|William St, Kings Cross, Sydney, Australia|
My misguided return to Australia, in October 2010.
‘I’ll have you fucking sectioned myself, this time!’ He said, stabbing his rigid forefinger close to my face.
"Jesus! This is tough," I thought, along with the memory of holding his hand when he was seven years old.
In one frozen moment I watched his top lip curl up in an involuntary snarl, as time seemed to encompass different dimensions in this one space.
Photo like images cascaded through my mind, as flash bulb memories of me pointing up at a star field milky way, quick glances at his boyish face to check if he was following the line of my arm. I sensed my emotive intent back then too, like a soothing balm allowing me to bare the shock wave of this unexpected attack. Self soothing memories of impressing a sense of wonder upon my first born child, while here my boy was so forcefully impressing his cruel intent upon me. It wasn't the actual words that cut me to the bone though, that fueled a wave of numbing shock. It was the intonation in his voice, the forceful finger stabbing and the image of his flushed, snarling face.
Suddenly a wormhole in the fabric of time had opened up, bringing back to life the heritage of my red headed, Viking blooded, father. The generational divide of body and souls seemed to collapse, with the whiff of something else in that snarling lip, a brute force of nature bursting through an otherwise gentile guise. I closed my eyes involuntarily, overwhelmed by a sense of loss and down spiraling dissolution. A painful recognition of guilt too, in my culpability of inappropriate anger and rage when he was young. Ambushed by an unconscious emotional learning, returned to haunt me in the murderous expression of my own precious child. After years of therapist training and counseling others, my own child’s lack of empathic connection in this moment, was stunning beyond belief.
‘Are you here to manage your father James? - To deal with a situation?’ I asked, prompted by a flash of realization? “He’s not come to welcome me home, but with a preconceived notion, a scenario firmly established in his mind. - How often has he rehearsed this scene," I wondered. I so desperately needed him to meet me in the here and now of this moment, just like an un-expectant and non-judgmental stranger would have done. "And Luke his brother, he’s here as the back up muscle, of coarse!" It was 10am, Thursday the 14th of October 2010, less than thirty minutes after I’d walked into the arrivals hall at Sydney airport, some twelve hours after departing Bangkok, and thirty years on from my first experience of a manic euphoria. See: ( The Man in the Mirror and Peak Experience or Psychosis? and Bipolar Delusions )
‘You’ve lost insight Dad, lost your sense of objectivity, and you’ve been caught up in the same old delusions.’
‘Well I didn’t think I was Jesus this time,’ I replied with a smile that prayed for a break in the steely tension.
‘You have a mental illness and you need specialist help,’ he continued.
‘Listen it went beyond religion this time, it’s not the content that’s important, but the physical movement mania enables…’ I said.
‘It enables freaking madness!’ James shouted at me.
‘No! It enables approach instead of a chronic avoidance, its about emotional energy, my body and my nervous system, not the confused interpretations I project.’
‘Dad your sick and you need help, you need medication and regular sleep,’ he told me as I looked towards his brother for signs of compassion and an inkling of understanding.
‘Do you think I loose total awareness of who I am and where I am, after 30 years of dealing with this shit, James? - You think I haven't learned how to manage myself when I really need too, how to engage other people and bring myself out of these self stimulated states? - How do you think I got through the manic periods when you were kids? - Those times when I drove four boys a thousand kilometers through the night, often manic, medicated and encouraged to be fearful of my own sensations. - Its been six weeks, the hyper-manic energy has waned now James, I just need some time and support to make sense of this latest experience.’
‘You’re fucking sick!’ He shouted, with more menacing intent. His tone, the volume and force of his proclamation had the three of us momentarily stunned again. Strangely enough, I was reminded of a group therapy session as we sat there looking at each other in wide eyed silence.
Although the idea of illuminating an unconscious process in this particular moment, held a poignant mix of fantasy wish and fatalism. Irvine Yalom’s method of highlighting the what, why and how of the unconscious motivation, beneath our spoken words and gestures, was sorely needed yet painfully inappropriate. So in the great convention of social ritual, emotional tension was allowed to ebb away in measured breath’s and decelerating heartbeats. Any attempt at deepening self awareness here would have been met with glazed looks and the shrugged shoulders of pleading, “what?” We sat there imprisoned by hidden needs of homeostatic balance, as our nervous systems settled to a normal range. Unconscious to ourselves, let alone anyone else.
I took a breath and asked James if he thought I seemed manic right now, if I looked like I was a danger to myself or anyone else? Asked him in what way he thought I was behaving in an irrational manner right here and now? He told me I looked skinny, tired and not very healthy, to which I pointed out how my skin was healthier than it had been for years, with a change in diet. Told him that all photos of me prior to psychotropic medications in the 1980‘s, showed a pretty lean guy, just like I am now. Without saying another word we reached a “can we start again please” agreement. James posture softened before my eyes, in acceptance of revised expectation.
‘What do you want to do then?’ He asked me.
‘Chill out for the moment and finish my coffee,’ I said, to which a polite but very loaded question came in reply.
‘Where are you staying? Have you booked a hotel?’ I sighed “Here we go,” I thought, preparing myself for the kind of rejection that so systematically haunts my life. Before I even asked the question I knew I’d set myself up for this again. Realized the compulsion to repeat a primary pattern, had landed me right here in this cutting moment. “Will I get beyond rejection this time,” was a question still unconsciously submerged by pain though, still lacking any concrete sense of knowing.
‘I thought someone might put me up for a couple of nights, till I get myself sorted,’ I answered, glancing between astonished faces and hoping against hope that James would volunteer and I’d get the chance to hang out with him. The physical reaction was typical of our family line though, just like my mother’s jaw dropping expression whenever asked for the loan of a couple of dollars. Such primitive affect/emotion in reactions, unconsciously learned and handed down from parent to child, in a generational transmission, the very core of our emotive disposition. Both boys literally drew back in their chairs with involuntary shock, making me feel like I’d just flown in from a leper colony.
‘Our place is so small! There’s only one bedroom,’ pleaded James.
‘Don’t look at me! You know I’m staying with mum,’ Luke added, as I drew in a deep breath, absorbing the impact and letting that familiar sense of isolation settle more firmly on my shoulders. “Its always been like this, ever since I was a child, somehow how its self perpetuating in an unconscious expectation that turns into my reality,” I told myself.
‘Ah well, not to worry, I’ll sort something out. - How’s work? I said.
‘Same shit, different pipe!’ Announced Luke, seizing the opportunity for an atmospheric shift in mood.
‘The plumbers life eh?’ I said beaming at my far less serious third son, who somehow manages to retain the joyous rapture of his delightful, three year old self. I wondered what he may be thinking about all this, knowing that the brother of a very close friend had also been diagnosed with bipolar disorder. We chatted about family and friends for a while, with Luke raising his eyebrows as he quizzed me on my “adventures in Thailand,” as he put it.
‘Been having fun with the ladies, Dad?’
‘Nit noi son, Nit noi.’
‘Wow! Learning Thai too eh? - What’s nit noi mean, our Dad?’
‘Little - Nit noi means little bit.’
‘What! You mean she’s only 4ft 9?’
‘Gee! I really missed the Aussie sense of humor; such elegance, grace and charm.’
As Luke and I traded sarcasm’s I watched my oldest son light a cigarette, watched him savoir the drawing down of smoke with a slow deliberate breath, pondering an equally deliberate exhalation. “Should ask him about the Pranayama breathe information I’d emailed for his habitually over anxious partner.” Observing the rhythms of his smokers ritual, my therapist training was itching to prompt his attention inwards towards his regulation of nervous energy? Yet I was the object of attention here and all my learning would not override my history of mental illness. At least his unexpected attack had focused my attention beyond those wishful emotional associations that had drowned normal objectivity during my manic flood.
These few moments had certainly sobered up my sense of reason, as if I’d been drunk and walked into a cold shower. “Manic flood?” Why did I think that? Some kind of Freudian slip perhaps, or Carl Jung’s free association of ideas? Not bad though considering the rise in blood volume and temperature within the brain, known to be stimulated by elation? “He’s not interested in all that research I’ve been doing though. - Its not his problem, its my reality and my mental illness.”
‘Have you seen those 3d graphics about brain activity on you tube James?’ He gave me a curious look as he shook his head, an exchange that withheld unspoken assumptions about each other. I really wanted to talk through the past month of mania with him, assuming that he would understand, with recollections of going through a manic episode with me in 2007. All he seemed to want to do was to get me into hospital quickly and resume the normal schedule of his outwardly successful life though? My mind reading assumption of coarse, for we rarely spoke about the wellsprings of personal motivation, only meet and greet social ritual had passed between us, these last few years.
‘What about the videos on you tube?’ He asked with a smile that seemed to suspect I was about fly off on some befuddled psychotic tangent?
‘They show the electrochemical activity of 100 billion cells within the brain, part of our hidden reality beneath the mind’s rationalizations.’
‘Youtube is not an open university Dad, its no substitute for a formal education.’
‘I’m bloody hungry, how about we go for breakfast somewhere?’ Luke announced, his hands reaching for the luggage trolley and rising to push it away from the aluminum table and chairs. It was a timely and non negotiable, follow me command.
‘Eggs Benedict near my place?’ James suggested as we took up positions either side of the trolley, and headed towards the multi story car park across the road. Driving into the city along Southern Cross drive, we did our best to create a traditional homecoming. Both boys had been to Thailand and James had actually been flying back from Vietnam on the very afternoon I’d left Australia, ten months before. Tall tales of distant lands enabled a triangulation ritual as we created a pleasant atmosphere inside the cozy Honda Civic. No talk about my recent education, no mention of Murry Bowen’s concept of triangles or our unconsciously learned and taken for granted, emotional transactions here.
"Triangles! What? You mean like Pythagoras theorem," would probably have been Luke’s reply. Perhaps he and I could have recreated a well known therapy exercise and sat looking at each other in complete silence. Its hard to resist the urge to speak of something or someone, hard not to introduce a third element which stabilizes the unconscious reactivity of two people in close proximity. “Yeah, right,” would have the ritual dismissal of such talk. “And its not a bloody ritual, its just life, our Dad.”
As we turned right onto William Street and headed up towards that famous Kings Cross, Coca Cola sign, the travel anecdotes petering out as the weight of expectation seeped through the cracks of pleasant interaction. An unspoken, “What to DO. With our mad Dad?” We parked in the underground car park of James’s apartment building, just a stones throw from that famous neon sign and the many café’s along Darlinghurst Road. Funny! As I turned the corner back onto William St and walked towards the giant red and white sign, an implicit memory of walking this very footpath in 1976 sprang into mind.
“Jesus! Thirty four years ago,” how the hell does that work, I wondered? Where is the memory stored, and how does the imagery retain such amazing clarity? At the top of the cross intersection we turned right and headed down towards St Vincent’s Hospital, with more implicit memories triggered by so many familiar landmarks. We’d almost reached the hospital before coming across a suitable café, and I followed the boys inside with a hand on heart hope of altering their predetermined expectation. As we’d traveled form the airport and walked to the cafe, I’d got the strong impression that Luke was unsure about what was really going on here, while James seemed to retain a steely jawed determination. Later I would find out that the now head of the family, had not even told his other two brothers I was coming home, even though he’d known for a week.
'Two Eggs Benedict and a Tee Bone steak, please, with fresh orange juice and coffee.'
Sitting directly opposite James with Luke sat to his left, I wondered how I could convince them that this manic episode was different than three years ago. I re-ran the memories of a waning hyper-mania back then, how I’d tossed the keys to my car across to James, telling him he could take me to hospital. At that time I’d told myself I wanted him to see what happens when someone in a highly emotional state goes through a psych interview. It was a rationalization of an unconscious need of coarse, just like I needed James to be the wise counselor I’ve never found. I started by telling them that I still felt my manias were part of a thwarted developmental need, just as I had the last time I allowed mania to run its un-medicated coarse.
‘But you ended up in hospital on medication!’ James reminded me.
‘I got sectioned, remember!’ I told him.
‘Of coarse I remember, I had long conversations with the psychiatrist.’
‘I refused to take medication in hospital, do you remember that?’
‘Sure! That was pretty rational, Dad.’
‘I wouldn‘t take it orally, yet allowed them to inject me so the nurses could follow their orders and not get into trouble, nurses who weren’t sure why I‘d been sectioned, remember?’ James shrugged his shoulders and told me he didn’t know about the nurses and it was all part of the mental illness anyway.
‘So you only recall conversations on the phone, with the sectioning psychiatrist?’ I talked about my therapist training and education, about the books I’d since read on the neurobiology of early life development. I asked him if he trusted the thirty year old psychiatrist, over and above my thirty year experience and position as his father.
‘Do I trust the word of a university educated psychiatrist, over the word of a man with a thirty year history of mental illness? - What do you think?’
‘I think you just avoided the sense of yourself, like I used too do.’ He looked perplexed of coarse, refusing any sense of what I was referring to. A former lover had remarked how James was a brilliant conversationalist, could speak well on such a wide range of subjects, except himself. “Just like you!” She’d added. Her comment mingled with a memory of my therapy supervisor and his remark about the double edged sword of conceptualizations. A millisecond collage of images and sound bites, so seamlessly fussed they are impossible to capture with a plodding description of a this thing or that, explanation. “How can I speak about my inner life objectively, without distancing my head from the immediate flow of sensation?”
‘You side stepped how you feel about all this by throwing the question back at me,’ I offered in explanation, as James switched his attention to writing a text message on his cell phone. My rational, reasonable "I think therefore I am," Descartian young man. Please read a recent comment on Descartes here:
‘It was pretty intense, back at the airport. - For a minute there I thought you were someone else,’ I said, taking his nodding agreement as permission to proceed.
‘For a few seconds there I thought your Grandfather had come back to life. - I thought, shit, he’s channeling the old man.’ I watched James laugh, shrugging his shoulders as if to acknowledge uncertainty about the surprising energy in his attack.
‘How did it feel back there?’ I asked, hoping to stimulate a conversation about the generational nature of our personalities.
‘Sometimes you just have to do what you have to do.’ He replied with another “that’s just the way it is,“ shrug of his shoulders.
‘Try repeating that statement using I instead of you, and see how it feels inside,’ I asked of him.
‘Don’t start with that psychobabble stuff Dad, we’re here because of you, not me!’
I’m trying to show you that there is more to what I go through than illness. - That non of us are particularly self aware, and that sense of objectivity you accuse me of losing insight into, is as much about distancing ourselves from our own reality as embracing it. - That’s what was in my mind when I got you to take me hospital back 2007, and why we talked about different states of mind, remember?’
‘Sure! I tried the softly, softly approach back then and it didn’t bloody work, you ended up in hospital, remember?’
‘Where they discharged me after a week because I’d embarrassed the young psychiatrist in front of the judge. - Showed the judge just how subjective and rash the decision to section me had been. - Showed him just how much we are prone to embellish the truth and misrepresent ourselves.’
‘What are you talking about now?’ He demanded, reminding me just how much we perceive events in terms of how they affect us, the emotional impact, rather than the complexity involved in any particular circumstance. In mustering the emotional energy to return home, I’d projected my own memories onto James, coloring my need for support with a father and son fantasy bond, now rubbing against the cold shoulder of estrangement.
‘I was sectioned because they were certain I would become hyper-manic if I was not medicated, and I’d told them I was already over the hyper phase. - They agreed to stop medicating me two days before I saw the judge, at my request. - The judge was so angry with their confused and unprofessional behavior, he refused the standard two week detention and strongly advised me to seek a second opinion,’ I reminded James, thinking he would acknowledge these facts from memory of the events and the many times I’d spoken of them since. I watched him shake his head in disavowal of my memories, seemingly determined to remain on track, with his hospitalization agenda.
‘You don’t remember how I got discharged then?’ I asked, glancing between the faces of my two sons and feeling the harsh reality of their uncomfortable silence. As a material and emotional resource their father was no longer held in high esteem. Except as a source of embarrassment as an easy target for ridicule, enacting lost hopes by joining with jokes or self empowering pity at the mention of my name. I was aware of my pivotal role in this family play though, deeply regretful of those depressive withdrawals that had ploughed so much distance between us, sowing its inevitable discontent and its manifest frustrations. Aware also that my chosen coarse of exploring my bipolar condition, was amplifying family discontent rather than soothing it. Non us can undo the past and I was as committed to uncovering the nature of my madness, just as my oldest son was so rightly committed to pursuing his chosen career.
‘Its cute how your top lip curls up when your angry,’ I said with a smile.
‘I know! It always does that, I can’t help it,’ James replied.
‘That’s why I thought you were channeling your Grandfather and your redheaded Viking bloodline. - I’ve used it too, making people feel like they are being told off by their own father, it’s the underlying nature of your charismatic personality, James.’
‘What plans do you have then, now that your back home?’ He asked, seemingly determined to stay on message about my immediate needs and what should be done.
‘Visit old friends, spend some time with my sons, go visit my mum and try to find some wise counsel to help me make sense of an emotional rollercoaster ride.’
‘You have a mental illness Dad. You need a doctor, not a counselor!’ James told me, resuming his “I need to be cruel to be kind,” attitude.
‘Your talking about your needs not mine, James. Your need to act, to do something that will enable a sense of responsibility and of personal power, its your need your sensing here, not mine!’
‘Just like they say Dad. This is exactly how the mentally ill twist things around, the problem is in everyone else, not you!’
‘What’s happening between you and I right now is a power struggle, it has nothing to do with the reality of my mental illness!’
‘Oh! Of coarse, you know more than the medical experts about mental illness, my oh so brilliant father, a freaking genius in his own lunch time! - Your messiah complex is not involved in this of coarse, it went beyond religion this time! - Yeah Right!’
‘So tell me! Do you believe its just like cancer or diabetes? That when I’m not mad I’m just in remission from some cancer like disease?’ I asked.
‘Makes perfect sense to me, Dad,’ James replied, as Luke added a more compassionate, “maybe a brain tumor?”
‘There is no science that proves mental illness, only the statistics that prove chemicals help to sedate a madness state, and if you read the latest neurological science on brain and nervous system developmental, there is plenty of science pointing towards natural causes, rather than any disease like illness.’
‘They will find the genetic reasons for the chemical imbalance soon enough, its only a matter of time and technology,’ James advised.
‘Another homeostasis response,’ I replied.
‘Yeah! You’re a freaking homo James, told you! You’re a faggot!’ Luke volunteered with his usual disarming smile, while James squinted eyes asked, “what the fuck are you on about, now?”
By now we were drawing attention from other diners, from a young waitress finding frequent reasons to pass close to our table, while doing her best not appear nosey. Alternately alarmed and fascinated by the atmospheric shift inherent in those two words, “mental illness.” The refined older lady just to my left kept glancing in our direction, alert to signs of danger while craning her ears for anecdotal tales of “those people,” for family, friends and probably members of her bridge club? Funny! For all the talk about my mental illness, James had by far the most voluminous voice at our table, and I wondered if there was some confusion amongst the listeners about which one of us was expressing the family Levi’s. Part of the baggage from this kind of life experience, is the fact that strangers are so often mystified to learn of my diagnosis, in someone normally exhibiting above average function. In reality, I had more chance of explaining myself to perfect strangers than my family, our intertwined history of loss and disappointment mix uneasily with suppressed anger and frustration. “Why us? Why our family?” And the specter of shame.
‘Fancy a beer?’ Luke beamed. And we adjourned to a pub on Oxford St, trying once again to create something of a normal welcome home. Luke and I swapped further anecdotes about life in Thailand, as he brought me up to date on his ten day holiday earlier in the year.
‘I got friendly with a motor bike taxi guy outside the Hotel,’ he told me, explaining how the guy was always there night and day, sleeping between fares right there on his motor bike.
‘I certainly saw why they call it the Land of Smiles, but for the life of me I can’t understand how people can be happy, when they have next to nothing?’
We talked about the close proximity of people in South East Asia, how its not easy to be alone in countries like Thailand. I tried to explain the effect of the relaxed friendliness and the constant smiling faces on my unconsciously fear bound disposition. Luke’s glazed look reminded me of the title of my essay on our family’s generational emotionality, “Don’t talk about emotional stuff, you might upset someone.” Noting his discomfort I let the meaningful stuff slide and resumed a safer triangulation of questions about sport, while James sat watching with hard jawed preoccupation.
‘So where will you stay tonight, then?’ My oldest son interjected, apparently frustrated by my normalization efforts.
‘I don’t know, maybe catch a train up to the mountains and see old my friends, I’m sure they would put me up for the night.’
‘You’d better call them and tell them your coming,’ he said, reaching into his pocket for his cell phone. I told him there was no need, that I knew exactly how my old friend would react if I did venture that way. Just like Thailand where I could walk into any Temple, secure in the knowledge that refuge is never refused, I added. I told him different cultures have a less aggressive attitude to mental illness too, with a predictable response of, “so why did you come home, then?” “Language, connection, comfort and company? - The usual following of an impulsive heart, when I go through these episodes,” I replied.
‘I need a pee!’ Luke announced, and I took the opportunity to speak with him alone, following him to the toilets.
‘You don’t want to put me hospital, do you son?’ I asked as we stood facing a cream painted brick wall that was plastered with the usual homosexual graffiti. It signify’s the deep concern about the underlying nature of Australian mate-ship, perhaps? Raised eyebrows greeted a quick comment about the heterosexual content of male toilet graffiti in the rest of the world.
‘You know how much pain this mental illness stuff causes,’ I added, in reference to another family situation he was close too.
‘I don’t know Dad, people just don’t know what to do, and the Doctors know best, don’t they?’
‘Well! You know I walked down that path for a long time, and it didn’t work out for me, I just want to see if I can work it out for myself, that’s all.’
|My son Luke, in Thailand 2010|
‘So who’s Harry homeostasis, when he’s at home?’ He asked me, his face animated by that thousand watt, impossible not to like, smile.
‘Buy me another beer and I’ll tell you all about him.’ Back at the small round table James and I sipped on lager beer while Luke drank coke, the designated driver for today.
I talked about homeostasis as the brains primary function and what that means in terms of our behaviors. Explained how homeostasis is the hidden reality of what we call our comfort zone, the range of sensations that life experience has nurtured into habitual patterns of response.
‘So what does this have to do with scientists finding a genetic marker for bipolar or schizophrenia?’ James asked.
‘And why did I say homeostasis response, when you suggested it,’ I retorted.
‘Exactly! Your of on a crazy fucking tangent again, spitting out whatever comes into your head.’
I did my best to explain the thermodynamic nature of our comfort zone. The electrochemical activity within the brain and nervous systems that seeks to keep heart rate tone within a stability range. Explained how our objective thoughts are part of this stability seeking process by diffusing the highly reactive energies of the heart with its charge and discharge through the brain and nervous systems. I told James that each time I invited him to explore feelings within himself he reacted with spasms of rationalized logic.
‘Spasms of rationalized logic!’ He yelled, spluttering into his beer glass, with gleeful derision.
‘Sure! Rationalization allows you to discharge the body‘s reactive energies without feeling them. - It allows you to detach, to dissociate from inner feelings, from empathic connection with the fellow creature you see in front of you. We rationalize what goes on inside the brain/body as if its an elaborate clock with interconnected parts. Your eyes glaze over when I talk about the electro-chemical nature of the body/brain and the auto nervous system. Totally unaware of the unconscious urge to stabilize hidden inner systems with social rituals of blah, blah, blah!. The truth is, we don’t want to know what goes on inside us. Yet if you haven’t got a clue what goes on inside you, how can you claim to have insight! Insight into what? The ritual social behaviors that keep a lid on instinctive reactions?’
‘Gee! The cogs are really working overtime now Dad!’ Said….
We finished our drinks with a decision to return to James apartment, his judgment of an awkward situation highlighted by the growing inches between us as we walked along. Stilted questions about where I would stay and what I would do in the coming days, felt more like tactical office management than empathic concern for a father’s welfare. As this close proximity continued to impinge on my mania fueled fantasies of warm hearted reunion, I questioned the impulse to return here. “You needed this reality check, after more than a month of mania,” I said to myself, “how do you enable the reality of fate if not with your heart?” Yet I was still immersed in the special person fantasy that re-tones my pain filled heart during my manic episodes of re-orientation. At that time, almost a year ago now, I still believed I was fulfilling a special destiny. I was still immersed in deeply unconscious needs to feel positively affected by life, even in the face of such negative affect/emotion, as this unfolding family rejection.
As we entered the William St building I was determined to retain a relaxed musculature posture, happy with ongoing ease and connected to the moment sensations that had proved so elusive in my life. I was aware that I needed some space to fully absorb the events of this morning, to catch my breath before making any decisions. It felt like a game of high stakes poker between me and my oldest son now, my incarceration in a psych ward hanging on how each of us handled these coming moments. During a thirty year experience of episodic mania and depression, medication had helped manage a crisis, yet had brought me no long term stability. Up in James apartment, the three of us tried to navigate our way through an uneasy “what now,” atmosphere. I remained determined not to fall into crisis here, the hurt I was feeling must not trigger an emotional overreaction, any outward signs of irrationality would only strengthen the hand of my insightful opponent.
‘So where do you want to go then?’ James asked, as we skirted the challenge.
‘I don’t know James, I’ll find out when I get there, I guess.’
‘But you must have some idea? We can drive you and make sure your ok!’ I laughed at the way my needs were thought to be captured in this rationalized view. What I needed was their company, easy conversation and a semblance of understanding with which to ease my deep sense of isolation. Feelings of isolation that were by now so evidently part of the trigger to these manic episodes in my life. Of coarse my statement brought incredulous looks from both my sons and I explained that I’d been traveling the foreign lands of South East Asia for the past ten months. Why should I be concerned about finding accommodation in a city I new like the back of my hand.
‘Your question is about soothing your needs James, not mine.’
‘We are your family, don’t you think we need to know where you are!’
‘What difference does it make? You haven’t know where I was or what I was up too for the past ten months?’
‘But now that you’re here, don’t you think we feel a responsibility?’
‘Does that mean I can stay the night, James?’ Funny! Deafening silence and a nonplussed look speak a language well beyond any spoken denial, and I realized we could circle this unspoken reality for hours without a resolution. I was caught in the trap of expectation, prejudged as the identified patient here and my son’s bonding concern for their sick father, which only my admission of guilt would appease. No self exploring invitation to the concept of identified patients would grace our mutual concerns today though. If I agreed with their view of another mental illness episode, we could all feel reasonably ok about it, and find a semblance of family unity. Yet to do so would betray my need for a deeper understanding of my sensitive, lifelong condition, and the path to which I‘d become committed.
At this time of their lives and bound by unspoken demands, my youthful son’s were rightfully busy staking their place in the ranking order of normal social perceptions. This was no time or place to be exploring the nature of madness or meaning, they both needed to get on with life, to do and to strive for the economic objects that will define their worth and accepted status. The last thing they needed today was a thoughtful challenge to the emotional stimulation of their objective reasoning. James stated aims were as much about his personnel empowerment as my welfare, yet we dare not speak about our underlying processes without disturbing the rational head space and triggering those explosively reactive energies within. “Should I talk about office politics, the stock market, health care logistics and the underlying food chain reality of this life?” I wondered, before accepting futility with the realization that the next move needed to come from me.
‘Listen boys, I feel like I’m being managed here, I feel like a trapped animal and I need you to respect my wishes as your father.’
‘What do you mean?’ James asked.
‘I need time and space to reflect on all that has happened in the past month or so, space to breathe and think about what to do next.’
‘But you can’t just go out there on your own,’ James replied.
‘Look! Its clear that you want me to go to hospital, and I don’t wish go there voluntarily again, not after my experience last time. So unless you plan on forcibly restraining me, I wish to leave now.’
Both boys shrugged their shoulders at the mention of restraining me, memories of my willing participation in a previous hospital trip may have captured their sense of occasion. As I moved to gather my bags and this precious laptop of digitized, documentary evidence, James last reserves of rehearsed response came to the fore. He berated me about irresponsibility, more selfish action underway without due consideration for my family, typical self absorbed behavior, he thought.
‘What will you do for money, anyway? You only took $11,000, and it must be running low by now!’
‘I took $30,000 and lied about the amount so as not to give more ammunition to your mother.’
‘Yeah well! Like mum says, you’re a self obsessed loser! Your delusions are a fucking cover up for your pathetic weakness!’
‘Let me go James,’ I whispered as we pushed and pulled our way along the hallway towards the elevators. Becoming engrossed in a strange emotional tango of rage, shame and desperate reason. As I pressed the arrowed button to go down, its bright red back light symbolized the occasion, and I wondered if a drowning sense of defeat awaited me, in a curbside isolation beyond these walls.
As I crossed the street outside, I looked back in the forlorn hope that my sons might be following me. Thoughts of reenactment filled my mind again as I remembered episodes of running away from home as a child, in a heartfelt plea for redemption, rationalized as the opposite intent. Walking up William St towards Hyde Park, sporadic thoughts about the Town Hall train station and the Blue Mountains competed with the worst sinking feeling of my entire life. If cut-off rejection is the emotional foundation of my family tree, surely my quest had brought it to a generational zenith, this morning? Fatigue from over a month of manic emotionality and the long journey here, mingled with flashback images of the airport reception. Vital needs of human attachment had been thwarted again, and here I struggled against panic and the unspeakable sense of a deeper terror that existential isolation brings down upon us.
“No wonder isolation has been used as punishment and torture down through the ages,” I thought. Or perhaps I really am insane, no meaningful reality sensed during these hyper-sensitive periods of psychosis, simply the disease of a nasty, and very unsacred illness? I kept walking, fighting the collapse feeling of dying inside. “Your confusion my illusion, was like a mask of self hate, confronts and then dies,” came to mind as I gazed at people passing by. Ian Curtis and Joy Division’s song “atmosphere,” so holy appropriate to each further footstep. “How the hell does this happen,” I pondered, yet it was an eerie serendipitous feature of so many moments like this in my life. “Don’t walk away,” whispered through my mind, along with the haunting melody of a truly fabulous song. “People like you find it easy, aching to see, walking on air, haunted by the rivers, through the streets, every corner, abandoned to soon, set down with due care.” “Don’t walk away,” echoed in reverberation, as I dragged myself further on.
“Fuck! This is hard to deal with, if anything is going to trigger a collapse into full blown depression, then this should do the trick.” I thought, while sitting down on a Hyde Park bench to catch my breathe and consider just what in hell I was going to do next.