Present Day, March 29th, 2017

Last week I did not do well. Had a few really rough days. Less than 5 out of 10s on the “How the hell are you doing?” scale.

As is often the case, it was a little thing that set it off. But somewhat unusually, it wasn’t the little thing that plunged me down or kept me there. In fact, I would ascribe…oh, let’s say 5% to the event and 95% to my feelings that followed the event.

Let me see if I can find a way to describe this. Much like every other human being in the world, I experienced a mildly hurtful moment. I simply wasn’t quite thought of as much as I would have like to have been. A request came, I didn’t think it was filtered through my needs, and that frustrated me. It really was no big deal. Not a major slip up by a loved one. It just happened.

But what followed was the reality of how much my neediness requires such requests to be filtered, or even rejected. The request would have potentially impacted my sleep schedule. It might have thrown off my “night before work” rhythm. It could impact my routines that I tend to hold quite dear.

Now, I get that not everyone reading this is going to get this. However, there are those of you out there who are totally going to understand the power of those three words: schedule, rhythm, and routine. You not only understand them, you see them as lifelines. You see them as foundational to keeping your shit together. Like me, you know that the break in any one of or more of those three can be the snowflake that starts the avalanche or the pebble that initiates the rock slide. Both of which cause great messes, significant damage, and possibly loss of life.

Yes, that sounds very dramatic. And yes, if you knew the request I was presented with, you would think it is way overly dramatic. But here is the thing…we never know. We never know when that little thing that we pass off as a little thing because we don’t think it will be a big thing ends up being. (Yeah, you might have to read that one again.) I could have rolled with the request, and everything may have gone fine. Or I could have rolled with the request, and a few days later been in real trouble.

Which gets me back to the 95%. The part that plunged me into a fairly dark hole for a couple of days. It was the reality once again that I am Bipolar. The reality once again that I have a mental illness. The reality, right in the middle of life chugging along fairly reasonably, that such small things can become big things and big things can become life and death things.

It was a reality that cranked up ideation and thoughts. Yeah…that kind of ideation and thoughts. A reality that caused an overwhelming pain at the reality of never getting better. A reality that we aren’t just waiting for my insurance company to approve the treatment that is going to “fix” me.

No, the reality is that more times than not these simple requests will have to be met with “No. I can’t.” answers. And the fact that someone actually asking will probably hurt less and less, while the reality that I had to say “no” will probably just keep hurting more and more.

Thursday, August 25th, 6 p.m.

I had been duped. At 3:45 p.m., still in the psychiatric emergency room, I believed I had mustered enough energy to put on a mask and pull it off. The psychiatric resident had sat across from me and indicated that I would not be put in the psych ward. I would receive a regular hospital room. I would be placed close to a nurse’s station so they could keep an eye on me, but in my mind I had once again avoided revealing the greatest indicators that I had totally lost my fucking mind.

It is right in the hospital notes. I did not merit “CVO” (constant visual observation). Then the damn attending psychiatrist had to go and meet with the resident to review my case. Had to go and show him the realities of my case. Had to review the intense suicidal ideation I had been experiencing. The thought out plan I had to kill myself and possibly harm others along the way. The lifelong history of depression and manic behavior. The phone conversation with my wife indicating her level of concern over the rapid flip of my mental and emotional switch…yet again.

So here I sat. Sitting at a small round table across from a diminutive woman talking to me very softly and gently as she took out a packet of forms and a pen. I had entered yet another state of shock when they placed me in a wheelchair downstairs and informed me that I would be taken to the 13th floor and placed in the care of the psychiatric unit where I would get the care and help I needed. This was NOT what we had discussed!

The shock had deepened into a very dark depression as I was escorted to this table in this “living area” across from a large nurse’s station. Into disbelief as individuals in hospital gowns walked by checking out the newest member of their community. Some of them offering gentle smiles. Others talking out loud to demons located somewhere in the deepest recesses of their minds.

This was not yet rock bottom, but I could see it from the point of my current downward float. I was provided a “Patient and Visitor Information” brochure to look over as the small administrator ordered her items to begin checking me into the Norman and Ida Stone Institute of Psychiatry.

Meal schedules. Medication schedules. Telephone schedules. Television schedules! It had been at least 35 years…if ever…since I had been told when I could or could not watch television. I know, strange thing to stick out in my mind and pop up at that moment. It gave procedures for laundry which I remember finding significantly startling. How could I possibly be here long enough to need to do laundry! Details regarding group and individual sessions. I don’t know these people. I can’t share with them my thoughts. My places of brokenness. My pains!

She could see me looking over the brochure and it seems was attempting to verbalize key points related to the sections my eyes seemed to be passing over, but she sounded like the teacher from a Charlie Brown episode as my mind raced out of control with dark frightening images of straight jackets, syringes and injections of unknown fluids to attempt and control my thoughts and behaviors, and fears that I had finally been locked up…and would never be fit to get out.

 

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.

Wednesday, August 24th, Mid-Morning

My mind has an amazing ability to be rational while behaving completely illogically all at the same time. Maybe it is that tug-of-war previously described. The battle between an emotional desire for death and a natural wiring for self-preservation. And maybe exemplified as powerfully as ever the morning when my thinking seemed to come completely unhinged.

I was ready to run. But how?

The simplest option was my vehicle though this carried a couple immediate downsides. First, highly traceable were anyone to actually start looking for me. Second, I didn’t trust myself. My most common form of suicide ideation has always involved a death while driving. Head on into a tree. Or the cement post holding up an overpass. Or maybe even other traffic. The problem being I wasn’t ready to die. Not just yet. I had some things I still needed to take care of. Important things. I needed more time.

Commercial flight was another option. With an active passport even flight out of the country. I knew this would cover the most distance the quickest. There is an airport in my hometown, and two larger ones roughly an hour away. Again, immediate downsides. In today’s age everyone would know when I got on, where I got on, and where I was getting off. I could run, but I couldn’t hide. And things would move way too fast. My plan was still unfolding.

Then it hit me. A train. Trains move slower. However, here was the greatest benefit…they stop. A lot. And as far as I knew, there would be no record of when I got off and didn’t get back on. Disappearance was totally within my grasp. So I got online and bought a train ticket. From the nearest Amtrak station, roughly 70 miles away, to somewhere in the state of Washington more than 2,000 miles away. I can’t even remember where.

I do remember that it would not leave until roughly 1:30 in the morning on Thursday (more than 14 hours later), would require one train transfer in Chicago, Il, and a second in Sacramento, CA far from where anyone would be looking for me. If I found the stamina and willpower to stay alive, I would be buying almost 60 hours to tie up loose ends, finalize any communications that were important to my peace of mind (an ironic thought, I know), and finally have achieved the isolation and distance necessary to end my life.

I purchased the ticket on a credit card that I was confident my wife had forgotten about, and even more confident she lacked the information to access online. I would later learn I was wrong on both accounts.

Almost three months later, the processing and logic seems all so clear. As if it was yesterday. It has not always been so. It wasn’t that day. It was almost as if all these thoughts took place in a hidden part of my mind and the actions simply followed. As if my desire to die couldn’t shut down the natural wiring to keep me alive. To buy time.

Getting on the train gave me a 12 hour goal to stay alive for. Being on the train gave me a 48 hour window of anonymity.  The self-preservation part of my brain won this tug of the rope. And in many ways pulled me into an almost trance like state that would dominate my psyche for the following day and a half.

24 Hours Earlier (Wednesday, August 24th)

It is a fairly commonly held belief that our brains are wired with a certain “fight or flight” mechanism designed to aid in our self-preservation. I was even reading today the additional opinion that a third “f” can be added to the list: flight, flight or freeze.

There are those that will go even further. They will suggest that our minds actually have the ability to kick into an almost auto-pilot state whereby they are attempting to override our thinking in order to help keep us safe. To protect us from harm. Or in my case, to guard against a driving momentum towards death. Towards suicide.

I don’t know all of the science…or really any of the science behind all of this. What I do know is that at some point Wednesday morning my mind began to operate on two seperate tracks. On one there were decisions, actions, and steps being taken that I either don’t remember directing or were completely contrary to the will of my intentions at the time. On the other, the track towards my death. In fact, what would ensue over the next 24 hours would be a battle between these two fronts. Phrased another way, a psychological and mental tug-of-war.

I would consciously make decisions that were harmful, destructive, and heading down a path that could not be turned back from at a fairly high-speed only to subsequently and almost subconsciously make decisions that slowed everything down. Bought time so to speak. In some intangible way, decisions that kept me alive in spite of the desires at the forefront of my thinking.

I was roughly 75% through my work morning when I simply walked off the job. I don’t remember why it was then. Nothing unique happened at that moment. Things had not grown progressively worse than they had already been in my mind for the past 48 hours. But this will forever be the moment that I will know as when things snapped. When actions and decisions no longer seemed to be made through the mass of gray matter that resides between my ears.

I left where I was working, drove back to the hotel I had holed up in since finishing work the day prior, packed up my belongings, and began to run. To run from myself. Nevermind that accomplishing such a thing is a logically impossible presupposition. I intended to get far enough away from myself to escape my self-preservation mechanism and kill myself. It was that simple. Were it not so complicated.

You see, despite more than four decades of at times endless suicide ideation, I have never been able to reconcile my desire to be dead with a local suicide. The horror of loved ones finding me. The images impressed on their minds for the rest of their lives. The mess that would haunt the location.

Therefore, these were my two challenges. First, get away from ever being found dead by anyone that mattered to me. Second, find a way to separate myself from this part of my mind that would not leave me alone long enough to let me die.

So I got in my truck. And I ran.