blog post 2008–short story

This is a short story I wrote back in June of 2008. Hope you like it.

Walk the dog. Water the lawn. Clean the ceiling. That’s what he says every Tuesday evening while driving me home. He has seen many things in his lifetime and I wonder if I will live to be his age. He is a man aged sixty-four. He loves working with children and has spent his life as a teacher and guidance counselor. He never married and still takes care of his aging mother, who has better hearing (and a better memory) than he does.

Eyes of a child come around frequently, then they are off to watch the fairy godparents give Timmy childhood wishes that adults would like to have. Just make a wish, and “Poof!” it’s done. Bills are paid, school is finished, and degrees are earned all in the blink of an eye. No hard work to be done, no studying all night to cram for that final. Just a wave of the wand and like magic — degree earned.

When I was little, my godmother used to make me Easter Sunday dresses. I didn’t know much about my godfather until I became a teenager. My last memory of him was his giving me a plastic mechanical dog whose tail waved when you walked him. Life was simple then. You knew you were different, but it did not matter what anyone thought of you. To this day, I still hold on to that value of not caring what people think — a good measure of one’s self-esteem.

Times changed; presidents changed. You learned about the cold war. The Berlin Wall fell, though you didn’t know why it was built to begin with. You read about Edgar Allan Poe and fell in love with him. His stories seem to talk to you and you could understand the pain and anguish of his writings better than most people. Russia was then called the U.S.S.R. Now it is a cluster of little, separate countries that you still do not know or care about. If you do care, your friend Google can help you find the information and more. Trips to the library are now practically nonexistent. Who needs an encyclopedia when you have Wikipedia.

This country interested you because of the vast differences in the government structure. You can never understand why people were prosecuted or executed because their religion is different, or they dared to write something against the government.

Grade school you remember the war between Nicaragua and Costa Rica. Something to do with guns is what it was about and decided it was a place that you wouldn’t want to go vacation anytime soon.

One spring you decide life’s not worth living anymore and one Sunday you decide to end it. No Easter dress was worn. You were sixteen and life was just too much for you to go on. You had sought help but that help decided to leave the state. It was your third counselor in a year. The hopelessness was too much to hold on to.

Hope for life ends when you woke up the next morning. You realize by summer that medication might work but your therapist says you need to work through the pain not go around it, whatever that means. Found another friend, PDR (physician drug reference). It tells you all about meds and how to take them, what side effects, and how much needed for an overdose. Everything you need to know when you speak medicalese.

My first psych hospitalization was when I was sixteen. I met a guy who wanted my Tigers hat so I sold it to him for ten bucks, said he will give it to me when he sees his lawyer. Never saw a lawyer enter the ward, never saw my money either. I learned many things about the loony bin that summer. Trilafon made the voices go away but then things got too quiet and couldn’t think. Most people called it anti-psychotics, I just called them nothing.

Voices kept me out of the Navy which kept me from seeing the world, which kept me from college, which kept me from medical school, which kept me from being a commander of the fleet. A place of hate, a place of despair, a place of loss is always inside me and I couldn’t get away. How I longed to leave home and never return. But a sense of responsibility always kept me from leaving.

I didn’t need the USN for being a commander in Starfleet. What better place to travel the galaxy and back. A secret life I created that no one knew or cared about. Commander One was someone important, someone who was strong and happy. An orphan who was raised by Starfleet officers. He could do anything. The holodeck was all that I needed for my escape. I started living a double life, one in the twentieth century and one in the twenty-fourth.

I graduated from high school near the top of the class. Women were more attractive than men. I got a plan for higher education. Finally going away, thought Maine was my ticket out. But my learning would be life instead, or trying to see if it would work for me. I met a Jewish doctor who finally cared. Least until the voices said she didn’t. I went to the one of the best U.S. psych hospitals. It didn’t offer me much other than mashed potatoes and a diagnosis that didn’t fit my style. Staff wanted me to “talk to my feelings and give them a name”. I gave the staff names like asshole and bastard instead. Found out that a bagel can be set on fire after 8 of the 20 minutes in the microwave. It also evacuated the floor pretty quickly, causing havoc on a trauma unit. I saw it as revenge on being kept against my will and having a diagnosis that wasn’t correct.

Therapist number ten was my match. She tried to help with the aid of DBT, different bullshit therapy. She didn’t like me refusing her and we fought for control of the driver’s seat. I eventually won. During this time I had found my first love, someone who had been a pen pal and thought would always be there. My match was burned and so was my love at the same time. Time for a different matchbook and this time all fires were out. Red Tape prevented four months of work but it eventually found its way in.

The journey to adulthood has not been easy. Strife with auditory hallucinations at the young age of five is where it all begins. Voices became friends and took control of the young life, constantly telling the child that everything she did was wrong. The voices were always negative and had their own secrecy. When they were discovered, they told the teenager to commit suicide. They knew they would be destroyed. But after the medication and the solitude of the mind, the bearer missed the voices and stopped the medication to have some noise again, to not feel so alone. But suicide did not go away. It lingers because, as one knows, it is the ultimate escape from pain — not the kind of pain you get from a broken limb, nor the kind that comes from the flu. It is the mental pain that comes from despair, sadness, and hopelessness.

During all of this tragedy, the hero in our story seems to find resiliency that no one else can seem to bear, this despite having a father who is a pathological gambler, who would spend money on his narcissism, rather than household bills and necessities such as electricity.

The perfect escape had laid in joining the service. How I wanted to be that Starfleet officer I had always dreamed about.

Brick Walls

7-Aug-14 Brick Walls

I am currently on a psychiatric unit in a hospital. I’ve been here for a week now, with no hope of getting out anytime soon. I am here because I am profoundly suicidal. All I see are brick walls surrounding me and they keep on closing in on me. It’s like a prison that only I can see. I am surrounded by these bricks and no one cares how high they get. And they certainly don’t care how they got there.

I want to take my life because I am stuck, just like these brick walls. The cement has hardened each brick into place so you cannot move it. My thoughts of suicide have also hardened to the point where they don’t budge. I feel very hopeless that this hospitalization will not help detach one of these bricks so that I make break free of the confinement I feel. If enough bricks fall, I may see the light at the end of the tunnel. But I doubt that will happen. I never see the light for long. I am always in a dark place. I am always feeling hopeless. And hopelessness and suicidal thoughts are not a good combination. They seal the cement and lock me in to this confinement that I am in.

The doctor and staff are trying their best to keep hope alive for me, but I just don’t see it. All I see is the brick wall that is impenetrable. Nothing or nobody can get through it or to me. It will take more than a jack hammer or two to get through to me right now. And it seems that no one owns one. The staff is too busy to care about the bricks. They just want the cement to fall to force me to see the light as the bricks become loose. Just so they can discharge me. They don’t care how the bricks were formed. And this hurts because no one takes the time to see how much I am hurting like they used to.

I have been trying to stay in the moment but my moments are just filled with suicidal thoughts and feelings. They are also filled with plans on how to end my life. Each thought makes the brick wall stronger so no one can breakthrough. Each brick has been mounted with feelings of inadequacy, shame, indignity, depression, hopelessness, worthlessness, and unbearable pain. Pain is the biggest brick. It lies in the center surrounded by the other bricks that I just mentioned. It exceeds all others in thickness and size. It is killing me, literally and physically, to be in unbearable pain all the time. The pain stems from just left of the sternum of the chest wall and captivates the entire left side of the chest cavity. It is a pressure felt day in and day out. In essence, it is like a ton of bricks weighing on my heart.

As the cement hardens around the brick, making it so difficult to breathe, the pressure on the chest increases. No medical tests exists to identify this weight. It’s not visibly present. That makes it difficult to explain without the feeling of sounding crazy. Who is going to believe a suicidal person that there is a weight on the chest when no one can see or feel it? It is not measured by tests or electrocardiograms. It is just a heaviness that fills your soul. And the soul cannot be seen or felt. Nor can it be measured. No one’s pain is the same. Each is unique to that individual. And my pain is what is strangling me in this moment of time.

The pain is always present in times of despair. It ruins any hope one might have and increases the weight of the bricks bearing down on you. Nothing alleviates this pain. There are no pills that can ease the pressure or painful despair. It’s ever present and deepens the despair because no one understands it. All the symptoms of depression and suicidal thinking makes it very difficult to treat. And the longer it lasts, the higher the brick wall is built. Will the doctors and social workers have what it takes to help bring down the brick and mortar? Very unlikely. They don’t have the time to really get to know me, much less help me. I have resigned myself to stay within these brick walls until they envelope me so I can no longer breathe. Each day they move closer, causing me to feel more isolated and the feeling of suffocation grows stronger. Love doesn’t have any effect on these walls that have surrounded my heart. My heart has become stone a long time ago. Only negative feelings are allowed to pass through. I have given up on positive feelings ever passing through my little barricade. It took years for the brick wall to be built. It might take years to be torn down. But the suicide demons won’t allow that. This time the brick walls will win. I no longer have the energy to chisel my way out of my own prison. But then, I am in a psych ward where chisels are not allowed. You just expected to go to groups to cope with the demons rather than allow them to fall.

And because no one knows the depth of my prison, I am here for a long time, in solitary confinement. The walls are dark and gray, just the way that I feel inside. I doubt I would ever get parole from this darkness that fills my soul. If I do, it is only for a short time before I am back in solitary. The light barely has a chance to touch me before everything becomes dark again. That is why I don’t trust happiness or feeling good. I much rather be content about things than feel happiness. Happiness, to me, is a fleeting emotion that is hard to hold onto. It is slippery like silk, never lasting more than a few minutes and devastating when it leaves you.

So I sit here in my room, surrounded by darkness so the sunlight won’t come in, staring at the brick wall and it staring back, trapped in my own prison.

Psychosis is a Funny Beast

1 March

Psychosis is a funny beast. It terrorizes you, yet when it’s gone, you miss it. It stimulates you like nothing else can. Yet it’s a completely individual experience. No two people will ever have the same type of voices/hallucinations. These voices/hallucinations can be visual or auditory or both. Such a common ailment in mental illness, yet so different in people.

You can have command hallucinations that tell you to do stuff or tell you to harm yourself. Or have other voices that tell you are great and powerful. Others that are more sinister and mean that cause paranoia. It doesn’t have to be people, per se, that give these commands. It can be words from the TV or voices on the radio, even if the appliances are turned off and unplugged. These devices can still speak and it can cause great anxiety and nervous agitation.

Sometimes when I am reading a book, the words will fly off the page giving me new meaning. It is magical and majestic. Most of the time, a man’s voice “reads” to me. It is the only way I can comprehend the paragraphs. Without this voice, the words have no meaning and I don’t know what the book is trying to say. The words are empty and meaningless.

There was a time when my paranoid thoughts got the best of me while I was at work. I was utterly convinced my email was being monitored by a doctor colleague I had a row with. Well, not really a row. He just called me incompetent. I told my boss that I didn’t want to work with him again. In retaliation, he was “watching” my email activity to get me fired. Every email was tagged to him somehow. I was convinced of this because the voices said so. When the emails started doing their dance like the words of the book, I became nervous that something was wrong. I called my psychiatrist. She told me I needed to be in the hospital. Psychosis such as this required urgent care. But I did not feel sick. I may have felt a little insane, perhaps. The delusions and hallucinations were bad that year. It caused me to quit college. I have yet to return to university, but mostly that is because of financial reasons than psychosis.

Soon after my release from the hospital, the delusions started again. This time with another co-worker. Voices had me convinced she was out to kill me. We had been good friends. I talked amicably to her so not to offend her. We played this game for three weeks. With each passing day, the paranoia got worse. I finally asked this woman, to test my reality, if she intended to harm me. She thought it was a preposterous question. The voices lied, again. They always do but they are so convincing, you believe them. No one else hears them. They are never visible though I often imagine what they must look like. A general overview of a female or male voice. It is when they start arguing amongst each other that things become confusing. Sometimes they make sense, other times they are incoherent. It’s like they get weird languages so I can’t follow what they are saying. The language is not any that I can discern. I have been exposed to different languages over the years and this is like nothing I have heard before. The language they speak, however undiscernible, is alien to me. And when I question what they are saying, only then do they talk English again.

These voices have been a part of my life for more than thirty years. I have adapted to them well. Only time they ever really leave me is when I am highly medicated. When they leave, I am utterly alone. It is a lonely place to be in. I cannot think without the voices. They have become so ingrained to my thoughts. They can “read” my thoughts so I don’t have to speak, at times. Yet we do have conversations that either I will initiate or they will. Especially at night when I try going to sleep, is when they come out and talk. There is this one voice that pops in just when I am trying to sleep just to have a chat. This voice inquires how my day went, and other general questions relating to how I have been. This is usually because it has been a while since we last chatted. It’s annoying because I want to sleep, not talk. Yet if I ignore the voice, the louder she becomes. Then I can’t sleep because I get agitated and extremely annoyed. There is no arguing with these voices. They don’t have a sense of time like we do. If they talk and ask questions, they must be answered, no matter what time of day it is. Many nights of lost sleep mean nothing to them. They are demanding creatures of the night.

I read a quote today that stuck with me. “I never understood the ‘psychosis isn’t illness, just an expected response to stress’ line. Bleeding is an expected response to a cut”. Alex Langford. What strike me with this quote is that it is true. People who have stress do not become psychotic. They usually suffer from anxiety of some sort, but they don’t become delusional and hear/see things that others cannot see.

Like most of my psychotic episodes, stress is usually the precipitant factor. Two weeks ago, I was getting stressed over financial matters. I am on a fixed income so trying to pay for everything can be a juggling act. A delusion of command tweets started. We have had heavy snow the whole month of February. I kept getting tweets to clear the roof tops. With each subsequent tweet, I took it as a command to clean my roof off. I started worrying that my roof was going to collapse (highly unlikely as I don’t have flat roof tops). But I couldn’t shake the notion that something terrible was going to happen if I ignored the tweet. So I started taking one of my PRNs (as needed) medication. It helped to ease the agitation and helped me to see that I was safe in my home. But taking this medication caused the voices to go away, temporarily. I have never felt so empty and alone before. I could function, do my every day things, but it was eerily quiet in my room, and in my head.

Not everyone who has stress becomes psychotic. If stress was the reason, there would be more schizophrenics or those suffering from psychotic depressions or manias in the world. Most people who are stressed, as I stated before, have anxiety. I become psychotic for reasons I don’t know why. I start having conversations with myself, out loud, with the voices when I am stressed. It just looks like I am talking with myself, but I am really not. I do know that once I am on medication, the stresses don’t bother me as much and I can handle them better. I sometimes like to think of myself as a functional schizophrenic.

It’s hard to explain the voices as they can be random. They come out more when I am tired, stressed out, or overwhelmed. They also come out when I am in an agitated state. I also feel like I am losing my mind. I wonder, am I depressed? Am I manic? Or am I just mad, bordering on insanity?

My drug of choice when I am in an agitated state is trilafon (perphenazine). It helps to keep the “bad” voices away. The “bad” voices are the voices that tell me negative things, give me paranoia, start with the delusions, and give me commands. If they are not controlled by medication, I usually end up in the hospital.

These days, the “bad” voices don’t come around much since I take a regular anti-psychotic everyday. What is striking is that this pill has no effect on my “regular” voices, the voices that I hear every day. This is good because without these voices I cannot function. Although these regular voices can be annoying, critical, and negative, they can also be helpful to sort out problems or have discussions with.

Pain and despair can also bring about a psychotic episode for me. Physical pain is the not the kind that I am talking about. It’s more like a weight on the chest, making breathing difficult. It’s not like an anxiety attack upon the nerves that I sometimes get. It is more cerebral in nature but hurts like that of a broken limb. Despair will cause madness to intensify and with it comes the suicidal thoughts. Anguish also is felt like never felt before. It is unbearable. The combination of these feelings create a breeding ground for the voices to become unhinged. Delusions of persecution also become acute. I feel everyone is against me and are trying to kill me. I try to fight the rightness of the mind but it unthinkable. My thoughts are just too incoherent. Voices get their way and the insufferable feelings fuel the paranoia. The pressure to resist is futile and to cognitively deny their words proves to be impossible. The torment continues with the increase in despair and suffering of unbearable psychological pain.

In this state, lyrics of songs become perturbed and twisted. The meaning of songs always revolve around death and destruction, even if that is not what the song is about. Hallucinations of hearing the song over and over even when music is not playing is common. I hear the song even when the MP3 player or radio is silent. I once had a song by Pearl Jam run rampant in my head for weeks. Then the lyrics changed and were telling me that I had to die, even though there were no such lyrics in the song. There was no escape from this turmoil. The only place I found solace was in the hospital and being drugged up to calm my overstimulated brain.

These types of voices, paranoia, and delusions respond best to medication. The longer I go without meds, the worse my condition becomes. I deteriorate, losing whatever faculties I may still possess. I have noticed that as I get older, there is an increase in episodes. These episodes are profoundly devastating and scary. It used to be I could be on my medication until the episode passed. Then I would stop it and not have another episode for years. That doesn’t seem to be the case any longer. I must now take this pink pill every day to be sane and prevent symptoms from happening. Since this regimen began a couple of years ago, my psychotic symptoms have decreased. But if I skip a few days, I am in trouble again. Then it is harder to be back in control of the symptoms. The balance of dealing with the psychosis is never easy. It’s a fine line between sane and insane, despair and despondency, psychache, severe depression, and suicidal thoughts. These are the evil conundrums that medication cannot cure or control. Talk therapy is somewhat effective but only as a maintenance. Despair is its own miserable evil that sucks the light out of every window. It’s power cannot be underestimated.