Moving forward, in itself, is a daunting task for me, but it’s becoming so much easier because I’ve begun to cope with my life using simplified methods and techniques that are cut down to precise concision. One example being that I ride. I just ride. (a concept vis-a-vis Lana Del Rey, respectively.)
The overwhelmingly positive response that came from my previous post simply made me feel very, very fulfilled and more comfortable with my self-expression, as it’s already been accepted by many. This is my territory, but my analysis of everything is due to my interpersonal conflicts, so again, please do not apply your perception of me that’s entirely based on this information. Well, I had no idea there were so many people out there that would read my interpersonal manifesto and actually “get it” — or at least did not pass me off for a creepy, crazy, or unstable person — which I may possibly be at times, but never to anyone that could confront my situation head-on and really attempt to understand it, and to help me. November 2012 will be an unforgettable month because it was not only harrowing but horrific — the daunting experiences strengthened me like strips of thick steel that construct a giant ship sailing through open Atlantic waters. I am powerful now. No longer do I self-deprecate or wallow in self-pity where I go to an unforgiving territory that does not allow me to stop feeling sorry for myself. Please keep in mind that my writing here is for the purpose of my writing — I am experimenting with creative nonfiction, stylizing elements with characters that did in fact exist, but are still in a grey area that protects their privacy. The likelihood of the information being factored against me is slim to none, but I also acknowledge the risk I’m subjected to for my self-disclosure here. I am an open book here because I want to share my own moving experiences and convey my catharsis. Otherwise, I’m shut-up following rules, playing it safe and tucked away in anxiety anywhere else — and anyone who knows me can understand this.
“I would have told her that I’ll never know what it’s like to be her. But I know what it’s like to want to die. How it hurts to smile. How you try to fit in, but you can’t. How you hurt yourself on the outside to try to kill the thing on the inside.”
My return date to work is not officially been established just yet. I believe I’ll have at least another week of short-term disability so that I can see my new therapist and adjust to the new medications that I’m on. I’m not going to sugar-coat it — the medications are potent and kick my ass. I kind of get anxiety when I take Geodon because I react so intensely to it. About an hour after taking it in the late morning, I begin to feel so exhausted that I literally search for any possible way to collapse into my bed or any place I can fall asleep. I fell asleep in my car the other day for about an hour in the grocery store parking lot — and when I woke up I totally felt fine and was completely OK to drive. Still, that was a scary experience. Obviously it was the best idea to just sleep there than to attempt driving, of course I know how critically important it was to just stay there — it would’ve been extremely dangerous for me to drive. Never will I take it in the morning, it’s now a PM medication only.
Geodon does not really have this much of an effect on me now — I’ve adjusted to the fatigue after a few days of adjustment. This medication is very, very helpful with my mixed-mania episodes. Last night was pretty frenetic and caused me to get really agitated and I get this sensation in my legs to just walk, run, shake, rattle — to anything with them — the energy comes from a place of immense restlessness. Pretty much it’s like feeling physical frustration wrapped up inside of me. During this I come off ass bitchy or having an attitude to others but that’s only because I am feeling so unpleasant on the inside. It’s not personal at all to anyone. I can’t have a phone conversation with my inquisitive dad and try to pretend I’m feeling ayyy-okay… and I’ve gotta just end the call and figure out how to calm down.
Part I: Misconstrued Information, Subjective Displacement
What frustrates me is that my inpatient treatment at the psychiatric unit did not really provide me any specific methods of “dealing” or “managing” my bipolar/episode shit. Except for one group session where I connected with other bipolar patients — most of whom were very fuckin’ severe — I had that one session to discuss what I was actually there for! Mostly… my admittance was built around chemical dependence. This was because I (truthfully) admitted to having been dependent on prescription drugs in order to deal with my episodes, and I told them I can get carried away with white wine. Basically, I acknowledged that I self-medicate. But… I already knew this. I did not need to attend 12-step meetings every day where I had to identify myself as an “addict” — because I am not an addict, I just have no method of coping with this disorder so yes I’ve taken more (of my own) anxiety meds than I should, but come on… I’ve gotta do what I’ve gotta do in order to function! It’s like okay, I could take an extra 1mg of clonazepam at work OR try to continue working without it and feeling like a dysfunctional mess which will land me in trouble at work. What you’re reading is not an addict in denial — I know exactly what I’m right about. My psychiatrist did not react negatively when I told her any of this. She understands that she prescribes these medications to me, and after a while my tolerance builds up with them. Animosity erupted with myself and the psychiatric unit because they lied to me by stating one: they spoke to my doctor about “tapering off” clonazepam, and that I felt “addicted and completely reliant on it” — both things never occurred, and I never stated that. Yet still, they slapped a green-sticker on my wrist band. Green stickers were the chemical-dependent patients, kind of like how orange jumpsuits identify murderers in prison.
Objectively, I have self-medicated which does become habit-forming, yes, but I’m not an alcoholic because I have a glass of wine to take the edge off of my restless & fitful mood. I’ve taken several different anti-anxiety medications ever since I was 16 years old. At this point, they don’t really fucking do anything for me. So, I don’t expect anything from them… I hardly even take them! Like everything else, my word is against theirs — and they’re doctors — professionals — and I’m only the lying, overly defensive and inventive addict in denial. Honestly, it felt really offensive. This is why I wanted to leave so badly is because these people weren’t even fucking listening to me at all. After my assessment was finished they admitted me (which was going to happen anyway because my doctor ordered my admittance, and they also got a fully-paid check from my dad, so yeah) to the wrong program because of a misconstrued discussion about my prescription medications and unrelated/maybe related habits with “alcohol” which in reality was my legal consumption of wine a few times a week. Okay, so, what about me having a fucking meltdown and so episodic I felt like exploding and was completely unable to work? Oh, that’s addict behavior.
Being in the drug-addict unit was eye-opening because I had no.. idea… how incredibly addicted these individuals that I had casually interacted with beforehand were internally fixated to their drug/drink of choice. This one guy admitted to such a large amount of Xanax usage that shocked the shit out of me — I wanted to give the guy an enormous hug! Their stories were so, so harrowing. Another girl I made friends with disclosed her addictions that began when she was 10 years old, and since she didn’t ever disclose this information to me, I didn’t understand how she appeared so normal and functional when in reality she was on the edge of overdosing every time she used her drug of choice. I didn’t relate to these issues, yet I absorbed and soaked in the saddest things I’ve ever heard in my life. These individuals radiated sadness — a strange, sort of faded energy that was desperate, completely desperate.
In one of the narcotics anonymous meetings I had to attend (also, there wasn’t anything else to do, anyway) I had to confront a weird spotlight put on me, since it was my turn to talk, and I began with “My name is Sam and I am… an addict…” and after that, of course, with no judgment the room greeted me back with compassion. Cult chants were the first thing that popped into my head. I steer clear of cults and cult-like thinking. I know that’s a common reaction, but man I was just very out of my element. Kind support from the other people was great, but I couldn’t help to compare my situation! I felt so damn boring compared to everyone else! I didn’t know what to say, I didn’t have a story with addiction, necessarily. I didn’t want to pass either because that didn’t seem fair. I wanted to contribute something. So, I began to nervously mumble that I do struggle with anti-anxiety medications like Klonopin/clonazepam, Xanax/alprazolam, Ativan/lorazepam, etc — but at this point I’m taking such low dosages of only 1 of those, so there’s no point to abuse them in the first place — and I haven’t taken anything “extra” in several months, nor did I care to. Sounds like bullshit, I know. Believe me, I would be skeptical of one’s justification about taking prescription drugs. Why would I deny being addicted to anything at all though? My dad thinks I am still lying about all of it — but really? I stated that I was an addict apprehensively because I knew making such a heavy and strong statement like that was due to a stupid, misconstrued mix-up with the psych institution and I was just going along with it.
I really didn’t appreciate them placing me in a corner, on the spot, in that meeting — as I had to introduce myself as an addict just so that I could identify with them yet also concurrently identify with my own sense of self (?) I identified with the other patients in many, many ways — believe me — but deadly dangerous addictive behavior was not entirely one of them. But, I digress, I’m not sure how I feel about the 12-step program, now that I know a lot more about it.
What if I wanted to say “My name is Sam”? Then I’d be unusual for not stating alcoholic/addict. Why is it so important to self-proclaim that? It’s like defining yourself with that word — no one should ever define themselves with their bad habits. I have issues with prescription drugs in the past, but I don’t take that fact and integrate it into my identity. I don’t feel like that’s healthy or appropriate, but that’s how it works. By incorporating religion — and attaching a book visually and conceptually synonymous with the Christian Bible — this program acts like a 12-step dogma that has a lot of drawbacks that make it ineffective for the severity of some situations. It’s not my place to say what should occur in these meetings, but I do think more and more people are becoming skeptical of the 12-step construct. Men and women lamenting, sharing their individual histories like they carry around an archive of pain and suffering — miserable people fighting with the urge to use their substance, to figure out a life without the obstacle of the matter. There’s just a lot more constructive, productive, proactive things that should take place during the meetings. Storytelling seems to be a major emphasis, and this is what confused me after I attended many meetings.
Compromise felt necessary, but what if most of those people didn’t really mean their statement of being an addict — just like how I didn’t mean it? What should’ve felt cathartic or brave felt phony, counter-intuitive, wrong, weird… and I’m sure others may have felt the same way. Sorry, but I just don’t agree with applying “alcoholic” or “addict” to my name as if they’re like my fucking credentials or something! These are not attributes that a person “earns” and then incorporates into their identity.
What I really wanted to say was: Hi, my name is Sam Swayne, B.A. in English/psychology, only son of my two parents, employee of x company, huge lover of art and film, licensed driver of a 2007 red Chevy, resident of downtown Kansas City, Missouri, frequent jogger/runner, and, also, I am diagnosed with bipolar disorder and I struggle with self-medicating. Maybe that sounds overwrought or overly articulated but to me, for such a personal fucking situation, that is how people should identify themselves in these fuckin’ meetings.
For example, I have no clue where I could even obtain crystal meth. Let’s say I did become resourceful and found it somewhere to buy — would I feel comfortable with the individuals doing it? No. Would I be able to afford it, if it became a weekly habit? Uhh… no. Would I even do it in the first place? No, because I am scared of that drug — I would be so scared that I’d have a bad reaction to it and end up “inadvertently” dying. The same thing goes for MDMA, cocaine, heroin, whatever — all of that stuff would freak me out. Anyone who knows me knows that. I’ve never done any of those drugs. I’ve smoked weed and drink wine (which can be applied in the present tense, I don’t really care) and, yeah, I had a party-boy phase when I went out to bars and had lots of cocktails, but I always partied safely. I’m not perfect and I’m not invincible to substance abuse — yeah, I’ve used stuff in a dependent manner — like alcohol makes me feel confident and extroverted, and weed makes me feel extremely silly. I feel like I access the funniest version of myself, and it feels totally harmless. What’s wrong with me smoking it and being in a state of hilarity and joy? Well, I suppose it’s because it’s a drug making me feel that way. But… it’s still not harming me. Everyone in the meetings I went to during inpatient brought up marijuana in the most negative light possible. They were very hard on themselves for using it — most of them feeling awful for using it so “excessively” when in actuality, they just became tolerant to the previous amounts and had to smoke more.
I would never fucking smoke crack. First of all — it’s not in my nature because my luck simply doesn’t work like that — I simply just can’t get away with doing shit like that! I’d end up getting caught, becoming really sick from it from my body rejecting it, or indefinitely experiencing something traumatic and/or humiliating in the process. It’s not desirable to me, it’s not intriguing, and I have no curiosity for it — and I am the most curious person I know.
I bring this up because most of the patients there were smokers of crack or methamphetamine. Most of them were there for at least their third time, some of them had been in the program six times, not including programs at other hospitals. Addiction is now conceptualized differently to me: it’s incomprehensible how much of a problem it is. It’s a really, really harrowing conflict of the human condition. My interactions with these people forever changed my perceptions about drugs for the rest of my life. I care so deeply for these people — my sensitivity to these people in my surroundings skyrocketed — I swam in empathy and vicariously felt their frustration, anger, guilt, and straight-up sadness. Drug addicts are all universally insulated with a sadness that is practically tangible, it manifests in dark shadows under the eyes, a worn out body with a soul that’s taken on too much.
This shit doesn’t only effect superficial aspects of their lives — it changes who they are, it distorts their lives into a twisted fucking mess that seeps deeper into a swamp of quicksand, and their spirit becomes sucked into the gravitas of a black hole and their identity and essence becomes damaged. Right now those people rest deeply in my heart, where my humanity hopes something will mend the damage at least a little. A little, at least. Their suffering deserves at least a little bit of light, of some sort of resolution. I just hope maybe they’ll eventually tire of the drug, other than that, I don’t know. I find it so grim and nihilistic — my personal reaction to the reality of drug addicts in this world, specifically in the US and other nations that wallow in large populations of various addicts.
Part II: Breakfast with a Side of Battery/Assault and Apathy
Behavior was another matter, because some of the drug addicts stir in their detox. These people are raw, vulnerable, and miserable in their situation. This ties into one lady in my unit who was one of the most terrifyingly aggressive girl I’d ever been around. What I guess you can call an “altercation” one morning definitely further proved I wasn’t exactly in a productive environment. It was Thanksgiving day — and for some reason I actually woke up at like 7:30am and went out into the isolation area to eat the hospitals’ strange/interesting breakfast. I felt calm but alert, and I enjoyed being out there alone — it was peaceful to just sit there and eat — it was mindlessly calming. Suddenly that girl came around the corner and picked up her breakfast tray and dropped it next to mine, jerked the chair back, plopped down and started eating — but she projected pissed-offness like none other — something was about to make this girl flip out big time. Just her sitting next to me made me feel anxious, but I stared ahead — blankly — and chewed the food. Then, another female patient came out, picked up her breakfast tray, and sat on the opposite table across from me and the pissed girl. At first, the two of them were just eating until the other girl said something. I sort of recall something like “are you stuffing your stupid face fast enough bitch” and then I realized these two girls were each others’ aggressors — BIG TIME. I have no clue why they were even in the same unit! These two were Latina middle-aged women with huge animosity toward one another.
The girl sitting next to me practically switched into an “animal” mode. I sat there, listlessly staring at the situation in front of me. The morning/late night staff were no where to be seen. That was my first observation: “okay, they’re going to fight and no one’s here to see it except for me, but whatever.” I was so apathetic that I didn’t really care. Anyway, she slammed her fists so hard on the table that her tray of food went flying onto the chair/space next to her and she starts screaming “what did you fucking say! what did you say cunt! you fucking bitch you fucking piss me off today, oh yes you did!” and the other girl stands up, screams back at her, and dumps her food on the floor and starts hurdling toward her with the breakfast tray.
This breakfast tray was hardly a feasible weapon — it was max 1/2 thick blue plastic — I definitely wouldn’t want to be hit with it but it’s hardly decent psych-unit fight weaponry. First, they started pushing each other and then one threw a punch on the side of the girls head (that had to fucking kill her fist, hitting someone’s thick ass head!) and then the two began the breakfast-tray championship: beating each other in the face & head with the trays while screaming at each other. The girl that sat next to me said “oh oh oh you’re gonna get a taste of this tray PUTA!” which I translated to “bitch” thanks to my viewing experience of “Thirteen” and being exposed to a lot of negative Spanish lexicon. The two continued for about one more minute until the staff finally came running — hurdling — toward the fight, trying to break it up.
Here, the psych unit staff people were fucking pathetic, I’m sorry. There was no way the strength of two middle-aged white nurse ladies could compare to the strength of two tattooed ex-con Latinas in a bitch brawl. All of this happened so fast, my reaction was still totally blank. I just stared at all of it rather than observed it for what it was. Typically, this is my humorous way of being so disgusted with the world that I can’t even internalize what’s happening. If something is really ridiculous, I become really passive and annoyed. It was really hilarious in the end because neither of them were really injured in any way. They both got injections of Haldol — which didn’t do shit for the girl that sat next to me! She was still conscious and fighting the nurses after the injection. That shocked me because if that wouldn’t tranquilize her, then what the fuck would? Finally her eyes fluttered and they dragged them back to their rooms. I finished chewing a nasty piece of toast and washed it all down with an elementary-school-sized carton of Vitamin D milk, and rolled my eyes.
The incompetent staff came back out to me with tons of questions about “what happened” — they were acting as if such a thing had never occurred before, despite us all co-existing in a psych ward… they were all out of breath, shaken up, disturbed by the aggression — I’m sorry, but isn’t this their profession? Yeah, it’s scary, but don’t work there if it bothers you that much. I asked the two morning staff ladies where they were — or anyone for that matter — and this seemed to irk them as if it was “none of my business” so I understood it as that; alright, the whole matter wasn’t any of my business.
Since I was now in a shitty mood, having my breakfast intruded with that hot, ridiculous mess of stupidity, I definitely copped an attitude to the staff ladies and finally responded with “Well, I don’t really know what to say Carol, maybe you and Mary should’ve already been out here to see it for yourselves, don’t you think?? Alright, I don’t want to fucking talk to any of you people so leave me alone!” and I ended the scene by emptying my tray of crusts and leftover god-awful pudding in the garbage can. Then, I tossed my breakfast tray in the pile along with the two blue trays — puta weaponry, wreckage lying on the table among the aftermath of wasted breakfast food that consisted of sausage links, scrambled eggs, and burnt toast. As per usual, the staff responded neutrally to my attitude and didn’t say anything else to me for 3 days. My reports from them were “despondent, antisocial with staff and patients, apathetic” — and they couldn’t have articulated that any better. Actually, all of the words were impressive — I loved the descriptors and how I likely have a deeper understanding of the words than they do. Looking back, I feel like a total asshole and I want to somehow send a Hallmark apology card to the nurses… but what can I say? I started to become a product of my own environment.
Later that afternoon, after attending several draining group sessions about surviving sexual abuse, controlling anger, and a sense-of-self seminar — the girl that sat next to me for breakfast earlier comes running up to me smiling and starts to talk to me… acting the polar opposite from earlier, thus her outburst from that morning perhaps being her ugly side? I dunno. She had an undercurrent of that ugly side at all times, even when she was being “nice.” I learned that her name was Lisa — which immediately made me smile, hoping she was kidding — as my mind is constantly making film references to “Girl, Interrupted” — where I felt like Susanna Kaysen in the plot of my life experience in the psych unit. It was nice to see Lisa smile, but she had braces on both the top and bottom rows of her teeth — and they badly needed to be remove. The cement rotted into the surface of her teeth, an obvious indicator of her drug usage of course, but this ultimately ruined her permanent teeth to where she would need extreme dental work in order for them to look halfway normal again. Each tooth had fat gaps between them — and the bottom were all silver… silver from some kind of material that was deliberate I’m sure, just how a lot of black people have “gold teeth” — I didn’t understand how she had silver caps AND braces. What orthodontist would approve of such a thing? Every time Lisa talked to me I stared at her mouth, never anywhere else. Her mouth was huge and menacing. When she’d yell, it was like a banshee, when she was angry it was loud like a guttural animal in the woods. When she was being “nice” this frightening smile was glued to her face. I didn’t trust her because she was behaving like she was “on” something — bouncing off the walls like Tigger and striking up conversation with me? But, from that point on, I sort of became her “target” friend — she clung to me to every meeting and event, etc. She was very, very kind with her compliments. Lisa spoke in an intensely cliche Latin-American accent, her brain mixing it up with Spanish and English causing a distinct Latina/ghetto girl lexicon. She told me that I was “so fuckin cute” and that I reminded her of her son. There was nothing else to do but hang out with her and listen to her life story. So far I sound really judgmental of her, but that’s only because I was judging her at first. I shouldn’t have done that — but being trapped in such a negative environment brought out the worst in me. Lisa, when medicated, spoke quite rationally and even had a decent vocabulary. She was competent and self-aware. She was a survivor, a person who survived such shitty turmoil that not a single white middle-class American person like myself could even fathom. Lisa’s crystal meth issue landed her in this program for the 5th time.
Lisa and I — bizarre as it sounds — connected really well. Lisa articulated bipolar disorder with such clarity and I found myself agreeing and relating to everything she said, or explained. Lisa uses crystal meth to self-medicate during extreme, uncontrollable episodes of mania that would go on for many, many weeks at a time. Lisa lost custody of her two kids for pretty much most of their entire lives. Luckily, she remains involved with them, and they visited her on the visitation days. Lisa showed me beautiful artwork she made with all of the resources she had — mostly mixed-media pieces that she hung around the bed in her room. What really intrigued me was this one day we were in her room, sitting on her bed, and she thoroughly explained the meanings behind the images in these pieces — it was really impressive and fascinating. She had this great ability to visually communicate her inner-madness using typical arts and crafts materials. Lisa knew right off the bat how therapeutic it was for her to make these collage/mixed pieces. Over time, they became more sophisticated and detailed, including one that had tiny cuts of red tissue paper in a carefully-drawn anatomical picture of the human brain — the paper severed in half, divided, separated. The tissue paper represented chaos — yet it was a chaos she understood, and a chaos that I understood when she explained it. Different afflictions like guilt, craving, need, anger, control, lack of control, love, hatred, compassion, apathy, humor, carelessness, recklessness, panic. In the middle it appeared similar to a Venn-diagram in the “grey space” between the two parts of her brain: a multi-layered chunk of tissue paper representing madness — her madness and her relationship with it. Its control. Its bothersome bind between her emotional polarities. Moments with her consisted of major humor, hilarious stories — her ability to express dark humor was much appreciated by me. Then, at times, she’d project negativity toward me that was odd and misconstrued and always, always irreconcilable. No compromise. Only her perception, her distortion, her surrender to cerebral madness and its unforgiving grip on her ability to live her life with functional behavior.
I began to question behavior altogether — it’s concept. Are people like Lisa really damaged, crazy, and mad? Are they just people expressing their lives cursed with conflict — their mental illnesses defining them? Lisa can go to an AA or NA meeting and easily identify herself as an addict, but she’d probably first identify herself as bipolar, crazy, or angry before anything else. Lisa will probably continue to use crystal meth on and off for the rest of her life as a way to cope with her disease and to supply her sense of self with pleasure that she is perpetually devoid of. She will be in and out of hospitals, clinics, facilities, rehabs, whatever you want to call them. But she’s going to these places and being treated like an addict — just how I was being treated. Counseling, one-on-one therapy at least twice a week, for as long as she wants, combined with legal medications are, to me, her best bet in regard to her wrestle with madness. I don’t think she’s mad, I don’t think her brain is severed into two, I don’t think she’s unattractive, and I don’t like how all I thought about was her appearance at first. But, I’m superficial and lacking the life experience of these harrowed individuals. Now, I’m not so much. I do not judge addicts, drug users. There is some kind of reason they sought out the substance. Maybe it is a choice, maybe it is not a choice they make. Does it really matter? Is it their choice to suffer with a mental illness? Absolutely not. Is it their choice to struggle with mental illness in a judgmental, misconstrued, and an ignorant, cruel society? No. Society is incredibly cruel to these people who have already endured so much.
My heart strings have been tugged to their fullest extent. I can’t go to bed at night without these people in my heart. Without forgetting their struggles they tuck away and fall asleep with every night. They wake up and it’s still there — all of it. In a world so chaotic, hopelessness becomes quite understandable. Not necessarily acceptable — but there’s reasoning behind it that I comprehend now more than I ever have.