Therapist Homework, again.

Another wonderful prompt from my therapist. I really need to post all of them.

What is the biggest lie that you consistently tell yourself?  Why do you continue to do this?

My depression is the lying.

I tell myself that my depression isn’t real.
It’s laziness.
It’s wanting attention, and it’s drama.
I can just pick myself up at any time and become a real person again.
Do some laundry, work, walk, love my family.
Get over it.
I haven’t been able to do anything successfully in life, I hide behind this fiction that is depression.
I am so good at lying about how I feel.
I know all the right things to say to convince those around me that I have a mental illness.
People who really have depression are weak and boring.
But mine is special somehow, because I’m acting it out.
It’s not real.
It’s the ultimate theater, and sooner or later they’ll find out.
My suicide attempt was simply attention seeking.
If I really meant to do it I would have.
So here I am enjoying the life of Riley pretending to be sick.
I am no different than I was in grade school trying to stay home from school.
I am no different than I was in grade school.
Lazy, dirty, gross, and unmotivated.

I tell myself that my depression is real.
It’s a medical condition.
Nobody understand’s what I don’t want, but need.
I try time and time again to pick myself up, but the depression makes me fail.
Get a todo list, schedule stuff, plan ahead.
Accept it.
The depression has been hindering me all my life, the history is there, it’s real.
I am so good at lying about how I feel.
I know all the right things to say to convince those around me that I’m safe, stable.
People who don’t have depression don’t understand.
Mine is special, because it hasn’t been successfully treated.
It’s not my fault.
It’s everything in me through and through, and they’ll never figure it out.
I took the pills so easily, there was no hesitation.
I was frustrated only because it didn’t work.
So here I am working my ass off to stabilize and have quality of life.
I am no different than all the years behind me, it’s always been there.
I am no different than I was before.
Tired, ashamed, exhausted and weak.

I continue to do this because I believe both lies.

This is one of the hard days

Today’s post is going to be a shit sandwich. Fun, good stuff on the outside, crap in the middle.

I found an ancient Ande’s mint today and it was the first one I thought didn’t taste like nostalgia and happiness. It kept chasing me. I think it was haunted. When I disturbed it in it’s tomb, the back of my snack cupboard, I kicked off the minor but tasty curse.

I have a snack cupboard. I chide the kids for having food in their rooms, or for marking their names on food in big back letters, since it’s pretty much “everyone’s” food, unless they bought it themselves. Which in later years, they have. Battles can be lost if you keep the big picture on the War. So this is my bunker.

When we’re at the grocery store and I’m randomly dropping smokehouse almonds, bags of Andes mints, or a package of traditionally flavored Oreos in the cart, those are my treats. Back in the day, the kids would holler for this or that and we’d throw “we have that at home” at them while cackling internally.

When we get home I grab all of my precious snacks and put them up in a high cupboard. Wife is short, and the kids used to be. So it wasn’t a hiding place, it was an inaccessible place. After years though treats pile up, get pushed to the back, and get hidden under containers of Oats that are I-have-no-idea how many years old now.

On the master “To Do” list one of the tasks is “clean out the snack cupboard” and today I found myself confused, standing in the kitchen waiting for a thought or purpose in life to swing back around into my brain. I thought I might as well hit the snack cupboard. The “Everything Bagel” rice crisps and a bunch of other health intended items went right in the trash. All of them were opened with hope and abandoned with a taste that wasn’t hopeful.

I tidied up the snacks that remained, and found one lone Ande’s mint. They’re a weak spot for me, as they taste just like Fanny Farmer mint chocolate combination bars. Just went to find a helpful illustration to steal, and found out Fanny Farmer got bought out by Fanny Mae, and now the perfect treat is associated with student loans. They had a “bar” that was chocolate with a layer of light green chocolate on top, and tasted like Ande’s mints do now. Only 1000 times better. They came in fancy foil wrappings. The Fanny Farmer shops were always bright and clean and full of chocolate. Buying something that wasn’t chocolate was like going to the salad bar instead of taking the all you can eat steak option at Fogo.

My aunt would take us there when we visited her downtown. She was very hip. Called her apartment a “pad” back when that was actually a thing, and tells great stories of the political unrest in Chicago in the late 60’s. In the 70’s she had a variety of jobs while getting hired for her profession here in town. One of the jobs was to hand out chocolate samples at convenience stores. Also, she lived next to a convenience store, so every time we visited her, it was time to load up on the candy and pop! No matter how old that aunt and uncle get, they’ll always be the cool ones. She would buy us one thing at Fanny Farmer, usually, and it felt a bit like the scenes early on in Willy Wonka, with the candy shop.

So now I get Ande’s mints (please sponsor me, Ande’s Mints!) and it remembers me of those times. And they taste good. I ration them out, for the most part. And I don’t often share them. The package sucks though, as you’re pretty much all in once you open it. Invariably one or two sneak out and you have to deal with them later. Well, this one was old. Like, so old it seemed like it would call it’s first apartment a “pad.”

The mint jumped out of the cupboard, onto the counter, and down to the floor. It didn’t fall, it jumped. Like it knew the jig was up and it wanted to escape or just get it over with. As I’m bending down to capture it, the tea boxes on the other side of the cupboard see their opportunity and decide to go for it while my back was turned. I grabbed one of them, but it back up, and another jumped out. I finally contained them and closed the doors solidly, but couldn’t help but feel like something, or someone, was telling me it was time to finish off the little mint. It was the curse!

I ate the mint, and while it wasn’t as sharp as they usually are, it was still a good thing. And I got to check off “clean the snack cupboard” from the task list today. Little victories.

Today is not one of the good days. It’s one of the bad days prophesized by everyone on my care team. I wouldn’t even say it’s interesting enough to be called a “one step back” day, it’s just a hard day. It’s cold outside, though I did get some porch time. It seemed gray out before the sun set an hour too soon, not that I went out to find out. I haven’t slept properly in a couple days, and that’s always bad for the mental health. So I’ve decided not to write anything or give any of my feelings validity today, because of the exhaustion and where they’ll put me, mentally. Then a 250 word post turns into 1500. Oops.

I’ve had a headache, which doesn’t help. I think the last time I was this tired I was in the hospital. We’re changing up my sleep meds and it’s not going well, but “it’s a process” so I’ll suck it up for another night to see if things settle down. I don’t think they will. So today – and this week – feel like writeoffs. But they aren’t.

I am still broken. I feel like I have a broken leg, got my ambulance ride, a cast, and sent home with a pillow. Now it’s the inconvenient state of healing. Only I’m not sure I got any salve? We’re waiting for meds and regimens to kick in, which is the professional depressive’s worst activity. We just get to sit in whatever we have at the time and “use our tools” to deal with situational issues. These are the days when there is no trauma, no drama, and nothing to be able to complain about. “Same” is how you answer when someone asks how you’re doing. I’m not flat, I’m not deep in the hole, but it’s all there, and reminding me that some of us are just a head cold or broken toe away from falling back into the pit. My perspective is still pretty bright though.

It’s the kind of day that you don’t need support. You want support. But you have nothing you need specifically. And to be honest, you really don’t want support, because that involves putting the human face on and being thankful. It’s the kind of day that’s actually boring. You’re not getting worse, you’re not getting better, and the Anxiety and Depression personalities must be taking a day off, because it’s actually a bit lonely without them making noise in the head. They’re there, somewhere. I don’t miss Suicidal Ideation, though I may think of her from time to time, remembering the good times.

But I cleaned out the snack cupboard. And have started and am dedicated to completing one basket of laundry. And I did some cross stitching during program this morning, and played a bit of Animal Crossing as a mindfulness activity. I ate lunch (2+ meals a day, remember, regardless of how you feel) and made a bologna and cheese sandwich. So it’s good to notice the things I got done, and the time I didn’t spend in bed or on the couch. Also, I remembered the awe inspiring, actually spiritually beautiful moon last night.

I guess it wasn’t so much a shit sandwich post, it was more of a cheese sandwich post.

That’s a term from the old days of “weblogs” when people would write a post about having a cheese sandwich for lunch. Isn’t it great that Internet content has evolved to much since 2004? https://ask.metafilter.com/5587/I-ate-a-cheese-sandwich

What it’s like to be me this weekend

It’s Halloween weekend. I’m writing this Sunday night, the night of the trick or treaters.

Friday

Friday was an off day, meaning no program in the morning and no appointments. Which is actually a rarity. I got up late-ish. Vertigo at a 4/10, sometimes rising to 7/10. Mind blurry in the morning but clearing by afternoon. Attitude was bright, but felt like I was moving through mud. Exhausted by the time I got downstairs. Had a few goals for the day but thought I might tidy up the chair and area I frequent in the living room. I took everything off my table, and the piles of books off the radiator and put it all on the dining room table. Sorting it was easy, but I thought I could go further. So I opened the Drawer Of My Stuff in the sideboard and sorted all of that onto the table. Then I went to the cabinet underneath the drawer. Then the bookcases full of craft and electronics stuff in the front hall.

By the time I had it all sorted I’d done organizing for three major areas of the main floor of the house. Wasn’t even on my to-do list, but huge progress in the de-chaosing of my life. I went through everything once it was sorted and threw out almost half of it all.

I put much of it away in the places it had come from, but in an organized manner. Found places for everything else and ended up with two small piles to go up to my office. And a very full trash bag. Wife was happy to see the piles of sorted stuff, but was shocked to see it all put away within an hour! So that was productive. And exhausting.

Showered again, starting exhausted and making me more so. Wife says she can guess fairly well how my day is going by the length of my showers. Bad days mean zoning out under the warm water, or like that day – when I forgot to wash everything but my arms. Figured out something was wrong before I got out, and had to start all over again because I couldn’t remember what I had missed. And then spent some more time zoned out, staring at the shampoo bottles.

By this point I was toast. So I spent some time at the tv working on the laptop.

Wife was going biking with the neighbor but the neighbor’s tire was flat. So they decided to go check out some Halloween decorations at a few houses in town that had been mentioned on social media. We would drive to one, then walk a mile and a half to see more, then walk back. By the time we had finished the first half I was pretty tired. Could feel my tremor in my legs, felt them buckle once. Was actually sweating on the way back, and had to call upon my Marine Corps stubbornness to make it back to the car. But I made it. Guess how I felt afterwards. Exhausted.

By the time we got home my body was buzzing, like after a hard workout. My vertigo and balance get worse when I’m tired or stressed, and it was getting rough by this point. After a quick dinner we needed to go to the grocery store. I wasn’t sure I’d be able to do that after all of the activity of the day, but it was a short list and I rallied. I use the cart as a walker and seldom go far from it if I can help it.

Saturday

We were having a casual, low impact gathering of friends Saturday night. I woke as I had Friday. Thick, wobbly, the usual exhaustion, and body sore from the previous day. But we had to decorate and clean before the party, so it was a full day of going up and down stairs, in and out of the house, etc. By the time we went out on errands to get some stuff for my costume, we were both running on fumes.

The party was good. A fair number of people showed up, and I drank almost a whole six pack of beer. (Just kidding, it was 0.0% alcohol beer, but really tastes good. A proper IPA.)

I put on my human face for the party, but began quite tired and shaky. Stood around a lot because if I sat down I might have fallen asleep. After a particularly anxiety producing chat with a party guest (no, it wasn’t you) I retreated to my office in the attic. Just time to sit, recompose, and enjoy a piece of pumpkin bar.

By the time I rejoined the party I was wondering how I was going to keep going for hours more. But I did have some great conversations with friends and that helped keep my mind off things. I took a PRN to help with the anxiety.

When I do socialize I feel very self conscious about my memory, missing words, and I absolutely know that there are little glitches in the conversations when I say something that doesn’t make sense because I’m muddled or didn’t hear something right. I can see it on their faces. And that’s a lot of work that adds to the ever present exhaustion.

By the time the night was over, I was too. But I was glad I wasn’t drunk, as that would have thrown me directly into the “pit.” My knees ached and my spine felt like it was about to disintegrate.

Sunday

Slept ridiculously late, woke feeling the way I had for the last two days, and then some. Most off my day was sitting on my laptop trying to figure out how to make a table of contents in WordPress. Again, felt bright but just totally broken physically. And there was a new wrinkle. I felt like I was going to burst out crying all day. Needless to say that was odd and a little disturbing.

The accumulation of the weekend was showing. Walking was hard with my shaking legs, standing up the the vertigo into overdrive and I couldn’t remember a thought for more than a minute. Much time was spent working out what I was doing. I won’t say I was hiding it all from Wife, but she had enough going on that I didn’t want to complain. I felt fundamentally broken. Physically and mentally. But most of my frustration is from wanting to do things but not feeling able to. Which is good, I guess. Wanting to do things, that is. We talk about my getting a job for the holidays and I have no idea how I could do that at this point. Too much wears me thin, and I always feel like I’m a moment from The Bad Anxiety.

The trick or treaters came as expected and Wife was a saint in handling it all. This is one of the nights I hate the most, as it is often a succession of strangers coming to our door. But she knows that and let me veg out. We watched a good scary movie to round out the night, and now I’m breaking one of my own rules by being on my phone and thinking past 11. Now midnight.

I think I figured out why Mondays are tough for me. An enjoyable but hard weekend. Unfortunately most days are like this and it’s frustrating to always feel like I’m using my last energy to do something. Something so far from normal.

Ketamine Experience – The Eternal

I’m going to write up something more complete about how the Ketamine has been going. In short – well. I am going once a week now, but when I was going three times a week I saw a noticeable improvement in mood. As I said, more on that later. The tl;dr of this post is that sometimes Ketamine can be quite intense, for better or worse. And while I was worried the experiences were becoming weaker, I was wrong.

I want to share my experience today. Again, mostly for my own recollection. May just sound like a weird trip to you.

I’ve been having trouble sleeping, so we increased my sleep med. I slept deep last night, full of dreams. Nothing worth interpreting, just dreams. But that meant going into today’s treatment I was a little wobbly. I expected it to be a good trip, and prepared some of my favorite music for it: Beth Gibbons performing Henryk Górecki’s Symphony No. 3 (Symphony Of Sorrowful Songs), with the Polish National Radio Symphony Orchestra.

As soon as I was injected I felt like this was going to be intense. It came on much more suddenly than ever. I was seeing some of the usual imagery. The muted colors of tan, off white, marbled faded yellow. This was familiar and comfortable territory. But rather than settling in, I sped past it. Past the glaciers the cliffs, the tunnels, corduroy waterfalls and the massive vaults I’ve spent so much time learning about.

I lost complete contact with my surroundings and personal space. Body was gone. And everything started folding in on itself, in a dark triangular shape. A phrase kept going through my head. Just one. It was simply a thought. But then everything became that thought. Everything around me became that thought. And then I was gone. Stuck in a loop of a single thought that was this triangle folding in on itself in a black void. And I thought about when I would come down, when this would stop. But then I realized it wasn’t going to stop. And I didn’t really exist. It was just the thought and noise going into itself eternally. I knew there was nothing else in the universe – in reality. That I was going to feel and hear this forever, no end of time, no beginning. Alone because there had never been anyone else. And that disturbed me.

I fought it, but it kept going. I tried to give in and fall into it, but that just made it darker. And I knew that trying to move was pointless, as I was only the thought and had no body to move. And I became afraid. I didn’t want to be eternal like this, and I was slowly becoming the thought myself. Just over and over. A feeling of something that made you think of a feeling of something, the same.

I kept fighting it, but it went on so long I couldn’t keep track of time. I’d been able to feel the blood pressure cuff constrict every fifteen minutes on previous trips, and no matter how far gone I was, I could at least understand where I was in the hour I’d be there. Often at the thirty minute mark I would start coming back slowly. By quarter to, I was still seeing things unusually, but was on the home stretch.

This time I didn’t have any of those milestones, and knew that because I wasn’t feeling them, I was out of time. Eventually the thought was a feeling, one of resignation, other times shame. It was like it was taking all of the feelings of the human experience and explaining that they were all the same thing. And it didn’t get brighter, but I understood that I was in my context, the clinic. But all of it was one thought.

I could look around, see Wife, sometimes see Nurse. But they too were the thought. At one point I felt like I was having a conversation with Wife, but everything I saw, that she said, and obviously everything I said was that same universal thought. So I was still trapped. I was trying to move, but when I put my arms down on the chair’s arms, they would become the thought.

Eventually I felt like I was having an actual conversation with Wife, but the content was all the thought. After what felt like forever we were using other phrases and words, but I was still interpreting them as the thought. Finally, things were making a bit more sense, and I was able to ask (outside the one thought) if this was real, or if it wasn’t happening anymore. I don’t remember. Wife had tried recording me when she saw things start to get weird, but the recording didn’t take. I don’t know that I would have wanted to hear that audio.

By the time I regained enough of my senses and context to talk to Wife about it, I was coming down very quickly. I may have asked how long I had been, Wife reported that I was at the halfway half hour mark. And I was clearing up very well and very fast. We talked about what I experienced, but she also said that some ketamine therapies involve actual therapy after the high. So she asked if I wanted to talk about anything. It was a really good opportunity to explain in more detail how I’d been feeling in the last few weeks, and share how good or bad it had been going. I talked about two steps backward, one step forward. But she guided me through my memory and pointed out all of the progresses, and that the setbacks were expected.

It was raining by then, and a gray day had becoming a cold, dingy, gray day. But I valued the discussion, and valued the experience of being the only thing in existence. Not in a vain “I am everything” way but a humbling realization of how big our world and the human experience actually is.

Hours later it’s still clear in my mind and makes me feel cold and alone. But something draws me back to it and hopes I see it again. I enjoy the disassociation from the therapy, and would not consider today as a “bad trip” but it wasn’t as lovely as any before. Happy to be home, though.

Therapist Homework

My therapist and I have decided that she will give me a writing prompt once a week, and we’ll use that as a starting point on certain topics. I may share some of them here. This prompt was:

When a public figure dies, it can sometimes feel like a personal loss to us. Describe your experience(s) with this and your thoughts on why it happens

When I was in high school and struggling for the first time with my own definition of who I was, Eric introduced me to Spalding Gray’s work.  Eric was my friend who was the best read and most cultured, he himself a playwright with some young success.  He would throw gasoline on the fuel of our pretentious media consumption.  When we found a movie that was obscure, strange, incomprehensible, or made a heavy impression on us, we would likely call it an “Eric movie.”

Being the 1980’s we were newly in love with Jonathan Demme’s work.  Jonathan’s latest movie was Swimming To Cambodia, a Spalding Gray monologue. The idea of a movie simply about a man on a stage talking was not initially interesting.  He would sit at a desk and talk about a bit part he had in a major motion picture.  That’s all.  That is when I learned what a monologist was.  And that was when I learned that one line in a movie can be spun into 90 minutes of story.  I didn’t know it at the time, but that’s what I wanted to do.

I have since read all of Spalding’s books, seen all of his filmed monologues, and spent hours reading about him on the web.  He had a history of not being normal.  And that’s what he would use to create his works.  Telling stories of youthful indiscretions or the trials and tribulations of the entertainment industry, he would make these bizarre stories feel familiar.  At least to me.  I have always wanted to be a New Yorker, and I suppose more than that I always wanted to be a New Yorker just like Spalding Gray.  

He had issues.  Dealing with depression throughout his life, as well as a horrible accident in 2001 that began his ultimate decline.  He was a passenger in a car that got hit by a small truck, in Ireland.  His injuries were severe, and the recovery took months and months.  At the time I was a young father dealing with a child we had no idea how to help.  This was also the beginning of my formal depression treatment.  

I was so far away from my younger self, the one who wanted to live in New York.  I was completely disconnected from art.  Reading wasn’t an option in my busy life, and movies and TV were for decompressing with the wife.  For a long time I forgot about Spalding Gray.

When he died in 2004 I read it online in the news.  I read that he had committed suicide and that only bolstered my connection to him.  By 2004 my depression was starting to gain steam after years of simply being an annoyance.  By then I had two children, both very young.  Everyone tells me I was a great dad, but most of my childrens lives growing up are a gray cloud to me now.  I can look at pictures and remember, but if I try to think of the year 2004 it’s just a hazy mess.

Spalding Gray was a neurotic genius.  Much of his content was autobiographical in a way that made him very vulnerable.  And told the stories of his own problems in the mental health arena.  Many of them were parts of his personality and didn’t require treatment, per se.  But others were depression, anxiety, or OCD related.  Very entertaining, but in retrospect very telling and sad.

He died when he jumped off the Staten Island Ferry.  He had many attempts before that, but this one was a bit different.  No note, no forewarning, just sudden and sad.  I thought about him out there in the dark and cold weather of mid January.  When I think about it I feel so alone and cold and insignificant in the shape of the universe.  And it jars me to think that he could have felt the very same way in those final moments.

While he was missing, before they had discovered his body, everyone had to go about their daily work.  There was a family birthday.  Friends came and went, visiting and consoling his wife.  Telling her this was just like him, and he’d be back before they knew it – likely with a very long and interesting tale to tell.  An article talked about the eerie normalcy of the house during that time, and it reminds me of my concept of “future ghosts.”  Those things that happen even though you or others feel like the world has ended.  Even in grief, the car needs filling up or the bills must be paid.  Or the memories that feel like they take place in a different life.  During the before.

On January 11, 2004, Gray was declared missing. The night before his disappearance, he had taken his children to see Tim Burton’s film Big Fish. It ends with the line, “A man tells a story over and over so many times he becomes the story. In that way, he is immortal.” Gray’s widow, Kathie Russo, said after he disappeared, “You know, Spalding cried after he saw that movie. I just think it gave him permission. I think it gave him permission to die.”[2]

Big Fish is one of my favorite movies, and the meaning is not lost on me.  When I tell my own stories that seem incredible, or don’t match what the external “me” represents, I enjoy the communication but worry people won’t believe them or that one day they will be gone, I will be gone.  For Spalding it may have been an upsetting release, that permission to die.  For me it makes me cry for a different reason.  It’s the final telling of the stories, but the guests who attend at the end of the movie validate them.  They make you understand that your own story can be told so many times, and it can be interpreted in many ways.  It can seem either so boring or so incredible as to be unbelievable.

I am sad that we won’t have any new Spalding Gray books or monologues.  And that it reminds me so much of myself.  But it also inspires me to keep telling my story and keep writing.  That we all have unique gifts, and we can all use our stories to help, amuse, entertain or even just relate.  Recently I have been given an opportunity to try and tell my stories in their own unique way, and that excites me.  I suppose I will even live through some new stories in the meantime.

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I am writing this anonymously, so if you know me on social media, please don’t link me to it. However, you are more than welcome to post the link to the introduction (same as above) as much as you like. In fact I would appreciate it. Again, part of purpose is to share my experiences with those who need it, or those who want to understand it.

Thank you.

semicolon: Prologue

The plan was:

  • A PHP, remote from that same hospital  (on the intake call before starting I was answering the nurse’s questions before she finished asking them, I was so familiar with the system)
  • Structure my days before the PHP starts, so I don’t just sleep and watch movies
  • Follow that with a day program (fewer hours/ fewer days per week)
  • Continue with the TRD clinic
  • Ketamine treatments
  • Continue to apply for the VNS
  • Work with my regular therapist on identity, grief, and suicidality.  Because the referral never called me back.  And my therapist knows me really well.
  • Continue with my MD, who will get suggestions from my extended care team
  • Work on finding couples therapy for communication
  • Live “the good life” with self discipline and compassion

I have described things in the past tense, especially from “before” but it isn’t really the past tense.  It’s all still there.  But there is a glimmer of hope, challenges to come, and a future I can think of. 

I’ll take it.

Introduction | Glossary | About

semicolon: 11. Home

I spent a lot of the weekend with calls with my siblings, my children off at school, my extended family, and the guys in my support group.  Two of them came over on Sunday to visit, which was nice.  I enjoyed quite a bit of porch time, which happily had not been spoiled by the fact that I had attempted suicide there one week before.  Which again felt like months before.  I had been hoping for sweater weather, but instead it was sweat weather.

While I had a brighter outlook, and it would continue to get brighter in the weeks to come, I had some limitations.  I still had the tremor in my limbs.  But now I also had vertigo.   It was the sensation of standing on the deck of a boat on the ocean.  Sometimes calm seas, other times a storm raging.  I had to keep the adage “three for the boat” in mind pretty much all the time.  That’s the idea that you keep your feet on the ground, and use at least one hand for steadying.  I also got exhausted quickly – say one point I was showering and washing my hair and thinking “Man this is a lot of work, my arms are so tired!”  So any effort pretty much ran my battery down.  And I was still working off my sleep deficit.

Those new side effects (likely from the trazadone that I’m still not willing to give up because it helps me sleep so well) would have thrown me into a deeper pit of despair even just a week ago.  But now I had my new knowledge, meds, outlook and optimism, and finally a passionate desire not to spend more time in the hospital.  So I would weather the storm and hope the side effects lessened over time.  They didn’t, but that’s a completely different story.

So I’m still good, and bad.  I have a better outlook and can work on getting a normal sleep pattern and life.  But I still had some depression and anxiety.  I still had my side effects, but I was excited about writing and beginning a new career.  I am a higher risk for suicide, having attempted once.  But I felt like I wouldn’t lie for S anymore.  

I described it to my therapist today, a few weeks on.  I feel like I’m a bright(er) shining light in a metal cage, standing in a room just littered and piled high with depression.  The shining is my new attitude and optimism.  The cage are my physical limitations, but I can see through the bars, it’s not a wall.  (Also, I can write in the cage!)  And with the depression all over the place I have to be very careful where I step, and I have to shovel it all out of the room as fast or slow as I can.

Introduction | Glossary | About

semicolon: 10. Friday

Actually slept.  They had to wake me up.  I’m still insanely tired, but it’s just sleep deficit tired, and I know I can sleep it off over the next weeks.  Not so tired it hurts, like Thursday morning.  I want to go home to my own bed and wear belts again.  Oddly enough, that sounded almost like optimism and an ability to see that I have future days coming.

Girl and Old Man are both leaving today, and as the day wears on we hear of more.  Steve-O, Singer, and maybe Mama.  We also found out that Gangster was moved somewhere else last evening.  No more conversation pit outside my door every night!  Don’t know if he went home or somewhere else in the hospital.  As a result, the hallways last night felt very calm, though I didn’t quite understand why.  What this meant was that half of the unit would be leaving.  And considering that Mumbles stays in his room except for mealtimes, and I felt like Tank was going to be moving out or to another (maybe more secure?) unit, that left very few of the current crowd.  So no matter what, the shape of the room will be very different come Sunday morning, with quite a few new patients likely coming in Friday night and Saturday given the downsizing of the unit today.

Breakfast was jovial.  I still wasn’t really eating, but I ate more than usual.  I told bad jokes and the “fun group” looked a bit confused.  Apparently I was pretty darn flat up until today so they had no advanced warning about my horrible dad jokes.  I was also feeling my shoulders relaxing, dropping a bit more often.  I was in too bright a mood to feel the depression, the anxiety was less than a five, but dropping to maybe a two occasionally. I felt a bit like I could breathe again.

My suicidal ideation was crippled by yesterday’s learning session with the MD.  Knowing the biology of it just really took it’s teeth out.  Everyone was just brighter all around, except Spectrum who looked sad and jealous of everyone leaving.  She was a long hauler, and I felt bad about how happy people were about leaving.  But she must be somewhat used to it by now.  She just worked on her GDE/GED in the TV area.

Morning check-in was almost fun.  The usual passers passed, like Tank and Mumbles.  But even those not going home seemed to feed off the energy of the day.  The shift supervisor was nice, and the programming for the day was going to be very light and very fun.  The morning group was making cast iron skillet banana bread.  Everyone said it was a sign that this was going to be a good day.  And so far, it absolutely was!

After check-in I was hanging out in the TV area just writing in my journal, and I saw my case manager come in.  I caught up to her and we had a chat.  After my good night’s sleep, the discussions with the MD the previous day, and my concerns about just “hanging out” for the weekend, I had a new attitude and perspective.  She was very supportive, and said she would dig into the paperwork and MD’s discharge info, a PHP for after I get out, all sorts of useful things!

Morning group was fun.  I had a bit of confidence that I could go home that day, and the mood of so many people in the unit was one of optimism.  So how do you make skillet banana bread in a locked unit built to prevent you from hurting yourself?  Carefully, that’s how.  We were supervised by the OT therapist.  She had us in two groups.  My group did the first part while the other group mashed the bananas, then they combined our bowl with theirs and put it in the skillet and oven.  I was really happy to be doing something productive other than crosswords and sudoku.  We cleaned up the area and worked on creative arts while it cooked.  

I did a paint by sticker.  Little was across from me and apparently set up a free service of making magnetic bracelets.  She must have done half a dozen in twenty minutes.  As she finished one, someone else would ask if she could do one for them.  They were really nice.  While she worked away she would sing along to the music the therapist had brought in.  She not only had a beautiful voice,  but knew the words to most of the songs.  It was just a fairly calm time with a glint of delight.  

Later that morning I saw Little with her minder, and she said “Want to see something I do sometimes for fun?”  She proceeded to sit down on the base of her rolling IV stand, legs crossed – she fit perfectly, being so little.  She then pushed herself around by her hands, getting up speed and coasting along.  Kinda like those little scooters we had back in gym class.  Everyone thought it was hilarious.  Another sign of the good day.

Steve-O is doing laps.  I once asked him if he did the whole 17 laps, but he said he always lost count, so he just did it for a period of time and called it good.  Timing things is hard in the unit.  There are a few clocks in the public spaces, but given the fact that time feels “different” in such an intense yet boring environment, it’s often hard to tell how long you’ve been doing something.

I also realized Mumbles wasn’t dangerous – that the minders were for Gangster.  Tank is the last scary one.  And for some reason, only having one person on the unit that seems unpredictable and dangerous is easier than multiple folks like that.  Also, the fact that I’d be a senior member of the unit if so many people left, that it felt like it would have been easier just to watch the new people flow in.

Around noon, MD and her whole team, including my case manager, talked to me in my room.  My case manager had given the MD a heads up on my progress over the last night and my improved mood.  Had a good discussion with the MD, although she had one of her students give the backstory summary.  Poor student was so nervous, but she did just fine.  I have dealt with more than a few medical professionals who were just out of school, new at a job, or even just nervous.  I work hard to be very patient with them and thank them and tell them they’re doing a good job.  I love the looks of relief on their faces.  MD was clear that there is a good deal of work yet to do, and that it wasn’t going to be necessarily smooth sailing.  It’s likely to be two steps forward, one step back.  But keep an eye on the net gains and keep hope alive.  

And then the MD cleared me to go home.    She told me about a podcast she had done a few years back (link: The Mind Deconstructed) and I told her about this blog. She may even be reading this. (Hi! Thank you so much!)

My case manager was getting my logistics together – PHP, appointments, meds, etc.  It would likely be closer to dinner time.  Just as simple as all that.  My assigned nurse would work on the paperwork, too.  Of course there was a shift change, and when I realized the morning team was gone, I checked in with them.  I asked my new assigned nurse how it was going and she said it was all on track for a late afternoon discharge.  They didn’t have many details, but it looked like all I had to do was wait on my meds.  They were giving me some Trazodone to take home.  To be honest that seemed weird.  Handing a whole bottle of tranquilizers to someone who had attempted suicide with pills.  Apparently it takes a great deal of the med to overdose, and it has to be combined with another danger factor.  I didn’t look that up to make a plan, just to fill in the blanks in this piece.  It was strange to be doing that kind of research and not get the “If you need help..” banners all over the search results.

During the many hours I had to kill, I packed my stuff, which wasn’t more than some clothes, book, journal, and art.  I stacked it neatly on the bed and then only had a few hours – minus two minutes – to kill.  Back to the book, I guess.  I checked one last time late in the afternoon to see that paperwork was good to go, but the nurse said apparently the discharge paper hadn’t been signed yet.  I finally knew what would have been worse than not getting the discharge thumbs-up on Friday.  It was packing and anticipating getting out, then getting the rug pulled out from under me.  That would be far worse.

In the last hour they managed to pull it off, my meds had arrived, and we just had to wait until five, when my wife would pick me up.  Since the latest nurse was also gone, they had some trouble finding my personal items.  They checked everywhere.  Eventually they found them right where the nurse had said they would be.  Those shift changes are a killer.

They took me into the admissions/discharge room with the lockers, and gave me the remainder of my things.  The first thing I did was put on the belt.  I thought I might have lost some weight, and the jeans were not as hip hugging as they had been all week.  They gave me my “secured” items, which were my wallet and contents.  It was a sealed envelope with a marking to show it hadn’t been opened after it was filled on Monday.  My CPAP was in the room and I packed it up, as they had just sort of piled it all up in the case.  I turned on my phone and just put it in my pocket.  My week without technology was pretty peaceful from a certain point of view, and I wasn’t ready to be shackled by my phone.  I intended to use it much less, to read books more, craft more, and all of the other elements of The Good Life.

Unfortunately, when I did check my messages, all of my texts had the exact same friday afternoon timestamp, and would not open.  At all.  And I tried all.  I’m pretty bummed to have missed messages my family members may have sent me, or just missed messages at all.  Fresh start, though, so I guess it’s okay.

Finally the moment had arrived.  I was the fifth patient leaving that day, and it couldn’t have been soon enough.  One of the nurses led me through two layers of locked doors, past the entrance to one of the other five mental health wards, through a third door that I’m sure is locked at night, into a waiting area.  This is when I found out I had been on the third floor.  I knew it wasn’t the first floor, but time and space, including height, were a little wacky.  As the elevator doors closed I noticed a bulleting board for information, and photos of all the doctors.  I guess this is where visitors wait while they’re searching them and waiting for a minder to lead them in.

Going down we stopped on the second floor.  It was identical to the third, doctors and all.  I had assumed the doctors worked in more than one unit, but they must be in all five.  I did hear a nurse saying that they had a shift in one of the geriatric unit, and that meant it was going to be boring.  Apparently the old folks just sit and watch the fish tank, and there is rarely any interesting patient behavior.

On the first floor was another labyrinth of hallways, and the exit that had actually gotten me into the building.  I guess the ambulance doesn’t get a special entrance for a mental health unit transfer to a mental health unit.  I was so disoriented on the ambulance ride five days before that I had no idea where that entrance was located.  And here again, it took a couple turns and streets before I knew where I was.  I thought I knew all the interesting roads in the city, but this was a loop or two tucked back above the river, and I never knew it was there.

Wife was very happy to see me, very excited.  It was hot out.  I felt like I had been in the hospital for five weeks, not five days.  And apparently the world had continued on without me, as we ran smack into rush hour traffic almost immediately.  When I got home, I had a long, hot shower.  And then had another one.  I wanted to wash the smell off me – both the smell of my body and that unidentifiable mental health unit antiseptic smell.

We had a simple dinner, and a typical evening.  A bit of time on the porch, a bit of time watching TV, and then off to bed at a reasonable hour.  Part of the good life plan was going to bed and actually going to sleep.  It was nice to be back in my own bed.  I slept well.

Introduction | Glossary | About

semicolon: 9. Thursday

I woke up tired to a painful level.  Desperate.  I shuffled down the hall, already shaking.  Vitals were taken and unsurprisingly my blood pressure was high.  Anxiety on full blast with a backup of absolutely wanting to die.  My nurse, however, was really nice and we had a good long check in, being honest as I can, doing a good job so far, I think.  She asked questions and said things that were clearly assessing me but also saying things to show support and sympathy at the same time.  It didn’t help much, but it was nice for someone to really listen to me.  I admitted to some passive self harm thoughts and to both active and passive suicidal ideation.  No plan, no intent, and I felt safe here, but maybe not out of the hospital.  Especially with the high anxiety levels.

I can’t quite remember the morning.  Just that I was sitting in the TV area, full body shaking and feeling like I wasn’t getting better, I was getting worse.   I knew I had to just make it day by day, or hour by hour, or even minute by minute.  I saw the MD making rounds but they weren’t anywhere near my room yet.  

I do remember that we had an OT group with creativity, and I drew an image I had been thinking about since the art of the previous day.  I had imagined a darkly colored face smeared downward.  The morning OT didn’t have access to colored chalk drawing sticks, so I used oil crayons.  Wasn’t exactly what I had in mind, but maybe someday it’ll be worth a ton after I accidentally become a famous artist.

My hands were black with oil crayon, and I went and got another piece of paper.  Nice, super textured, heavy weighted paper.  I had no idea what to draw.  So I used the oil on my fingers to just put fingerprints randomly across the paper.  I was still bummed they didn’t have colored chalk, but they did have black charcoal sticks.  And I loved the effect on the opening credits of the show/series “The Pacific.”  The way the charcoal stick drew on the canvas but exploded bits of charcoal as it went, making a properly beautiful mess.  So I drew lines from fingerprint to fingerprint.  Which led to more doodles, which led to more.  I drew some patterns and such, but it wasn’t until I started drawing long curving lines that I saw the hair.  And the eyes.  And everything.  Honestly this image scares me, because it’s so pained and mangled.  As a result one of my favorites.

When I’m arting I often have an idea in mind.  It may change as I screw it up, but I’m usually working in a fairly determined manner.  So here I was with two drawings that I loved, and it was 20 minutes into the session.  I didn’t want to just keep making art, I felt I was done.  But I didn’t want to leave, either.  So I thought I might make something “happier” or more upbeat.  Grabbed the horribly messy oil crayons again and just started with a shape.  Filled it in.  Another shape.  Filled it in.  And so on.  There may have been an eye in there somewhere, but I was mostly killing time.  And of course that’s when cool things happen.  I just thought it was random brightly colored shapes.  But I guess my mind was guiding my crayons like middle school girls trying to raise spirits on a ouija board.  It wasn’t until I got home and was showing Wife my art when she said, “Oh, yeah, it’s a sailboat.  I can see that.”  Except I hadn’t told her what anything was.  It was pretty cool.  Wind in the upper left, looking down on the boat and cockpit.  You can find enough other parts of a sailboat to actually see it if you try hard enough.  Back to the theme of the magic eye puzzles and “Oh, it’s a boat!” from Mallrats, the movie.  Yes, it’s an old-people comedy from the 90’s and surely somehow even more offensive today than it was trying to be back in the day.

So I guess I did find a way to distract myself. 

Near the end of the OT group, my MD found me and asked if we could talk in my room.

That discussion put me on a whole new level of understanding, a new direction.  She explained the Vagus nerve response, or the mammalian deep dive response.  When I think of this, I think of a sea otter.  It needs to dive deep to find food sometimes.  But when you’ve been underwater, diving deep, the first thing that happens is that you are running out of air.  You also cross into a much colder level of the water – and that is a very quick change.  These things often give us the impulse to panic.  But that sea otter needs to dive deep, so in order for that to happen, the Vagus nerve is looking for a sudden body temperature change, and the feeling of running out of air.  This points me to one of the reasons for a Vagus Nerve Stimulator.  It kicks the Vagus nerve every few minutes, so you’re essentially shutting down panic constantly, making sure it doesn’t happen.  The VNS is also for TRD patients and it somehow helps with depression, which is what I’m headed for.

We can stimulate the Vagus nerve manually but doing a 4-8 breathing, meaning breathe in for four seconds, breathe out for eight seconds.  You can’t do it for long because eventually you’re going to run out of air.  The second, and most important part is the temperature change.  The best way to do it is to place your face in a bowl of ice water for as long as you can, but probably not more than 30 seconds.  An alternative is to place something ice cold directly under your eyes.  You can also put something cold on the back of your neck.

I had learned all of these things independently, but nobody had ever explained how they connected and why they work.  Or if they did, I couldn’t remember it.  It made sense now, and would have back then as well, so I would think I would have remembered that.  I like science.

She also focused on my personal grief.  Since losing my career and having my memory downgraded/changed, I needed to get a new identity.  My career went back a long way, and one of the things it stood for was “I may have dropped out of college twice, but look at what I have accomplished.”  Losing my previous identity in some ways was something I was going to have to understand and grieve.  Also, losing that identity removed the support it provided.  So this could place me back to my teen years, and by extension my younger years.  Back to my childhood, which my therapist describes as “trauma through neglect.”  So yeah, she packed my baggage, it’s up to me to carry it and work with my therapist to unpack it.  So I need to build a new identity almost from scratch

In the short term, we needed to tackle the top of this pyramid.  And that’s to keep me alive, stabilize me.  The second layer is getting the right therapy going, addressing these identity and grief issues.  And the third layer is quality of life – not just pulling me back from D, A and S, but getting me to a point where I am truly enjoying my life and continuing to grow. 

Once I’m stabilized and can go home, there are three major points to work on.  First, the biological.  Switching my meds so I actually sleep, and doing TRD clinic outpatient.  Working with my psychiatrist on meds, and continuing down the road the TRD clinic is taking me. That would be the ketamine, Vagus Nerve Stimulator, and whatever else they may have planned.

The second focus is Psychological.  Learning and relearning distress tolerance skills and blocking the suicidal thinking.  She simplified what suicidal thoughts were.  I wasn’t in the clearest mind, but what I understood is that when in a (depression or anxiety) crisis, the brain wants to help reduce the stress.  One of the things it does is offer different types of methods that will help us immediately.  In the case of suicidal ideation, it offers that thought as a way of understanding there is a quick and simple way to fix the situation.  It’s not your laziness or depressed mood or wanting to quit, it’s the brain saying “here’s one idea out of many..”  Initially, it offers just a tiny bit.  But as time goes by you build up a tolerance, so it offers more of these thoughts with increased intensity.  Eventually you go from “I wish I was never born” to “the impulsive idea of seeing a way to kill yourself and considering it” to actual planning and seeking opportunities to act these thoughts out.  It just keeps getting worse, as you continue in a crisis.

So it’s not my personality’s fault.  And just understanding that science took a lot of the power away from S, my internal personality.  By understanding why you’re thinking these thoughts, it makes the brain give up offering them just a tiny bit.  So the more often you recognize those thoughts for what they are – a brain reaction – the less often they come, and with less intensity.  That alone changed the way I thought about hopelessness and suicidal thoughts.  Combined with understanding the causes of the worsening of my depression – childhood trauma, life changes in career and local family footprint – made me understand a few things.  First, it’s not me looking for an easy way out because I’m weak. Second, I can science up my own reaction to those thoughts.  Third, it feels like someone has really identified the things that I need to work on, by myself and with professionals.  And finally, there is a plan of attack, a logical way of addressing my issues – not just throwing dart boards at a wall and deciding to try ECT or TMS or a new drug without any specific mechanism that it is likely to correct.  

It’s all about balance between science and therapy.  Understanding the physical aspects, but also what emotion aspects set them off.  Those are distress tolerance skills.

In the drawing above (that she made conveniently in my journal) you can see the biological, psychological, and social elements to work on.  Some connect to others, but for the three actions, there are understandings of what’s missing, and what needs to be reduced.

This is where it all changed.  Not in a religious transformation type of change, but more like they slowed me to a stop and gently pushed me in a different direction.  It’s up to me to do all of the pushing to get up to speed, though.  And she stressed that it’ll be two steps forward, one step back, but keep an eye on the net progress.  There will be bad days, but eventually they will come less often.  One of the factors that made me buy this idea was that it wasn’t going to be “do this and it’ll be perfect” – which usually leads to a single failure and thus a lack of faith in the system.  It’s a realistic plan going forward and I’m a human, so people will understand if it’s not perfect.

I asked about when I might go home, still thinking I was going to be stuck here forever.  Understanding was half the equation, I still needed sleep and support and something to keep me off the bottom of the mood pool.

What she said surprised me.  They like to have a typical three day plan.  Day one they get to understand you and the crisis you’re in – and how.  Day two is coming up with and presenting a plan to the patient.  And day three is seeing if you can attempt some of the interventions, and get to a place where you can be assuredly safe.  This was day two.

Given my depressed mood and anxiety, along with the sleep deficit, I wasn’t too hopeful.  Friday would be my third day, and I still didn’t feel much different.  I had to let the learnings of today simmer a bit.  And I had a bit of optimism but not a ton of hope yet.  So the fact that day three was a friday, I was expecting to be able to consider talking about my release after the weekend.  And I really didn’t look forward to three or four more nights in the unit.  

Back to the grind of the day, I was a bit late for lunch.  When the nurse took the cover off she was surprised, and asked if this was all I ordered.  It was the Caesar chicken day.  Just a single, sad little piece of chicken, though it tasted pretty good.  I couldn’t eat anyway between the exhaustion, trying to process the things the MD just told me, and the growing stress that Wife was coming to visit that night.

The group in the afternoon was about values.  Specifically values and goals.  The therapist was young and new and nervous and read awkwardly from her guide paper.  But she was nice enough and eventually chilled out a bit.  It was just her, Singer, and me.  Thank goodness there wasn’t just one of us.

The point was that values and goals aren’t the same thing.  Sounds obvious, but in a previous program we always talked about value-life-actions.  At check-in we might talk about what value-life-actions we did the night before, or at check-out they would ask us to name one as a goal.  It was always hard to understand what a value-life-action was, because they were always usually tasks or things to do.  But with this group it all just clicked.  It’s a simple concept, but in short your Values are how you want to live your life generally speaking.  Goals may have something to do with your values, but they’re not the same.  Achieving those goals could help strengthen or weaken your values.  The why of the goal, as opposed to the literal goal of the goal.  I know it seems like a simple concept, but it’s key in your recovery because you often have to re-identify values and how you want to live your life.  For me especially, since I needed to work on my identity, who I was, what I believed in, and what I wanted to guide me in life.

We also talked about control.  We discussed understanding your situation and handling it responsibly and easily.  The mantra the therapist offered was “Observe, Describe, Participate.”  You observe what’s happening, describe it in a way that makes sense (or doesn’t) with your values and goals, and then you choose to participate or not participate.  Singer offered up the phrase her mother used to say, “catch it, check it, change it” which is ultimately the same thing.  Notice it, check that it matches your deal, and change it if it doesn’t.

The ever-so-familiar bus metaphor came up.  Stick with me, this actually applies to some of the things I was having to mull over.  It’s simple.  You’re the bus driver.  The passengers are things you feel:  You like vanilla.  You are scared of dogs.  You feel shame for something.  You hate homework.  Anxiety.  Depression.

Rather than drive the bus on the route you are supposed to, we often let the passengers tell us how and where to drive.  There’s a dog in a yard in the next block, so let’s go around the long way to avoid it.  You can choose between vanilla or chocolate, so “You like vanilla” tells you to go for the vanilla.  Eventually you become so familiar with how the passengers are going to derail you, that you actually do their thing before they even ask for it.  Sometimes we don’t want those passengers to control us as much, so maybe we push them to the back of our brain/bus.  They’re still there, there are just a bunch of passengers in front of them.  During my “perfect year” I had pushed Anxiety and Depression back into the very last seats on the bus, and ignored anything they said.  But they were still there, waiting.  Waiting for an opportunity, or just waiting for all the other passengers to get tired and sit down for a bit or get off the bus.  So it was an apparently perfect year, but the whole time I was working my butt off to keep ignoring depression and anxiety.

And the final advice on the bus metaphor was that when you try to control the passengers, you lose control.  Not exactly sure what the right thing to do is, but if I recall correctly, it was keeping the passengers in their seats, kicking the rude passengers off the bus, and driving your route.

During quiet time I tried to nap but didn’t get any sleep.  It was so long since I had REM sleep, I had forgotten that I wasn’t dreaming.  And I was buzzing about getting to leave some day.  Tried to level set my expectations fairly loose though.  But now that I had an ember of hope, and my mind was blowing on it and dropping dryer lint on it, it was starting to burn a bit brighter.  So while I was excited about the prospect of my own bed and to get away from the as yet unidentified industrial cleaning product smell, I needed to be ready to spend the weekend here.  And if I wasn’t, I was really going to have to finally take a shower.

As my outlook brightened with further internal discussions and debates, I started to think about what’s next, not “how can I make next not happen?”  I called Sister, as Wife said she had wanted to talk to me as soon as she could.  We’ve always been close, and she used to give me pep talks in high school when she would come back from wherever catholic school cheerleaders go on weekends.  Don’t worry, nothing too horrible, but “kegger” is a major player in those stories.  We would talk and when I was having problems she would dump endless cliches on me, which actually helped quite often.  She said I sounded better than she’s heard in many years, and that gave her some hope as well.  I didn’t know how I sounded, but I listened to myself for the rest of the call and realized I was brightening up.

Before seeing the MD, possibly even the day before, I wrote Wife a letter.  I was taking responsibility for my actions, admitting that I had to earn her trust in my safety, and what I intended to do to better my situation.  I talked about “the good life” – don’t worry, I’m getting there.  After talking to the MD I re-read the letter and it was actually in line with what the MD said.  Nothing earth shattering, but good logic steps with the right perspective and understanding that nothing is perfect.

The “good life” was not a radical change in beliefs or how I live my life.  It wasn’t the “perfect” life, or even the “new” life.  It was simply a guide to having a good life.  The irony that it sounded like “the good place”(a show about where you go when you die, is it heaven or hell?) was not lost on me.  It was something like this:

The good life

  • Sleep discipline – lights out at 11pm
  • No screens in bed, dead trees books ok
  • 2+ meals a day
  • 1 hour of creativity every day – play instrument, write, craft, whatever
  • 1 hour vocational/career effort daily – when able
  • Walk every day
  • Minimize Alcohol.  Not quitting, stopping and then moderation
  • It won’t be perfect immediately
  • There will be setbacks but it’s all doable
  • Keep scienceing it.  Learn the logic of therapies and treatments.
  • Don’t rush it, but don’t lose sight & hope
  • Need another PHP for structure and continuance of goals.

That’s it.  (That’s it?  That’s an awful lot of bullet points for “it”)  And I am still trying to follow that guide a month later.  It felt realistic.  I began by understanding that if I break a rule or one doesn’t work out, that doesn’t destroy the effort before or after.

I was getting used to the danger people like Gangster and Tank.  But I was working hard not to be near them or between their minders, and it was a nervous task to do that.  Dinner was some random horrible thing, I think it might have been chicken tenders and the bread with cheese glued to the top.  As people throughout the day found out they may be getting out of the unit Friday or Monday, the mood lightened.  Dinner was good conversations, often funny, and often not just the table I was at with the fun folks, but everybody in the dining area.  Except Mumbles, he just kinda rapped about whether or not he wanted a condiment through the dinner hour – but it sounded like happier rap, if that makes sense.

The Thursday night movie was Frozen 2.  I had seen it only once and thought I could hang out for that while I waited for Wife to visit.  The TV was turning the picture bluish purple – even the commercials.  So it wasn’t just the dark mood of the movie.  I was getting more and more anxious about the visit.  It was a complicated feeling: excited to see her, scared of what she might say, worried someone on the unit would have a proper end of day meltdown, and so on.

I used the day’s learnings to calm myself.  Ice directly on my face, 4-8 breathing, and focusing on calm.  And it worked.  I still think it was because I knew what it was doing now, not just doing a placating therapist trick to get my mind off anxiety.  Cold as it was, it really showed me that what the MD had said actually had merit!

Wife visited, she was very quiet but it was good to see her.  I gave her the letter, all four pages.  Yeah, obviously I can’t shut up in speaking, writing, or blogging.  I couldn’t read her, and I’m usually fairly okay at figuring out what she’s feeling.  The dark side of me was worried she had come to say she wanted a divorce, that she couldn’t keep supporting me like this.  She just said she was tired, no dire news or anything.  I talked about the MD’s discussion from the morning, explained the unit as much as I could from there, and we chit-chatted a bit.  I felt relief when she left, not because I didn’t want to see her, but I was so worried about how she was feeling.  It didn’t make me feel too much better, but I was relieved that she was at least okay.  She also brought my CPAP machine, which hopefully would help me sleep.  They immediately locked it away, because, you know, ligature risk.  Wires and tubes and such.

Got back to the TV area to watch the end of the movie.  Two people are leaving for sure tomorrow – both of whom are in the fun group and we’ll all miss their energy.  We also got a new person last night, so that might balance the numbers.  I’m told weekends are both boring and rife with new patients.  There was one new person, New.  

I was still extremely tired, so I tried to go to bed early.  Unfortunately, my overnight minder doesn’t start doing that until 10:30, so I had to wait.  And wait.  And wait.  But I had a nice big dose of trazadone on board, a new sleep med.  And now that I had my own CPAP machine with a properly fitted mask, along with the final cherry on top of the sundae – earplugs!  Don’t know why I hadn’t thought of that earlier in the week.

And I slept.  Leg-en-dary sleep.  Slept so deep and well that I had tons of dreams.  I didn’t realize how long it had been since I had a dream.  Sleep deprivation will do that to you.  My dreams are always fun dreams.  Like letting the subconscious version of me out into the world, or my memories of places, just to have fun.  Apparently it’s common for veterans to have dreams in which they’re back in boot camp or where they attended training or were stationed.  I routinely have dreams about showing up per orders at my first training school.  But as me now, middle aged and out of shape.  Someone else was in my barracks room, I had just my street clothes on, no uniforms, hair out of regulations, and with absolutely no shits to give.  I would stand around saying “Hey, you wanted me back, so none of that is my problem.  You want me to look like a Marine, then great, hand me some uniforms.”  It would eventually devolve into wandering around the base, maybe doing weird things.  Like inflating the Post Exchange and watching it float away like a balloon, or seeing out of context friends and wondering how they got there, and why?  It was just a military version of a college campus, but without any of the fun parts.  Dreams like that.

So that night I dreamed that Wife and I visited Army Friend and Army Friend’s Wife in the pacific northwest.  Hanging around with them at their house, with their pet – a brown version of Sonic the Hedgehog. Because that’s normal, right?  We also went out to dinner and for a night on the town.  But instead of having a cocktail, I had milk.  I’m not drinking right now, but milk?  I would have much preferred a ginger ale or a Shirley Temple if they didn’t call it a Shirley Temple.  Pretty sure we broke into the house of the first CTO I worked for and avoided all the security lasers and just ran around.  Snuck out successfully later.  See?  They’re fun dreams where I can simply goof around.  Never ever scary, which is good.  But also never, uh, sexy, which I guess is a bummer.  Funny.

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