This is too much. One month ago, I was sent home from work, on a leave of absence. The company said they would let me be out for up to six months , no worries.
I was Working for a company based in Manhattan, on Wall Street, that lost employees in the Trade Center, has been beneficial to some degree. Sometimes out of the most horrid of situations, a small, good thing, can happen, like the story with that title by Ray Carver. Being a rapid-cycler, even if there are no offices, and everyone is out in the open is ok, if someone walks by my desk and sees tears rolling down my eyes, as I stare into one of the 6 computer monitors on my screen, watching news wires from all over the world. People cry now. It is acceptable. It is blamed on 9/11 fall out.
It is March and Manhattan is healing. The stores and restaurants near Ground Zero are opening again. The new Mayor has been doing a great job of taking over the reigns left by his magnificent. predecessor. Only the stream of tourists demanding to see the site, the once majestic skyline now looking like a beautiful woman who has had her front teeth punched out, reminds us, as well as a daily report in the tabloids of another victim, being pulled out of what was once the World Trade Center. Time heals all wounds, and the part of me that was born in this great city, is amazed that is has become stronger, more unified from this.
I wish I could say the same thing for me. In some ways, I am stronger, in some ways not.
I have not been to work for a month. I did not plan on this, I went to the HR dept to complain about my new boss, and ask to be assigned to another department. Their response was to put me on a leave of absence.
The first few days were fun. I slept till nine instead of waking up at five. The employee assistance program was calling me daily to check up on me. I was hooked up with a new shrink, who seemed to be nice, an older man who strongly resembled the author John Updike. He listened to me, heard my story, and put me on a dose of Lithobid. And for a week it was fine. Then he would discuss raising the medication doubling the Lithobid and adding Wellbutrin to the mix. I started getting physically ill. But I was home, and that was great. I could stay in my pajamas all day on the days I did not have therapy and write. And as anyone who knows me , either from here, or in real life, my raison d’etre is writing.
I found myself rising and falling, going from very mild mania to very mild depression, but it was all good. I didn’t mind. I was coping. The depression wasn’t low, the mania, nothing more than what would happen to someone after a double latte at Starbucks.
Then it fell. Old suicidal feelings took over me. I haunt the train station here, waiting for a train to jump under. Too many people. I take the train into the city, and sit by the platform, waiting with the homeless, the prostitutes and the alcoholics. I talk to them. Maybe I don’t have things so bad. I have a roof over my head, and despite bad genes towards alcoholism, I have been sober for six years. I see all types go by, the businessmen and women rushing, always rushing in their 300-dollar suits and pristine leather briefcases. The traders, the lawyers, the vice presidents who are too low on the company totem pole to get a car service and take the train. The commuters from Long Island, New Jersey and Connecticut.
My medication is adjusted, blood is drawn to be evaluated. I get on a first name basis with the lab technician who does this. I find out that she and I share a love for “The Simpsons”, and we discuss the philosophy of Homer (Simpson) while she draws blood 2 times a week. The lithium goes up again, that is not working, and yet a third medication, another mood stablizer is thrown in for good measure.
I get manic. I go to the doctor, in a manic state. He is surprised. Instead of coming in sweats and keds like I have been doing, I come in with a pair of linen pants and a silk blouse. My hair is perfect, and he has never seen me wearing makeup, or shoes, or even jewelry. I sit down, on the couch, crossing my legs, in a determined manner. All this is new to him, these are not the moves I make when I am depressed. And I start talking. And instantly he knows, I am not better. I am worse. I am higher than a kite.
I find myself calling a lot of old friends during this state. One night, I decide to call a very good friend of mine, who lives on the opposite coast. The next morning when I call him, I am witty, I am humorous. I am flirty. And I proposition him. He and I are good enough friends he knows something is wrong, the last thing you could ever say about me is I would do something like that. And although he is flattered, he tells me no, and talks to me. But I am off laughing, nothing can go wrong. Everything is lovely. I feel good. Every part of me feels great, it's like I am a Christmas Tree, all lit up and beautiful and I want to show everyone how bright and pretty I am.
The next time I see the shrink, he asks what I am going to do, and I tell him I am going to go to California to visit friends. That is ok, he says, but how are you getting there. Plane? How long do you plan on staying? Are you sure you want to fly out for what would only be a day or two?
I am going to walk. It’s only 3000 miles. It shouldn’t take more than a couple of days.
Uh oh. Warning.
“Susan, you know you can’t walk from New Jersey to California”.
I laugh. The doctor is sooo stupid! Of course you can. You can do anything when you set your mind to it.
“Susan, have you written anything lately”,
No. I cannot sit still long. Even sitting on the couch, I cross and uncross my legs rapidly, tapping my toes. I meet my parents for lunch later that day, I can’t sit still. I am ravenous, inhaling the food like I was a teenager.
I decide to clean the apartment, do redecorating. I wash the car. Finally one afternoon, after several days of only sleeping maybe two to three hours a night, I lie down for a nap. I am suddenly tired. I realize with all the extra exercise my muscles suddenly ache, and I start to count each aching one as I nod off to sleep. It is roughly four in the afternoon.
I wake up and it says six. It is still light out. Hmm. That shouldn’t be. I go to the kitchen, rummage in the fridge and see a school bus drive by. Huh? Six thirty ? In the sunlight?
I realize I just slept 14 hours. The thought saddens me, but I shrug it off, I was tired. I go to the kitchen table, glass of OJ in hand, and turn on my laptop. I have 40 some pieces of e mail. Wow, I have been asleep. I feel like I should write, and try to. But the thought of writing becomes insurmountable. Instead, I turn the button off, move the screen down, and decide, let me sit in the bed for a bit, and read. I have a doctors appointment soon, so let me just kill a few hours before I go.
I pick up a mystery by an author I like and start to read. I doze off, the phone rings. It is my doctor. I missed the appointment.
The thing is he calls me again, “Susan?” I don’t know anyone with that name. I look at my cat, and don’t recognize her. My head hurts. I’ve done it again. I crashed. The pendulum has gone back and forth, mania to depression. Always depression. Within minutes of my awakening, it goes back to that existential bleakness that becomes suicidal despair.
And during this time, I realize one thing. This time is going to be bad. Indeed, it is. Meds are readjusted, levels raised. I stop eating, and faint from it. I have to take a taxi to the doctor, and am admitted to the emergency room to get hydrated again. I beg the intern, please stop it. Give me something to make it better, or take me outside and shoot me. The intern is tired. There are real sick people here, not just some stupid person who cannot take care of herself.
Can’t they see that I am just as sick? True, I am not about to give birth, have not been maimed in a car accident, or bar room brawl.
I have not worked now for four years. I want to work!!
My heart is sick, my soul is sick. In the long run, bruises heal, stitches fade, bones mend.
A soul that is torn asunder by a chemical imbalance in my brain I did not ask for, does not heal as quickly, and the scars will be much deeper to assuage.
When will people understand?