. What she meant was, on the run. Because that is an achievement for me. I panic. Depression overtakes me. I flee. And I haven’t for more than a year now. That’s noteworthy.
It has been 14 months since my hospitalization. Since I reached such a state that legal and medical intervention was necessary to keep me out of harm’s way. To keep me alive. Seems like that might be worth celebrating.
Definitely. We should get chips.
People get raises for doing their job, even though it is already what they are paid to do. Parent’s get Mother’s Day and Father’s Day gifts for being good parents, even though being anything less is really just wrong. And substance abusers receive accolades from their peers when they pass landmark days on their journey of sobriety.
Is it that absurd to suggest that an individual who suffers from a mental illness and takes all of their meds, with all of their horrific side effects, for six straight months should be congratulated? Is it that crazy (no pun intended) to think that individuals who are prone to manic or suicidal flight but stay put for 90 days should be told they are doing well? Has anyone ever thought that if we said, “Great job” to the bipolar individual who has averaged 8 hours of sleep or better for 30 days they might dig deep and find a way to pull it off for another 30 days?
Call it a hunch, but I think so. Yep, we should get chips.
The first year of this blog remained pretty strict in format. I allowed myself three choices. One, write about my 9-day hospitalization at Northwestern Memorial Hospital after a psychiatric breakdown. Two, write about life in the days that followed returning home from said hospitalization. Three, allow myself some artistic liberty to post songs of meaning to me lyrically each Saturday. That was it. That was the list.
With year two upon me, I find myself expanding my horizons. Feeling free to go where my mind may take me. Maybe some pieces of my life that led up to the actual breakdown. Possibly glimpses into my contact with other individuals facing battles with mental illness. Or in the case of today…venturing into the ever-dangerous land of recommendations.
Today’s recommendation is doubly dangerous. Why? I’m glad you asked. The reason is a simple one. I haven’t finished it. The book. The book I am about to recommend, I haven’t finished reading it. In fact, I am just over halfway through it. But have found it mesmerizing and personal enough to believe in the beauty of it regardless of the conclusions it draws.
I should note at this point that I often take that approach to a book, and recognize that not everyone is able to. I can enjoy a book even if it ends at a place of conclusion that I 100% disagree with. If it is well written. Thoughtful. Reflective. Challenging. Insightful. It can still be a read that I am glad I embarked on. Granted, the less I agree with it, the more of those things it better be in greater strength, but nevertheless, it is possible.
The book is No One Cares About Crazy People: The chaos and heartbreak of mental health in America. If the title seems harsh, just wait until you read the background leading to it. The author, Ron Powers, is no stranger to the written word having won the Pulitzer Prize and weaves a very dramatic and personal fabric throughout the text. In almost alternating fashion, chapters swing from autobiographical to a historical review dating back to the 1800s of mental health care within the United States (and even touching on a few global aspects). Having been personally touched by the plague of schizophrenia on two of his sons, it is a deeply transparent and sincere reflection. There is no attempt to be unbias. No desire to remain outside of the story. And that is likely what makes it the work that it is.
Two-thirds of the way through it, I have found myself deeply moved to sadness…anger…frustration…and at times, fear. It is a rare work based on extensive research and able to provide factual data, that is also able to express individual thoughts and takes without there being confusion within the author’s own mind or that of the readers’ as to which he is doing when.
I am not a book critic. Therefore, I will conclude my words here. Reviews and analysis can be found for those looking to investigate further before reading. I can only say that in my experience, I have not found enough of these texts. It is a book that needed to be written and needs to be joined by others. A book that gives voice to people that suffer from mental illness, and those that walk beside us. A book that continues to declare that while recent generations have promoted the “coming out of the closet” of numerous people groups, the closet is still locked for those whose minds keep them forever captive.
I look forward to the remaining 100 plus pages, and yet I don’t. The hope and the pain. The gains and the losses. Suffered by the Powers family, and others like them. But don’t take my word for it. Read his for yourself.
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.