7 Minutes

Originally written 3-17-2018

PART I

There is a blank space
Not a slate to draw plans on
No foundation,
Not a place for hope or dreams
There is no starting place
No ending place, either
A middle space
Before the end
After the beginning,
I search for
The calm
A darkness
I pull back nothing,
An absence
That not even light can escape

PART II

There is an empty space
Not a window
Not a floor
There is no port of egress
Not even a door
There have been times
I passed this place
Never knowing it was here
I was headed somewhere different
With a plan in my mind
Looking for something different
Not a hint of where I would land

PART III

Spoken plainly…

There was no empty space
To go when I died
There was no tunnel
No bright white light
I did not experience anything
On this I can go no further
There is nowhere to go
For 7 minutes I was gone,
But I didn’t go anywhere

— GLB

a night in the desert (actually Des Moines, IA)

so we’re barreling down this road and we pass a cop, we must not have been making the wrong sounds because he doesn’t start to follow, then you shout something obscene out the window, instantly there are lights in the mirror, that’s just swell, it’s 3 something in the morning, we are completely messed up and you’re shouting at a cop….oh yeah and we’re going something like four hundred miles an hour, don’t worry he’ll never catch us….

the next thing I know, there’s that cop, standing at my window asking for my credentials, I ask him how he caught up to us and how he’s even standing there because I’m going like seven thousand miles per hour, then he gets to being not very nice and pulls me out of the car through the window, he starts to walk me over to his car and you are sitting in your window throwing bologna at us like they were Frisbees, the cop threatens you with arrest too and you quite nicely switch to cursing him out but in a language neither of us understand (I could tell by the intention and inflection)

we get to his car and puts me in the back and asks me questions like what’s my name, where do I live, where was I going tonight and I answer every one of his inquiries except the one about our destination, for some reason, I didn’t think “The Moon” was a proper response, I must not be as messed up as I thought I was, so I get brave and ask him why he pulled us over and he says it’s because we were doing twenty in a fifty-five and you were hanging out the window with your boobs sticking out

he tells me that if I can get you to put your shirt back on and stop cussing that he’ll take us home, let us off with warnings and we can walk back to get the car tomorrow, the house is only a half mile away

“A Bipolar Life”

After my break, I floated around for a while.  My parents were there to take care of me, I was not in the psych ward.  I’m not really sure what I did, except try to piece together what had been going on for the previous two years.  I remember little pieces of things but not very much.  I also know I hunted around for quality psychiatric care.  Other than that, I come up empty.  Six or seven months after the break, I had found a psych doc and therapist. My meds had changed and I was starting to feel the fog lifting a bit.  I had started Cognitive Behavioral Therapy on an outpatient basis at the psychiatric hospital.  I had been going for a month and I really wasn’t seeing any benefit.  My biggest complaint was that I was still hearing voices telling me to do all kinds of things, the least of which was to crash my car.  One of the counselors took me aside one morning and talked to me about ECT.  I went home and talked to my parents about it and we set up an appointment at the hospital.

The next thing I remember clearly is being taken off the unit I was on and walked down to the ECT department.

The first ECT went like this:
After the lengthly talk with the nurse, blood pressure, blood sugar, pulse, temp, etc. etc.
Walk down the hall to the ECT Room
Hop up on the gurney
Hello to the Nurse, Doc, Orderly, Anesthesiologist
Nurse hooks up a bunch of electrodes, then finds the vein, hooks up the IV
Doc puts electrodes on your head
Anesthesiologist administers heart rate drug (downer, feels a little good, I could stay on this for a while)
Anesthesiologist administers knock out drug (it felt like my heart stopped and I died, I don’t need to or want to experience this again)
Wake up on the gurney in a long line of gurneys and curtains (ECT Recovery)

The way I experienced ECT for the first few months was to black it out.  This was made easier by the anesthetist.  Having to go for treatment on a regular basis meant that my regular life was pretty much blacked out as well.  I remember doing things in and around San Diego, but they’re a little fuzzy.  When the treatments got farther apart the three of us would go on weekend then week long trips.  Yosemite was a favorite and I know we went two if not three times. (I’ll have to look back at the pictures I took).  We also went up the coast to Santa Barbra, and further North to go whale watching.  Most of my in between treatment memories are held in pictures and video that I have on my computer.  Other than those trips, my memory of that time is empty.  I don’t know if it was because of the way I was approaching ECT or if it was the ECT itself.  I have nothing.  Though I will say, the ECT appeared to be doing its job.  My mood was better and the voices had stopped.

Then the disability from my job ran out and I was officially laid off.  We needed to find a new place to live.  I did, and my parents were coming with me.  So, we moved to my aunt’s house in Elk Grove, VA.  That’s about an eight hour drive North of San Diego.  We moved there and still “commuted” to San Diego for ECT treatments.  They were getting further apart so we didn’t have to go too many times.  Still, those trips were a blur.  I think we drove down the day before, stayed in a hotel, had the treatment the next day then drove back to Elk Grove.  I float in and out of the early days in Elk Grove too.  After a little while we made arrangements with the Psych Hospital in Sacramento to take over the ECT treatments.  They required that I go in patient to start so I could be monitored.  I remember three things about that stay.  Gray,  the cafeteria made me want to retch, we had to walk through the gym to get to the ECT trailer and it smelled of sweat, rubber flooring and rubber balls.  After the initial treatments I went to outpatient again.  Once my government disability and Medicare was available we moved out of my aunt’s house and into an apartment close to the hospital.  My memories of this time are better.  For one, I had an outstanding therapist who just “got me”.  Also, all the relatives I had around provided a constant source of interaction and I was finally coming out of the fog I had been living in for a long time.

Looking back on that time of my life, I can now see how I pulled myself through some horrible experiences.  The only way I can describe it; I was present but I wasn’t always there.  I found myself in a sequence of situations that I didn’t want to be in, so for all intents and purposes, I went on auto-pilot and just got through.  I am greatly and sincerely sorry to anyone this may have hurt, inconvenienced, put-out or mislead during that time.  I was trying to survive the best way I could.

Reading “Madness: A Bipolar Life”  by Marya Hornbacher for the past week and a half has made me look at my own relationship with Bipolar Disorder a lot differently than I have been.  Marya’s experiences with Bipolar are very different from mine.  To begin with she has Bipolar I, rapid cycling, meaning she goes from depression to mania very quickly, she also suffers from mixed episodes where she experiences depression and mania at the same time.  I have Bipolar II and suffer mainly depression (though I am not a stranger to mania and psychoses).  She has also been in hospital many more times than I have.  Where our experiences do cross how Bipolar has affected things in our lives like relationships with family, friends (gained and lost), jobs and careers (won and lost).  Mental illness affects these things and many, many more, in all who suffer from it.

I learned a lot about myself reading this book, I saw a lot of myself in those pages and I think that I am better off for having read it.  One thing I will take away from it comes from the Epilogue (that’s right you should always read the Epilogue) where Marya talks about who we are and what we can become.  She writes:

“How do we know who we are or what we can become? We tell ourselves stories.  The stories we tell are what we know of ourselves.  We are a creation, a product of our own minds a pastiche of memory, dream, fear, desire.  My memory looks like a child’s collage, or a ransom note, incomplete and full of holes.  All I have is today, this moment, to work with.  I am writing my story as I go.  I am inventing myself one moment, one experience at a time.

And that’s all right.  It means I can choose who I become.  It means I can write my future.  I can create a person, write a story, full of hope.”

I sincerely hope you get a chance to read “Madness: A Bipolar Life”  by Marya Hornbacher.  It’s a gripping, funny, maddening, harrowing, human story that could possibly change your life.

Big Break

Big Break, for someone in Hollywood, say, an actor, it means something completely different than what it means to me.  For both of us, it will be a life-altering event.  For the actor, the change he experiences may or may not be permanent.  For me, the change is constant.  Nothing is ever the same.  It’s like I’m living on the edge of a kaleidoscope that is attached to the International Space Station traveling 17,00m mph.  At least that is the way it felt most of the time while I was having my Big Break (psychotic break, psychotic episode, mental breakdown, gone bat-shit crazy).  Part of the time, though, I felt like I was moving at a snail’s pace. That feeling only applied to me, everything else was moving at normal, if not accelerated pace.  This was the case with the little men trying to get into my apartment.  They were climbing through windows, coming up my porch downspout and pushing open my front door faster than I could sweep them out.  Because I was moving so slow, they were moving even faster. I couldn’t even get my pistol and shotgun out fast enough to get them all out.  Luckily, the guns were kept locked up and the little men, somehow disappeared.

That amounts to the sum total of what I can remember of my Big Break.  The slow parts continue to this day.  They have gotten better.  I don’t usually feel as though I am completely slowed down.  Not physically anyway.  Though it does frequently happen to me mentally.  I notice it most often when I am writing or speaking.  A thought or idea will enter my mind and it will feel as though it is wading through mud.  It will take an eternity for me to find the right word or words to express the idea.  This is frustrating when I’m writing but when I’m having a conversation with someone it can be very embarrassing.  I’ve been working on the problem for over a year now and it doesn’t seem to be getting any better.  It looks like the sticky mind is here to stay.  If I were in Hollywood and the result of my Big Break was something like this, I’d probably be heading back to my home town in search of other opportunities.  I’m not, so I have no choice but to keep working at it.

My Argument for Bipolar Disorder

I’m thinking about the time between when I was diagnosed with depression and when I was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder.  I received my first diagnosis from an actual psychologist in late 2003 to early 2004.  It’s not that clear to me because it was not that big a deal to me.  I had, in the past year, come off a bout with cancer which turned itself around in pretty short order.  I wasn’t quite feeling like myself, more down than usual. So I went to a psychiatrist, was diagnosed with depression, got a prescription for an anti-depressant and went on with my life.  I figured it was all part of the healing process, part of having cancer and so would become part of my life.  I took my anti-depressant as I should. I stopped drinking as I should.  I saw my doctors as I should.  Everything was as normal as it could be.

In the spring of 2005 I was given the opportunity to move across the country, from Virginia Beach to San Diego.  So I did.  When I got to San Diego, I found a new set of doctors and went about my merry way. But something was different.  I went out a lot more often, spent money more freely, had a lot of one night stands.  I also had more and more bouts with depression.  At first I attributed it to being worn out from the increased pressure to perform at work.  I didn’t even identify it as depression.  When I talked to my psychiatrist about it, I told him I was having a hard time sleeping and he prescribed Ambien.  This worked for a while, I was rested and work was easier to deal with but my highs were getting higher.  I was spending more time at work or I was working at home in the evenings, on top of that I was still going out at night.  Pretty soon the candle was about to meet in the middle and boy was I going to get burned.  I told my psychiatrist that I was having problems sleeping again and he prescribed Lunesta.  I took Lunesta for about a week or so and then things started going sideways.  I was having problems at work, I wasn’t treating my co-workers and customers with the respect they deserved then I started hallucinating.  The main hallucination had little men trying to get into my apartment. The rest of this story has been told earlier in this blog and I don’t think I need to rehash it here.

The thing I came away with when really looked at it, is that I should have been diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder at least as early as 2005.  The problem is that no one could see it.  I was in a new town, with new friends and we were all just out to have a good time.  This would have been fine if I hadn’t previously been diagnosed with depression and on an anti-depressant.  If I had the Bipolar diagnosis at this time I believe there would have never been as psychotic break. Up until I had the psychotic break my anti-depressant prescription never changed.  After that, I was diagnosed with psychotic depression which made more sense and different medications were given.  It wasn’t until I moved here in 2012 and had a full psychiatric work up by my current psych-doc that I was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder and started on the path to figuring out just which medications are right for me.  I am finally getting the treatment needed to make me level.

To some, Bipolar Disorder sounds like a horrific diagnosis.  For me, it sounds like music to my ears.  To me it means that I’m getting my life back.