Friday, August 24, 2012

Do Not Pass Go, Do Not Collect $200

Another unedited excerpt of Wrecking Ball

Do Not Pass Go, Do Not Collect $200

Am I under arrest? 

Yes, technically, said the officer.

His partner had forcefully placed me in the back of a squad car minutes prior, in handcuffs. My destination was the psychiatric ward. Due to the effects of a new, very powerful antidepressant, I’d been accidentally thrown into a severe state of mania. Every patient's case is different and this unwelcome development had been entirely beyond the skill of my psychiatrist.

Intended or not, one still needed to pick up the pieces. Mania fractures many things, with all its awful power. My psychiatrist had even tentatively toyed with the notion of amending my diagnosis. Instead of bipolar disorder, I was temporarily labeled as having schizoaffective disorder, a mild form of schizophrenia. A month later, the psychosis abetted, revealing thankfully that I had only mania and was not more or less permanently delusional.

My behavior had grown extreme and outlandish over the course of four months. Every episode takes a slightly different form, but this one was incredibly intense. Observing my behavior and fearing for my safety, my parents had headed down to the courthouse and put out a petition on me. Once put into effect, I was to be involuntarily committed. It was in my own best interest, but the act was one of the most difficult things they'd ever had to do, as I learned later.

Most of the time, patients admitted to a psych ward are what is termed “voluntary”. They can leave whenever they wish, though departing Against Medical Advice (AMA) means the cost of the stay will not be covered by insurance. An involuntary admission, however, means that one cannot leave of one’s volition. The petition in force must first be revoked, which can only be done by a social worker, a doctor, or both.

This time around, I was hospitalized for nearly a month. Mania melts away slowly, though it is still easier to treat than depression. For the first week I was there, I was given Geodon shots to be able to sleep at night. Geodon is an aytpical antipsychotic with sedative properties in high doses. I begged the nurses for relief, day after day, and fortunately they obliged me. Within five minutes of injection, the drug hit me like a ton of bricks. I blissfully snoozed, finally obtaining adequate rest.

Every night I cried myself to sleep, praying to be well. By now, I was conscious of how ill I was. Mania is deceptive, especially at first. As had been the case before, the episode had cost me another job. Afraid that I might have malicious and violent intentions, my last two paychecks had been served to me by two plain-clothed police officers. I was to be terminated immediately.

A trespassing notice was now in effect, specifying that I was to be arrested if I returned to my former place of employment. I recall that I was threatened with arrest even if I entered the parking lot. My first reaction was of indignation. Most of my co-workers really didn’t know me and never had. A large number of them were too self-obsessed, focused on selfish pursuits. They'd never accepted me as one of their own and never would.

Especially when in the grips of a severe bout of illness, returning to the scene of the crime was the very last thing I wanted. I was infuriated, sure, but wanted to air my grievance in a court of law. I even contacted a lawyer, but he wanted several thousand dollars I didn’t have. I wanted retribution and justice, but didn't have the wealth required to obtain it.  

I’d walked into the middle of a dysfunctional workplace environment, unaware of the challenges that would soon daily face me. Upper-level management knew how to attend meetings, dress up impressively, and act the part, but could not lead workers properly. It was too permissive and enabling of gossip and drama. Workers that should have been fired for incompetence or toxic attitudes were allowed to stay.

Everyone was in everyone else’s business. Never was this more evident than when I began a relationship with a woman, a co-worker. I’d previously been seeing someone, but found myself disenchanted and left it behind with the promise of someone new. Following a familiar pattern, the woman with whom I was interested was older than me by several years. After putting out tentative feelers, she soon invited me to lunch.

News of our first date spread like wildfire, whether we wanted it or not. I was cautioned, indirectly, from higher up to use strict discretion in our communication and interaction. I would visit her at her office once a day, but only for a few minutes at a time. Anything more than that was not allowed. As the relationship progressed, she began to wear black regularly, to appear as slim as possible. I thought she looked great as she was, but understood the reason for the extra effort.

As for where we both worked, I thought I’d managed to escape high school. Instead, I was thrust back into into it. No one spoke to anyone directly. Talking behind everyone else’s back was the most favored tactic for information dispersal. Direct confrontation, while it can be unsettling, is often unavoidable and necessary. Each floor, each department, had its own office politics and unwritten rules. These had never been challenged, nor dismantled, so they persisted.

Throw mania into the middle of this morass, and you can imagine why people reacted the way that they did. By the end of my tenure, I stood up to each of the regular offenders, and managed to scare the hell out of them. Making them afraid of me wasn’t exactly my intention, but mania has a way of removing fear and producing a kind of mad courage in its stead.

The upheaval did have one especially unfortunate consequence. It cost me the new relationship that had yet to fully flower. If I’d been in control of its development, the pace would have been considerably quicker. She was very measured and self-contained throughout. It was clear she'd been burned before and had no desire to repeat the process. But I know that eventually, within a few months, we’d have grown closer. I can’t fault her for wanting to proceed slowly.

One of the toughest lessons I’ve learned is that, often, a person can’t fight city hall. Had my health been stable and on an even-keel, I might have been able to make a compelling case for myself. Though I had legitimate legal grounds, my mental well-being would have been questioned by the other side, serving as an effective trump card. Many lawyers in the city wanted to take on my former employer, if for no other reason than to increase their stature. But the deck and the odds were stacked against me, and a victory would have been a tall order.

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