March 4th, 2017 – Musical Truths

Hey, I hear the voice of a preacher from the back room
Calling my name and I follow just to find you
I trace the faith to a broken down television and put on the weather
And I’ve trained myself to give up on the past ’cause
I froze in time between hearses and caskets
Lost control when I panicked at the acid test

I wanna get better

While my friends were getting high and chasing girls down parkway lines
I was losing my mind because the love, the love, the love, the love, the love
That I gave wasted on a nice face
In a blaze of fear I put a helmet on a helmet
Counting seconds through the night and got carried away
So now I’m standing on the overpass screaming at the cars,

“Hey, I wanna get better!”

I didn’t know I was lonely ’til I saw your face
I wanna get better, better, better, better,
I wanna get better
I didn’t know I was broken ’til I wanted to change
I wanna get better, better, better, better,
I wanna get better

I go up to my room and there’s girls on the ceiling
Cut out their pictures and I chase that feeling
Of an eighteen year old who didn’t know what loss was

Now I’m a stranger

And I miss the days of a life still permanent
Mourn the years before I got carried away
So now I’m staring at the interstate screaming at myself,

“Hey, I wanna get better!”

I didn’t know I was lonely ’til I saw your face
I wanna get better, better, better, better,
I wanna get better
I didn’t know I was broken ’til I wanted to change
I wanna get better, better, better, better,
I wanna get better

‘Cause I’m sleeping in the back of a taxi
I’m screaming from my bedroom window
Even if its gonna kill me

Woke up this morning early before my family
From this dream where she was trying to show me
How a life can move from the darkness
She said to get better

So I put a bullet where I shoulda put a helmet
And I crash my car cause I wanna get carried away
That’s why I’m standing on the overpass screaming at myself,

“Hey, I wanna get better!”

I didn’t know I was lonely ’til I saw your face
I wanna get better, better, better, better,
I wanna get better
I didn’t know I was broken ’til I wanted to change
I wanna get better, better, better, better,
I wanna get better

Present Day, February 26th, 2017

The Big Three: Medications. Sleep. Therapy.

I have heard it time and time again. These are not the ONLY secrets to managing Bipolar or just about any other mental illness. However, they are three CRITICAL ones. In other words, do these three things right…and you are heading down a good path. Neglect them…and just about all other efforts will not likely make up the difference.

There is a catch tough. Probably more than one. But the one I am thinking of today is that they each carry a degree of humiliation to them.

Medications? I take a disgusting amount of pills every day, am practically a zombie by 10 p.m. at night, and live my life in the position of having to be held accountable to the periodical question “Have you taken your meds?”

Sleep? I take naps like a toddler. I wear a Fitbit to make sure I average out the necessary amount to keep my sanity somewhat in check. Like a teenager with an early curfew, I rarely get to “stay up late” and often pay a price if I do.

Even therapy has its humiliation. And I am not even talking about the phrases that exist in my life referring to having my own personal “therapist” or having to get to a “doctor appointment” every other week or sharing how “therapy went today.”

I am talking about the cold realities that therapy can put you through during the best of times. Because it is a reminder. Sometimes a slap in the face, that I am fucked up between the ears, as well as somewhere extending down into my heart (or soul, or wherever you ascribe as the seat of our feelings).

That was especially the case this past week. My wife joins me for therapy roughly once a quarter. It is a chance to make sure everyone is on the same page, and for my therapist (who…let me be clear, I greatly appreciate and enjoy meeting with) to see if there are any hidden issues that should be addressed. This time around I knew we would be addressing the management and handling of my next crisis experience. That’s right, no matter how good I was going to be feeling walking into those doors, we were going to address the when…not the if…of me losing my shit again. Because we all know I will.

As is often the case, following the session my wife and I grabbed an early dinner. A chance to debrief. To unwind from the tension the session can create.

By that point, I had entered a rather sober, somewhat discouraged place. We had just spent an hour talking about how my keys would be taken from me and locked in a safe that I didn’t have the combination to in order to ensure that I didn’t run away or park my truck in the garage with the door closed and a hose in the window. We had talked about whether I had the ability to load any of the antique guns in the house and blow my own brains out. We had talked about how I was allowed to sequester myself in the bedroom, but if I walked out the door my wife would have an acceptable authority to call the police and notify them that I was a danger to myself…and possibly others.

I’m pretty sure that you aren’t normal (and truly are insane) if that type of a conversation doesn’t sober you up a bit. Was it necessary? You bet. But so is sleep and medication. Doesn’t keep any of them from being at least somewhat humiliating.

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.

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.”

Present Day – New Year’s Day, 2017

Not this year. Not today. I just don’t have it in me. I can not remember the last time this was the case. Years. Probably decades. In fact, I have almost been religious about it. Looked forward to it. But now? I just do not have it in me.

Today is the day millions of people will launch their New Year’s Resolutions. Over the past six or so years I have allowed the numerical year to fuel mine. 12 goals for 2012. 14 commitments for 2014. 16 resolutions for 2016. Even went as far as to connect the year to the next level. 15 challenges for 2015 including losing 15 pounds. Neurotic? A bit. You get the idea.

However, as the now past year wound down and this day approached there was never a second thought. I knew weeks ago. Probably months ago. It simply was not going to happen.

Not that there aren’t plenty of needs. Weighed in today 16 pounds heavier than when I left the hospital and 27 pounds over what my doctor recommends. Split the difference and wouldn’t it sound great to aim for 17 pounds of weight loss in 2017?

Opposite my weight, my reading has dropped to a hideously low level. Let’s aim to read 17 minutes a day in 2017! A little over a date a month is far from too many so how about 2017 including 17 dates with my wife. Hell, I’m not even trying and look how easily they flow.

But no. No way. No how. No chance. I simply am not ready to look another year of resolution failure in the face. I do not have that in me. Not even close.

I’ve been one of those people who have joined the mantra of shouting good riddance to 2016. If you have read many of these blog entries, you know a major reason why. There are others.

I’ll confess, I’m not a fan of the President-Elect and all that 2016 included in bringing us to where we are politically in America. Then I got to thinking, if you didn’t like those results in 2016, how is 2017 going to be any better when the “-Elect” part comes off the job title?

Owning my own business and driving close to 100 miles a day in a 9 miles per gallon F-250, I have been a big fan of sub-$2.00 per gallon gasoline. As we have seen over the last month, that’s gonna change. And not for the better. If you weren’t a fan of gas prices, health insurance premiums, or cost of living budget lines in 2016…yeah, I think 2017 is going to be significantly more disappointing.

In my home state, 2016 was the second hottest year on record. I have some familiarity with the arguments for climate change and tend to agree with them. Are we turning the corner in that area of global challenge in 2017? I think not.

International conflict. Civil war. National violence. Addiction. Crack down on racism. Elimination of stigma. Equal rights for all people. Yeah…fuck you 2016 because these are all about to be resolved in 2017. Right? Umm…no.

I find myself unable to resolve too much of anything for the New Year. I have yet to receive the final bill for my last mental breakdown, and over the past few weeks have not felt that far from my next. If you think 2016 was a rough time to be alive, try being one of us for whom every day is a rough time to stay alive.

So this is my only commitment for 2017…each day when I wake up, I will commit to giving my all to staying alive for the next 17 hours. To doing everything within my power that day to make it back to that pillow 17 hours later.

To recognize that I will likely fail more than I will succeed at the tasks of my day-to-day living, but that failing alive is probably better than succeeding at death.

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

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.