I cannot move. I don’t want to move. I certainly don’t have the energy to move. This crazy guy, crazier than me, just introduced himself then started moving furniture around. I’m just sitting here looking at him with stoic indifference probably resembling a carved, stone face on Mount Rushmore. I open up my laptop and start pounding out these few sentences. I’ve checked myself into the Crisis Stabilization Unit, a mental health facility next to Sierra Nevada Memorial Hospital in California, knowing I need help. I know the faces behind the desk. They know me. I feel safe here. There won’t be any wrist cutting, or window ledges to jump from. Not that I’m considering those possibilities because, for one, it would take too much effort. I just want to sleep.
Crazy guy has gotten on my nerves. I didn’t think that was possible because I don’t care about anything. I go smoke outside. Cigarettes are wonderful when I’m down and I’m grateful to have the privilege to smoke at this facility. Halfway finished with a cigarette, crazy guy runs past me. Back inside, they are calling the cops. Later I would watch the poor chap being handcuffed from my hospital window, and taken somewhere out of my view. He’s completely oblivious of his butt showing through the open back of his blue hospital gown. If I could feel anything right now, I would be sad for him.
I laid down on my bed and slept for hours.
There came a knock on my door, and through it’s glass panels I could see the smiling face of a strange woman holding a clipboard.
“Darin, your friend Sara is here” she announced. Then, “I told her I could neither confirm or deny you are here so its up to you if you want to talk to her or not.”
“I’d be happy to.”
Sara is an older classmate who I love dearly. We are training to be peer support specialists, ironically, in the behavioral health field. I am lead to a room off to the side. She has to be buzzed in. When the door unlocks, she enters and gives me a big, warm hug.
“Honey, you look tired. Are you sleeping?”
“It’s all I’ve been doing. After class on Thursday, I came home and went right to sleep. I slept for nearly 24 hours. I have bouts of time where I’m not asleep.” I half smile, not entirely comfortable looking her in the eyes.
We sit down on the leather sofa.
“Are you taking your meds?”
“Darin, you’re bipolar. You have an illness. You know better. Why aren’t you talking your medications?”
“Well, I’m still taking Lamictal, but Ability is making my face do weird things, like causing my jaw to lock, and draw back causing a weird underbite and..”
“Tardive dyskinesia.” Sara interrupts. “You were wise to stop taking it immediately.” I could see that she was thinking as she looked off to the side, then says “and it’s a weekend so there’s no-one to prescribe for you until Monday…”
“And so I’m here.” I say.
“You haven’t thought about hurting yourself? You’re just being pro-active or what? How are you feeling?”
“I feel like I’m walking through three feet of sand. I’ve lost interest in everything I do. I haven’t written any music in like two weeks. Every movement is an effort. I’m not interested in socializing or hanging out with any of my friends for any reason.” I let it flow out of me with little effort. I trust Sara.
I shifted in my seat then added more to enlighten her. She was listening.
“Sara, I AM my illness right now. I am depression. It’s taken me over. I’m here because I don’t trust myself. I’m here because I need a safe place to be alone.”
“Let me see your arms.” She says as she reaches out to grab my hands. I roll my arms around exposing the underbellies of them.
“I told you I”m not hurting myself, I’m way beyond that now. The physical part, and so many people don’t get that depression is also physical, is really kicking my ass. Every movement is an effort, everything is hard. I can’t even yield a mop.”
“Well, Darin, you’re having shoulder surgery next week. You’re in pain in many ways. What’s going on in your head? You know, my husband couldn’t get out of bed for a week at a time – he’d call into work sick a lot. My son did the same.” She gets sidetracked and smiles. “You remind me a lot of my son, that’s why I think I love you so much.”
“What’s going on in my head…you’re asking maybe what I might be making a big deal of that isn’t so big in reality because I’m a messed up bipolar guy, right?” I nudge her, referring to our professional training.
“Yeah, what’s going on? Things ok at home?”
“Yes and no. It’s a clean and sober living environment, and I feel supported in that way, but the head of our household has told me he doesn’t believe in diagnoses and buys into this airy-faerie belief system that we can pull ourselves out of mental illness by shear will power or some shit.”
“Not good. I’m glad you’re here. But you know, that just doesn’t sound like William. Do you think that maybe your disease is talking and not William? Everything can be greatly exaggerated when you’re going through these mood swings Darin. You know this. Things aren’t as big as they seem, and sometimes things aren’t even what you think they are at all.”
We talked off topic for quite some time. She told me she lived close and would be there for anything I needed. But then she could tell I was fading and let me be. I knocked on the door and was buzzed back into the facility. I found myself barely picking up my feet as I walked to the couch were I collapsed and just sort of stared at nothing for a bit. Kitty-corner to me was this kid, probably early twenties, half naked holding his legs, shivering. I watched the hands of a clock move and didn’t say anything to the guy. His head was buried in his legs anyway. I pressured myself to speak to him, after all I was in training to be a peer support specialist, I SHOULD talk to this guy. I took off my hoodie and offered it to him.
“Dude, you are making me cold. Go ahead, put this on.” I said.
He looked up, then stood up, eyeballing the wadded up hoodie in my hands. He didn’t say anything and couldn’t look at me.
“Really, go ahead. I’m just going to crawl back into bed anyway.”
From the front desk; “Darin, he’s got some issue with wearing a shirt, it’s been going on all day. Nice of you though”
The still silent kid walked up to the front desk.
“Can I help you with anything Sam?” the therapist asked.
He remained silent. Then pressed against the door leading to the hallway. He found it unlocked, and then he bolted. The therapist called the police. I went to my window were I could see him running down the road and make a left on the intersecting road. “He’s running towards Presley!” I shouted. From my window I could see a smattering of hapless people on their way into the emergency room. An arriving ambulance filled my crazy-room with dancing blue and red lights. In moments, the Grass Valley police department had arrived in several cars. Soon an officer would be asking me where I saw Sam last.
No drama was elevating me, in fact, I was sleeper than ever. Then another strange woman walked up to me and said; “I told him I could neither confirm or deny you were here, but there’s a man here who said you would know him as “the guardian angel”. If you want to talk to him, I’ll let him in the side room over here.” She pointed.
“Yeah, sure.” I answered. Oh God, it’s William. I was thankful that he saved my life easier this year, but now I thought it was all different and just maybe he might be asking me to live somewhere else. That was the worst case scenario I had in my head. The door buzzer sounded, and with a click it unlocked, and William walked into the room.
“Buddy, what’s going on?” He asked softly and with kindness. He took a seat and I did too.
“It’s just that super dangerous bipolar depression. I am my illness right now. I am just really down, lower than low, and I needed some professional help.” I laid it out.
“You haven’t been yourself for a week now. You haven’t spoken much to me, I thought you might be avoiding me in fact.” His big blues looked desperate, and kind of sad, much like his old yellow Labrador Retrievers’.
I met his eyes, “Frankly I have.”
“Because why would I talk to someone who doesn’t believe what I’m going through?”
“Wait, are you talking about the conversation we had about labeling? By that I meant that you shouldn’t let yourself be defined by the label of mental illness, or alcoholic. I certainly believe in diagnosis. You’re living proof, I’m living proof. I meant I didn’t believe in labeling, not that I didn’t believe in mental illnesses – you get me?”
I took some time without responding. Then he said, “I apologize up and down if it wasn’t clear, and that I had inadvertently created an unsafe living environment for you by my anti-labeling words, that wasn’t my intention. You can talk to me anytime. You are a dear friend. I’m glad you are here, and had the spirit to get here. You are smart and way ahead of the game. I do think you need a break from some of the volunteerism, and some of the other things you have taken on. You are only 65 days sober, and you have dove head first into all this activity. Slow down.”
“I don’t have much of a choice, my body won’t let me be anything but slow. And apparently my mind is thinking things are much worse, and bigger than the problem, if any, are. That’s bipolar delusion right there.” I said, voice quivering a bit.
Hugs were exchanged, and see ya later’s were said, and I was buzzed back into the crazy ward.
I sat down on the chair were Sam had been before he went awol. I reflected on real and unreal things that were causing me anxiety and bringing me down further. I was still left with the feeling of dread. My body still ached. I still feel like I just ran a marathon when I had not. I was still feeling like I was walking through three feet of sand and anxious over nothing. A change of meds was in store for me first thing Monday morning, but for now, a mild tranquilizer had calmed my nerves.
The kindly therapist who had talked to me on arrival sat on the sofa next to it. She laid her hand on me knee and said, “You look better.”
“I feel a hundred pounds lighter. That was hugely constructive. It’s like you said, my head is just making things up, or at the very least exponentially exaggerating.”
“You know this will pass, you have been through it before. Your strength in all this is your insight.” She smiled.
“They find Sam?”
“He’s over at the ER receiving some care.”
“I was like that once. I’d get off my rocker manic, thinking I didn’t need a place like this; a walking danger.”
“Experience gives you empathy, but in you, I think it’s also innate.” She looks at me with kind eyes.
“That’s two that went awol since I’ve been here.”
“Three total today. There was one that blew out of here before you got here.”
“It’s been a long day for everyone here. I have the luxury of going to sleep. I hope you are off soon. Goodnight.” And with that I laid down for the night.
Morning came. At some point Sam was brought back in, and now he’s sleeping in his room, still shirtless. I wonder if I will get to talk with him today. I’m glad I’m curious because I have been lackluster in that department lately. I just haven’t cared enough to be curious about anything or anyone. Nothing interests me. I could very well just go home, lock myself in my room and listen to songs by The Smiths. I’m living in shear despair about nothing, maybe Morrissey would give me something to cry about.
The nurse will be in soon, and I will know what they recommend I do, and I will follow it. A young friend texted me this morning suggesting I go play with kittens with him at a local animal shelter called Sammies Friends as a way to cheer me up. Really. He means well.
As this day unfolds, I find I have no expectations, wants, or needs. I am just riding on a tide of willingness, and for now that will have to do.