Wrong door, Right Place

The following is a possible trigger for C-PTSD, major depressive disorder with recurrent severe w/o psychotic features, generalized anxiety with panic attacks, which also happens to be my diagnosis.

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline Call 1-800-273-8255 Available 24 hours everyday

Due to a lack of a psychiatrist, I was switched off one anti-depressant which kept me stable to another one at the lowest dose. Within a week of the switch, a couple months ago, my world came to a crashing halt.

I noticed that I wasn’t calling my friends as frequently but didn’t realize that isolation is one of my first go to’s. Then I stopped painting or writing and what I did write was short, tidy, and not up to my particular liking, but oh well, publish it anyway. I started wondering why I felt so sad all the time, but still, my alarm bells never rang.

By the time I was sleeping 16-18 hours a day, I realized I was in over my head. I felt like a complete failure to not have understood how far down I was going. It wasn’t very long when I started thinking, “What is the purpose of being alive? We’re going to die and within a couple years, nobody will remember me like they don’t my best friend Bean after she died a couple years back (in my house an hour after she told me she loved me and asked to sleep for one more hour that cost her life.)

I’d chat on the phone with whomever I needed to, but I couldn’t form the words asking for help. Strong women don’t do that, only weak women and I’m definitely NOT that. I had tears pouring out of my face washing oceans across my lap. And yet, as my vision faded to black, my therapist suggested I go to an outpatient program at a hospital because it would be more intensive than she could help me with. She saved my life.

I showed up first thing in the morning and parked in front of the main doors to the hospital. I started to cry. I was so raw, the gaze of the lady at the counter seared my muscle, sinew, and bones. I wanted to throw myself on the floor and beg for help, but instead, I choked back the sobbing wail and asked the receptionist to register for the day program. She asked me to have a seat.

A pleasant looking woman offered me a chair in the assessment room. I thought, “Oh great, quizzes about where I am on a scale of 1-10.” She asked why I was there to which I became suspicious of her question.

“I came to register for the day program because my therapist said it was a good idea.” I offered.

She asked me questions about my state of mind. This is going to sound obvious, but do not tell the lady in the assessment room: “Why are we even here? What’s the point in living? I wish I was dead.” You get the picture. It was gruesome in my head, but once I started I kept going.

She said something about thanks for being honest. She left the room for a bit. I started crying again, or maybe I hadn’t stopped. I don’t remember. I already had a two tissue deep finger cast I kept dabbing my eyes with as needed (frequently).

When she returned she sat down across from me and leaned over the desk. “I don’t think you’re safe right now. You have threatened your own life. We’re going to keep you for a few days so you can get back on your feet again.” I sobbed heavily.

I wanted to hate her. I wanted to blame her for my darkness because knowing my brain was attacking me, realizing that she was right and hating myself for my weakness, I signed a ream of paperwork. She allowed me to make a couple calls while she processed the paperwork.

I called my mom and my husband and told them what was happening. I arranged for my mom to get the car to Ben. I continued sobbing. I couldn’t breathe. I felt like a crumpled piece of fish soaked newspaper. She asked me to remove my jewelry. I begged to keep the necklace with Bean’s ashes in it to which they relented.

With just the clothes on my back, I started following the first person who said “Follow me.”

Locked door, hallway, locked door, hallway, etc.

The path unclear, I dragged behind as the realization of anxiety dripped through my body, causing me to flush sweat. I started sensory soothing by rubbing my fingertips together and lengthening my breath to settle my shoulders.

Locked door, hallway, locked door, hallway, etc.

There were people there dressed in shorts, bathrobes, jeans and t-shirts, while the staff seemed human, I was screaming weakly in my over-crowded brain. There were men and women sitting randomly on the floor having various volumes of phone conversations that I couldn’t understand as I tried to keep up with the quick walking leader.

Locked door, hallway, locked door, hallway, locked door.

As she opened the door she started explaining stuff about rules of my new temporary home. I couldn’t pay attention long enough to get half of what she said. My panic level kept rising as we approached the nurses station.

Over the course of the next few hours, I was poked, prodded, gauged, tagged, and hung upside down by my rear feet. That’s not true about the tagging and rear feet. I got all processed, given a room with a fresh made bed where I struggled to sleep against the every 15 minute life-check. At bedtime, I took whatever they gave me, and slept fitfully.

The schedule is rigid and filled with groups to help give tools to be used when we got released. The age span was varied across generations. The rise and fall of their humming with sparkles of laughter seemed alien. It had been so long since I wanted to smile.

Fast forward to Saturday when I “woke up”, looked around and wondered what the hell I did this time. Some things from the fog began arriving at light-speed with the resounding shuddering groan of burdened heart. I was feeling physically better with a sidekick of humor.

The people stationed with me in the prison of lost souls finding their way home again were unbelievably kind, introspective, wise, giving, and genuinely looking out for each other. We exchanged our journey through the mental health system like trading cards spread out in an emotional three-card monte.

It wasn’t as morbid as you may think. It was soothing to know that other people have experienced horrors like mine. They made me feel “normal” again. They helped me believe in the amputations that we endured in our psyches that couldn’t touch who we were really are. They gave me hope even when they didn’t have it themselves. I needed those battle-worn veterans mingling their stories with mine, conjuring solutions through our newly refreshed communication skills.

I got released on Tuesday afternoon on the condition that I’d arrive Wednesday morning at 8AM for Outpatient Therapy classes to which I agreed. My mom came to get me and bring me home. I made her a card in art class which she loved. She brought me a hot cup of coffee with hazelnut creamer in it. I practically chugged it down. “Ah, nectar of the Gods.” (Bless you Bapa). I felt relief, excitement, loving, and most of all I felt and feel grateful to be alive.

Wednesday morning arrives and I return to the same door I went in the last time. I ask the receptionist where I could find the day program.

“You go back out the doors you came in and drive down the side of the building where you’ll see the door to get in.” She directed. I thanked her while thinking thoughts of wonder.

Sure as tooting, I drove around, parking in the back lot where the door actually was. As I parked, my favorite Bible verse: Isaiah 43:1: “…Don’t fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name; you are mine.” appeared in my mind’s eye. It brings me deep comfort because I imagine LOVE saying that to me. It fills me to the brim.

I am very blessed to have walked into that main door instead of the Day Program I was supposed to find. I AM strong. I am not my diagnosis. It is an issue with my chemistry being out of whack. I do believe I am a miracle. I’m feeling a thousand times better than I did a week ago when dying seemed like a great idea. It wasn’t. It isn’t. Call

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline Call 1-800-273-8255 Available 24 hours everyday

Holy Water

pitcher

I have a Baptist church pitcher of holy water on my counter

I don’t know how many Sunday’s it witnessed

(Can I get an amen, brothers and sisters?!),

but I celebrate the holy water it gives and they gave me.

The preacher arrived bearing a coffee cup filled with good will

opening their church home to me with an invitation

I accepted.

I didn’t accept because they were giving me something

I did, wanting to find a church home, with loving heart

Sunday arrived as did the parishioner to cart me to redemption

There I sat in a church so big, cold, overly puritanical

The ceilings dripped chandeliers over the congregation

I sat through the service where the nice people smiled nicely

I sat through bible study which didn’t feel much like home

I hugged while exchanging pleasantries

with a half-promise to return and a Baptist pitcher in hand.

About a week later, the pastor, accompanied by a scary believer

showed up just in time to help unload my chicken coop.

We shared our views where we sent one another away in love.

But I think of them every Sunday when I nurture my plants

as well as every night when I set the coffee pot with holy water

Blazing Bonfire

I’m watching the orange hat man in the red flannel shirt and black gloves drink beer and toss corn hole.

His game partner is more pale of skin, wearing Lions jacket and a black hat. I suspect he is a Ryan or Chad, possibly a Todd.

The lattice fence behind them holds the picket porch at arm’s length.

A burst of laughter erupts. Orange hat guy has the orange bag that he curls in circles in his hand.

When he releases the bag at the top of the arch, his hand is like a painting in a city-scape for urban happiness.

A smolder plumes lightly with the breeze that precedes the storm threatening the evening hours.

Flap-flap hat and baseball cap are covering up the fire or adding up a larger stash.

Orange hat guy lights up a smoke. He has…HOLY BLAZES of black smoke and Christmas trees!

They’re all watching it burn. The pine tar smoke rises thick with quick and danger because the speed changed.

They’re up by the garage where I sometimes pass at night.

They’re pouring more gas. I’m slightly afraid of the large tree within wind distance from their need to burn.

Flap-flap hat guy is smoking a cigarette. He has a mustache. He reminds me of my brother and his friends before the military.

Baseball hat guy wears his brim forward and sports a full beard and mustache set neatly trimmed. Probably married.

Corn hole continues. Black and orange teams throw up-handed and across board.

Black hat dude just pissed by the garage with his back to me. His shoulders shook as he finished.

Orange hat dude paraded through the back yard with a baby in pink jacket and red polka dot dress. She flew above the fence.

Leaked Material

I approached the advertising door that beckoned liquid promises from within the belching bowels of the aged establishment. The sign above the door used to have a name emblazoned on it, but the only clear remaining word is BAR in crinkled red letters. I pulled open the squalling door, pushed past the sour scent of drunken spills.

Rusty people wilted in the semi-dark while they sat on uncomfortably broken dreams that smell faintly of piss, farts, and painful yesterdays. I tucked into one of the two booths in the corner which garnered an eye roll from the overweight but still attractive bartender. Her bleached blonde hair required a touch less hairspray and a bit more dye. She rested her cigarette on the edge of the ashtray she shared with a hunched old man in graying overalls. He blended in with the dust as if he purposefully wore camouflage to hide from himself in the large mirror he sat across from.

“What’ll it be, sweetheart?” She asked with red lipstick staining her front tooth but not her lips. There is evidence of why on her cup and on the filter of her temporarily left behind addiction. She half attempted a smile.

“Beer, whatever you have on tap.” I reply as I skinned my coat from my shoulders. “And a bag of those chips.” I pointed at the display behind the bar.

“Honey, you don’t want those. I’ve worked here for twelve years and those have never been changed. In fact, I don’t think we’ve ever sold a one in here, ain’t that right, Bob?” She called over her shoulder. Bob takes a drag of his cigarette in reply. “I’ll just get you a beer.” She sauntered away.

Neon colored misspelled signs flicker reminders that hope comes in brown bottles and icy mugs of temporary happiness. A middle aged business man at the far end of the bar tapped a cigarette from the pack on the bar in front of him. He punctuated his inhale of the silver blue smoke with a cough; a slow suicide sparked to life with a touch of fiery death.

A pair of younger men, blue collar workers discussed the murmur of sports flailing in the air. The scores trickle across the screen with occasional hoots from the duo. The only thing that changes in their conversation are the names of the players and scores depending on the season.

The bartender slings a double shot down to the businessman, tops off the sports duos mugs, cracks a bottle of cheap beer for Bob, delivers a frothy mug of ale to my table which she rests on a cardboard coaster with the worn face of a woman holding mugs. I pay for the beer, give a generous tip so she wouldn’t roll her eyes at me any more, and settled back in the booth to wait.

The House of Flushing

toiletmary

The first fish in our story was named Five. Five died trying to live out of water because Claymore insisted, as a goldfish, he could do it. Five believed and leapt from the water. Goldie tried to stop him, but Five wanted to believe so badly, nothing Goldie said could dissuade the ambitions of the follower. Five flopped for a bit on the tank stand after his leap of faith. After a several minutes Five expired and began bloating.

This all took place in and around a small aquarium, in a small apartment in a large building in a big noisy city. The walls of the apartment, where the fish could see, were dingy gray except in the bathroom where the walls were a soothing green-gray. The toilet sparkled cleanly from where the sunlight streamed in from a small window that wasn’t visible from the tank.

The remaining fish in the aquarium were: Claymore, a beautiful maroon Betta fish, Goldie who shone like the sun, Flipper who had black fins, and Tipper who had a black tipped tail.

Claymore was an intelligently charismatic Betta fish. He loved to coax the unintelligent goldfish that lived with him in the aquarium to believe in silly things. His nemesis, Goldie, a voice of reason, couldn’t be convinced of the nonsense. Goldie never believed anything Claymore said because Claymore was always wrong.

When Five died, Claymore held a meeting.

“Tonight, when the human comes home, we’re going to watch as Five is carried away in holiness. He will be released into the water where he will become baptized as a new fish, then sent to a better place. Behold, the holy fountain filled with rejuvenating water!” Claymore gestured with his fin towards the porcelain stool visible in the bathroom. Hanging above the toilet was a beautiful wall hanging with a human woman wearing a blue robe and pointing to a rose encircled heart on her breast

“I can see it. I believe it. Oh, Claymore, you’re so smart. Will I be sent to the fountain when I become like Five?” inquired Flipper. “I do hope so.”

“Of course, Sister Flipper.” Replied Claymore with false wisdom. “If you follow me, I’ll make sure you get there. The Mother of the Holy Fountain will guide your way if you only believe.”

Tipper, the follower, decided that if Flipper was going to do it, so would he. He wasn’t very good at coming up with ideas of his own anyway. He depended on his friends to show him what was right. If he ever felt like he had an idea, he’d just talk to Claymore or Flipper and they’d set him straight.

But Tipper knew that if he went to Goldie, all that fish would tell him is, “Think for yourself. Don’t be a follower.” Goldie made it impossible to get anything accomplished.

That evening, their human returned to find Five bloated and quite ripe next to the aquarium. Claymore called Tipper and Flipper to the worship service.

“Just as I predicted, our human has discovered the failure of Five to survive his leap of faith.” Stated Claymore in a stage whisper which caused Goldie to burble angrily.

The female human set down her belongings with a frown on her face. She disappeared into one of the rooms that couldn’t be seen, returning with a pair of long slender tongs.

“See how the human won’t taint the body with her flippers? She is using tools…”
“What are tools?” inquired Tipper.

Without allowing the interruption, Claymore continued, “As she carefully lifts Five, watch as she transports him to the holy fountain. Pray with me.” He intoned as the human dropped Five’s body into the commode. “Dear Mother of the Holy Fountain, accept the body of our brother Five. Rejuvenate him into a whole and living flesh.”

The human pushed the holy fountain’s silver button, a whoosh of swirling sound, and Five’s body was carried down the tubes.

“And now, my dear brethren, we wait. In three days, a new living Five will return to us.”

If goldfish could blink, Tipper and Flipper would have been in rapturous prayer. As it was, Tipper blubbed a bit, imitating Flipper. The wait began.

During the period of waiting, Goldie spent a lot of time swimming around, thinking deep thoughts. Like Claymore, Goldie taught himself to read by observing anything the human set near the tank. He could even proudly recite his address, understood there was more than just the aquarium they lived in, and despised Claymore for toying with the others of his kind.

As predicted a new fish showed up on the third day, a fancy-tailed goldfish with white tipped fins and tail. Tipper and Flipper rushed to greet the new Five.

“My name isn’t Five. I’m Gardita,” flounced the newcomer. “Why do you keep calling me that?”

“Because! You returned to us, just like Claymore told us you would, Five.”

“I told you. My name is Gardita, not Five.”

Gardita hid in the plastic plants near the bottom, avoiding contact with the two lunatics. She and Goldie watched as Flipper and Tipper followed Claymore around the aquarium as if he were a God. She watched as two of the others gave up extra shares of food. Claymore grew larger.

The two leaders of the aquarium approached the new fish at the same time.

“My name is Claymore, welcome to our place of holy pilgrimage.” Articulated the Betta-fish. Tipper and Flipper swayed behind him with pure faith seeping from their scales. “I apologize for the ardent fervor which my disciples are enraptured by, but they just saw you resurrect as the new Five.”

“Don’t pay attention to him. Welcome, Gardita.” Interrupted Goldie. “I’m the only sane one around here, it would seem.”

“Why do they keep calling me Five?” probed the pretty new fish. “No matter how many times I tell them.”

“That,” said Claymore as he slapped his flipper over Goldie’s mouth, “is because I showed the way to holiness to my swimming friends.”

Goldie bit Claymore’s fin.

“No, that’s because he lied to them. He told the last fish here, whose name WAS Five, that he could live outside the bowl. He convinced him to jump to his death.”

“No, I showed him the path to righteousness.” Countered Claymore.

“You killed him just because he believed you.”

“Whoa! Whoa! Whoa!” Disrupted Gardita while swimming between the fighting fish. “Claymore, you killed Five?”

Tipper and Flipper swam in front of the large Betta-fish. “Not at all. He showed Five how to become holy by taking a leap of faith.” Chorused the submissive fish. Claymore merely watched as his two faithful followers described the rousing tale of Five’s glorious death and subsequent resurrection into Gardita.

“But, I’m not Five. I’m Gardita. I was hatched in a giant store among many other fish. I was chosen because I was the prettiest one of all of them as you can tell,” the pretty fish fluttered every so prettily. “I am a girl, not a boy.”

“They can’t hear you. They believe anything that idiot tells them,” urged Goldie. “You’d be best to avoid them.”

“I think you’re right.” Agreed Gardita.

But her promise didn’t last long with Claymore constantly whispering in her ear. She fought valiantly against Tipper and Flipper reassuring her of Claymore’s holy message. Gardita couldn’t take it anymore. She committed to Claymore’s message. She became Five.

Five died trying to live out of water because Claymore insisted, as a goldfish, she could do it. Five believed and leapt from the water. Goldie tried to stop her, but Five wanted to believe so badly, nothing Goldie said could dissuade the ambitions of the follower.

Five flopped for a bit on the tank stand after her leap of faith. After a several minutes Five expired and began bloating. The cycle continued.

 

Lady Di’s Crown Royale

Your friend for life, Bill

Bill Busing was a well respected man in Oak Ridge, TN. Heck, anywhere he went he was thought highly of because of his chemistry knowledge, his humanitarian efforts, and his advocacy for people with mental health issues. He was a positive ask-anyone-about-him type of fellow. Because of this, I don’t want to tell you about that. I’d like to tell you about my friendship with him.

Each Sunday at ORUUC (Oak Ridge Unitarian Universalist Church), I would seek out and find those that needed hugs. It was my thing. Some people, like my dad, for instance, bring candy to church for the wee ones. I brought hugs in abundance. I hugged the old, the young, the feeble, the in-betweens, but I always sought out Bill. Not because I preferred him above others, but because he was born decades but days from my birthday. I felt a special bond with him that I can’t really explain.

When he didn’t show up for church, I’d miss him something awful. When he gave me his phone number so I wouldn’t worry about him, I felt like I’d been given the golden ticket. It wasn’t long before we decided to go for coffee. He seemed both pleased and genuinely surprised to discover that I really did seek his company.

We arranged and met at Starbucks on the Oak Ridge Turnpike. I got there first and I scored the corner seats with a table in between them. When he arrived he insisted on paying because he bought special fund raising cards from the church and he wanted to make sure they got used. I thought that very philanthropic, he thought it very practical.

Coffee in hand, we sat down in the corner and chatted for nearly two hours. We covered topics such as family, life events, careers (mine far shorter and less stellar than his), marriage and faith. He was not one for easy laughter, even with me. But when he did, it was rich and full-bodied and worth the effort to coax it from him. He was quite serious but not really; more like a human paradox (like we all are).

After that initial meeting, we met frequently at different venues around town. Sometimes we’d go to Panera Bread where he’d bring his close friend Cherie with him. It was always a delight to see the two of them interact because she was far more vibrant than he, but he seemed to find her antics amusing. Our conversations never stayed on one topic for very long. We’d cover a gamut of issues from politics to religion. He never shied away from anything. He was a brave conversationalist in that aspect.

Once, after I’d moved away, I had returned for a visit. After I walked him to his car, I hugged him extra tight, his hunched shoulders seemed to melt as he held me warmly.

“Bill, I’m so glad I got a chance to see you again. I want to make you a promise.”

“Oh, you don’t have to promise me anything. It’s okay.” He rebuffed me gently.

“No, really. I want to promise you that as long as I’m able, I’ll write to you every time I get a letter. I won’t forget you.” I said with earnest and sincerity.

“Oh, I thought you were getting serious on me.” He chuckled. “Then I will promise you the same thing. As long as I’m able, I will write you letters.”

From that day on, a card would arrive about once a week, most commonly bi-weekly. I replied as soon as I got one as did he. His favorite way to write letters was on the inside of various greeting cards. He talked about his daughter, Lesley, and his growing concern for her but also his joy that he could have dinner with her during the week. He told me about his adventures with Miss Cherie and the people he helped along the way.

During a particularly rough patch of grief, I wrote to Bill and lamented my despair. “I’m lost. I just feel like giving up some days. I miss my people. I miss my tribe. I miss my home.” Those aren’t the exact words, but they are close. His reply was gentle.

“Knowing grief is just a part of life. It comes and it goes. There is only one way to deal with it, just keep living. Being sad all the time isn’t going to make it better. You have to live. You have a new place to be with your husband and family. Don’t give up when there is life to live.” (again paraphrased).

At that time, I remember just crying harder because he, and people like him, are the very reason I was grieving in the first place. I held on to that March letter, in essence breaking my promise, pondering the words he’d written. By early April I’d decided he was right and I was not going to give up easily. I wrote him a letter telling him as much. I wrote the letter up and sent it out on Monday the 11th of April. He got the letter on the 12th. He passed on the 14th. No letter returned.

As I sit here on the first of January 2017, I think about how many times I’ve cried about giving up in this past year as I’ve battled a scary bout of depression. Even with people I love cheering me on, how he signed his letters is one of the key elements that keep me going. He really did teach me something better than chemistry.

Your friend for life, Bill.