Morning Cup of Crazy

In the year 2008, I was sitting at the breakfast table in the psychiatric facility of a certain hospital in California, when I noticed something disturbing. All of the other people had coffee — the kind with caffeine — but only I had decaf.

Naturally, I summoned a nearby psychiatric technician, and I asked him why I was given decaf, rather than regular coffee. I remember his name was Steve.

“Because you are bipolar,” said Steve, “a cup of coffee will hype you up, and put you at risk of having a manic episode.”

“But I drink coffee every morning, Steve,” I said calmly. “I find that my morning cup of coffee relaxes me, and helps me to focus.”

“If you were ADHD,” Steve continued, “your cup of coffee would relax you. But since you are bipolar, your cup of coffee hypes you up.”

“Well then, I must be ADHD, because my morning cup of coffee relaxes me. And really, Steve, don’t you think I know how my cup of coffee affects me? I mean, I’ve been having a cup of coffee every morning since I was 19 years old.”

“Andy,” frowned Steve, “I know that you sincerely want to be helped, but you seem to want to be helped on your own terms.”

At that, I could no longer suppress my outrage.

“My OWN terms?” I cried. “Me and a hundred million other Americans!?

(Granted, I was a bit agitated. But what do you expect? It was early in the morning before breakfast, and I hadn’t even had a cup of coffee yet.)

Long story short, my outcry attracted the attention of a number of other clinicians, and before I knew it, I was forcibly given a shot of concentrated Zyprexa on my tongue, before the words “I have the right to refuse any medications,” could emerge from my mouth.

What followed in the next few minutes is hazy in my memory. But evidently, I shortly later fell into a deep sleep. Either the next morning or the morning after, I awoke. A psych tech named Tim was standing next to me.

“Andy,” Tim said in a compassionate tone, “don’t make a big deal out of a cup of coffee here.”

I shot up from my bed. “WTF!!??”

Me being me, I made a totally big deal out of it! I went over people’s heads until I found the guy who was in charge of the place, who happened to be from Austria. Apparently, they do things a bit differently in Austria than they do in the San Francisco Bay Area. Or at least, he had a sense of right and wrong.

“That was horrible what they did to you!” he said. “And of course, you may have your morning cup of coffee from now on.”

Year 1 | Puss Bank School

I was considerably calmer each following morning, for obvious reasons. It also caused me to wonder if I had been misdagnosed. Later in Berkeley, a clinical psychologist and a psychiatrist both independently diagnosed me with ADHD, and both of them said I showed no symptoms of bipolar disorder.

Not to overemphasize demographics, but they do things differently in North Idaho, too. My present physician is considered to be an expert on mental health conditions. I saw him twice a couple weeks apart, and thought I was a little “manic” the second time I saw him. He reeled off five known symptoms of bipolar disorder and explained why I demonstrated none of them. Then he said, “If there were a line-up and I had to pick who was bipolar out of the line-up, I would not choose you.”

Prior to getting my Medicare and Medicaid with my retirement income, I was at the low income clinic where again I was disturbed that the bipolar diagnosis was on my chart, following me wherever I went. After much self-advocacy, which included accessing records from the psychologist and psychiatrist in Berkeley, the physician there diagnosed me with ADHD. I also took a test on my own — something I found on the Internet that seemed reasonable — that labeled me “Severe ADHD.” Then my physician gave me a test independently, yielding the same results.

I was put on the drug Straterra, and after three months of urinary retention and sleep paralysis, I stopped. I was able to urinate normally within two weeks after stopping, and the sleep paralysis stopped as well. I’ve not taken a psychiatric drug since then, although I’m certainly not opposed to the concept. I get tired of being a total space cadet. A little bit better focus, a little bit better reading comprehension, would be welcome. But you know, I also like my excellent physical health, and I don’t like it being messed with.

Maybe I’m proud. All I know is my morning cup of coffee relaxes me. Just ask my ex-wife.

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Dangers of Liberation (Part Two)

This post is a sequel to Dangers of Liberation (Part One).  I strongly urge you to read it first, if you want to get the most out of this one.   

I am not the only person who has had an experience like the one described in the first post of this series.  After the unbelievable epiphany of August 8, 2006, I was later to be drawn toward a number of individuals who reported a very similar event.  The problem, however, is that the information received in that moment was processed prematurely, in a mind that was unready for so radical a change.   So I didn’t encounter the others till about five years later.  

Liberation is a two-way street.  It’s not just that someone finds themselves released from a form of inner bondage or imprisonment.  When one is liberated, they are released into a new realm.   The nature of that realm is of extreme significance.   We are not only liberated from.  We are liberated into.  

You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely your goodness and love will follow me all ...

This raises a couple questions. From what sort of inner prison were we released?  Essentially, it was a conglomerate of rules, customs, social mores, status symbols, contracts, hierarchies, schedules, regimens, routines and protocols that ran contrary to our natural God-given design and character.  For lack of a better word, I and others called this conglomerate the Mainstream.   It was a stifling force, the Mainstream, whose role was to quench the spirit.  

To what sort of freedom were we liberated?  To freedom from the outmoded rules of a former day.  From customs by which we could no longer abide.  From social mores that bespoke hypocrisy, status symbols we no longer possessed, contracts severed, hierarchies violated, schedules disregarded, regimens rejected, routines discarded, and protocols exposed.   Where could we find such freedom?

Only in homelessness.  Everything else reflected a Mainstream that never served our true natures, and from which we were eventually severed.

It took five hard years for me to find the others who shared this unusual gift.  For in the days that followed that moment of bliss, I struggled to process the strange twists and turns that came of outdoor living.  I learned, for one thing, that a person doesn’t just walk into a shelter and expect to be served.  There was an application process, and a long waiting line, before one could be granted a bed.   So for three days I struggled to manage, with no money, no roof over my head, stuck and stranded in a strange town called Berkeley.

By the third day, my thinking was very much awry.  I got in with the wrong crowd, and long story short, found myself running from would-be assailants.   Though I believe I eluded the two young rapscallions, I was by that time completely spent.  In desperation, I flagged down a police car and beseeched them for help.   Discerning my mania, the officers had no problem escorting me to the place where they felt I belonged.

So on August 11, 2006, I sat in the John George Psychiatric Pavilion, having persuaded myself and others that my issue was merely one of untreated bipolar disorder.  The entire memory of a momentary freedom now paled in the wake of a serious disease.  In that downtrodden state, I permitted the clinicians to diagnose my liberation, and prescribe me the mood stabilizer Depakote.   After a single night’s stay in the psych ward, my thinking was clear enough to steer me toward a $50 PayPal loan from a friend in Las Vegas, a one-way Greyhound ticket to a small town in the Valley, a shelter, a clinic, and a cheap residence hotel.  

“I must have been out of my mind!” I told myself.  And then, for five years, I followed the guidelines of a Mainstream I’d already rejected in my heart.

It was not until April 15, 2011, that I took the next plunge into the realm where the memory of a transcendent event had informed my true spirit.   On that day, I took $40, left the last of a series of untenable living situations, hopped on an AmTrak, alighted upon the City of Berkeley once again, and proceeded to become Homeless by Choice.  

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All for the Love of Coffee

Not everything that happened in the psychiatric facility described in the previous entry was humane.  For example, there was a very disturbing turn of events that took place after I noticed that, while all the other patients were receiving caffeinated coffee with their breakfasts, I alone was condemned to decaf.

When I asked why this was, a psych tech named Steve stepped forward.  The following conversation ensued.

coffee protectionSteve: Well, Andy, because you are bipolar, we feel that regular coffee would hype you up too much.

Andy: But I’ve been having a cup of coffee every day since I was 19 years old.  I can tell you for a fact that a cup of coffee relaxes me.

Steve: If you were ADHD, the cup of coffee would relax you.  But since you are bipolar, the cup of coffee hypes you up.

Andy: Well then, I suppose I must be ADHD, because as I just told you, my morning cup of coffee relaxes me.

Steve: Andy, be honest with us.  You know for a fact that because you are bipolar, your morning cup of coffee does not relax you!  Your cup of coffee makes you hyper.

Andy: But Steve, don’t you think I know how my morning cup of coffee affects me?

Steve: Listen Andy, we know that you want help, but you seem to want the help to happen on your own terms!

Andy: My own terms?  A cup of coffee in the morning is my own terms?  ME AND THIRTY-FIVE MILLION OTHER AMERICANS??

Suddenly, about five mental health workers leaped out of their seats, and before I knew it, I was being given a shot of concentrated Zyprexa on my tongue.  Everything went black.

Approximately 24 hours later, I woke up to the sight of another psych tech, a fellow named Tim whom I had remembered from my first incarceration in said facility back in 2004.  He was dressed entirely in black, which I recall caused a disturbed schizo-affective back in 2004 to think he was a manifestation of the devil.  I, however, knew him to be a pretty nice guy.

“Andy, don’t make a big deal out of a cup of coffee here, man — it’s not going to work in your favor.”

“I don’t know, Tim.  It just doesn’t seem like three days of forced caffeine withdrawal is working in my favor either.”

As I began, in my typical fashion, to go over the heads of everybody and anybody in order to secure my badly needed cup of coffee, I eventually landed at the director of the institution, who happened to be from Austria.

I guess they think a little bit differently over there in Austria.  The psych techs who had forced the Zyprexa concentrate into my body were reprimanded, and my cup of coffee was made manifest on the third day.

Just in time for me to meet Greg the Bartender and head towards Stockton.  But in all due deference to those who have been asking me to write my memoirs, I’m pretty sure the buck stops here.

Or does it?

TO BE CONTINUED

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