Only on the Blue Line?

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So things are terrible here in Boston, and, after yesterday’s MBTA shutdown, I wasn’t expecting a swift commute home. The Red Line took forever – it wasn’t even worth trying to swim through the sea of passengers at Downtown Crossing to make my connection to the Orange. Walking the something-odd blocks to State Street, I wondered if now would be a good time to Uber. I’d calculated the fare from Harvard Square before leaving work at $21-$25, but now it was 30 minutes later and traffic would be worse.

I kept walking.

This was a mistake.

Lured into comfort by the relative emptiness at the Forest Hills-bound entrance, I was unprepared for the low-ceilinged hell that awaited me at the Blue Line. The crowd bound for Wonderland at the State Street station was like nothing I’d ever seen in real life, aside from those Phish mega-festivals back in the early aughts. After a few polite minutes spent pushing through to the opposite side of the platform, I gave up and just stood. There was nowhere to go. By the time the next train arrived, the human surge was enough to bear me to the very lips of the doors… but no room in the car.

It was approximately 4:30. I decided, still, to wait.

This was another mistake.

After an interminable span spent clicking through my Longform feed (have you READ the latest New Yorker article on psychedelic medical research? FASCINATING.), another train finally arrived. By some swift stroke of doom I found myself square between the cars, and the vector physics of MBTA-boarding ensures that, when squared between cars, there is no possible hope that you will make it through. You will remain, stymied, on the platform, again, wondering how you could possibly be so close and yet so very far away.

Waiting. The crowd was large, but jocular, and this Chinese woman behind me started chattering, at nobody in particular, about the high-speed train Guangzhou to Beijing, suggesting that if our trains in Boston were faster, and arrived with greater frequency, perhaps we might not all be waiting here in a frothing mass of subterranean torment while that homeless blind guy belts out “New York, New York” for the fifth refrain. Of course, she didn’t really SAY it like that, but she was totally right on. “America, you know, think they number one… but maybe…”

The train arrived, and this time I all but RAN through the open doors, thrown inward by the throng behind me. I turned around and saw some brown-skinned men helping the Asian lady up off the floor. “How multicultural,” I thought. “See? Things aren’t so bad, even on the Blue Line.”

A trio of white construction workers banged their coolers together as the train pulled slowly from the station.

“I totally tripped that lady, bro. Talkin’ shit about America.”

And that was the first time I ever felt unsafe on the T.


My lovely self, in the psych ward.

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So there’s this thing I never talked about, before I stopped talking altogether. I didn’t talk because I couldn’t talk, because it was all too close and awful, and the other day I read this thing and now, in my head, I can’t stop talking.

http://www.psmag.com/navigation/health-and-behavior/lovely-wife-psych-ward-95567/

I didn’t talk because I couldn’t, because, in June 2013, I was committed, which is different from admitted, and all of a sudden talking felt dangerous. In June 2013, something changed.

~~The following may be triggering. Please read with care.~~

The run-up was very much the same old tune: an uptick in work stress, an increase in self-harm behaviors, verbal explosions, days in bed. Except there was something uncontained about the whole situation – how it bled all over my life, and now, how everyone could see. Everyone was aware. My partner would call my therapist, who would advise him to call the cops and/or my parents. There was discussion about what ought to be done with me, as though this “me” were some other entity, something who didn’t have her own priorities.

Given that my ONLY priority was to stay Bin-less until my sister’s wedding, I was not a willing participant. I don’t like to think about those days before my second hospitalization, that hour before I was half-dragged into the ER by my then-boyfriend / now-husband, the indefatigable B!. And the most horrible: my mother, who, having been summoned, walked in to a nurse swabbing my secret wounds with alcohol. The way I cried when she saw me, because I knew what it was that she saw.

I have not forgiven myself for the harm this caused to my family, this falling apart, time after time.

It had been easy, before, to speak of my mental illness as if it were “over”, and it was nice to think of life as having that arc. Health to illness and then better than before. It had been easy, before, to deal with it alone. But June 2013 annihilated the fantasy of my mental health as a solitary island.

I thought I was writing about one thing, but it seems now that I’m writing about another.

It is certainly one thing to be the spouse or partner, and to see your beloved fall into madness. It is one thing to be a parent or sibling, wondering how you can help. It is another to witness one’s own fall, knowing the chain reaction one’s own madness will cause, not understanding how to reach out for whatever it is that might slow your annihilation. Gravity. Vertigo. The pull and weight of the inevitable as your soul wanes thin or burns up in a nuclear blast.

For me, the biggest takeaway from this article is having a “mad plan”. Limits that are set before the descent begins. If X then Y and we all know it. Because without a plan, the free-fall can feel unbreakable. Without a plan, the “healthy” partner has no recourse but to play the enforcer of ad-hoc rules made, often, without the patient’s consent. Without a plan, the patient can be rendered unfit to GIVE consent, her concerns dismissed as excuses or worse.

This is what happened to me, that June. My voice was not heard, and my treatment, therefore, was a farce. In the hospital, my medication was switched, for the third time in as many months, I cried during all my yoga classes, and, after a mandatory three-day hold, I was sent home to a situation much more precarious than the one I’d left.

My sister was getting married. I put on my bridesmaid gown and raised a glass.

 


Shopping: The most subversive therapy.

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One of my many problems is that I never relax. Like, it makes me nervous, and I’m not very good at it. But Sunday mornings, for some reason, provide a solace that I’ve not found through any other means. You know what I’m talking about, ladies. I’m talking about Target.

I roll up in the early morning sun, just minutes after the doors have opened, and join the line of townies at the understaffed Starbucks. It’s always the same group of not-that-old dudes talking about whatever sport is happening. Or politics. There’s a lot of politics, too.

Dark roast in one hand and ergonomic basket in the other, I weave my way through the women’s  section, looking for good sales and touching all the sweaters, before losing myself wholly in Clearance. This could take awhile.

For a long  time, I wore exclusively Target black tank tops and Target black long-sleeves. When I was in North Dakota, I would continually replenish my wardrobe with such staples – pair after pair of Target knee-length black socks. So, you see, it’s more than just shopping. It’s nostalgia. It’s a uniform. It’s love.

After Ladies’ Clearance has been scoured, I usually make my way through the intimates section. Mostly looking for different colored tights, if you must know, but I’ve been known to eye a kimono robe or two. After that, I’m off to bedding, bath, lamps, and candles, the last of which are never – EVER – on clearance even though I so wish they would be. And I’m always in the market for a wicked cheap lamp.

You can tell by the way I’m writing that I’m kind of working myself into a froth, can’t you? You can feel the madness sinking in? I mean, remember, it’s only probably 8:35am by now, and we’ve already sucked down most – oops – ALL of this coffee – and our basket is suddenly full of all sorts of Things! Towels on Sale and 3-dimensional “thank you” cards (only $2/pkg!) and OMGZ all teh pretty tights and Wait:

 

WTFXX

 

THIS IS WHAT HAPPENS WHEN I TRY TO RELAX. 

I WIND UP BUYING A (!!!)PINK(!!!) SWEATER WITH SOME KIND OF HEDGEHOG ON IT.

I DO NOT WEAR PINK.

I QUIT.


Intra-synaptic swordfighting

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Somehow, I don’t know how, I mis-read the instructions on my bottle of Venlafaxine (generic for Effexor) XR and wound up amping my already high dose to nearly double what’s recommended for human consumption. I’ve been reading since I was two. Like, HOW do you mess that up.

Anyway, not only did I *completely* mess that up, I (unwittingly) spent a few weeks that way.

Oops.

So I ran out early, of course, and decided to just go ahead and cut myself back down where I ought to be with no taper. WHAT COULD GO WRONG!!

Ladies and gentlemen, I can now personally certify that hatcheting off 300 milligrams of Effexor, a psychoactive drug with true physical withdrawal and an awkward half-life, is not a good idea, under any circumstances, for anyone. Go here and do a page search for “Venlafaxine”. Go on, now. Good times, right? I’m goddamn lucky I didn’t get hauled back to the ER.

Although the sudden worsening of depressive symptoms is especially welcomed when received alongside a wad of unpayable medical bills from June’s stay at McLean, I have to say that my favorite part so far has been the full-body brain zaps. The who what now? Allow me to expound!

You know that feeling you have when you’re falling in a dream, and you wake with a start the split-second before landing? Like, you can almost feel the bones crush with ground but JUSTalmost / NOTquite? Imagine that times 15, and it’s happening while your head is enclosed in a skintight pleather mask with a brushed silver zipper – large teeth – securing the front seam from chin to hairline.

Now imagine someone ripping that sucker open. Hard. Right as you land.

And maybe someone also has your skull inside a paint mixer for a breath or two.

If you’ve ever succeeded with Salvia divinorum, it’s kind of like that, except awful. It feels SO bizarre and SO unpleasant and only happens (thank God) at night. But man. I’m totally not doing this ever again.


Delusions.

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Like most people with mood disorders, I’ve always loved reading books about other people with mood disorders. More than one of them have had a bipolar protagonist. And I’ve always thought, while reading: “Huh. That kind of reminds me of… me”. This is not to say that I’m inclined to wear a tutu to the grocery store or buy spur-of-the-moment tickets to Vegas on a newly opened credit card, but the way things tend to cycle inside my head has always made me wonder.

For example.

Syracuse, NY (home of my alma mater) is not known for its fine weather, but the perpetual slate-grey skies mirrored my dysthymic mindset to such an extent that I could only conclude that the pairing was meant to be. I went to class, kept my grades up, and partied like a rockstar, but, behind the scenes, my mind was an abyss. I sought help on more than one occasion, but no amount of talk therapy seemed to lighten my load. And, at the time, I was resistant to medication. The summer before my senior year things got so bad that I had to quit my waitressing job in Boston, bow out of my prizewinning internship at an ad agency, and move back to SU, head in hands. My boyfriend and I had just recently ended our year-plus relationship, and I was terrified of all that lay in store. That first semester was a nightmare. Horrible.

Then, suddenly, it wasn’t.

I remember the moment everything turned roses – it was the screening night for my film class – and finally, to quote the great Sylvia Plath,

“All the heat and fear had purged itself. I felt surprisingly at peace. The bell jar hung suspended a few feet above my head. I was open to the circulating air. ”

It was wondrous.

But, as we all know, the only constant in life is change. And it wasn’t long before my euphoria plunged back to black despair. The moment the switch flipped back is just as clear as the moment it flipped on, and I cried on Katsu’s shoulder, knowing that my reprieve had ended. Not knowing when, or if, it would ever begin again.

Those switches are less clear now, but I’m beginning to think that some have flipped. The first was euphoria – living alone, freewheeling out to my new boyfriend B!, even moving home bothered me less than anyone could have imagined.

The second, of course, is now. The realization that all those good times were on some spectrum of yet another mental malfunction – a symptom of this suspected disease. All the progress I thought I’d made? Nothing but hypomania triggered by my stint in the Bin.

And you know what? That really feels like shit. Seriously.


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