Today I returned home after a long stay at McLean, a psychiatric hospital not far from Boston.
I now recognize that I was getting increasingly manic in the days leading up to my trip to the emergency room and subsequent hospitalization. People at work and in my personal life kept asking me what had gotten into to me. I kept wondering why they were moving, talking, and thinking so slowly.
My “first break” (first mood episode) occurred on Thursday, March 5th. The night before I had only slept for an hour and the nights before that I hadn't been sleeping well either. I had experienced sleep deprivation before when my children were babies, but nothing like this. Instead of sleeping I was in chat rooms or working away on what seemed like some great ideas. After the sun finally came up and I had some breakfast, I biked to work, taking more risks than I normally would, and stopped at the gym along the way.
In the gym thoughts started racing toward me. I was in the shower when waves of emotions passed over me. I was worried about my children, that if I'm going crazy that they may suffer from mental illness someday too. I kept having the thought that God wanted me to do something, that I was part of His plan. Sobbing and breathing hard and fast, I got out of the shower, toweled off, and texted to my wife, “Im scared.” Right away she offered meeting me for lunch or talking on the phone. I ran around at work that morning, went to a lunch talk in which I sang a bit when introducing myself (and got a colleague to sing with me) and called her afterwards. She opined that I was having a manic episode and insisted that I go to my doctor to explain my symptoms: insomnia, sweating, Raynaud's, being emotional. My doctor was out but I managed to get an appointment five days out.
Back at the office my boss and I agreed that it would be best for me to head home early and get some rest. He offered to drive me home but I told him I'd be ok biking. Once I got home I crawled into bed but couldn't sleep. I was overcome with emotion and begged my wife to keep our children safe from mental illness. Once she left the room I felt compelled to pick up my laptop and start typing into a chat room messages that felt like they were coming from God. It was like I was speaking in tongues but words were coming out of my fingers rather than my mouth. I felt some degree of fear but mostly I felt a sense of wonder and beauty, that I could let go and allow God to put the words He wanted into the world. I was writing in the voice of Martin Luther King and asking people in the chat room to acknowledge that they were witnessing a miracle, proof of the existence of God. On MLK Day, Michael Moore's podcast had featured several MLK speeches and I was thinking that I could get him to look at the words I was typing and know that a miracle had occurred, that this was a sign from God, 21st century style.
Over and over I kept having the feeling like God had a sense of humor. Several times I had already had the feeling that if God was telling me that if I did His will that he would cure my bald spot.
I continued to feel like my movements, and even my spoken words, were being controlled by God. Now that the word of God had been typed, I linked to it in a WhatsApp message to a friend. Then I shared that link to each and every person I have in my WhatsApp address book. Then I called a friend and tried to convince him to tweet the link to Michael Moore, who would understand because he was raised Catholic like me.
By this time my dear sweet wife had had enough. She took my phone away and stuffed me in a Lyft to take me to the emergency room. The driver was very talkative and I felt like I could predict what she was going to say next. I started asking my wife if she believed in God, a question I would repeat over and over. After a while we spoke for a few minutes in a private room with a nurse. I kept telling her that if she would just look at the chat room, that all would be explained, that she could witness a sign from God. She was pleasant but sent us to the waiting area where we sat for hours.
As we waited, I started seeing things. My wife was on the phone and I felt compelled to walk over to a nearby screen which said something about writers. The screen changed every 20 seconds or so and I saw the face of a woman who had been at the lunch talk earlier. I also saw screens that I felt warned of trouble ahead with Coronavirus. I even had the sense of the end of days and wondered if God was trying to say something about the apocalypse or judgement day. I wept. I was so tired that I asked if I could sleep on the floor.
Thoughts began racing into my head again. I was desperate for paper and a pen so I could write them down, so they would leave my mind. I wrote about prophets, judgement day, 70% of people infected, proof of God's existence, being woke, friendship and brotherhood, chaotic good, purpose, making a difference, and quiet in a world that won't stop talking. I also wrote about things that had been stressing me out. I wrote, “Please don't push me, please don't break me.”
Eventually they allowed me to go into the emergency room, which was extremely loud. When they weren't drawing blood, giving me an EKG, or asking me questions, I cupped my hands over my ears and rocked a bit. They told me I would be going to McLean the next day and somehow I got out of my clothes and into blue hospital johnnies before sleeping that night in the emergency room.
In the morning I was transported by ambulance to McLean to my new home, AB2, a place for patients with bipolar or schizophrenia. AB stands for admissions building and I was on the second floor, the north side, with 21 beds. My understanding is that there are another 21 beds on the south side. I was easily the oldest patient there and much of the staff was also youthful. The slogans for AB2 are “AB2 will get you through” and “Cura ab Initio” or “Care from the beginning.”
I spent a total of 12 nights in AB2. I made a lot of friends and during rounds every weekday morning I met with the Blue Team, which consisted of two psychiatrists, a nurse, a social worker, and sometimes a few other people. They put me on Ativan initially and then moved me to Lithium and Seroquel. They gave me the opportunity to participate in a case conference and gave me journal articles to read. The food was fine and I was able to play basketball, soccer, Ultimate Frisbee, guitar, and piano. Many groups I attended were oriented toward mental health but others gave me an opportunity to do some artwork. I'm especially happy with how my watercolor turned out.
When I asked if I have a specific diagnosis, I was told Bipolar I but I like reflecting on the conversation I had with one of the psychiatrists about halfway through my stay at McLean. She said that because I don't seem to suffer from depression, to her it seems like I have “classic euphoric mania.” She even gave me an article called “The relationship between creativity and mood disorders” by Nancy C. Andreasen that makes me feel better about my diagnosis. Mood disorders are common in creative people. She is also the one who doesn't like the term “first break” and asked me to try using the term “first mood episode” instead. I'm hoping that if I get plenty of sleep and keep taking my meds that I won't have another manic episode. I'm sorry for any confusion and trouble I caused. Thank you to all my friends and loved ones for the support.