Thursday, August 25th, 5 p.m.

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.

Friday, August 26th, 4:30 p.m.

I felt grimy. Dirty. And with good reason. I had not showered or bathed for more than three days.

I have always been somewhere along the continuum between vain and neurotic when it comes to personal cleanliness. And unnecessarily so. Truth be told, I simply don’t stink. Short of five days in the woods, body odor is just not something that tends to overtake me. All of which had made this particular period of my life all the more palatable.

However, after a morning of work, followed by a day on the run from authorities, 10 hours on a train, being taken into protective custody, sitting in the psychiatric emergency ward before being transferred for admission to a psychiatric unit. Sleeping for the first time in days, and then navigating my way through the first eight hours of awake treatment…it was time.

I entered the bathroom in my room, turned towards the shower, and noticed a few things. There was a shower head protruding from the wall with a smoothness and angle that practically mocked anyone who would attempt to grab a hospital gown and hang themselves from it.

There was a roughly half-dollar size silver button just above waist high for me. It reminded me of the kind you find in state or national parks where I have so often camped. Which immediately made me think of two things. One, this was going to be a timed shower. I would depress the button, and the water would run for a given period of time. At which point I would have to keep pushing the button to enjoy any extended shower (though I would soon learn that unlike a campground, two or three depressions provided quite a lengthy cleaning). Two, there was no temperature control.

I found this reality fairly frightening. I like very hot showers (and even hotter baths, something that I was obviously not going to be enjoying anytime soon). There was no way they were going to allow the type of self-lobstering I do at home in a room occupied by any number of patients over time with different temperature preferences and tolerances. I figured I was in for some cold showers. I was wrong.

I was smart enough to depress the button for the first time from the side, and let the water run for a bit to warm up. Future applied application of this first experience would let me know that a good first run through would really get the water up to temperature.

There was no shower curtain. No ledge or lip to the stall. Just a strip of drainage located in the floor where you would expect to find a tub wall or shower ledge. No chance of tripping I guess. I laid down a towel on the other side of the drain strip to serve as a bath towel for when I finished up (Another one of my “things”. Have to stand on some form of textile material when I get out of the shower. No feet on tile for me.). When I thought the water was warm enough, I stepped in.

For the next few minutes, I almost felt human again. The hot water hit my oily hair and began washing all the surface dirt from my body. I lacked my 3 in 1 body wash or post-shower cologne, but none of that mattered at this moment. I just bowed my head, stood under the refreshing rain, and for the first time in days began to feel muscles relax.

And then I sobbed. A good ol’ fashioned, eye draining, gut-wrenching sob. Which almost felt as good as the shower.

Wednesday, August 31st, 6 a.m.

It is strange the things that we find ourselves missing.

When I awoke on this eighth day away from my home, I found myself overcome by a sense of homesickness. This is not an emotion I am used to. I have spent a lot of time…well, maybe more than the average person…in my life traveling. And for the most part, have always enjoyed it.

Eating out. Hotels. Extra and/or extended time alone. Not a problem for me.

But today was different. Maybe it was the constriction of the walls of a psychiatric ward. Maybe it was the fact that I had not breathed in the outdoor air since being delivered to the Emergency Room by the police (with no idea at that time that I could possibly still be here at this time!). Maybe it was simply that I am a creature of habit and the loss of my routines and habits was starting to weigh on me.

In any event, I was homesick and took a few moments on my bed to mind map some of the big hitters…

No shocker my wife was at the top of the list. Talking with her. Spending time with her. And yes…of course, sex with her!

I missed the routine of life. Free access to my computer and the freedom it gave me to track and follow one of my life long addictions…sports! As summer was about to give way to fall, I missed being outdoors. Even for such things as lawn care, or a grueling bike ride for exercise sake. I missed one of my all time favorite forms of relaxation…television. Yes, we had access to some screens in the ward, but it was first-come-first and majority rules and our scheduled activities rarely allowed for the match up of a start and stop to a show. Plus, aren’t we all of the online streaming generation now anyway?

I missed work. I think I have always been a hard worker. Have never been able to vacation for very long, or survive an extended period of time without my mind wandering back to it. I have always found value, maybe even an unhealthy identity in my vocation. To take that away for a week was starting to leave a void of worth in my life.

Then there were two simple food items. Because to be honest, the food overall wasn’t bad. In fact, we had quite a bit of choice and freedom. But the coffee was awful and so I missed my Starbucks, and god how I missed soda!

They say “absence makes the heart grow fonder”. Maybe absence is how patients grow better. For me, the safety and security of the unit were falling out of balance with the reality that this probably was not how I was meant to live the rest of my life. There were yearnings in my heart for such basic things that attach themselves to normal living and make us want to return to where we are from. Things that have pulled me back other times when I have run.

As I contemplated the day ahead, I realized it was time for my thoughts to begin shifting stronger from what got me here, to what I was going to do differently when I got out. Because that day was likely not far away.

Wednesday, August 31st, 6:30 p.m.

I plopped down in the chair at the computer to do a little post-dinner reconnecting with life back home. I had been inpatient for almost a week now and was feeling largely on the upside of healthy. Which meant that it was helpful to have access to such things as email and Facebook for staying in touch with what a “normal” life would soon look like again.

Walking towards to the workstation I had noticed on the flatscreen TV in this particular patient lounge the playing of a now rather dated movie “An Officer and a Gentlemen.” Quite famous in its day, it actually pulled in 3 Oscars and plenty of other awards. I did not remember too many details of the movie and asked the few other patients in the room if any of them had seen it before. The unanimous answer was no.

Focused on the task at hand, I was typing away at the computer when the memory hit me. I don’t know where it came from, or how the brain works and pieces back together fragments from 30 plus years ago, but it happened this time around. Much like the scene of intense fucking that I had witnessed two days prior (see Monday, August 29th, 10 p.m.) what was about to unfold in front of our eyes might prove to be quite a trigger…especially in a psychiatric ward.

SPOILER ALERT (probably highly unnecessary as if you haven’t seen it yet…you probably aren’t going to): in a darker version of the death of Goose during the classic Top Gun, there comes a point in this movie where the character played by Richard Gere discovers that his best friend in the movie has hung himself. Discovers…as in…walks in on him hanging there. For all to see. As in…for all the patients in the vicinity of this particular television in this particular psych ward to see. A Hollywood version, granted. But a suicide depiction in a rated R movie nonetheless.

I sounded a brief warning simply letting the people in the room know that a rather disturbing image is about to unfold, and they could do with that thought whatever they chose.

There are things you can’t get away from. Images that I am not sure ever leave your mind. At least, not mine. That is why I have always sworn that, if god forbid such events transpired, I do not want open casket funerals for any of my children. Or my wife. Or am I willing to come view the bodies during preparation. Or am I willing to come identify any bodies by their faces. No. That shit does not go away for me. At least, I can only assume it won’t and I have no intention of finding out whether I am right or wrong. I have no intention of allowing those types of images to be the final images seared in my retinas and memories of those people!

Maybe that is why this movie image stuck in my mind. I saw the movie at roughly the same time that I attempted to commit suicide myself. Twice (the suicides, not the movie viewings). So as the movie rolled, before the scene even arrived, it flashed into my head. A clear, reasonably accurate image from a movie I had not seen in decades. An imagine of a man hanging there dead while his friend clung to his body. An image that I’m pretty sure no one in a psychiatric hospital needed to see.

And yet, I turned my chair towards the TV, left the computer behind, and watched. Transfixed. Reinforcing an image that needed no help.

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, 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.”