After eighteen years of marriage and three sons, my wife divorced me in 1996. I had been unemployed since 1992. In June of 1998 my ex-wife took our children to Tucson because her sister was dying. I was too sick to go. I was grieving over the end of our marriage and the death of my sister-in-law. I don’t remember most of these details. What I do remember is…
1: I Leave Reality (1998)(Draft)
The world had been looking weird, wonderful and unreal for some time. Light seemed to emanate from objects and people. I felt unreal too- like I was going to disappear in euphoria. The idea/feeling that I was about to disappear made me anxious. Staying indoors just made things worse.
I left the house and started walking the track of a nearby park around noon- the hottest part of the day. The heat made me sweat. The sweat made me feel more real. Moving my body made me feel more real.
I wore headphones and listened to a collection of songs I had taped for my portable cassette player specifically for walking and running. Focusing on the music distracted me from my disturbing symptoms. Certain songs helped me feel more connected to my body- like Neil Young’s Rockin in the Free World and Joan Jett’s I Hate Myself for Loving You. Other songs captured the spacey feeling of disconnection- like Little Village’s Big Love.
The presence of other people on the track was problematic. As they came up behind me, the crunch crunch crunch of running shoes on the orange gravel was unnerving– each time I heard it, I tensed up and prepared to be attacked. I knew this paranoia was irrational— but it was particularly strong and real that day.
As people approached me from the opposite direction, I had time to imagine they were physically healthy, had no mental illness, were employed, and had lives without problems–conditions I could only dream of.
Approaching couples made me feel lonely, empty, and like a failure because my marriage had ended. The apparent intimacy of the couples made me feel physical pain. Couples holding hands and the perfumed scent of passing women were particularly demoralizing.
The fact that most people jogged faster than me, added salt to these wounds. So, I kept my head down, stared at my moving legs and feet, counted my steps, and listened to Neil Young’s Rockin in the Free World played as loud as possible.
Sometimes I slowed to a walk, did karate punches, or sang softly with the music— despite the looks I got. Although I had heard the songs many times, I was always at least a quarter of a beat behind the vocalist because I couldn’t remember the lyrics or their timing. This added to my sense of disconnection. But, all these distractions helped keep the painful depression the presence of other people evoked from overwhelming me.
As I ran, I often felt as if there were invisible ropes pulling me off the track and into the traffic that passed a few yards to my side at 40 mph— another reason to keep my eyes down. I had learned to go around the track in the same direction as the cars to minimize this feeling.
To further block out the presence of the cars and other runners, I would close my eyes into a tight squint— seeing just enough of my legs, feet and the track to keep from running, or walking, off the path. When this was inadequate, I closed my eyes entirely— traversing short sections of the track in a darkness filled with loud rock and roll music.
I had been like this, off and on, for months. Today something was different. A male runner passed me with only inches of clearance. He was close enough to make my left arm hairs move. I felt a strong impulse to attack him. I fantasized jumping on top of him from behind and punching his face until it was a bloody pulp. The fantasy was vivid and very real.
I was shocked— I had never wanted to assault a stranger before. I had, on one occasion in my adult life, felt a very brief urge to punch someone I was close to- that single incident had also shocked and appalled me. This violent impulse was much more intense than that one brief urge.
My perception of reality split into two concurrent experiences. In one the world seemed weird with intense colors and I was driven by these violent urges and visual fantasies. In the other, my rational mind floated high within the cavern that was my head.
My rational mind noted the receding runner was bigger, younger, and in much better shape than me. It realized that there were lots of other people on the track who might intervene if I attacked the passing runner. My mind concluded I had little chance of succeeding.
Another runner passed, then another, and another– each time I had the same violent impulse and fantasy. It was as if something greater than myself had taken hold of me. Then, as women passed me by, I had the urge to jump them, punch them in the face, rip off their clothes and rape them right then and there. I was shocked and scared.
When I left the track and headed to the safety of my home, my rational mind considered the fact that I was perfectly comfortable with the idea of killing myself. I had considered suicide for decades but wanting to hurt others was new and unacceptable.
It occurred to me that, on one level, these violent urges and fantasies were an improvement. I was finally allowing myself to express my anger outward instead of directing it inward at my self— which fed my depression, suicidal urges and thoughts.
When I got home, I scheduled an emergency visit with my psychiatrist even though I neither liked him nor trusted him. I told him the situation. He was unimpressed by my insight. He stated if the homicidal feelings continued, I had the option of voluntarily committing myself, or he would involuntarily commit me.
I told him I thought homicidal was too strong a word for what I was experiencing— after all, I didn’t want to kill anyone. He replied— That’s what we call such feelings in psychiatry. I told him I thought this labeling was inaccurate and wrong, but I agreed with his demand because I was scared.
The feelings continued for several days— but I stayed in my house so that I, and others, would be safe. I contacted an old therapist who was in charge of the psychiatric social workers at the public hospital where I would be evaluated for commitment. She reserved me a bed, for the next day, at another unit–one she thought was better.
She also alluded to the fact that hospitalization would be good for my pending disability case and suggested that, after years of avoiding hospitalization, this was a good time to go— to be in a safe place where I could be helped.
I had avoided hospitalization for decades because I was afraid of it. She was aware of this fear and suggested I think of hospitalization as a vacation from my daily fears and stressors. I didn’t accept this last viewpoint, but my fear of losing control and injuring others, being injured by them and incarceration trumped my fear of hospitalization.
At that time, and for decades previously, I kept my symptoms a secret from everyone but mental health professionals. So, I told my parents and my ex-wife I was not doing well and that I was going to the hospital because of the disability case. They were surprised, but supportive.
Unfortunately, I was so out of it, I had my mother drive me to the wrong hospital the next day. A family member, I don’t recall which one, picked me up a few hours later and I spent a sleepless night at home.
I knew, from experience, I might wait 12, or more, hours in an intake line at the public hospital. I didn’t think, given my symptoms, I could stand in line with strangers for that length of time. So, I wrote a note that said, I’m a psychiatric patient at MHMRA. I feel like hurting people. My psychiatrist told me to come here.
The next day, I put ear-plugs in, because I was hyper-sensitive to sound, and my mother dropped me off at the correct hospital. I had a small backpack with clothes, toiletries, and my medications.
There was a long line of twenty or thirty people at the intake desk. I went directly to the front and handed the nurse the note. Annoyed, the nurse read it. More annoyed, she told me to stand away from her and the line- by a station where blood pressure was taken. I stood there trying to feel invisible.
Another nurse brought a patient to the station to take his blood pressure. Annoyed, she told me I couldn’t stand there. I pointed to the nurse who had told me to stand there and explained she told me to. Then I showed her the note. She appeared even more irritated by my presence and told me to stand further back in the corner.
I scrunched myself into the corner— as far away from the nurse and the patients who were having their blood pressure taken- then I mentally disappeared.
After awhile, my old therapist appeared. I explained the mix up. She touched me on the shoulder to comfort me and said–Oh, you poor dear, you are trembling! Then she went off to find someone to take me to the psychiatric assessment area faster.
I was trembling because being surrounded by so many strangers had tripped a memory–real, false, repressed or manufactured, of being sexually abused. I felt like I was in danger, and that somehow it might happen again to me right there and then. Mentally I considered the possibility it was a delusion, an artifact of my illness. Whatever it was, it seemed very real to me and drove my emotions and my body.
I stood in the corner, focusing on being quiet and tried to disappear again. I had no homicidal urges—only a feeling that I was in profound danger. A gentle, courteous psychiatric resident came and got me. He asked, Is there anything I can do for you? I said, I’ll be fine as long as no one touches me. I repeated this several times. He said it wouldn’t be a problem- everything was going to be ok.
Mentally I was split between feeling I was in terrible danger and believing, with a young child’s unconditional trust, the kind resident. He then took me behind the intake desk, and through a door that locked behind us.