“Withholding.”–(Heydrich’s Catholic Church Supplies, Books, Gifts, & Art, June-October 2007, Part II.)

A blog posted on July 18, 2007.

My bus driver didn’t ever bother to slow down when he neared my stop this morning–he just cruised on along, as I hobbled across the Randall’s parking lot, screaming, “Mother-fucker! Piece of shit!” at the top of my lungs. The homeless guys on the bench made no attempt to wave the driver down.

I eventually waved down a connector and caught up with my regular bus while the driver was enjoying one of his luxurious twenty-minute lay-overs.  My love for the Capitol Metro Transit Authority was at an all-time low.

A few hours later, after pointless staff meeting, a snaggled-toothed man who claimed to be a Baptist minister came into the store, soliciting funds for a children’s charity. Since I work part-time for a Christian bookstore, solicitors come in all the time appealing to the better natures of staff and management.

Supposedly, this guy’s church annually uses city buses to haul poor kids across town to the circus or a kid’s fair or some such bally-hoo. But the City  said that after four or five years of offering free rides, the charity was now going to have to cough up a dollar a piece for bus fare for all of these kids, so this minister and his crew were going around collecting pennies and nickels and dimes.

I piped up, “Well, you need to contact my friend Paddy ___. He’s in charge of Business and Community Relations for Cap Metro. He’s the man you need to talk to.”

“Well, he the one say we gots to pay the dollar for each child!”

A co-worker gave the good reverend 35 cents. I gave him four quarters.

After a long day of sweating my nut sack off and  having to listen to ghastly Contemporary Christian Music, I got on the bus back to [home]. My plan was to grab a bite, see “Angel-A” at the Arbor Cinema, and then go home. During the ride I was hoping to gain a few moments peace in the arid and spare prose of Bruce Chatwin’s “In Patagonia.”

But holding court on the bus was Austin’s favorite pre-op trannie and failed Mayoral and Gubernatorial candidate, Jennifer Gale. She had spent several months in Dallas, where–surprise, surprise–she had tried and failed to be elected Mayor. Now she had come back to Austin with her tail–and her cock–tucked between her legs.

 She was combing her long, ratty hair and warbling questions, asking how the city had changed in her absence, as if she’d been away for decades.

An old hippie provided most of the answers. (No real changes other than lots of demolitions and construction.) The hippie, not content to be seen wearing one ridiculous-looking broad-brimmed hat–of canvas–soon put a second broad-brimmed hat–of straw–on top of the first.

I was tempted to ask Gale if she finally taken the plunge while in Dallas and gotten her dick chopped off, but my good manners and remembrance of Gale’s Marine Corps background made me hold my tongue.

During my wretched five months at the Downtown Public Library Gale and her freak show cohorts would use the Library computers every day, to maintain her website and develop campaign literature. Gale often caused a stir among female patrons and staff by using the women’s restroom, while still possessing male genitalia. How all those Library women knew all this I have no idea, since I assume the women’s rooms there have nothing but stalls.

(I am pretty well-known for my difficulties with remembering names and faces–due chiefly to my lack of interest in meeting people. But it was not until Sunday the 15th that I realized that the Downtown Public Library was regularly patronized by two large trannies with freak show entourages. I saw the other one on the bus that Sunday, and suddenly realized that I had been fusing her in my head with Jennifer Gale. The second trannie was about 6’4″ or 5″, also had frizzy, ratty hair, was heavy-set and “big-boned” as some people like to say. But her chief characteristics were large, protruding teeth and bulbous lips. Her teeth stuck out so much she was unable to close her lips over them, so that her lips looked to be curled up in a perpetual expression of disgust.) 

But I digress.

Gale was quite tickled by all the attention she was getting. She announced her intentions to run for Lamar Smith’s Congressional seat, and indeed, what place is better than a crosstown bus to scare up that populist “Man/Woman/Gender Undetermined of the People” kind of buzz?

After Gale attempted a lame pun (“What? The Long John Silver’s has been torn down? I’d say there’s something fishy about that!”), her merry band was joined by the latest passenger, an older fellow who looked like Terry Bradshaw fallen upon hard times. Terry, a harelip, was having trouble communicating with Gale, but finally uttered some “gobba gobba gobba” noises that vaguely sounded like “Purple Haze,” so Gale attempted to sing a few bars. The old hippie squinted and scrunched up his nose and laughed like Gabby Hayes. I gave up on the Chatwin by this point.

I heard what sounded like very convincing approximations of metallic distortion and reverb, and thought somebody was doing a damned good imitation of Peter Frampton’s “Do You Feel Like We Do,” only to realize that Terry had started singing along with Gale, through the mechanical voice box inserted in his stoma. He continued the concert, buzzing and gobbling and murmuring, long after Gale de-boarded.
 
[Jennifer Gale froze to death on the night December 17, 2008 in the doorway of an Austin church.]

*******

A blog posted on July 26th, 2007.

Last week I had three blessed days off in a row, which theoretically would’ve been a perfect opportunity for me to recover from work.

But on Tuesday the 17th I went to lunch with a friend. It mostly went well, but in the last fifteen or so minutes my friend, who is now more or less a Buddhist, told me I should stop trying to work to make my life better and concentrate on being happy in my current circumstances–a philosophy I totally rejected. We got into a nasty argument.

And later that evening I got into an e-mail argument with another friend which continued raging fiercely for the next week.

On the 18th I went to my doctor for a check-up, my first visit with him in almost a year.

We have been having four or five rainstorms a week in Austin all summer–-sometimes in the daytime, sometimes at night. I’ve been enjoying them, because I love rain, lightning, and thunder, but the frequency of the storms means I have to plan carefully ahead when I go places.

A huge storm was on its way when I walked to the doctor. I hoped to get the visit over with before it blew in, because I’d opted against bringing an umbrella.

As I sat in the crowded waiting room (the office suite housed about a dozen doctors), two little boys kept playing with loud hand-held video games. The beeping noise the games made was making me nervous–or rather, it added to my nervousness, because I usually feel a degree of apprehensiveness when I go to the doctor.

Suddenly the beeping crescendoed to a piercing level and lights began to flash on the ceiling. It took me a few seconds to realize this was not the kids’s doing but was rather the building’s alarm system going off. I was so glad that didn’t happen while a nurse was sliding a needle into my arm to draw blood, especially since I often convulse or black out during blood tests.

Few of us seemed to take the alarm very seriously, and we slowly filed out of the office into a lobby. I did hear one or two people raise the possibility of a terrorist attack, but I doubted a suburban Austin office building would be a high-priority target.

We planned to stay there in the lobby until some stout nurse told us to take the fire stairs and exit the building. I wondered how long all this would delay my appointment.No sooner had we all gotten downstairs and outside than two maintenance men came out, chuckling, and told us we could go back in. It seems some batty old woman had pulled the fire alarm knob, thinking it would automatically open a door.

As is often the case when people go to the doctor, I spent more time waiting on the doctor and nurse than I did actually getting treated.

My doctor, as I think I’ve mentioned before, amuses me in that he talks like a really stoned George Takei. Unfortunately he didn’t seem to be paying complete attention to me, and yawned several times, asking if my insurance was paying for my therapist, after I’d already made it clear I had no therapist, needed to find one who was free or low-cost, that I had no insurance, and that even if my current job bumped me up to full-time, the insurance coverage offered isn’t very good.

I had lost a little bit of weight in the last year–maybe about ten pounds. My blood pressure was excellent. The doctor didn’t really comment about my severe depression.

He wanted to keep me on my current dosages of thyroid, cholesterol, and sinus medication, and said I should come in soon to get some blood tests on my thyroid and cholesterol.

I missed the first round of the rain and got home just as the second round started.

I slept, wrote, and cried for most of the 19th.

From about 9:30pm on the 21st to 6:05pm on the 24th any time not spent sleeping or at work was devoted to reading the final “Harry Potter” book.

On Monday the 23rd, around 10am, while at work, I was overwhelmed by depression and suicidal despair. That somewhat faded away during the course of the day. And even though a big storm totally snarled traffic, and the bus took an hour to get me home, I was in a decent mood by that point.

On the morning of the 25th, after responding to another angry e-mail from that friend, I was so overwhelmed with feelings of hopelessness about my static state of life that I had enormous difficulty to walk to and ride the bus without bursting into tears, and in fact for awhile I had to make like I had foreign objects irritating my eyes.

Work was very hectic and I got terribly stressed out. I alarmed my manager and one of my co-workers, explaining I don’t work well at all in a hectic environment. The co-worker later asked how I expected to deal with working at Christmas, and I indicated that I really don’t know as I’ll last that long at that store, and indeed, I do not plan to become a long-term fixture there. They do know I’m still into writing and editing heavily and have not given up on that as a career goal. And after almost two months on the job I still haven’t mastered their fucked-up proprietary software on the register.

The friend with whom I’d been arguing via e-mail had asked the rather obvious question,

–Why do you keep doing these retail jobs that you hate? Why can’t you just get a normal 9-to-5 job like everybody else?

Obviously he’s not been paying attention to the way the last six years have been going with me career-wise, and that that’s been the central problem in my life all that time.

I had asked my doctor for a list of free or low-cost therapists and he had given me a sort of general phone list. It included much that was useless to me, like AIDS services, Poison Control, and pregnancy care. But I think I tracked down an agency that might give me therapy free or at low-cost. It’s apparently connected with the state Mental Health and Mental Retardation bureau.

Today I called and asked about free or low-cost therapy, explained I only have a part-time job and no insurance, am suffering from very serious depression, and am not on any depression meds, though I’ve taken them before.

They gathered my info (address, age, Social Security number, etc.), and said the soonest they could see me is Tuesday, August 7th, between 8am and noon. It’s on a walk-in—not appointment–basis. I’m supposed to report to the ominously-named “Intake Department.” (That gives me visions of men in white coats strapping me down and injecting me with a syringe full of Thorazine.)  

They will test me to see if I physically, psychologically, and financially qualify for help from them. (The office is down in that no man’s land on the west side of I-35 between Cesar Chavez and Riverside.)

One of my concerns is that I’ll be dealing with a bureaucracy, and no good can ever come of those things. I’m worried about being processed and shuffled along as another number, and not really getting the help I need. Because I need a therapist or somebody to go to more than once, to get my problems sorted out. Just 30-60 minutes one time only ain’t gonna cut it.

And will they just try to give me pills and move me along?

And since the shrinks I dealt with in my childhood were so useless, I’m also concerned how another bunch of them might work out. I fear they might try, through drugs and talk, to make me be satisfied with the life I have right now, and I definitely don’t want that. I want my life to change for the better.

But I had a bully time a few months ago when I went to that pharmaceutical testing place and talked for an hour about my problems. Maybe these people can help.
We shall see….

I called James to tell him about the call and the pseudo-appointment. He’s been one of those pushing for me to get therapy. But he seemed less than excited, indicating that he didn’t think shrinks could fix my life–only at best, try to fix my head or my thinking. His diagnosis is my depression is due to the fucked-up circumstances of my life, not any chemical imbalances or physiological problems.   

I just hope I can keep it together until the 7th. I feel suicidal several times a day and I just hope I don’t do something stupid while on one of my many lows.

But I don’t suppose a shrink can find me a decent job that I won’t hate.

*******    

A blog posted on July 31, 2007.

God, I am so fucking tired of being expected to “prove” myself over shit that I don’t consider important in the first place.  And this has been expected of me for the last several years. I was expected to prove a few years ago that I was actively looking for work, so I had to make the ridiculous and ultimately pointless effort of walking all over Austin, going from door to door looking for work….

And yet I still have to fight off charges that I’m lazy and sitting on my ass.

My current dead-end job doesn’t pay enough to cover all my bills, so I started looking for ways to make extra money. I asked a well-connected friend, and the only thing he could find was an outdoor political petition drive. I explained to him that that wouldn’t be a good job for me–I don’t function well outdoors and on my feet, and I have enormous difficulty with anything involving sales and persuasion. I’m highly uncomfortable trying to persuade people of things and I can’t look people in the eye.

But that was the only opportunity he knew of and I knew he wasn’t going to look for anything else, so today I went off to go pick up the materials I’d need for the petition drive. It took me three fucking hours by bus to go from my home in far northwest Austin, down to the UT campus, then catch another bus to the Enfield/Town Lake area where the materials were kept, then hike way the fuck from the “closest” bus stop to the house of the contact guy, then wait for the next bus, then to get back to UT. By the time I reached UT I was soaking wet with sweat. But I went out onto the Drag, soliciting signatures.

The job pays 50 cents per signature. I got all of four, including my own and that of a former house mate.

I’m going to try this nonsense again at a big street fair Thursday night, but I am not at all optimistic of how it’ll work.

*******    

A blog posted on August 7th, 2007.

Friends of this blog will no doubt be aware of my long struggle with severe depression and mental illness, and the downward spiral my life has coursed along since I lost the only good job I ever had in 2001. Since then it has been, as the saying goes, “one fucking thing after another:” physical illness, domestic disharmony, reclusiveness, anti-social behavior, memory loss, unemployment, under-employment, anxiety attacks, weight gain, wild side-effects to medications, an apartment fire, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, a brief respite with inherited money I was too depressed to enjoy, serious debt, and finally the knock-out blow–the death of my dog Fred, which pushed me into a nervous breakdown.

My experience with shrinks, therapy, and depression meds has been uniformly negative, so when a few friends, fearing I was about to go totally barking mad and strip my clothes off in the middle of Congress Avenue at high noon, begged and cursed at me to get therapy I was reluctant to do so. I did some research into where I could find free or low-cost therapy here in Austin, and didn’t turn much information up. My heart wasn’t in it. And anyway, the terms “free” and “low-cost” conjured up visions of sleazy, shit-hole methadone clinics and abortion mills in economically-depressed neighborhoods filled with the criminally doomed.

I had six months of extremely severe depression over Fred’s death where I was crying one to four times every day. The daily crying jags stopped right at that six month point; I continued to cry and grieve a good deal, but I thought the worst had passed me.

During the worst of my grief I had a tedious graveyard shift job I didn’t really want. All through that period I only ever seemed to be either at home asleep, staring at a computer screen at work, or fighting back tears and convulsive sobs at a bus stop.

I had severe anxiety attacks before, during, and after work. Eventually I was calling in sick more nights than I was going in. I lasted five months at that job–exactly the same amount of time I’d been in the previous one. I quit to save what little sanity I had left.

I landed a freelance assignment and things seemed to pick up for a couple months. There was no light at the end of the career tunnel, but at least I could work from home.

When that assignment ended I saw a “Help Wanted” sign on a door of a shop, and though I really didn’t want the job offered, all those years of unemployment had conditioned me to apply. To my horror I was asked to come in the next day and interview. I spent the rest of the day and night nauseated, trying to figure a way out of the interview. But I wound up going to the interview anyway. I made no effort at all to get hired during said interview, and yet was still given the job.

And so I got another job–a retail gig. The job was not as bad as the last few had been, but I was still unhappy there and the pay was been much less than I needed to cover my basic bills. I eyed the exit door from the first day.

Things got worse and worse in my life. My back, legs, and feet ached constantly from standing all day. My eyes stung because I needed to update my eyeglass prescription but had no insurance. The bills piled up. A friend wrote to me about his sister, who is about the same age as me. She also had fucked up her life, waiting for the big breaks than never came, and now he said she’s probably too old even to land one of those proverbial “starting-in-the-mailroom”-type jobs. I feared I might be in the same boat.

I alienated friends and family. I didn’t want to see anybody or talk to anybody. I wanted to be left completely alone pretty much all of the time. About my only recreation was a regular trip down the street to the neighborhood art house cinema for a French film.

I spent hours polishing the book I’d tinkered with for a year-and-a-half, but I couldn’t even get my own friends interested in reading it. Many promised to do so, but few complied.

My days off I spent sleeping in mammoth blocs.

In the mornings of work days I’d awaken to my clock radio playing classical music. I’d be drenched in sweat. I’d sit up in bed, kiss Fred’s portrait, and calculate how many hours I’d have to put up with before I could go back to bed.

I’d wash up, dress, make my lunch, eat breakfast, check my e-mail, bid farewell to Fred’s ghost for the day, and try not to cry on my walk to the bus stop.

On the bus I’d read the paper and my bus book and pray the work day would be over with quickly.

I’d work, sweating like a pig in the poorly-air-conditioned shop.

I’d go home, exhausted. I’d wonder if that would be the night I would swallow the handful of Clonazepam and tie the plastic bags over my head.

I’d read my toilet book. I’d shower off the filth of the outside world. Too tired for a full meal, I’d eat a handful of peanuts or something for a snack.

I’d check my e-mail. I’d edit and write.

I’d read the Bible and pray, going through the motions.

I’d read my bedside book.

I’d crank up the air conditioner.

I’d turn out the light, kiss Fred’s portrait, pull the covers to my chin and pray for God to kill me in my sleep….

Oh, but the nights…the nights before work….

Many times I was too anxious and stressed and worried and depressed to sleep. I’d toss and turn for hours, until the tiny bed was too hot to sleep on.

Insomnia.  

Too much information running, jumbling, crashing together inside my over-heated brain. Brain rattling around like a tea kettle on the boil. I wanted to beat my head against the wall and crack open my skull and set free all the noise and tumult and activity jumping around inside there. How could I face a whole day of work, of doing pointless busy work and faking politeness to strangers when I hadn’t had a good night’s sleep?

Many a time I’d gone to work at my other various jobs with insufficient sleep and each day was a prolonged agony—worse than it would be when I’d had a good night’s sleep.

The hopelessness, the despair, the utter lack of assurance that my situation would ever get better, the ceaseless noise in my brain, got to be too much for me.   

I went to my regular doctor for the first time in a year, for a check-up. The doctor who talks like a stoned George Takei. I asked about free and low-cost psychological therapy. He gave me an all-purpose medical hotline phone sheet. There amongst the drug rehab, AIDS services, pregnancy counseling, and Poison Control numbers was one for the local state and county mental health and mental retardation emergency clinic.

I called the number. They said I could come in two weeks later. I was scheduled for August 7th, but I didn’t have an appointment per se. Service was on a first-come, first-serve basis.
   
My friend James, who had been one of those pushing me to get therapy, graciously offered to drive me, despite the fact he also had a doctor’s appointment of his own that day, as well as a trip out to the airport. The kind gesture notwithstanding, he said his fantasy for how the day would play out involved me being incarcerated in the same mental hospital I once wrote an article about.

For the last few days preceding the appointment I was feeling somewhat hopeful, thinking maybe something wonderful would happen to me when I went to the clinic, that finally my problems would be solved.The clinic is in the southeast part of downtown Austin, south of the Convention Center and north of Town Lake. I’d never been in that neighborhood–well, maybe once briefly. The houses there are to be leveled soon, with even more high-rise condos going up in their place.  

The clinic was a block away from Rainey Street, after which the home street of Hank Hill from the animated series “King of the Hill” was named.

The building was long and low. I went into what appeared to be the front door and was told to exit and go further down. James said this was a technique designed to disorient the patients.

Inside the clinic was pretty much as I had expected: filled with the poor, the desperate, the crazy, the lost, with junkies, crack whores, ex-cons. Though the doors had just opened, the floors were already covered with random bits of trash–coupons, bus passes, gum wrappers. I was sure flesh-eating viruses were spontaneously generating in the corners.

People coughed over and over, never covering their faces. A skinny office functionary fussed more over the coffee maker than most preemie nurses do with their incubators. The air was stale and vile. And despite the rather curious presence of glossy and quite pointless shelter magazines [“Architectural Digest,” “Coastal Living”] on the side tables, the place felt like the Third World.

I went to the check-in window. I noticed my accent became more clipped, more precise, more patrician, as I addressed the little office girl. She handed me a clipboard full of forms. I filled out the paperwork, which included a questionnaire on depression and manic-depression which  I considered way too short.

I needed to figure out a question on my finances but had forgotten my calculator. (I’d been asked to bring I.D., and proof of income and residence.) James said he had one on his cell phone. When he finished he handed me back some of my utility bills, I grabbed them from a weird angle, and they fell to the filthy floor. I quietly but angrily cursed James as a “stupid cocksucker,” because I didn’t want to bring the germs from that place back into my home on those papers. [Have I convinced you yet that I’m crazy?]

I turned in the paperwork and sat back down. As time passed I began to feel more and more hopeless, doubtful that this bureaucracy could help me. I wanted to cry. If this dump couldn’t help me–-what then?

We waited for two hours. I was so depressed I didn’t even notice how long we were there. At the same time, James and I were quietly cracking jokes, something I gathered the other people in the room considered inappropriate.

The lobby filled up quickly, each new arrival being a better argument for eugenics than the last.

There was a middle-aged Hispanic dude who looked like a hung-over Cheech Marin. He kept staring at us through rheumy, heavy-lidded eyes. He was accompanied by his brother (a guy who was wearing what appeared to be a dirty corset outside his T-shirt) and his mother, who tottered off to the bathroom to cough up something chunky–like half a lung perhaps.

A heavily-tattooed black couple came in with their two little kids. The husband’s upper body looked like he worked out, but he had the drawn face and the teardrop tattoo (under the lower eyelid) of a junkie. James concluded the man beat the wife and kids, because the latter supposedly had bruises “in all the wrong places.”

A white guy I nicknamed “Joe Dirt” napped under the brim of his ball cap.

An obese woman of about sixty came in, began filling out the forms, kept dropping them and struggling to pick them up, answered her cell phone, revealing a deep, raspy voice, worked on the forms some more, let loose with a phlegmy cough, went outside for a cigarette to “clear” her throat, came back in, tried again to fill out the form, got frustrated, began to cry, and left the premises.

Three or four kids around twenty years of age arrived, got called in back one at a time to see “Amy,” and returned to the lobby after only about two or three minutes. I asked James what all that was about and he said they were probably getting to visit a friend who was an in-patient, possibly dying of an overdose.  

As the place filled up James said he might have to stand up soon, so he could offer his chair to someone. I said,

–Don’t you fucking dare! I don’t want to be seated next to any of these people! If you stand up I will too.

I carped that they needed to open the windows and air the place out–the room smelled of shit.

James and I were the only people in the lobby who didn’t seem to have any tattoos–especially of the jailhouse variety–and were certainly the only ones who spoke as if we’d gotten past the eighth grade.

James had not eaten breakfast and was getting hungry. He said if he didn’t eat soon he would vomit. I let him go off in search of a convenience store, but I said if I got waited on and then dismissed I’d not wait around long–I’d just go take a bus if he didn’t return quickly.

But he got back so fast no one even took his seat. He brought me a little package of four cookies, and after I finished it I handed it back to him.

–What do you want me to do about this?…Do you see any garbage?

I turned and gave him a bored look and raised an eyebrow.

He understood.  

Shortly thereafter I was called in back. I did not fail to notice that while they called the others by their first names, they called me, “Mister B______.”

Damn straight.

 I was led to the office of someone from “Intake Services”–a middle-aged social worker, about 6’6”, with long hair and a long beard the color of brass and ashes. He tended to mutter into his beard. He looked like a confused and frustrated Jeff Daniels after a long bender.

The office was non-descript. The DSM-IV sat atop a pile of papers. Two rainbow triangle signs with some nonsense inscription about this office being a “safe space” were posted on the wall. On the desk there were two framed photos of an Indian guru in saffron robes.

We talked for 43 minutes. I rather overwhelmed this guy with the number and array of things wrong with me. He had trouble following all the divergent “strands.” I told him about my past meds and psychological treatment, my anxiety attacks, seizures, OCD, germophobia, profound grief, career woes, suicidal ideation, etc. He was puzzled over my “mysterious finances.” My income was well within the poverty eligibility range, yet at the same time I had an apartment in a nice part of town paid for with no governmental subsidies and got medical care paid for without insurance.

He concluded,

–You’re a very complicated man,

and I laughed in agreement, fighting the temptation to respond with the Isaac Hayes line,

–…And no one understands him like his woman.

I also chuckled when he asked,

–So you’re, uh, pretty much a confirmed bachelor then?

(When I told James this over lunch he concluded the guy was hitting on me, but I thought that unlikely.)

The social worker couldn’t make a diagnosis on the spot, as much depended on him entering certain facts into the computer and letting the computer decide which slot I best fit into. He was leaning towards a diagnosis of Manic-Depressive, Stage II. I explained I didn’t think I was manic because I almost never have any “up” times, but he said my spending sprees and anger could be seen as manic manifestations.

I asked,

–When you refer to anger as being manic do you mean dramatic, throwing furniture across the room anger or deep, seething, inward anger and resentment?

I think my examples unsettled him.

At any rate he was pressed for time, and though I didn’t get to tell him everything, I told him a lot. Apparently they have two counselors in that department and had to divide up five patients between 8am and 3pm, which doesn’t sound like too rushed of a schedule to me, but as I later told James,

–Maybe he’s got cases worse off than a spoiled white boy whose life was ruined when he lost his cushy dot-com job.

The social worker explained the various levels of treatment available as best he could. They were divided between his agency and another one. I got the impression he wasn’t too clear on how the whole system worked. At the former agency I could get treatment almost immediately, while the latter might involve a 2-3 month wait. His bureau could offer hospitalization or out-patient treatment. I didn’t tell him that I had recently been tempted to commit myself. His bureau’s two clinics are both inconveniently located–the place I went to today is in the southeast part of downtown, and another place is a mile northeast of that one, in East Austin.

He told me to call him in an hour. He then extended his hand for me to shake. It was missing the two middle fingers. It felt like grasping a python that was digesting a rat.

James and I went to lunch, then when I got home I tried to call the guy a few times and he finally called me. He had concluded I was Level 2 Bi-Polar and recommended me for a certain grade of treatment. [He didn’t have an explanatory hand-out for me at his office.] If for some reason that treatment doesn’t work out or my income changes or the person in charge decides I’m not in fact a Level 2 Bi-Polar, I might get transferred to the other agency, which might have offices all around the city.

What I have to do now to get into the system is go back there on Thursday, sign up, maybe meet with a doctor or case manager, then start attending meetings.

If I get into a crisis mode, I can use a doctor down there anytime [though I don’t know how much good that’d be when I’m feeling terrible at 4 am–it’s not an easy place for me to get to].

I am to see a doctor or nurse and be reviewed every 3 months. In the meantime I will have to participate in a series of classes and meetings, both individually and as part of [God help me] a group. These will add up to about 5-6 hours a month, and will apparently involve [the guy didn’t sound like he was too clear about this] exercise classes [depression exercises?], anger management sessions [punching dummies of my enemies?], and movies [the collected works of Ingmar Bergman?]. I wanted more examples, but he had none.

It doesn’t really sound very promising. It sounds more like some kind of encounter group “see me/feel me/touch me” horse-shit from the 70s.

But I’m going to go. What the fuck else do I have better to do? If nothing else it should give me more to write. Could “B_____, Interrupted” be far off?

Now I’ve got to shower. My clothes stink about as bad as they did the last time I went to Nuevo Laredo.

*******    

A blog posted on August 13, 2007.

Wednesday I had the usual stressful day at work, though the manager was off on a business trip.

One of the customers was a man easily pushing 60 who had possibly the worst hair weave I’ve ever seen. When he bent down to look at some jewelry you could see the plugs. The rug was styled in an absurd 1983 New Wave pop singer cut, and I think the guy was also wearing make-up. He spent much of his visit shouting into his cell phone about his aged mother, who’s in a nursing home, needing some sensitive medical procedure performed on her genitalia.

A large woman came in with her two little boys. Naturally the boys made a beeline for a kid’s-sized rocking chair we have for sale. Kids pull a string on the chair and it plays a music box version of “He’s Got The Whole World In His Hands,” but as is often the case with modern childrens’ musical toys, the tune was not precisely correct. Obviously I can’t hum the tune for you, but suffice it to say that the third time the title line appears in the chorus, it’s played flat and without the proper tune as it appears in the first two go-rounds.

So these little monsters head for the chair, and one stays in it–for about twenty minutes. And his brother keeps pulling the string–for twenty minutes. Over and over and fucking over again. Boy #1 refuses to vacate his seat, so Boy #2 starts beating on him between his duties as string-puller.

Finally Boy #1 starts screaming repeatedly,

–God doesn’t want you to be hitting me! God doesn’t want you hitting me!

Clearly the mother invokes God’s will when correcting her kids, something that will no doubt warp the little buggers for life. The sentiment just weirded me the hell out–like so much else that Holy Rollers do.    

Thursday I got up at 5:30am so James could get me at 6:30 and we could go to the intake clinic. Fortunately we got there ahead of most of the rabble, before the reception desk opened, even before that skinny functionary began brewing her precious coffee.

I got ushered back to that social worker’s office, signed a form, and was given four pieces of paper: a map to the next place I have to go to, a sheet listing when my next appointment is, the treatment plan for me, and an August calendar of group classes and sessions available….

Friday we were subjected at work to another pointless weekly staff meeting, the manager speaking mostly about which catalogue would come out when–as if I gave the slightest fuck about any of that.

The day was enormously stressful, and the AC wasn’t working worth a damn, making the store as hot and stuffy as a grain elevator. We got in a shipment of about 27 boxes, most of which I got processed that day all by myself.

In early afternoon I waited on an old woman who was clearly very mentally ill. She said her sister was a non-practicing, non-denominational minister, and she hated seeing her sister drink communion wine (at home?) out of cracked plastic glasses. She wanted to get her sister a nice chalice. She was convinced, for a few minutes anyway, that she wanted a “sick call kit,” priced at several hundred dollars. Since she mentioned she traveled by bus, I doubted she could afford such a purchase, plus I explained that sick call kits are usually only used by Catholic priests who are going to give dying people the last rites. As it was, she bought a  cheaper communion kit and parts of a sick call kit, all adding up to several hundred dollars. I was sure that whenever her minders found out about this expense they’d probably bring it all back for a refund.

The woman was so much trouble, so high-maintenance, and so full of annoying and confusing questions, that I was mentally exhausted for the rest of the day, while the store’s unrelenting heat sapped my strength and made me physically exhausted.

Later on in the afternoon I had my first official run-in with my manager.

We sell a lot of candles. Churches buy them buy the case, and most individuals only buy one or two at a time.

The store is owned by a family-run corporation, which means those in charge are very set in their ways and resistant to change. They want to do things their way, and to hell with efficiency. The president and many of the people in charge are accountants and bean-counters. They care about handling information about their inventory. Satisfying customers, meeting the demands of the market, and selling merchandise quickly are only minor concerns.

As a result, their proprietary software, used in the store cash registers and elsewhere, is geared toward inventory matters, but is hard as hell for clerks and cashiers to use. There is no logic to the way it runs, and nothing flows naturally from one screen or function to another. Ringing up a simple purchase can take pushing “Enter” and other buttons over twenty times. This slows things down for the cashier and for the customer waiting in line.

I have pointed these flaws out over and over, as have my co-workers to a lesser degree. But no one will listen. My manager is a nephew of the company’s president and a grandson of the founder. The family and its major-domos can do no wrong.

So Friday I was ringing up a bunch of different candles. The manager was standing next to me. I hauled out the “cheat sheet” he’d drawn up to help us figure out ringing up candles. The candles are officially sold by the case. But if a customer wants to buy one candle or fewer than a case  the cashier has to go in, find where the cursor has disappeared to in the tiny forest of boxes and slots and numbers and words, find the tiny box that indicates that the item is being charged by the case, and change that code to say “Piece.” Then the price should ideally reflect the price per individual candle, right? Nope, then the cashier has to go in and change the price to something else entirely, because dividing the case up by individual candle doesn’t do the trick. And sometimes even that doesn’t work and the cashier has to get out another sheet and look up a mathematical formula and divide something again.

Confused yet? Now try doing that for several different candles while the phone’s ringing off the fucking hook, picky customers are asking a bunch of other questions while you’re obviously working, kids are running around screaming, and the AC isn’t working. Then try doing that when you’re like me, with an adult case of ADD, a severe math disability, a sensitivity to noise, and a baker’s dozen of other psychological problems, ever-mounting debts, unresolved grief, despair over your career direction, and an anxious desire to quit the job entirely and move onto something else.

So I was doing all this crap, and my manager was just standing there, not offering a fucking helpful word, apparently wanting me to “learn by doing,” thinking that telling me the right answer would be a failure on his part and mine. Never mind that the customer was shifting impatiently from one foot to another and the line was getting longer. I kept snorting and sighing and rather loudly commenting,

–This is ridiculous!

Finally, he offered some help and after many snafus and false starts the transaction ended, the customer finally got to go on her way, and I said to the manager,

–So NOW do you finally see what a ridiculous, impractical, inefficient mess that software is?

And he very curtly said,

–No!

and spent the rest of the day pouting in his air-conditioned office and refusing to talk to me.

So Saturday I got called into his office for an hour or more of training on how to ring up candles. And I sort of got the hang of it, until I discovered things that were wrong with the system and the pricing and he got embarrassed and realized certain things were listed on the cheat sheet and in the computer incorrectly. Then after I finished the store’s twenty-year veteran employee was brought in to practice and she took even longer than I did.

Among our freak show customers that was a little Mexican woman who had a moustache that would put David Crosby to shame, and a group we call “The Worst Kids in the World,” which consists of two little Mexican girls who scream and run and break things every time they come in. And every time the mother apologizes, and swears she won’t bring the kids the next time she comes, but she always does. This time she also brought her boyfriend, and a co-worker was telling me later that certain behavioral cues made her conclude the boyfriend beats and abuses the mom and daughters.

An older man, who resembled character actor Richard Farnsworth and who is a regular customer, dropped by, looking for statues, books, and any other materials we had pertaining to St. Anthony. He always seemed like a sweet old man before, but this time I saw the glint of craziness in his eye: He mentioned casually that God had granted him a vision in 1975, wherein he saw the 9/11 attacks and the subsequent War on Terror.

He said he wanted to get a website created so he could post his visions and revelations on these matter, and he had to get it done before 9/11/07,

–…[O]r a lot of innocent people are gonna get hurt who shouldn’t be.

He was most concerned with protecting a young boy–he described him as a relative, but I was pretty sure the kid was his grandson. The kid’s dad is an imprisoned junkie, his mom is a crack whore who’s skipped town, and his grandmother is an alcoholic. The only one who can protect the kid, supposedly, is this old man, and the old man seems to be expecting apocalyptic horror real soon.

(See the kind of crazies that religious stores attract?)

The day wore on, the store heated up, the customers came in a ceaseless, demanding mob. I was about to explode with stress. Then I started having more problems with other fucked up aspects of the software. I would, for example, perform the same action twice and get two different results.

After we closed the manager told me he wished I’d stop making a noise like a cat coughing up a hairball every time the computer messed up. He said he wished I’d stop concentrating so intently on the computer when I’m trying to ring things up and try to chat with customers while ringing them up. I said that wasn’t going to change–certainly not as long as the software remained fucked up like that. And he said he wanted me to stop waving him over when I needed help on the computer. I admit I use a wave rather like a condescending diner would use with an inefficient waiter.

He threatened/promised to devote part of Monday to showing me more about how to deal with the software, so I would have “muscle memory” and not have to struggle to remember all that horse shit. The thought of this sent my stress levels through the roof, and made me all the more anxious to leave this job. I have got to escape that place before the hell that is the Christmas season begins. There are few things worse than working in retail at Christmas.    
    
And so I headed home, exchanging the worries of work for the other domestic worries that are tormenting me. I was so worn out I decided to skip listing stuff on Ebay or working on cleaning my apartment and just go to bed and get some much-needed rest.

Now I am officially part of the State and County mental health system. Wednesday I have to go to another clinic, located in deep East Austin, even further away from my home than the other clinic was, and meet with somebody–probably my case worker or a therapist.

The Powers That Be seem convinced I should be put back on meds, though my past experiences with depression meds weren’t very good ones. Often the side effects were worse than the conditions they were designed to treat. And my metabolism is such I often have a “paradoxical response” to meds–for example, non-drowsy allergy medicine puts me to sleep.

Also, my mom has found some research that supports what I noticed in my own experience, that anti-depressants can cause “rapid cycling” amongst the bi-polar. After I started taking depression meds and even after I quit taken them altogether, I found I felt more crazy more often, that the spaces between my mood swings got shorter.

Anyway I am to meet for 20 minutes quarterly with a doctor and/or nurse to check up on how I am progressing. I am to meet for an hour weekly with my case worker on how I’m handling my meds and dealing with my problems in general. And I am to put in 4 to 6 hours in group classes or sessions. If I cannot find any sessions closer to my house, I’ll have to spend four hours round trip on the bus, which means my days off will be pretty much shot to hell. I’m not sure when I am to meet with an actual psychologist, if I am to meet with one at all.

The classes run the gamut from useful to potentially silly:

Hobbies
Taebo
Recovery Group
Support Group
Sidewalk Coloring
Movies
1 Mile Walk
Grief Support Group (Yes, I need grief support, but I’m not going to bare my soul and start crying about Fred in front of a bunch of strangers.)
Yoga
Good Chemistry (A mixer or a group for druggies?)
Pilates
Anger Management (The group I’m most interested in.)
Peer Support Group (And where exactly shall we find my peers?)
Shoe Box Collage (What, is basket weaving passé?)

The catch is I have to attend a certain number of classes per month or I get purged from the program. But I’m not a people person under the best of circumstances. And I am extremely uncomfortable being around the sort of people that have to rely on free public services for treatment. So I have serious doubts about how effective group therapy would be for me. I do intend to show up, but I don’t plan on participating to any degree. Any help I get will be in the one-on-one sessions. Meanwhile I have to keep myself together until Wednesday, which should be challenging enough in itself.  

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