I am a different person than I was five years ago, when my world fell apart, when I deleted all of my writing, when I stopped writing entirely. When I lost my mind, and myself. In some ways, I am the same. The need to write has always pursued me, relentless in its demand to be heard. Maybe that is why I feel called to write again now.
My life has changed so much in the five years since my mental breakdown. I experienced a severely dysphoric manic episode with psychosis in 2013, during which I was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder Type 1. I started medication then and have maintained it daily for the past five years. Every morning, I take a pill that keeps my mood stabilized, my psychosis and paranoia at bay.
I now know how lucky I am. A lot of people with mental illness have the police called on them when they have breakdowns, with varying and at times disastrous results. When my nervous breakdown began, my now ex-husband was very patient with me. I now have compassion for how scared he must have been. At the time, I just saw him as trying to stifle me, or keep my daughter from me, and other symptoms of my illness. He was characterized as the villain in my mind, and my brain did everything it could to convince me that I was sane and that he was the crazy one.
I had just started a new job at a chiropractic office in Mission Valley. I’m a massage therapist. It was perfect. Close to my apartment in Normal Heights, the chiropractor at the office was young and motivated and kind. I was the only therapist. I was set up to be in a great position. I had only been working there for a few weeks when the voices started. I would hear things, and think other people were talking about me. I could her murmurs and whispers. Then I started thinking hackers were trying to get into my phone, and my computer. I began to get very paranoid, thinking I was being watched all the time, that there were hidden cameras and microphones everywhere. I felt like I was on display for the world, my own private Truman Show. Only it was hell.
I met a nice man on Adams Avenue at Lestat’s and burst into tears. He became very worried and asked what was wrong, telling me his name was Amin. He was an older gentleman that owned a home furnishing shop on Adams. He tried to take care of me that day, and had my truck looked at by his mechanic, and paid me for a massage. A very kind man indeed. I was starting to fray around the edges, but I had no idea. When this man took me out for coffee, I felt like everyone was staring at me. I was constantly onstage. I was having delusions. I started to feel like the man was stalking me. I told my boss at my new job that I felt like I had a stalker and hackers, and I’m sure he knew then that I was crazy, and he regretted hiring me, I’d only been at the job about six weeks.
That night I was sure my stalker would be waiting for me after work, so I asked my boss to wait until I was finished with my last client for the day and walk me out. I was so sure that he would help and protect me. When I was done with work, my boss was gone. The walk from the office to my car was terrifying, as I was certain that my stalker was waiting for me in a car outside, ready to whisk me off somewhere. I ran to my truck, I got into it, and I fled. I could hear voices telling me that I needed to go. The radio was giving me special signs that it was time to go. As in, I literally would hear a song on the radio and the lyrics would say something along the lines of “time to go” and it instilled a deep fear in me. The radio was right. The whole world was telling me to GO. So, I ran away. I drove all night, past Los Angeles, all the way to San Leandro, when all of a sudden, in an unfamiliar residential neighborhood, my truck broke down. In a way, I am lucky it did, because I would have kept driving all the way to Canada. By the time I arrived in San Leandro, the voices and the radio had convinced me that I was some sort of whistleblower, and I was aiming to get out of the country. It was all I could think about.
I started to freak out. I was in an unfamiliar part of the Bay Area. I had not-a-lot of money. My truck was broken down. The voices were telling me that something was after my ex and my daughter, and I started looking for them everywhere. I walked into a restaurant, a coffee shop. I asked employees where my husband and daughter were, and if they had seen them. Nothing made any sense. I knew I was missing my shift at my new job, so I texted the receptionist that I thought I was having a nervous breakdown, and when she didn’t respond, I threw my cell phone into a trash can. It wasn’t even my original phone. I had no way to get ahold of anyone I knew. It was a terrible position to be in, since I had no telephone numbers memorized.
A few days before I fled San Diego, I had what I consider to be one of the worst nights of my life. It was Halloween 2013, and I thought my husband was trying to have me committed. In a way, he was, but I didn’t know that I was having a mental breakdown, so since we were separated, I thought it was a ploy to get custody of our daughter. It was awful. I called a friend to come to my house, who dropped everything and came to rescue me on Halloween night, costume and all. My ex was being very confrontational, and he had taken my daughter elsewhere to keep her safe while he confronted me. I was so confused, we were missing trick-or-treating. What was going on? My friend came and got me, and when we got to her house, I was so concerned that my cell phone was bugged and tracking me, that I shattered it and buried it in her yard. She then knew something was really wrong with me. I spent the night there, and the next morning went to work as though nothing had happened, but everything was getting so bad. Nobody knew what to do.
All I had was a temporary cell phone with a few phone numbers in it when I disappeared, and I changed phones several times during my “missing week”. I didn’t know it, but my daughter’s father had rallied my friends back in San Diego, and everyone was looking for me. Friends from all over the country shared a MISSING post, and my absence was reported to the police. The San Diego Police Department was looking for me, but now I was in Northern California, and nobody even knew that yet. I encountered the police several times in the Bay Area and not a single one of them ever realized I was a missing person that they had found. One cop gave me a ride when he saw me walking on the side of a highway sans shoes. Another one dropped me off at a homeless shelter. Yet another one let me go after someone called the police because I was hanging out on a residential street walking up and down it very slowly. All these times I encountered the police, and they were nice, but really didn’t help me. The homeless problem in the Bay Area is so bad, there is nowhere for people to go. I started riding BART all throughout San Francisco and the surrounding areas, randomly getting off and on, trying to lose the people I was certain were after me.
The absolute worst night, I got off a train late at night in Hayward and jumped into a cab that was waiting in the parking lot for a fare. The cabbie thought I was on drugs and told me to get out, but I showed him I had money, just nowhere to go, and he took me to a 24-hour diner and left me there. I ordered pie and coffee, but a few minutes later I freaked out and yelled at no one in particular and ran out of the diner. Actually, what I said was, “YOU DON’T ALL HAVE TO BE SUCH ASSHOLES ALL THE TIME!” because the voices were telling me that the people at the tables behind me were talking about me. Look at her, they said. What is she wearing? She obviously hasn’t showered in days. She smells. It was the biggest mistake I made the whole time I was missing.
It was after midnight in Hayward, and I jumped on a bus that had stopped at a stop close to the diner. I took it a few stops, then hopped off when a man did. I started talking to him. We walked awhile, to the train station, smoking cigarettes and chatting. I never felt like I was in any danger. He took me to a house and pulled out a strange set of keys. I was too out of it to realize it, but it was a set of master skeleton keys. He intended to rob the house, with me inside with him! I was in great danger, but I followed him inside. The occupants were asleep in their bedroom, and he acted like he lived there. He made me a fucking Hot Pocket in their microwave. After awhile he seemed to get bored, didn’t see anything worth taking, and we went back outside. He was getting frustrated with me. He must have assumed I lived nearby and would invite him over to my place to hang out.
We talked for maybe an hour, near the train station, then he said, “Hey, I know a great place to smoke.” He lured me away from the cameras at the train station, then all of a sudden, he hit me in the face. He broke my nose and I fell to the ground. I was so scared I peed my pants, and he grabbed my pants and told me to show him my “lady parts”. I was sure he was going to rape, and then kill me. He had hit me so hard. Blood was running all over my face and hands as I tried to figure out what was wrong with my nose. I didn’t even scream or try to get away. He could have killed me, and I would have just sat there and let him. I always thought I would be brave in the face of danger, and I wasn’t. Not at all. I thought I would die right there, in my embarrassment and by his hand.
But he didn’t. He took my money out of my wallet, then told me to run away. I stumbled off and tried to find help, unsuccessfully. I ran into three people that night, all of which turned away and ignored me. Two were outside a closed restaurant, the cleaning staff, sweeping out front. They just looked at me and shook their heads. I looked homeless at this point. I was covered in blood and not a single person helped me. I had no phone at that point to call the police, so I laid down in a canyon behind an apartment building and fell asleep there. When I woke up, a huge raccoon was staring at me and it scared the living shit out of me. At this point I was talking to myself, and scared. I stole a bundle of newspapers from out in front of the apartment building and used them as a prop as I walked down the street, looking like I was placing newspapers. I knocked on the door of a nearby house, and a shocked family there gave me some ice for my nose. It was around 6am. I told them I fell down. I don’t know why I lied, but they didn’t call the police, just let me clean the blood off my face in their bathroom and made up a little Ziploc of ice for my nose and sent me on my way.
I was really lucky that although it was November in the Bay Area, the weather was very mild. It had almost been nice sleeping outside, or would have been, if I hadn’t been so afraid. What had seemed like a fun adventure only a day ago now suddenly felt like a nightmare. I was scared of everyone and started thinking certain people I met were Evil while others were Good. It wasn’t the best mindset to be in while wandering streets full of strangers. Their faces seemed to change as I looked at them. My mind began to play the Angel or Demon game. I was full-on cuckoo, and STILL didn’t know it.
During my week on the streets, I had started calling myself Rose and identifying myself as such to some people. So, when I walked into the RV place, that’s how I introduced myself. I had been walking around in San Mateo and just gotten asked to leave an English Pub that I had wandered into that morning. I was looking around in the closed area and the bartender asked what I was doing, so I panicked and fled. Across the street was an RV rental place, and it suddenly occurred to me that I could rent somewhere to sleep that was also a way to get back to my daughter in San Diego, which I was desperate to do at that point. So, I said my name was Rose, which of course, did not match my ID. Which didn’t matter anyway, because I gave them an old expired ID I had kicking around in my purse. None of it made any sense. I had my real ID on me, I had enough money in my bank account to rent the RV, everything could have been fine. But it wasn’t.
Instead of renting the RV to me, they turned me away. I guess they actually thought I was trying to commit fraud. It must have been a very confusing experience for them. I left. I walked outside and although I do not remember what happened exactly at that point, the end result was that I noticed a set of keys dangling from the door of the RV. Something in my delusion told me that it was FOR me, so I just hopped in and drove off the lot. I truly believed in that moment that the RV was mine, it was there for me, and I went with it.
Almost immediately a man from the lot started following me. I took the on-ramp to the freeway that led from San Mateo to Half Moon Bay. If you aren’t familiar with the road, it is pretty narrow and twisty and can be dangerous even in a low-profile vehicle. The man kept gesturing at me to pull over, but in my mind, he was AFTER me and was one of the people that had been “chasing” me the whole time I was missing. I was terrified of him. Suddenly there were several police cars behind me, too.
Red and blue lights were flashing, and I felt like I was leading a parade. I didn’t exactly speed, but I did start passing cars on the freeway (using my turn signals!) When the freeway ended in Half Moon Bay, I again used my turn signals through the neighborhood until I found a good place to pull over. I passed a police officer on the street and flashed him the peace sign. Now I was grinning and laughing, like it was all a big joke.
Of course, I pulled over, and immediately I was terrified again because I had what felt like a dozen guns in my face as they threw the door to the RV open. I know how lucky I am. One officer undid my seatbelt and dragged me from the vehicle, leaving a burn down my arm from the seatbelt. Still, feeling lucky. As I hit the ground I peed my pants AGAIN for the second time in two days. If I ever thought I was some kind of cool-headed hero in the face of stress, I have learned I am the exact opposite. I am the quivering Jello-person that just stares and pees themselves.
The police asked me a lot of questions and I told them about the guy that had mugged me. They asked me if I was drunk, if I was on meth. I was 100% sober sadly, but they didn’t believe me.
I had a really nice officer drive me back to the police station in San Mateo. I remember him asking if this was my Thelma & Louise moment. He even pulled out my state massage license from my wallet and asked how this girl got to be in the back of his car. He calmed me down a lot with his chatter and I KNOW you’re not supposed to talk to the police, but I did anyway. We talked the whole way back. He was the one that realized I was a Missing Person when we got back to the station.
A woman cop inspected me and took my clothes, saying she would have them washed for me. (I was SO embarrassed.) I’m pretty sure the police thought I was drunk at this point, because they threw me in a cell with another lady for many hours. During this time, I figured out how to call my husband collect on the phone and got through to him, ending the big question of WHERE THE FUCK IS CARLY? Carly was somewhere she had never been before. Carly was in jail.
Finally, after many hours, they brought in a psychiatrist to see me, who spent a few hours asking me if I was on meth, like everyone else had. I kept self-massaging my arms, pacing around, randomly doing yoga. I was a mess. I was in a deeply set, full-blown manic episode. Nobody knew what to do with me.
The first night, they drove me over to the county jail and tried to put me in with the general population, which basically broke me. I don’t remember much about it, except thinking the other women had microphones and things in their ears, but I was scared. They couldn’t drive me back to Medical that night, so they let me sleep on the floor of the commissary office, away from the other women.
The next morning, I was sent back to Medical. I had my own room for a few days, and they took away my bed and made me wear suicide-proof clothes. I had hallucinations and delusions and it was a miserable time. I remember hitting the suicide button the first night in there because I had missed all the meals so had had no food for two days. Everyone laughed at me when I said I was hungry, and the guard was pissed. But she did eventually bring me some cereal. After awhile I started thinking the police were poisoning me, so even though I was starving, I would eat then throw all the food back up into the toilet. I even tried flooding the room by stuffing the toilet full of toilet paper. Anything to try and get someone’s attention, but nothing worked.
Actually, back at Medical everyone started treating me with kid gloves. I had nearly wandered off the first night at county (I did not stay in my seat when told to. Don’t do this in jail.) so whenever I was moved anywhere I had to have my arms and legs shackled. After 2-3 days (I can’t remember or tell anymore) in my solo apartment in Medical, I got moved into a shared space in the medical wing.
They were trying to give me medication, but I kept thinking they were trying to poison me. After a few days I calmed down and I let them give me Lithium, and almost instantly started getting a little better. I was really giving the police kind of a hard time. I remember hitting an emergency call button (you know, one of those big red buttons that you DO NOT PUSH unless there’s a riot or some shit.) The female police officer kept her cool and didn’t tase me, which was nice.
For as big of a pain in the ass as I was being, I can’t complain about my treatment while I was in custody.
It was “nice” being in the shared space in Medical. I had gotten very bored in my solo room as I calmed down. I had a roommate, and a common room, and there were four other women in two other rooms off the common room. We watched and sang along to The Voice. We drew pictures and talked about our lives.
One of the women was elderly and her boyfriend died while she was in jail and they wouldn’t let her out to attend his funeral. It was sad. One of the ladies had murdered a cabbie and was being sent “off to Napa”, which I took to be the criminally insane place. I was very scared that I was going to be sent there. While we were there, she was on the front page of the newspaper and we decided not to show her the article. It was almost like camp. We had all the coffee we could drink and a hot water kettle that plugged in.
At some point during this first week, Neil, my ex, came to see me. I refused to see him, and I don’t even remember why. I was suspicious of him for some reason, maybe still thinking he was trying to keep my daughter from me. My other friends, Devin and Val, had been tirelessly keeping everyone up to date with everything that was going on with me, and came to see me as well. They lived in San Mateo and everything had gone down right by their house. Had I managed to find their house, a lot of sad things would probably have been avoided.
My mom had used a lawyer in San Francisco before, Cindy Diamond, and that’s who she contacted to represent me. We totally didn’t have the money for a lawyer, but my mom managed to get some money out of the estate in Texas from my family to pay for it, and I became Cindy’s ‘special project’. Thank the gods. I don’t know what would have happened to me if I hadn’t had a lawyer. Cindy was smart and tough and instantly got me to work writing down the things that had happened in order and getting notes together for an outside psychiatrist. She wanted an official diagnosis for me as soon as possible.
After a few days in the shared Medical room, the police decided I could go back to county jail. I was transported to the San Mateo County Jail, where I spent two weeks. Please note that at this time, I was completely confused as to why nobody had bailed me out of jail. I assumed it was because they couldn’t afford it, that my bail was set too high or something similar. It turns out everyone just thought that was the safest place for me to “calm down”.
It hurt, and I cried for days wondering why nobody was bailing me out of jail. I didn’t have ANY phone numbers, plus I needed an address to go to upon release, which I didn’t have because Neil had said I couldn’t stay with him and my daughter while I was so messed up. I honestly felt like I would be in jail forever. I spent Thanksgiving 2013 in jail, and while I should be grateful they gave us pumpkin pie, I will say it was the worst pumpkin pie I have ever had in my life. I will never forget the taste of that terrible pie. I will note, however, that Thanksgiving-in-jail did NOT rate as the worst Thanksgiving I’ve ever had. It was almost a celebration, all of us being each other’s family. The guards were almost jovial.
I kept myself busy as I could to pass the time. There was one exercise bike to share among the 40ish women that were in our big room, so when I could get on it I used that. I took as many showers as I could get away with, since the water was lukewarm at least and felt pretty nice. Except the one time I took a shower when we were not apparently supposed to be taking showers. The CO whipped open the shower curtain on me and scared the shit out of me. In trouble again.
I got in trouble a few times during the general population stay. There was a “cold room” they would throw us in when we acted up. I spent a few hours in the cold room for cutting in line one time, and for something else that I don’t remember. It was miserable in there. It was just an empty room with a toilet and the AC cranked up really high.
The other girls were mostly young, a lot were moms, and almost all of them were nice. The stories they told me broke my heart over and over again. We compared pictures of our kids and how we wound up there. One showed me how to take the elastic thread out of a sock and use it to thread eyebrows. Another girl I traded some stamps to in exchange for her to braid the front of my hair out of my face. But none of us could forget that we were there, contained, away from our families.
Coffee. They sold instant coffee at the commissary that we had to make with lukewarm water from the sink. There was no nice hot kettle in gen pop. It was still so good. Awful instant coffee with a wee pinch of sugar and dehydrated creamer and it was SO GOOD! It was like the only altering substance anyone was allowed, so they were all coffee junkies. We would be up until midnight sipping coffee and playing cards.
When mail call came, I was always the most popular person in the room. Everyone was curious how I got so much mail, especially since I was from So-Cal, but it was totally because of my friends rallying for me. I read them over and over again. Getting stuff from the commissary only happened once a week, and shit would sometimes just up and disappear. Jail.
I never did see the meth. Some girls got busted with meth in our room and got additional time added onto their sentences. Not sure how they got meth in jail, but hey, what the fuck. It was sad. Another girl had a seizure in the middle of the night, which was also scary. It took everyone yelling at the guards to get them to come check on her, as she lay spasming on the floor.
We were only allowed to go outside for a few minutes each day, and only if the whole room hadn’t gotten in trouble. We spent the whole weekend after the meth incident inside. When we did go outside, it was to some cement picnic tables with a high fence separating the tables from a vegetable garden, then the freeway. There was a cat that was sometimes in the garden, and I liked to just sit and watch the plants and the kitty. I started drawing a picture of the garden, and when I finally got out I gave it to the young deputy that was the nicest to me while I was there.
I was so manic. I wanted to stay in touch with everyone! I must have given my email address to a dozen women while I was in jail, though I never did hear from any of them afterwards. Finally, after over two weeks in jail, this one girl asked how much my bail was. I was like, well, I don’t know, I think it is pretty high. She said she had a bail bondsman that could get me out for less than anyone else. I wound up calling him and missing him because he came to get me out while we were eating dinner, then he wouldn’t come back for me.
But now I knew I could bail myself out. I called Aladdin Bail Bonds next and the guy offered to just bail me out sight unseen for $126 if I came straight to the office and paid it as soon as I got out. WHAT THE FUCK. I SPENT TWO WEEKS IN JAIL OVER $126?!?!!?
Now I was pissed. But it didn’t matter. The only thing that mattered was that I was finally getting out. I didn’t believe it. They said I had to be out before midnight, so at like 11:55pm they finally called my name to be transported back for release. The last two hours I was in jail was the longest two hours of my life so far. I kept thinking something was going to go wrong and I wasn’t going to get out. But it didn’t. They drove me back with a young prostitute that I hadn’t particularly gotten along with in jail but now that we were getting out buddies, we were friends. I am so grateful to the girl in jail that showed me how to bail myself out. I would never have known I could even do it.
Unfortunately, they only give you a bus or train token when you get out and since I got out after midnight, I had already missed the last train anywhere. As soon as I got out I devoured the chocolate bar that was in my purse and walked over to Aladdin to pay my bail. The dude was so nice! I totally recommend them if you ever wind up in jail. I wound up doing payments for like a year to them and never had a problem.
So, I was out, but I had nowhere to go. It was so late at night. I thought about walking to Saratoga, where my mom’s friend lived. I knew he would look out for me. But I couldn’t get ahold of him on the phone. My mom had written down some numbers for me in a letter, but I couldn’t get ahold of anyone. I walked around aimlessly for a few blocks, paranoid the whole time that I was going to get picked up and sent right back to jail.
Finally, I decided to spend the last of my money on a hotel room for the night and figure it out the next day. I wound up at an America’s Best Value Inn and it was the most luxurious experience of my life. The shower easily rivaled the post-Burning Man shower I had had once. Also, I was so THIN. I lost weight wandering the streets and in jail, and now that I had a full-length mirror I could really see it. I couldn’t remember the last time I was so thin.
They were supposed to release me with my medication, but they didn’t. I had to walk a mile the next morning to go pick up my meds, and the police officer I picked them up from was so rude to me, I cried on my walk back. But I cheered myself up by obtaining In-N-Out, which was the most delicious thing I had ever tasted after two weeks of jail food.
The next few weeks are a little blurry. I stayed in the Bay Area to hit a couple court dates, and to see the psychiatrist that my lawyer had lined up for me, Dr. Weiner. I talked to him for three hours and filled him in on most of my whole story. When all was said and done I finally had a diagnosis, Bipolar I. He wrote an extensive paper on me for the court.
I spent a few days with my friend’s mother in Half Moon Bay, who also has bipolar disorder. That time was very healing for me, being around someone that really understood. She also gave me some cash to help get me through, and I will always be grateful to her. I will also always be grateful to Devin and Val, who I spent more time with and who went so above and beyond in the friend realm the whole time I was missing.
This story has a happy ending. I successfully completed my court dates and wound up taking a plea deal which reduced my sentence to one joyriding misdemeanor. I was on probation for two years, which I also completed successfully. I obtained a divorce and 50/50 custody of my daughter, and I get to see her most days. It took me a long time to get stable again after my manic episode, and I will never forget the black depression that descended upon me once the mania faded. I struggle with depression and my bipolar disorder every day, but now I’m in college. I work, support myself and my daughter. I go to school. I take my medicine. One day, I will be a real writer, a real librarian, an upstanding contributing member of society. It’s been five years now, and I think I am already there.