This happened on Wednesday 31st January.
This is it: this post is the reason you all have been worried about me. I should start by saying that everything is fine and I am doing very well, thank you. That said, this post is about a rather difficult period in my life I’d like to share with you. Like some of the other difficult times in my life, it involves a guy…
I think I mentioned before that Stephen (my boyfriend, or so it seems) suffers a malady of the mind. Before I even met him, he confessed he occasionally suffered from panic attacks. This didn’t bother me. As I got to know him, I realised his condition was a little more complicated than your garden variety anxiety: he is diagnosed with manic-depression, also known as bipolar disorder. We talked about it a lot and I told him that if ever he was having a rough time, a panic attack or anything, he should call me.
One such day, while at work, I got a text message from him. He was in the grips of a panic attack. No, he responded to my question, he couldn’t take any Ativan: there was heavy machinery around. Ativan is an anti-convulsant, they give it to people when they’re in the throws of anxiety, delirium catatonia and many other rather nasty mental states. It has the effect of turning Stephen into a zombie in a matter of seconds.
So, I just responded back as best I could, reading along as he described the symptoms to me: the terrifying choking sensation, the feeling as though your blood is trying to boil its way out of your skin. When it was over, his mother messaged me to confirm the panic attack, she was worried about him. I decided then that I would break my first rule and take him out to the movies tonight: a week night. The rule had been that we see each other on weekends only.
I turned up at his parents’ house after clearing it with his mother, Jo. She met me just outside the door.
“Could you take him home with you tonight?” she asked me, her eyes filled with maternal concern. “I know it’s against your rules, but I know that if you take him with you, he’ll get up in time for work in the morning”.
I agreed. It’s not often that someone’s mother makes such a request, so I guessed it must be serious.
Stephen had been living with his parents since the second week after I met him. Partly due to my encouragement, he had patched things up with his second stepfather (Patric) and Patric had graciously allowed Stephen to have his old room back.
I walked into the house and met with a bewildered Stephen. He stared at me with a look of dazed shock and confusion. He must have succumbed and taken an Ativan pill after all.
“What are you doing?” he asked as I gave him a hug “why are you breaking a rule?”
“Well, I heard you were feeling down and I thought we could go to a movie” I replied.
I greeted the rest of his family then took him away with me.
He sat down next to me in the car. He was acting rather strangely: dazed one might say. I guess the anxiety tends to take its toll. He put one of his favourite CDs in (Barenaked ladies as usual) then turned to me and said: “I know I shouldn’t feel this way, but I feel like someone who loves me just came and rescued me”
I smiled “I have, sweetie pie, I have” I answered as comfortingly as I could manage.
In truth I was really worried. The only other person I knew who ever acted this dazed was my dear English teacher Mr. Mace. He would go a little funny whenever his body ran out of sugar (he was diabetic). He died alone in his apartment a year after I left high school, most likely from diabetic shock.
I took Stephen to “On the Border”: a very nice Mexican restaurant (tex-mex really). He seemed to enjoy it, but he was in a funny mood the whole time. As though he was constantly preoccupied with something and wasn’t able to devote his full attention to the here and now.
We went to the movie after that. It was “Curse of the Golden Flower”. It was a Monday, so we were fortunate enough to get the entire theatre to ourselves. Before the movie even started Stephen suggested we could get a DVD afterwards. I told him it was already late and we both had work in the morning, so it wasn’t going to happen.
The movie was, in a word, crap. The plot was ho-hum. Practically the only notable part of the film was the size of the leading lady’s cleavage and I think it’s fair to say neither of us was all that enthralled.
After the movie, as we entered the car, he suggested a DVD again.
“Look, I just want to watch a nice Kung-Fu movie with you, I have a few in mind”
“No,” I responded firmly “I’m sorry, but it’s late”
“You’re not sorry” he said (something people often say to me because I apologise so frequently) “being sorry would imply some action on your part. If you were sorry, you’d get the DVD.” he pouted.
“Oh, now you’re being childish” I teased him.
To be honest, I was really concerned. He already looks young. What if he really wasn’t as mature as he and his family kept telling me? I started getting a little testy at this thought.
By the time we were back home to my place we had been bickering like an old couple, but not over anything more significant than whether or not we should get a silly DVD. Finally, in bed, he said the words that really ticked me off:
“If you loved me, you would have got a DVD”
Now, I had never told him I loved him. I’d only known him for about three weeks and I wasn’t about to say the words you can’t take back, even though he had made up his mind 3 days after meeting me.
“Right, well, I’m sorry you feel that way” I said hotly and turned over, affording him the coldest shoulder in my repertoire.
After a few minutes he left to go lie on the couch with a dejected “I don’t deserve to be here with you”.
I waited a while then followed him.
I found him sobbing uncontrollably on the couch.
I held him and consoled him I said I would stay on the couch with him all night. After a while, he eventually capitulated and we went to bed.
The next day, he remembered nothing of that night, nothing at all. Not dinner, not the movie, nor the argument we had afterwards. Except the fact that he had done something to be very embarrassed about and that he owed me an apology.
So, he apologized profusely, and of course I forgave him. I put it down to the chemical imbalance in his brain. I was really relieved that he was seeing his psychiatrist on Wednesday: Dr. Starla Harrison of the “Mental Health Mental Retardation” MHMR clinic in Mesquite. I encouraged him to tell her everything about that night, and also about the memory loss, so she could adjust his medication appropriately. I know that Ativan causes memory loss and it could also explain the strange mood swings.
I asked his mother if he was getting proper psychiatric treatment (and counseling) since pills are no good in isolation. She assured me that the meeting with his doctor took all day. This was something of a fib on her part. It would be a full week before I found out that the reason it took all day is he had to wait all day in the waiting room before the doctor could see him for half an hour, not because he was receiving any actual treatment.
You see, the MHMR clinic in Mesquite is not a place of wellness. It’s a place where people with no money go to get treatment for very expensive problems. He and his mother would wait there all day, as patients dosed up on mood stabilizers and tranquilizers walked around in a zombie state and under-qualified staff handed out happy pills to whomever seemed to need them the most.
I, blissfully unaware of this, thought that when his doctor changed his prescription to increase the dosage of Paxil, it was because she knew more than I did.
Thursday, the day after his appointment, he called me to talk about his birthday party. He’d always wanted a birthday party with friends and he’d apparently only ever had one real birthday party of note: a surprise party. He wanted to invite some friends over from work to my place. I reluctantly agreed and chastised him for not giving me more notice. His birthday was literally the next day: Friday.
Friday morning (the next day), he text messaged me to say that none of his workmates were coming.
“Please don’t be disappointed with me” he asked dejectedly.
He spent the rest of his birthday moping about his ruined birthday.
I quickly called Culpeppers, the fanciest restaurant in my area and booked dinner for two, just in case everything else fell through. I also coordinated with his mother to see when it would be appropriate for me to come over.
That night I raced home, bought some alchohol and some party supplies, picked up the cake I had baked for him, and finally the gift I had bought and wrapped the night before. His mother sent me a rather anxious text message: “How long will you be? He’s really down.”
I turned up on his doorstep and his mother ushered me inside. I was a little chagrined to find that she had bought him a cake, even after I told her I was making one. Hers was store bought, mine made from scratch (I had resisted the temptation to buy a cake mix and done everything the old fashioned way).
The cake is called a “Red Velvet” cake. It’s a distinctly “Southern” recipe. Stephen’s favourite. It’s a chocolate cake, made with buttermilk. The special thing about this cake is the fact that it’s completely red on the inside, due to the fact that I dumped 3 bottles of red food colouring in it. I even made the cream cheese icing from scratch.
Once again, he looked a little dazed and confused. He was particularly glad to see me though. I proffered the gift with pride. I am not particularly good at choosing gifts, but this time I was pretty sure I got exactly what he wanted. It was a book: a book in a series he had always wanted but had never been able to get. I grinned with pride at his obvious pleasure, even though he still seemed quite upset about being stood up by his friends.
I cancelled the dinner at Culpeppers since his mother assured me his stepfather wanted to take Stephen out to dinner at the local Belgian restaurant: Fritzels. By the way Patric spoke, I got the feeling that Jo exaggerated his eagerness to take Stephen out to dinner. I assumed that this dinner was more her doing than anything else. I tagged along, out of politeness, the wiener schnitzel was particularly nice.
That weekend was really good. We were invited to dinner by some of my friends and I daresay Stephen had a great time. We also went to church and watched a few DVDs. More notably to me, that was the first weekend where I ventured to suggest to him that I loved him too.
The next Monday he had a pretty bad day at work. For some reason he felt as though his workmates had betrayed him by standing him up on his birthday. This seemed to make him even more depressed than usual. He took some Ativan again on Monday night, this time it had nothing to do with anxiety, just his depression.
The next morning (Tuesday) I awoke at 6am to a phone call. I rolled over and groaned. It was Stephen’s mother.
“Yes? Hello Jo, how are you?”
“It’s Stephen, he won’t get up for work.”
I groaned again, internally “I’m sorry…”
“He really needs to go to work, could you speak to him?”
Feeling more and more like the parent of a belligerent child, I agreed.
“Hi honey” came his sweet yet tired voice on the other end of the line.
“You need to go to work, sweetie” I said as forcefully as I could, what else could I say?
After a few minutes of arguing with him I gave up and apologized to his mother.
“I can’t speak to him when he’s in this mood, Jo, sorry”
So, Stephen didn’t go to work that day. That evening, Jo begged me to take him home with me. That way, she reasoned, I could get him up in the morning and have him ready for work. I reluctantly agreed.
I succeeded in getting him to bed and awake on time. This was something of a small miracle given the fact that he seemed to be diving deeper and deeper into the depths of some dark bipolar depression. This day, Wednesday the 31st of January will forever be my black Wednesday. The following Monday (5th February) will forever be my black Monday.
I awoke at 5 am and started the process of getting him up in time for work. I got so frustrated that I started dressing him myself. He was in no mood to cooperate. I finally did get him out of the door at 5:45am. I handed him his box cutters (what we in New Zealand or South Africa would call a Stanley knife). He kept one on his person at all times as a part of his job.
On the way to his home, I was pulled over by a police officer. A great start to a great day. He wrote me a citation because one of my headlights had gone out. It must have happened very recently because I hadn’t noticed it. The rest of the morning was uneventful. Since I was worried about how he may be feeling, I sent him a text message:
Me: Thinking of you
Him: That helps, but I still hate everything
Me: I am sure the feeling is mutual :p
Him: glib remarks can be said at more appropriate times
Him: I know it sucks that I’m being so juvenile, but being cute about it is something a bad boyfriend does. If I’m being too heavy a burden then leave and save yourself.
Me: Sorry baby…
Me: Am I being cute about it?
Him: Condescension, glib remarks… what do you think?
Me: I think I have ceased being a part of the solution and am now part of the problem.
Him: Don’t leave me…
Me: Battery running out.
Me: We’ll tough this out, somehow…
Him: If I do what I’m thinking about doing I just want you to know it’s not your fault. Please don’t blame yourself.
Me: wtf? No!
Him: Don’t blame yourself or weakness on my part. Thyroid levels, it’s the logical conclusion, I’m sorry I can’t be that perfect husband for you.
Me: Let’s talk about it tonight. don’t do anything!
I then messaged his mother:
Me: Keep an eye on him, about to do something foolish…
She told me he was working off-site.
My phone buzzed as I received another text message and chose that opportune moment to run out of battery power.
Now, you may think I am paranoid or that I overreacted but I went straight to my boss and got the rest of the day off. I changed a little code so others could keep working and then dashed out of the office.
Clutching my useless phone in my hand, I started praying. Now, the usual prayer I pray about Stephen is: “your will be done, not my own”. This time, I added “but, I pray that your will is that he stop whatever it is he’s planning”.
Best case scenario, he was going to be obnoxious to his boss or something and get fired. Worst case scenario, he was going to throw himself off a building somewhere. I wasn’t sure what I could possibly do in either case, but I knew I needed to charge my phone and be nearer his workplace.
I got more and more anxious as I reached my destination. Possible scenarios flitting dangerously through my head like angry bees. I bit the back of my hand in frustration every time I had to slow down for a set of traffic lights or another motorist.
I don’t think I have ever prayed so long or so hard than that 30 minute drive from my workplace in Greenville to home in Rockwall.
I burst into my little apartment. Something was nagging at the back of my mind, but I pushed it aside for now. I had more important things to worry about. I plugged my useless phone in, immediately trying to turn it on. This failed. Of course, I need to wait till it takes some of the charge. Just one more lesson in patience. I paced the room and tripped on the power cable, pulling it out of the socket
“Damnit all to hell!” I yelled in a rare act of blasphemy.
“Sorry, didn’t mean it!” I exclaimed as I plugged it back in. I really didn’t need God angry with me at this time. So, lacking anything else to do, I got on my knees and prayed again. Then I turned on my laptop. Maybe I could find out the address of where he worked so I could go speak to him in person.
I opened my browser and got an error. The network was disabled. How could that be? My network was always on. I checked the router: dead. My heart sank rapidly into my stomach as I came to a sickening realization.
I flicked the light switch: nothing.
The power was out. At just the wrong moment too.
My single profane syllable reverberated around the whole complex. I was desperate now, beside myself with worry and panic. I drove to a building that housed the administration staff for the nearby gated community and asked if I could plug myself in.
The very first text message I received: the one I had missed over half an hour ago read:
Now, those of you who are cynical may say “he was never going to do it”. You may say that it was just a cry for help or (worse) a bid for my undivided attention.
Well, that may very well be, but when someone threatens suicide, no matter what their reasons, I take it very seriously. New Zealand has one of the highest suicide rates in the world. The most at risk group are young males in the age range 20-24. Whenever they call me asking for donations to support the prevention of youth suicide, I always give generously. There are few things sadder to me than a young life full of potential cut short for no good reason.
I immediately called him and sighed with relief when I heard his small, slightly bewildered voice on the other end.
“Hi sweetie” I said, rather shaken “how are you?”
“Oh, fine, I’m on my way home. They sent me home.”
“Did you… are you cut?” I managed
“No, my supervisor saw me acting suspicious and he sent me home sick, I’ll be home soon.”
I immediately started driving to his house.
Once I arrived at his parents’ place I got out of the car and waited. Much to my incredulity, it started snowing. I had never experienced snow precipitating before. I had only ever come across snow that had already fallen, so this was quite a treat for me.
I just stood there for five minutes, my arms spread out, trying to catch globules of now on my tongue. I really enjoyed this sensation. If only it had been under happier circumstances.
Incidentally, the title of this post comes from “Time Warp” which used to be a rather popular song from the musical “Rocky Horror Picture Show”.
More to come…