Thursday, April 21, 2011

I went for a walk today in my "new" sandals. They're the new pair I bought for our trip to Greece. That was almost ten years ago now. Still, the sandals seem new. They aren't falling apart like the pair I had just before them-- the pair that I decided to leave behind when we left our hotel in Samos. Not that I threw them away-- I left them at the baseboards, where another person could find them and use them. That was my intention, anyway-- to leave them for another traveler. I'm pretty sure they were trashed by the staff that prepared the room for the next guests. But I was thinking along the lines of making connections with my fellow man, and tossing a coin into the fountain, so to speak. Leaving behind a pair of sandals to me seemed to be handing off a part of my story to another power, one that would find use in the universe for my un-needed shoes. A gift left behind, instead of trash. Or forgotten or lost items. A gift.

There were a lot of things creatively metaphorical in my head that day that we left Samos. My mood disorder had been decompensating, unbeknownst to me, my wife, and all of my acquaintances that we were traveling with. That is to say, I was sick and getting sicker by the moment, and nobody really knew it. I can see it now, now that I've gone through treatment, had numerous other stays in the hospital, and attended lots of group therapy sessions. But I was none the wiser at this particular point in time, setting off our return to home after a wonderful vacation.

I can remember now the first point that I had some cause for concern. It was anxiety that popped up while we were out with Neal, Armand's grad school buddy. Neal had some things that he wanted to ship home so that he'd have more room in his baggage, so we stopped in at a postal office and waited in line. Suzy and I wanted to get some stamps too, so we could send postcards to a handful of folks back in the States. We waited in line, listening to the conversations in Greek, trying to read the emotions and body language for some clues as to what was being communicated. It can be kind of unsettling not knowing what is being said and not knowing what is going on.

I got anxious when it came time for Neal to post his package. I noticed it was a small box, maybe six inches square. It looked to me like he stuffed a pair of socks in it and was closing that up to send. It didn't make sense to me that someone would ship a pair of socks home or somewhere-- what a waste of time and money! But this was turned inward, somehow. My incredulity with the situation undermined my sense of well-being, and I began to question my own sanity. Was what was happening kind of crazy, or was it just me? I felt a rush of anxiety flush my head as I shuddered to think and feared the answers to my questioning mind. Rapid fire doubt sprinkled into the mixture of thought and I began to focus deep within myself with fear and anxiety.

I remember turning to walk out of the post office, staring into the eyes of those who would make eye contact with me. I was searching for a grain of truth to nourish my faltering self concept. As Suzy and I stepped outside into the sunlight, I regained some of my composure and noted to her how I had just lapsed into a sort of spell. I tried to explain it, as I've tried to do again here, but I couldn't quite put my finger on it. I likened it to a feeling that I had when I was having a "bad trip" on LSD. Suzy reassured me and said that we would keep an eye on things. This was well before I had trouble sleeping, or had the recollections of her miscarriage that made me emotional. But it was "real" in how it felt-- infinite helplessness, frozen with fear.

It would happen again as I decompensated further over the course of those final few days. It didn't help that I was unable to sleep. I had tossed and turned for a while, then decided to take a walk. This was the night before we were to catch our flight out of Samos back to Athens. I walked down to the beach and stood at the water's edge, noticing the slight breeze at it tickled the leaves in the small trees. I stared out over the calm water. I felt a slight draw, as if the water was pulling me towards it. The hotel was built into the side of a hill, and there was a fairly steep grade sending everything towards the water. I imagined a story of a lady walking calmly down the grade, into the water, and disappearing beneath the surface. I considered making that walk myself.

Instead, I reached down and picked up a few pebbles from the beach. I felt a calmness overcome me. It was as if suddenly I was no longer questioning anything. I became aware of my surroundings and I felt a presence that was greater than myself. I again looked to the horizon, and flipped a pebble into the water. Out on the horizon, a light flashed. Taking this as a sign, I flipped another stone into the water, and then another, in rhythm. One. Two. I looked to the horizon. The light flashed in time: One. Two. This answered every question for me that I could think of. I had seen the light, in more ways than one.

I climbed back up to our room and sat out on the balcony, awaiting the sunrise. As it slowly got lighter, my mind lead me to various places, many of which I don't remember. But I remember revisiting the whole scenario of our miscarriage. And I finally wept for the first time for the loss of our unborn child. I had been trying so hard to be strong and supportive for Suzy that I hadn't actually made time to go there. The day that we found out that she had a blighted ovum, I had actually been encouraged and optimistic, because we finally had proof that we could conceive a child, after a lot of trying to no avail. I had taken the news in the best way that I could, but I hadn't allowed myself to fathom the grief or the loss that we had suffered as well. So here I was in Greece, months later, finally approaching the concept that we had lost a life, and so I cried for what she may have been, what she might have done. All the things that could have happened but didn't.

At some point, I became overwhelmed with the notion of loss and started to fear losing Suzy. What if she doesn't wake up? What if she's been taken from me as she slept? I feared going back into the room, but I had to. I had to crawl back into bed and see if she would stir. Would she just lie there, motionless? I could not bear to think of life without her. Please, Lord, don't do this. Not now. I can't take it.

I rustled the sheet a bit. Suzy didn't move. I climbed closer to her, praying that she wake up.

Suzy took a deep breath and rolled over. "You're not sleepy?" she asked, through a yawn.

"No," I squeaked. "Just waiting for the sunrise."

Monday, April 18, 2011

Getting a Live One

Enough messing around. Let's get busy.

It was the last day that we were in Samos and I was tired. I had been manic earlier due to lack of sleep and was currently crashing down. I remember wanting to just lay down and sleep, but we couldn't because we had already checked out of our room. In fact, we had already been to the airport and been told that our flight was cancelled, so we returned to the hotel to hang out in the lobby. When that got old we rolled everything down to the pool bar. I remember my wife saying something to the effect of "let's see if we can wake this guy up a little," referring to me and the use of alcohol.

Now, usually, this would have meant a joke, as in ha ha, Michael needs to loosen up and have some fun. But this was also long before I was diagnosed as bipolar. We had no idea what could happen. Indeed, we had no idea what would happen.

Suz and I went down to the pool bar, and I was inside my head, not talking much at all. I was really tired, but there was no sleep to be had. I suppose I could have stretched out on one of the chaise lounges at the pool, but then I wasn't really capable of relaxing enough to sleep. I was tired and anxious-- anxious to get on the plane and get going towards getting back home. I wanted to get home, but I didn't want to leave, either. This was such a paradise, and I'd had some powerful, moving experiences here. I didn't want to leave and go back to the daily routine and work. But I wanted to get out of this purgatory, waiting for the rescheduled flight, too. So there was a tear in my psyche. I had no idea I was to be ripping up entirely by night's end.

While sitting down at the pool bar, every song that came on the canned music overhead seemed to hold a message for me. I can't recall the exact songs-- it's been almost ten years now-- but I remember the magical thinking. Like "A-ha! That's why this is playing," or "That's what those lyrics mean!" I'd be curious to know what my wife remembers from that time. We'll be talking about it again, I'm sure.

Getting back to the "wake him up" comment-- I remember thinking that this was all magical. Somehow, all the times that I'd heard about references to sleep and death and all things related were cued up and ready to augment any theories that I could come up with about what was going on in this altered manic reality. The times I had heard someone refer to themselves sleeping like they were dead-- lead me to magical thinking that I had died and was being brought back to life with potions and rehabilitation. Let's go get Mike a drink and see if we can breathe some life into him.

The death scenarios were enhanced by the happenings of the trip-- Milt's near death experience with the fractured skull, coming back to rejoin us on the trip after a hospital stay. Milt had magically appeared at the airport and assisted our group in getting the details ironed out when the flights got fouled up. In my state of mind, I likened this as a renaissance, a rebirth of Armand's fallen father, resurrected to assist us through this portal in life. As if our plane was to deliver us to the promised land. Or something like that.

So. Back at the hotel pool, I remember feeling as though I was awakening from an illness. And in a way I was, but I had no utility to fathom it at the time. I was in between states of mania, in a depression of sorts, making my way in my manic sleep deprived mind. I remember feeling like I was in a rehabilitation facility of some sort, that I had been detoxing off some drugs or something and was "coming back to life." So out of these thoughts was born the idea that I needed to be sober. This was probably a good idea, but it perplexed the others around me at the time, because we had been drinking buddies for most of the trip, and we were still partying, after all. But I was reacting to deeply thought out patterns from my overactive mind that told me different things about the reality that I shared with these people. This is how psychosis occurs-- warped thinking develops into thoughts that seem factual. It feels common and acceptable, though it is wacky and crazy.

So I think we may have had a beer or two, actually, down at the pool bar. What else would we have done? I don't see myself as ordering a diet soda. We were in Europe, after all, so they wouldn't have had Diet Coke. It would have been Coke Lite or some such manifestation. So we killed some time (again with the death) and eventually made it back to the cabs to make another go of the airport ritual. Little did I know how sick I already was. And it wasn't the beer, either.

The second go of the Samos airport was a little bit smoother. This was when Milt showed up to arrange for us our departure and unwrankled a lot of nerves in our group. At least, that's how I'm remembering it now. Suzy can help me out with the details. I remember when Suzy and I reached the check-in desk, I said something like "I'm a complete nutcase" and Suzy said "And I'm a nervous wreck." Neither of us new how poignant we were being.

Once on the plane, I settled into my own demented thinking. I closed my eyes and imagined that I could control the plane with my mind. This would lead me to thoughts that magically ushered me in as god-like. After we took off, I settled into the rhythm of the engines and closed my eyes. I imagined that I was controlling the plane, and that I made it take a nose dive into the ocean, a half hour or so into our flight. I imagined that I had to do it, as God, to take life away just as I create it-- out of my whim. I knew that this was somehow incorrect, on some level, because I opened my eyes and the plane and all its passengers was still there. But the thought lingered, probably because I was manic, or maybe because I hadn't slept. Whatever reason, my mind was not operating correctly and I gave equal parts reality to those god thoughts as I did my perceptions that flew in contention with them.

One other thing-- when we were getting on the plane in Samos, I remember thinking that I saw a different plane that Armand and Melissa were getting onto. They had different travel plans than Suzy and I did, so this made sense metaphorically. They would be taking a different plane than us. But my imagination ran with the idea, showing me an Armand that was a jet-setter type of person, rich and famous, darting off with his wife to save the world under the watchful eye of his following fans. The idea was that He had already realized fortune and fame to a degree that I could only dream about, and that they had made time to see us but had to get back to their jet-setter lifestyle now. All of this was in my head-- Armand and Melissa were just getting started in their lives back in the US, just as Suzy and I were, really. But the brush with Susie Buffet had accented the fortune telling in my brain (pun intended) and lent justification to the idea that the Hatzidakis' were of a different tax bracket entirely.

Maybe it was a bit of jealousy that lit the fire of these thoughts. Coulda been. Family relationships with billionaires are difficult to come by, I would think. But what they actually mean was being romanticized, dramatized in my head. And the idea that a doctor and a dentist just starting out after school would be rich and famous is laughable in reality. But reality wasn't what I was dealing with, obviously. Obvious, at least, now that I have the perspective. Now that I know that I'm bipolar and what that entails. Now I know a different bunch of things to think when my thinking starts going weird places like that. Now I know a few more ways to check myself and realize better what reality is. And I realize how far gone I was at these points already. I hope to catch myself earlier, now that I know.

Still, it's a struggle. How do you really know? You can't know all the time. So don't try. But you can build in check points, and check people. And you can make it work.

That's the life I'm trying to live now.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Reincarnation: From Stuff to Stuff

Some things crossing my mind the last several days... I have Corey Hart's album. Still. On vinyl. Along with a lot of other vinyl. I cannot justify why I keep these things. But it is just the tip of the iceberg. There are other things I'm hoarding: A box full of Writer's Digest magazines from the late 1980's. An assortment of metal scraps that I've collected over the past several years. Shelving. Hundreds of cd's that I never listen to (because I have iTunes and an iPod now). Christmas lights and assorted decorations. Stuff. It's what America is all about. I've got books that my parents used in college. Books that I've inherited and not read. Books that I've tried reading but never made it through. I've got magazines and old newspapers (weeklys and dailys) that I've yet to read. Or that I've partially read and kept to share with others. Or that I have no reasoning as to why I've kept. I've got a foot locker full of mostly such publications. I have trouble letting go. I want to be perfect and remember it all. I want to be nostalgic. I plan to reminisce. I guess. I've got a lot of t-shirts. A lot. I could make several blankets with them, if sewed together. Tons of photographs, not even in albums. More dress socks than I'll ever have a need for. But the greatest excess I'm sporting is not all that. It's not even my gut. It's the glut of stuff in my head, constantly swirling around my attention, bargaining for its preference. I've got so many words, concepts, songs, thoughts... boggling, it is. Downright bogging in fact. Again I'm reminded of the concept of latent inhibition-- the condition of having a collection of unimportant data lodged in one's mind. Like trivia without the game's utility. But is it this condition that provides the fertile soil from which great ideas grow strong and vibrant? Does a glut of apparent waste give birth to the dormant seed? Or does that seed exist despite the glut? Perhaps the seed is fed by the waste, but exists fully encapsulated: a beautiful flower only waiting to be fully realized. Now that spring is sprouting all around me, be it blooms or weeds, I'm once again enticed by the rebirth to organize, clean, prune, and pare. Is this a constant for all human beings? Are we all compelled to nest and regroup, rehash, and renovate as this season erupts beneath us? From the discarded, decomposing detritus of winter's fury comes life, born again. And in glorious, technicolor fanfare. Billowing euphoric blooms light up the daytime, reflecting the sun and beaming a rejuevenating energy to our brains. And right along side of the beautiful tulip blooms the nagging weed or sticker bush. It's all a part of the balance of life. Our perspective my drift and wonder, gathering inertia for its theories. And briefly we may think that there is more this or more that... but there is only the one. The One. It is all. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust. As one dies, another is born. It is the way. But it still doesn't explain all the vinyl.