Boxes

Bi-Polar Disorder was never a diagnosis that I fully accepted. I am not going to try and deny that I can check off every box on the diagnosis checklist. I can. No doubt. The PTSD one too. That is true. I like to think that the fact that I see the world a bit differently than the average Joe is a good thing. My experiences are different. I bring each one of them with me. I have always considered myself moody. Why wouldn’t I be? I had plenty to be moody about. I have always had a mind prone to daydreams and fantasies. Doesn’t every little girl? A dear departed friend from high school who lovingly referred to me as “Wacky Jackie.” I loved it, I felt it set me apart from everyone, where I should be… Set off to the side like a broken chair. I already felt like I was apart from most of my peers- how many of them were hiding the secrets I held within me? I loved school really, I felt safe there. I could bury myself in homework and forget the turmoil inside. I could focus on what was within that building and forget about everything else. I heard it whispered many times that I was “stuck up”, sometimes even “snobby”. Nothing could have been farther from the truth. My aloof manner stemmed from trying to protect myself. If I placed myself on a higher field I could see and hear everything going on around me and no one attacks from below.

Even then I knew not to get too close to people. I had a few very good friends and that was all I ever needed. No one ever got to know everything. I kept myself at a distance knowing somehow instinctually that were I ever to utter a word or a blip or a wrong cross glance bad things would happen. My child’s mind did not know what exactly would transpire, just that everyone would be mad at me. What child wants that?

Once when I was around 13 or 14, a woman from church asked me to babysit for the evening. She picked me up and drove me to her house. Before she left to go out for the evening she pulled me to the side and came right out and asked,” How long has “HE” (referring to a family member) been touching you?” I was shocked and speechless and horrified. I never said a word to anyone. EVER. How does she know? Tears instantly welled up in my eyes. There were no words. I said indignantly, “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” and pulled away. She reached out and turned my face towards hers and said, “It happened to me, I can see it. You don’t have to talk to me or tell me anything right now, but I want you to know that you can.”

Those words should have comforted me. I was NOT ALONE! I believe that is the way she meant them. They did not comfort me in any way. Instead, they had the effect of magnifying what I already believed. That I was broken and my worst fear had come true. EVERYONE KNEW. EVERYONE COULD SEE IT! The shame I felt always, I wrapped around me like a cloak. I could hide under it. I learned how to look over and through everybody. Looking for signs they could tell or see… I learned how to smile and laugh on the outside without letting it touch me on the inside. I learned to watch every move and all the angles. I learned to put up walls. Walls between me and people, walls between the outer me and the inner. I had cities of walls around me and boxes and boxes in my mind. Boxes filled with one horror or another. Mental boxes, firmly latched. Everything in its place, always. I learned early and well how to watch out for danger. I slept lightly and covered with as many blankets as I thought it would take to keep the monsters out, everything tucked in around me.

This is around the time that I began to create angels and protectors. I began to believe that no matter what happened to me, I would be ok. I could go to anyplace in my mind whenever needed now. I didn’t know the term or what it meant, but disassociation was my best friend. I could leave at any time, go anywhere in my mind, if I felt the least bit uncomfortable. It was easy. It is still way too easy. Unfortunately, it wasn’t enough. I began to imagine that there were people outside, maybe living people, maybe not. Out my window at the tree line. Just in the shadows. Sometimes I had a feeling who they were, other times not so much. God was watching me, I knew, but he can’t be EVERYWHERE, ALL the time, so he sent others. This is what I knew. They would keep me from going too far away…Make sure I would get back from wherever I had to go…. I knew these things as real, the way I survived-not as hallucinations of a psychotic mind… I still see them as real. Real protectors sent from God. Who went away when I didn’t need them anymore. That to me is not crazy. It sounds perfectly sane to me. What else would prepubescent girl think?

I’ve spent a good deal of my life fighting. Fighting to be free. In my mind. Fighting for myself, for my kids, against husbands and boyfriends. Fighting the police on occasion. Fighting anyone who thought they knew what was “best” for me. Fighting myself. Fighting for my right to be free to express myself, whether seen as appropriate or not. Fighting to be free of what “the establishment” thinks is right for my mind, what meds I will and will not take and once you get a diagnosis of ANY kind, mental or physical, it begins to define you. It defines how others see you and it can define how you see yourself, if you let it. I feel that diagnosis box around me. I feel the limits it sets on me, even if only in my own mind. Well, not JUST in MY mind, I can see it in the faces of others I interact with, if they know. Today I am taking that box off. I’m going to pick it up off my shoulders and I am going to gently set it on the floor beside me. I am cautiously exploring a newfound peace. In the future I will take the advice of those who love and care for me and ponder it before I make a decision but the decision will be mine. I will care what they think and accept their reasoning. Then I will make the best decision for me.

I heard that God gave us two ears and one mouth for a reason. I’ve been listening a long time. Today I have something to say….

Admission

My first trip to the psych ward was because I went bat-shit crazy. It is hard to get into a lot of detail because I remember it as flashes. I remember being at a bar with my boyfriend, at that time having been together barely a year, and a guy we knew from work.

I remember leaving there to go to the wooded site where my sister had been murdered. I remember the woods, and the dark and the moon. I can feel the early September crisp in the night air. I remember sobbing and telling her that I was sorry and that it should have been me. Sorry because I was the one who had already been broken and it should have been me. It just made more sense that way. I told her that I was sorry that I prayed so hard to God that day in July, only one day before she was murdered, while I was being raped 3000 miles away in San Luis Obispo, California praying over and over that this man wouldn’t kill me and leave me out here in these mountains where no one I knew would ever find me. I prayed so hard God couldn’t hear you or I made him make a choice between 2 sisters and he chose to take you. You probably deserved heaven more than me anyway. Instead it was you, I told her. You left in the woods, tortured. Dead so young. Still a baby you were, just turned 12. I got off too easy. It just wasn’t right and I’m so sorry.  Telling her I was so sorry that it went all wrong.

Then I remember being home and my oldest son chasing me around the dining room table trying to get me to calm down. I do not remember biting my husband but the proof was on his shoulder. Vibrantly red and round. I DO remember him trying to leave while I was raging—at I don’t know what– life, God, every man I ever knew, society, humanity, myself, whatever it was that made me this way…I remember hanging onto the door of the truck while he dragged me down the driveway, trying to back out- the proof of that I wouldn’t feel until the next day. I remember him calling my mother and uncle and I remember spurts of talking to them but not the topics and I’m not sure that I was talking in any way that made sense. If it sounded the way I was thinking and it was circular and magical and definitely delusional. I remember waking up the next morning in my mom’s bed at my uncle’s house not knowing how I got there and I remember asking her to take me to the hospital.

She drove me to St. Mary’s and I waited to be examined by a doctor. I never saw one that I remember. I saw a social worker and tried to explain to her the best that I could about what was going on. I wasn’t sleeping well and I needed to relax. She asked if I had any injuries and I showed her the road rash down my right side from my shoulder down to the knee. She asked how it happened and I told her. She left the exam room- I didn’t realize until years later that there wasn’t even a bed in that room- just 3 chairs and a table. I don’t know what I was thinking would happen exactly; that they would give me medicine or a shot that would magically flush the demons inside me out. Maybe they would give me an appointment with a counselor, or both but either way they would fix this hurt inside of me that was causing the infection that was slowly and steadily poisoning and destroying my soul. I only knew I was broken. I was broken and I had been for a long time. There was a hole inside me that nothing could fill. This was not the first time I had behaved in a manner similar to this, it wouldn’t be the first time I needed medication or counseling. This was not my first ride on this bull. I had experienced more than a few less than satisfactory relationships and as usual, my boyfriend just didn’t understand me. Nobody could understand me, I think differently than others, I’ve always felt that way. I spoke with the social worker, then waited for her or a doctor to come give me my prescription and my referral for my counseling appointment.

That’s not exactly the way it happened. The social worker came back into the room and told me to sign some papers and give my jewelry, purse and cell phone to my mom. I was handed a plastic hospital belongings bag and told to change my clothes and put my belongings in the bag and give it to my mother. I asked if the doctor was going to come in and she told me I was being admitted. I was told to say goodbye to my mom and was then led to the elevator where the social worker pressed the 3 button. The elevator doors closed, the elevator rose and on the third floor the elevator doors opened into a landing encircled with glass walls and a locked door leading into the ward. We stepped into the glass cubicle and the social worker took a set of keys out of her pocket and unlocked the door into the ward. This is the moment when I realize that this door is different. I ask why the door is locked and she informs me this is a “locked” ward. I try to tell her that this is a mistake, that I just need some rest, I’m tired, I won’t ever drink again, I’m ok, I don’t belong in a hospital ward that I can’t leave of my own volition and I am not going in there. She is not impressed by my pleas and leads me to a room that I will share with an older lady who is coloring with markers on one of those black velvet posters. I wonder why she is coloring and why she seems so excited about having received some new posters today. What’s exciting about that? I lay down on my cot and she tells me that they won’t let me sleep because I’m on “checks”. I don’t know what that means so I ask and find out, that apparently, it means I’m on suicide watch and they will come into our room and I have to talk to them every 15 minutes.. Fantastic, I think to myself, these people are morons, why the hell would I kill myself? I have everything and I can do anything. After a while, I wandered to the tv room, looking for something to do. Entering, I looked around and saw people talking to themselves, others sitting rocking back and forth, staring at the wall, arguing over the tv, some pacing- crossing the room from one wall to another and back again. I found a book as fast as I could and returned to my room. I’m glad and relieved that I’m not like these people. I’m not crazy.. This is just some weird misunderstanding.  I spent much of the day sitting on my cot alternatively reading and staring at the wall. That night, after we ate, it was time for meds. Just like on tv, there was a closet filled with pills and a locked door with a nurse behind it dispensing meds. She handed me a small dose cup with a few pills in it and I asked her what they were and what they were for she told me and I told her that I wasn’t interested and went back to my room. That was another decision that didn’t quite work out in my favor for soon there was a nurse standing over me with a syringe saying, “It’s just a little something to help you sleep, but if you don’t take the meds like the doctor ordered he will blue paper you and then you’re in here until the doctor decides you are ready. “I get the message loud and clear, “Comply!” “Be a sheep!” I tell her just to go ahead and do it and then lay down on my cot.

The next morning, my boyfriend called before he went to work and although I was talking my words were so slurred he couldn’t understand anything I was saying. I’m not sure my lips were even moving. I couldn’t feel my body. My body felt like it was filled with lead weights. He asked what the hell they gave me and I don’t know. I thought they said Ativan, but this does NOT feel like Ativan. I try to go lay back down and try to skip breakfast but am not allowed. I didn’t know it at the time but I would become way too familiar with this numbness in the next several years. When I am finally able to speak, I call my mom and tell her she has to get me out of here. This is NOT what I need.

I don’t know how many days I was in before I first saw the doctor but I know he was from another country and I had a hard time understanding him not only because of his accent but because of the words he was saying. A psychotic break due to: Bi-Polar 1 rapid cycling mixed episodes with a heaping helping dose of PTSD thrown in.   I basically tell him that he is full of crap, sure I’m moody- but he’s the crazy one. He tells me he has spoken to my mother and that I need to understand that I will not be leaving. That I signed myself in for 72 hours and it is up to him to decide when I will be leaving to go home. He told me that at the 72 hr. mark, he can decide if he wants to keep me involuntarily or send me home but that a lot of it was up to me.

This makes me feel at once indignant, helpless, trapped, tricked and claustrophobic. They told me I had a psychotic break. What the hell does that mean? I’m psychotic? They told me that my mind broke because it felt safe. Could have fooled me, there is nothing safe feeling about this entire situation. I give in and agree to take my medication and do everything the doctor says so he won’t keep me locked in this place with these crazy people. My boyfriend comes to see me and tells me he loves me and he will stay but I must promise to never go off my medicine. I agree, I acquiesce, really. I need to get out of here. I don’t want to paint pictures or color or talk in groups. I don’t want these meds that literally cause me to drool on myself. I don’t want someone watching me in the shower, handing me shampoo, making sure I’m not going to eat the soap. I want to shave my damn armpits. My only option is to follow the rules set once again by “the Man”, if only until the point that I can escape and my only chance of getting out is to comply, try to figure out what they need to hear-wait out my 72 hour hold.