My Path

When I came home from the hospital after the psychotic break, as much as I was freaked out about it, I was just as much business as usual. It was a matter of “How do I get on with my life?” I was ready and willing to jump back into the fray, as it were. I just wasn’t able. At least my job wasn’t sure I was ready to be back and they weren’t talking to me about the reasons why. That should have been a clue to me. There were clearly pieces missing, some very obvious actions that I took that were “inappropriate.” Enough to keep me from the office. Perhaps I should have been admitted to the psychiatric hospital right then and there. My psychiatrist was responsible for keeping me out. He didn’t “have rights” there and it would have greatly hampered his access to me if I had gone in and started getting the help that I really needed. The next few months were an exercise in futility. I was front row to an example of “what is the wrong way to treat your patient.” In addition to the stellar treatment I received from him he brought in a therapist to help me along. On first meeting with this therapist he told me that I “just needed to pull myself up by my bootstraps and get back in the game.” He also came over to me, sniffed, and said “you don’t smell crazy.” So, my psychiatrist didn’t make a change to my treatment only to add a therapist who, well, was a quack. Luckily, I finally found a treatment team that actually helped me. When I added the ECT team at the psych hospital I had a group of doctors and therapists that had my best interest in mind. Still, until the time I suggested and then made the decision to start ECT treatments, I didn’t think there was really anything wrong with me. I wanted, I needed to go back to work. Work was what I lived for. The fact that I had been away from it for so long was wearing on me. The fact that no one has talked about what put me into the situation still gets to me. While it makes little difference now, I would at least like to know what I did to cause my company to keep me away. I have gotten on with my life, I’d like to have that piece of information so I can put this part behind me. I am still business as usual, only the business has changed. I just try to do whatever is best for me. Whatever makes me better.

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headlong

those episodes,
fraught with disaster
were surprises
to me,
to everyone

I ran into them
headlong
and they captured me
pulling me into
adventures
no one would
willingly endure

thrashed and bruised
in a hospital bed,
confusion mixed
with a strong sense
of dread,
knowing that what
was bad had ended,
along with what was good

— GB

“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 friend

you visited me in San Diego
you brought your family?
it is something I should remember
we have been friends for a long time
and I barely remember any of it
I remember the oldest of memories
Pritchard Hall, Pheasant Run Drive, Red ’66 Mustang
I don’t know if it is the medication, the ECT
all these things that are supposed to make
me better, improve my life,
sometimes I question

— GB

The mind is like a circuit of Christmas tree lights

The book I’m reading, “Brain on Fire” by Susannah Cahalan, (yes I’m still reading it but I’ve been busy writing and…..nevermind) tells a very intriguing story.  I’m not going to give anything away here in case anyone want to read it.  There is, however a very interesting quote I’d like to talk about here.

“The mind is like a circuit of Christmas tree lights.  When the brain works well, all of the lights twinkle brilliantly, and it’s adaptable enough that, often, even if one bulb goes out, the rest will still shine on.  But depending on where the damage is, sometimes one blown bulb can make the whole strand go dark.”

I know I have felt just this way on more than one occasion.
After I had the big psychotic break, I felt as if not only had a whole strand go, but like the whole tree went out.  I am still trying to piece together what happened there.  It’s something I will probably never know completely.

I know what happened to cause my second break and some of the events that took place during the break are known to me.  This one wasn’t a total outage.  My Doc slipped me in for an Emergency ECT which rebooted my system and allowed for all the lights to come twinkling back.

The third and final (most recent as far as I know) psychotic break lasted for a matter of hours (my family and I call it a mini-break).  My mother found me talking to my father, only my father was 3000 miles away.  Again, this situation was treated with an Emergency ECT.  In this case, the majority of the lights were still twinkling, but we chose the reboot, just in case the outage was more widespread than previously thought.

I have been very lucky in that I have only had two psychotic breaks that have required hospitalization.  So, for the most part, my lights have remained twinkling.  That doesn’t mean I don’t feel as if I’ve blown the occasional bulb or ten, at least I have people around me that would notice something like that.

Now come on, the holiday season is over.  Put those lights back in the box and store them away for next year.

in a break

rage stems from
neurons misfiring
pounding at the
temples melting
desire down to
the soles of the
worn out sneakers

then exploding
up through the
debris of the
life that was made
shrapnel cutting
through the faces
that grew close

loss of everything
birth of nothing
death to a way of life
nothing will bring
anything back
to a fractured being

pulling away
sucked into a shell
hiding a shattered
existence from view
seeing only darkness
feeling only shame
hoping to some time
become one again

— GB