Scott and I had been standing in the corner chewing a stick of nicorette gum. He was a 40 something bipolar patient, large in stature and personality, who had been stuck in B2 for a month. He wasn’t allowed to leave the unit even if a nurse was escorting him. To take up his time, he would sleep or walk laps around the unit. He was the first person there to introduce himself and make me feel comfortable. Late in the evenings after Tiffany would go to bed and writers block began to set in, he and I would stand in the corner, chew nicorette gum, and shoot the shit.
“It sucks being this way. Having a mental illness,” He said in between chews.” I try my damndest to show that I have good intentions. But when I’m manic, it doesn’t matter.No one can see that. No one can understand. You throw a fit because you can’t control how your brain works and suddenly everyone scoffs and thinks that you’re subhuman. Then before you know it you can’t hold on to friendships, your marriage falls apart, and holding onto a real job is just out of the question. And when you’re depressed… You just can’t do anything. Unless you’ve been there, you can’t have any fucking clue how bad it really is. All the fuckers think you’re lying about your actions. They think that you’re being deliberate. Well, fuck them! They don’t have a clue.”
It was about 2am the night before I would be discharged from psychiatric care. I couldn’t fathom what the next day would hold. These walls had become my life. They held together my existence together and although I wanted more than anything to get out, I was terrified to leave and face the world again. For the first time, life would become an open ended question and I did not have any idea how to answer.
I felt completely alone in this journey.
“I know. It’s going to be hard,” He said as he put his hand on my shoulder. “But you’ve got friends. Even they don’t get it. I see how many people come and visit you. You’ve made the last few weeks better for everyone in here. I think you’ll be just fine. Just remember that it’s not going to be easy. You’re gonna need to take care of yourself.”
I took an ativan in hopes that it would quench my anxiety and laid down in bed.
Even with the anti anxiety medication I had trouble sleeping. I kept having flashbacks to my breakdown and suicide attempt. I could still see the bus coming down the road. I could still feel the humidity in the air, my shirt sticking to my chest, and feeling the surrounding crowds stare at me in disbelief. In a way, I felt like a child who was unable to cope with the most basic rigors of everyday life. I was a boy unable to become a man. But there was a choice before me. I could return to that corner and forfeit my life or pick up whatever pieces remained and move forward.
The next morning, I stood in front of the unit’s exit. Nearly every person in the unit said goodbye to me. The nurses told me how proud they were of me and how they knew I would make it. Tiffany and I held each other and began to cry. I hadn’t shed a tear since the day I entered B2. More than anything, I was afraid to face the world without the reassurance of a friend who understood exactly how I felt. I looked at her and promised that I would be alright. I promised that I would keep moving. I don’t know how long we embraced. But the most difficult action I took for myself during my stay was letting go of Tiffany, saying goodbye, and walking through those doors.
I went downstairs and sat at the park bench I had spent nearly every morning. I lit a cigarette and once again began to cry. I was now wholly responsible for my own life. There were no nurses to ask me how I was feeling, no daily meetings with psychiatrists, no regularly served meals, no pre arranged schedules. Nothing. Here I was, standing in a razor-edge moment drenched in complete and total uncertainty. After a few minutes of near shock, I finished my cigarette, picked up my belongings and walked away.
Simply by having a chemical imbalance, I found myself placed in a situation where life became unbearable. Everything, even the most beautiful of moments, could cause catastrophic damage to my psyche. Not only that, but I lived in a world that could barely fathom it was by no fault of my own. I can’t change any of this. I can’t change the fact that I had to limp back into a world that was unforgiving towards mine and many other’s conditions. I can’t even change the fact that I live with such a condition.
Viktor Frankl once said “When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.” How could I possibly change myself when given a set of circumstances that seemed impossible to overcome? In all honesty, I don’t know. All that I know is that I was alive and if a simple moment of sharing a cup of coffee and a cigarette on a park bench can relieve my depression for a moment, then maybe there is something better. I believe that simply by the fact that I have been able to make it through the last three years, that we as human beings have the ability to endure. It takes a lot of effort and difficult decisions, medication or years of therapy, but it is possible to overcome even the most strenuous situations.