Six Days on the Good Unit: Hospitalized and Alive by Casey Cannizzaro
bipolar disorder addiction hospitalized Casey Cannizzaro

Six Days on the Good Unit: Hospitalized and Alive

by

Listen to Editor in Chief Gabriel Nathan read this story:

Mental health and addiction are battles that are never won—only battled.

I was sick. My liver hurt. Sometimes I felt it wiggle. I thought about moving to Oregon, finding a cabin in the middle of the forest, drinking and writing; but I put my head in God’s lap and checked myself into a hospital instead.

“I don’t even drink. I just needed a vacation and this was the only one my insurance company would cover.” The group laughed. Their laughter was how I knew I was Casey again.

Twice a day, we sat in a crooked circle and answered questions like

“How do you feel; on a scale of 1-10?”

I was always a 9 or 10 because, this time, I actually wanted to be there.

“What is one word to describe how you feel today?”

bipolar disorder addiction hospitalized Casey Cannizzaro

They didn’t like it when I gave answers like “dope,” “lit,” or “killer,” so I always had to come up with something more creative. “Bleep,” I said, one day.

“Fetch; I’m bringing ‘fetch’ back,” Krista, the mom of the group always said. I never got the reference. I never asked. I was just happy she giggled when she said it.

“What can our community do to best support you today?”

Me, always: “Lots of fist-bumps and high-fives.”

“And one thing you’re grateful for?”

Amy, a young naval cadet with short blonde hair only wore her wedding ring on the days her wife came to visit. She wore the same sweatshirt every day. It reminded me of a Jackson Pollock painting. She averaged about a four on the mood rating scale over six days so when she answered with, “I’m grateful for Casey’s fist-bumps and high-fives” I knew I had as much of an impact on at least one person as the small group had on me.

I was discharged later that day.

Like most things in San Diego, the hospital was nice. Since I was there voluntarily and not delivered on a stretcher, I spent six days on the “good” unit. We were allowed to keep our shoelaces but a nurse still had to stand beside us when we shaved and it was okay to use deodorant that contained alcohol but it had to be locked up when it wasn’t being applied to our glistening our armpits. Believe it or not, on the “not so good unit,” there were patients who’d eat a bit of Old Spice to try and catch a buzz.

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​A small group of us became infatuated. Krista, even though only a few years older but looking a few years younger, was the momma. She was energetic, soft, welcoming… but spicy enough for me to believe that her rock bottom was a drunken night destroying everything her husband owned, including a new Harley Davidson and Mercedes with one of his golf clubs. “Hopefully not his pitching wedge,” Danny joked the seventh time she recited the story. Danny was a cannon, but not a loose one. When I shook his thick, manual-labor paw, I thought for sure he’d beat my ass. But, after one conversation, I realized he’s the one who’d take an ass-whooping for any one of us in that place. Maybe that’s why he was there. I never found out. He had beer in one eye and whiskey in the other. If you see a guy sipping on a margarita, you can be certain it isn’t Danny. Jonathan checked in later. Husky dude. His first day, doped up, he roamed the halls like a furry wrecking ball. I’ll never forget something he said, “At the bottom of every bottle is the bottom.”

I’ll share what got me hospitalized in a bit, but I decided in this story to begin with the happy ending. I haven’t had a drink in eight days. And I haven’t wanted one. I feel fucking great.

bipolar disorder addiction hospitalized Casey Cannizzaro

There were about twenty in our group. The hospital staff allowed us to go outside and smoke for fifteen minutes every hour that we weren’t asleep which meant about twelve hours over the course of my six day stay were spent on a patio deck designed to fit about eight people, as at least fifteen packed tight together in a space so foggy you could barely see the addict standing next to you. I didn’t smoke much but I joked at the others who smoked Newport 200’s, what I’d call it when they lit a second Newport 100, the extra long ones, off the end of their first one. Even as a writer I can’t put an adjective on how valuable that time was—on the smoking deck—but I can honestly say they were the most therapeutic twelve hours of the week.

There are bonds that are formed in very short periods of times like these that, even though short lived, can be much more important than years of one on one with a therapist. I’m sure there is research on this but my hands are still much too tremulous to pick up any device and research what that is.

bipolar disorder addiction hospitalized Casey Cannizzaro

Now for a glimpse of why I checked myself into the hospital in the first place. The remaining paragraphs may not read very well. A majority is random shit I wrote over the past year in notebooks that I pulled in and out of trash cans. But I suppose the disorganization of words is great representation of what goes on in my brain as I dip my toes into the scorching waters that are the deepest, darkest of depressions.

For a year, things on my outside looked great. Great job, promotion. New job, promotion. Dated, first a Russian. She was too cold. Then a cute blonde surfer chick who only wanted to see me when the surf was crappy. There were a few in between. I can’t remember their names or much else just that the one I met at a drag show was either a lesbian or a dude—after eleven vodka sodas, it was immaterial, really.

 

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Then I settled in with a cutie from Nebraska that I met on a dating app. She liked a quote on my profile: “Tell me everything terrible you ever did and let me love you anyway.” Her body was a miracle and she knows all the right places to put it.

No one knew I went home every night and chugged a good three quarters of a fifth of Tito’s. More if I was off the next day.

I hadn’t written a word in a year. Not for lack of trying. Writing was too much work in the state I was in. What was I going to write about anyway? Waiting up all night for the liquor store to flip on their neon Open sign at 6:00 am? Besides, writing a draft is like vomiting. You always have to clean it up.

bipolar disorder addiction hospitalized Casey Cannizzaro

My hand is no longer paralyzed. The decision to share my struggles with mental illness with the world was not an easy one. Before that, I could hide from people. But I can never hide from myself. I can’t tuck myself in any tighter. I can’t pull the covers any further up over my head. When you Google my name, the first five search results are me, stripped away, naked in my rawest form.

Words become moist but just sit on the tip of my tongue. When it’s hard to push them out of my mouth I spit them onto paper. Writing a story is vulnerability that never ends. I don’t write a sentence that I don’t agonize over. That’s what readers deserve: agony.

During the six months prior to the hospital I was barely treading water.

“Can I put vodka in a humidifier?”

bipolar disorder addiction hospitalized Casey Cannizzaro

Those were the words I typed into Google. What I meant to write was, “How do I clean my humidifier?” I’d already been drinking. It was 7am on a Saturday. That same morning a notice came through from the library I’d abandoned. ‘Hold available – Stephen King – Title: On Writing. Ironic.

Over time I attempted to write. Mostly garbage. A few times I opened up enough for you to have a peek into the dark side. I wrote about moments that are so dark, so miserable, so uncomfortable and can last days, weeks, months and even years. For an unlucky few, they last a lifetime.

I’ve prayed that they wouldn’t last a lifetime, but sometimes, the darkest part of me, hopes they will. I call it, “Living in the muck.” I’ve always felt more comfortable there. And it’s a place where I know I’m not alone.

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The realest part of mental illness, speaking for myself, bipolar disorder and the deepest darkness of depression is that, once you’ve decided you want the life taken from you, it’s too easy to go back there. I’ve never been offered a pill that could take that away from me. Would I swallow that pill? Would I be the person I am today? Writing to you? Unfortunately, I’ve never had a mind free of thoughts like, “The world would be better off without me,” or “I’d be better off without the world.”

Not a day goes by I don’t think about suicide. Only sometimes my own. Friends. Families. Prevention. My girl looks out for me but when you’ve been so close to edge it’s too easy to go back there. What breaks my heart is that I may never stop peeking over the edge. She’s scared. I’m scared for her. And I’m scared for me. But she won’t let me break her heart.

There are days I can’t get my mind off my mind. I want it out of me before I’m out of it. It’s heavy to breathe and I feel sorry for the air. Most nights I can’t sleep. Most days I can’t wake up. When I do sleep I always have the same dream. There’s an animal in a cage. I don’t know which side of the cage I am on. I watch myself dig a hole in the earth. Then I watch myself get in it. On those mornings, drunk, I’ll go to the liquor store for a drink. Drunk, I’ll drink it.

bipolar disorder addiction hospitalized Casey Cannizzaro

Tito’s, just a pint. No big deal. When I drink, it’s not at a bar. It’s not with friends and it’s definitely not in a cocktail. It’s just down my throat. Sometimes a bit dribbles down my chin. I rarely leave my bedroom. Knock, knock, knock on my soul. No one’s home.

I take a pill to go to sleep and if I wake up I take a pill that makes my eyelids fall back down. I take pills to control the side effects of other pills and I take vitamins because the pills deplete my body of everything good that happens in a body. My body needs vitamins and hormones to absorb the medications that make me sane.

When I drink, the pills don’t work. They make me forget. I have to apologize to people I don’t remember talking to, for things I don’t remember doing. I delete text messages to pretend they never happened.

I felt good the other day. It had been a while. I gave a fuck. Opened a book. Opened my eyes, my mind, my heart. Then it hit. All at once. Melancholy. Anxiety. FEAR.

bipolar disorder addiction hospitalized Casey Cannizzaro

When it hits its like that moment when you squeeze a pimple hard, knowing it’s about to explode. Except the moment doesn’t end. I’m the pus stuck in time. It’s not the “I had a bad day” kind of feeling. It’s the “I’ll never have a good day again.”

I’m not sure where this road is going but I guess all that matters is that I’m still on it. I know that relapse is a part of recovery. Sitting on a balcony in San Diego, with a kiss, instead of a lit cigarette pressed between my lips I can share this without shame as the sun slowly sets over the Pacific.

If you made it through this mess, again, the happy ending. Now eleven days without a drink. Still shaky, but I feel fucking GREAT.

EDITOR IN CHIEF / EDITOR: Gabriel Nathan | DESIGN: Leah Alexandra Goldstein | PUBLISHER: Bud Clayman

Casey Cannizzaro traded the Atlantic for the Pacific. He has called Southern California home for five years. Though he misses Florida thunder and lightning, he’s learning to live with 72 and sunny. He’s been a regular contributor to OC87recovery diaries for two years and draws inspiration from the amazing stories he reads from others. He was diagnosed with bipolar disorder at twenty one and subsequently seven times thereafter until he finally accepted his diagnosis, and treatment, in his early thirties. He is a long time member of San Diego’s Writer’s Ink and has been featured in multiple anthologies and websites. He’s also mastered the art of writing the perfect dating app profile. He says “too many choices” is why he’s single. The tragedy of plants is that they have roots. He may move to Oregon next week - just ‘cause. He likens his writing to performing stand up, in a room full of people, on a stage, with a mic, except that he’s in his living room, on a couch, naked, with a pen.