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.

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.

Saturday, August 27th, 6 a.m.

I awoke fairly restless. Unlike the day of my capture (okay…”taken into protective custody”), the night before was the first I had been provided with medication. Not sure how that got missed on the day of my intake, but it did. I’ll let it slide, as that was literally about the only negative thing I could ever come up with for the mental health team at Northwestern Memorial Hospital.

However, last night I was medicated. Which means that for the first time in many days, to some extent weeks, I had a fairly quality night of sleep. Which also means that my mind was clearing, my emotions were coming into balance, and I was starting to feel normal. At least, as normal as a 47-year-old, married, father of five can feel in a psych ward multiple states and hundreds of miles from home. Which also means one more thing…I was doing what I have always done in the past…shifting my focus from the fact that I am significantly fucked up to all the other problems outside these walls that are in need of my attention. Like, now!

Here’s the thing (or at least one of them): if you are never willing to stop and look at what is broken on the inside, then you tend to get angry at anything getting in the way of your trying to fix what is broken on the outside. (I know I’m in no position to offer advice, but read that sentence again. Trust me on this one.)

Almost a week from now a psychologist will sit down with some test results and ask me to reflect on the following: “Tell me a time when you weren’t angry.” After a rather significant, long, and awkwardly silent pause I will end up saying, “Actually, I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t angry.”

Back to that early Saturday morning. This also was not such a time.

Now that I had survived my period of suicidal angst. Now that I felt ready to be trusted to return home (though it was probably a 50/50 toss-up as to whether I really would have). Now that my mind was clear and my emotions stabilized (as would only be perceived to be so by myself and no trained professional). Now that I had managed to fully immerse myself in the denial of my situation, it was time to move to anger and get down right pissed.

I have committed no crime. I have threatened no one. I’m not walking around screaming profanities to unseen ghosts in the halls of this psych ward. And forget the negatives. What about the positives? I own my own business (at least, I thought at that point that I still might). I have a masters degree. Property. Financial holdings.

What the hell am I doing sitting in this sterile room, on this plastic mattress, without so much as a shoestring or hoodie drawstring to even think about harming myself with? What am I doing in Chicago, Illinois on this late summer day?

My blood began to boil. My rage began to burn. And then it struck me, that will never work. No one will ever believe I am okay behaving like that.

Knowing that a nurse would be around at any moment to take my blood pressure and vitals, ask me how I slept and check in on my overall mood…I took a few deep breaths. It was time to do what I have always done in public throughout these many years of internal struggle and done quite well.

It was time to push that Bipolar self deep down where no one could see it. It was time to put on my game face. It was showtime…

Friday, August 26th, Early Evening

We have all heard them. Though assumptions are dangerous things, so let me just lay them out for us one more time. There are perceived to be Five Stages of Grief: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, and Acceptance.

As I completed my first ever day of inpatient hospitalization for my Bipolar II mental illness, I became a full-fledged believer in the Five Stages. While I think the process had begun earlier in the day, it fully settled in during a phone call with my wife. I’ll use quotes, though I cannot guarantee these were her exact words, the gist of it was, “They did tell me the average treatment and stay is five to seven days.”

Fun fact about me: I have always bounced back very quickly. Probably to my own detriment and lack of proper treatment. My Type A personality tends to force my mind to “snap out of it”, suck it up, and get back on track. Granted, no healing, therapy, processing, or actually dealing with any shit has taken place. But I’m right back at it!

Needless to say, if spending my day walking around a psych ward in a hospital gown and those little socks with the rubber anti-slide strips on them wasn’t enough to convince me this was for real this time…hearing my wife share that little tidbit of information came down on my shoulders like a load of bricks. Granted, I had been told the same thing. But that was last night when I came in with the police and really needed help. Or that was again this morning after a psychiatric evaluation by an actual psychiatrist (the second one to evaluate me) informed me of the same.

Here’s the thing: they did not really know me. The real me. They did not know what a difference 8 hours could make. They did not understand that I would be just fine. I was no longer a threat to myself or others. I could be released, lovingly pushed out the front door, and I would go back where I came from.

Though I had no intention of doing that if they actually bought my little con-job.

And so it had begun with Denial. There were about 18 people in this ward. And bless their hearts (no…seriously) some of them were much worse off than I was. Or so it seemed. Maybe external signs of damage does not mean the internal damage is any worse. (I should probably write that down somewhere and read it every day.) The psychotic symptoms and outbursts were all around me. About half of us suffered from psychosis, the other half not. Some had been here for weeks. Some had been in treatment before. It sounded like some were actually living most of their lives inpatient!

Not me. Had a little meltdown. Blew a fuse. Went off my rocker. Got a little crazy. Lost track of reality. Whatever you want to call it…just don’t call it a mental illness in need of extensive inpatient treatment. Because I don’t have that! Give me some pills. Write an action plan. Send me on my God Damn way!!!

It seemed like the Denial and Anger stages were merging pretty quickly…

Wednesday, August 24th, 11:15 p.m.

After an entire day on the run and on the move to try and avoid what my mind perceived was an imminent capture I felt like I might have finally reached a place of temporary safety. Ironic really. If anyone had managed to track my credit card or train ticket purchase, they would know just where to find me. However, I was convinced that I had managed my affairs in a secretive enough manner that this Amtrak station in a different state than my home at this time of night would be a hide-out where I could let my guard down for the time being.

With the train not set to arrive, board and depart until roughly 1:30 a.m., I was finally able to settle enough to think through my plan, and develop a number of possibilities or scenarios regarding how this would all unfold from here.

A) The simplest choice was to ride the ticket all the way out. That would put me on the west coast in the Seattle, Washington area. Under this plan, I intended to do a couple of things during the multi-day trip. First, every four hours take some Tylenol PM. Second, eat nothing. Third, drink only enough water to take said Tylenol PM. I have a number of health issues, that this simple formula could probably combine with to put me on death’s door over a few day period, or at the very least…fuck me up real bad physically which would make some form of OD or suicide all that much easier.

B) The other choices were more complicated…and quite dark. One involved contacting my parents as the ticket would be taking me through northern California where they reside. As I was raging with anger against them at this point for all the responsibilities I felt they bore for where my life and mental health had ended up, it seemed like an appropriate time to address those. There is no need for morbid details other than to say, many of us have watched stories on the news of adult or teenage children who have killed their parents and then taken their own lives. Many of us have wondered who could do such a thing. I was pretty sure I had figured out the answer to that question. And had become just such that type of person.

C) Under another scenario they lived and were merely tortured for the rest of their existence. It would play out something like this. I would contact them. They would come get me at the train station. As they are infatuated with rescuing people, they would have loved the opportunity to intervene. I would have traveled home with them. Let them “seemingly” nurse me back to health. And then killed myself in their guest room so they could walk in on the bloody mess and forever have that imaged seared in their minds. Yeah…I know. Remember, this was not a healthy state I was in.

D) There would be endless stops along the way in no-name towns across America where I could simply walk off the train, disappear, venture off to the middle of nowhere, and let the end be the end. Likely never to be found. In my mind, likely not to be missed for very long.

E) The most likely scenario in my mind at the time…no idea. Get on the train. Don’t eat. Don’t drink. Stay on a steady diet of Tylenol PM. Transfer in Chicago. See what happens from there.

Well…what happened was that I was taken into protective custody. More or less arrested without a fight. Admitted to the Northwestern Memorial Hospital psychiatric unit. And so the story continues…

Thursday, August 25th, Midday

I had never been in the back seat of a police car. I was not cuffed or restrained. However, my hunch is that was largely due to the catatonic and therefore seemingly cooperative state I was in. I had been escorted from the Amtrak Police Department office, out into the public terminal under the watchful eye of hundreds of passengers thinking I was anywhere from a thief to a terror suspect to an unruly passenger being escorted from the building as we passed through a labyrinth of hallways to an underground parking garage. That is when I was placed in the back seat, complete with the “Watch your head” command, and the reaching around me to seat belt me in (as if I was cuffed).

In hindsight, I’m guessing the drive was likely in the 15 minute or so range. Guessing this because upon my release from the hospital my wife and I would actually walk the same path in about that amount of time. However, traffic was heavy. And this was midday Chicago. Regardless of the ‘actual’ time it took, it seemed like hours. Long enough for my mind to pass through a number of different scenarios, not necessarily in this order.

…being as I was heavily entrenched in a severe battle with paranoia, there was a point in the trip when I became confident they were not taking me to Northwestern Memorial Hospital as indicated. Rather, they were transporting me for a transfer to “real” police. The kind that could throw me in jail. Maybe I had done something illegal without realizing it. Or people were just tired of dealing with my life and had asked the authorities to take over from here…

…fearing the ultimate in humiliation, it seemed possible that they were simply the first carrier in a subsequent line that would be returning me home. Amtrak to Chicago Police. Chicago Police to a plane with a personal escort. Or held in custody until someone from home arrived. Or Illinois State Troopers to home state troopers. No one said I was thinking rationally…

…at one point in time, I remember considering reaching forward, grabbing the shoulder strap of the police driving the vehicle, and pulling as hard as I could to choke him. What would I do then? Like I said, I wasn’t thinking rationally. There was a second officer in the passenger seat, and I can only assume my inside door handled wouldn’t work. However, it did seem like another shot at death, literally. I had thought a similar thought at the station, “What if I charge the police? Will they just shoot me like we so often see happening?”

…the most logical thought to flutter through my mind was that I was on my way to being hospitalized temporarily. Which I could really live with. Surely I could pull myself together enough to temporarily fake it. Spend a few hours in the ER. Convince them I had come to my senses and was ready to return home. “Sorry about the scare guys, I’ll be fine. If you’ll just point me towards home, I’ll be on my way.”

…I know what thoughts dominated the majority of the trip though. My plan had been undone. That plan. The one I had put together to kill myself. And now, exhausted and lacking what it would take to navigate a cover-up. Without the energy to launch a Plan B.

Once again I had overcomplicated such a simple task and failed. Fucked up my own death. And was now the one thing I most definitely did not want to be, alive.