Two Feet from The End

So, I’ve gone nearly an entire week without posting, which basically never happens. I have not been responding to emails, Facebook messages, or texts either. I’m sure you all have wondered where I have been. You may have heard that my legs got bad again and I had to go to the hospital, but that’s not true. That’s a story one of the few people who knew where I was told to cover for me.

I was in the Crisis Safety Unit at Alliance Healthcare Services out in the Medical Center District.

I know when people see me out, I seem very happy. And it’s true – when I’m out among my favorite people, in my favorite places, I am happy.

However, you don’t know what it’s like when I am alone. The past several years, I have had a storm brewing inside my head. Factors included: getting laid off twice in six months and generally being disillusioned with a career 19-year-old me chose when he picked his major; my mom’s death; people being shitty (if you’ve followed my blog for a while you’ve seen me allude to this); and a disease hitting my legs last fall and restricting my movement. All this overwhelmed me. I couldn’t do the things I should have been doing in my life. I just wanted to get out and see my friends because they were my escape from my emotional pain. True, the places where I saw them generally involved alcohol, and admittedly I did have a problem with Fireball from about 2015 to the beginning of 2018. However, my friends were the escape from what was going on inside me, not the booze. I want to make that clear. Anyone who thinks alcohol is the root cause of my problem is deeply mistaken.

Since July 2018 I had been living off savings and my mom’s inheritance. Unable to hunt for jobs or do the other things in life I needed to get done due to the emotional funk I was in, I made a decision: Until the money ran out, I would spend my remaining days, happy, in my favorite places with my friends. Then, when the money ran out, I would kill myself to end the emotion pain.

I wanted my final time on Earth to be months and months of happiness, free from problems and concerns. What if I lived to be 53 and died of a stroke, or 55 and died of a heart attack, having spent my last days in a cubicle slaving away with only two weeks and some holidays of free time a year? Also, I wanted to go out in my prime – I didn’t want to die in a hospital bed as my mom and grandfather did, or rot away in a nursing home as my grandmother did. I have no spouse or children so I have a lot less reason to live a long life.

I really, seriously felt this way.

By April the money was starting to run low. My online rent payment got rejected due to insufficient funds. I knew my days were numbered. Some of you may have noticed that I stayed out an extra long time every day the second and third weeks of April. I wanted to soak all the good times in. I wanted to see my morning friends who came to Bardog. I wanted to see my late-night friends at Blind Bear. I wanted to eat my favorite Downtown meals one last time.

I had a total poker face. No one was on to my plan. I even paid my BBQ team dues even though I did not expect to be there to participate, knowing that not paying them would arouse suspicion. The third week of April, I went in to see my favorite bartenders at my favorite spots one last time. They had no idea I was telling them goodbye. I started crying as soon as I left their bars.

It looked like Sunday of last week – Easter – would be the day. I hated that because I didn’t want to ruin that holiday for people who enjoy it. I also didn’t want people thinking I had some kind of Jesus complex by choosing to kill myself that day. I stretched the money out and got through Easter.

So it was going to be Monday the 22nd. I stayed home all day preparing, although I managed to get a blog post up. One thing I of which I wanted to make sure is that there would be no alcohol in my system on the day which I did it, so that no one could accuse my of making a rash, drunken decision. However, about 7 PM the bug bit me. “I have $38 in my wallet,” I reckoned. “Can’t take it with me.” I decided to postpone my plan by one more day, and went out to the Blind Bear. I had 6 PBRs, so my tab was $18 and I tipped $7. That left me with $13.

Tuesday, April 23 I did not go out, spending most of the day crying at the thought of how much I would be hurting people who love me. Yet I felt I had come too far with the plan, had committed to too great an extent, to turn back now. I penned a suicide note, explaining what I just explained here. I asked that a person for whom reliable transportation would be a life-changer be identified, and my car given to them. I told the reader of the note where in my apartment to find my troll, and asked that she not be thrown away but rather taken to the Blind Bear, so they could have a token to remember me.

About 11:15 PM I took the elevator up to my apartment building’s roof. The rail of the rooftop patio, which residents are forbidden from climbing over, is about four feet high. With bad legs that was going to be difficult. I scanned the rooftop for ideas. In the corner there was a planter about two and a half feet high. I pulled up a chair next to it, climbed onto the chair, climbed onto the planter, and… over. I was now on the rooftop itself, sitting about a foot below the raised deck. I was about six feet from the edge. I walked over to the edge, close enough where one more step would send me over. I looked down at the Main Street Mall and the trees below.

At that moment I knew I couldn’t do it. I knew my plan had been a massive mistake.

It wasn’t the anticipated feeling of my head banging against the concrete, my soul being freed from my body. I had been preparing for that for weeks.

It was the realization that there is a LOT, LOT, LOT more good in my life than bad.

For one thing, I definitely wasn’t born stupid. I was gifted with a brain that is both analytical and creative. As I have said before, I am a connector, an inspirer, a teacher, a writer. Although rather bummed those best gifts of mine are barely used in my career doing web development, it would be a shame to throw them all away.

I realized that by jumping, I would be snuffing out my blog. My blog more than anything else is my identity. I couldn’t bear ending my blog, and I couldn’t bear ending my life.

And then there are my many, many wonderful friends. I couldn’t do this to them, even though I spent the day crying as though I could and would.

I realized many people would swap places with me in terms of what they have going on in life, in a heartbeat… and here I was, on the verge of throwing my life away.

Now I had to get back over the rail and back to my apartment. However, with the rail 5 feet off the rooftop surface, that would be a challenge. Before I could figure it out, the building security guard, Eddie, who had seen me on camera, came out of the elevator. He and I figured the best way to get me back over the rail. We sat and talked for about 10 minutes, then he rode down the elevator to my apartment with me. I spent about 10 minutes shaking in disbelief of what I had almost done, then went to bed.

About 12:15 the police were banging on my door. I didn’t blame Eddie for calling them. He was just following procedure. The cops were real nice, and could tell I was no longer suicidal. However, they said, they had to take me over to the Medical Center to talk to a counselor with more training than they had. I readily agreed. I knew I didn’t have a choice.

The counselor agreed that I was no longer suicidal, either. However, after speaking to her supervisor, she told me she could not release me that night. She told me I had two options: Voluntarily commit myself to Alliance Healthcare Systems’ Crisis Safety Unit program, or be involuntarily committed to the Memphis Mental Health Institute upstairs. She strongly encouraged me to pick the first option. “From talking to you, I can tell you don’t belong in MMHI,” she said. I decided to go along with her suggestion, since going home was apparently a non-option.

A nurse practitioner checked me in. She told me the program I would go through would last five days, and then I was taken to a room with three beds, where two other guys were sleeping. It was about 4 AM. I lay down and tried to sleep in the cold room with the door wide open, letting too much light in, all kinds of noise down the hall. Before I knew it, it was 6:30 and one of CSU’s techs was yelling “RISE AND SHINE!” into our room.

I got up and went to the room where we would spend most of our waking hours. We would eat our meals there, as well as have “group.” This consisted of 5 sessions a day where the leader would introduce a topic, like self-care or eliminating negative emotions, and initiating (or trying as best they could) to initiate conversation among us. The people in the room were a mix of people who at some point had posed a danger to themselves, addicts, alcoholics, and people who were detoxing and given a choice between the program or jail. I was told that sometime that day, and once every day until I was discharged, I would get to see a psychiatrist. Our vital signs were taken twice a day. After-hours there was a room where we could watch TV. We weren’t permitted to have our phones, which is why I haven’t been in touch with those of you who have contacted me. Three times a day there was a 30-minute break where we could sign up to use the CSU’s phone for 5 minutes apiece. Thank goodness I knew one of my buddies’ phone number. I asked him to let my BBQ teammates know why I couldn’t fulfill my Director of PR duties for a few days (we had a regional today) but asked him to otherwise keep the reason for my disappearance quiet.

My session with the psychiatrist, as well as another doctor, came early in the afternoon. She asked various questions to assess where my mind was at. After about 20 minutes, she said, “You know what, Paul? I prescribe meds for most of my patients, but my gut intuition tells me you don’t need them. I reserve the right to change my mind later, but for now I’m not writing you a prescription.”

I had shorts and sandals on. The other doctor in the room looked at my legs and immediately diagnosed the condition I had developed back last fall which made my legs so weak I could barely walk for a couple of weeks – the condition which was part of the emotional cloud hanging over my head. I have PVD, Peripheral Vascular Disease. As soon as I get insurance again I will get that looked at.

Being in the room with the other patients was humbling. At my table there were two guys who knew each other from being in the same prison the year before, and the other guy was there because he’d spend $1100 getting drunk in one weekend. One of Downtown’s longtime panhandlers was there. About 60% of the people were either homeless, in a halfway house or sober living, or looking to get into such a living situation. Then again, to show you what a mixed bag that group was, the leader asked me to give an example of how determination applied in my life. I said, “Practicing over and over again with my team until we got it right and won a trophy.” The group leader asked what sport, and I said, not really a sport but BBQ Fest. Another guy in the group said he was on a BBQ team as well, and we exchanged info.

One thing I want to stress is that despite battling their demons, every one of my fellow patients was so nice. They were dealing with their issues but had positive attitudes toward their fellow patients. My stay at CSU was a reminder of the abundance that I have, having a place to call my own, free from addiction. It also taught me that I was no better than anyone else in that room.

On the second day, I told the psychiatrist more about my Downtown group of friends. I told her that at one time I overconsumed Fireball to run away from my problems, but that now, although I still drink regularly, it’s to be social rather than an escape. At the end of the session, she said, “My gut intuition tells me you still don’t need meds. I may change my mind tomorrow.” That night I learned that I was one of only two in the 20-person group who was not prescribed any psychiatric medication.

The next morning, lying in bed, I thought of a new philosophy on life, one to carry into the days after my release. “Bad poker players get happy or unhappy based on whether they win or lose the hand,” I thought. “Good poker players are happy if they played the hand well, and if not they have opportunity to learn. What if I took that approach with each day? If I can look back on the day, and say I played out the events of the day as well as I possibly could have, I should go to bed happy, even if it was a ‘bad’ day based on events out of my control. If I didn’t, then I learn something for the next day.” It’s the poker player’s version of the “one day at a time” cliche used in rehab.

The next day was the middle day of my 5-day stay there. I was the only nonsmoker in the group, so when they all went outside for their smoke break I stayed inside. That worked out well, because the psychiatrist saw me and said, “Paul, let’s go ahead and do your session first.” I went in her office and we chatted for a bit. “Paul, would you like to go home tomorrow instead of Sunday?” she asked, and I said yes. “If you don’t think you need all five days, I don’t either,” she said.

So about 11:30 yesterday I was discharged. They said it would take a while to find a ride for me, and since it was a beautiful April day I decided a walk home from the Medical Center would be just fine. I walked past Goat Yoga in Health Sciences Park (took a photo for a future post). I also walked through The Edge, where Motor Fest was happening a block away. I could have gone over there but I didn’t (those of you who know my situation well will understand why). Up to my apartment, where I’ve been applying my new “one day at a time” poker rule, cleaning, opening mail, going through my mom’s stuff, and doing all sorts of other chores I had neglected for months and months. I expect to go to bed happy tonight.

I’m glad that I spent four days in the facility. It was surely an inconvenience, and I resisted it the first night. However, it made me think. It’s not so much that I gained a lot of life skills from being in group; rather, it gave me time and space to think, free from all the behavioral anchors I have in my apartment and in the Downtown core. It made me realize how much I have to live for, and how I will never, ever do what I did Tuesday again.

The good news is, I will have help. Allied Healthcare gave me a referral to their facility at 1200 Peabody, where I can see a psychiatrist anytime I want on Monday, Tuesday, or Thursday. I can just walk in without an appointment, so if I ever find that dark cloud swirling around me again I will have a resource I can turn to for professional help.

Now, the bad news – I spent all my money, thinking, you can’t take it with you when you die. Well, not ALL my money, but all the money I remembered I had as of Tuesday. Thank God I didn’t think about my retirement accounts. I can take an early withdrawal from one of those and have enough rent for April and May, so I’m not going to be living on the street. Sucks for the tax penalty I will face, but it’s the best available option at the moment.

Of course, I know that a hold is usually placed on those funds for several days before they become part of an available bank balance. So I have a short-term cash flow problem, with only $13 in my wallet. I found $125 in American Express gift cheques I received as a Christmas bonus years ago. A search online reveals that I can cash them at SunTrust right down the street. I also have about $50 in coins that I can wrap and exchange for bills. My mom said before she died that there was a little cash in the folders she had in her filing cabinet, and I never looked, and will later tonight. So maybe I’ll be okay short-term. Then again, if anyone has an odd job I can do so I can pick up a little cash, hit me up. Has to be Downtown though, because tags and service on the car are one of the things I neglected.

Those dues I paid to avoid arousing suspicion on the BBQ team that something was wrong? Instead of being wasted, they will now be put to good use. I plan on being all over Tom Lee Park that week! I’ll be looking for things to do.

Regular news posts will return Tuesday. I want to leave this post up top through Monday because that’s the day I have the most readers. If you have any questions about anything I wrote here, please ask me. But, please ask ME. Not my friends. None of them has a completely accurate idea of what has been going through my mind.

My suicide note said, “Don’t be sad that I’m gone. Be happy that I was here.”

I’m still here dammit.

Don’t forget I’ll be out at Rajun Cajun Crawfish Fest. I have little money to spend at bars (of course if someone wants to buy me a PBR or two I won’t refuse) so I have to stick to the free events until I can make some things happen Monday.

Memphis Crisis Center hotline: 901-274-7477