Taken In on a 5150 at Almost Fifty – by Colleen Wells

I was handcuffed in front of my neighbor’s house after an all-night gardening session involving running around the front yard in the rain, cussing up a storm, and thinking I had superpowers that made the wind blow.

It was Mother’s Day weekend in the early months of the pandemic and roughly a week before my 50th birthday, a milestone I was perplexed about. There were other strains; I worked in a long-term care home where several of my favorite residents had recently passed.

I was in an online writing class with a group of random, middle-aged women from across the country. They were venting about everything from their painful childhoods to their divorces, and I chimed in with my lamentations. As my fingers flew across the keyboard, it was like old band-aids covering traumas blew off. Being empathic, I absorbed and nursed their wounds while I worked on my own.

While I can now objectively identify my stressors, I didn’t realize back then that I was getting manic. I was heading north in the north and south poles of my bipolar disorder.

“Fuck you, stupid mother-fucker,” I shouted over the din of the wind chimes clinking. It began to thunder and the wind whipped up. You’d think the wind chimes would have ended up a tangled mess, but they were fine, and I was the tangled mess out on display for all the neighbors to catch a glimpse, or at least hear ranting into the night.

It’s no wonder the police were called to haul me off to the hospital. It’s no wonder I ended up a 5150 at almost age fifty.

The police came twice earlier that day. The first time was after I took off in my pick-up truck to dance in front of Indiana University’s Assembly Hall. I bowed, thinking the two students, who talked outside a car parked nearby, had enjoyed my performance. My version of March Madness in May. Once home, I parked cockeyed in the middle of the front yard. My husband, Rick, was upset because he suspected I was getting manic and I had been gone for several hours, but I convinced the officers I would be fine, and they left.

That evening, I took off on foot wearing a small, grey, faux leather backpack, dodging in and out of sight through our neighborhood while Rick and our nineteen-year-old daughter, Gaelle, followed me in the silver Ford Edge.

When I got to the busy intersection at Third Street, they were begging and yelling for me to get into the Edge. I could have easily been hit by a car at that point, but pushed ahead, while the golden arches loomed in the distance.

I had vowed for the past decade since Rick and I adopted our daughter eleven years ago that she would never see me manic. Our adult sons had witnessed me during a manic episode when they were younger, and those behaviors would not be replicated for my daughter. On top of not wanting to scar her, I had a sense of pride to maintain as her mother. But pride goes before the fall, as the saying goes, because there I was, just two months before she was to leave for college, running into McDonald’s telling the workers that I needed a safe place, because my husband was trying to get me in the car against my will, while my daughter cried outside.

Enter the second policeman.

I was convinced he was on my side of the domestic dispute, and spilled my guts to him. About this time Yakob, our middle child, appeared in McDonald’s. The officer asked me if I would go home with him as long as Rick was not in the house. I agreed to the plan.

Yakob’s girlfriend, Kelsey, waited outside. I climbed in her car, and immediately requested she play the Dixie Chicks. The Chicks, as they are now called, had been on the Today Show earlier in the week to highlight their comeback. They always seem to be a theme in my delusions. Two episodes ago, I thought I’d become Natalie Maines in a parallel life, and we were heading to Madison, Wisconsin, to be part of a think tank to save the planet.

But while it was the Chicks I wanted to hear, it was Prince, who had returned to earth, that I was after. I felt his presence building up all week. I had been writing an essay about him, and planned to get it published in Rolling Stone. My story opened with me at age eleven when I stumbled upon the album “Dirty Mind” and listened to it on my crappy record player, the kind that snaps shut like a little suitcase. It recounted how, from then on, if I had to pick one singer, he was my number one.

In fact, I had thought Prince was meeting me at Assembly Hall earlier that day. When he didn’t show up, I went to a pond close to home and sat on a bench watching the Koi skim the surface of the water, certain I would soon hear the hum of his motorcycle. And why wouldn’t the reincarnated star pick me up? He had already sent me a coffee mug in the mail that read, “I like my coffee with a splash of purple rain.” In reality, it was a birthday gift from my stepdaughter that arrived early and did not include a return address or a card, so in my confused state, I was convinced it came from Prince.

During a manic episode like this, fact and fiction, past and present collide to make up a new story. In the hospital, the polite term for it is being “disorganized.”

I was disorganized that night and a babysitting nightmare for my daughter, who Yakob later charged with watching over me so he could go out. We were watching Frozen, and I giggled at every scene, but got bored and went outside again to make the wind blow.

Then I wouldn’t take my medication – the Seroquel I’m supposed to use as a prophylactic if I go off the rails like this. Gaelle was on the phone with my doctor, who told her what dosage I should take. I spit the pill out in the sink thinking it was full of poison from Rick, who frantically waited in the driveway, hidden, so as not to cause me distress. But to also be close by in case I got to be too much for Gaelle.

My doctor told my daughter if I would not take the medication or willingly let her drive me to the hospital, to call the police. What happened next is a blur. I was in front of the neighbor’s yard. It was light and not raining anymore. The storm had subsided, but not the one in my brain. Two officers handcuffed me behind my back and stuffed me in the rear of their squad car. The steel bit into my skin. I complained I couldn’t breathe. All the rain had created a lot of humidity, and with no air conditioning on it felt unbearable. They ignored me and carried on their conversation, so I started rapping some Eminem at them in between screams that I couldn’t breathe. I asked them where they were taking me.

They laughed.

 

Eerily, this all seems like it happened just yesterday. Time bleeds when you age. The next part is hard. In the emergency room I was tackled by two women with linebacker physiques, stripped, and shoved into a green hospital outfit, but not before being given a shot in the thigh.

Admittedly, I wasn’t being a model patient. I kept peeling back the glass door in the ER room and sneaking out because I thought Prince was in the next room. I seemed to have forgotten that Covid was going on, and maybe they’d like for me to socially distance myself from the other patients. I howl-screamed at them the way Prince does in some of his songs and accused them of “shaw-shanking” me.

Whatever shot they gave me, and whatever pills, too, worked like a dream. I was only in the hospital one night. It was the shortest stay I’ve had for a hospitalization since I was first diagnosed with bipolar disorder, then termed “manic depression”, at age eighteen.

The doctor explained that I tested positive for a urinary tract infection (UTI) when I came in. I had no idea that undetected UTIs can trigger mania in people living with bipolar. He also wondered if the maintenance dosage of my medication was enough. And then he warned me of a bleak future, stating that episodes like this create a forty percent higher risk for dementia, a statistic I’ll never forget.

Whatever the reason for the episode, my outpatient doctor has always maintained that when the brain is ready to blow, it will. And blow, it did.

 

Three years have gone by, and I still don’t know if it was stress, infection, my medication dosage, or a combination of all that, but I had a manic episode in front of my daughter, and it didn’t change my relationship with her. It was short-lived, too, and while I never want to have another one, that is never the goal, my illness doesn’t make me a bad person or a bad mother.
Now what my neighbors might have to say about all this is, of course, another story.

 

 

Colleen Wells’ work has appeared in Gyroscope Review, Ravensperch, and The Potomac Review. She is the author of Dinner with Doppelgangers – A True Story of Madness & Recovery and the poetry chapbook, Animal Magnetism. She is a runner-up for the Robert Frost Award 2020. Colleen works in mental health and is a consumer of mental health services.