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.

December 31st, 2016 – Musical Truths

All my friends are heathens. Take it slow
Wait for them to ask you who you know
Please don’t make any sudden moves
You don’t know the half of the abuse

Welcome to the room of people
Who have rooms of people that they loved one day
Docked away
Just because we check the guns at the door
Doesn’t mean our brains will change from hand grenades

You’ll never know the psychopath sitting next to you
You’ll never know the murderer sitting next to you
You’ll think, “How’d I get here, sitting next to you?”
But after all I’ve said
Please don’t forget

All my friends are heathens. Take it slow
Wait for them to ask you who you know
Please don’t make any sudden moves
You don’t know the half of the abuse

We don’t deal with outsiders very well
They say newcomers have a certain smell
You have trust issues, not to mention
They say they can smell your intentions

You’ll never know the freakshow sitting next to you
You’ll have some weird people sitting next to you
You’ll think, “How’d I get here, sitting next to you?”
But after all I’ve said
Please don’t forget
(Watch it, watch it)

Why’d you come? You knew you should have stayed
I tried to warn you just to stay away
And now they’re outside ready to bust
It looks like you might be one of us

Monday, August 29th, 6 a.m.

I tend to move through emotional states and stages rather rapidly. Jovial one minute. Angry as all get up the next. Cruising through my day before lunch. In deep depression after. More so off medication than on (duh). But I have yet to say anything unusual for an individual in the throws of Bipolar II.

While Friday had seen me quickly transition from denial to anger (as previously discussed as part of the Five Stages of Grief in my Friday, August 26th, Early Evening post) today would provide another opportunity to knock out a few more stages. Though I didn’t know that at the time.

Having survived the rather ‘less structured’ and thinner staffed weekend of a psychiatric ward, I awoke Monday morning ready to get on with life. I sat on my bed, grabbed a pencil and began drafting a plan for escaping the walls of this institution and returning to my life as I knew it prior to my little meltdown (yeah…I know, still some echoes of the “denial” phase hanging around). Phrased another way, I began to map out my “bargaining” (Stage Three) plan.

The plan was to serve a couple of purposes. First, to show that I was cognizant and aware of the realities of life. Family. Friends. Work. Looking back at the page of notes, it is almost comical to see that there is not a mention of aftercare. Almost.

Second, the way I figured it, anyone able to so clearly delineate his responsibilities, obligations and commitments couldn’t possibly be crazy (there’s that ol‘ “denial” again).

Third, I knew whatever was going on during my stay wasn’t free. In fact, the tab had to be running hard and fast. With an insurance policy carrying a $5,000 deductible and a few more grand in out-of-pocket maximum charges, I needed to get moving (little did I know those numbers had been blown by some time ago!).

Fourth, and most importantly to my well rested and to be quite honest somewhat bored mind,  it would get the ball rolling. While this was my first go around with mental health inpatient care, it was not my first go around with a hospital. A little over 18 months prior I had suffered a heart attack and spent a few days catching my breath at a half-dozen grand a day. Therefore, I was well aware that getting checked out was typically about as slow a process as getting admitted. If I wanted out before Thanksgiving (or say…Wednesday), I need to get things moving to help encourage others to do the same.

Anyone seeing why during my stay, evaluations and subsequent therapy it will be highlighted that I might have control issues?

I went to breakfast and came back to see what type of schedule had been written on my white board for my day of treatment. It was significantly different than the weekend. Namely, it was jammed with group sessions, treatment, teaching, and structure. Oh my.

I grabbed the handy dandy patient folder that I had been provided and began to notice there was a sheet for Monday. For Tuesday. Wednesday. Thursday. Even Friday. There was a form explaining the “week long” format for recovery and treatment structure.

What already felt to me like Day 5, they were seeing as Day 1. What felt to me like a good time to start packing, they were seeing as time to get to work.

What felt to me like the opportunity for Stage Three Bargaining…was giving way to Stage Four Depression.

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…