I met someone in the ER today. Not face to face. In fact, I made a point not to look at him when he was discharged. I didn’t meet him, but I peed right next to him. I could not feel or move my legs when I came in so they brought a potty into the room for me, and I held onto the bed rail and peed right next to the thin curtain that divides the room.
I didn’t have to look at him. I felt I already knew him just by listening to him in his mania. Despite the disjunctures I recognized the mechanisms he uses to slip through. I recognized how easy companionship comes when you have people’s attention. But that companionship – when you are in denial, and narcissistic – is not friendship. He is young. But not too young to know he can’t rely on these thin tricks much longer. Your mania is no longer amusing to the people around you. You are exhausting, and you are exhausted.
There are so many threads cut, waving in the breeze, tantalizing. Each frayed connection seems minor, but becomes sharp over time, until you are left stranded on the other side of where you were quite sure you were meant to be. “Where am I?” he asked, “But how did I get here today?”,and “What the fuck’s going on?”.
I wondered why every time I was brought to the ER this year, there was a Bipolar or schizophrenic next to me – invariably a confused person with multiple indications who did not wholly understand why they were there. I speculated the ER’s were full of them these days. Then I realized: Oh wait, I’m bipolar! They put us together in one area so they can watch us. Duh. I did disclose this information to them after all (most reluctantly), and it's in the system by now. In my mania, I am unaware of my mania. But they are not. While the tech was testing my standing HR, I burst out laughing. I asked the tech why they put the Bipolars together in one area. He looked surprised that I asked. I asked if it was because we are unpredictable. He gave me a diplomatic answer involving a need for observation. I imagined there was probably a marshall nearby with a weapon, assigned to appear instantly in case of an episode. I tried to behave as normally as possible, or how I imagine normal people to act in such a situation. I tried to behave well. I resisted engaging in conversation with my roommate, because we were both manic, and we might have had a jolly good time.
They made him pee into a pan just on the other side of the thin curtain dividing the room. He then yelled over to the the tech: “Hey, how old do you feel?” The tech responded with a dull “thirty-five”. I thought the question was brilliant, and laughed and said that I feel like a hundred and five, even though I am only fifty. He laughed and said he felt like he was “a thousand” though he sounded 22. He sounded 22 in spite of the vomiting, the drinking, and the smoking. He joked with one of the nurses about the state he was in when he was admitted previously. He described how he was crying so hard that it made him vomit, and how he’s had these episodes since he was 5. His lack of inhibition about his psyche and body was endearing. I momentarily imagined he and I having hot sex together, right on the ER bed, right in earshot of the tech who sat facing us in the hallway.
Once I was topped off, and they removed my IV, and gave me my discharge papers, I walked out – past the gurney where my roommate now sat, waiting, for 3 policemen and 3 techs to transport him back to the County Hospital, where they will decide whether he will be discharged, or whether he will continue to be treated for the episode during which he was arrested. They will decide. I walked past him a free person. It is difficult for me to walk; he is able bodied. But I am free, and he is not. But for the grace of god I would be imprisoned too. A high-functioning Bipolar instead carries their prison with them wherever they tread. It becomes heavy over time – perhaps so much so that you want someone else to take over guard duty. Like when you are crying to the point of retching, helpless to stop. It feels like spasms, but it drags your emotions along with it, so that you are stuck between the emotion your heart elicits, and the physical response that consumes you. Back and forth, until you are drained and can’t feel anything at all anymore. You stop responding and you stop caring. Someone needs to guard the thin curtains that divide the room.