The PTSD Highway

 

Unknown

Freewriting Exercise at the 2015 Catamaran Writing Conference’s

Creative Nonfiction Workshop

As my husband Craig drives our daughters on Highway One in a rented cobalt blue Nissan Pathfinder, I spot the Holman Highway exit. My stomach drops, then sours. The fresh ling cod sandwich I ate half an hour ago at the Sea Harvest Restaurant is not sitting well. 

In the backseat the girls chatter nonstop with high-pitched, tween voices. The novelty of riding in a new car excites them, and they’ve begged us to buy the fancy SUV – we said no. Perhaps the “new car smell” contains a chemical that makes them even more hyper than usual. Who knows? It’s not affecting our collie Lucy who’s resting in the rear storage space. She’s in a rare moment of calm, tired after the brisk walk I gave our puppy in the Sea Harvest’s parking lot back at Moss Landing. 

When Craig takes the Holman Highway exit, no one notices the waves of terror that strike through my soul. A silent tsunami. I keep my panic deep inside, a learned behavior, and not a healthy one by any means.

It has only been two years since I was on this road headed for the psychiatric unit at the Community Hospital of the Monterey Peninsula, also known as C.H.O.M.P. 

As we pass the majestic Monterey Pines lining each side of the highway, vivid memories of my despair surface. My hands grow cold and shaky, and I feel nauseous and dizzy. I take a deep breath.

And again.

I pull out my tiny, $15.00 bottle of homeopathic Rescue Remedy from my purse. I quickly squirt a few drops of it under my tongue. No one notices my doing this – I’m fast. The tincture helps me somewhat, but the effect is very subtle.

Still, it’s better than nothing.

I first admitted myself to C.H.O.M.P. when I was thirty-eight-years-old. I returned there four more times for my treatment-resistant bipolar depression and suicidal ideation. While “suicidal ideation” doesn’t quite have the ring to it that “suicide attempt” does, I came close to taking my own life. Very, very close. And to this day it’s a miracle that I didn’t use my bathrobe belt to take me out of this world.

C.H.O.M.P. is where I pleaded for electroconvulsive therapy after my father died. I requested ECT yet again after attempting to taper off lithium. For my second round of ECT the psychiatrist and I agreed that I’d switch from unilateral to the much more intense bilateral form, and I have no regrets about doing any of it. It helped me, and my side effects were minimal. I can even still remember being born. 

Once released from the hospital, I commuted to C.H.O.M.P. many, many times for the outpatient ECT treatments I was informed I’d need to stay out of the suicidal ideation zone. I left my small children at 4:30 a.m. in order to make the 6:00 a.m. appointment time. 

I drove back and forth to these treatments by myself. (Just to be clear – doing that wasn’t ethical/legal in any way, shape or form, nor do I ever recommend that to anyone. The explanation behind my decision is explained at length in my book.)

 

 

 

Today I look out the car window and see nothing but pines; it’s a landscape fitting for a postcard. This area is so spectacular that classic films such as “Play Misty for Me” with Clint Eastwood and “The Sandpiper” with Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton were filmed here. This town is a destination point for honeymooners from every corner of the globe.

No one would guess that past the dense forest are ugly buildings housing the hopeless. The sterile, stuffy units are devoid of the beauty found just beyond their windowless rooms. 

I believe that places can activate our good or bad memories. While driving on the Holman Highway on this warm August day, little do I know that I’m on my way to a writing conference that will change my life for the better. Participating at this event will shift the traumatic memory of the Holman Highway into a mixture of horrible and good.

To my total non-ECT shock, I’m about to enjoy one of the happiest weekends of my life. The conference won’t erase my C.H.O.M.P. past – nothing short of a lobotomy or death could do that, but now this road is no longer solely reminiscent of a nightmare. It now holds better memories to offset my bipolar depression and suicidal ideation. And for that I’m grateful.

Unknown

 

Dyane’s memoir Birth of a New Brain – Healing from Postpartum Bipolar Disorder with a foreword by Dr. Walker Karraa (Transformed by Postpartum Depression: Women’s Stories of Trauma and Growth) will be published by Post Hill Press in 2016. Because Dyane isn’t going to screw up her 2nd book deal like she did with the first one!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

Triggered Once Again…

Image

A photo from the hospital’s website…my room looked nothing like this.  

The words “dreary”, “desolate”, and “sterile” sum up my room’s decor.   

It was eight months ago when I was last locked up in the loony bin for bipolar depression/suicidal ideation.  The relapse occurred during my tapering off lithium, and it was so nightmarish that I asked for bilateral electroconvulsive (ECT) treatments.  The ECT worked in tandem with a new medication combination, and I was incredibly fortunate to have minimal side effects.  While I’m not cured by any means, I’m 360-degrees better.

I know that “loony bin” is derogatory; I’ll use the euphemistically named “Garden Pavilion” at Community Hospital of the Monterey Peninsula instead.  I suppose I should wipe the snide tone out of my words at the get-go, and give this hospital much more credit.  C.H.O.M.P.’s confines and staff did help to save my life.  But the way in which that was done left much to be desired.

For one thing, I was cooped up worse than our three chickens.  We allow them to “free range” every day in our yard, and they truly seem more tranquil after these excursions.  During my lengthy time at the hospital I wasn’t taken outside once with staff for a breath of fresh air and natural sunlight.  As small a thing as that may sound, I believe that staying in an ugly, uninspiring, yucky-smelling, bleak unit 24/7 prolonged my recovery, and worsened my depression.  I’ve always loved nature, and during my deepest depressions getting out in nature gave me moments of comfort and hope.

A few months after my hospital release, I made some calls to Bay Area hospitals out of curiosity .  I learned that numerous mental health units with the same population as C.H.O.M.P. take their patients out for walks or even field trips.  Why C.H.O.M.P. couldn’t do that, I don’t know.  I called the unit about it and I couldn’t get a clear answer.

And then there is the cost of hospitalization.  I manage our bills, and we’re going to be paying C.H.O.M.P. for a very long time.  My hospital visit cost TONS of money not covered by Medicare.  I could have bought several new cards for what my hospitalization cost.  Again, I realize that I sound ungrateful and that my life is worth any exorbitant medical bill, but it still, for want of a better word, sucks.  I would have rather saved up all that money for my children’s college education.

The truth of the matter is that I feel triggered this afternoon..  My husband and daughter left for Los Angeles this morning.  Craig’s acclaimed book Quest for Flight – John J. Montgomery and the Dawn of Aviation in the West is being honored for winning the Regional Literature Award by the Great Southwest Book Festival in Hollywood.  I could have accompanied them, but I chose to stay home to write and relax. The tedious eight-hour-long drive to L.A. and and eight-hour-long drive back for only a three-day-long visit didn’t appeal to me.  (Flying there was too expensive.)  Fortunately Craig is so easygoing that he didn’t mind my staying home in the slightest.  He’s even making time to visit my Mom while there, and she’s thrilled she’ll see her eldest granddaughter.

It’s just that I haven’t been away from either Craig nor Avi since I was hospitalized and that makes me feel nervous and sad.  Memories of prior separations (I’ve had seven lengthy hospitalizations since 2007) are surfacing that I don’t want to dwell upon.  I have no concrete reason to be nervous or sad – I’m in good physical health, way better mental health than I’ve enjoyed in years, and I’ve set up plans for a few fun activities to do while they are out of town.

I am lucky to have my other daughter with me.  Rilla deserves to have me be in relatively good spirits during this one-on-one time.  So what I’ll do to get in a better frame of mind is:

1) Work out on the elliptical – this always puts me in a better mental state 

2) Plan a couple fun, special things to do with Rilla (Our big splurge is going to the famous Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk, which she has been begging me to do for ages.)

3) Use my Sunbox (I use this bright light for thirty minutes in the morning when I write or surf the internet. It helps me keep depression at bay)

4) Write 

5) Invest in some good quality chocolate!

and lastly…

6) Don’t be a recluse.  When I stay in the house all day long, it’s very bad for my mood.  Even getting out for a little while makes a big difference.

Time flies by so quickly that the three days will pass by in a heart beat anyway.

I can’t help but have a Pollyanna moment after sharing these thoughts.   I’d rather be home, freaked out, than back in that cold, scary hospital.  All I have to do to feel better is look out my window at beautiful redwood trees and the clucking trio of chickens.  It’s a pretty damn good life.  So I’ll just take the myriad of hospital bills in stride, and I’ll deal with my Garden Pavilion memories that come and thankfully go.  I have my life back in my own hands, and that’s what matters now.

I dedicate this Crowded House song “Better Be Home Soon” to Craig & Avonlea; the lyrics have a different meaning than my situation, but it’s a classic song!