That Which Must Not Be Named

A few days before my aunt killed herself, she showed up out our house. I was chasing my sister around the yard when my aunt pulled up in her shitty yellow car. She was wearing a trench coat and big dark sunglasses. She left my little cousin in the backseat.

My mom, smoking a cigarette on the porch, asked what she wanted. The two of them started arguing. My mom kept saying, “No, I won’t. I won’t…”

My aunt was trying to leave her kid. She said it was only for a few days, but my mom knew this wasn’t a breather. This was something permanent.

“You can’t do this to me,” my mom said. “Now, take your daughter home.”

“This is bullshit!” My aunt screamed as she got in the car and drove off.

A few days later we got the call. I remember my mom dropping the phone on our kitchen floor.

My parents wouldn’t tell me what had happened, but I knew it was bad. Kids alway do.

The next day I found my mom in the living room. There were piles of laundry everywhere. She’d washed everything in the house – every towel, comforter, the Spiderman sheets I hadn’t seen in years. She’d brought in boxes of old winter stuff from the garage. There were stacks of shirts and slacks on the couch and on top of the TV. There were two baskets overflowing with mismatched socks.

My mom just kept folding. I knelt next to her, put my head on her lap. She didn’t say anything.

She didn’t say anything for days.

When it was time for the funeral my parents said I couldn’t go. I had school.

My father said my aunt was cleaning a gun and it accidentally went off.  Even in third grade I knew how filthy the mouth was and that it was a terrible way to clean anything, let alone a gun.

To this day, “suicide” has hardly been uttered.

It’s like Voldemort.

I suppose it’s that way for most families. We talk about cancer, torture, abuse, being gay, atheism, alcoholism, amputation, depression, plane wrecks, car wrecks, jihad, Agent Orange, slavery, heart disease, schizophrenia, adultery, sodomy, STDs, dogfights, poverty, starvation…

But the mention of suicide turns everyone into a librarian.

Maybe it’s too awful, too disturbing. Since we were little we’ve been told this existence gift is paramount.

How could someone destroy it?

It unravels the fabric of, well, everything.

Religions condemn it. Governments make it illegal (yes, it’s against the law to kill yourself.)

But it doesn’t prevent it from happening, even when they belittle it, say it’s the “cowards way out.”

But try touching a stove or stepping into traffic. Our instinct is to survive.

To take your life is to override the very thing that keeps our species going.

Imagine what that person must be going through to take this step.

Sorry Your Son Died; Thanks for the Nachos

No one is “good” at grieving, but I believe you can be bad at it. Like if someone dies and you go on a murderous rampage or start raping your way through the pain, I think it’s safe to say that’s “bad.”

I, like most people, grieve somewhere in between. I’m awkward and I tend to flail. I make jokes. They’re inappropriate. It’s a defense mechanism. I don’t realize it’s happening until it’s too late.

On 9/11, I invited a bunch of people over to my place. There were rumors California was going to be a target, and my friends and I figured we might as well go out together, so we bought supplies and watched as the horror played out on the news. After a few hours, I couldn’t take any more death and destruction. None of us could. The newscasters started throwing out possible suspects. They mentioned Oklahoma City, American militias and terrorist cells from the Middle East.

I said, “How do we know it’s not the sharks?”

They had been in the news recently, biting off limbs near the Florida coast. Who’s to say they didn’t learn to fly a plane?

It was absurd and stupid, but it was a swift blow to the misery in the room. We started laughing, a little too loud, mind you, because my landlord heard us cackling like maniacs. He evicted me a few weeks later.

I haven’t changed much. I doubt I will. Suffering from bipolar II, I can’t tell you how many times finding the funny has kept me from stepping off a ledge.

I don’t believe laughter is the best medicine, but it is necessary to survive.

And I’ve learned that even though my brain searches for a joke in the darkest moments, I don’t always have to voice them, and they definitely don’t belong in letters of condolence.

Last week my best friend as a kid killed himself. The cops tried to talk him off the bridge, but he jumped. I hadn’t spoken to him in almost five years. He’d gone off the grid. He didn’t like to take his meds. Now, he’s gone, and I never got to tell him how much he meant to me.

I wanted to go to the funeral, but it’s in Kansas City and it’s not possible right now. Instead I decided to write a letter to his parents. Growing up, I spent almost as much time at their house as my own. There were a lot of good memories, and I tried to list them off as best as I could recall. But after a while, the pain was just too great. I’d failed him as a friend. I should’ve reached out when I heard about his diagnosis of schizophrenia. I should’ve been there at his side, sharing my own struggles with mental illness. But I didn’t. I couldn’t stop crying, but I needed to get the letter into the mail, so I quickly thanked them for being wonderful people and for making me nachos whenever I spent the night. The nachos were always greasy and gooey and magnificent.

Just as I was about to pop it in the mail, I decided to show it to my wife.

She read it, then said, “Wait. Are you seriously saying, ‘Sorry for the loss of your son, but thanks for the nachos?’”

I realized an edit was in order, so I took out the jokes and simply told them that I loved them and that I miss my best friend.

What say you? Have you ever said something inappropriate to someone in mourning?

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Suicidal Ideation

Last night my best friend as a kid killed himself. According to the newspaper, the cops tried to talk him down off the bridge, but he jumped.

I haven’t seen him since college. We lost touch a long time ago. I heard he was living off the grid the past two years. He’d been in and out of facilities to deal with his schizophrenia. He didn’t like taking his meds. Now, he’s gone, and there’s just this tidal wave of grief. Our parents are still good friends. No one knows what to say.

I don’t even feel like writing today, but I wanted to put something down, so I’m linking to the three posts where I learned I had bipolar II and my own dealings with suicide.

If you or anyone you know needs help, please don’t hesitate to call 1-800-273-8255

Here is my story in three parts:

Crisis – Part 1

Crisis – Part 2

Crisis – Part 3

 

Crisis – Part 3

Other parts in series:

Crisis – Part 1

Crisis – Part 2

The following took place January 2008.

Part 3

At any given moment, without proper context, all of us can look deranged.  Your kid kicks the back of your seat while you’re trying to merge, some dirtball at Applebee’s grabs your ass on the way to the bathroom, the placekicker hooks it left, a mouse skitters out from under your bed, you get stung by a bee, a gallstone passes, or maybe the air conditioner just broke and it’s really fucking hot.

Take a snapshot of a person during these moments and you’ll record the eyes of madness.

Without context, one can only assume you’ve lost your mind.

It’s with this understanding lawyers and representatives have made it difficult to have someone committed.  The rules and guidelines are very strict, which I’m sure frustrates a person trying to save a loved one, but these laws keep many of us in our homes, allow us to walk the streets, and raise our children.

This is why after the crisis center I’ve decided to continue navigating the Los Angeles Mental Health Gauntlet.  With my wits and self-awareness, I feel I can avoid long-term confinement.  I’ve contacted Dr. Marcos to make me the appointment tomorrow in West L.A.  I’m fairly certain it won’t end with me in a straitjacket, but I am still worried.

In California, they can hold you for 72 hours if they feel there’s eminent danger.  Usually, this comes in the form of a confession.  A person admits he’s going to do something awful.  That’s why Dr. Marcos asked if I had a specific plan for killing myself.  If I’d said yes and they let me go, they’d be liable.  Thankfully, I lied and kept myself free for another night, which I am using to scour the Internet.

I need to know what I’m up against.  Obviously, I want to get better, but I don’t want to be locked up.

I also realize the crisis center was nothing compared to what I’ll face tomorrow.  The facility in West L.A. is state-run, meaning there’s going to be bureaucracy and a lot of pitfalls.  In Culver City all I had to do was not shit my pants or try to bite someone’s dick off and they were happy to shuffle me out the door.

Tomorrow, I’m going to have to be on guard.

Jess and I wake early and drive to West L.A.  We park down the street from the concrete citadel.  It’s like someone decided to build a prison next to a 7-11.  The elevator smells like vomit.  We get off on the wrong floor.  There’s an entire wall of children’s drawings, but I don’t see or hear a single kid.  For some reason my heart starts to swell.  I feel the tears coming and my face tingles.  I shake it off and push the elevator button.  The stench of puke helps stifle my emotions.

The waiting area is packed.  No city in America can compete with Los Angeles when it comes to crazy.

Jess helps check me in.  There are forms we have to fill out.  We take a seat next to a nice Hispanic family.  The kids are crawling on the ground, while the mother stares blankly at the wall.  Her husband strokes the back of her hand with his finger.  Their little boy struggles to his feet.  His legs shake like a newborn calf as he tries to keep his balance.  His father smiles and the boy looks at me, almost as if he’s expecting applause.

I give a little wave.  Jess takes the clipboard from me and starts filling out my info.   I see plops of smeared ink on the top form.  I didn’t even realize I was crying.  I wipe my face and focus on the social workers moving behind the partition.  I have to get a hold of myself.

It’s fine to be sad, that’s why I’m here, but I need to stay in control.  I can’t slip up.

An hour passes and I tell Jess she can leave if she wants, get a cup of coffee or some lunch.  She tells me she’s fine and stays focused on the TV in the corner of the room.  It’s CNN.  You’d think they’d be running cartoons or PBS.  The ticker on the screen says there’s been an earthquake in the Philippines.  It says hundreds have died.

I look at my shoes, at the wall, a bulletin board of support groups.

A young woman calls my name.  I get up and follow her down a hallway.  She looks like she’s in college, probably getting clinic hours for this.

We get to a table with no chairs.  She says she needs to go over a few things.

“So you’ve been having suicidal ideation?” she asks.

“Yes.”  I just learned that word last night.  It says I’m thinking about death, but not necessarily in specific terms, which was why I wrote it down.

She continues to ask me questions.  Two women pass by, and I move to the left.  I don’t understand why we’re not in an office.  I feel like I’m in everyone’s way.  A guy wheels through a mail cart.  I’m turning, angling.

“Are you okay?” the young lady asks.

My head feels like a water balloon filling with tears.  It’s going to burst.

The lady looks scared.  She goes over to a female coworker, who comes over.  The woman brings me to a seat, hands me some tissues.  I’ve sprung a leak, but I’m not gushing, not yet.  I smile and eek out, “Thanks.”

“Can you tell us what you’re thinking?” the woman asks.

“I just…really don’t want to be here.”

“In the office?  Or do you mean something bigger?”

I nod at the second one.  And I see their faces.  It’s the look of pity, and it makes me want to rip out my eyes.  These women see people at their most frightening, most disturbed on a daily basis, and I’m breaking their hearts.  I’ve never hated myself this much in my entire life.

Their supervisor comes over and I secretly dig my thumbnail into the side of my finger, focus on the pain.  I need to pull myself together.  I need to do it now.  The supervisor is calculating.  She’s assessing the situation, placing me into a category before I open my mouth.  I calmly wipe my cheek.

“I apologize,” I say.  “It’s just been a long last couple of days.”  I’m smiling.  My back’s straight.  This is the image they need to see, this is not the face of someone in eminent danger.

They call over a doctor, and we go into an office.  I answer questions.  The doctor is short, pudgy, and wearing a corduroy jacket.

I’m trying to look relaxed.  I feel like a lab animal.  I make eye contact, but not too much eye contact.

The supervisor asks, “It says you drink?  How many drinks would you say you have a week?”

“Depends.”

She scribbles something.

“It’s not a lot.  I haven’t had a drink in weeks.”

“I see…” More scribbling.

Fuck!  It sounds like I have a problem.

“I don’t drink when I get depressed.  I don’t touch it.  It’s not a big deal.  I’ll go months and not even think about it.”

The three confer.  I try to breathe.  I know I sound like I’m trying to cover something.

The supervisor is not even trying to whisper.  “We should think about including some substance abuse counseling in his treatment.”

Fuck, fuck, fuck…

This is what happens.  These are the pitfalls.  You can’t bring up alcohol.  You can’t even mention it.  Once you do, they put you in N.A. or A.A.  Doesn’t matter that I don’t do drugs.  Doesn’t matter that I don’t even think about drinking when I’m depressed, which would be the exact opposite of someone with a problem.  But substance abuse takes the pressure off of them, because they don’t have to get to the root cause if I’m just an addict.

The pudgy doctor says, “I don’t know.  From what he’s saying, I don’t think this is a dependency issue.  I’d like to talk to him more, if that’s okay”

I want to thank the doctor, give him a high five, but I keep my mouth shut.  The supervisor clearly has control in this room.  I don’t dare enter the discussion.  It won’t be me that sways her.  Finally, she’s says:

“Alright, but keep it as an option.”

The two women leave the doctor and me alone.  His accent is Eastern European.  I think he likes that my last name is Szpak, even though he doesn’t say it.  His name is Dr. Jimenz.  He seems like someone I’d like to go fishing with, quiet, calm, willing to give me my space.  I also get the feeling he enjoys a cold beer, which is probably why he just saved me twelve steps.

Dr. Jimenz asks me some follow-up questions, but he can tell I’m drained.  He asks if I can come back in a few days.  I say sure.

He says, “I would like you to attend at least one group session between now and our meeting.  Just to give me some piece of mind.  Will you do that?”

I agree to it just so I can leave.  I came here hoping for answers, but I’m more confused than ever.  The next day I go to group and sit in the back and listen to sad people talk about sad memories.  They talk about medication and trying to hold a job.  One guy is getting evicted.  A girl just gained forty pounds.  She’s also really horny lately, she says.

I go home and help Jess make dinner.  We don’t say much, but I can tell she’s happy I’m seeking help.  She doesn’t ask too many questions.  She can tell I’ve answered enough.  We fall asleep on the couch watching TV.

A few days later I have my next session with Dr. Jimenz.  They’ve moved him to another office.  All of his stuff is in boxes.  He asks me how things are going.  I tell him alright.  I’m a little more open about the depression and suicidal ideation, but I keep the specifics to myself.

“How long have you been experiencing this current depression?”

“A month, maybe a little more.  It comes and goes.”

“Describe what it’s like when you’re not depressed.”

No one has ever asked me this before.  “Uh…happy, I guess.  Really.  Happy.”

“How so?”

“I don’t know.  I’m just good.  Emotionally.  Mentally.  I’m a writer – for a living – sort of…and there are these times when, I don’t know, I just can’t stop.”

“You mean you can’t stop writing?”

“Yeah, it’s strange.  I just get zeroed in.  It’s like a freight train.  I don’t even sleep.  I just sit and type and…  It’s like a puzzle, you know?”

He shakes his head no, that he has no idea what I’m talking about.  I can feel my pulse rising.  I start speaking faster.

“Like if you break a story into pieces.  You’re, uh, left with the words, right?  You’re left with characters.  Plot.  Themes.  Setting.  Beginnings.  Ending.  They’re pieces, right?  Pieces of a puzzle.  And when I’m in this place, this electric place, I can see all the pieces in my mind and I just know how to put them together.  I see how they fit.  When I’m writing, it’s… it’s the only time I fit, if that makes any sense?”  I give a little laugh, realizing I’m jabbering and sounding more insane than when I was sobbing the other day.

Dr. Jimenz stares at me.  It’s making me fidget.  Puzzle?!  Writing is like a fucking puzzle?  I do it like a freight train?!

Dr. Jimenz stands and walks towards the door.  I know he’s going to open it and call in the supervisor.  They’re going to sedate me and shove me in a padded room.

“Are you familiar with hypomania?” he asks.  He rummages through a box in the corner.

“No…”

“Oh, where is it?”  He goes to another box.  Pulls out picture frames.  “Ah!”  He yanks out a copy of the DSM IV and flips through it.  “See, hypomania is mild form of mania, where a person experiences elation or ‘happiness.’  They also go through hyperactivity, like extreme productivity.”

He hands me the book and for the next few minutes he explains the basics of bipolar II, which isn’t as intense as bipolar I, which often comes with delusions.  Dr. Jimenz says there’s evidence a lot of writers, composers, and scientists suffer from it.  The hypomania allows for long bursts of production.  It can create a certain euphoria.  But when the pendulum swings back it often leads to severe depression.  The drop is so steep, it can destroy a person.

As Dr. Jimenz continues to explain the symptoms and treatments, I start to cry, but for the first time in years, it isn’t sadness.  I finally have an answer, some explanation as to what’s happening inside my mind.

“I take it this sounds familiar?” he says.

I nod and sob and curl into my knees.  Twenty years.  That’s how long I’ve been unraveling.  I just assumed I’d die without an explanation.  I thought I was doomed, but this sweet, pudgy doctor is telling me I’m not.

Dr. Jimenz sets the book on his desk.  “How long have you been writing, as you say, like a ‘freight train?’”

Why did I use that stupid phrase?

“I don’t know… A long time,” I say.

“Approximately?”

“I guess…” I picture the countless nights in L.A., pacing the floors, guzzling coffee.  But it started before that.  When Jess and I were living in Brazil to write our theses, I had plenty of all-nighters clacking away at my laptop.  Then there was grad school.  I’d go days without a wink until I could barely string together a sentence.  But as I think back further, I see more and more pacing, more and more writing.  In New York.  In Florida.  In Kansas City.

And then I finally hit it, the first frenzy.

I was twenty-two years old.  It was the week after Thanksgiving.

My mom had just come out of the closet.

I didn’t sleep for six days.  My friends almost took me to the hospital.  I couldn’t stop writing.  No one could keep up with what I was saying.  It was like someone had shoved an electrical wire into my brain.  Visions and ideas sparked and crackled in the dark unused matter of my mind.

As Kay Redfield Jamison would say, I was “touched with fire.”

My mother coming out didn’t make me bipolar.  My disease was stamped into my DNA long before my mother told us she was gay.  But her declaration shook the foundation of me and set off my first real hypomanic episode.

Now, seven years later, the invisible monster finally had a name.

***

This is the last post in the crisis story, but that doesn’t mean the crisis fully went away.  If you or anyone you know needs help, please don’t hesitate to call 1-800-273-8255

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Crisis – Part 2

Here’s Crisis – Part 1

The following took place January 2008.

Part 2

I’m amongst the crazies.  The nurse gently grabs my arm, guiding me, telling me, “It’s going to be okay.”  It’s what Jess said after she found me on the floor.  She scooped me up, got me in the car, and dropped me here.  Now she’s gone, and I’m surrounded by lunatics.  They’re everywhere, picking, scratching, wandering the halls, shuffling in these half-dead steps.  This isn’t a state-run facility.  This isn’t Cuckoo’s Nest.  This is Culver City, and the crisis center looks more like an office, only instead of desks and cubicles, there are Barcaloungers lining the walls.  Most of the patients stare at the soundless TV.

The nurse walks me past the front desk.  She asks, “You got any jewelry?”

“No.”

“What about your backpack?  You got anything valuable?”

“No, just a book and some clothes.”

“Well, watch your stuff.  Some people like to get handsy.”

I still can’t believe Jess is gone.  I wonder if she’s heading back to our apartment, or if she’s just going to keep going.

The nurse points out a little break room with a vending machine, payphone, and Kleenex boxes stacked to the ceiling.

I hear a growl, and I turn.  A man with half his head shaved is coming at me.  His eyes are wild.  He wants to know why he can’t have more fucking water.  I back up against the wall.

The nurse steps in.  Her voice is soft and calm.  She’s looking him straight in the eye.

“Charles, you need to stop right there.”

“This is bullshit.”

“What’s the problem, Charles?”

“I want my goddamn water!”

A few patients inch closer.  They’re almost licking their lips.

“Charles, you can go to the drinking fountain,” the nurse says.  “No one’s stopping you.  You just have to walk over there if you like.”

“Yeah, well…I just…” he trails off, suddenly confused.

“It’s okay.  You’re alright.”  Gently, the nurse touches his arm – the same way she touched mine.  Is this what I am?  Am I Charles?

I see two huge patients sizing me up.  My heart’s pounding.  I realize the irony.  An hour ago, I was ready to step off a skyscraper.  Now, I’m afraid to die.

The security guard comes out of the restroom.  He’s on his cell asking someone what she wants to do for dinner.  Earlier, when he said to give him my belt, I handed it over because I was scared shitless.  I realize now he’s just a rent-a-cop.  He doesn’t even have a gun.  If these lunatics wanted to, they could rip out his throat and take back our pencils.  The only thing preventing a full-out riot is the nurses.  They’re so calm.  They listen to every concern and request.  They never raise their voices.  It’s all about de-escalation, diffusion.  If one patient goes off, they need to put out the fire quickly before the rest ignite.

I ask the nurse, “Is it always like this?”

“Nah, this is slow.  Weather’s nice.  Most of these folk just came in here for prescriptions.  Some of the others like to get out of the sun.”

I realize I’m basically at a homeless shelter.

When we get to an open door, the nurse stops and says, “I need to ask you something, okay?”

I’m ready for her to question how a guy like me ended up here.  I have a master’s degree, all my teeth, and I don’t smell like pee.

She says, “Are you going to hurt anyone?”

“Excuse me?”

“I need to know you’re not going to get violent.  I’m putting you in the side room with some very sweet people, and you won’t be in our direct eye-line, and I need to know I can trust you’re not going to do anything.”

“No, I wouldn’t…no.  I’d never…”

“What about yourself?  You gonna hurt yourself?”

“No…”

“Hey, it’s okay.  No reason to cry.  I just gotta ask, that’s all.”

“I know, I’m sorry.”

“It’s all fine.  Come on.”

The side room is more like a conference room.  There’s a long table and a huge dry erase board.  Two heavyset women in their forties are at one end of the table gabbing.  A guy wearing a green cellophane visor is at the other end.

He’s flipping through a stack of legal pads.  Next to him is a man with a bulging torso and painfully skinny arms.

“Everyone, this is Anthony.”

The two women nod and smile.  The guy with the huge torso blows his nose.  Green visor keeps staring at his legal pads.

“Alright, you just sit tight,” the nurse says.  “Someone will be back to get you when the doctor’s available.”

“So I just wait here?” I ask.

“Yeah, unless you need to use the restroom.  It’s across the hall.”

One of the women asks, “Can I go out and have a smoke?”

“There’s a group going in about ten minutes, just wait here.”

The women go back to gabbing.  The nurse leaves.  I take a seat in the corner, clutch my backpack to my chest.  I can hardly breathe.  This is it.  I’ve been caught.  All I have to do now is come clean to the doctor, tell him everything.

It’s what I should’ve done years ago.

Two months before I met Jess I went to see a psychiatrist at Columbia.  I’d spent that morning standing on the bridge connecting the main campus to the Law School.  I was leaning against the railing over Amsterdam Blvd.  Cars and trucks passed underneath.  I tried to guess what type of automobile would crunch my skull.  Finally, I got the courage, started to climb over when a Chinese delivery guy zipped out on a bicycle.  I pulled back, realizing I could’ve killed us both, or worse, just him.  I walked straight to the mental health department and sat down with a serious German doctor.  I didn’t mention the bridge, only the paralyzing sadness I’d been feeling.  I told him about a recent breakup.  He asked a few more questions.  I told him I could barely get out of bed most mornings.  He said I had acute depression and prescribed me Zoloft, which made everything numb, mainly my dick.

If I’d told him the truth about the bridge, he might have had me committed.  I might never have met Jess.  She’d still be in New York pursuing her playwriting dreams, instead of following me to L.A.

“That guy’s an asshole,” one of the middle-aged women says.  They’re back from their smoke break.  Earlier they were talking about automotive parts.  One of them works at Pep Boys.  She apparently hates her boss.

Green cellophane visor man is pacing, mumbling something about twelve million dollars.  He goes over to the dry erase board and pulls out a marker.  They took my pencil, and this guy gets a marker?   He starts scribbling numbers, calculations.  It’s memorizing.  He says, “How can you keep twelve million dollars, if you already owe someone twelve million dollars?”

For a second, I start thinking I might be witnessing brilliance, a genuine savant in action, but I’m distracted by the man with the skinny arms and huge torso as he peels off his Polo shirt.  There’s a t-shirt underneath.  He takes that off, too.  There’s a yellow t-shirt under that.  Off it goes.  Then a blue one.  A green one.  It’s like a magician’s scarf trick, only with filthy shirts.

I close my eyes, start humming.  Suddenly, the room’s quiet.  I open my eyes and see everyone staring at me.  My humming must have been really loud.

I can’t help but laugh.  I’ve lost my fucking mind.  The foursome doesn’t care.  They go back to drawing, ripping off t-shirts, talking about windshield wipers.

I look up at the clock.  The second hand barely ticks by.  I look again and two hours have passed.  The automotive ladies have been released with new prescriptions.  T-shirt guy is gone, too.  It’s just me and green visor man.  He’s sitting at the end of the table like he’s Chairman of the Board.

I don’t want to be a part of this company, so I get up and head for the front desk.  There’s a different nurse.  She has long, red hair, like my mother’s.

“I’m sorry,” I say.  ”I think someone was supposed to come and get me…Is there a doctor I can see?  I’ve been waiting for awhile and—”

“Your name?”

“Anthony.”

She flips through a stack of papers, finds my file.  “It says you left.”

“Uh…no.”

“So you didn’t leave?”

No.”

“And you haven’t seen a doctor?”

“No, the nurse told me to wait…”

“Well they should’ve gotten you.  You’ve been here the entire time?”

Yeah, I’ve been waiting two hours!”  I catch her eyes searching for the security guard.  “Look, it’s, uh-uh-uh, okay,” I stammer.  I just…I just want to be seen, that’s all.”

She looks me over.

I say, “Sorry.  Really.  I’m just tired, and I just want to talk to someone.”  I just want to come clean.

“Alright, just take a seat in there, okay?”  She points towards small room with half-dozen recliners.  A few homeless men are covered in blankets.  I see their dirty socks poking out from the quilts.  I try not to breathe and take a seat.  A huge black guy is sitting across from me.  One of his eyes is completely bloodshot.  A nurse pulls up a stool next to him.  She has a clipboard.  She’s asking him questions, but he just stares at me.  I look at my fingers, pretend to clean my nails.  I tell myself this will all be over soon enough.

The nurse says to him, “What are you hearing in your head, Randolph?”

“I just want…”

“What?”

“I just want to kill someone.”

I can’t tell if he’s looking at me or through me.  Jess is going to feel guilty when she has to identify my head and body separately.

Another nurse walks in.  “Anthony?”

I nod, wipe the tears.

“Dr. Marcos is ready to see you.”

I follow her through the main area and towards a little office.  Dr. Marcos is filling out forms.  His desk is piled with cases.  It looks like he hasn’t slept in years.  The nurse points me to the seat and closes the door behind her.  Dr. Marcos keeps writing.  He says, “Just be a minute.”

I close my eyes, try to formulate how to start my confession when he says, “Says here you were on Zoloft?”

“Yeah, I was, but…” I trail off.  I don’t remember writing that down.  “That was a couple of years ago.”

“Uh-huh.”  More scribbling.

“I didn’t like it.  I couldn’t function.  I just felt like I was in a fog.”

“I see.  Well, sometimes it’s a little bit of trial and error.  Have you ever tried Wellbutrin?”  He starts writing on a pad of blank scripts.

“No, but I’m not really… I thought this would be more…  I thought there’d be more talking?”

“Well…there can be, but that’s not really what we do here.  We deal more with refills on prescriptions.  This is urgent care.”  He looks at my file.  “You mentioned that suicide runs in your family, yes?”

Again, I don’t remember writing that, but I must of.  “My aunt did,” I say, “but that was a long time ago.”

“Have you ever had suicidal thoughts yourself?”

Just tell him.  Say you were going to kill yourself this afternoon.  You were going to ride the subway downtown, take the elevator to the roof and jump off the fucking ledge.

DO IT!  JUST FUCKING DO IT!  “No,” I say.  ”I mean, in the general sense, sure.  But mostly I’m just sad, you know?”

“Sad, huh?”

“Yeah.  It comes and goes.  I already feel better just being here.  I think I just needed a break.”

“And you have no specific plans to kill yourself?”

One foot over the four-foot barrier.  Then the other.  Lean forward.  Let gravity take hold.  It’s only 700 feet to concrete.

“No…nothing.”

“You swear?”

“Yeah, I swear.  Really.”

He stares at me for less than a second.  “Alright, I’m going to write you a prescription for Wellbutrin, and I’ll let you go.  But I want you to speak with someone at one of other facilities.  They have great doctors and group sessions.  I can make a call to get you an appointment.  Sometimes it takes a while to get one otherwise.  Will you do that?”

“Sure.”

“And you’re okay?”

“Yeah, I’m alright.  I’m fine.”

I’m a fucking coward.

“Okay, then take this form with you to the front desk and they’ll finish up the paperwork.  And here’s the info about the other facility.”

I take the paperwork, thank him for everything.  The nurse checks me out.  I’ve never walked so fast in my life.  I cross the street and realize I don’t have a way home.  I’m at least ten miles from our apartment.  I turn back to the crisis center, wondering if I should go back to use the payphone when I see our car down the block.  Jess is inside.  My knock scares her half to death.  I get in.  We hug.  She won’t let go.

“I love you,” she says and finally pulls back.  “So how, uh…?”

“It’s fine, they cleared me to go home.  It’s all okay.”

“Oh…”

“Are you…disappointed?” I laugh.

“No, of course not.  I just…how are you?”

“I’m…”  One step.  700 feet.

“Anthony…?”

“Can we just go home?”

“No, please talk to me…”

“I’m…I’m not alright.”

End of Part 2

I’ll be posting the final installment in the next couple of days.  If you or anyone you know needs help, please don’t hesitate to call 1-800-273-8255

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Crisis – Part 1

The following took place January 2008.

I’m on the floor in my bedroom.  I don’t know how long I’ve been here.  I’m on my back.  My fists are clenched.  So is my jaw.  My eyes finally open.  Everything’s blurry though the tears.  I see the sun sneaking through the blinds and the stupid Utah Sky blue we painted the walls.  There’s so much pressure.  It’s suffocating.  I know it’s not a heart attack.  It’s not panic induced either.  This is what I’ve been going through since the third grade.

This is the basement of depression.

This is where my body locks up and I squeeze and wait for it to pass.  It always passes.  That’s what I’ve learned.  That’s what I tell myself, even when my mind keeps flashing to the skyscraper downtown.

I drove by it last week.  They have a rooftop bar.  It’s over seven hundred feet from cocktails to concrete.  There aren’t any security guards watching the four-foot barrier around the edges.  The barrier is transparent thermoplastic so people can gaze at the smog over Southern California.

If I go now, I’ll beat the crowd and lessen the chance of someone trying to grab me before I jump.  At night, the place turns into a club, one of those trendy hangouts where trust fund babies and wannabee actors snort cocaine and talk about their amazing yoga teachers.

I need to get up.  I don’t want to be lumped in with those people.  I don’t want anyone thinking this has something to do with my career.  Even if I was successful, it wouldn’t change anything.  My brain is a toilet pumping poison.  I’ve been flushing it for twenty years, but it always fills back up.  Now, it’s overflowing.

I need it to end.

People who’ve never experienced real depression think it’s sadness, something we all go through; what they don’t understand is that for people like me it’s always lurking and it gets stronger, or maybe I’m getting weaker.

I’m just tired of fighting this invisible monster.  It’s not this single bout; it’s the years in the ring.  Each body shot has taken its toll, each elbow to the ribs has made it that much harder to breathe.  The worst part was when I realized I have no say in this.  I’m just a sparring partner, the monster’s punching bag.

Something clicks.  I hear footsteps.

It’s Jess.  She’s already off work.

Fuck, Anthony, get up.

I promised myself I’d be gone before she got back.

I have my date with the skyscraper.

Just get up.  Or crawl to the bathroom.  Don’t let her see you like this.

The door opens.  “Oh, my God.  What happened?  Anthony, are you hurt?”

My throat’s closing.  I can’t say anything.  I force this smile and shake my head no.

“Oh, baby, hey, it’s okay.  It’s going to be okay.”

She’s holding me, and I wish I had the strength to push her off.  It’s so much worse having someone in the room.  Jess and I have been living together for over a year.  Normally, when this thing hits, I find my way to the bathroom or take a drive.  Jess knows I get really down, but she’s never seen me like this.

In four months we’re supposed to get married.  Maybe this isn’t the worst thing to happen.  She deserves the truth.  Plus, I’ve been trying to blow up the wedding for the past three weeks, cowardly picking fights, yelling for no reason.  Maybe I’ve done this on purpose?

She needs to see how bad it gets.  I mean really see it, so she can walk away.

Her voice changes.  I’m waiting for her to say I’m a piece of shit, that I should just kill myself, that I’m the biggest mistake she’s ever made.

She says, “Get up.”  Her voice is cold.  It’s like a drill sergeant.  “Anthony, I said, GET UP!”

“No, I’m…I’m sorry—”

“I don’t give a shit if you’re sorry.  Get the fuck up.  Now!”

I don’t know who this person is, but she’s pulling my arm and I guess I’m helping because suddenly I’m standing, looking down at her.  She steps into me.  She doesn’t blink.  “We’re going to get you help.  This is what we’re going to do.  You hear me?”  She’s nodding.  I must be nodding too, because next she says, “Now, I need you to put on your shoes.  Can you do that?”

I’m a fucking child.

“I need you to work with me here.  Can you put on your shoes?”

“Yeah,” I say.

“Okay, I’m going to pack you a bag, while—”

“A bag for what?”

“Just in case.   Now, get ready.  It’s going to be okay.  It’s going to be okay.  It’s going to be okay…” She keeps saying that as she puts a notebook, some clothes, pencils, and a few books into a backpack.  One book is Breakfast of Champions by Kurt Vonnegut.  Even in this crisis, she knows exactly what I like.

“Baby,” I say.  “Hey, look.  I’m okay.  Let’s just stop here for a second.  I just need—”

“We’re not talking, Anthony.  Put on your shoes.”

“No.  Where are we going to go?  We can’t go anywhere.  I don’t have health insurance.”

“I don’t care.”

“We cannot afford it.”  I’m feeling stronger.  My mind is working.  “I’m going to be okay.  I just–”

“STOP!  JUST STOP!”

She throws something.  I feel it whiz by my head, but I don’t see what it is.  I just hear it crash against the Utah Sky.

I don’t understand why she’s so angry, so adamant, but when she looks at me with those eyes, I realize this isn’t the first time she’s seen me like this.  I thought I’d been so clever, keeping everything hidden.  How could I have been so stupid?  Of course, she knew.  On the floor, I see the comedy CD I recorded last year.

“Okay, you almost ready?” Jess says.  “It’s time to go.”

“Yeah…just, uh, let me get my belt.”

I need it because I haven’t been eating.  My pants are almost falling off.

Jess takes my hand and leads me down the hallway, down the steps, and around to the car.  She’s dialing a number on her cell phone.  I’m not paying attention, just following orders.  I strap in.  She’s talking to someone.

She says, “No, he hasn’t hurt himself.”  She looks at me for confirmation.  I shake my head no.  “No, we don’t have health insurance.  We just need him to see someone…No, we’re not planning on committing him…We just need to see a doctor…”

Committing me?!

“…Culver City…Yeah, okay, hold on…” Jess writes down the directions.

I don’t know how long the car ride takes.  Buildings, trucks, and billboards pass by like streaks of fingerpaint.

We park and walk into this non-descript medical building.  There’s no one in the lobby.  This can’t be the place.  It looks deserted.  Jess takes me upstairs.  The walls are pink.  There are a few wheelchairs sitting at odd angles, but not a soul on the entire floor.  It’s like one of those zombie movies when a person wakes up and the whole world is dead.  Maybe I’ve already jumped?

We’re heading back down the stairs.  We find a small placard for psychiatric/urgent care.  The doors are locked.  I see a security guard through a little window.  He buzzes us in.  There’s a metal detector.  We pass through.  There are a lot of people who look homeless wandering around.  Jess talks to the guard, then a nurse.  I see a TV off to the side.  The sound is off, but there are six or seven patients watching.  The walls are cream-colored and soothing.  The carpet is green.  The nurse behind the desk is asking me stuff, but I only hear someone screaming in the other room.

“It’s going to be okay,” the nurse says.  “We just need you to step over here.”

“Huh?”

“Just follow the guard,” she says to me.

“Wait!   What?”

Jess touches my arm.  She makes me look at her.  “They just want to evaluate you.  It’s going to be okay.  You don’t have to do anything you don’t want.  They just want to talk to you.”

She’s nodding again, and I nod, because I can tell she needs me to.  I follow the guard to a folding table.  He says, “Do have any needles?  Anything I might stick myself with?”

“What?”

He’s unzipping my bag.  “I need to know if you have anything in here I might stick myself with.”

“No.  I mean, wait.  I have, uh, pencil.  Front pocket.”

“Okay…just relax.”  He takes out the pencil.  “I can’t let you have this.”

“Can’t let me have a pencil?”

“I’m sorry.”

“Yeah…keep it.”  I look over at Jess by the door.  She’s doing everything not to cry.  I give her a smile and wave to tell her I’m okay.  I’m in good hands.  See, they won’t even let me carry a pencil.  It’s all safe.  She walks out.  Now, I’m doing everything not to cry.

“It’s alright,” the guard says.  He looks bored.  “We’re almost done.  I just need your belt.”  He says, “Sir, your belt?”

It’s so I don’t hang myself.

“Sure,” I say and pull it off.  I hold my pants up with one hand while I grab my pack with the other.  The nurse walks up.  She gently touches my arm.

“Anthony?”

I gulp and nod, suck snot up my nose.

“Hey, it’s okay.  Don’t worry.  We’re here to help you.  Isn’t that what you want?”

“Yeah…I think so.”

End of Part 1

I’ll be posting the rest over the next couple of days.  If you or anyone you know needs help, please don’t hesitate to call 1-800-273-8255

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For God’s Sake, Cover Yourself

I posses a very unique skill set.  I can eradicate all evidence of a Burger King meal.  I’m so meticulous I think I missed my calling as a serial killer or “body disposer” for the mob.  You’ll find no trace of Whopper, fry, or ketchup pack in my home or car.  You won’t even find a rogue grain of salt.  I scrub my nails with rubbing alcohol.  I triple-bag each wrapper and dump everything a block from my home. 

I don’t have OCD.  I just don’t want to have to explain to my wife that I broke my diet.  She wouldn’t yell or get angry.  I just like how proud she’s been of me.  I don’t want her to be disappointed.  I like seeing her happy, knowing I’m getting healthy.  So I cover the truth.  

How often we do that?  How many times do we lie so others won’t be disappointed?  We erase our search history so no one will know what we’re jerking off to.  We clam up when someone asks us if we believe in God.  It’s why we wax our eyebrows and suck in our gut.   We just want to be liked. 

But does anyone really know us?  

My mother hid her truth until she was forty-five.  She played the role of dutiful, heterosexual housewife.  She focused on her children.  She didn’t want us to be punished for her secret.  Kansas City wasn’t exactly progressive.  She knew people wouldn’t just judge her; they’d judge us.  She feared folks like my aunt might try to damage her reputation in order to rip us from her care.

I know this fear.  When I was diagnosed with bipolar II, I didn’t want anyone to find out.  I was terrified of being institutionalized. 

I kept quiet about my thoughts of suicide.  I told the doctors I wasn’t a danger to myself.  I didn’t want people to stop trusting me.  I didn’t want to limit my options, so I buried the darkness.  I told people I had the flu, that I had bad diarrhea so they’d stay away.  I needed to keep up the lie.  

But it’s exhausting.  Maintaining a fake identity chips away at your sanity until finally one day you just say, “Fuck it!  I don’t care.  This is me.  I’m a weirdo.”

That’s what happened to my mom.  After years of lying, she finally came clean.  It was good and terrifying.  She was out, and there was no going back in.

She’s an amazing woman, and her courage inspired me to start this blog.

 

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Tick…Tick…BOOM!

My wife’s biological clock went off, and like any honorable husband, I took cover and hid.  We were living in a small apartment, so it didn’t take long for her to find me.  I was frightened.  I didn’t recognize this woman.  She just kept saying, “Baby, baby, baby…” At least, that’s all I heard.  It was like a zombie movie, you know, the moment when the husband realizes his wife’s been bitten.  He doesn’t have a choice.  He has to kill her.  She’s no longer human.  She only has one purpose, only instead of “brains” it was “baby.”

The thing was, we’d had this talk.  She knew my feelings.  Long before we said, “I do,” I told her I would never bring a child into this world.  I was very clear.  There was no deception, no manipulation.  I’d been diagnosed as bipolar II, and I’d made the decision to never put that on anyone, especially a child.  Studies show that it is, in all likelihood, hereditary.

My youth was filled with darkness.  I was in third grade the first time I thought of killing myself.  I should’ve been chomping on Big League Chew.  I should’ve been playing with my Hulk Hogan action figure.  I should not have been dangling my feet outside my second-story window telling myself to lean forward so I’d land on my head and not just break my legs.

It’s hard for me to write that.  It might be hard for some of you to read.  That’s why I had no problem with my decision to never have kids.  No one should have to go through that.

Now, I’m not saying people with bipolar should remain childless.  There are a lot of parents out there who can provide for a kid suffering like I did.  My parents couldn’t.  They didn’t even fully know what was going on.  I kept most of the awful thoughts to myself, because even as a boy, I knew it wasn’t “normal.”

And I don’t blame or hate my parents for having me.   They didn’t know what they were getting into, and when I was growing up in Kansas City, people didn’t go to shrinks.

But I know exactly what bipolar means, and to risk passing it to a child would be selfish at best, and bordering on abusive.  Yes, I’d love to have a kid, teach her to read, ride a bike, to hide a dollar under her pillow as I swiped a fallen tooth, but I couldn’t live with myself when the tears came, not the crocodile ones from skinning a knee, the ones that come with the need to end everything.

I reminded my wife of this.  She said, “I understand, Anthony, I do, but you’re not hearing me.  I need to take care of something that’s not you.”

It broke my heart.  There was no question she’d be an amazing mother.  It was criminal to block her from sharing this gift with another.  Still.

“I just can’t risk putting this on a child, Jess.  I’m sorry.”

The look on her face told me I’d made a grave misstep, that’d I’d woken the zombie.  In any second, she’d be feasting on my damaged brains.  Then she said:

“I’m not talking about a child!”

“Jess, I’m… You’re…not?”

“No!  We can’t even take care of a plant without killing it.”

“So…you’re saying…?”

I don’t want to have a baby.”

“You…”

“I want a dog.”

“A dog…?  A DOG!  Oh, thank God.”

The next morning we rescued Sunny from a shelter.

It’s the best decision we’ve made since walking down the aisle.  Every morning, Sunny wakes me with a few licks and her wagging tail.  We’ve taught her a half-dozen tricks and sat by her side at the hospital when she almost died from a reaction to a bee.  She’s given me responsibility and shown me that even when the depression hits, I can still get out of bed to take care of this sweet girl.  She might never cure cancer, run for office, or learn to drive a car, but she’ll also never need braces, bail money, or college tuition.  She’s a dog, but sometimes we treat her like a baby, wrapping her in a blanket and singing “The Rainbow Connection” in our best Kermit voice.

I’m still not ready for a child, and honestly, I don’t know if I ever will be, but if in a year or two my wife wants to have a discussion, I’m not going to just immediately say, “No.”

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Varying Degrees of Gay – Part 1

Part 1

When people hear about my mom coming out of the closet, they always ask about my dad.  They want to know how he took the news.  The answer is, not well.

Growing up, I only saw my dad cry once.  We’d gone to visit his father’s gravesite and it freaked me out.  I suppose if he hadn’t cried I would have thought he was a sociopath, because that was the only time.

I, on the other hand, cried ritually.  I cried when I struck out in little league; when my mom’s steak was too chewy; I cried when my dad made me use public restrooms; when I stared at The Black Hole in my room; when I lost my homework; when the doctor drained the cyst on my knee; I cried when Darth Vader killed Obi Wan Kenobi; I cried because I heard monsters; I even cried at cauliflower, because my cousin called it an “Albino vegetable.”  He told me it had no soul. 

I was always traumatized.

As Vonnegut would say, I had bad wiring.  I still do.  My aunt had bad wiring, as well.  She put a shotgun in her mouth and pulled the trigger.  My parents told me she was cleaning the gun and it accidentally went off.  Even in third grade I knew how filthy the mouth was and that it was a terrible way to clean anything, let alone a gun.

The first time I thought of killing myself was a month after my aunt checked out.  Third graders shouldn’t have thoughts like that.  They should be drinking Capri Sun.  They should be playing with their Star Wars action figures.  They shouldn’t open their bedroom window and sit on the ledge, two-stories up, staring down onto the driveway.  They shouldn’t think to lean forward so they’ll hit face-first and not just break their legs.

I never told my parents about wanting to die.  My emotional problems caused them enough stress.  My father didn’t know what to do with me.  He tried holding me.  He tried yelling.  What he should have done was take me to a shrink.  But we didn’t know anyone in therapy in Kansas City.  Only crackpots went to head doctors.

My father kept his feelings in check.  His dad had died when he was seventeen, which meant my father had to grow up quick.  Grandpa Walter was fixing a flat tire two blocks from their house.  My father was watching TV, while his dad died of a heart attack. 

The earth was pulled out from under my father’s feet. 

It’s why he was always telling me to prepare for the worst.  When he taught me to drive, he said said, “Just assume everyone is going to run into you.”

And that’s exactly what happened.  After twenty-five years of marriage, his wife came out and wanted a divorce.  He wasn’t a bad husband or bad father.  They had a good marriage, and he didn’t turn her gay.  He was just the guy who got hit by a bus.

When my mom moved out, my father started calling me just wanting to talk.  I was living in L.A.  Sometimes it’d be four in the morning.  He’d never called before without a list of things I needed to do.  One morning I could tell he’d been crying.  I pictured him alone in the house weeping.  He told me if it weren’t for our dog, Ace, he wouldn’t get up in the morning. 

I should mention Ace was female, which just furthers the evidence of my family’s sexual confusion.

But the dog saved him.  My father took her for walks and I imagine he shared his feelings with his canine buddy.  Ace became his confidant, his therapist, and in return, my father helped her hunt the squirrels living in our backyard.  Unfortunately, Ace had developed arthritis.  She could hardly walk, let alone chase these furry bastards.

My father called me one day, said he was thinking about borrowing the neighbor’s BB gun to kill the damn things. 

My father lived in a nice suburb, where people had children and barbeques and waved while mowing the lawn.  I pictured him stalking around the cul-de-sac in his tighty-whities.  Arthritic dog in one hand, a gun in the other.

“Dad, are you, uh, okay?”

“Yes, Anthony, I’m fine.”

But he wasn’t.  He needed to talk to a professional, someone who didn’t piddle when the doorbell rang.  I asked him to make an appointment.  I told him I’d call for him.  He said not to worry, that he’d handle it.

Months went by and I started to worry.  He didn’t call as often.  I had a hard time getting a hold of him.    

Finally, I flew home.  My father picked me up at the airport.  He looked healthy, he sounded calm. 

“You seem…good?” I said.

“Yeah, I am.  My doctor’s given me medication.  Just temporary.”

“That’s great… When you say, ‘doctor,’ you don’t mean Ace, do you?”

No, smartass.  I…took your advice.  This guy’s been very…helpful,” my father said.  

“Well, I’m proud of you.”

“Yeah… Look, since you’re in town, I’d like you to come along to one of my…sessions.”

I said yes.  I couldn’t wait to meet the man responsible for helping my dad. 

I had no idea I was about to meet the biggest whackadoo in Kansas City.

To Be Continued…