So I Stopped

I stopped a long time ago. Stopped writing here, stopped seeing people, stopped doing stuff.

In one of those seismic shifts my invisible world came unmoored from its orbit and moved into the front of the seat of consciousness. I slid into it, into madness like the average person slips into a warm bath. For me, madness has always been easy. Numb and voiceless I drifted in my inner world of eyeless angels and headless dogs. No one watched me go.

I do not have a raving sort of madness, at my worst, I am voiceless. At my worst I am still, still as a starless night, still as a sleeping volcano. But like that sleeping volcano I seethe and roil deep in a place below sight and sound. In perfect stillness, in utter abandonment of life in the realms of the living. In unison my Gods turned their eyes away. I spent days with the word ‘macerate’ as my mantra.

Things went from bad to worse to oblivious. I did not care, I could not care, I would not care. My emotions were battered and bleeding from the death of a thousand cuts, and I did not speak it. My vortex world had caught me up and I spun there far below the surface.

Sometimes I could do small things: cook a meal, maybe vacuum a room. More often I could do nothing. Roll from one side to the other, light a cigarette. Smoking down there in the darkness. The fight for sanity is a long and bloody battle and I was wounded and weary of war. I had lost my will to battle for sanity in a world that seemed far crazier than I can ever dream of being. So I quit scrabbling, quit clawing at the sides and fell out of life.

Endlessly smoking deep in the dark.
Endlessly smoking deep in the dark.

And I know that my time in madness was a priceless gift. I slept indoors, was given food, and smokes real things with real costs that I neither earned nor deserved, but they were given freely, tirelessly, without remonstrance. My benefactor is not wealthy, he has a dead end part time retail job, and he somehow keeps the wolves from our door with only that pittance as his sword and shield. He is not kin and more than kind. Before him there was precious little ever given to me where there was not an invisible contract of debt.

Slowly, over a great deal of time those small and constant kindnesses begin to create tiny patches of light in the land of shadows. Slowly, over a great deal of time I began to fight a tiny bit.

I went back to my GP, went back on med…after med…after med. Nothing helped, but we just kept trying. Six weeks of effexor, six weeks of thorazine, six weeks of haldol, six weeks of seroquel, it was an endless loop with a haunted house of side effects and no efficacy in sight. Finally clozaril, my ancient enemy was pulled from the GP’s bag of tricks, and like a fool, I swallowed the pill from Hell. Clozaril is still the pill from Hell, and it rides a pale horse.

The GP advised me to find a psychiatrist, he was at his wits’ end. It’s like going to an online dating site as an act of desperation and finding you are a 98% match with Beelzebub. But there were no more options, so I called the Medical Assistance people to see about seeing a psychiatrist. This took me on a strange new journey. The Medical Assistance people were kind, warm and friendly on the telephone. They gave me a list of psychiatrists in my area who accepted Medical Assistance along with their phone numbers. I’m glad they made it so pleasant, because I had no idea that I would repeat this process fruitlessly 14 more times.

The Medical Assistance office just has pages from their phone directory-lists and endless lists of names and phone numbers of psychiatrists who accept Medical Assistance. In my time of calling psychiatrists, I called countless child psychiatrists, multitudes of methadone clinics, psychiatrists who only treated alcoholics, psychiatrists who only treated gender disorders, only treated phobias. I called psychiatrists who treated everything and everyone…except me.

My GP stuck by me, researching as he prescribed. Me and that doctor could hunt bears together. Last August, he put me on a pill that had an amazing new side effect-endless vomiting and diarrhea. I had never had such a side effect in my life, but I gamely took it the whole 6 weeks. And I was sick as a dog the whole six weeks.

The last drug my GP wrote for me was lithium. No one had ever prescribed lithium to me before. (this is not a love song) Along with my prescription, I was given orders for bloodwork to be drawn in 30 days to check the lithium levels. After just three days on lithium, I thought that it was making me sick, but I decided to soldier on. And I felt worse and worse.

Here’s an aside that is not an aside. Our housemate goes to Burning Man every year, and he went last year. He came home with some kind of large-festival GI bug…probably norovirus. He ended up in the ER. Two days later I was in the ER with the same thing. They gave me a ton of fluids, and bunch of shots of anti-barfing drugs and sent me home.

The housemate was fine, but I got sicker and sicker.

At about 3 am one morning in early October of 2015, I was awake barfing into my trusty trash can when it dawned on me that I no longer wanted to live like this. It wasn’t the suicidal impulse I was familiar with, it was a very reasoned idea. The idea that I had gotten too physically sick to live. I felt that bad…it was like I had had the flu for nearly 8 weeks.

The nature of my will to die was so different from my usual headlong plunges into suicide that it scared the shit out of me and I did something I have never done before. I called a suicide hotline. The suicide hotline lady talked to me for hours. She kept me company until we knew I could get a ride to the hospital. I was taken to the hospital ER for a standard psych admission, so they drew all my bloodwork prior to admission and put me in a psych ER bay.

For those of you who have never seen one of these charming places, it is a totally empty room with a flat table bolted to the floor. There are no pillows or blankets, just an empty room, like Sartre’s concept of Hell without the people. Past experience had taught me that I was going to be in there for a long time. Of course they took my shoes, clothes, and book away, too. I hunkered down to wait.

I did not have long to wait.

The door burst open and an avenging army of ER staff poured in. I was put on a gurney and shuttled rapidly to an ER ICU. Apparently my blood lithium levels were nearly lethal. I was in danger of seizures or death, and needed a bit of patching up before I would ever see the psych ward. I didn’t have seizures, I didn’t die, and after a couple days, they sent me up to psych.

The ward was decent, the coffee execrable, and the staff was exceptional. By the time I checked out 10 days later, my meds were at least workable, I had been assigned a psychiatrist, a therapist, and a type of hopped up social worker called a case manager to try to get my life back on track.

It is no walk in the park, I’ve seen the psychiatrist twice, and he has changed my meds radically twice. But I guess I’m back in the game, fighting again. It isn’t perfect, Hell it isn’t even good…but put in perspective, balanced against the landscape of what it has been, I’ll take it.

Author: belladonnareed

Pamela Alexander is a 48 year old mother of two and mild menace to society. She resides in a suburb of Pittsburgh, PA with her sorely oppressed partner, and flatulent dog and a cat. She smokes like a chimney, swears like a sailor, and has been known to drink. When she grows up she hopes to move to the West coast of Mexico.

2 thoughts on “So I Stopped”

  1. Pam,
    I am sorry for your pain and suffering. I do want you to know that your writing is beautiful. It has touched me in a way that I am not free to vocalize right now, but someday I will. Your writing, your story, at the very least, may save relationships if not lives.

    1. richelleballen
      Thank you for your kind words. It would be a wonderful blessing to save a relationship, or, Gods forbid! a life…for now, I am content to try to save myself and try to give a voice to the countless numbers of people too ashamed to speak up. We all must die, and me as much as the next person, I just plan to not die of embarrassment.

      And more. Thank you as a human being. All those years ago when I was a social pariah, and even being caught talking to me could earn a kid a lot of grief, you talked to me, invited me to your house, and gave me a cookie. THAT act of selflessness very well might have saved my life. And I remember.

Please share your story. I'll try to listen compassionately and answer to the best of my ability