Honestly, I feel like I don’t have the right to write about anything right now. As of today, there have been 20 deaths here in Israel and over 5,000 cases of COVID-19, and the rest of the world is grappling with a pandemic that will, in all likelihood, change our lives for the considerable future. I know people who have lost family members to this disease. Friends have lost their jobs. People everywhere are afraid about what the next day is going to bring, and it feels like everything is spinning out of control.
But I have to say something about what my life has been like.
Three weeks ago, I had a life-changing day. One of those days that someone with my mental health issues always fears, something that I dreaded ever since my psychiatrist in the United States first diagnosed me as bipolar three years ago. One of those things that once you experience it, there’s no going back. I had one of those events that demonstrates why people with my diagnosis in general have a ten-year shorter life expectancy than your average person:
Two weeks ago I was treated at a psychiatric hospital following a hypomanic episode.
The days prior to March 11, 2020 saw increasing frequencies of the signs of trouble on the horizon. At nights, whenever I was supposed to be sleeping, I was pacing my office for hours in a circle, talking to myself and the voices in my head that just wouldn’t stop talking back. Each day, my heart rate spiked at around 130 (thanks Apple Watch for the friendly reminder that you’re going insane). Each night and throughout the day, it felt like there were electrodes attached to my heart and someone was pulsing them with a car battery. I felt that instantly recognizable feeling of having jet fuel for blood, burning at a thousand degrees. My body was exhausted from constantly running overclocked, but none of the (legal) sedatives I could get my hands on would do anything to stop my body and mind from running at full speed into the brick wall of full-blown madness.
Then it came.
It happened at work (doesn’t it always?). I was getting ready to give a class (I’m an English teacher now guys!), when all of sudden I felt it: the uncontrollable desire to move. I got up to try and prepare outside in the fresh air, anything to calm me down; it didn’t. I got up and started walking and pacing in a big circle in our outdoor area. I started talking to myself again, repeating again and again and again and again and again, “calm down, calm down, be calm, don’t lose it.”
By the point my hands had moved to the back of my neck, grabbing at the scruff leftover from my last Israeli-style haircut. I pulled at whatever I could grab, try and feel something other than the compulsion to keep moving, something besides the burning fire going through my veins. I took off my hoodie and started screaming into it, screaming because all of my thoughts were going too fast to actually form words. Every single emotion I felt could only be expressed in the primal desperation of a full and throat-killing scream. I wanted to jump and fly, I wanted to run until I passed out, I wanted to bash my skull into a million pieces, but most of all I screamed to just have everything stop.
There was a moment when I grasped enough clarity, enough of a gap in the episode to see that I needed to quickly get the fuck out of there before I had an actual meltdown. I bolted inside to my boss’ office, told her I had to leave and that I needed to get to the train station immediately. I told her I was bipolar, something I was hoping to never bring up again in work for the rest of my life. She took me, I collected my things as sneakily as possible (I probably looked way the fuck out of it), and got the hell out of there.
After that, it starts to get a little bit hazy. I really lost it. Like, not knowing where I was, where I was going, not being able to understand anything. I devolved into a shaking mess talking to himself and seeing devils around every corner. I was taken to one hospital, not admitted there, taken by ambulance to another, finally seen by a psychiatrist, given some drugs, and brought back down to earth. I left that night and got back to Haifa around midnight, having been through one of the worst experiences of my life.
I haven’t been back to work since. Not very long after my episode, I was put on unpaid leave along with most of the employees at my work. I can probably count on one hand the number of times I’ve left my apartment (other than to walk my dog) to do anything. The restrictions here are getting tougher and tougher, and our government warns us that it’s only going to get worse.
Social distancing is my life now.
I thought at first that this time off right after the episode would give me some space, some room to breathe, some time to recover, some gap where I can focus on just getting better. It was at first, I spent the first few days trying to get as much rest as I could, to let myself heal.
Then the nights started to get to me again.
1 am. 2 am. 4 am. 6 am. Let’s just try and rest the sleep cycle.
I haven’t been able to sleep, to even make my mind still enough to sleep, before midnight in three weeks. Three weeks where my responsibilities were limited to fifty-five square meters. Normally, in times after an episode, I’d heavily rely on my social network to get me back on my feet. A good pat on the back, a beer with a friend, or even just a nice conversation with a stranger at the store.
Social distancing has made that all disappear.
I played Animal Crossing: New Horizons (super plug) today with my cousin in America, and I honestly think that he was the first person that I’ve spoken to that wasn’t my wife, my dad, or someone interacting with me in a medical relationship. I’m starting to lose my Hebrew, I haven’t spoken with an Israeli in a long time (my mind being fried doesn’t help). For those maybe 15 minutes, I was happier than I had been for a solid amount that I had been in a week. Even though I knew he was thousands of miles away, it felt like he was there with me. It felt so good that I could have almost looked next to me and seen him sitting next to me, playing along and exploring my little island.
Shabbat has become something I dread. My wife and I haven’t had a lot of meal invitations out before everything hit the fan; but this somehow has made everything so much worse. Out of 25 hours, I spend maybe an hour trying to eat with my wife, and the rest of it struggling to overcome how sad I feel inside, how alone I feel, how scared I am about my future, how I feel hopeless. It’s incredibly emasculating to have to tell your wife that you have to save your strength to share a meal because it hurts so much to get out of bed. What’s worse, I don’t have any of the normal electronic distractions to keep my mind from wandering to the darkest thoughts. All I can do on these sleepless Friday nights is hold myself as hard as I can and pray that the drugs kick in soon.
In the past few months I’ve shared probably more than I should, I’ve told you and the world more about my personal life than the average person would deem appropriate, or even safe. I went radio silent for two weeks on social media, and it nearly killed me. I got tired of people asking about me, asking my wife how I was doing. There are very few things in the world that hurt more, in my experience, than hearing your spouse tell you that people were calling her just to ask how I was.
I felt like I wasn’t a person anymore, just a problem.
I can’t keep it in anymore, I can’t not say something. People that know me know that I thrive on interaction, on talking, on sharing. To be silent is worse than any cutting I could do, any binge drinking, anything else that would push me closer to the edge. I need to get this off my chest, I need to be free from the weight dragging me down. Social distancing is already enough of a threat to my life, I don’t need to add to the danger by silencing myself.
So, I’m writing all of this to just say what’s been happening in my life, to let someone else besides my wife and psychiatrist know that I’m suffering, that I need help. I need all the interaction I can get. This is my desperate plea for you to reach and talk with me. It can be a text, a Facebook message, a WhatsApp, anything, please. Play Animal Crossing with me. Give me the social support that I need to live; because otherwise this social distancing will only continue to make it harder to get better.
I’m better than I was three weeks ago. Other than the insomnia and occasional negative thinking, the depression that came in right after the hypomania left is mostly gone. It comes back at nights, like it is as I write this, but that’s why I’m writing this again in the first place. I wouldn’t say that I have hope again, but I wouldn’t say that I’m hopeless. I’m on the slow process of getting better. I smiled multiple times today, and that was a really big deal for me. I cooked something interesting today for the first time in weeks. I had fun, and I can’t say I’ve had that in a while; but I need more help.
Please, in this time of social distancing, please remember me. Remember your friends and loved ones with mental health issues that are likely suffering because of the isolation. Take some time just connect with those you care about, maybe even reconnect with someone you haven’t talked with in a while. I think that one of the unspoken threats in this whole crisis has been the idea that we human aren’t meant to be separated for this long. We thrive on active and dynamic relationships, we need the support networks we all create for ourselves. If they have to go digital these days, so be it, but we need to remember that all of this social distancing can be dangerous too. Wash your hands, but make sure you stay connected to. With someone like me, reach out and check in your friends. This can be a time where it’s easy to get absorbed and distracted by the news, and easy to forget the people in your life that matter more than the latest political development that won’t change your daily health habits.
Thanks for reading as usual, and please be in touch. I’ll be playing in my little island, Kfar Ari, for pretty good chunks of the day here on Israel Standard Time, come visit 🙂