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.

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.

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…

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.