Frankly, I’m Not Doing Well
By Daniel Crocker
A week ago, a little after 3am, I stood up from my laptop, pulled off my robe, took off my shirt, grabbed the scissors that had been calling to me from my desk for weeks, and I cut my upper left arm exactly twenty times. It was the first time I’d cut in years, and as far as self-harm goes, it wasn’t so bad. In my early twenties, I would cut myself over 100 times—arms, legs, torso. This time I got away with twenty. Not my best work by any means. Nothing that would leave a scar. Not really.
A week ago, cutting was an orgasm. The keen edge of a blade brought me back to the here and now. It’s private. That’s why I cut in places no one can see—until they do.
Early in our marriage, Margaret found my stash of bloody paper towels.
What is this? She wanted to know. What could I say? I rolled up my sleeves and showed her. She cried, and I didn’t cut again for years.
A week ago, I told Margaret that I thought I needed to go to the hospital. I was shaking and on the verge of tears. I’m not much of a crier. It got her attention. I was standing in my bathrobe and Pikachu hat that tends to reduce my anxiety by a minuscule amount.
I think I need to go to the hospital, I said. Margaret stood there a moment, taking me in. Thinking.
All they’ll do, she said, is keep you full of drugs for three days and let you out. She had a point.
Maybe you start back on your meds and call your shrink on Monday.
Okay, I said. Later that night, I went through rapid, severe mood swings—mania, rage, euphoria, depression and back again. That night, I cut myself twenty times on my upper left arm.
I was off my medication because I had been puking several times a day for months. An ultrasound showed nothing unusual, so I was sent to a Gastroenterologist. Once he saw how much medication I was on for bipolar 1 disorder, he took me off of them all to make sure they weren’t the culprit. At first, I was fine. Better than fine. I felt emotions again. I could have sex again. He also put me on a prescription dose of Prilosec. By the time my endoscopy rolled around, either being off the medication or the Prilosec had stopped the puking.
He put me in a “Twilight” state for the endoscopy. Occasionally, I heard snippets of conversation.
Have you heard about the patients coming in puking because they smoke too much marijuana? He asked.
She said, I guess they want to kill their stomachs along with their brain cells.
I thought, as I watched the metal handle slide down the door like a pat of butter, bipolar and weed go together like hot dogs and mustard. You’d smoke up too, asshole.
I don’t see anything that would indicate an ulcer or cancer, he said. My guess is that it could have something to do with the liver.
A few months ago, I went to the pharmacy to pick up my prescription of Klonopin. They didn’t have it. They didn’t know when they would get it. They said, there’s a manufacturing issue. My anxiety is so bad, I can’t function without Klonopin. Nothing else, except for alcohol, has been able to touch it. Not Paxil, Lexapro, Effexor nor Zoloft. In fact, the first time I was put on an SSRI, I hadn’t yet been diagnosed as bipolar. I went so manic on it that I slept for about eight hours in six days. The delusions I suffered are my secret. Off benzos, I went to work for four days straight shaking so bad, I couldn’t call my students’ names without my voice breaking.
A week ago, I told my wife that I needed to go to the hospital. She didn’t think it was a good idea. Later, I cut myself. Then, I fell into a depression. There were days I did nothing but sleep. What is it that we even mean, or expect, when we ask the people to “be there” for us? Does that mean letting us sleep all day if we need it? Does it mean hounding us about our medications? Does it mean dragging us out of bed and forcing us out of the house? Does it mean they want to know how we are feeling? They can’t. The truth is, it doesn’t mean anything. There’s little you can do when we’re like this. We appreciate the empathy. We really do thank you for the love. We believe it comes from a genuine place. But, there’s literally nothing you can do short of calling an ambulance.
A week ago, I told my wife I needed to go to the hospital. Not long before that, my insurance decided to stop paying for my Vraylar (main mood stabilizer). It’s about 1000 dollars a month. It worked great for what it was meant to do. I never had a serious manic episode on it. By this time, the puking had started, so when my Gastroenterologist suggested I get off of it, it bought me time to see my shrink and start something else.
Then, about a week ago, I lost my marbles. I cut myself twenty times in the upper left arm. What I’m really trying to get at here, is that when you are mentally ill you are always one step away from an emergency. Someone has to pay the mortgage and student loan payments. My wife sacrificed a lot so that I could go to college and earn a PhD—one of my dreams. Her own dreams, left behind for a while. Now, I’m lucky enough to have a decent job. I’m lucky enough to have insurance. There can’t be any not feeling well. At least no feeling so badly that you fear you may never be able to work again. That like so many others with bipolar, you’ll either take your own life or have to get on disability.
About a week ago, I told Margaret that I needed to go to the hospital. I didn’t go. I cut myself. Then, I realized I had an appointment for another ultrasound to check my pancreas because of the puking—even though at that point, I wasn’t puking anymore. I had to cancel.
Why? Margaret asked.
I showed her my arm. If they see that at the hospital, I said, they’ll admit me.
We should have taken you to the hospital earlier this week, Margaret said.
A week ago, it was the beginning of Spring Break. I could go to the hospital. Instead, I cut my upper left arm twenty times. Instead, I got manic enough to be a God. Instead, I almost put a belt around my neck and did it the Robin Williams way. Instead, I lived. And there is no going to the hospital now. Even though Margaret emailed me today and said she would take me.
There is no going to the hospital because I have to work. I have papers to grade. I have students to teach and mental health days are myths perpetrated by the sane. I can’t go to the hospital because who would I say the words to? My friends have their own problems. You never tell work about your mental health. I could tell Margaret. But, even though she assures me this is not the case, I feel like I complain to her too much about my mental health as it is. I mean, she needs a life too, right? She needs to be able to express her feelings and frustrations. It can’t always be about how I’m feeling.
A week ago, I almost went to the hospital because I was suicidal. But, I didn’t.
I’m doing better.
Yes, the puking came back, but my mood is stable.
No, I’m not suicidal.
No, I don’t feel like cutting myself.
It’s just a little self-medication.
About a week ago, I cut myself twenty times in the upper left arm. After Margaret found out, we decided to go out and eat.
Let’s go to the Irish place, I said. So, we drove by. It looks crowded, I said. Maybe the Chinese Buffet.
Okay, Margaret said. We got two blocks away when I said, well there is a pub crawl tonight. Maybe those are just parked cars and the Irish place isn’t crowded on the inside.
Okay, Margaret said.
There’s always Mexican, I said. We can sit outside.
You’re exhausting me, Margaret said.
I’m sorry, I said.
We can go anywhere you want.
My wife would do anything for me. My wife would do anything for me. A week ago, I almost ended that.
How do you feel?
I’m not fine. You’re fine. I’m not fine. You’re fine. I’m going to kill myself. No you’re not.
Seriously, how are you feeling?
I’ve been trying to tell you.
About the Author: Daniel Crocker’s work has appeared in The Los Angeles Review, Hobart, Big Muddy, New World Writing, Stirring, Juked, The Chiron Review, The Mas Tequila Review and over 100 others. His books include Like a Fish (full length) and The One Where I Ruin Your Childhood (e-chap with thousands of downloads) both from Sundress Publications. Green Bean Press published several of his books in the ’90s and early 2000s. These include People Everyday and Other Poems, Long Live the 2 of Spades, the novel The Cornstalk Man and the short story collection Do Not Look Directly Into Me. He has also published several chapbooks through various presses. His newest full length collection of poetry, Shit House Rat, was published by Spartan Press in September of 2017. Stubborn Mule Press published Leadwood: New and Selected Poems—1998-2018 in October 2018. He was the first winner of the Gerald Locklin Prize in poetry. He is the editor of The Cape Rock (Southeast Missouri State University) and the co-editor of Trailer Park Quarterly. He’s also the host of the podcast, Sanesplaining, about poetry, mental illness and nerd stuff.
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Image Credit: “Inner View – Agony” By Ismael Nery (1931) public domain