These are my thoughts. They are not meant to make sense. They are my echo into the woods. I am the tree that falls, and it is here that I make a sound.
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Saturday, September 18, 2004

365, or My Life at 33 1/3, Part II

I looked at these three men, the two security guards and the intake worker, and off to my right could see the evil Asian doctor writing notes and looking over at me like I was a new species of maggot she had discovered hosting on an innocent young girl. I have never felt so alone in my life. And I'm quite serious about the sensation of falling: it was as real as the knife I'd been playing with only an hour before. I was told that they were contacting a psychiatrist that would come in to do an assessment on me but that I was being held for 72 hours regardless. If I tried to leave, the police would be called and I would be arrested.

I told the intake worker I needed to call my husband: NO ONE KNEW WHERE I WAS.

He let me use one of the nurses phones. I was shaking, I was so scared in thinking about how to tell my husband. I felt like I had done something terribly wrong. He was going to hate me, leave me, never love me again. He's very much a person who likes to control situations around him, stay on top of things. This was going to throw him into complete chaos, something he abhors.

I called him and told him I was in the ER and they wouldn't let me leave. He asked why and I started to cry. I could hear the panic in his voice: what the hell was going on. I vaguely mentioned the knife. He said he'd get look after Adam after school and once he was settled he'd come see me. And I remember just saying "please...". Part of me didn't want him to come and see me laid so low. But part of me just needed a hug, to know he wasn't going to leave me.

When I hung up the phone, I walked back to the dark room, 10 feet away. Then I curled into a ball on the couch there and sobbed and rocked and thought how badly I wanted to die, how terribly I had screwed up. Why the hell hadn't I just kept my damned mouth shut!

After an indeterminate amount of time, I poked my head out the door. The security guard was so close I almost tripped over him. I asked him if I could make a cell phone call. You can't use the cell phones in emergency: it screws up some of the machines. I had a vague idea that I could just walk away. The security guard checked with the Evil Asian Doctor, who spoke to the guard like I wasn't even there: "She is your responsibility. You have to watch her at all times. Do NOT let her out of your sight". Bitch - what did she think I was going to do, run away? I was angry again, very angry. How dare she? (never mind that it was exactly what I had intended to do).

The guard led me to the front of the ER entrance where I made a quick cell call to my husband, giving him a little more assurance that I was ok. I think he was too much in shock and panic to believe me. But we both pretended.

Back in the room, eventually a nurse came to lead me to the ward. Now I was the life of the party. I was making witty, brilliant comments to the nurse about the security guards accompanying us. She was laughing and shaking her head in disbelief at me. I was bouncy and happy (and covering for huge apprehension with the joking dodge).

In the ward, I sat at the nurses station while they took vitals and then the current case nurse, a very kind and gentle soul, led me to my new spartan cell (it was too small and bleak to be a room) at the far end of the hall to do her own intake interview. When I got to the part of trying to cut off my hand, she asked what significance my left hand held. I said none: I am right handed so it makes sense to cut the left one. I think she was looking maybe for some element of religious mania (the damned sit on the left hand of God while the blessed are on the right), but maybe I'm reading too much into her.

So there I sat. Or rather paced. I paced up and down the length of the ward at a speed that was just shy of a run. I would have put the best Olympic speedwalker to shame. And I did it for hours. And hours. I passed the nurses station once and overheard one of them say "Yep, and she's been doing it constantly since she arrived here, not sat once". I couldn't sit. I was a tiger in a cage, I needed my freedom.

Then my husband showed up.

I have never felt such shame in my life. I could see in his face the monster fear that he must have been dealing with - he looked shattered. And I hugged him and sobbed. I was such a failure. He brought me in changes of clothes, some toiletries (no razors or sharp objects, if you please). When he left, I sat and stared into space for what seemed forever, tears rolling down my face. What had I done? Where was my life going? It was worthless.

I spent the next 24 hours either pacing, riding an old rickety exercise bike they had in the hall or sitting in the dark TV room trying to put together a jigsaw puzzle.

Now a word about the jigsaws. There were about 15 of them. And someone was quite cruel: all the pieces were intermingled, from box to box. So the box I started with had pieces for probably 4 different puzzles. I spent the time to focus and shut out the horrible place I was in and knew that I was going to be able to fix this jigsaw hell. By the way, I never did: an even more cruel joke was that most puzzles had pieces missing. Great thing to do in a psych ward. Most of us had our own pieces missing.

It'd been about 24 hours and I was pacing up and down again. And as I passed the nurses station I heard one of them say that they were going to call Dr. J. again. I stopped dead in my tracks. I trembled with incredulity and rage and approached the station. Very deliberately and quietly I said: "are you meaning to tell me that I've been held here for over 24 hours against my will and you HAVEN'T EVEN CALLED THE CASE DOCTOR YET?" They said that they had called him but they're having trouble getting a response. I flew down the hall to my room, closed the unlockable door, sat up in a ball on the window ledge and boiled. My new case nurse, a wonderful young lady who showed me the face of compassion and dignity, came and knocked and then spoke to me. I didn't realize it but in my effort to contain my rage, I had my thumb nail from my right hand digging into the bottom of my left thumb, close to my wrist. I had drawn blood from the steady pressure inward. I hid it from her - I honestly didn't realize what I had done until she had calmed me down a bit and I felt the stinging on my thumb.

They called the doctor again and he responded. They were told to give me Ativan (a drug that would calm me down) and he'd be in when he was ready.

So Dr. J and I started off on stellar footing.

He came in later that afternoon, and like an East Indian Napoleon, told me I was staying a week. I told him to go pound salt. Little bastard wasn't going to tell ME what to do. I told him he could only hold me by law for 72 hours and I was leaving not one minute after that. He said if I left, against his orders, he would write in my chart that I was discharged AMA (Against Medical Advice) and he would ensure that no other psychiatrist in the city would see me. The nurses commiserated with me but supported his decision.

I was stuck.

So my husband had to shoulder the responsibility of being mom and step-dad for my son, and came to see me every day. We told my son I was in the hospital having tests on my heart - I had been having dizzy spells earlier in the year and have an abnormally low heart beat to begin with so it wasn't out of the realm of possibility that I was having such tests. We didn't let my son visit. I couldn't deal with that. I remember when my father had a nervous breakdown when I was ten and how he was when we had our forced visits with him - he wasn't the father I knew and scared me.

The week went by. At one point my family doctor came in to see me and again I was overcome with shame. I was trying to get him to agree to treat me rather than this horrid psychiatrist. He patiently explained that he wouldn't know what to do, that he wouldn't know what side effects or problems to watch for with medication, what tests to do and when - he gently steered me toward the Napoleon from Bombay.

I was started on Epival (valproic acid or Depakote) and Seroquel. I am still on those same medications today, just at much higher doses.

My mother called. I didn't want her to know where I was but my husband said she had called the house to talk to me and he had to say something. So he gave her the same story we gave my son. However, there were two things that gave up the story: (1) all patients had to use a community phone in the kitchen, and ANYONE could answer it. In my case, when they transferred the call over, it was answered by a 65 year old man in for depression. My mom was wondering what an old man was doing answering my phone. I made up some lame ass excuse. (2) My mom told me later that when she called in and asked for my room, it got transferred to the nurses desk, who answered "2C, Psychiatry". So she knew something was weird.

My husband brought in, among other things, my drawing pad and pencils. I still have some of the sketches. There's a really really good one I did of a wheel chair - I burrowed into a far corner of the ward by myself (I am really good at pretending to like to be around people but isolating myself quite well) and spent an hour rendering it in great detail. But I also drew some of the thoughts in my head, like a severed hand. I was far from stable, but at least I was safe.

Eventually, I was discharged. I never did finish a jigsaw puzzle, but I did arrange each box with its own pieces. I'm sure it's in a terrible state again.

I remember when I came home I felt so fragile. I felt it was ridiculous really - I hadn't had surgery, or a broken bone, or anything so dramatic. But now I realize that I had scraped away down to the raw essence of myself a week before, that I was a week ago punctured by awful, festering wounds that went to my very centre. When I
was released, those bruised and raw parts of me had only just recently been stitched together, with the most tenuous of threads. I sit here right now and realized that I could have died, had I let it go even a day longer. It was months before I approached anything resembling stability. I know a huge part of keeping on the path toward stability is the constant and unwavering support of my husband. He doesn't know how often he saves me. From the world and from myself. I love you more than I can ever express.

I can sit here now and the long and winding road has taken me to a dramatically different internal landscape. I'm still the same traveler, and Mordor is never far away. But I try hard, sometimes with gargantuan effort, to keep my face turned to the sun rather than tremble in coldest shadow.

I know that this has been a long entry. And it may either have bored you silly or disturbed you. Or perhaps neither. And yes, it is somewhat cathartic to write. Doing so, I've really relived a lot of wild emotions, near tears sometimes and feeling the echoes of either fear or rage others. I've never done it before, laid the whole story out. But I needed to acknowledge this anniversary, and both mourn what I have lost and gone through and celebrate my evolution. Stasis is death: movement is life.

I will keep my feet moving, hopefully in the right direction.


Anonymous Anonymous said...
........been there. Great job writing about it. I hope it was cathartic writing about it. It still feels fresh and raw---the pain comes through. I hope you find peace.

---Synergy's k  

Blogger Cliff said...
You Said " I'm still the same traveler, and Mordor is never far away. But I try hard, sometimes with gargantuan effort, to keep my face turned to the sun rather than tremble in coldest shadow." So very true, I know exactly what you mean.

Been there walked the path. After a year and a half, going on two since my own dx, the road is starting to smooth out some. And that's good, it's foothills instead of mountains.

Hang in there, and stay safe.  

Blogger blondzila said...
Thank you, both. Yes, it was somewhat cathartic writing it. And I am much more peaceful than I was. It takes effort sometimes, but I'm stubborn and something rubs wrong in me to give in to this, to give up. So, on we all march :-)  

Blogger Cliff said...
Over the last couple of years I have come to know many people with BP. The ones that are successful in coping with it and managing it are the ones who simply refuse to give up. The others, it eats like a lion and a slow gazelle.

They don't realise that the urge to surrender is a symptom of the illness itself. We have to learn how to plow through the discouragement and function in hopelessness, because it may well be only the illness lying to us.  

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