February 11th, 2017 – Musical Truths

There’s an infestation in my mind’s imagination,
I hope that they choke on smoke ’cause I’m smoking them out the basement,
This is not rap, this is not hip-hop,
Just another attempt to make the voices stop,
Rapping to prove nothing, just writing to say something,
‘Cause I wasn’t the only one who wasn’t rushing to sayin’ nothing,
This doesn’t mean I lost my dream,
It’s just right now I got a really crazy mind to clean.

Gangsters don’t cry,
Therefore, therefore I’m,
Mr. Misty-eyed, therefore I’m.

Can you save, can you save my—
Can you save my heavydirtysoul?
Can you save, can you save my—
Can you save my heavydirtysoul?
For me, for me, uh
Can you save my heavydirtysoul?
For me, for me, uh
Can you save my heavydirtysoul?

Nah, I didn’t understand a thing you said,
If I didn’t know better I’d guess you’re all already dead,
Mindless zombies walking around with a limp and a hunch,
Saying stuff like, “You only live once.”
You’ve got one time to figure it out,
One time to twist and one time to shout,
One time to think and I say we start now,
Sing it with me if you know what I’m talking about.

Death inspires me like a dog inspires a rabbit.

Present Day, January 15, 2017

I started at a very young age. Maybe five. Possibly earlier. It was just what we did in my family. The first lessons came from my mother. My sister had started them a couple years before me. My brother would follow a few after. Once we outgrew my mother’s ability to push us any further, or was too busy due to outside employment, or the drive to mold us into mad over achievers overcame her teaching skills my parents passed us on to a professional. A very rigid, classical instructor. I can still picture him.

So from a very early age until my junior high years I would give hours each week to sitting down on the bench, in front of the ebony and ivory keys and practicing my piano. And I became quite good. Was even what many would call a bit of a natural. Purely classical in training and repertoire. Rigid in posture and structure. Bred to succeed.

At some point we each picked up a secondary instrument. As memory serves me, this was also mandatory. Not a choice. The choice was the instrument. For my older sister, flute…though later replaced by the saxophone. Or visa-versa. For my younger brother, the drums. Always, the drums. For me, the trumpet.

School bands, and private lessons. To commend my parents, no expense was spared for either instrument. Though the expense came with a price. We would perform whenever, where ever, and for whomever they required it. Often against my will. Often kicking and screaming. Often ending in my humiliation.

However, again, I was good. Even better than at piano. All Northern California Honor Band good by my senior year of high school. United States Naval Academy good my freshman year of college. A little more diverse this time. Classical. Jazz. Spiritual. Marching.

Music was in my blood. To the point of serving as drum major of the high school marching band. I had no trouble reading music. Playing it. Transposing it. Fully engaging in it. And practicing it for hours on end between the two instruments daily.

My senior year of high school also launched another creative part of my life. Acting. With no previous experience and no participation in the drama department, I auditioned for the school play and was awarded a leading part. This paired with debate and public speaking right into my college years. Intercollegiate competitions across the western states winning awards in impromptu speaking, extemporaneous, and with the drama background…reader’s theater.

Believe me, I do not tell you all this to brag. Rather, to confess a regret.

The piano was surrendered in almost its entirety by high school. Allowed by my parents having put in my obligatory number of years to earn the freedom of choice. The trumpet passed during college, and my instrument was formally donated to a young man in need of a better one just a few years later (it was a beautiful, silver, Bach Stradivarius…musicians out there will know what that means!). Acting? Theater? Never again.

The connectivity between arts. Music. Drama. And mental illness. Bipolar. They aren’t hard to find. They are not challenging to locate throughout history.

From Robert Schumann to Demi Lovato. Vivien Leigh to Carrie Fisher. Van Gogh to Virginia Woolf.

How did these people get famous while battling a mental illness? My theory? Their creativity helped provide an outlet for their mental illness. Rather than the illness stifling their lives, it placed within them the type of mind, that while often maddening, spurred the ability for creative greatness.

Back to my regret, which potentially has nothing to do with the previous three paragraphs, I regret that my creativity died. That my ability to make music passed.

Last year I attempted to re-engage with the piano. The struggle was too great. The frustration. The reality of playing worse, much worse, at 47 than I was able to at 12 or 13. The fact that what used to flow so easily now seemed nearly impossible.

Since leaving the hospital last September I have been aware of what a shell of a person I am compared to what I used to be and/or what I could have been. I think this has a lot to do with it. I was created…or born…or wired…or whatever philosophy and/or theology works for you…to be creative. It was in me. It was a gift. And it is gone. Not taken away. It has died.

And with it, a piece of me. A large, vibrant, positive reinforcing piece of me.

I have returned to listening to a lot of music lately. A large variety of music. With a massive dose of classical mixed in. It has stirred something in me.

Not something that can fill that void. But something alive. Something better than dead.

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.

Thursday, August 25th, Late Morning

Time was no longer of any relevance to me. I knew I had stepped onto the train at roughly 1:30 a.m. I knew that I had stepped off in Chicago roughly 10 hours later with a time change. Sometime around 10 a.m. I knew that I had lasted less than 5 minutes in Union Station before being taken into protective custody by Amtrak police. Since then…I knew nothing of time.

I had been searched, along with my possessions. Phone calls had been made by the authorities. Questions asked. I had been placed in an Amtrak Police Department SUV and transported through downtown Chicago to Northwestern Memorial Hospital. I had sat in a registrar’s chair with the police standing over my shoulders and answered the most basic of questions that come out of our mouths by reflex.

Now I was sitting in a triage station. The police were still standing watch at the edge of the partially drawn curtain. We were joined by two members of the hospital security team. Also with badges, but clearly not with the level of training or authority that a police officer has experienced. They were wearing latex gloves and began asking me for a number of personal possessions to be placed in sealed bags, cataloged and locked in a hospital safe that god only knows the location of.

Drivers license. Credit cards. Cash. Insurance cards. Items of value less my clothes and cell phone. Listed out by number. Placed in those FedEx like vinyl envelopes that you tear the strip off and glue seal to itself. I was handed a pen, the first time I can remember someone actually making something available to me, and asked to sign as to my verification of the contents. Muscle memory scribbles provided through the haze, daze, and clouds of my mind.

My duffel bag was placed in a larger, clear hospital drawstring bag with my last name written in large letters with black Sharpie across a large white block. My shoes as well. And then of course, the inevitable, “Strip down to your underwear and t-shirt, and put on these gowns. The first like a normal shirt, the second backward.” Soon to be my 24/7 wardrobe for days.

I was left alone to change. Not really. The curtain was drawn three-quarters of the way as I followed the instructions. A wheelchair was provided without request, and I was separated from my possessions. Told they would meet back up with me in a bit. A change of location was imminent, and I could tell this was when I would be separated from the sane citizens who had come to this hospital for broken arms, rashes, fevers, or “physical” illness. I knew this was when I would enter the type of place I had only entered once before, and that was as a visitor of a patient. What little I could feel was solely dedicated to the emotion of fear.

Fear at the awareness that my mind was truly broken. Fractured. Maybe beyond repair. Fear of movie depictions of psych wards and mental institutions. Fear that maybe no one out there would ever want me anywhere but in here. Fear that this would be where I needed to end it, but might lack the means for just that very act.

I began to be wheeled toward an elevator. The Amtrak Police offered words of well wishes and health to me. I wondered if they would ever think of me again in this life. How many “me”s did they deal with every day?

How interesting it is that such a life pivoting moment for me, was likely just another couple of hours in the midst of a long week of work for them. It is no exaggeration to say that every day from that moment when they called out my name in Union Station forward has been forever altered…by three people whose names I never received or will ever know.

Three people who took me from the man on the train to the man in the ward.

Thursday, August 25th, 12:05 a.m.

I had left home for work at 3 a.m. on Tuesday the 23rd. Upon returning from work and continuing in a desperate downward spiral, I had left home with a bag to simply get some “space”. Checking into a hotel, I operated at a fairly cognizant level of logic into the next morning of work before coming unhinged prior to completing my responsibilities for the morning. That is when things came unglued, and I went on the run.

Almost 18 hours later, I had exhausted myself with constant bouts of paranoia, changing locations, hiding from people I thought were chasing me, attempting to “tie up loose ends”, and all while believing that my plan and demise was all dependent on making that 1:41 a.m. train westward.

All the while my mind was racing. Processing thoughts at light speed. And when I say light speed…I’m telling you, if you don’t have the type of mental illness that includes a severe condition of racing thoughts…you have no idea how quickly the mind can fire!

They had finally opened the renovating train station and escorted us back to the waiting room where I would find myself huddled in a corner counting the remaining minutes until my departure. It was there, amidst the struggle of an almost uncontrollable brain, that I bared down to give all the focus I could to one final email to my wife –

 

I want you to know some of my deepest regrets that have plagued my mind today –

My biggest one is how overly critical I was of you. My endless barrage of criticism and critique had to lead to many miserable days in our time together. My life long struggle to see the positive vs the negative has robbed me of so much joy and peace. And I know it did the same to you. I am so sorry.

I also regret not telling you how beautiful you always were to me. I let that go away after the wedding, which is shameful. You captivated me till the end.

And I regret not sticking to plans. Conflict resolution plans. Emotional health monitoring plans. Safeguards that were supposed to keep us from these moments. Looking back, it is all so obvious: sleep deprivation, parenting stresses, XXXXXX’x departure, the mediation…I should have been more proactive in managing myself. I failed you. And I am sorry.

I don’t know what I am doing. But every fix seems so temporary. I just don’t want to fight this all my life. The constant neuropathy pain. The endless self-management. The lack of resources to tackle a crisis like this when it arises. Life is an endless struggle and I’m just so tired.

The nightmares are back. The ideation is back. The temper. The insomnia. Every victory is fleeting.

I regret not being stronger. Not being whole. Not having managed my life better so that we could enjoy these years.

I regret not having a lifetime with the most wonderful, beautiful partner I could ever dream of.

 

I hit send. Boarded the train. And as far as I could tell, began to say goodbye to my demons. All the while knowing…they were getting on the train with me.

November 19th, 2016 – Musical Truths

Well I know it gets harder every single day
And I know my darkness will never go away

It’s hard when you’re living and you don’t feel much
And you’re down and you’re hoping that things are gonna change

Oh we don’t know the roads that we’re heading down
We don’t know if we’re lost, that we’ll find a way
We don’t know if we leave, will we make it home
We don’t know, there’s hope, then we’ll be okay

And some say it gets brighter
We just have to wait
Mother mother, I can feel your heart break
Burning through me every single day

It’s hard when you’re living and you don’t feel much
And you’re down and you’re hurting ’cause you don’t feel loved
It’s hard when you’re living and you don’t feel much
And you’re down and you’re hoping that things are gonna change

Oh we don’t know the roads that we’re heading down
We don’t know if we’re lost, that we’ll find a way
We don’t know if we leave, will we make it home
We don’t know, there’s hope, then we’ll be okay
Oh there’s something in my mind that’s killing me
There’s something that this life’s not giving me
Would you say

Present Day, November 18th, 2016

It was pressed upon my mind today to let you know that this is not storytelling.

This is me telling you my story.

There is a difference you see. With each post. With each memory. There is a weight. A depth. More times than not, a journeying back to places of darkness and desperation that I never knew I would go.

And not just for me. For others. Others like my wife. Who walks with me each and every day, but for 12 days in particular felt as if she was walking alone. Frightened. Hope dying. Her world crumbling.

As I sift through the notes. The emails. The text messages. There will be times when a pause will be required. Some longer than others. Times to gather myself and make sure I am not overcome by the potential for sorrow and shame. Times to check in emotionally and confirm that the reflecting doesn’t become my reality. Times to remember that who I was at that moment is not someone I ever have to be again.

I enjoy writing. It is therapeutic. But it also is a way for me to try and step outside myself and help others. Help others struggling with mental illness to know that the demons that haunt them are not theirs alone. Help others sharing the journey with a bipolar loved one know that their life is worth fighting for…even when they can’t fight for it themselves.

Help anyone else that comes across this blog understand that we are not perpetrators of random violence…free loaders of a government aid system…people without real jobs, families, and lives…or selfish bastards only thinking of themselves in their desires to end their own lives.

We are real people, desperate for healing, haunted by relentless demons, wrestling with minds that operate in a way we would never wish on our worst enemy.

We are not storytellers.

We are people with stories.