Monday, December 31, 2007

I will try

OK, sometimes I just have a bad day. The last two days have been bad. Sometimes I have this thing where I can't wake up no matter how desperately I try, and when I finally do, I am so deeply fatigued, I can only make it to the couch. When this happens, I get an abnormally low body temperature and my fingers and nose are icy to the touch. It hurts to use my hands, and they get so skinny from the cold, my wedding rings (which are usually snug) just fall right off. I often am visibly shaky, and my hand tremor comes back with a vengeance.

My husband does whatever he can to make me comfortable. He knows these episodes are terribly distressing to me and they color my entire outlook on life. He also can clearly see that this is not something I'm making up. It's pretty hard to fake a low body temperature or even the kind of weakness and fatigue that envelops me. On the plus side, it never lasts more than 48 hours, and then I'm fine.

When I mentioned these episodes to my doctor, he shrugged it off and told me it was stress and depression. I wanted to say, "Yo, medical dude. I know depression on a first-name basis and stress is just a normal day for me. Look it up in a reference book at least." He didn't.

But that's not what I wanted to write. I wanted to spend the last minutes of 2007 acknowledging some good things.

  1. I didn't kill myself, although it definitely crossed my mind at least once a day for 365 days.
  2. I learned to make really beautiful jewelry. I am a photographer, a writer, a baker, and a decorator among several other creative habits, but making jewelry was a spur-of-the-moment decision and I didn't expect to have a natural talent for it. For five months, I made at least one piece of jewelry a day.
  3. I helped launch an amazing nonprofit organization that, if successful, is going to profoundly change the lives of the women involved, and their families' lives, as well. So far I've single-handedly secured a $10,000 cash grant and about $5,000 in in-kind donations. I expect to double that within the next six months, once our 501C(3) status is finalized.
  4. I enrolled in Bob's Pilates study, I stuck with it, and I finished it an improved woman. The notable accomplishment, of course, is that I stuck with it.
  5. I did not get fired from my job, nor did I quit. #3, above, is not my job. It's extra.
  6. I paid off two credit cards.
  7. I participated in an NIH-funded Bipolar study. It was brutal, but I followed through on my commitment, blood draw and all, because if it will eventually help someone else to not feel the way I've felt, then it was worth every second of the discomfort.
  8. I made a new friend. This was a leap of faith because I desperately wanted to stay immune to people, but I took the leap anyway.
  9. I finally chose paint for my living room and dining room. We've lived here 3 1/2 years surrounded by white walls. We even bought the paint. Maybe 2008 will actually bring together paint and walls.
  10. I did not gain any weight.

I will try to include some more productive activities in my life in 2008. I will try to develop a less cynical outlook on life, although I can't make any promises. I will try to be less of a bitch. I will try to not spend so much time inside my own head. I will think about myself less and my husband more. I will try to be mindful of my tone and the words that go along with it.

I think that's the best I can do.

If anyone is reading this, I hope your New Year brings you whatever it is that soothes you, encourages you, and brings calm to your mind and contentment into your life. May you be showered with abundance in every way.

Musings on New Year's Eve

It's time to be honest with myself. There are some things I just need to face as the new year rolls in...
  1. I will never be the master of my bank account. I am mathematically retarded, and I mean that in the dictionary sense of retarded, not the adolescent insult sense.
  2. Sooner or later, I alienate everyone who interacts with me. I do not play well with others.
  3. I am a housekeeping failure, and as much as I want to be OK with that, I never am.
  4. I really want to quit my job. I've had enough of being a compassionate helping hand. It may be time to go back to hard-core capitalism. Out with the Dali Lama, in with Ayn Rand.
  5. I used to be funny and social, but that May is gone. Can I accept my new reality...I prefer solitude?
  6. There are really only two people who I know, for sure, love me. Two. Others may think they do, but the interpretation of the verb varies quite a bit from person to person, you know?
  7. I have an Internet addiction.
  8. I am trapped in my own head.
  9. Upon further contact, I am hard to like.
  10. It's not really the job. I just don't want to work anymore. 99% of the stress or depression in my life is triggered by work.
  11. I maintain two personas and probably will have to do so for the rest of my life. It exhausts me. If you read this blog with any frequency, you may find it hard to believe that I am bubbly, outgoing, really funny, and warm in real life. Give me an Oscar because outside of this house, I doubt that anyone suspects how intensely serious and dark I really am.
  12. There is no hope for me. I don't think I can fix any of it, not that I haven't tried. Some people never run out of fight. I am not one of them.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

The coming year

  1. I do not want to love anyone and I don't want anyone to love me. I think this has already been achieved.

  2. I want to lose the tendency to actually care what people think of me.

  3. I am hard to like, hard to warm up to, and hard to be around for long periods of time. I am a permanent pain in the ass. It's OK, because that's how I feel about most people in general. I resolve to change nothing.

  4. I will not allow the Pilates Reformer to gather dust.

  5. I will babble less.

  6. I resolve to not buy a black skirt.

  7. I will try to sincerely practice good sleep hygiene.

  8. I will avoid being social with people as much as I can. They exhaust me and I'm tired of feeling obligated to be around them.

  9. I have a goal of not getting my hair cut for one year. Only eight months to go.
  10. If confronted by a cop, I will do everything I possibly can not to throw up.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Pantsquest 2008

The new year hasn't started yet, but it's time to transition from Pantsquest 2007 to Pantsquest 2008. (Throws her head back and makes a quasi-anguished, disgusted "Argh!" sound.) I've probably written about this before, but it's a subject I visit regularly in life, so why not in my journal?

It is almost impossible for me to buy pants. Apparently, I am shaped and proportioned like no other human on this planet. Or maybe there are other women with bodies like mine, but they live in far-off lands where women wrap themselves in yards of fabric or only wear skirts.

When I shop, I usually gravitate to below-the-knee black skirts (I own six and wear all of them) or jewelry. I know I can never go wrong with either of these things, and resorting to buying them is a small comfort. Something out there fits me, just not the thing I'm shopping for.

Pants. I over-dress for work because I always wear skirts and dresses. I don't have to dress up so much, but I can't find pants that fit!! I am short and round. My legs are about 3/4 of an inch too long for petite sizes, but regular pants are about five inches too long. I am too damn cheap to get things hemmed.

Generally, whatever fits in the butt and thighs is about two sizes too big at the waist. If it fits just below the waist, the whole thing slides down in front until the resistance from the tightness of the fabric at the thighs stops the sliding and just leaves the pants bunched up in front. Maybe in back.Maybe too long in the crotch.

I dread the dressing room. I can visualize how something will look when it's on the hanger, but the harsh reality of the dressing room has been known to bring me to tears. Maybe it's because I can only visualize so well. Maybe it's because I take up a lot of real estate in the dressing room. I don't know. I just know I always take in the maximum number of items so I can avoid multiple trips. (This picture, although not me, could be. I might be heavier.)

Yesterday I went to Ross. I tried to be focused and brave. I found a pair of jeans that looked to be within the realm of possibility. I also found a dress, some tops, and a pair of dress pants. I started with the jeans. I almost passed out from shock. They fit...perfectly. Right fit, right rise, right length. And a choir of angels sang from above, heralding the successful conclusion of Jeansquest 2007.

The only reason I felt encouraged enough to attempt this shopping expedition was because of the conclusion of the Pilates study. I met with Bob yesterday and went through the same battery of tests we did at the start of the study. I balanced, I practiced my best posture. I pushed and pulled weights. I bent and stretched and reached for the stars. And then I pedaled my way through the evil VO2 Max test. This time, I did not cry.

Bob was very excited. "This is good, May. Very good. Look at how you've improved! You've lost body fat and gained muscle and overall fitness. Your lung capacity is better and you burn calories better. OK, step on the scale."

I slumped out of my perfect posture. The scale. "Bob, I haven't lost any weight at all. I'm exactly where I was at the start of this thing." Bob wouldn't be deterred. I stepped on the scale. Bob looked down, scribbled on his clipboard and exclaimed, "Ha! See? You lost 3.5 pounds--but you gained muscle, strength, and fitness!"

Again, the old words floated through my mind: Nobody will ever see me on the street and say, "May! Look how strong you've become! And your balance!"

I gave it some time to sink in while I drove home. Perhaps I could try on some jeans. Maybe, just maybe this Pilates thing had started to change my shape...

Today I decided to use the Macy's gift card I got from my mother-in-law. End of euphoric shopping high from yesterday. Back to reality. Except now I can honestly say, there is exactly one pair of pants on this planet that can fit my body and fit it well. A glimmer of hope in a shopping bag.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Picking up where I left off: Landing on my butt

(This post is a work in progress and needs to be edited, but I wanted to write while these thoughts were on my mind--this is strictly stream of consciousness.)

I wish I could say that once the whole ordeal with the police and ER was over, it was over, but that’s not how it worked out at all.

I did eventually get to work that morning, and the second my boss saw me she said, “Oh no. What happened to you? You look terrible.”

I had to tell her. I also had to let her know I had been awake now for 28 hours straight, with a full day ahead. I had to tell her I didn’t think I could do the presentation—at least, not in a way to do it justice. Surprisingly, she wasn’t mad. She was quite understanding, actually. I was able to hand off the presentation to someone else, but I still worked the whole day. The truth is, I was afraid to go home. I was afraid to be there alone. I was afraid, period.

What really surprised me during the next few days, though, was how visceral my anger was and how consumed I was with the whole event. I tried not to think about it, but it just kept replaying over and over and over in my mind. I had entire conversations in my car—out loud—saying all of the vitriolic things I wished I had said to the cops and the ER people. I mean, my good behavior and cooperation seemed like such a waste in retrospect, considering that I ended up in the loony bin anyway.

I didn’t think it was possible to be as angry as I was. I didn’t think it was possible to feel so constantly afraid. For many months afterward, I had classic PTSD symptoms. My therapist worked through it with me, although she staunchly maintained that the police were only carrying out their directive to do what had to be done to avoid any liability on the city’s part. It all comes down to lawsuits, doesn’t it? I was absolutely hypervigilant. I couldn’t sleep. I was petrified of something happening to my car because that might mean having to be within close proximity of a cop and I didn’t think I could do that without wetting my pants. I worried that I would witness a crime and be left with the terrible dilemma of doing what I could to help, or walking away to avoid contact with the police. Enough of the days of being a good citizen. I believe that even if I were to be raped, I would never report it because I couldn't bear to be within a matterof feet of a cop. It would just mean dealing with one more situation where your power is taken from you. Plus, can you imagine if they were to look me up for some reason? I come pre-tagged, as it were, pre-labeled, and guaranteed to be written off as a mentally ill person and therefore totally and absolutely lacking credibility.

I took my anger and funneled it to Diner’s Club, demanding they close my account and apologize for their employee's actions. I cashed in my account points and finally got the iPod I had wanted for so long. I wrote a comprehensive letter about the ordeal and my disgust, but of course they never answered.

In the ensuing weeks, I felt increasingly worse. I wrote letters and emails and sent them to everyone from the state health department’s mental health division and the city attorney for mental health issues, to the woman who trains the police to intervene in mental health situations (and in made-up crises). Nobody would tell me what the magic words were I had said to warrant such punitive action. Nobody would tell me what those mystery criteria were that the police had used to judge my unworthiness to manage my own life. Nobody would tell me what makes someone be considered incompetent and deserving of being taken into custody. Nobody would tell me anything. Actually, the city attorney said he would not tell me what I wanted to know, but that I should hire an attorney of my own and he would talk to my attorney. Again, I was deemed too marginalized to be let in on the secret.

How could I ever be expected to not make my terrible mistake again if nobody would tell me, explicitly, what my mistake was? I am very intelligent and perceptive, but I am not psychic. Not being allowed to know what the exact criteria were for being forced into involuntary custody made me feel like I was viewed as so dangerous that I was not to be let in on this information so I wouldn’t be able to use it to deceive anyone should something like this happen in the future. That was the whole point—I didn’t want it to happen again, so why would it be so dangerous to give me some guidelines?

I spent hours, days, weeks poring over information on the Internet, trying to understand what had happened to me—but from a law enforcement perspective. I found articles, internal memos, training outlines, handbooks and more, all written for cops participating in CIT training programs nationwide. I downloaded the entire text of the State Revised Statutes as they pertain to mental health issues and custody. I found them to be very vague and open to interpretation—a troubling fact, really. Still, I learned all I could about the Statute, and I can recite it chapter and verse.

I analyzed the event over and over again in my mind, trying to identify all of my errors that night. I couldn’t fix what happened, nor could I undo what had already been done, but I just wanted to understand. I just wanted someone to take me through it step by step and say, “OK, because you said this, the cops had to ask this. When you responded with X, they interpreted that to mean Y.” I wanted some honesty and concrete information. Instead, I got no answers at all and I tormented myself with all of the wondering and confusion.

After months of being angry and frustrated, I resigned myself to the fact that I would never be privy to the determining factors that led to the decisions that had been made about me. I simply wasn’t going to be allowed to know. I stopped being angry. I stopped feeling so frustrated and my resignation evolved into a profound sadness. Not depression, just deep, deep sadness. It’s the kind of sadness that comes from knowing I had been labeled and from now on, my place in the world would be determined by people I didn’t even know and who couldn’t possibly care less about who I was or how I think. It was the sadness of knowing that we, as humans, are not allowed to think things that are not mainstream, even if we, ourselves, are the only ones affected by any resulting actions. It was the sadness of knowing that no matter how responsible and competent I was or had ever been, in the end, I was judged and found to be defective and untrustworthy, someone who really shouldn’t think for herself.

I am still sad.

As I said earlier, I can’t look at a police officer. If I see one, I must divert my eyes. I can’t even bear to look at a police car. My heart damn near beats out of my chest and my mouth goes dry. One day a few months ago, a police car was traveling in the lane next to mine on a city street. I had a full-blown panic attack and I couldn’t breathe. I was on my way to work, but I had to pull over to collect myself and try not to hyperventilate. I realized that this kind of action was dangerous—if a cop came by and asked why I had pulled over, surely they would check my registration. That would reveal my previous encounter with the PD, and there I'd be, quasi-hysterical and all alone, likely to have my state of mind misinterpreted and so I would be dragged off yet again. I could clearly see the conclusions that would follow.

No. I would not risk being judged that way. I drove the rest of the way to work, talking to my boss on the phone. She offered to come and get me wherever I was, but I was too afraid to wait. The very thing that had set me off was exactly what I was deathly afraid to encounter face-to-face—and god knows, I could never afford another $2,000+ ER bill. I pray that I never get into a car accident. The police contact would probably send me into cardiac arrest.

I continue to be embarrassed by my own reactions to these issues and to my inability to make these reactions stop. Why can't I get over this? I was never a fearful person in my entire life, and now I am deathly afraid of something ubiquitous and supposedly nonthreatening.

Then again, I had been lied to and patronized, so I wholeheartedly believe the police absolutely cannot be trusted. Sometimes I wish I were slow or stupid so I wouldn’t have to live with actually understanding that I would never be able to trust those people who claim to “protect and serve.” They certainly weren’t working on my behalf in my last encounter with them and it wasn’t my best interests they had in mind.

No wonder I feel sad. I suppose that this whole incident, and all of the retrospective attention I gave it, proved to be a huge reality check. I was living under the impression that I was rock-solid normal, a person other people trust with their secrets, their critical tasks, and sometimes even their money, but in just a few hours on one day, once I had uttered the word “Bipolar,” I saw how quickly perception becomes judgment, which becomes assumption, which becomes, well, we can stop at assumption because it all just stops going my way at that point. I feel sad because I know now that I have no power, no rights, no hope of advocating for myself if some stranger calls the police and tells them I am not well. That is a frighteningly easy way to ruin a person’s life. I see now that I am small and powerless, a person considered unfit to be taken seriously. It feels awful.

My therapist asked me what would have made this experience less traumatic for me. A lot of things would have, but more than anything, honesty tops the list. I wish that the cops had been straightforward in telling me exactly what they were planning and what protocol they were following. I wish they had spelled it all out very clearly, and told me step by step what was happening, going to happen, and why. I found it infuriating to be spoken to like a child and to know that details were being held back. I would have been less upset had they told me immediately and without screwing around that from that point forward, it wouldn’t matter what I said—someone had called and because of PD policy and for reasons of legal liability, I would have to be taken to the hospital and evaluated, period, end of story, not up for discussion, don't try to figure out why. That is the policy, right? I know this because it’s what cop #3 told my husband during that time he was detained on the front porch.

I wish that my husband had been allowed to be at my side from the second he got home until the moment I was allowed to leave the ER. Surely someone out there understands the value of loving moral support in an excruciatingly stressful situation. How does isolation supposedly make the situation better? In my case, it only escalated my anxiety and feeling that I was being punished.

I want a do-over. I want to go back to that day and remember to lock the storm door. I want to not lose my temper on the phone. I want to call my husband and ask him to come right away. I want to ask the officers to wait a minute while I get my doctor on the phone. I want to lie, lie, lie, lie about my diagnosis, about taking medication, about my libertarian, philosophical thoughts on right-to-die issues, and pretty much anything else I approached with candor that night. More than anything, though, I want the CIT trainers to require that anyone attending their program must learn about the specifics of brain-based illness, because it’s not enough to know how to de-escalate a situation. It’s just as important to understand who is genuinely in crisis and who is just having a bad day. Not all behaviors and reactions require a full-scale intervention. Thinking is not a crime. Ideation is not a crime. Some of us just think differently, but it doesn’t make us unstable, dangerous, or a threat to ourselves or anyone else. Can somebody please, please teach that?

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)

In 1963, Ms. Darlene Love recorded one of the great modern Christmas songs, titled simply, Christmas. It's a spectacular example of Phil Spector's legendary Wall of Sound filling the background with layers of vocals and a brass section that still kicks ass as relevantly now as it did then.

Every year since 1986, just a few days before Christmas, David Letterman unwraps this tasty treat for viewers who are still awake and who haven't succumbed to last-minute gift wrapping or card signing. It is this: Darlene Love performs Christmas, live on the Letterman stage, with a full choir backing her, along with her own musicians and the entire CBS orchestra under the direction of Paul Shaffer. I wait for it every year, and every year, it just blows me away. I cry.

But not this year. This year the theater is closed and the stage is dark. The Hollywood writers' strike has claimed this holiday tradition as its latest casualty, and I, for one, am profoundly sad about it.

I don't really enjoy the Christmas season, but there are a few moments here and there I'll always look forward to. This year, my list is one item shorter. Friday came and went with a Letterman rerun. Darlene Love is 66 years old, and we know that although she's still a phenomenal talent, she's not going to be able to belt out this song forever. We've been cheated of one precious year.


Thursday, December 20, 2007

Where is my brain?

I've been sitting here waiting to write something, but I can't get my thoughts to flow in any particular order. This has been going on all day. I took a break from staring at the screen (OK, I was also watching Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert) and finished making a bracelet I started a couple of months ago but put down in frustration. It finally came together.

Instead of pouring out my brain today, I'll just have to be content with my bracelet.

Sunday, December 16, 2007


I used to fly. Have I ever mentioned this? I used to fly hot air balloons, and it was glorious.

The first balloon I flew was a FireFly 5.0, a big balloon for a noncommercial rig, with 52,000 cubic feet of volume when inflated. The envelope (the balloon part) had orange and brown horizontal stripes with a touch of yellow. It wasn't particularly pretty, but it was graceful for something that was so enormous.

For some reason I cannot define, I was suddenly overcome by sadness late this afternoon. I couldn't shake the melancholy, and I'm still trying. With all of the thoughts swirling in my head, one pushed to the forefront and asked to be recognized. It was the memory of being airborne, of flying in near silence. It was my mind begging me to remember how it feels to float, to be untethered.

I am not and never have been afraid of heights. I detest the sensation of free-fall, though, so I will never willingly jump out of an airplane. I don't like to fall, but I love to fly. Commercial jets are of no interest to me, but the intimate space of a balloon's rig, or the tiny cockpit of a Piper Cub make my heart fill with an indescribable joy. Joy is not an emotion that anyone would associate me very often.

I was a terrible pilot. Maybe not terrible, but since I have poor depth perception, everything about piloting was a challenge and I had a particular knack for never sticking a landing. The feeling of being up in the air with nothing but a piece of wood and some cable between me and the Earth 1,000 feet down was worth the stress of taking off and landing. Landing neatly was a whole other thing.

Our balloon was named Mariah, after the Broadway show tune from Paint Your Wagon:
Away out here they have a name for rain and wind and fire.
The rain is Tess, the fire's Joe and they call the wind Mariah.
Mariah blows the stars around and sets the clouds a-flyin'.
Mariah makes the mountains sound like folks was out there dyin'.
Mariah. (Mariah).
Mariah. (Mariah).
They call the wind Mariah.

Flying a balloon is a lot like sailing in many ways, not the least of which is a certain need to acquiesce to nature's navigation preferences. It's also almost impossible to set up a balloon without help, and since you can't steer a balloon, you need someone to follow you on the ground. I can honestly say that working chase crew honed some directional sense that had previously been dormant deep inside of me.

After I was transferred for my job, I met another pilot who was willing to let me trade crew duty for flights and lessons. His name was Jery Hewitt, and he and his brother, Don, and most of their friends, were stunt actors or fire/explosion special effects techs based out of New York. My first ballooning friend was actually afraid of heights and a very conservative pilot, but Jery and Don were flat-out fearless. They also worked training stunt people, so they expected anyone who played with them to be inherently fearless, as well.

My favorite memory of flying was from a New Year's Day flight with Jery and Don. It was bitter cold, and my feet were numb before we even got the balloons laid out on the frosty grass behind Jery's house (the yard was not only big enough to launch two hot air balloons from, but also was home to a 50-foot steel tower Jery used to teach people how to fall off of buildings). I flew with Don in a balloon that was much smaller than Mariah. The difference in flight was startling. Nothing happens quickly in a balloon, and the larger the balloon, the slower it responds to changes in wind or temperature. Don's little balloon was unbelievably nimble.

Because it was so damn cold and the air was perfectly still, we were able to converse easily between the two balloons. We flew over mostly wooded areas, and I practiced pumping short bursts of propane-fueled flame into the envelope mostly to see if I could learn to control ascent in very subtle jumps. I realized that I was controlling the balloon so well, we were weaving through the air just inches above the tree tops, and for once I wasn't hitting anything. I was so cold, though, my fingers and toes had lost all feeling.

Don told me to concentrate on maintaining the balloon's altitude with precision movements. He told me to stay focused on the tops of the trees. I did as I was told, and within seconds, the entire forest fell away and suddenly we were hundreds of feet above a valley, having cleared a cliff I never saw coming. It was like that amusement park ride where you spin inside a cylinder and once centrifugal force holds you against the wall, the floor drops out, taking your stomach with it.

I gasped. Don patted me on the shoulder and laughed. "Surprise! Where did the ground go?" I was too stunned to speak. I was surprised, yes, but mostly I was delighted by this treat, this trick of visual perception, and it left me exhilarated. When we landed, smoothly, flawlessly, Jery congratulated me on successfully "threading the needle" with precision flying in the woods, and then he, too, asked me if I was amazed by the falling away cliff.

Perhaps this kind of intensity is what my life lacks now. I'm busy, I do things to make other people happy, I entertain myself with mostly solitary activities, but none of that brings me joy. I can't remember the last time I felt exhilarated. I don't think I've had the capacity to feel that for a long time. I miss it.

Maybe I've had a hard time feeling for longer than I can recall. From the time I was a pre-teen, I put a lot of mental effort into not feeling whatever I didn't want to feel. Did I spend significant parts of my adult life seeking out intense experiences just so I could feel something? Perhaps. Probably. Whatever I did, it worked, but now I wish I could turn it off. As it turns out, I still don't like feeling. I channel too much of what is uncomfortbale and not nearly enough of anything exhilarating. Given this situation, I'd prefer to just turn off the ability to feel as I did it so well years ago.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

May is on hiatus

I have not abandoned my blog. I am so busy, I sometimes go all day without using the bathroom. Seriously.

Work is busy, starting up the nonprofit is consuming my life, and then there is the much-loathed holiday season and all of its demands. I'm not a big fan of the holidays. For years, I used to write a holiday newsletter to send out with cards, except it was actually a sarcastic spoof of the traditional annual update. It became so popular that people I didn't even know asked to be on the Christmas mailing list.

When my health took a slide and kept on sliding--and then spiraling into a bleak cavern of despair--I lost my desire to write. I still wrote my journal, but I had no enthusiasm to write creatively. In fact, I had an almost hostile reaction when the holidays rolled around and I didn't even send out cards. I figured that if anyone actually cared about me, they would do a better job of keeping in touch throughout the year. Well, the reaction was profound. At least a dozen people called or wrote not to inquire if something was wrong, but to find out what had happened to the annual newsletter.

What could I say? "I've lost the will to live, and the newsletter has no place in my world now." Or, "I'm so depressed I can't put entire sentences together, let alone sentences that aren't morose." Or, "Don't you get it? I hate the holidays and the damn letter is satire that is supposed to demonstrate exactly that. Duh. I'm done even acknowledging the holidays."

Last year was the worst. I was so severely agitated and depressed after the incident with the police, I became a conscientious Holidays Objector. Not one decoration. No cards sent out, no gifts purchased. Nothing. OK, I made fudge for the people at work because it was the politically savvy thing to do. Then there was a blizzard followed by a severe snowstorm days later, and that sealed the deal. I was miserable and I couldn't pretend otherwise.

Eventually, my husband put out two small decorations in the living room and a wreath on the door. I felt liberated from the feigned cheer and insincere "generosity" of the season. My husband, a person who had always complained loudly about being irritated by all things Christmas, discovered that in fact, when it was obliterated from our home, he actually missed a lot of things about Christmas. Bah, humbug, I say.

A couple of weeks ago, I was working on some things in the house on a Saturday morning when I realized my husband had been outside for a very long time. I got up to make sure he hadn't been injured in some home-improvement mishap. I opened the front door and was shocked at what I saw. My husband was outside stringing Christmas lights along the gutters of our house. The two (tasteful) animated deer lawn ornaments were contentedly grazing on fake silver and white grass. The wreath was strung with Christmas lights and hung on the front porch post. A faux pine garland was draped over a wooden bench out front. I was horrified.

My husband said he did it for me, but we both know that's completely untrue. I'm still not celebrating anything, although, only out of extreme guilt, I am buying presents for my brothers, their families, and my mother.

If you need a gift in a pinch but you resent the need to give one, I highly recommend
Rachael Ray's 5-Minute Fudge. It's about the minimum commitment you can make for a holiday gesture without being obvious. He he. If you're really stuck on self-loathing, you can just eat the whole thing yourself. Not that I've done that.

OK, I must go to bed. It's late, I'm slipping into the drug-induced coma, and if I miss the window of opportunity, I'll never get to sleep.

When things have calmed down, I will continue my story about the police, the ER, and what happens after you have been humiliated by the circumstances that reduce your status to absolute powerlessness and strip you of your rights to make decisions on your own behalf. That's a little intense for me to focus on right now. I need to explain all of it though, because the story doesn't come close to ending where I left off.

For now, take in this pearl of wisdom: Never, ever cheerfully tell a cop that you unwaveringly believe that adults have the right to choose their own time and method of death. We own our bodies, and it is our own sole and sovereign right to do with them as we deem most appropriate. Our bodies, our very lives are the only thing that ever entirely belongs to us. Nobody should have the right to interfere in our health care choices or life/death decisions. Period. Yeah, cops don't really get the philosophical or metaphysical implications of that particular school of thought, so if you subscribe to it, keep it to yourself when in the presence of law enforcement.

More later, but for now, goodnight.
Here is a picture I took the last time I went skiing (above the tree line, about 13,000 ft. elevation). For the full effect, click on the picture so you can see it larger and read the yellow sign, too. I couldn't have put together something so unintentionally funny had I tried.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Feeding the Brainucopia

My latest method of self-entertainment is not only good for me, it's good for a lot of other people, too. Hungry people.

Revisit your SAT-prep vocabulary flash cards and do something good for the world.

It's cool.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

I'm not finished yet

There is more I need to add to my story, but I've been working long, long days this week. That means there's no time for blogging or even a personal life--just the mandatory Pilates workouts.

I need to tell you what happened after the police incident because it is appalling and ultimately sad--a cautionary tale, I think. For now I must go to bed (the Ambien has started doing its thing).

The rest of the story--the aftermath--really explains a lot about my current behavior and attitudes, as well as the very birth of this blog.

Tune in later. Ill be back. Maybe Sunday.

Sunday, December 2, 2007


Don't start here. Go back to the beginning and work your way back up to here. The first post in this way-too-long series is called "How I became Invisible," posted four or five posts back on 11-29-07.

Martinez escorted me into the ER. I scanned the full waiting area, desperate to make sure there was nobody there I knew. I don’t know what I would have done if there had been. I immediately felt a huge rush of guilt and embarrassment. Here were actual sick, uncomfortable people who were in need of medical attention, and I felt awful that I was going to be there taking up a space I didn’t deserve and delaying care for someone who actually needed it.

While I was taking in the realities of the waiting room—easily 50 or 60 people there—#1 was speaking with the nurse over at the desk. He called me over and the nurse handed me a clipboard with a form to fill out. I got only as far as my name and reason for coming in when I puzzled over the question. I wrote, “I am here because I am forced to be. Someone I don’t even know says I am suicidal, but I’m not.” I looked up because #1 was standing next to me. He said, “Come with me, May. You aren’t going to wait out here.” This was not an act of being considerate, as I suspected immediately.

I went through the security door to the intake room. The damn cop followed me in. I was beginning to wonder if he would be spending the entire evening with me. It didn’t seem like a good use of taxpayer money or law enforcement resources, yet there he was, hovering at my shoulder. It was getting old.

I sat down and was asked to produce my medical insurance card. Up until this moment, it hadn’t occurred to me that I would be held financially responsible for something I had objected to so adamantly. This was almost too much to bear, yet in my own self-interest, I couldn’t say anything. The nurse took my information sheet and went on to take my blood pressure, put a pulse-ox meter on my finger, took my temperature and entered my personal information into the computer. The entire time this was going on, the other nurse was chatting up #1. They apparently knew a lot of the same people and had lots to laugh about. She started telling him how she got a ticket and it was her second one and she asked, “So, can ya fix it for me? Make it go away? I was trying to get to work, ya know?” The other nurse was on the phone. Nobody was paying any attention to me whatsoever. I had officially disappeared in plain sight. I was absolutely invisible.

The intake nurse handed me a bunch of HIPPA forms to sign, and while I was scanning them, she picked up the phone and said something about a suicidal patient. I dropped the pen and said through my teeth, “I am NOT suicidal. He said I’m suicidal.” and I gestured toward the cop. He put his hand on my shoulder and said, “That’s enough.” I didn’t know how I was going to get through this. I knew it was so, so important for me to stay calm and remain pleasant, to show no fear or anxiety, but it was almost too hard. I couldn’t bear to hear anyone talk about me as if I weren’t there, but even worse, I hated that no matter what I said, it was just disregarded as probable nonsense. I had a mental illness. Apparently, anything I had to say was going to be considered a manipulative lie.

After just a few minutes, I was taken back to an exam room and told I had to sit on the exam table, not in the chair. I got up on the table, and #1 was right there standing next to me. Never in my life have I wished so much for someone to go away. I felt that as long as he was there, I would never get to convince anyone of my innocence. The embarrassment was killing me, I was sure of it. I tried not to make eye contact with anyone who came in the room.

Eventually, a doctor showed up and asked me how I felt and why I was there. It was just humiliating to have to say it again and again. Didn’t these people know how to read? It was on my chart. I took a deep breath, let out a sigh and said, “How do I feel? MORTIFIED. I want to crawl under the floor tiles, if you must know. This is a big misunderstanding. I said a bad word to the man on the phone from Diners Club, and now I’m being punished for it. I tried to say I was very, very sorry, but apparently, my punishment requires that I come here. The officer here says I’m suicidal, but I am not suicidal. Ask my doctor. Ask my therapist. Their contact numbers are on the chart there. Please, please call and they’ll tell you I am not suicidal, no matter what the officer says.”

I was trying not to be sarcastic, but being cheery and polite hadn’t done much in my favor, so I was willing to give up on that. The doctor left and I looked at #1 and said, “How long did you say this will this take? I really need to get out of here.”

“Now, May, it depends on how busy things are in the ER. It’s up to the doctor. I can see you’re getting defensive. You’re here for a reason and your defensive attitude isn’t going to help you.”

ARGH!!!!! I wanted to smack him hard, upside the head. Except since I was the one being admitted for the psych eval, smacking anyone probably would have been a bad move on my part. It was really tweaking my nerves that he kept using my name every single time he spoke to me, like this personal form of address was somehow supposed to make me feel better.

At this point, I hoped that whatever conclusion the doctor was going to reach, it would happen soon so I could home. It had to be obvious that I was OK. I had tried so hard to be pleasant, maintain eye contact with everyone (especially the cops--I heard somewhere that cops like eye contact), relax my shoulders and keep an open posture, smile, answer questions directly, not fidget, and maintain a friendly and confident behavior. I was honest. I was calm but engaged. I was charming and a little bit funny. Why wasn’t it working? Why didn’t anyone believe me?

The doctor came back, said something to a nurse near the door, entered something on a laptop, and walked out. A guy came in with a gurney and #1 said, “Are you taking her back now?”

“Yeah. She’s going back for evaluation.” Evaluation? What the hell had the last 40 minutes with the nurses and drive-by chat with the doctor been? I was sitting there, well behaved and cooperative. What was left to evaluate???

The cop turned around and left. (I later found out that per police department protocol, the cop has to stay with the accused until that person is officially turned over to hospital custody. He wasn't just keeping me company out of any actual concern for my well-being.) I jumped off the table and said, “OK, where are we going now? Show me the way.” Gurney guy looked at me and said, “I’ll take you.” I just stood there. I didn’t get it. Finally he said, "I have to take you back on the bed. It’s hospital rules.”

I wondered just how many blows of humiliation my soul could endure in one day. I had been stripped of all personal life control as I knew it, or so I thought, and now I wasn’t even going to be allowed to walk wherever it was we were going? Mortified. There is no other word. I thought surely I would soon be so belittled by the experience I could easily slip down in between those floor tiles.

I desperately wanted to cry, but I didn’t dare for fear of appearing agitated and not in control of my emotional state. I was angry, I was scared, and I was finally aware that there was definitely not going to be any “in-and-out.”

After a short trip down the winding halls of the ER wing, we stopped at the door of a small exam room. The halls were lined with gurneys, all of them filled with people suffering the effects of actual emergencies. Here I was, healthy and uninjured, being brought to a private room. It seemed ridiculous beyond comprehension. Gurney guy told me to get on the bed, which I did.

I waited about 15 minutes and a nurse came in. She didn’t even say hello. She took my blood pressure, wrote something down, and left. Eventually, the doctor came in—the same one as before. He looked on the laptop and asked why I was there. I said, “Not suicidal but here anyway. Remember me? I’m still here, still fine, still want to go home. Did you call my doctor yet?”

He typed something else in the computer, but didn’t say anything. Apparently, I was not only invisible, but even though my mouth was moving, I wasn’t speaking on a frequency available to humans. I tried again. “The police said I’d be in and out of here in an hour. I have a huge presentation to do for work tomorrow. Our funding depends on it. I need to run through the PowerPoint. When can I leave?”

He kept typing and said, “It depends on when the psych counselor gets here. He’s pretty busy (this turned out to be a lie. The guy wasn’t even in the hospital yet because his shift wouldn’t start for a few hours. Why this was kept from me still baffles me). “As soon as he’s available, he’ll be in to do your evaluation.” The doctor left, and I glanced around the room. I desperately needed some water, but there were no cups. A guy in the hall was explaining how he had been sliced all over by large shards of glass that had fallen from an atrium ceiling. Traffic moved up and down the hallway almost nonstop. I sat on the bed and waited for psych evaluation guy.

That’s when I noticed I was being watched. I don’t know why it didn’t register right away. There was an armed guard stationed just outside my door, and he alternated between looking in at me and at whoever was in the room next door. Every once in awhile, he looked in and did a visual sweep of the room. OK, May, that’s one more shove deeper into the humiliation hole. I tried to read my book, but I kept glancing over the top of my glasses to see if Mr. Safe Perimeter was still peeking in at me.

The nurse came back, opened a metal cabinet near the wall, reached in and handed me a gown. I just looked at it. “You can’t keep your clothes on. You have to put on a gown.” I was baffled. “What? Why?” If I thought I had felt panic before, it was nothing compared to this. My clothes? They were taking my clothes away from me? What was that all about? Obviously I wasn’t to be trusted. But why and trusted to do or not do…what, exactly? Not my clothes. My clothes. What was their concern? Why couldn’t I be in on it? The knot in my gut pulled itself even tighter.

I changed in the restroom, but honestly, I had a really, really hard time with all of the ties and the way the gown criss-crossed. Was this some kind of mental competency test? I was shaking so badly from anxiety, I ended up laying the gown on the floor, fastening up all of the ties, and then slipping it over my head. Apparently, I couldn’t be trusted to have shoes, either. I shoved everything in the white plastic bag the nurse had given me. PATIENT BELONGINGS was printed in big blue letters on the front, with a line below to write in the patient’s name. What’s the point of filling in the name? I am nobody. Nobody.

I put the bag on the visitor chair and covered it with my winter coat. I got back up on the bed and stared at the ceiling, regretting every word I had said to the Diner’s Club guy and any other customer service moron at CitiBank. I tried to imagine them being stricken with bleeding cancers, boils, and incurable nerve damage that guaranteed constant incontinence. I slumped my shoulders and looked down at my hands. The feeling of utter defeat put me beyond tears; I just felt sad and stigmatized, labeled and processed, no different than a hallucinating, babbling drunk picked up on the bike path.

The guard came in and I visibly jumped. I wasn’t startled so much as reacting to an armed man coming toward me. He was in his early 50s, medium height, with a round, friendly face. He looked at me and his expression was soft and sympathetic. “Would you like a blanket? It will cover your toes and stop your gown from showing your knees. The blankets are heated.”

I smiled and nodded. He got the blanket (toasty, as promised) and arranged it over my legs. Then he reached back into the cabinet and pulled out a pillow with a crisp, white cover. “You’ll be a lot more comfortable with one of these. Here, lean forward. How does that feel? Comfortable?”

Never in my life have I been so grateful for a tiny bit of consideration. Maybe I wasn’t invisible, after all. Not only could he see me, he actually spoke to me as if I were a rational human being. The guard then took the additional step of saying, “It will be easier for you to read if we adjust the back of this bed, I think. Hang on—we’re going for a ride. How’s that? Now you can lean back when you read.”

I thanked him profusely and sincerely. He stepped back in the hall and continued scanning what was apparently the “interesting” end of the hall. I had my purse under the blanket so nobody could take it away. I pulled out my cell phone and started to dial the number for the one friend I knew would stick it out with me until I was released or the phone battery died. A nurse walked by the door, stopped and barked, “You can’t use that in here. You have to put it away.” She was gone before I had even completely looked up. I snapped the phone shut and put it back in my purse.

The first nurse came back in. She got something from a cabinet behind me and said, “We need to do a tox screen. Leave the sample cup on the back of the toilet when you’re done.” She handed me the cup. Christ. Doesn’t this woman ever say ‘hello’ or ‘please’ or anything human? “Why do you need a tox screen?” Why didn’t you order this like an hour ago? “I already told everybody I haven’t had anything to drink, and I don’t do drugs. I obviously am not presenting any signs of impairment. All you’re going to find are things that are supposed to be there and nothing more. Is this expensive?”

“We need to make sure.”

Considering how dehydrated I was, it was amazing I could pee in a cup at all.

I couldn’t concentrate enough to read. There was a flat-screen monitor on a swing-arm bracket next to the bed. I saw a small sign taped to the table saying that this was a TV and Internet portal, free for patients. There were supposed to be games, too, but they didn’t work. The TV wouldn’t work either, but the Internet was OK. My salvation. I had been a member of an online bipolar forum for about two years, and these people were my last chance of getting through the surreal experience of being taken into custody. I logged on.

Within seconds, I was online. All email was disabled, but the forum was still there. I posted to the group with a title sure to get immediate attention. People started posting back immediately, so messages were coming and going almost in real time. I was hoping my forum friend, Jolie, was online as she always had something soothing to say. No such luck. I also opened a second browser window and logged onto the online dog show sponsored by Animal Planet. I pulled up the picture of my own dog and smiled at her goofy face. My forum friends kept me company until it just got too late in time zone after time zone.

The guards had changed shifts, and the new guy wasn’t all that friendly. Finally, he came in to see what I was doing on the computer. I pulled up the picture of the dog and swung the screen toward the guard. “It’s my dog. She has a couple of hundred votes so far. I’ve just been tracking the voting.” If I wasn’t allowed to use a phone—mine or theirs—I assumed I was in a communications lockdown, so it seemed prudent not to let on that I was having conversations online. Why I wasn’t allowed to talk to anyone still doesn’t make sense to me.

The guard softened at the sight of the dog, and I talked a lot about dogs, border collies, mountain bikes, skiing, and every other topic I thought 20-something guys would discuss under the circumstances. He had to keep checking in elsewhere, so in between conversations, mostly I checked online for new forum posts, or I stared at the ceiling. I tried not to look out at the hallway because my door was always open, and people stared at me unabashedly as they passed by. I was embarrassed and still filled with knots of anxiety worrying that I might be seen by someone I knew.

I spent most of my time staring at the ceiling or at the clock. I desperately wanted to go home. I could have put my clothes back on—who would have known? Nobody remembered to take them away from me (they should have been in a cabinet in the hall at the security desk). Time crawled by.

I was so scared, so invisible, alone, alone, alone, and I felt small. Just really, really small. Frightened. Confused. Disregarded, dismissed. Absolutely powerless as a human being. Nobody trusted me. Nobody saw me as a person. I was just the psych hold in Room 4. Being in psych hold means you have no credibility, no rights, no control of any decision that affects your own life, no access to friends or family when you need them most. Invisible because you are not worth seeing. I had done nothing to deserve this.

Three hours into being held in captivity, custody, whatever, the doctor came back. I could see he couldn’t remember who I was, so I repeated what I had said before: “Still here. Still not suicidal. Still want to go home. Still have a big presentation with unfinished PowerPoint tomorrow. Did you call my doctor yet? Can I please, please call him?”

The doctor once again tapped something into the laptop. He looked at me over his glasses and said, “The counselor is still running behind. He should be here soon.”

That was it. Nothing more. He was gone and I was left alone with no answers and no idea what was going on or what else to expect, really. Around 11:00, my meds started to wear off, and I felt nauseated by the drop in chemicals in my system. I was wired, even though normally I would have been in bed, sound asleep at this hour. In and out. Fuck you, Martinez.
At about 12:30 a.m., a guy showed up at the door. I was staring at the ceiling, having lost interest in the Internet hours ago. I said hello and asked if he was there to prove I was not a threat to society. Nobody in this place had a sense of humor. Nobody. The guy sat down and I got off the bed. I moved my things off the chair and sat down as an equal. I don’t know why, but right at that moment, it mattered. It was show time. I was on.

Counselor man (not even a psych social worker or MSW; just a guy with a clipboard and a certification in who-knows-what) did the standard background check, asking me all of the same questions I had been asked before. I knew much more about the technical aspects, facts, and practicalities of BP than he did, and it worried me. He asked a lot of questions, all of them on the form. I was crisp, I was intelligent, I was direct and to the point (seriously). I just wanted to go home, and I would perform in any horse-and-pony show I had to if it would get me out of the ER. Tap dancing: My specialty.

The interview was about 20 minutes long. When we got to the part about medication, I listed everything I was taking, what I had stopped taking, and how I had made appropriate adjustments elsewhere. I said, “It’s hard, this medication thing. I do everything I’m supposed to, but I’m medication resistant.” The guy looked at me and said, “What do you mean? You’re not medication resistant. You take your meds.” Sigh. Idiot.

“No, I don’t mean I’m treatment resistant; I mean, I take the meds but they don’t work like they should.” I wanted to thwack him hard on the forehead. People who are treatment resistant won’t get treatment or stay on their medication voluntarily. People who are medication resistant take medication but without successful therapeutic benefits. But what do I know? I’m not the shuffling professional with the counselor tag on his name tag who speaks to the mentally ill. I suffer from a brain-based illness, therefore, I must be a moron. But an articulate and well-read moron, anyway.

When we got to the last part of the interview, the guy looked up at me, shook his head in confusion, and said, “Why are you here? I don’t understand why you weren’t cleared after the tox screen.” He looked genuinely puzzled.

“Yeah, why indeed. Nobody believed me, but I tried to explain there was no problem, just an over-zealous officer. So, how was that tox screen result? Sordid and unsavory? A tale of bad behavior?”

Finally, he laughed. “Clean as a whistle.”

I thought that was it, but it wasn’t. Without even missing a beat, the guy said, “Count backwards from one hundred by sevens.” I looked at him and I’m sure my mouth came open. “I can’t. I mean, it has nothing to do with my mental state. I just can’t do math under the best of circumstances. I haven’t eaten in 12 hours, now it’s late, I’m tired, and frankly, I’m a mathematical retard.”

“Count backwards from 100 by sevens.”

I actually had to use my fingers. I got as far as 65 and was allowed to stop. There were three more mental puzzles and memory games to get through, which I tried to do without appearing slow or stupid. The cherry on the cupcake. Despite my articulate conversation and obvious lucidity, mental acuity evaluations were that one last opportunity to feel stupid and small. Stupid and small. Go ahead, laugh. At least it would mean you’re paying attention and I’m actually three-dimensional. Not just a diagnosis or potential legal liability.

An hour later, I was allowed to go home, a mere five hours after walking in the door. I went to bed at 2:00, but never fell asleep. My mind was racing. I was angry. I was still scared. I was indignant. I was hungry but unable to swallow food. The events of the night kept crashing into every part of my mind, and not even a double-dose of Xanax made it stop. It was too late to take Ambien, so sleep was out of the question.

My stomach hurt. I was still shivering, although I wasn’t cold. I wanted to cry, but I couldn’t even manage to do that. At 5:30, I got out of bed and made some coffee. After my shower, I sat on the couch, dejectedly. I didn’t want to go to work. The PowerPoint never got its final touches, and I doubted I could deliver the salient points competently.

Competent. Wasn’t that what the whole thing had been about—to determine whether or not I was competent and socially acceptable enough to live freely among the rest of mankind? And why wouldn’t I be? I didn’t live under a bridge or cause road rage incidents or harm people’s pets or get drunk or scream at trees or hallucinate or live in filth or hoard or pee on the sidewalk. No, what I did was piss off a telephone clerk at Diner’s Club who didn’t seem to be especially intelligent, but who definitely turned out to be mean-spirited and vindictive. He made one phone call and from that point forward, I was nobody. Nothing. Invisible. Not to be trusted, certainly not to be believed. The clerk was some almighty authority on my mental health, and on his say-so, I was reduced to being perceived as just another crazy woman to be dealt with on a cold November night. Nothing special. More work. Whatever. Get ‘em in, get ‘em out. Assume anything she says is manipulative, babbling nonsense—a lie.

I was angry. I was angry that based on the word of someone I had never met, never seen, didn’t know, there was nothing I could do to speak on my own behalf. Nothing. I was screwed. Screwed by the Diner’s Club guy, really screwed by the cops, screwed by my own brain, screwed by my inability to play along. There are at least ten things I should have done differently, but paramount among them, I should have lied about my mental health diagnosis and my deeply-held beliefs about right-to-die issues (which have nothing to do with my mental health at all). Had I lied and saved candor for some other time, then I wouldn’t have been lied to. In the end, I really was stupid, not so clever. Had I possessed any real intelligence, I would have lied since everyone assumed I already was.

To this day, I don’t really know what I did that was so heinous, such a perilous threat to the world that it required that I be taken into custody and stripped of all of my most basic freedoms. Apparently, though, I was so dangerous that I couldn’t even keep my own clothes, lest I run off into the streets of suburbia threatening to pay yet another bill as promised and on time.

As far as I can tell, I committed a crime of thinking and planning responsibly for my future. I was punished for committing a thought crime. I didn’t think it was possible in this country. George Orwell would have shuddered.

You know, they never did call my doctor.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Nobody, nothing, disregarded

This is the fourth post in a chronological series. Don't start reading here until you've read three posts back and worked your way up the posts to here.

Martinez (cop#1) asked me how I felt right then. I said, “I feel fine.”

“Now, May, have you had any alcohol tonight or have you taken any drugs that weren’t prescribed? Are you on anything now?” I think I flinched since I am not a big consumer of alcohol and I haven’t ingested an illegal substance in over 20 years. Instead of saying, no, you moron, do I look strung out to you? I just took one of those deep-breath-sigh combos of annoyance and said, “I don’t understand what else I need to say so you can understand there is no problem here. I’m fine. Really. If anything, I am mortified that you are even here and even more mortified that you think you need to be.”

“Honestly, you’re really making me feel very stressed. I have to work on this presentation for tomorrow. My PowerPoint isn’t finished. If I don’t get it finished and I’m not sharp for the presentation, I can kiss my job goodbye. This presentation is for our funding. I’m not sure what I can say to make you understand how critical this is. You’re taking time away from me getting ready for one of the most important professional days of my life. Do you want to see the PowerPoint? I’m not making this up. If I were in any danger, why would I be so concerned about my job?”

Martinez, at this point, had obviously made a decision on his own, and he didn’t give a fuck about my presentation or how important it was. I could see he either didn’t believe what I was telling him, or else he just didn’t care because he had his own agenda.

I thought I had made it very clear that I was tired, but I was not suicidal. I was not a danger to myself. I was not planning my imminent demise. I just wanted to eat my rapidly dehydrating cheese and crackers, work on my presentation, and relax. I had a long day ahead of me the next day and I needed to be well rested for it.

#1 again repeated, “Well, we still think you need to talk to someone tonight.”

I again countered, “OK, I’ll call my therapist. My husband is here. He’ll even watch to make sure I do it.” At this point, the anxiety was killing me, but I knew I couldn’t let it show. I desperately had to pee, but didn’t want to announce that. I was afraid they would say I couldn’t be trusted to go to the bathroom without a chaperone, and there was no way in hell anybody was going to watch me pee. I felt humiliated enough at the realization that I had no control over what was happening to me right me then. I was utterly powerless and it felt devastating.

Martinez looked at me and said, “Well, May, we have a set of procedures we follow when we’re concerned about someone’s well-being. What we want to do is take you to talk to some people who we know will do an expert evaluation. We’ll take you to the ER and if everything is OK in the evaluation, you’ll be right in and out.”

I had a very quick thought, Nobody is ever right ‘in and out’ of an ER, anywhere, ever.

“Define ‘in and out.’” Number one looked taken by surprise that I was questioning this. I’m not gullible. I’m not all that uninformed about hospitals. He said, “Oh, if everything is OK, you’ll be in and out in an hour.”

I looked him in the eye and said, “I’m not going. This is unnecessary and I have things to do tonight. I told you I’m fine and I don’t understand what the problem is now. If I can’t do this presentation tomorrow, I will lose my job. Do you understand that? I can’t afford this kind of field trip, but for whatever reason, you think I need it and I just don’t understand why. I haven’t done anything wrong.”

Martinez looked over at #2 and #3 and then back at me. “What I’m saying May, is that we are not here to judge you. That is not what we do. We really think you need to go and see someone, though.”

“What happens if I say no and I flat-out refuse?”

“That means it will end up the same, but I’ll have about three hours of paperwork to do. It would be much better for you if you came voluntarily.”
(Voluntarily? How is there any sense of voluntary involved here??)

I looked around at all three. “OK, you aren’t coming out and saying whatever it is I’m supposed to figure out here. Let me see if I get it. Are you saying I actually have no choice and I am being forced to do this against my will? Are you saying that it doesn’t matter what I want or what I say, I have to go?”

More knowing looks passed among the law enforcement triumvirate in my living room.

“You see, May, we really are not judging you at all. Part of our job is to make sure you’re safe. We are not mental health professionals, so we can’t make that determination, so we need to make sure you see someone who can evaluate you professionally. Do you have to go? I wouldn't say that. You have a choice--you can go with us voluntarily or make me go through a lot of complicated stuff. I don’t think you want to leave here in handcuffs.” Handcuffs? Aren’t they for people under arrest? Unruly people? Dangerous people? Criminals? What the fuck had I said that warranted this?

I was starting to feel nauseated by the stress and the horrible realization of what was about to happen to me. I asked if my husband could come with me—drive me there, in fact. He could follow but not be with me, and no, he could not drive me there. “Wow, I really am being punished. I can’t imagine why the guy at Diners Club gets all of the accommodation and I get punished. Could I just call him back and apologize nicely? Will that fix it? Is that what this is about? I said a bad thing? I made the Diner’s Club guy mad, so now I have to be punished? Please let me call him back and I promise I’ll tell him I’m sorry and I didn’t mean to make him mad. At least let me finish my presentation and come back and get me then. Is there anyone else I should apologize to?”

Numbers one and two looked at each other. Martinez said, “May, we are not judging you. Why are you feeling paranoid and like you’re being punished? We are here to make sure you’re OK. We aren’t mental health professionals, so we aren’t trained to determine that.”

So, you aren’t trained to determine that I’m OK, but you are trained to determine that I’m not OK and I need psychiatric intervention? I didn’t dare ask as I knew I was perilously close to letting the mouth run ahead of the impulse control centers in the brain. Frontal lobe, do your job!

I was finally scared. Deeply frightened. Panicked. Resigned to endure the inevitable, and it felt oppressive and overwhelming. I certainly had no frame of reference for this and no idea what to expect. They let me change my clothes, at least. I chose silky black warm-up pants with an elastic waist, a fleece, and slip-on shoes. Nothing with a drawstring or a shoelace, lest they think I was trying to dress for suicide. I put on my coat and grabbed a book—just in case I would be sitting around for awhile. Had I known what was coming, I would have chosen a better book.

Before we left the house, #3 said, "We have to check you over before you can get in the car." My head snapped around and I looked at him. “What??” I found that there are actually degrees of humiliation, and I was obviously experiencing them in sequence. I just didn’t know where the scale of humiliation topped out and it was starting to worry me.

They frisked me. In my own home. I was patted down and my purse was rifled through. I was stunned. I hadn’t committed a crime, but I was going through the whole criminal transport protocol. I froze. My shoulders slumped forward. I tried not to cry. Nobody was there to comfort me. My husband stayed in the kitchen, cooking his dinner and feeding the dog.

If there is a moment in my life when I understood the word “alone” it was right then. I had spoken but been dismissed as unreliable. I had pleaded, but my words were irrelevant. I was not to be trusted because some totally vindictive dickhead at Diner’s Club (CitiBank) said I was a mentally ill wing-nut with suicidal tendencies. Fuck him, up the ass with something very sharp.

I had to sit in the back of the police car, having my head pushed into the car like they do with bad people. Criminals. Was I now a criminal? In the car, the officer told me that although I was not going to City General Hospital (which I later realized was only for his own convenience and time management), I wasn’t going to the small private hospital I had asked for, either.

“They’re on divert status there.”
“But my doctor is on staff there. That would be better for me, and since I’m not in any emergency situation, they should take me.”

Silence. Eventually, he said he was taking me to Providence, which was farther from home than I wanted to be, but not a scary place like City General. I was shivering. The back seat of the cruiser was absolutely claustrophobic. Even though I’m short, I had to sit with my knees turned to the side and my feet under the seat in front. I had to wear a seat belt, even though it was pinning me to the seat. It also turns out that even when a cop car is turned off and unlocked, the back doors are never unlocked and can’t be opened from the inside. Ever. I was trapped. Hopelessly trapped with my knees twisted and my ankles smooshed against the hard plastic (who knew?) of the back of the front seat. It was #1’s car. The other two had already taken off together.

Martinez asked me what I did for a living. I was in absolutely no mood for chit chat, especially not with him. I couldn’t stop shivering, but despite this, I wished I hadn’t brought a coat at all. I didn’t want to have to keep track of it later. I told #1 what my two jobs were and left it at that.

“Now, you see May, that’s a reason to not to take your life. You’re doing good work that really helps people. They need you.”

I wanted to say, “Buddy, listen. There are about 25 sociology grads and Peace Corps returnees waiting to hand over their resume to my boss before my chair is cooled off. It’s not like my leaving will mean a deficit in social work and education. Instead, I said, “Good thing I have no plans to commit suicide, then. Of course, now that I’m not home to work on my grant funding presentation, there’s a good chance nobody will have my job.” I was having more and more trouble concealing my irritation and annoyance.

Martinez glanced at me in the mirror. “You see, May, a lot of people think the police just work with crime and accidents, but another part of our job is to take care of and protect good citizens in our community, like you. We care about your safety and well-being and we are here to make sure you have the support of community professionals.”

This was the point where I almost snapped. It had to be the most patronizing thing I had ever heard in reference to myself. Here is what I wanted to say, to scream in his ear through the Plexiglas divider: “Don’t even, for one second, pretend like my life matters to you. You don’t even know me, you never knew I existed until two hours ago, and for all you know, I am evil. Don’t patronize me by patting me on the head and saying you care or that my life matters to you. That is a lie, lie, lie and you insult me by saying it. You don’t care. We’re going through this exercise so you and the city can cover your asses and address liability issues. After you dump me on the doorstep of the hospital, you will never see me or even so much as think about me again. It’s not like you’ll check in later to see how things turned out. It will be erased from your brain before you pull out of the hospital parking lot on the way to your dinner break. I am nothing beyond one more call on the radio in the course of today’s shift. Do not insult me by thinking I believe you when you say anything about me matters to you. I am not stupid. I am not na├»ve. You offend me by thinking I am, which you obviously do.”

I kept perfectly quiet, silent, and tried not to burst into tears, and stared out the side window to watch my neighborhood pass by in the dark. We pulled into the loading area for the ER. I could only hope that I would ditch the cop and spend my inevitable waiting room time reading my book in peace. If I couldn’t be home, I wanted to be left alone until the next round of interrogation.

Yeah, that was a nice thought.

More later. I'm drained.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Because they can

This is a continuation of the previous two posts. Start with the first one and work your way back up.

It occurs to me that this story is long. Very long. I wish it weren't, and what's really hard is I've shortened the story considerably in this telling. A lot of detail is left out, and I'm reporting only what you need to make sense of the story.

Just a few minutes into Jeopardy!, the doorbell rang. I put down my cheese and got up to see who it was. I opened the door and saw three police officers outside. I looked at them with eyebrows raised in a tentative gesture.


A forty-something cop said, “Are you May?”

“Uhh, yes. Is something wrong?”

The cop put his hand on the storm door knob and as he opened it said, “Can we come in?” His foot was already across the threshold before he finished the question. I know this because I was looking down at black cop shoes as the door swung open. That’s the only thing I remember seeing at that moment—the brass knob and cop shoes.

The three officers came into my house. The lead (I assume) officer told me, politely, to sit down. I sat on the couch. He told me, politely, to turn off the television. I sensed I was in trouble, but I hadn’t made the exact connection yet. I scanned the faces of the three musketeers and asked, politely, “So, what can I do for you?”

Cop #1 asked, “May, do you know why we’re here?” I had to admit that I did not. The cop said, “We got a call from the bank. Did you call the bank today?”

Ah. The bank. CitiBank. Diner’s Club. The asshole gets his revenge. I remember thinking, “Stay calm, May. Watch your mouth. For the love of god, watch your mouth. Be friendly. Be pleasant. You can do this.”

Pleasant. “Oh, my gosh. They called you? This is a huge misunderstanding. They shouldn’t have called you. This is really embarrassing. You can leave—everything is fine here.”

Oh, that it should have been so easy. Cop #1 said, “May, do you suffer from depression or mental illness?” Fuck. Branded, stereotyped, labeled, screwed.

I replied, "Well, as a matter of fact, I do. I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder about two years ago, but I’m stable. It had nothing to do with my angry outburst on the phone—really.”

They just kept looking at me. I was starting to feel heat creep up into my face. My heart rate kicked itself up a notch.

Cop #1: “Now, May, did you take your medication today?” Don’t freak, May, just don’t go off. I know that question pisses you off, but just let it go.

I smiled, and in my best friendly, perky voice said, “Of course! I am diligently medication compliant. Would you like to speak with my doctor? I’m happy to call him for you.”

The cops just looked at each other. At that moment, I realized things might not be going my way. Why were they still here? How could I make them leave? Be honest. Be polite. Be friendly. Be articulate. I debated whether or not to call my husband, but ultimately decided it wasn’t worth cutting short the dog’s walk. With any luck, I could convince these guys to get out of my house and leave me alone.

Cop #1 said, “May, tell me, do you ever have thoughts of suicide?”

Thoughts of suicide. “Well, yeah. Do you guys know anything about bipolar disorder? I mean, really, do they cover it in your peace officer crisis intervention training?” They just looked at me. “Here’s the thing. Thinking about suicide and committing suicide are totally not the same thing. You know that, right? One of the hallmark symptoms of bipolar disorder is suicide ideation, but only about 25% of people diagnosed with the illness actually commit suicide. I’m fine. You should really go now. There are probably crimes going on out there, or car accidents. You don’t need to be here.”

I looked around, starting to panic that they weren’t leaving. At that exact moment, I realized that the three of them had me blocked in. They had formed a human wall around my living room, blocking any possible exit on my part. They had me cornered in my own home. It was a flash of anger that I didn’t dare show. They were all standing in the same posture: legs slightly apart, hands together in front. Coats on, radios turned down, no hats. Black shoes. Plain, black shoes with laces.

Cop #1 said, “I need to talk to my colleague outside. We’ll be right back.” #1 and #2 went outside, and I started desperately wishing my husband would get home soon. Cop #3 stayed in my living room, strategically placed between the two possible exits from the room. This seemed unfair. They were in my home. I was being friendly, polite, and most definitely lucid. Why wouldn’t they leave?

When #1 and 2 came back in, #3 went outside. I had to say it. “Did it really require three of you to come here and have this conversation with a mild-mannered, middle-aged woman? I have to say, considering I’m no threat to myself or anyone, this seems like overkill.”

Before they could answer, I heard my husband and the dog coming up the driveway. Muffled voices. Side gate opens, closes. Muffled voices. I hear my husband’s voice outside. Thank god. He’s home. Then I realized he wasn’t coming in. He wasn’t allowed in. I immediately looked up and said, “I would feel a lot better if my husband were here.”

Cop #1 ignored my comment and said, “May, tell me about what happened with the bank.”

“The bank? Oh, the credit card thing. The guy I talked to at Diner’s Club, Citi Bank, whatever, was an asshole. I got frustrated and had an outburst. Why, what did he tell you? I think he called you because I made him mad.”

They looked at each other again. #1 and #2 went out again, and #3 came in. Still no husband. I took the opportunity to tell #3, “You guys are kind of stressing me out. I’d feel a lot better if you’d let my husband come in the house. It is his house, after all. Why is he being punished and kept outside?”

Cop #3 said, “He can come in soon.” He can come in? Dude, it’s his fucking house. Smile, nod, say OK. Pleasant. Friendly. I was already doing a great job at being perky and engaged. Why wasn’t it working? Slow crime night?

At this point, #1 and #2 came in and they finally let my husband come in. He looked at me and said, “Are you OK?” I assured him that I was, and yet my living room was still full o’ cops.

Numbers one and two stood in front of me, and with the most patent display of feigned concern ever, #1 said, “Tell me, May, if you were to kill yourself, what would you do?”

Suddenly, I felt like I was on Jeopardy! I knew there was a right answer, but I wasn’t sure exactly what I was supposed to say. I just knew I had a lot to lose if I didn’t say the right thing. Obviously, I hadn’t been saying the right thing up to this point, or there would not still be three armed men in my living room speaking to me in the voice you use to coax out a frightened dog you think might bite you.

Answer the question. They’re staring at you and #1 and #2 are a little closer than we’d like. “Well, I can’t say I have a definitive answer to that question. Let’s see. I would never shoot myself since I think guns are evil and the Second Amendment should be repealed. I won’t allow firearms in my house (takes a moment to deliberately glance, eyebrow raised, at each holster). It’s really much harder to die from an overdose than is popularly believed, so I wouldn’t try that. The thing is, I figure that for me, this isn’t something on my mind right now. I’ll admit that my illness makes me feel bad—really bad—sometimes, but now is not one of those times. I’m fine. That being said, I believe I have the right to choose the path of my own life and only I should control it. Maybe a year from now I’ll be ready to remove myself from pain, but for the time being I’m just fine. I have a good doctor and I see a therapist every week. I told you that I take my medication and that’s the truth. I’ll go and get the bottles and you can count the pills from the dispense date.”

Cop #1 was still prodding me to give him an answer. I wondered for a moment what the point of the question was. Did manner of self-demise matter? Were some ideations considered more indicative of danger and imbalance than others? What was I supposed to say? What was I not supposed to say? I felt like I was being pressured to say something, so I said, “Aw, geez, I don’t know. Probably self-asphyxiation. I hear that’s painless.”

#1 and #2 looked at each other and went outside to confer once again. I was getting really irritated by the blatant being talked about me behind my back. When they came back, #1 (his name was Martinez; I just don’t feel inclined to type that repeatedly) said, “May, we would feel better if we knew you talked to someone. We want you to talk to someone tonight.”

I shrugged my shoulders and said, “Fine. I have a great therapist. I saw her a few days ago, and I’ll see her again Friday, but if it will get you out of my living room, I’ll call her after you leave. I‘ll call her now if you want me to. Heck, you can talk to her if you want to. I can also call my doctor if that’s helpful for you. Here’s his card. You can take it and call him now or later. I have more cards. I don’t need this one.”

I was now in full-blown internal panic. My heart was beating hard in my chest and I was so thirsty I felt like I had taffy sticking to the walls of my throat. Outwardly, I looked calm, but the bigger problem was my mounting frustration and anger. I couldn’t stop obsessing over what the neighbors must be thinking about two cop cars in front my house all this time. I resented the hell out of these people who seemed to believe it was appropriate for them to take up a lot of my time, imply I was unstable and a danger to myself, and speak to me in a tone that I can only describe as condescending. Maybe dumbed down.

I hoped that since they were to the point of recommending that I talk to someone (About what? Ending my life a year or two or ten in the future? I already paid two people to have those conversations with me), we were finally wrapping up our conversation. They had already been in my house for over an hour.

As it turned out, my night was just getting started.

More tomorrow. I need to take a break from this now.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Not invisible yet

This is a continuation of the story I started to tell in the previous post. Start there.

I opened the mail. Bills, bills, bills. The words of the counselor at Consumer Credit Counseling Services ran through my mind. Just pick out the card with the highest interest rate and ask the company to work with you. If they won’t lower the interest rate, ask for a lower monthly payment. You’ll pay more interest in the long run, but you’ll free up cash to take care of your medical expenses. That’s the best we can do for you, Ms. Voirrey, since you’re not late, in arrears, or over limit on your accounts.

I had already run out of cash and had no way to pay for my medication. Lithium is cheap, but it only works on one part of the problem. EMSAM and Lamictal were the most important elements in the mix at that point, but there was just no way. I skipped the Lamictal, stopped taking Ambien for the time being and substituted Alprazolam to help me sleep. At well over $200, EMSAM was out of the question.

I was completely unprepared for how quickly my body responded to this change. I felt like my head had been smashed through a wall of depression and with such force that it had permeated my skull. I was dizzy, sad, foggy, and slow. Very, very slow. It was like trying to focus on a slow-moving object yet being unable to hold onto it for more than a few seconds, except the sensation went on relentlessly. I felt as though I had lost all the ground I had gained in the previous five months, and it slipped away so fast, it seemed surreal.

Work out the money, May, get the medication. I put down the mail, and then pulled out the Diner’s Club bill. What the hell. It was the card I’d had the longest—about 15 years. It seemed like a safe place to start. I called customer service and started into my spiel. The customer service telephone clerk had an attitude. It was a man, African-American, not very friendly, and he appeared to be incapable of actually answering my questions, finding a supervisor, or even comprehending what I was asking. As the conversation continued to go in circles, I could feel my temper rising and my ability to be polite slipping away.

Eventually, I said, “So, what you’re telling me is that it doesn’t matter what I say or do, you not only refuse to help me or work with me, you are going to deny me access to a supervisor or another department where I can speak with someone who has the authority to provide some actual customer service. Is this correct? Yes or no?”

“Ma’am, Ms. Voirrey, I am not going to change your payment.”

“Yeah, I get that. Please transfer me to a supervisor.”

“I can’t do that. Nobody is available to talk to you. I can process your payment now, over the phone.” The arrogance in his tone smacked of condescension and mockery. To this day, I can’t identify what motivated his attitude toward me.

The anger inside of me slammed into the front of my head and came out of my mouth. “Look. I plan to be dead six months from now. I want to get my bills taken care of so I don’t leave a mess for anyone else to sort out. I’m doing the responsible thing. If you will just listen and work with me, your company will actually get paid faster and in full. Do you get it?"

By this time, I was sobbing, and I admit it probably proved detrimental to my credibility. The dickhead on the phone backed off and said, “Whoa, whoa, you’re OK with Diner’s Club. You’re good with us. Are you home alone?”

“Yes, I’m home alone. How the hell is that any of your goddamn business? Are you coming over to pick on me in person? My husband will be home in a couple of minutes. He knows what’s going on.” I took a breath and tried to take back my outburst. “I shouldn’t have said what I did. I’m very, very sorry. I apologize. I didn’t mean to say something bad that has nothing to do with anyone but me. Forget I said that. Please have a supervisor call me about my account.”

My apology sounded insincere, and it was. It came out like the apology a kid makes when forced to do so when there’s no remorse. Yes, a little snide.

I got off the phone and turned on the TV. I went into the kitchen and fixed a small plate of cheese and crackers. Time for Jeopardy! I kick ass at Jeopardy!