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Blog: Third Floor South, Room 333

(originally written 3/29/12)

I've been told many, many times over the years that I'm mentally unstable.
And now the medical profession agrees.
I'll begin with the admission I haven't been forthright with most of those in my life—or myself—about a lot of issues. (Surprise, surprise.)  The deception wasn't meant to further personal gain or personal amusement like my usual assortment of lies. Rather, it sprouted from shame, necessary to protect what was left of my crumbling ego.
There's a lot to tell, and I'll try to do it succinctly: since the ex and I split last summer, I've been forced to take up residence back home in Vallejo, which I swore I'd never do, but had to anyway due to circumstances. Since the ex and I split last summer, she can barely contain her bitter vitriol towards me, and seldom tries to.
Since the ex and I split last summer, I've been able to see Josie for, at most, four days a week if I'm lucky. Since the ex and I split last summer, I've joined—and inexplicably ditched—the best job I've ever had, FedEx, and have yet to latch on elsewhere. (Thank God for family.)
Too proud to admit the truth and unwilling to burden anyone with my problems, I mostly bottled these events (and the toll they were taking on me) up, putting up the bravest face I could and trying to enjoy life while privately falling deeper and deeper into what I now know was depression. There is a history of it in my family, and it explains some of my erratic, downright bizarre behavior over the years—which had been worsening in recent months. As 2011 became 2012, I knew something was wrong with me upstairs (beyond the usual weirdness.)
Always impatient, I was beginning to make scenes in public if lines did not move quickly enough. I was often on edge, angry with society as a whole. The slightest bit of frustration—a missing key, a slow computer, running out of something—would erupt into full-out RAGE, with me cursing, screaming and sending things flying across the room with little to no ability to harness myself. In large part due to my extreme oversensitivity, my pro writing career lasted less than a month. Additionally, as noted in a previous blog, I've cried more this year alone than I had the entire previous decade. 
All these issues (and a few others) came to a head Saturday night/Sunday morning, March 16/17...

Saturday didn't exactly begin auspiciously. In fact, it sucked royally, at least until I rolled up to a St. Patrick's Day party at a friend's house in the early evening. In spite of hours of fun with longtime buds and their kids, I couldn't shake the earlier events of Saturday, or the last few months, from my mind. They began to feel like extra weight.
I get home and sleep a couple of hours, waking at about 1:45 a.m. I laid there in bed, doing the one thing that always gets me in trouble: thinking. Thinking about the craptastic beginning to Saturday, losing my treasured FedEx gig, kissing off my promising blogging gig, missing my kid, missing my independence, thinking about my fellow Class of '98 partygoers who'd gone on to marry, start families, build careers and buy homes, while I somehow derailed from the tracks.
It isn't easy to reveal what happened next, but it's crucial to the story. Besides, I now have a medical explanation as to why it happened, so here goes: 
For over an hour early Sunday morning, I seriously considered hastening the Conclusion. As in the Conclusion of Skillz. I was just out of fight. Just tired of everyone and everything. Little, if any, hope to speak of.
Given my well-known lack of impulse control, I honestly think that had I been alone that night, it might have been my last. These were serious, scary thoughts. I'd never had them before.
I eventually drifted off to sleep somehow. First thing I did upon waking four hours later was call for help, for I didn't trust myself to be alone in a house full of...opportunity. My family and friends, and most of all my daughter, deserved that much.
Two policemen came and drove me to the hospital, where I was examined, assessed, put on 51-50 with a guard planting roots outside my door, and kept waiting literally all day for transfer via ambulance to a care facility—St. Helena Hospital north of Napa won out over locales in Oakland and (gulp) Sacramento. Yes, I would have manipulated my situation into meeting Rob, Arnie & Dawn had Sacramento taken me.
Try to picture me in the back of an ambulance, strapped to a gurney per policy, conversing with the medic with my eyes shut because I'm too tired to keep them open at this point (we'd left the hospital at 11:00pm, returned about halfway over a paperwork snafu, and didn't finally make it to St. Helena til 12:30 Monday morning).
I'd hoped they'd just let me sleep, but for literally the fifth time in 12 hours, I was asked to explain my Conclusion thoughts/plans in detail to some nerdy young chick who, thankfully, never again crossed my path. The mental health recovery area of St. Helena is on Third Floor South and consists of an A-side, and a B-side for those with "behavioral" issues. The only open bed upon my arrival was in Room 333—on the B-side. So as tired as I was, I couldn't drift off out of fear my roommate would eat me. Not the ideal Conclusion.
Clean clothes weren't arriving until the afternoon and I refused to go near anyone until I'd had a shower, so most of Monday morning/afternoon I spent in my room, listening to my roommate repeatedly flip over in bed for no reason, like a dog chasing his tail. Ultimately I did have to meet with one Dr. Farion, and a social worker, Teri.
By law all 51-50's are mandated to stay at St. Helena for 72 hours minimum, at which time (Thursday morning) my condition would be re-evaluated. If I were better, I could go home, or I could be placed on a 52-50 and kept up to 14 more days. Though by Thursday I had improved somewhat, I'd only begun my medications Wednesday, and my doctor insisted I stay a few more days for observation. I agreed—by then I'd been moved to A-side, was roommate-free, had made a sweet new friend named Nicole, and was fully invested not only in a book of logic puzzles, but also a 1200-piece jigsaw puzzle. Ah, the simple life.
Recreation activities at St. Helena are limited, but as an only child I can entertain myself in virtually any circumstance so serving my ultimately eight-day "sentence" didn't carry the tedium it did for others—such as 23-year-old "Jesse". When he wasn't screaming at the top of his lungs in the middle of the night about his "stolen shoes", he spent every day simply pacing the hall back and forth, occasionally stopping to eat and/or relieve himself. Poor kid just had no clue how to entertain himself without electronic devices or drugs (neither of which were allowed. Neither were shoelaces or belts, for that matter, meaning I had to walk with hands in pockets at all times to keep from mooning the community.)
Vernon was my regular day nurse, and a damn good one at that. He made me feel as if I was his only patient—no small matter given my fragile state of mind. About the only knock I have on Vernon is that he lacked bulging cleavage like two of the other nurses. 
Explaining everything to Dr. Farion over the next few days that I explained here, it didn't take him long to determine I was manic depressive, a.k.a. bipolar. Going over a list the top 12 symptoms of depression, I'd experienced 11 of them—often. Dang. (The lone unchecked box: hearing voices.) 
For the foreseeable future, in between pancakes and picnic, I must down a couple of Zoloft. Between picnic and pizza, it's three Depakotes and an Ativan for anxiety.
That Zoloft is some powerful s---, I kid you not. Bernard Hopkins couldn't knock you out faster. If you drive within 30 minutes of taking it, you WILL end up in the ocean. Even if your trip starts in Montana.
No blog about my hospital stay would be complete if I omitted some of the characters from around the hospital. (Names altered to protect privacy). Let's begin with 20-year-old "Jessica". What was life with Jessica like?
(Jessica and I are situated in the community room)
JESSICA: Why do I hear voices in my head?
ME: I'm not a doctor. I can't tell you.
JESSICA: It's because I killed Satan.
ME: Well, no good deed goes unpunished.
Then there's "Kurt", a generally unlikable guy with a nasty disposition and a dislike for white people and "Palestinians". Which is ironic, as he appears to be a white/Palestinian mix himself. He lacked the capability to go very long without swearing and/or complaining, and by Friday, I was spending more and more time in my room just to avoid him.
One day we were actually having a meaningful discussion. Kids, relationships, work—I didn't know he could converse civilly for five minutes. Then, right on cue, he began to inform me of the "Revolution" he was planning. Also on cue, my doctor beckoned for me. I could have kissed him. 
Friday night "Kimmy" and "Kelsey" were kind enough to join us. 19-year-old Kimmy was just about the most over-the-top, saccharine, bubbly teenybopper I've ever met. I'm trying to recall any sentence she spoke that did not include the word "like" or "my boyfriend" but I can't cuz THERE WEREN'T ANY. 
Honestly, I think she missed the bus for cheerleading tryouts and just jumped in the very next vehicle that passed, unconcerned with its destination. There's no other plausible explanation for her presence at that hospital.
24-year-old Kelsey is one of those people who craves attention, is totally in love with herself, and has no patience for any discussion that isn't about her—the kind who asks you how you're doing just so you'll ask it back. She sported at least three non-ear facial piercings (hey, look at me!), talked unnecessarily loud to her kids on the community phone (hey, look at me!) and never missed an opportunity to share her plans to try out for American Idol next year (hey, look at me!).
On one occasion she spoke in group for about five minutes (about five times the normal length) but couldn't even sit through two other people speaking before booking it.
Another time she burst into my room and placed herself between me and a fellow patient. I politely acknowledged her and included her in our discussion, but when I refused to change the subject to her, she simply walked out. Honest to God, she was carrying a notebook with multiple sketches of her own name. Egad...
Betcha woulda never guessed that as the reason behind my hospitalization. 
I regret not being forthright about things; pride wouldn't allow it. But I now understand these setbacks are a byproduct of a medical condition I didn't know I had, they're temporary, and one day I will be back in the 408 where I belong. Right now, I'm just focusing on my health, supporting Nicole, and staying medicated so that Josie has a dad for decades to come—and so the number of anger-fueled dents in my car stays forever frozen at four. (There's actually a funny story behind that third dent, but I'm not here to talk about the past.)
My temper has already "tempered", my sleep has improved, and the only Conclusion I have planned is the conclusion of this blog.

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