Tuesday, May 08, 2018

Green Sweater

I wore a green wool sweater today over my usual ill fitting work clothes, it’s still summer but it was chilly.I knew deep down that I looked ridiculous. It didn’t help that I was wearing green pants and a green and blue shirt with a green backpack. My shirt is constantly coming untucked, my shoes are falling apart. But in my mind, I am able usually able to convince myself that I look great, which is a quality that I like about myself. Saves a lot of time.
I like to imagine that I look like Kurt Cobain in that green sweater he wore on MTV Unplugged in the 90s, shortly before his death. This is so far from the truth, I am as far away as you could possibly get from angel haired, heroin chic. The only similarities to Kurt Cobain and I are that we are both male and we are/were usually struggling with some sort of mental health symptom (I’m assuming this on Kurt’s part). I have never done heroin, as Kurt did, but I have been known to enjoy a Vicodin or three even though any pain from dental procedures is long gone or was never there in the first place.
When I got out of work, I had my sweater on again and it had warmed up outside and I was gross and uncomfortable but I didn’t feel like taking it off. I walked to the bus stop with the sun blinding me because I forgot my sunglasses. I think my sunglasses are a promo gift from an insurance company or something and I would never buy real ones because I would just lose them. I actually think those who do buy expensive sunglasses are very foolish and I am pretty sure they lose their sunglasses all the time and just throwing money down the drain.
The green sweater began to feel like I was wearing an electric blanket on an uncomfortable and annoying “medium” setting. I still refused to take it off because then I’d just have to walk around carrying a ball of green wool or even worse somehow attach it to my backpack and have it drag on the ground and fall off. “YOU DROPPED YOUR SWEATER!”
I waited around for the bus to come, smoking a cigarette and not enjoying it. Papery, hot and dry. Not like a cigarette with coffee or even better, a cigarette after Taco Bell.
One bus came and it was too full for there to be any seating available. I really didn’t feel like standing. Too much going on with the sweater and the mild heat and the sweater. Another bus came that looked promising in the open seating department. I got on and realized this might not be the case.
I went into my seat seaking missle mode. Like a very competitive game of musical chairs that only I am playing. More that willing to plant myself next to a crying child or a demonic crazy man, all I care about is the seat.
I saw a few open seats in the back of the bus. Not completely sure, there was a possibility there was a seat mirage. A miscalculated equation of sitting bodies or standing bodies just getting ready to sit. With hope, I made my way back to the bus. It turned out there was one seat left! In the back, where it’s a little tighter, a littler warmer, but a seat is a seat.
Just as I was about to triumphantly sit my ass down, I saw that sitting in the seat next to mine, was my therapist.
I stopped, confused, frozen, just staring at him and smiling idiotically. He smiled, waited a beat, and then waved his hand at the open seat like a “Price Is Right” model after she opens the door of a brand new refrigerator or front loading washing machine. We both laughed a little “this is awkward but this is happening and there is no way out of it” laugh. I sat down and stared straight ahead, sweating, in my sweater. I chose to stare straight ahead. And then realized that because I made that choice I had to stick with it through the entire bus ride.
I thought of anything I could possibly say or do that would make this less awkward for both of us, as the bus made it’s clumsy way down Michigan Ave. There was nothing. Every thought, everything I observed, every person's face I saw looked back at me in awkwardness.
A therapist isn’t like your teacher or boss or former one night (or ten minute) stand that you can be like “It’s so crazy to see this person in real life” and move on. They know every issue you deal with, every tragic thing from your past, every stupid little thing. They know things your family doesn’t know or your partner or spouse doesn’t know. And this is for good reason. So you have a safe space to share your absolute crazypants thoughts, and so your family, spouse or partner doesn’t have to deal with it. The only thing is, you can’t really have a relationship of any kind outside the therapist's office. With the clock and the books and the neutral artwork.
Could I make casual conversation as I would with a coworker who I was forced to sit next to on the bus? No. Because that might open up a Pandora’s box that (as the myth goes) can not be closed. In this case, the one to close it might be the therapist. And I did not want to have some comment or topic fly out of my mouth that might get a blank stare. Not that I would ask him to compare dick sizes (that’s silly no one would do that on a bus, not during rush hour) but I just couldn’t think of anything that might be appropriate for a therapist and patient to talk about on the fucking bus.
So I said nothing and he said nothing. I looked out the window on Lake Shore Drive at the beach at all of the shirtless, tanned, perfectly toned men bobbing along in their endless jog to nowhere. I swear they are hired models. Then I started thinking he probably thinks that I am looking at all of the shirtless models who are jogging along the beach to nowhere. And then I was like, fuck it. I was too tired from this mild trauma to care anymore.
As we neared my stop, I got up and smiled at him. He grinned oddly, but happily and I got off the bus. I wondered if he was watching me as he passed by the bus and again decided I didn’t care.
I pulled and grabbed at the fucking green sweater trying to get it off me as if it were on fire. I walked down the street, my shirt partially tucked in, carrying the sweater in the aforementioned ball. Relieved to be away from that silent, seemingly benign but in the moment, horrific situatuon.
As I waited for my next bus, a bus that always has open seats, a homeless man came up to me and asked me for a cigarette. We go way back, he knows I’m good for it. After he took it he said, “George Burns lived to be 120.”

Lithium Benzoate

Before I was brought up to the Psychiatric Ward last summer, I was put in a wheelchair and told to wait. I still had my bag with me, so I dug in my bag and grabbed three Klonopin. Just some anxiety pills for the road. I thought I might as well be chilled out for a bit while I was getting accustomed to things. Just as I put them inside my mouth and was about to swallow them, a nurses hand reached into my mouth and pulled out the wet pills. “Nope can’t take anything that’s not prescribed!” She quickly took my bag away from me. I never saw her face.
As I was being brought up in the elevator with the EMT, he told me that I had the biggest room up there. It seemed exciting, despite the circumstances. The room was big, with a tiny bed, nightstand and huge window overlooking the buildings in Streeterville. I could see my work. From the high floor I was on, I imagined my coworkers as tiny little people working at tiny little computers. Their voices were muted behind the double thick glass.
It’s difficult to remember why I was there, and even when I remember I forget again. Although I don’t remember feeling particularly traumatized (it wasn’t my first time at the rodeo) I guess your mind does block out unpleasant feelings and memories. I was extremely depressed and anxious. A series of events unfolded to the point where I felt completely helpless. Wherever I turned, whoever I called, whatever was prescribed didn’t help. Nothing broke through the fog. I felt myself falling, closing up, shutting down.
The next day, I noticed a young guy and I decided to chat him up. He was cute, seemed nice and made eye contact with me. He also seemed “high functioning.” Which is a code word for “not completely batshit” in the psych ward.
He told me he wasn’t depressed. He liked the outdoors a lot and wanted to be a Park Ranger or have some other outdoor job. He said his parents put him in there because they didn’t like his life choices. He was really angry that he had to take a pill- Prozac. I nodded my head, sympathizing with him, thinking about the seven different pills I was happily taking.
I didn’t buy that he wasn’t depressed. I did believe that he didn’t need Prozac and definitely didn't need to be in the psych ward. He said his father was very verbally abusive and overbearing. I saw this later when he met with his parents during visiting time. I caught flashes of his dad pointing his finger in his son’s face as if to tell him what he really needed to do and what his real problem was.
A soon as I got in there I desperately wanted out. I did willingly check myself in. I knew that my medication needed to be adjusted and I needed to be forced to try to fix some of the issues in my life that were really, truly threatening my sanity and existence. But I wanted out.
I became obsessed with leaving. I had an irrational fear that I would never be let out. I felt like people were forgetting me. That the outside me, the functioning me would slip away, like a ghost. Like there was a shell of me walking around outside and I wanted to jump back into that shell before it disappeared.
I had been hospitalized before, multiple times, but I never remember being so afraid of being locked away. I made sure that I said all the right things to the nurses and doctors. I lied and said I was fine when I wasn’t. Which is not typical of me, I don’t think. I remember answering questions about my mental health like I was a politician. Everythings fine, nothing to see here. Just let me out.
I read “Postcards from the Edge” by Carrie Fisher that Erik had brought me. That was a tremendous help. Carrie Fisher was and still is so comforting. Basically, she taught me how to laugh at the ridiculousness of dealing with mental illness. I sat on my bed and read that book if I wasn’t being forced to attend a group.
They did have a “comfort room,” which was a small room with a flat screen tv playing nature scenes on a loop. There was LED lighting on the ceiling and floor that slowly changed soothing colors while sounds of the rainforest or a light storm played. There was a weighted blanket that you could put on you that really felt like a hug. I looked into buying one and they are outrageously expensive! Not that great of a hug.
We had Art Therapy which I really enjoyed. I decorated and painted small cardboard boxes in the style of “The Memphis Group” which was a collective of artists whose style influenced a lot of fashion and decor in the eighties. This style also matched the paperback cover of Postcards From The Edge.
I sat and designed my boxes with the Park Ranger guy while he colored in coloring books. The very happy and encouraging art therapist asked if we wanted music on. The Park Ranger guy said yes and suggested a Classic Rock station. This gave me anxiety. I didn’t realize until then that Classic Rock really does give me incredible anxiety.
Sometimes though, instead of Art Therapy we were forced to play games. Playing Scattergories with a group of depressed anxious people is not fun. Trying to think of an animal that starts with X while you are under the influence of sedating medication and a timer is clicking away is incredibly challenging.
They didn’t tell me I was leaving until about an hour beforehand. I gathered all my stuff and was ready to go but I was delayed because they were waiting for my Lithium levels to come back. Lithium is a mineral that humans ingest and is also present in our bodies. Taking bigger amounts of Lithium helps with depression, bipolar and mood swings. Taking too much is dangerous. The window between what is effective and what is toxic is small, so people who take Lithium have to get their levels checked.
As I waited, I sat down at a table in one of the little common areas. A woman who was not “high functioning” sat down at the table. She said she had a question for me. Normally I would be frightened or put off by a person like her, not wanting to risk somehow falling down the hole of crazy she was in. Because I was so happy I was leaving, I was totally down for chatting.
She asked if I would be interested in opening up a Southern style spaghetti restaurant with her. I didn’t commit but I told her I was open to it. She was very excited and ran to her room and came back with a menu she had created. The menu was just a piece of paper with some chicken scratch on it. She started listing off things we would need, “Wood, bread, blankets, pinecones…”
The pinecones got to me. I could imagine sleeping too long and dreaming about a weird spaghetti restaurant that served pine cones. But this woman actually lived in that confusing nonsensical and frustrating place in your brain where your dreams come from. This was her reality.
I gave her as much encouragement as I could as I was getting ready to leave. She looked so happy. I hope she really did get some happiness out of it and she is happily opening up her pine cone spaghetti restaurant in her head. I hope she is surrounded by people that smile and agree and laugh with her and don’t make her feel anymore scared and confused than she already is.
When I got outside I couldn’t believe how hot it and loud it was. I was only in there for a week-but could everybody keep it down? I sat on a curb on the sidewalk and orgasmically smoked a cigarette. I settled into the real world in a few minutes. I went directly to a group therapy session at an outpatient center, then had a meeting with the therapist at the center with Erik and then I went to see my regular therapist.
When I was in the psych ward I had my little ritual every night of drinking my disgusting decaf coffee and looking down eighteen floors onto the crowds on Michigan Ave. I desperately wanted to be out of there. And not just because I wanted a cigarette. I wanted to be in the real world, the sane world.
Going to bed in my own room the night I got out, I could ummeel the pressures and stress and irritation of living in the sane world slowly pouring onto me like wet cement.
The Park Ranger and I emailed back and forth for awhile but lost touch. I think at some point, you don’t want to go back there mentally. It’s scary and you feel ashamed and you want to pretend it didn’t happen and move forward. It’s hard for you to talk about and it’s hard for other people in your life to talk about. I still feel myself, even as I write this, trying to push back or ignore the memories of being hospitalized and pretend none of it happened. But it did.