The Positivity Kit

Eleven days ago I called the hospital where I had my two November inpatient stays to ask about admitting myself.  Ever since my psychiatrist failed to tell me that my latest suicide plan was non-fatal, I’ve been obsessed with dying.  I didn’t want to die.  I have so many things to live for.  I just feared the 10% chance that impulsivity would overtake me and I’d wind up dead.  Just as I was feeling I needed to go to the hospital, Sadie told me that Sierra suggested a therapy vacation.  (As it turns out, she only meant individual therapy, not DBT group, and DBT group is what I was actually burnt out on.)

So I was in the three week time span of this “vacation” when I called and asked if I could be admitted.  The hospital is in a neighboring state, and the admissions nurse was prepared to have me drive up there and come in, until she found out I have out-of-state Medicaid.  She told me they absolutely would not admit anyone under those circumstances.  Except…I was there twice last fall, with the same insurance situation.

I called again the next day, hoping someone else would give me a different answer.  It took over two hours to receive a call back, then that nurse said she’d need to transfer me to the financial department.  I left a message there, and never received a return call.  Around 6 pm I had mom take me to the local ER, in hopes that the staff there could facilitate a transfer as they had in the past.

I met with an on-call therapist, Charles, who I had previously met and hated.  He didn’t think a 10% chance of suicide was worth worrying about, but it’s not his call, and the on-call psychiatrist disagreed.  The plan was to try getting me admitted to the hospital I’d called, and if they wouldn’t take me I’d be willing to be admitted locally.

That’s not what happened.  Through a series of lack of communication and being bullied by ER staff, I ended up at an unfamiliar hospital in my state, but two-and-a-half hours from home.  I had been prepared to tell the staff at my preferred hospital to keep me at least a week no matter what I said trying to convince them otherwise.  I know me.  I know I will try to get out.  That’s exactly what I did at this new hospital.  I didn’t even give it a chance.  I just freaked out and in less than 24 hours had signed an AMA form (to be discharged against medical advice).

The psychiatrist who saw me the next day said that, since I actually wanted to leave Monday, I needed to fill out the form again.  This made no sense to me or to any other staff, except that one nurse suggested he was using it as a loophole, because he had to choose between discharging me AMA or getting a 72-hour emergency detention from a judge and maybe he really disliked both options.

At any rate, I saw the normal weekday psychiatrist for the first time on Monday, and by 9 pm Monday night I was back home.  I knew almost as soon as I left that this was a horrible mistake, and it doesn’t seem like my mom even cares.  The closest she came to seeming concerned was to interrupt a sobbing meltdown yesterday to ask if she needed to call 911, to which my response was, “That would land me in jail because I would fight their asses.”  I would.  I adore cops, but there is no way in hell I am ever letting one take me to a hospital again.

So where does the “positivity” in the title come from?  Well, to explain that I must first explain the turtle.

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On Sunday we had the option of leaving the unit for art therapy.  This is normally my favorite part of any inpatient stay.  Not so much this time.  The art room was crowded with furniture and way too many people.  The tables were filthy with paint smears and plaster dust.  Then, instead of announcing a project, the art therapist gave us a quick tour of what was in every drawer and cabinet, and told us to engage in free expression.  I was anxious in that room and overwhelmed by the choices.  I chose the fuse beads because those supplies were already sitting out, on a table away from the rest of the crowd.  I had my turtle ready in record time, then asked if I could please stand in the doorway because the room made me anxious.  They went so far as to let me sit on the floor in the hall.

I looked at my turtle all the time during the rest of my stay.  Despite the suffering associated with him, I think he may be my favorite thing I’ve ever made in a hospital.  Then I stumbled upon a book titled The Positivity Kit by Lisa Currie.  It was marked on the front that we should have copies made rather than writing in the book.  As with the art room, I was far too overwhelmed to choose pages, so I asked a staff member to copy four or five random pages for me.  When I got home I ordered the book for myself.

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I have yet to even write my name on the first page as the book instructs me to do, but I hope to make it a colorful reminder of happy memories and wishes for the future.

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Poem: Lemons 2 Limoncello

Nearly 3 years ago I had someone who was a friend and then suddenly she wasn’t.  I ran into that person today after not seeing her for all this time, and we said hello as we passed but otherwise ignored each other.  I’m not pleased to have seen her – that event was out of my mind and now I’m saddened by it all over again.

This encounter reminded me that the last poem I ever wrote, back when I still had creativity, was about her:

After a long, hard day toiling for insufficient pay, I often wend my way
to the mini-fridge for some rum, coconut-tinged.
One finger poured and covered, smothered
with a fist of cream soda – vanilla smooth and not-too-bubbly –
the poison I pick to have a little fun, feel a little numb.

This day was longer, harder; losing you is a bitter pill,
tough to wash down – can’t rinse the taste of you out of my mouth.
Trash the rum, I need an upgrade – a splash or five of vodka
improves Sunkist sparkling lemonade.
A shot of raspberri is absolutely what I need
and I get overeager pouring the key to being freed
from thinking of, dreaming of, sobbing for, aching for
…you…

Singing off-key, dancing clumsily, suddenly it’s crazy funny
how you ripped my heart out, stomped on it to the beat of Ke$ha
like I’m dancing – or flailing – to now.
I tipsy-tripsy back to the bottle until
I’m topsy-turvy, swerving between hilarity and despair.
Chuckling until I’m choking on the absurd excuses
you find uses for – vacation time unneeded
for long weekends untakeable, all leading to my shakeable
foundation cracking – ever-breakable.

Washing over my tongue is all the proof I need
that I’m as plastered in my body as you are in my mind.
I’m way past warm and fuzzy and tingling,
now I’m wobbling on jelly legs, propping up the walls
so they won’t fall when the world starts spinning.

Already smashed, I drain the bottle and there’s glass crashing, shattering,
slipped through my fumbling fingers as you
slipped out of my life.
I should be lesson-learning, growing, finding that I’m subconsciously knowing
this needs to end – cold-turkey like our friendship.

Instead, as my hammered head is pounding,
my back stooped in my drunken stupor,
I drift into the fantasy of fleeing from your bullshit reasons:
I’d be heading north, seeking solace
from an ever-true, opposite-of-you friend.
She’d be pouring me a drink before my toes ever cleared the threshold,
not knowing I’d already be sloshed from stopping
to bar-hop my trip from 6 ½ hours up to 9.
As she’d turn to rinse the glasses from our shots of limoncello,
I’d down the bottle.
Mementos of your lemons 2 lemonade stand are the only means
for me to forget you.

Eyelids of heavy metal crashing,
fading my view to total blackness,
thank booze you’ve been erased from the back of them.

A Blog Worth Blogging

Several times in the past the topic of finding my purpose in life has come up in therapy.  Sadie once said that a person’s purpose is usually related to her skills, so mine would probably involve writing.  I’ve never really nailed down my purpose, but today in DBT group the topic came up again in a way.  Among the giant binder of handouts is a sheet titled “Building a Life Worth Living”.  I first filled this out in January when I joined the group, did a similar exercise on notebook paper in May, and was given the same handout again today.  One thing that has stayed constant in the image of my life worth living is my blog.  Since the very beginning I’ve considered it one of the aspects of my life that helps support this life worth living.

What is the purpose of my blog though?  It’s not enough to just dump my thoughts on the screen – I’ve done that for well over a decade across journaling sites and social media and the blog is something different and special.  I read a post today titled “Self Centered and Angry” which addressed the trend of younger bloggers focusing mostly on their personal experience and not on the bigger issues.  I felt a twinge of something – a thing I can’t quite identify.  I wasn’t exactly offended, because I knew the author wasn’t intending to say these personal experiences are less valuable posts, but I felt compelled to say something which is rare for a conflict-avoidant person like myself.

It was in the course of writing a comment on her post that I realized what the purpose of my blog – and by extension my book-in-progress – must be.  It’s a purpose that I’ve been aware of in the past, but I never realized how important it was to me.  I blog about my personal experiences of mental health treatment for two reasons.  First, to let people in my life get a glimpse of experiences they have never had.  More importantly, to validate the feelings of people like myself, who have sometimes felt their diagnosis was wrong or their experience somehow less than simply due to not being sensational like the many memoirs that have been published in the past.  As one blogger put it to me, my life is interesting to other “boring mentally ill people”.

The other point made in the post I referenced was the extreme anger that some bloggers seem to feel.  I still struggle with my diagnosis, but I’m long past any flicker of anger I may have once had.  Instead, I struggle with the question of whether my diagnosis is even valid.  I fall into the trap of thinking those sensational memoirs detail “real” bipolar disorder, and that in some way I manage to even fail at mental illness.

My diagnosis was based heavily on my own account of my past experiences – the person who prescribes my medication now has never seen me even the slightest bit hypomanic.  I question whether I somehow over-exaggerated my descriptions.  What if all those bouts of hypomania really were a normal level of energy?  Intellectually, I know that spending two weeks working non-stop on learning a new programming language in order to enter a website style design contest is not normal.  Emotionally, I still look at the memoirs I’ve read and say, “But I’ve never racked up thousands in credit card debt or spontaneously traveled overseas or had sex with random strangers.  I must not really have bipolar disorder.”

This is completely invalidating and does absolutely nothing to help me manage the illness and move on with my life.  No one should have to feel this way, and if my blog in some way helps other people see their diagnosis as valid then it’s doing what it’s intended to do.

Medicated Writing

I wanted to tear my hair out at many points during this day, but finally managed to finish the first draft of chapter 3 of my book. I have it printed out and ready to be attacked with my purple editing pen, but for this I must go someplace that is not my home – usually White Castle where I sit with my gigantic cherry Coke and get to edit in peace, because all the other customers use the drive-through.

It doesn’t seem this way when viewing my blog posts, which are invariably written in one sitting with no editing, but it is a real struggle for me to write now that I’m not even the slightest bit hypomanic. The words used to pour out. I used to be clever and witty and poetic. Now I manage to get one to two sentences on the screen before getting up to pace the floor and bemoan the fact that I’ve lost my creativity.

There is a real difference between the contents of the first couple of chapters, which were based heavily on things written while I had lingering hypomanic symptoms, and the contents of the newer chapters that I’ve forced my way through since becoming medicated into the land of unmotivated and boring. I have hopes that Brent will let go of the idea of using antipsychotics to keep me tethered to the ground and perhaps I’ll get some of my old spark back, but I’m equally worried that the next step, Lamictal, will place its own hindrances on my writing.

I’ve read numerous accounts of people feeling cognitively dulled and struggling to find the words they are looking for. I’m not even taking it yet and had a moment today where I stuttered through “I accidentally hit a button on my…my…my…what the fuck is this thing on my wrist called?” The frustration nearly exploded out of me. If I’m doomed to either that or sleeping 12 hours a day and feeling blah and unmotivated, which is worse?