Friday, October 31, 2008

Therapeutic History: Part 4

"Sex, drugs, and rock-n-roll!" There. I got it out of the way. That is what the "special" high school I ended up in was all about. Well, some of it was about gaining an education. The rest of it was more like a prison with scheduled activities.

Classes (inmates?) moved in groups, from classroom to classroom, the same schedule every day, with no variation whatsoever. The educational pace was so slow that their next step would have been to move backwards. On a guess, there was a maximum of 45 kids in the whole school, and 95% of them were not just emotionally troubled, but wrapped up in gangs, drugs, and violence. These were things I'd either seen at a distance or heard about through movies and television. Thrust into such an environment, I had no clue what I was supposed to do.

To demonstrate how out my element I was, let's look at the free time we inmates...ummm...students were permitted in the yard after lunch. There would be some of my classmates, and I would move toward them to make an effort in socializing. I would discover that one such friend had rolled a joint, and the others were gleefully awaiting their turn at toking up. My arrival would get a similar response every time. "Ah, good. Rob, stand here." They would position me between them and the watchful eyes of the teachers. Then they would light up. As a bonus, my presence represented someone who did not want to smoke any of their weed. I was a shield, not a snitch, and didn't want their drugs.

I'm trying to see something positive here, but when one realizes he had no friends and was only of use, there's little good to be seen.

Our daily schedule involved group therapy. Here was a foray into stupidity. I don't know what was supposed to be accomplished, but I saw no goals achieved during these sessions. One gathering opened with one of the guys considering what his nickname should be. Somehow, I always saw a nickname as something given to you. My buddy "Mush" earned his nickname through his brother's mispronunciation of his name. And Mush started calling me "Flip" or "Flipper" based on my middle name. So here was a group of troubled kids, supposedly gathering to work out whatever was on their minds, and this rocket scientist opens up with, "I've been thinking about giving myself a nickname. What do you guys think of 'Spider'?" When asked why he thought Spider would be a good nickname, he said, "'Cause spiders are cool and scary at the same time."

Ummm...Dude? You're neither cool nor scary. You could call yourself "Giant Monster Robot" for all I care, and you still won't improve your image. But I have a suggestion for you. "Gorgo: The Thing that Eats Entirely Too Many Baked Goods." It's a "you are what you eat" kind of thing, and your brain is obviously made of dough. If this is your greatest concern in the world, then you are slated to become a "janitorial engineer" in the near future, and you should surrender when it comes to your education.

Okay...Not the kindest sentiment one could have when looking back on that time in my life, but I carried away a degree of bitterness when I finally walked away from that place. There were few events that were noteworthy, and those aren't happy memories.

One such event came when I lost control of my diabetes. My blood glucose was off the charts, and my brain was sitting in the equivalent of maple syrup. By the time lunch rolled around, I was seriously ill, and one of my classmates decided to blast his radio. Normally, this wasn't a problem. But because I was so sick and not thinking clearly, I first requested he turn it down. He refused. I asked again. He refused again. I took it upon myself to turn it down. He not only corrected what I'd done, but increased the volume further.

It was at that moment when I - a guy who was proud of being mostly a pacifist - attacked the classmate. The physical education teacher leaped into the fray to break us up. That's when I did something extra special. I punched the gym teacher in the face.

Not only was I immediately suspended from school, but was taken to the hospital, where I spent my suspension and then some. When I returned, it was very much Jekyll and Hyde, as the monster was gone and the man was able to apologize for his actions. Both of the offended parties accepted my apology with a handshake, and all was well again.

Another "fond" memory was an emotional explosion that took place during a chemistry class. Again, these classes moved at an extremely slow pace, and - I'm not trying to boast here - I was smarter than most of the school combined. I was bored out of my skull. I would have to be woken up during Spanish, I would answer whatever I was being asked, and then it was back to my nap.

Our chemistry class had been covering the same material for two weeks. It was not only lodged in my head, but I was also purging it at that point as a bad memory I'd rather not hang on to. Frustrated at the nightmarish rate we were being taught and the constant repetition of the same material over and over again, I finally blew an emotional fuse and started shouting at the teacher. You must understand that I am not proud of what I accomplished this particular day, and am guilt-ridden at present for never truly apologizing...but I brought the teacher to tears.

The thing is that I was angry about everything. My life seemed to have ground to a halt. I had been grouped with a bunch of people whose only future endeavors involved working to get enough money to purchase their next high, and that was about it. The few good apples in the bunch stood no chance against the great mass of bad apples. The rotting effect was starting to infect me, and I wanted out.

I got my wish. After two years at that "school," I was transferred back to my old high school. I was forced to repeat the tenth grade* because the "special" school moved much slower than the standard schools. My friends had all moved on a grade, while I had fallen behind. Such a thing was socially unacceptable, and so I became an outcast among them. The kids I ended up with were then leery of me. The most frequent question was "Why do you have to repeat tenth grade?" I bent the truth to my will and blamed it all on my diabetes. I would explain that I was sent to another school so I could keep up with my classes, even when I would get hospitalized for seven to ten days; that didn't pan out, and so I was back in a regular school.

They bought it. While it wasn't exactly a lie, it was what was socially acceptable. I immediately blended with the masses and returned to my pattern of just scraping by in all of my classes.

Good news and bad news was waiting just around the corner for me. Regular therapy sessions were about to start with Ms. S. That's the good news. The bad news was family therapy, which would not only leave matters at home unresolved, but in worse shape that when it started.

* Because my memory has always been average at best, and made hazy by previously mentioned therapy and elapsed time, I may have been repeating the eleventh grade. I can't be sure. Since my goal is to be as honest as possible, I thought I should make this note to be sure it's understood that the "facts" may not be as I remember them in terms of time.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Therapeutic History: Part 3

In this mess that is my brain, I don't know what happened to the therapy. One minute I was in therapy, the next minute it had vanished. If someone came along as said my problems were resolved, someone lied! Or, at the very least, was misinformed.

I entered junior high school excited at the prospect of moving forward. New school, complete with new building and new teachers, and students from all over the town of Wantagh, not just those that surrounded the elementary school. The chance to make new friends, learn new things, and...to start being hospitalized on a regular basis for my diabetes. That becomes an entirely different tale that I've now related to my treatise, The Suicide Note: Memoirs of an Insulin Dependent Diabetic. There are psych issues embedded deep within those hospitalizations, but I'm going to steer away from those and stick with therapy issues.

If my grades were a disaster in elementary school, junior high offered up an entirely new spectrum of problems. I went from having only one teacher reporting issues to my parents to approximately one dozen teachers sending reports home. I was a problem child the likes of which they were unaccustomed. They could see glimpses of intelligence in some of my work, but I was struggling through all of my classes. I mean, one of my greatest achievements was writing a book report on a book I didn't read. All I did was peruse the inside flaps of the book, cranked out a two-page report based on that, and scored an A for the least amount of effort one could put into such an assignment.

An IQ test was set up, and the administrator of this test was Ms. S. It must be understood that such tests are standardized. It's a "one size fits all" kind of thing. Just one little problem. It didn't fit me, or I didn't fit it. This test took place somewhere in the midst of eighth or ninth grade, making me 13 or 14 at the time. While my speech was that of a typical kid around that age, my brain was operating beyond my years. What's about to follow are some of the things I remember about the test.

There was something involving vocabulary. It started simply, becoming more difficult as this part of the test went on. As we hit words I shouldn't have known, I was able to define them. "Overanthropomorphic" was not on the test, but I'm going to use it as an example. Starting in the middle, we have "anthropo," as in anthropod. So instantly we have something humanoid that stands upright and is bipedal. "Morphic," coming to mean shape. So "anthropomorphic" must mean something resembling a human in shape and design; it has all the characteristics of a human. The prefix "over," however, means that too many human traits are being ascribed to whatever the word is referring to. Used in a sentence: "You're being overanthropomorphic to suggest that a gorilla could learn to speak." This capacity to break down words had me reading at a level four to five years beyond my education.

Ms. S had called a halt to the math portion when I hit an example that received my typical response when I hit a roadblock. I couldn't solve the equation, became frustrated, and had given up. I was right at grade level in this portion of the test. She started making her notes, and I had nothing to do but stare at the test sheet in front of me. Out of curiosity, I interrupted her by asking about examples on the following page. While I couldn't solve the equations, I was asking about their mechanics. "So if I knew what X and Y were supposed to be, I could solve this, right?" (Something like that.) This threw Ms. S for a loop. Obviously I could grasp mathematical concepts, but was shorting out emotionally before I could solve the equations. The IQ test had no parameters to address what was happening!

When we reached a part of the test that involved creativity, I started scoring off the scales. I grew up with Broadway musicals in my life, and had even performed in some community theater when I was 10. Ms. S would show me a picture, and I was to tell her what I thought was happening in them. My response to one picture blew her away. It showed an attractive couple in what appeared to be a rundown building. She sat on a chair, while he stood and a window. I started explaining that what I was seeing was a scene not featured in West Side Story. Obviously, this was Tony and Maria, and they had found a quiet place to talk about their romance, and all the problems it represented among family and friends. While some other kid might say that they'd been fighting and were breaking up, I was writing a cut-scene for a musical in my head where the two lovers are still together and trying to find a way to make it work.

These tests are not designed for brains like mine. The instructions might say, "If subject adds one plus one and comes to a sum of two, the subject is a genius." An exaggeration, to be sure, but that's a meant to be a generalization. Along comes a subject like me, and I'm going to tell the test administrator that 1 + 1 =3, and I can give a rational explanation for my answer. "Well, numbers are abstract concepts. You have never, and will never see 'one.' You can see one of something, but you will never see one. So I've decided that 'one' in your example is 'one parent.' The same applies to the other 'one.' Bring two parents together, they have a child, and now you have three." I can twist it again, and tell you that 1 + 1 = 1. One piece of a puzzle plus one other piece of that puzzle equals one completed section of the whole.

IQ tests are not designed for the abstract, which meant Ms. S had a problem. How do you rate the intellect of someone that does things the test hasn't anticipated? Apparently, the answer was to surrender and score me a single digit beneath genius level, (whatever that particular test said that number was supposed to be), and put in a note, "Near genius without effort."

Imagine the brain being built like a clock. You have two different kinds of cogs to choose from: red and blue. Red are emotional cogs and blue are logical cogs. Mix them all into one box, put on a blindfold, and assemble the clock. Lo and behold, you manage to get some of the colors to match, and those are the parts of the clock that work just fine. But where the colors are mixed up, you run into numerous problems, especially when blue cogs are interrupted by red. The gears start to grind, wear down, and things stop working.

The math example is perfect to represent this. When I would come to a snag in solving an equation, I would blow emotional fuses and give up completely. I was incapable of removing the emotional components when trying to apply logic, and would thus collapse mentally. So I was "near genius" because I clearly had the capacity to excel, but I was "without effort" when it came to overcoming obstacles. I surrendered every time I hit a wall of any kind.

So there was an understanding of why I wasn't doing well in school. Add to this the growing frequency of my hospital visits - off-scale absenteeism - and the powers that be decided a regular school environment was not for me. I needed to be in a place that moved a little slower for me to keep up with the workload.

The spectacular failure in their thinking was not taking my potential intellect into account. A school that moved slower was going to bore me to tears. The school I was to go to also had a strong therapeutic aspect, and maybe that's what they hoped would help me. It wouldn't. Instead, it would introduce me to the "joys" of group therapy, as well as introduce me to an element of society I could have done without.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Therapeutic History: Part 2

I saw Dr. Idiot for a while, and was eventually passed on to one of his graduate students, Ben. If you're surprised that Dr. Idiot was teaching, imagine how I feel all these decades later. He was passing on his "knowledge" to others. The horror! THE HORROR!

Ben, however, was a different kind of therapist altogether. We would engage in an actual dialogue, discussing my preadolescent at length. What's more, he would "trick" me into conversations, and I have to say, now that I can see what he was doing, it was wonderful.

Because I was seeing him on a college campus, we would head for different places each session. One of these places was the campus game room, and there was one particular game that I remember. Keep in mind that we're talking about all the complexity of a video game in the late 1970's, and there were few player versus player games. This one involved a pair of knights, rendered poorly by simple lines, and the players would seemingly battle it out at the top of a tower. (I can't remember the name of it for the life of me, despite spending quite a bit of time searching for it.) Ben would cough up the quarters, and the games were on!

Ben would then sneak in conversations during our games. He would ask questions, and I would answer without realizing I was divulging what an adult might not. Of course, these games are not designed to last forever, so he would snag something from our chat when the game ended, and we would wander off to discuss it further.

There was a bit of backfire to this strategy, and eventually Ben would come to limit the visits to the arcade. You see, I was driven to succeed. A small error of any kind usually meant me abandoning whatever the project was. This was part of what was happening at home, and something that would plague me for years to come. So when Ben and I would engage in a game, I would become so focused on winning that I would stop talking. That doesn't exactly help therapy along.

And what is it that was happening at home? Well, Dad was off at work all day, so the first person to see any of the results of my days in school was my biological mother. Despite my apparent intellect, I was a bad to mediocre student. The one time I brought home an A from a teacher, I received no praise. Instead, a question was asked. "Why didn't you get an A+?" This was my reward for a job well done? Then why should I bother at all?

Now came the inner conflict. I had to succeed. I had to get it right. But somewhere in my subconscious was that lingering thought that it didn't matter. The light at the end of the tunnel was oncoming traffic, so putting everything I had into any project wasn't worth it. These opposite messages clashed inside my psyche on a perpetual basis, and the results were frustrating for all parties. I would start a project, putting only half of my potential into it. The moment I deemed myself to have made an error, I would exhibit am inner rage akin to the one my mother would regularly verbalize. Because I was young, I couldn't possibly have said it in these terms, but I was judging myself a failure. The project was ruined. Once ruined, it was abandoned. If I did this with schoolwork, I received a dressing-down that served no purpose other than to make me feel worse.

The mystery to me is why these things remained unresolved during my time with Ben. I think I may have been nine or ten. It's not as though I could lead our sessions to my problems. That was his job. Something must have been lacking in our sessions, because I honestly don't think I came away with anything other than the idea that he was better at this than Dr. Idiot.

There came a day when I became very upset during a session. It's too long ago for me to recall what my problem was that day, but I was in tears. Ben said something and I reacted to it. And tears were a bad thing...

Or so I'd been told throughout the years. It's such a disturbing message that's passed on to children. "Babies cry. Start acting like a big boy." Tears are made to be taboo. And so we grow up to become ashamed of those times when tears start to roll. It's a sign of weakness. To me, that's a terrible thing to pass on to children. Yes, you don't want a child to cry at everything that upsets him or her. But to make it seem that crying is some kind of evil? That's wrong on many different levels.

Which is why I eventually became confused after my crying fit with Ben. He said it was a good thing. It means we finally got deep enough into me to find a real problem, and the release of emotions was progress. Could this information be any more baffling to kid?

One of the places we would go to was a set of wooden benches on a platform that was three feet from the ground. We went there plenty of times to chat. It was a very pleasant setting in the midst of the college campus. A part of me wishes we were there right now, once again with my current mind placed inside that child I was at that time. After he asks me what I'd like to talk about, I'd start replying. "Well, Ben, I think I'd like to discuss what we've been talking about. Because, to be perfectly honest, I remember very little of it. So far, we've discovered that I like video games and that crying equals progress. After that, in well over three decades, I'm going to look back at these sessions and say, 'He sure was a nice guy,' and that's about it. That's a problem for me, because things are not improving in my life. If anything, they're going to get worse. I'm still not gaining the skills I need to cope with life at home and in school. I'm still below the emotional curve, while apparently hiding the fact that I'm actually above the intellectual curve. In a few years, I'm going to be rejected by all of my supposed friends. That's okay, because I'm one of those characters that fits into a clique of what appears to be 'the Losers.' The problem is that even they will consider me a loser, and I will never truly fit. Then the hospitalizations will start for my diabetes, and I will start a process of damaging my body that will be irreparable when I enter my thirties.

"Is this all there is to therapy? I talk for a while, and receive a critique on my perspectives? Is no one going to point to a situation and say, 'This is what you should do when that happens'? Something is missing here, Ben. I'm going to be 41 when I look back at this time with you, and my clearest memories will be of after our sessions, during the drives home, with me screaming and crying in the back of the car while my mother tortures me emotionally from the driver's seat. I'm starting to self-destruct emotionally, and you're supposed to be the bomb squad that defuses me.

"And so, Ben, I'd like to discuss what the heck we're doing here."

I dunno. Maybe I just want to leave a bunch of stunned faces in my wake with that wish of mine.

Junior high was fast approaching, and I would meet my all-time favorite and best therapist ever, whom I will call Ms. S. I wouldn't start having sessions with her until I was in high school, and in between was a therapeutic experience that I would, for the most part, try to forget and not succeed. And then, for extra fun, we actually ventured down the path of family therapy.

For now, my thanks for following along, and BE WELL.

Note: The writing of this post was interrupted several times, starting with a blackout that lasted close to an hour. Then, after bringing it up and typing only a couple of words, my brother Stu called. He confirmed the part of my Suicidal History in which I had said no one told him I was in the hospital. According to him, if he had known, he would have sent me a cake with a file inside to aid in my escape. By the time I was about ready to get back to this post, it was nearing time for me to start unwinding mentally for bed. Hence, I started writing this post on Tuesday, but posted on Wednesday.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Therapeutic History: Part 1

A thread has popped up on GitP about psychology and the like, and it made me consider what seems to be a lifetime of therapy. Unlike my suicidal history, however, these portions of my life go farther back than my 20's.

Someone, somewhere made a note during my elementary school years that I was suffering some kind of emotional development issues. I can recall one incident that might well have been part of the problem. We were in music class, which was fairly rudimentary back then. The music teacher would hand out lyrics to a song, and she would play piano while the class sang it. Such songs were usually pop tunes, and I think we were singing "Can't Smile Without You" by Barry Manillo when I burst into tears. Oh, I was still singing, but I was also crying my eyes out. (One might think it was because we were singing Barry Manillo, but I assure you that that wasn't the problem; back then, he was an acceptable when it came to musical choices.)

Something was wrong.

And so my parents took me to a psychologist. I don't actually remember this, but the tale was told to me by a very reliable source. The doctor tested me, made lots of notes, and then had me stay in the waiting room while talking things over with my parents. An official diagnosis was not forthcoming. Instead, the doctor said directly to my mother, "Your son sees you as some kind of harpy that is ready, willing, and able to attack him at any moment, and lives in fear of you at all times."

This was unacceptable. Ours was a loving, happy, perfect home, and my mother denied being some kind of psychological monster that tortured her children. This doctor was obviously a quack, and we would find a real doctor.

Off we went to the next therapist, who ran various tests, took many notes, and had me stay in the waiting room while he discussed the results with my parents. It was basically the same thing said to my mother. "Your son sees you as some kind of harpy that is ready, willing, and able to attack him at any moment, and lives in fear of you at all times."

Wrong answer. Perhaps these lunatic doctors grew on trees and there was a secret grove somewhere that would loose its bizarre fruit upon the world. Whatever the case may be, this obviously delusional doctor had no idea what the real problem was, and we were off to find someone who knew what they were talking about.

"Wash. Rinse. Repeat as needed." That seemed to be the tactic involved in finding a doctor to address whatever problems I was having. I would sit down with a doctor, be tested, my mother would be judged a monster, my parents would deny the potential diagnosis, they would then argue in private, and we would be off to see the next doctor.

I believe we went through five psychologists in total before my parents found a diagnosis they liked. According to this particular man, I was suffering some kind of trauma associated with the loss of my brother to leukemia, as well as linking such illness to my recent diagnosis of diabetes. The problems were all inside my head, with no external source whatsoever.

Uh huh. Right.

Two events come to mind when I recall how "wonderful" my mother was to her children.

The first was when I was five and we were still living on Staten Island, NY. My cousin, who was the same age as me, started arguing with me about his father's hammock. This hammock wasn't hung between trees, but rested on a bar assembly on the ground. I had been given permission to lie on it. My cousin's argument was that it was his father's, and I had no right to be on it, and I should get off. Let the battle begin! While trying to avoid my cousin's attack, I retreated to the far end of the hammock. So he came up with the brilliant idea that if he jumped on the opposite end, I would be ejected from the hammock. And I was. It was like a poorly conceived missile test, and I was the projectile meant for the skies. Instead, I crashed into the ground after arcing my way over my cousin. I was too busy being hurt to hear the crunch of bone.

In the mind of a five-year-old, there are two people who are supposed to have the capacity to make things "all better": mommy and daddy. My father was at work, so I took my painful wrist to my mother. The door was locked, so I pounded on it, screaming and crying until my mother answered. She opened the door, and I reported that my cousin had hurt me. All the while, I held my injured wrist in front of me, afraid to move it. Her response was a "loving," "That's what you get for horsing around," and she slammed the door on my face.

It turns out that my wrist was broken, and I would spend two months in a cast. And we didn't learn that until the next day, when I awoke to find my wrist immobilized by extreme swelling.

The other event is a little simpler. I had "reading homework." All I had to do was read several paragraphs aloud. The learning process is supposed to be a trial and error kind of thing. When the errors occur, someone in authority is rumored to come along and correct them. On the day in question, I continued to pronounce the L in "talk" and "walk." I honestly couldn't understand what I was doing wrong, especially because my mother was yelling at me and occasionally smacking me. At no time was I corrected. The more I cried, the louder the yelling and the harder the smacks.

Nope. Nothing wrong in our home. Life was as perfect as could be.

Thus, my very first regular experience with a therapist. I was far from the age of ten. As I look back, I believe I can say with certainty that this man was - and excuse my deviation into poor language - a fucking idiot. I honestly don't remember my sessions with this guy, but I can remember his regular responses so clearly that I can see his face and hear his voice. "How do you feel about that?" The question would come after I'd spoken at length about certain events and how I felt. After already telling him my emotions on a particular subject, he would spout that moronic question. "How do you feel about that?"

Oh, to have the knowledge that I have now. "Well, you twit, I basically feel like an ass for having wasted all that time telling you how I feel. Now I'm wondering what all of your extended education was about. Were your years at college spent partying? What's your doctorate really in? Pastries? I'm eight years old and here for 45 minutes, which somehow defies what I was taught when telling time, and is called 'an hour,' and I manage to spend most of it talking. And the best you can manage in terms of therapy is 'How do you feel about that?'?!? My father is up at dawn and busts his butt all day to provide for his family, and you're here asking the world's dumbest question and getting paid to ask it. Can you honestly afford a decent living doing this? Because if you can, then I want a job doing nothing too!"

But I was eight. Such logic, dripping with sarcasm as it is, didn't occur to me, and I would actually respond. I don't know what I said, but I can only imagine that it would be a repetition of what I'd already told him. What else could I do? It's not as though I had an extensive vocabulary to repeat what I'd said using different words. So I would basically spend my therapy time saying the same thing twice, and then it was, "Time's up. See you next week."

I wish I could recall what was discussed. I wish I could send my current brain into my eight-year-old self and say those things that were really preying on my young mind. "I'm scared. I'm confused. My father works all day, so he can't provide reassurance or guidance, and my mother is the source of a lot of my terror and confusion. For G-d's sake, I was essentially abused for pronouncing a silent L! I need an advocate to both represent me and resolve these things, or a guide to teach me the skills to cope. That person is supposed to be you. If you can't help me, you should send me to someone who can. But this little game of 'how do you feel about that' and calling it 'therapy' is over."

If I were you, I would expect this to happen a lot. It's a wish I've had for a long time now - that desire to take the brain I have now and put it into my younger self. Of course, it would be more amusing than anything else to see heads turn when I start waxing philosophical. I mean, imagine my father's face if I were to crawl into my father's lap the day the cast was put on my lower arm at age five and said, "Look, Dad...You don't know it, but this is pretty much the beginning of the end. This marriage of yours will stretch on until you've been with her 33 years, and then she'll be the one to file for divorce. Oh, you'll find love again, and she's going to be a wonderful woman. But from this moment on, everything that happens under the roof of your house is going to haunt you. You're going to doubt your ability as a father. You're going to feel a sense of loss when you start realizing you turned a blind eye to what's been happening before your eyes. And as you stretch on to an age nearing 80, you're going to do a little math in your head...Three sons, one grandchild. Although it won't be your fault, you're going to think it is, and 'I'm sorry' is going to become your catch phrase. If you file for divorce now, it should be all settled in two years, when we'll move to Long Island and I'll become a diabetic. We good?" I can't be 100% here, but my guess is that Dad would freak.

I'm aware of the paradox, though. If my father acted on such a speech, events afterward wouldn't happen. The silent L incident, which happened on Long Island, would not be a lasting memory of mine now. Nor would countless other events, but we'll save those for later.

Before I bring this post to a close, there are those who may claim I'm demonizing my biological mother. There are several arguments to this, from the Biblical "Honor thy mother and father" to the pseudo-psychological "You're an adult now; stop blaming your mother for everything." These things will be addressed in coming posts. "Your mission, Jim, should you choose to accept it, is to read on, and possibly remind me should I forget to keep that promise. This message will self-destruct in five second."

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Suicidal History: Epilogue

"...seriously, the level of caring and patience you display are truly super-human, and I have nothing but respect for you.

"I could never do what you do: share my story with the whole of the world. Part of it would be fear, that I would get responses like the one you describe from a CoX “friend.”* And part of it can be chalked up to hazy memory; I don’t know if I could get all the facts straight, or try to put them in reasonable order...

"...you’ve always been there. Like a resident big brother (not to be confused with Big Brother) with no-nonsense advice for every woe. I can’t imagine how you maintain such caring, listening to whiners like me, when you have such more valid difficulties."

* I believe this is a reference to my 26 July 2008 post, "I tell you this..."

The above is a segmented message I received after my last post. Out of respect for the sender, I removed those portions that pertained to that person directly. I consider it high praise when someone says, "I don't know how you do it, but you're amazing for doing it."

I've been linking these posts directly to GitP. The hurdle I can't seem to leap is exactly why I felt the need to get this entire story out, although I have tossed around several theories.

1. It could be because it's therapeutic, and helpful to draw out some of that mental poison.
2. It could be that I've wanted to share these details with people, but have been restrained by the forum rules.
3. To have some kind of record of this entire tale means I don't have to repeat myself over and over again; I can just link it and say, "Read this for more information."
4. The message of, "You are not alone."

They're all valid reasons, but none sits comfortably 100%. Perhaps the reason should be, "All of the above."

As for how I manage to care about so many people, giving them the advice they seem to need when it comes to coping with mental illness, "How" is the wrong question. I believe it's more along the lines of "Why?"

During my 97-day hospitalization, I had TWO visitors. The first was my biological mother, and that visit was obviously a complete wash. The other was from my new stepmother's daughter, and my reaction to that was...not right. I was pleasant enough when this woman came by, but a call to my father afterward was filled with uncharacteristic paranoia. I felt like this woman had come to spy on me and report back to my father. There's no real explanation as to why I felt that, but that was the accusation I made.

I tried reaching out to friends and other family. I spoke of my cousin who lived not far from the hospital and her outright refusal to visit. I left messages for friends who never even bothered to call back. The feeling of loneliness and abandonment was overwhelming. When I found myself homeless smack in the middle of a NY winter, and no one was willing to come to my aid, I found myself completely stunned that virtually everyone I knew could be so uncaring.

The homeless shelter that I was staying in had certain rules. While we could store our possessions there, we could not stay there all day. They insisted that we spend the day at the nearest welfare office and try to find some kind of housing. Unfortunately, the only things available were those drug dens I spoke of in part six. I was in such a state of distress one day at the welfare office that the woman trying to work my case took pity on me and handed me $5 so I could get something to eat. (She was breaking official policy, but could see I was in a terrible bind.) On the days when I didn't have to go to the welfare office, I would find a place to huddle from the cold and read a book, which was usually the nearby train station.

Everywhere I turned, no one seemed to care. Those who did care were operating out of an official capacity, and I would be forgotten by them when the next downtrodden soul came along. I wasn't a person; I was a case number. While I appreciate their aid, they were neither friends nor family. Where were the people that were supposed to actually care when I was at my lowest?

As the years have stretched on, I decided I did not want to be like the people that were supposed to be in my life. I may have been given several labels, like "mentally ill" and "disabled," but the one I would try to turn on its ear was "handicapped." Wherever I could, I would be "handi-capable." There are times when my mind and/or body won't function the way I'd like, but to make the effort to make a difference became important to me.

There is a stigma attached to being branded "mentally ill." To those with a closed mind, I'm crazy, loony, or insane. They don't want to accept it. Many want to deny it completely. Prior to my move from Vegas back to NY, one cousin suggested I "snap out of it." Oh, how I wish it were that simple. But my official diagnosis of severe recurring depression was as permanent as my diabetes. Should I attempt to "snap out of" my diabetes as well? I would have done that a long time ago if that were possible.

My PTSD only made things worse for me. I not only flash back to the attack, but other events. Like staring down the barrel of a loaded gun during a bank robbery. Like my mother slamming the door on my five-year-old face, only to learn later that my wrist had been broken. Like being mugged as a teenager because I was dumb enough to wear a gold necklace into the bad neighborhood where our family business existed. The smallest of traumas would flood into my mind if I didn't distract it, and so I delve into books, movies, and computer games whenever I get the chance.

But then there's my other distraction. It's the "why I do what I do." No one cared when I was at my lowest. Someone should have cared. Someone should have opened their heart and mind to my woes, other than someone who saw me only as a case number. Thus, I created the Depression Thread on GitP, and I tell people that their problems are no less important than mine. How can I say that when I've just coughed up a gargantuan hairball of drama? Because when someone is in the throes of a crisis, they need that caring. Moreover, it's infinitely more effective when someone who's experienced something similar comes along as says, "I've made it through circumstances like yours, and so can you. Here's how I did it." Even if I can't tell a tale or offer a solution, I do my best to let people know that when they need an ear to listen, or a shoulder to cry on, I am available to them.

Some of the things people discuss with me are astounding. One woman, whose husband was terribly ill, was having a hard time getting him out of bed and functioning. Although it could have been physical, she suspected it was depression. My advice to her was to join him in bed and make a real "pity party" of it, but to reinforce that she cares while she's with him. It worked, and his mood improved. A young man came to me about intimacy issues with his girlfriend, even after I warned that I'm not the best person to come to about relationships. I gave him the best advice I could, and he was simply pleased to have someone make the effort, even if things weren't completely resolved. Another young woman unloaded a great deal about an abusive romantic interest, and I told her that the smartest thing she could do was leave such a poisonous relationship behind. She didn't listen, and has paid a terrible emotional price for it. Still, she was ultimately thankful to have someone who wasn't directly involved upon which to vent.

The things I get in return make my efforts worth it. Occasionally, I get grief, and I can honestly do without that nonsense. More often, I receive messages that make my heart swell with what might well be called pride. I haven't surrendered. I am doing my best to overcome and remain functional. It's a daily fight to do so, but as a friend of mine used to say frequently, "I'm not dead yet. Don't send flowers." I also receive caring in return. Though my problems seem to be beyond those of "mere mortals," people unload *HUGS* on me frequently. When it comes to my finances, which are a perpetual nightmare, random people leap to my aid. Each month, a new person has managed to come along and say, "I can send (insert whatever they offer) to you, as long as you're not nervous about sharing your address." As I told a friend last night, I tend to trust a member of GitP that I've known for a while a lot more than I trust people I know in the "real" world. What's amazing is that there has been no overlap (with the exception of when the people on GitP got me to TN to see my brother). One person each month becomes my savior. I should send notes to all of them and say, "Y'know what? If you all just sent me $5 each month, I should be able to survive."

It's the emotional reward that's most gratifying. "Thank you for being who you are" is a message that has no price tag. Though I wish I could do without the experiences I've had, I have to wonder if I'd be the same person I am today without them. If that's the case, I'll keep the nightmarish circumstances of my life, for they have made me grateful for what little I have.

To those who have braved these posts and offered hugs, good wishes, and prayers, I am eternally grateful. If no one cared, then this entire saga would not have been worth the telling of it. When I am at my lowest, and I wish I could simply end it all, it is the thoughts of my beloved friends that come to mind first and stop me from making that final, fatal mistake. It is with great love and affection that I say to all my friends...

BE WELL!

Friday, October 24, 2008

Suicidal History: Part 7

My landlord was a woman who always seemed to be angry with one tenant or another. The one she liked? Me. In fact, when she got herself a computer and wanted to learn the basics, she asked that I come with her to her house to give a few quick lessons. I'm talking extremely basic stuff. How to run a disc cleanup, defrag, change the settings on the computer, etc.

This woman had made it clear to me that she hated doctors. HATED them, to the point of avoiding them at all costs. However, she was always exhausted and in pain. I kept urging her to see someone, and she outright refused. Well, her husband became extremely worried one morning when she was so unwell that she could barely move. He rushed her to the hospital, and it was discovered that she had cancer everywhere! Tumors had invaded almost every major organ in her torso. She was dead that night.

The house we were living in then fell into hands of that woman's sister, who, in turn, took the law a little too literally. You see, the law says that as the landlord of a boarding house, she only has to provide one meal a day. Not only did she take on that practice, but started locking up the pantry and making sure the refrigerator was empty so we couldn't cook. Then she turned off the phone for the sole purpose of ensuring I couldn't access the Internet at night. (By then, I owned a laptop. I thought I was buying quality, but it was a Gateway. We live and learn, right?)

Somewhere in the midst of all this, I fell off my meds. So when I blew emotional fuses, I did it big time. It started with me taking a screwdriver that was lying around and removing the doorknob to the pantry. I threw it into the wooded area behind the house. Then I had it out with the house manager, who now had a cell phone to call the landlord or 911. That's it. When I asked to call my mental health case manager, he refused to let me have the phone...so I grabbed it, took it outside, and smashed it. I was still ranting when the landlord showed up. She wanted me out, and I was more than happy to oblige. While packing my belongings, I made sure to leave as much of a mess behind as I could. By the time I was done packing, my case manager was there, and we rode away from what had already been a nightmare.

Part of that nightmare occurred on the night of 2 July 2002, at 2:30 in the morning. My roommate was an alcoholic the likes of which I had never seen before. He would receive his Social Security check on the first of the month, pay his rent, and then 95% of what was left went to vodka, with the other 5% going to food. Once he started drinking, he wouldn't stop until the money ran out. You could see that his liver was on the cusp of failing, as he would start to turn jaundice during his drinking binges.

One day, in the middle of him having his drunk on at full blast, a particularly violent housemate of ours laid into him. I learned later how bad it was, as the violent one broke the drunken one's ribs and a finger. My involvement in the matter was getting the violent one off the drunken one. Yes, there was a bit of a scuffle in which all three bodies were being tossed around, but I finally got the two separated.

But the alcoholic tended to become delusional, and in his pickled brain, I was behind the entire attack. He waited until I was asleep, then took a wooden club to my head. (It was a cut-off piece of that wooden bar one puts in a closet to hang clothing.)

At first, I had no idea what was happening. I thought the dream I was having had turned violent. Then I realized the dream was reality. I was up in and instant, turned to face him, and threw up an arm to protect myself. It was the violent housemate who came to my rescue, pulling the drunk away from me. The damage, however, had been done. The scar on my head is nothing compared to the scar on my psyche. I was now able to add Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) to my disability claim. To this day, when a loud noise occurs when I'm sleeping, I wake up screaming.

It should be noted that that story is one of the hardest for me to tell. I keep flashing back to the attack, reaching behind my head to feel the scar on my scalp, and wondering why the defensive wound on my arm never scarred. It seems like every other little cut has scared since I turned 30.

Back to the blown fuse and how I ungraciously left the boarding house...

If my brain had been working properly, I would have done none of the things that I did, if for no other reason than I was digging a hole too deep to climb out. My case manager couldn't find a place for me to go on such short notice. The shelters were already full for the night. There was nowhere to go, and nothing to be done.

In frustration, I walked away from my case manager's office and headed to a nearby strip mall. And there I sat, watching as the shops closed up and the parking lot emptied. In a matter of hours, I was alone, sitting with three bags filled with my possessions, and entirely too much time to think.

The most dangerous part of all this was the fact that this strip mall was next to the Long Island Expressway. Having driven on the L.I.E. many years before, I knew people tended to barrel along, barely paying attention to anything except the traffic around them. A nagging thought entered my head. Go find a hole in the fence, get down to the expressway, wait until you see a vehicle speeding your way, and then step out in front of it. It would be messy, but effective, especially when one considers that people tended to drive at a minimum of 60 MPH on that roadway. Once the thought was in my head, there was no dismissing it. I even went as far as to walk the fence a bit, looking for that hole I needed to access the danger zone.

It had to be around midnight when I located a pay phone and dialed 911. I told the emergency operator that I had become suicidal, and that I needed help. The police and an ambulance arrived in short order. The way the ambulance crew treated me, you would think I was a leper. I was made to feel embarrassed for being human, and that calling for becoming suicidal was the weakest reason to call for help.

I was taken and admitted to the nearest hospital. The staff seemed to have very few goals. Give patients their medications, make sure no one hurt anyone else, and to gather partial information.

That last part became a real problem. I was talking to another patient about the people I've met while filing for disability and some of the utterly absurd things others had done to try to win their case. One guy suggested that when I see the Social Security doctors that I pretend I couldn't add two and two. While talking with this other patient, I said something to the effect of, "This fight for SSD is ridiculous. Their own doctors say I'm disabled. I could fake it if I had to, but I don't have to. My problems are entirely too real." Again, I said something along those lines, and it was overheard by a staff member.

What gets put in my chart? "Patient is faking mental illness." No joke. They immediately started gearing up to discharge me, and I was in no shape to go yet. They didn't care. As far as they were concerned, I was pretending to have depression. But I didn't know this at the time. I would learn of it later on my way to court to talk to a judge about my case, when the guy helping me file told me about it. At the time, I fed a lie about the hospital only being allowed to hang on to certain patients for so long before discharge.

Their lack of caring, the fact that they logged misinformation into my chart, and their willingness to dismiss me only too quickly has made me leery of calling for help again. And that, dear reader, is a very bad thing.

I'm going to stop here. If anyone has questions, please contact me and I'll try to answer in what should be the final post to this saga.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Suicidal History: Part 6

While life seemed oh so serious outside my hospital room, inside was another story. I'm not sure how it led to our discussion, but my roommate and I eventually started working on creating the Onomatopoeian Empire. It sounds a lot more impressive than it is, especially if you know that an onomatopoeia is a word that represents a sound effect, like "Bam," "Pow," and "Crunch" from the old Adam West version of Batman.

I suppose part of it was that my roommate and I were a tad smarter, if not also higher functioning, than the rest of the patients. We needed an exercise in intellectual silliness. So we were off to the races, working on a theocracy based on the many that appeared throughout history.

First, we created a goddess whose holy scripture evoked our most sacred phrase, "I forgot." This would later be used in our defense should we be put on trial for crimes against humanity. "I forgot the wholesale slaughter of people was illegal." It sounds terrible, but it was really quite funny, because we'd be discussing this almost as though we were serious, and then one of us would say something to the effect of, "You know, if 'I was just following orders' didn't hold up as a defense during the Nuremberg trials, I doubt 'I forgot' is going to work well." The other would then reply, "Yes, but we're in a psych ward. You can't really expect us to come up with better, can you?" "We'll blame Steve Martin. The whole 'I forgot' thing was part of his routine."

Because this was a theocracy, we realized we had a lot of catching up to do. Amidst the major religions in the world, there was usually a long, bloody history behind them. We didn't have time for a crusade, so we decided the criteria for death was stupidity. We would administer a common sense test to all of our citizens, and those that failed would be visited by our "holy knights," who just happen to be armed with automatic weapons. If we didn't end up with at least a million corpses, we could probably be sure there would be a few hundred thousand.

We also held elections for the leadership of our building nation. I nominated myself for Grand Poobah, oddly blessed by our matron goddess to lead us to glory, and my roommate voted for me. Because he wanted second in command, I granted him the position of Poobah.

We needed a land to call our own, but hit a snag here. Most of the good property was taken. Thus, we decided to invade North Dakota. Our plan was simply and silly. When no one was looking, we were going to fence off the entire State. Not that it really was, but we'd post signs that the fence was electrified. To further our national defenses, we would have missile launchers. There was no way we'd be able to afford real weapons like that, so ours would be replicas made out of Lego. This brought up the problem of people getting too close to the missiles and realizing all those goofy colored blocks wouldn't do us any good. We decided that about a mile from our fence, we would put up signs, "Best of luck finding the land mines we've placed between here and our border."

There was more. It was all bizarre and silly. We were just coming to realize we wouldn't be able to afford all that fencing material for North Dakota, and were agreeing that invading Rhode Island might be better, when my roommate was discharged. His replacement was not only less intelligent, but completely fixated on ending his life once he'd tied up a few loose ends. He tested my patience more than any other human on the ward, and my patience failed. I was moved to another room.

Meanwhile, there was a serious problem that was becoming worse every day. After the first month or so, I was ready to be discharged. Unfortunately, there was nowhere for me to go. Stu, way out in Vegas, didn't even know I was in the hospital. No one had called to tell him. I couldn't go to Florida, as my father had moved into a senior community, and I was too young to live there. My mother didn't want me, and I sure as hell wasn't going there even if she accepted me. All of my other relatives were essentially denying I existed. In fact, I called a cousin who lived about five miles from the hospital. I asked her to visit. She flat out refused. She didn't give any other reason beyond, "No. I'm not coming to see you."

The social worker in charge of my case said she was working on trying to find housing for me, but there appeared to be only two choices. The first was a bunch of houses that were roach and rat infested, and brimming with drug addicts who would sooner kill me for my insulin syringes than anything else. The other was something called a "sober house." These latter establishments had strict rules, including attending Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotic Anonymous meetings regularly. If I showed up there and didn't have to attend meetings, the other residents might also believe they didn't need to attend meetings. There would be an in-house rebellion, and none of the people running these places wanted that. As a result, I had nowhere to go.

This led to a somewhat ridiculous chat while having my one-on-one with my psychiatrist.

Me: I understand that there's an issue with me and the housing.
Doc: Oh? (Starts flipping through my chart.)
Me: Yeah. I don't have a substance problem, so they can't find a place for me.
Doc: Yes, yes. I see the notes.
Me: I have an idea that may solve the problem, as long as you have an open mind.
Doc: And what idea is that?
Me: Get me some heroine. Maybe some crack. (He's already laughing.) I could start snorting cocaine for a couple of weeks. How about some "supervised drinking?" Come on, doc. You know you'd love to join me on a two-week drunken binge.
Doc: (Practically wiping tears from his eyes.) As inviting as that sounds, I'm afraid your tactics are out of the question.
Me: Hey...You can't blame a guy for trying.

You must remember that this was a 97-day stay. That's approximately one quarter of a year. By around day 70, I was begging for the impossible. I wanted just five or ten minutes outside in the unprocessed air of the hospital. Surely there must be somewhere outside that was fenced in where I could just stand and breathe in the fresh air. I didn't even care if it was out by some dumpsters near the cafeteria. Alas, it was impossible. Hospital rules forbid such a thing from happening.

And yet, it did happen, and quite by accident. Right around the time of my begging, I was having...well, let's simply call it "a pain." It was becoming bothersome enough that they decided to try and get a peek inside, and this required me being taken down to radiology. After the test was over, I was left, unsupervised, in a wheelchair in the hall...right next to a frequently used entrance/exit. I was a good boy. I sat in that chair and never made a move toward this doorway. But every time it opened, I closed my eyes and breathed deep the rush of air that would blow into the hospital. I think it says something about one's place in life when sitting and enjoying a winter breeze is a highlighted experience.

Eventually, I was returned to the psych ward, where I reported my thoroughly enjoyable time downstairs, as well as the fact that I was left unsupervised. Another psych patient might have made a run for it, and then heads would surely have rolled.

The report from radiology brought news that I've basically ignored since then. They found pockets of calcium that, according to them, could eventually turn into tumors. Beyond that, their best guess was that the pain was a result of nerve damage from neuropathy, and there was nothing to be done.

Remember when I said that I was adopting the idea that I had enough on my plate and that I didn't need more? I took this news and treated it like parsley. I simply moved it to the edge of my existential plate and tried to forget it had been served to me.

The problem of my housing was finally resolved via stupidity. The social worker told me that a bed was opening up in a boarding house, and that I would spend one night in a shelter. Then I would be brought to this mystery house.

What I didn't know, as I bid goodbye to the kindly hospital staff that had taken care of me for over three months, was that I was being released into homelessness. I was about to spend 10 days in a homeless shelter. During that time, I would rapidly learn that pride had no place in my life. There was also a meeting with a county official to file a complaint against the hospital. Add to this the nightmare of facing a New York winter at its full strength, with snowstorms and blistering cold winds, with nowhere to go but a shelter at night.

Talk about wanting to end one's life! Just when I thought things were falling into place, I was tossed into the street like so much trash. By comparison, I was lucky. It was only 10 days. It could have been longer. There are people who never find a roof to live under, so I was blessed in that regard.

So ends this portion of the tale. In just over two years, however, more psychological disasters would strike, and I'd find myself in yet another psych ward. And that experience would make me leery of ever going to get help again.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Sicuidal History: Part 5

Before I get into this portion of the story, someone pointed out that there was a serious error in my last post. There was no Jewish holiday in November! This means that the alienation I instigated must have occurred in September, which is prime for the only Jewish holiday I can think of that would require a family gathering, and that's Yom Kippur. Yom Kippur is the Jewish Day of Atonement, and I've always turned it into a typical Jewish joke about money. "Most other religions confess their sins throughout the year. We Jews, as with everything else, economize. We fast and pray for forgiveness for a day, and then get right back to sinning the day after, knowing we'll be forgiven again next year."

In my head, however, the events that earned me the estrangement from most of my family occurred in November. It's stuck in that chronological sequence, even if it's now been pointed out as being impossible.

Once again, I point to the ECT. Here I am, trying to tell these stories with as much accuracy as possible, and I - the guy who experienced it all - can't be sure if it's the correct details I'm giving.

Several months ago, I learned of an event that appears to have been wiped clean from my memory. We were chatting one day, and we had the following chat:

Julie: I wish I could send you money like I did when you were living in Las Vegas.
Me: What money?
Julie: You don't remember?
Me: Julie, what money?!
Julie: You needed help getting back to New York, and I sent you a couple of hundred dollars.
Me: You did?
Julie: Yes, Rob. I did.
There was a long silence.
Julie: Rob, are you okay?
Me: I...I have no memory whatsoever of you doing that.

For the next few conversations, I was still mentioning the fact that I couldn't remember her sending me any kind of financial aid when I was in Vegas. That's no small thing, and it's frankly terrifying to realize that things that should be in my head are not, or they're stored improperly. Forgetting that a dear friend helped me with money or jumbling the sequence of events in an important part of my life makes me wish I could reach into my brain and fix the wiring. It makes me question the veracity of my own tale. "This is the G-d's honest truth...I think." It doesn't play well when it's said like that.

But I should get on with my tale as best as possible, and on 30 November 2000, I was officially admitted into the psych ward. As fate would have it, I'd be there for 97 days. I was relatively okay after about 30 days; I'll get into the problems of releasing me from the hospital a little later.

Meanwhile, there were old acquaintances to see again.

Like the schizophrenic young man who became so tired of the voices that he made a radical effort to kill himself inside the psych ward. He had been there during my first stay, and he came back during my second. He was a relatively nice guy, but the voices in his head were getting worse. I thought my thoughts were disorganized; this guy was able to hand me written proof his mind was a mess. You see, I mentioned that I had the hobby of writing screenplays. He claimed to have the same hobby, and he showed me his one and only script. The story was incredibly difficult to follow, with entire scenes apparently missing, causing the scenes that existed to make little or no sense. Because we were in a psych ward, and I didn't want to upset him more than he was already dealing with, I flat out LIED to him and said it was good, but not my kind of genre.

Part of our daily ritual in the ward was to change the sheets on our beds. Most of us were mentally challenged, not physically challenged, and so making our own beds was...Well, it was a cheat. For those that were lower functioning, it was a perfect excuse for the staff to give them a verbal pat on the back and say, "Well done."

But my schizophrenic acquaintance? He nabbed an extra bed sheet, made a noose from it, and tried to hang himself from the door to his room. There was no chance this would work, and I suspect it was his voices that convinced him it was a good idea. The big problem was that there was nothing to really hang from. Wedging the sheet between the door and doorframe meant that a good part of the sheet could be seen outside the closed door. Due to the length of the sheet, the best he could hope to do was sit on the floor and hope enough pressure was applied to his neck to cut off his air supply. He was caught during one of his multiple adjustments to the sheet in the door while trying to get it right, and was transferred to the dreaded "secure ward."

That nurse I argued with about the tiny air bubble in my insulin syringe? Well, I apologized to her...just in time, too. Weeks later, she suffered a brain embolism and died instantly. There one day, gone the next. It left a few of us regular patients shaken.

Then there was the alcoholic acquaintance who was there every other week. It was astounding to me. He would be with us for about 10 days, be released for a week, and find himself right back in the ward for another 10-day stay. I felt it was my duty to make him pay for this vicious cycle, but he was usually admitted some time in the night, and when I'd see him the next day, with his hangover in full effect, I would give him a rather loud greeting. I believe it was on visit number three for him that he asked why I torture him like that. "Because, buddy...I like you, and I think these trips here are destroying you and your family. Either you'll get my message that you should clean up your act, or I'll be discharged before that can happen." He actually smiled and thanked me for caring.

There was an attractive young woman who I saw last visit, and she was back again. Among her other problems, she was also a drug addict. Talk about flirting with disaster! I noticed she was acting somewhat awkward around me, and it was more instinct than memory that caused me to ask her if I'd tried hitting on her last time we saw each other. She said that I did, and told me it was after the first week of ECT. "Well," I said, "that explains a lot. I wasn't exactly in my right mind, and I don't really remember trying to hit on you. We have enough on our plates, so let's put it behind us."

Okay...I confess that I said something like that. The part that I know is accurate is, "We have enough on our plates." To this day, it is part of the standards I live by. I really do have enough crap on my plate, and don't need any extra. I don't mind people coming to me with problems, as long as they don't make me part of the problem.

Thus, when my father called, things were already in motion inside my head to stop letting people make my life more difficult. He told me that my mother wanted to visit, but after our last encounter, she thought it wiser to set it up through him. I was foolishly optimistic, but some part of me dictated that I give her one last chance. If she wanted to visit, she must have something of importance to say. "I'm sorry" would have gone a long way to repairing the mother/son relationship.

But those words never came. Instead, I received the nonsense line about her being worried. Where was that concern when I attempted suicide 30 days before, with what could have been my last note written in my own blood on a mirror? Most who hear the tale say they would have freaked out when they saw what was going on, then dial 911. How could someone be so detached from their emotions that they could wish their own flesh and blood dead on the street instead of calling for help? And then, when "I was worried" didn't work, to move on to her own problems? Ummm...Hi. I'm your son. I'm stuck in a psych ward with nowhere to go once they release me, and you expect me to be overflowing with concern about your problems? One has to ask, "Exactly how stupid and selfish are you?"

The result was that I exploded. I'm sitting here and trying to recall what I said, but I can't. All I know is that I started shouting, and the staff was afraid they would have to give me one of those handy tranquilizer injections and move me to that secure ward. Once she was gone, however, I calmed down immediately.

This encounter leads to a problem I was having. As part of her greeting, my mother asked me if I'd been working out. Yes, mother. Suicides are allowed to use the hospital gym, where a lot of dangerous equipment exists. Obviously, working out wasn't something I could possibly be doing. The issue was a medication they had me on for my diabetic neuropathy. This particular drug had side effects that blended very badly. Not only could they increase one's appetite, but they also slowed the metabolism. Since they this medication could also be used as a mood stabilizer, they'd increased the dosage from what I'd been taking for some time. As a result, I went from 160 lbs. to 190 lbs. in a matter of weeks. I wanted to be taken off them completely. Because this was more than a psych issue, I would need to discuss it with a doctor. Getting a physician to come to the psych ward for anything but an emergency, however, was next to impossible.

It started with my request to see a doctor, and the nurse caring for me that day spoke to the head nurse, who in turn called for a doctor. A few days later, I made the request again, and the head nurse - possibly the nicest guy on Earth - called again. This was the ritual for two weeks. We were weighed twice a week, and each time, I watched my weight climbing another pound or two. The morning I weighed in at 195, the med nurse came at me with my morning insulin and...

This is the part where the Patient's Bill of Rights came into play. A patient has the right to refuse treatment. You might think this is impossible in a psych ward. I mean, for all intents and purposes, I was committed to the loony bin, and there was no chance of me defying the orders in my chart. Unfortunately for the staff, I was frighteningly levelheaded when I made my argument against receiving my insulin.

I'll skip over the conversation with the med nurse to the chat with the head nurse. It went something like this:

Head Nurse: Rob, why are you refusing your insulin?
Me: Well, I've been asking to see a doctor about the [drug] I'm on. I need an alternative to it, and the psychiatrists here can't prescribe for that issue. A neurologist needs to handle it. The way I see it, by refusing my insulin, I'll become so sick that I'll need to be transferred to a medical ward, and then a doctor will have to come see me.
Head Nurse: You realize that if you don't take your insulin, we won't be allowed to let you eat.
Me: Oh, that doesn't matter. Without insulin, my body will start converting fat into acetone...You know...That stuff used in nail polish remover? The poison will make me sick as a dog, and I'm not looking forward to puking my guts out. But if this is the only way to get a doctor's attention, then this is how it'll be.
Head Nurse: (realizing he wasn't dealing with an idiot) I'll tell you what. You take your morning dose of insulin, and I'll start making phone calls. If a doctor doesn't come to see you today, you're welcome to refuse your evening dose.

A doctor came to see me before lunch.

Of course, that didn't mean my issues with my neuropathy were over. The idiot that came to discuss the issue with me wanted to put me on a drug that basically spelled addiction with one dose. I refused, and we negotiated the use of a different medication; it was the same medication that I'd used the night of my latest suicide attempt, but now it would be in the control of the nurses. I was taken off the medication that was causing my weight gain, and the pounds started to slowly come off. Alas, I never saw 160 again.

Well, dear readers...This post is already longer than I'd planned. My need to explain and correct at the start has thrown off the schedule of my tale. I wanted to share the humorous tale of the Onomatopoeian Empire, as well as explain the part about my not having a problem creating a problem for me. Unfortunately, those will have to wait until my next post.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Suicidal History: Part 4

So much of the weeks between hospitalizations are covered in a haze. Some of it is rather frightening, like driving out of my mother's apartment complex driving a vehicle that wasn't my mother's, and there was a really cute Oriental girl sitting in the passenger seat. I don't remember her name. I don't remember where we were going. I do know I didn't have a license. No matter how much I concentrate on the moment, I can't remember what that moment was all about. It's scary when I think back to those weeks and realize that there are only a few moments that stand out.

Which brings us to a family gathering in New Jersey. It was a Jewish holiday, and my cousins are Conservative Jews. (This means they're mid-line between Reform Jews, like myself, (who are about as Jewish as far as you can throw us), and Orthodox Jews, who obey every law out of the Bible to the best of their ability.) Rumor had it that I spent some time convincing my cousins to let me use their computer, since mine arrived dead from AZ. After some discussion, I was permitted to do so, and I'm told I sent an infuriating e-mail to my father down in Florida.

Would you like to know what I remember about that day? A woman greeted me, I didn't recognize her, asked my cousin who that was, and was told it was my aunt, who had apparently put on a great deal of weight, which is why I didn't recognize her. That's it. Otherwise, the whole day is gone. I don't remember what holiday we were celebrating. I don't remember what we ate. I don't remember any conversations.

The only thing I know that came from that day was earning the enmity of my cousins and almost everyone there that day. In fact, there's a small memory of talking to a cousin - which one, I have no clue - and was yelled at for the e-mail I sent. Said cousin reported that my father was in tears over it; a fact that my father later denied. Alas, only the aspects of these conversations remain, not the words spoken.

With my brain already scrambled by the ECT, and G-d only knows what else was happening, something snapped inside me. Which brings me to the recollection of sitting behind an elementary school near to where my biological mother lived. I had taken an overdose of the non-narcotic pain medication I used for my diabetic neuropathy. I had a straightedge razor. Tears flowed as I made feeble scratches along my left wrist. But I couldn't do it. I desperately wanted to, but a single thought apparently stopped me. Tomorrow, a bunch of little kids will come to school expecting to learn and have fun, and one or more of them will find a corpse, which may well traumatize him, her, or an entire group of children for life. Yes, even in my absolute misery, I was caring about others.

And so we arrive on the night of 29 November 2000. Once again, we come to a complicated suicide attempt that was a greater effort than simply taking one action to end my life. My biological mother was at her part-time evening job, which supplemented her full-time day job income.

Two hours prior to using a razor on my left arm, I took certain medications to make my efforts as painless and effective as possible. The first was that same pain medication from the night at the school to numb my body and mind. Although this wasn't a narcotic, it still operated on the opiate receptors in the body. It was the equivalent of becoming high as a kite and sick as a dog, all in the same moment. I remember taking TEN of these pills. (Note: the most anyone should take of these tablets is eight, as more makes kidney shutdown a possibility.) The other medication was an overdose of an over-the-counter medication that I happen to know also acts as a blood thinner. This drug can be obtained at prescription strength. Well, I took twice the amount of the maximum prescription strength in the hopes of preventing my blood from clotting. I did one other thing, but I won't share that detail, as it was the one measure that could have really helped me end my life, and I don't want this to become an instruction manual on such things.

Razor in my right hand, I started cutting into my left arm. The goal was to hit an artery. What I didn't know was how deep those suckers are. I was trying to split my flesh to reach my goal, and found myself having to dig deeper and deeper. My objective was proving increasingly difficult to obtain, and so I took to trying to open up a few veins. Little did I know that the veins I chose had a habit of "rolling."

In the terms of today, this is what one might call "epic fail."

One might ask, "How do you remember all of this, when everything else around it seems little more than a mental fog?" The answer is that pain adds clarity. My efforts to numb myself against vein and artery hunting weren't nearly as effective as I'd hoped. Then again, the drug I'd used to numb myself did wipe out part of this disaster. That is, it wiped out how and when I'd done it, but not my seeing the result.

When my mother came home and found me slumped against her bath tub, the "clean up" of her infamous "Get up, clean up, pack up, and get out" was more than a reference to me cleaning the caked blood from my arm, but a message I wrote on a full-length mirror. Written in my own blood, the message read, "Now I'm a failure at everything."

This part has been discussed already. My mother didn't dial 911 until she felt threatened by me. I've been told I threw a piece of furniture, although how I managed that is beyond me. I don't remember the trip to the emergency room. Two of my wounds required stitches, especially the one where I dug for an artery. There's an image of a doctor's hands threading my skin closed. Then I was transported to another hospital.

Hidden amidst this entire nightmare is an ironic laugh. I was in an ambulance, being transported from on hospital to another. It was night, and I guess I was chatting it up with the driver and the paramedic seated next to me. Because this was no longer an emergency, they had the radio on in the front, set to a rock station. Ozzy Osbourne's "Crazy Train" came on. Upon hearing the opening to the song, I said something to the effect of, "Oh, great. Now my life has a soundtrack." This got all of us laughing.

Now I'm not 100% sure, but I believe there was three hospitals involved in this whole thing. There was the one that stitched me up. There was another where I was another where I was observed for about 12 to 24 hours. Finally, I was brought back to the hospital where I'd had the ECT.

Because of the events that occurred during this hospitalization, this is where I'm going to close this little chapter. As a preview, you'll soon see how I used the Patient's Bill of Rights to my advantage, the origins of the Onomatopoeian Empire, and how not having a problem became a problem for me.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Suicidal History: Part 3

Remember when I said I packed a bag before walking to the emergency room? Well, I was in for a rapid education as to what I was and wasn't allowed to have once I'd reached the psych ward at the other hospital. CDs, CD players, earphones, shaving equipment, deodorant, toothbrush, mouthwash, Q-tips...The list seems to go on and on. A lot of these can be easily explained. For example, anything that can be made into a sharp object that will cut flesh is taken away. A CD snapped in half can produce an edge that could be used to go vein hunting. A toothbrush can be turned into a gouging weapon. As for mouthwash, one of the key kinds of patients treated in the ward were alcoholics. Alcohol is an ingredient in most mouthwash products. Yes, there are some alcoholics so desperate to get their drunk on that they will down a bottle of mouthwash.

Now I'm sure some part of you is wondering why Q-tips wouldn't be allowed. It was explained by a nurse that a patient once tried to kill himself by forcing a Q-tip through his ear and into his brain! The result was becoming permanently deaf in that ear and no brain damage, because the Q-tip broke. Sometimes it's a lack of anatomical knowledge that saves the suicidal individual.

For example, I read a book entitled Dead Men Do Tell Tales. It was about forensic anthropology, and one of the tales was about a man who shot himself in the head with a .22 caliber gun. If I remember correctly - and it's been some time since I read it, so I could be wrong - the man shot himself in the head several times! For the sake of doubt, I could say he shot himself at least once, but I think he got off several shots. The bullets ended up bouncing around inside his skull, scrambling his brain matter. I'll spell this out so it's clear; it took TWELVE HOURS for the man to die. The anatomical knowledge this man lacked was that the human skull is designed to protect a vital organ - the master computer controlling the rest of the works. The bullets' velocity was reduced when penetrating the bone and didn't have the power to do anything else but bounce once inside the head.

That's some scary stuff.

But we should go back to the psych ward, where I was treated to a sample what "mentally ill" truly means. Alcoholics and drug addicts, for example, were more than people seeking mind-altering substances for fun. I learned that many of these people were suffering mentally, and sought to self-medicate to escape their illnesses. Once upon a time, I would say that these people needed to get sober and get a job. Now I was learning that such sentiments were easier said than done.

Lots of patients. Lots of problems. I was not alone, and my worries about being considered "crazy" were first acknowledged, then shoved aside. Cracking wise about our collective situations was easier and infinitely more fun that becoming further upset.

Because phones have wires, and can be used to cause one's self some kind of harm, there were no phones in the patient rooms. Instead, there were two pay phones in view of the nurse's station. Next to the phones was a board that had the patients' names and what room they were in. If the phone rang, it was requested that patients answer, then find the person the call was for. I made a game out of answering the phones, and was usually rewarded with a good laugh. The all-time favorite of mine had to be, "Fruitcake Sanitarium, we're full of nuts. Can I help you?" Another favorite was, "Psycho's Pizza: we'll deliver if we can escape."

So you have an idea of what it was like in the ward. There were other aspects, such as a schedule of when to eat, when there were activities, and when there was group therapy. There were two periods when visitors were permitted; each only an hour long. One was during the day and the other in the evening. This psych admission was before 29 November 2000, so my mother would occasionally visit. She seemed to care, and brought me a few books to read. But her visits were rare, mostly because of her work schedule. I was, for the most part, on my own.

There was an unfortunate frame of mind amongst the hospital staff, specifically amongst those actually in charge of treatment. The nurses and clinical assistants could do little more than hand out meds, make sure we behaved, and make notes in our charts. They didn't have the power to write orders, nor could they take any action other than what they were trained to do and what orders existed in individual charts. The people in charge, however, had a mantra: "Treat 'em and street 'em." That was it.

Which is why treatment was rushed. Here's how it worked. The doctors would prescribe a medication at a specific dose and try that for a few days. If it didn't seem to be working, they increased the dose, once again for only a matter of days. Should that tactic not work, they would switch to a new medication. What I didn't know then, but know now, and what the doctors should have known, but didn't seem to care, was that most psych meds take FOUR TO SIX WEEKS to become truly effective.

So the first medication I had adventures with was Prozac. There's an interesting little side effect for Prozac if its dose is increased too rapidly. The patient can become very aggressive and easily angered. This is what was happening to me, and I found myself having it out with the medication nurse one evening when she tried to give me my dinner dose of insulin. There was a tiny air bubble in the syringe. It was nothing worth the argument, and I spoke to another nurse about it the next day. Something was wrong, and I was not myself.

The result was a change in medications. Again, because of the rush to get me out of the ward, there was no marked improvement in my depression. I still didn't understand what was going on, and I was becoming desperate. I wanted to get out of the psych ward, and the medication route didn't seem to be doing what it was supposed to; no one was educating me on how the meds were supposed to work, so all I could be was frustrated.

That's when I made a monumental mistake. I read a pamphlet about ECT. It said 6 to 12 treatments could result in a virtual cure for depression, and I became over-enthusiastic about it. I made inquiries. I was introduced to the doctor who handled that treatment. Then I signed the release allowing them to do it.

As I later discovered, there is no miracle cure for mental illness. ECT - Electro-Convulsive Therapy - should have been my very last option. Instead, once I showed interest, it was practically shoved in my face as the end-all, be-all of treatments for depression. Honesty, however, is my mantra, and the details of how it was handled are hazy at best. ECT can affect the memory, and it certainly did for me.

For those who haven't caught on, I'm taking about shock treatments. Unlike One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, it's handled much differently these days. They apply a general anesthesia, give a few jolts of electricity, and then allow the patient to recover for the rest of the day. Recovery for me involved hiding in my room, sleeping as much as possible and hiding from all sources of light because they hurt, as well as begging for Tylenol because of the MASSIVE headache I would have the entire day. This went on for two weeks, every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.

Now, before I go on, I need to correct something my last post. I mentioned that it was early September that I wrote the four-page note that landed me in the hospital for 45 days. While the amount of time is correct, that date is off. My next hospitalization was coming on 29 November 2000, which was only a few weeks after my release. It must have been October that I wrote the note. The thing is, now you have an idea as to why I may have jumbled the dates. The ECT messed up my thinking process something fierce.

But I remember 29 November for a few facts. Though I was released into my mother's care the Monday after my last shock treatment, I was so very far from "cured" of my problems. I thought my life had become undone prior to my hospitalization, but I was wrong. It was about to fall apart even further, and the aforementioned date would be the second to last time I saw my biological mother, and the day I came even closer to wiping myself out.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Suicidal History: Part 2

On 15 January 2000, Robin went to spend a day with her mother and father. They'd been divorced for years, and he had come to visit from NY. As the evening wore on, I called her mother to ask why Robin hadn't come home. I was told by her mother that Robin had decided to spend the night. Although this was a first in all our time living together, I didn't think much of it, as her father was in town, and she probably wanted to spend more time with him.

The next day, I was lying on the couch, watching the NFL playoffs, when Robin, her mother, and her father arrived. Her father, Ken, asked to talk to me outside. I had no idea what was going on, but I stepped outside and we walked over to some nearby picnic tables. Once we'd sat down, he started to tell me that it was over between Robin and I. I'll be honest, here...I don't recall any of the reasons he gave me, with the exception of one: Robin had put on 30 lbs. I'm not exactly sure how I was to blame for that, but in their eyes, I was the cause.

Then they all took advantage of my shocked state and escorted me to the office of the apartment complex, where I was told to sign paperwork removing Robin from the lease. I was like a robot, not entirely aware of what I was doing. But I signed the papers, Robin was taken off the lease, and then we all returned to the apartment, where I watched them remove as much as they could in a short time. It was only then that I'd noticed that they'd rented a van.

It would take at least a week for me to realize that Robin said very little to me during the entire event. In fact, she said two sentences in total. The first was, "I'm not doing this to hurt you." Well, if that was the case, why was she doing it this way? Her father broke us up. Robin hadn't said a thing in the process. I had no reply to her words. All I could do was stare into space with silent tears streaming from my eyes.

While moving items from the apartment to the van, Robin picked up her wedding band - one of the two that I'd purchased for what was supposed to be our upcoming nuptials. I took it back from her, and, pointing to the engagement ring, said, "No, you earned that," and I held up the box with the wedding band, "not this." She gave me no argument on that one.

After removing a lot of clothing, toiletries, and furniture, Robin said the last words she would ever say to me. "Take care of yourself."

I responded, choking back tears, "That is no longer any of your concern."

And then my one-legged fiancé hopped out of my life. Since I was out of work at the time, and there was no food in the apartment, her mother was "kind" enough to leave me with a $25 check. While Robin had taken her cat, Hugo, she'd left me with the kitten we got to keep Hugo company, Frankie. In my shocked state, I made promises that I later realized I couldn't possibly keep, such as hanging on to furniture for her to come get later. But because I'd been getting sicker, and my résumé was looking more and more like a battlefield, I was finding it impossible to find work. That $25 wasn't going to last, and so I started selling all I could. I was only successful in getting rid of the dining set when it came to the furniture.

There were other items, however, that I had greater success in selling to a pawnshop, which included all of the jewelry she left behind. Yes, I feel bad. But it was sell those things or starve, so I was left with little choice. What's more, it was Robin who gave me the legal right to sell what I wanted. By removing herself from the lease, everything left in the apartment was mine by law. Her jewelry landed me $200, which would not last long at all. I tried to find work, but I seemed to have dried out the job market in Phoenix.

Stu came to get me about a week later. I still wasn't thinking right, and abandoning my apartment would destroy what was left of my credit. Not that that mattered. I would likely be evicted come February.

For the next two months, I slept on an air mattress on the floor of Stu's cramped bedroom. He was sharing a three-bedroom apartment with another guy, and a woman who had two daughters. The sooner I got out, the better. Eventually I found work collecting overdue student loans, and with the help of my Dad, I was able to get a one-bedroom apartment literally around the corner from Stu. I didn't need a one-bedroom apartment, but there seemed to be no studio apartments in Las Vegas.

I hated that city with a passion; I awoke every morning and looked out my window in the hopes of seeing the city burned to its foundations. No such luck.

Frankie and I were getting along well enough. We were fed. I had a place to sleep. I was clothed every day and working. Work was actually amazing. At one point, someone called in to pay off an account and I took a check over the phone for $5,000. As a result, I was rewarded with a 27" television set!

And after only a few months, while our unit was celebrating an effective month of collecting money, someone spilled water on the floor and failed to clean it up. I found it by slipping in that puddle, sliding about 15', managed to not fall, but came away wondering why my shoulder was suddenly killing me. (This is the event that I described in my post on 12 October, where I had that incredibly painful shoulder surgery.) Summer in the middle of a desert was not the time to have surgery that resulted in having to wear a specialized sling that completely immobilized my primary arm.

I was in misery, and not just because I was suffering through yet another incident where my health was an issue. Prior to my surgery, my doctor refused to excuse me from work, despite my telling him that moving my arm, even for the menial task of typing, hurt. He prescribed painkillers, and they made me so loopy that I tried entering my job through an emergency exit and at one point I sat down at the wrong desk and couldn't figure out why nothing was where I put it. Without the doctor getting on my side and writing a note to excuse me from work, I was terminated for excessive absences.

Stu picked me up from the surgery. That's a bit of a story, but let's leave it at the fact that his brotherly concern was sorely lacking. What's more, he only came to see me once, and that was when I begged for some financial aid to help me eat. With only one functional arm, shopping on my own was loads of fun.

I was sinking into such a deep depression that I was starting to see no way out. I started making calls to see who in my family might take me in while I tried to rebuild my life, and the only person willing was my biological mother. Our relationship was decent as long as there was over 2000 miles between us. But I didn't know that yet. I simply thought it had improved. So after packing up my computer and shipping it to her apartment, I boarded a bus for NY.

When my computer arrived, I was rather excited. I was going to hook it up and start using it to begin job hunting. I set it up, plugged it in, powered it up, and there was a loud pop from the screen, accompanied with sparks that came from the back of the tower. Yes, a surge protector was involved. It didn't matter. The computer was dead. I contacted UPS to report that they'd damaged my computer during delivery, and they blamed me for packing it improperly. I explained that I had no idea I'd made that mistake, and that their personnel should have pointed that out before shipping, but the UPS representative basically shrugged and said there was nothing he could do.

I spent the next week trying to find work. No one wanted me. My résumé, which should reflect the last five years of employment, took three pages to do so, with gaps between jobs that stretched months, and some jobs only lasting a month or two. My physical health was garbage. My mental health was becoming worse at a seemingly geometric rate. And I suddenly realized it was time to get help, or I was going to put a permanent, messy end to my life.

Honestly, I don't recall the exact date. It was early September. I sat down with a notebook and scribbled out four pages, front and back, about why I wanted to end it all. Then I packed a bag and walked over a mile to the nearest hospital. When I signed in at the emergency room desk, and I filled in the "reason for visit today," I wrote that I was suicidal. When the triage nurse called me back, I showed her the note. You'd think I was having a heart attack, because they put me in a room immediately. A nurse was left to make sure I didn't do anything harmful to myself. In a few short hours, I was transported to a different hospital - one that was better equipped to handle psych cases.

Once again, we come to the end of a post. I'll get into the 45-day hospital stay next post, which will include my mistakes, as well as those of the hospital. Then, of course, well all have the fun of revisiting a psych hospitalization that lasted 97 days. Trust me, the "fun" is just beginning.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Suicidal History: Part 1

I have been fairly open and honest about my psychological conditions. I've always felt it was important, especially when talking to the community on GitP. Being the main character on the Depression Thread, making up stories to try to show people I am familiar with their pain would be akin to lying. While I may skip over bits of information, I don't lie. Why? Because my memory isn't the best. Telling a story to one person, then telling a different story to another person, tends to leave too much room for me to forget what I told to each individual. After that, it's only a matter of time before I get caught in the lie. Fastest way to avoid it: be honest coming out of the gate.

The time has come for me to speak in detail about my suicide issues. I don't actually know why the time has come, but most of my readers come from GitP, and I've made mention of these events before, but not in detail. The rules for GitP prevent me from going into the specifics of the events, so here is where I will tell the tales.

I was actually chock full of suicidal ideology as a teenager. There was just one problem with all of the plans I tended to make inside of my head. I was deeply afraid that my attempts would do nothing but land me in a wheelchair for life. For example, there was an easily accessed portion of the Wantagh Parkway where the foliage along the sides of the road hid what was coming at a bend. I could stand right in that blind spot and be mowed down by a car traveling around 60 MPH, and that would be the end. Or would it? What if I miraculously survived? I wouldn't be dead, but would surely have catastrophic damage to my body. I would be in worse shape than when I started.

Another factor stopping me was "Mush," that friend I've mentioned from time to time. He was always a bit of a colorful character, and when I would mention my desire to commit suicide, he was no less colorful when giving me motivation not to do it. "If you commit suicide," he would say, "I'm going to attend your funeral. I'm going to wait until they're lowering your coffin into the ground, and that's when I'm going to walk to the edge of your grave, unzip my fly, pull my shlong out for all your friends and family to see, and piss on your coffin." (You can see why this wouldn't make a good GitP post.) I can't explain how or why that stopped me from attempting suicide, but it did.

Such imagery did not come to mind when I was 27. Prior to this, my first official suicide attempt, I'd been fired from my job. I'd caught my first fiancé, Perlin, in the arms of another man. I became so enraged that I lost my temper completely and kicked a nearby car. Talk about a genuine feat of strength! I kicked that car with so much force that the bones in the middle of my foot collided and chipped, landing me in a cast. Because of what happened with Perlin, I lost my mind a bit, and managed to alienate all of my old friends, including Mush and his girlfriend. My life, simply put, had turned to complete and utter crap. I was done.

Thus, May of 1994, I decided to put an end to my miserable existence. I told no one. In fact, the night I intended to do it, I had plans to hang out with some of my new friends. The plan was to act as normal as possible, then go home and shuffle loose this mortal coil. During the day, I crafted a suicide note and left it on the desk in my bedroom. Everything was set.

Well, my friends called to tell me that something had come up, and hanging out wasn't possible. Thus, I was treated to an evening of dwelling on what things would be like after I was gone. Because I was not in my right mind, I clearly envisioned a lot of people at my funeral, saying such things as, "Good riddance to bad rubbish. Now we can go on without having to think about that worthless piece of crap."

When my bedroom clock read 10:00 PM, and I pretty much knew Dad had gone to bed, I started the process of killing myself. Over the next two hours, I took a double dose of the painkillers I had on hand for my broken foot every 15 minutes. To strengthen their effect, I washed them back with alcoholic beverages. I was drunk and drugged, and after I'd taken 20 tablets, I lost consciousness, firmly believing I'd put an end to what could loosely be called a life.

This event in my past makes me look at the present, and when I hear someone say they're going to end it all by swallowing a bunch of pills, my first thought is a sarcastic, "Uh huh. Good luck with that." You see, I didn't just swallow a bunch of pills. I'd given it some thought. Alcohol can increase the effects of narcotic painkillers. I knew by swallowing a fistful of pills that I would only vomit them up a short while later. My plan was dangerously smart, because it allowed my body to absorb the medications at a steady rate without rejecting the overdose outright.

I later learned what it takes to use pills to end it all. While living in a boarding house during 2004, a roommate of mine who was fond of making suicide attempts to gain attention took a MASSIVE dose of narcotic painkillers. This idiot - and he really was an idiot in every sense of the word - snored so loud at night that it sounded like two grizzly bears fighting for territory. I shared the room with him and another guy, and when the snoring dolt became quiet one night, the other guy and I looked at one another and whispered, "Quick! Let's try to get to sleep before he starts rumbling again." So we went to sleep, not knowing until the next morning that the moment the snoring guy went silent that he had died. (Yes, we spent the night with a corpse in the room. Not exactly a fond memory.) Rumor had it that he'd swallowed 12 times the amount of what I'd used the night of my suicide attempt in 1994. (That's taking in the quantity of pills and the dose of his tablets compared to mine.) What's more, he probably wasn't really trying to end his life, just gain attention.

Back to me and the pills...

I awoke around 4:00 AM and thought that my blood sugar was dropping. All those drugs in my system, I wasn't exactly the epitome in the realm of clarity of thought. I staggered to the kitchen and drank some apple juice. Odd, isn't it? I wanted to end my life, but decided I should treat my potentially low blood glucose. Then I made my way back to my room, laid down, and looked at the clock. That's when it hit me. The peak effectiveness of all those pills I'd swallowed had worn off by then. Not only had I failed in my suicide attempt, but now paranoia crept into my mind. What if all I'd done was manage to damage some organ in my body to cripple me? What if I'd only made things worse in my already miserable existence?

It was time to wake up Dad. I stumbled to his bedroom and tried to wake him. Dad, however, refused to stir. That's when my body thought of a better method to getting his attention. I went into his private bathroom and vomited loudly. He was up rather quickly, and before I knew it, we were at an emergency room.

For those who peripherally know about this suicide attempt, you also know that I did not end up in a psych ward. The only explanation I can think of is because of my medical needs. I was given lots of fluids via IV to flush my bloodstream. I was made to drink something that contained charcoal, which would absorb the toxins in my digestive system. There was also the joy of drinking the antidote for Tylenol poisoning; it's sulfur based and tastes like rotten eggs. (Yum?) The only thing I'd come close to killing was my liver. Interesting little fact: people with a history of suicide attempts have almost no chance of getting an organ transplant. Why give a new organ to someone who will only waste it when/if they end their life?

The reactions I received for this attempt startled me.

My youngest brother came to visit, and he was in tears. Here was the last person on Earth that I expected to have an emotional response. He's changed for the worse as the years have gone by, but at the time, I was stunned that he would react as he did.

My more infamous brother, Stu, came by with his defense mechanisms at full power. It was all joking and virtually no seriousness during his visit. But he was concerned, and that's what counted.

My biological mother came by and shed a few crocodile tears. Oh, I'm sure she genuinely cared, but my opinion has since been tainted by her actions in the year 2000. She also came bearing a gift: sugar free candy. I tell ya, ya gotta read those labels carefully. If you miss the part that says "May have a laxative effect," you will pay a price, especially when part of your treatment was to drink a liquid filled with charcoal to absorb toxins. I'll let your imaginations do the unfortunate work on that grotesque and rather painful biological process.

Dad was my most frequent visitor. Not only was he the most concerned, but he said a couple of things that really got me thinking. The first was his comment on the suicide note I'd left behind. He said it was the most beautifully written thing he'd ever read. It's over 14 years later and I still don't quite know how to process that. I mean, it was obviously a compliment, but I'm also fairly sure it wasn't a pleasant note. You see, I don't remember what I wrote at all. Knowing myself as I do, however, makes me believe that it was a typical, "I hate myself; I hate everyone; go screw; goodbye." I guess I said it so eloquently that Dad felt the need to compliment it.

The other thing he said was, "If you had succeeded, I wouldn't have been far behind." Now those words were a virtual bat to the head. It was nothing that had entered my head prior to the attempt, but the loss of my brother Michael had hit my father very hard. Now he was faced with a son that had lived 27 years, and he almost lost him.

None of this occurred to me when I was downing those pills.

Then there was Robin. We were only friends at the time, and she called my home to chat while I was in the hospital. My Dad told her the news, and she freaked out. You need to remember that I hadn't given any clues that I wanted to end my life. Suddenly she was faced with the harsh reality that I was in emotional distress, and she lost her mind a bit. I had no idea she had feelings for me, and this fact was buried further when I found out that in her own distress, she went running to her ex-boyfriend to vent and ended up having a semi-romantic encounter with him. (No, they did not do "the deed.") Only after her emotional rollercoaster had come to an end did she brave a call to me in the hospital, where I found myself apologizing for having put her through this.

While I wasn't placed in a psych ward, a therapist did come to visit me. She was most impressed when I answered her question, "So what's next?"

"Well, when you leave, I think I'll either watch a little TV or take a nap. Dinner will be along in a few hours, and I'll probably eat, then do more of that TV watching stuff, followed by a night of sleep. After that, it's a one-day-at-a-time, moment-to-moment kind of thing."

No false hopes. No wild dreaming. My answer was as real as it could get, and she liked that a lot.

This basically brings part 1 to a close. I attempted to rebuild my life after that, but it seemed that NY wasn't where my future was the setting for my life. When August rolled around, I started dating Robin, and she would soon move to Arizona come early December. I would follow her come January, and in September of 2000, my first psych hospitalization would occur.