Saturday, July 7, 2012

"Oh, WELL-butrin! Well-BYOO-trin! Come h'YAR, boy!"

How strange a month, and how strange to be emerging at last in a completely altered frame of mind, in completely altered circumstances.

Some of this is going to be Old News for some of you, while to others it will be Fresh Dirt.  But, just like clockwork, just like my NP promised me, the Welbutrin finally kicked in and for the last three-plus days I have been a different person. Not dancing a polka or anything. But at least I'm not giving razor blades and other sharp instruments long, thoughtful looks.

Before that, you didn't want to know me. I have at least a couple of friends who will personally confirm that.

On my latest release from the hospital I started drinking again right away. I didn't exactly make a secret of it, and the disappointment from my friends and family was a palpable thing, as if I was doing it to be recalcitrant, as if I was doing it out of spite, as if I was doing it just for the hell of it. I think wantonly is the word I'm looking for here. It's as if they felt that I was doing it deliberately to hurt them and myself.

The fact is that I was in torment, which sounds like a grandiose word, and something that I think most people will find hard to understand if they haven't been through it. For the first time in more than a decade I was effectively attempting to function without any kind of medication at all, self-or-otherwise. Here's what I learned: I am a person who cannot live without medication.

I had thought that just getting home and being with my cats would settle me down, but this was not the case. In the end, I think that the ideal would have been if I could have spent my days at 4 East and my nights at home, but it doesn't work that way (and oh, how as a patient I began to resent the staff, even the ones I liked {and maybe especially them), just because they could go home at night!

Down time at 4 East can be terrible thing -- especially when one is between medications. As patients, We do slow, shuffling laps in our hospital socks up and down the length of the hall like restless zombies. We sit in the Day Room, staring through glazed eyes at programs no one wants to watch. We lie in our beds, sometimes curled into balls, sometimes splayed out out like cats on a hot day.

On the good days, of which there were hardly any this last time, I journaled. This time, with the absence of medication making me by turns angry, weepy, self-destructive or just plain empty, the best I could manage were abstract doodles.

On Friday afternoon, my first full day in the hospital, my last day on Prozac, I had felt fine. By Sunday afternoon I was ready to die. I couldn't think clearly. Could hardly formulate thoughts into words. I shuffled about avoiding other people's eyes, staring at the whiteboard (my release date was conspicuously blank), staring at the picture of my NP and wondering what she was doing with her day off, out there in the real world. My substitute NP for the day, who is not a bad person, could tell that I was upset and took me in early for an extra session. She noted that I had written the word PURPOSE in big block letters in my journal and she latched onto this as a good thing, but I immediately pointed out to her that a Purpose is exactly what I don't have. She answered me with some metaphysics about Stop Signs.

Much later in the day, my nurse found me slumped in a chair by the telephones, head in my hands, breathing hard. I had just been thinking about strangling myself with the telephone cord when she came along. She took me into one of 4 East's side offices, gave me another pill, tried to talk me calm. She talked about the possibility of Electroshock. This horrified me. I know that the process has advanced some, but all I could think about was MacMurphy and Jack Nicholson and One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest.

By Monday afternoon I was sitting on the floor at the end of the hall, sobbing uncontrollably, saying, "I want to go home, I want to go home," This sort of thing gets noticed at 4 East. My NP called me into an office again. I said that I didn't want to be alive anymore and she got very stern with me, said that if she heard any more talk like that she'd Blue Paper me.

I didn't know what that meant, but I was sure it was bad, so I shut up.

I believe that my NP was a bit between a rock and a hard place. On the one hand, it was clearly too soon to discharge me; on the other hand, staying was doing me no good either. Together with the Social Worker, we began to work out a plan, and the next day quite early in the afternoon, they gave me back my frock coat and my straw hat and I was free to go.

But toddling on foot up the hill to the college I felt like a scarecrow, a joke version of myself, which is to say a joke of a joke. It was grey and drizzling. I stopped by the bookstore to pick up my handbag and iPad, to say hello, then went down to look at my car. As my friend S____ had said in the hospital, the damage was much more than I had been aware of at the time, but it was still drivable. Home I went, damp inside and out.

S____ had not found what remained of my bottle of vodka. This both disappointed and pleased me. I was in a state of confusion and upset. Being home and getting things back to normal with the cats and sitting with them did help a bit. But it was like having my head stuck in a round of cheese, and being home and having these normal occupations only cut away a very small bit of that cheese from around one eye. That night I drank myself to sleep.

The next day I went out and bought another bottle along with the regular groceries. I knew before I got in the car that I was going to buy another bottle. I knew that I needed to, the same way that you know you need to put on a pair of smoked glasses on a blindingly sunny day. I still wanted to be dead. I still wasn't thinking about anything else or anyone else. I knew that the only thing that would take the edge off of those thoughts was vodka.

Even so, somewhere in that day, day and a half I looped a belt through my stairway and notched it tight. I didn't want to use it right then but I wanted it set up in advance in case I needed it.

I did manage to keep from binge drinking, from black-out drinking, from drinking to the point where I could not function. But I knew that this was not sustainable and I'm not sure what I was waiting for. One thing or the other. It was either Tuesday or Wednesday when I ended up in the Hospital yet again, and this time it wasn't the alcohol that got me there, it was my mouth.

You reach a Tipping Point with alcohol where it doesn't make you happy any more, it makes you feel worse, and at the urging of a friend, in order to further delay my appointment with that makeshift noose, I made the mistake of calling the Maine "Help" line.

Don't ever do this. Don't ever do this. Don't ever do this.

At first it started out fine. I got a nice young woman and my hope and expectation was that we could just talk it out. She listened and she kept saying, "Well, Doug, I'm glad you called, you sound like you're in a lot of pain," and things were going all right. Bur I was pacing as I talked and I kicked the line out of the jack. I managed to get it plugged in and called straight back, getting the same same woman explaining what had happened. "Yeah, Doug, I was worried about you. .."

But by then the tone of our transaction had already changed. We talked for just a couple of moments more and I'm not even sure what I said that prompted a second voice to suddenly come on the line and say, quite urgently, "That's it! I'm calling The Police!!"

I said, "What? The Police?! No! No!"

But the line had already gone dead.

From my cell phone, in a state of absolute panic, I called my friend BC to tell him what was happening -- as if he could have done anything abut it, he lives in a different state altogether. Almost before the words were out of my mouth the cops were on my doorstep. Leaving all the lights on, leaving the door unlocked, they summarily dragged me out of my house and threw me on my side into the back seat of the squad car. I was taken to a room of the hospital that I had never seen before, through an entrance that I'd never been through before. I was ordered to undress.

The room was FULL of people, including several women, so I foolishly tried to figure out a way to get my underwear off under the cover of my shirt and pants -- and I was succeeding, but not fast enough for one of the cops.


I said I am and went on trying.

"DO IT!" shouted Officer Prick.

I looked up at that son of a bitch, I looked him right in the eye and said with some irritation, "I am!!"

Suddenly four pairs of hands were on me and my clothes were ripped off of my body. A paper johnny was draped over me and I was pushed down onto the table. When I attempted so sit up and swing my legs over the side, Officer Prick pushed his red face into mine, slammed his elbow into my chest and drove my back down onto the cot. Velcro straps were immediately looped around my arms and legs. A needle was jammed into my arm.

The room emptied out pretty quickly after that. Of course I couldn't move at all. They turned all the lights out. There was only one window into the next room and not a soul in sight. I shouted "PLEASE! PLEASE!" and got no response.

Whatever it was they shot me up with took about a half-hour to completely take hold of me. About twenty minutes into that, a nurse came along and removed one of the leg restraints, but for me it was too little, too late.


The next morning I awoke to find two of my friends at my bedside, BC and EWR. At first, I couldn't understand how they had found me. Whatever they had shot me up with the night before had left me in a severely doped-up state. But my arms and legs were untied. They weren't going to let visitors see me like that.

They knew only what the hospital told them, and I knew only what I had experienced. A Crisis worker was sent in to "negotiate" my release. He kept having to go back and forth between us and his boss. The offer was put forward to put me into a Crisis Home. Both of my friends thought this was a good idea. I most emphatically did not. Furthermore, I knew that unless I was arrested for something or blue papered, I could not be held against my will. The Crisis worker finally came bak with his final offer of the day: I would call in to the help line again that evening, and I would report on Monday Morning to the Augusta office for an "evaluation" of some sort (I was so drugged out that I didn't catch what it was for) and furthermore if I didn't do those things the police would be paying a call on me again.

Other than that, I was free to go.

I went home and under the watchful eyes of my friends dumped out the half bottle of vodka that remained in my house, and took down my belt noose. I fell into my bed and slept through the day. It was BC who woke me up in the late afternoon when he had to leave.

Here's how it all worked out: I made my call, and my appearance in Augusta, which turned out to be a wild goose chase -- they weren't even expecting me "and there certainly wouldn't have been any criminal consequences if you hadn't shown up."

For two more days I "muddled through somehow," just sort of existing, drinking yes, just enough to keep from screaming; mowed my lawn; felt down, called a couple of friends instead of the help line -- some lessons only need to be learned once.

Then on the third morning I woke up, blinked, and thought: Hmm. Don't need it. Don't want it.

The next day. . . I didn't even think about it. The only time I thought about it at all was to realize that I wasn't even thinking about it.

Yesterday S & C down the road invited me to dinner on Sunday, and at first I told them, well, I can't bring wine. But as I was walking away, I thought, dang it, of course I can. No one's gonna hold a gun to my head and force me to drink it. And I'll be perfectly happy with my ginger ale. Cheez Whiz, if watching someone else drink was an intolerable trigger I'd never be able to watch movies or TV again!

Besides, Chardonnay was never my Poison of Choice. So, yeah, I bought a bottle of wine at the store today and it's not calling to me from the kitchen wine rack.

Which brings us full circle to my statement at the beginning. Like Colonel Shuffle in the WB cartoon, I no longer feel like I'm calling and calling and calling for Welbutrin and getting no reply! The self-destructive thoughts -- and behaviours -- have stopped. I am finally where I need to be. I can breathe again.

Mind you, I haven't done anything. I haven't even called the insurance company since the accident. I haven't even looked at a job site. I haven't even opened my resume file, gotten an estimate, looked into extending my health insurance through COBRA, nothing, nada, zilch, zero, Inner Tube, Donut Hole.

I figure with a month like the one I've just had, and for that matter a two years like what I've just had, and for that matter an EIGHT years like what I've just had, it can't hurt to just learn to remember how to breathe again.

-- Freder.

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