Today I aged thirty years. I woke up this morning and was 52 years old. And now I’m 82. Well, I didn’t actually wake up. I never went to sleep since yesterday morning. Today I learned the lesson my geriatric patients have always tried to teach me through vivid, caustic, indignant example. You may be grown. You may be wise. You may know what is best for you. But you are not free. You will have to hold these inalienable rights up as exhibit A’s and B’s in a courtroom before a jury of your peers, and though you owe NO ONE explanation or justification for who you are and want you want, those peers (those family members and friends and legal representatives) will decide if what you are asking for…what you are demanding for the integrity of your life, is appropriate or even necessary for your survival…your acute, physiological, psychological, spiritual survival. Your art? That is incidental. Your music? That is superfluous. Your love, your respect, your worship of your friends, of your tribe? You are obviously not in your right mind and therefore could never make these decisions for yourself based on what is common and decent and real.
I had an elderly patient once who heard the voice of God tell her to feed and care for several homeless people in her neighborhood. She woke up every morning, packed paperbag lunches and snacks, gathered blankets and toiletries from her own home, and made a one mile trek around ten city blocks every other day to deliver these second-hand goods to people sleeping in the cold, periphery of her comfortable home. She did it for three years until her family was able to have her committed to get the help she so desperately required. Granted, she was sickly. She had medical problems. She was 82 years old and walking alone through precarious city streets pulling a red wagon piled to the hilt with various household items and foods that she might’ve needed for her own survival. But this was her life. This was her purpose. The family obtained guardianship and placed in her a beautiful nursing home, top of the line, with every amenity you could imagine. Hobbies, friends, three hot meals and snacks, activities, one-on-one nursing care, medical care and medications to control her diabetes and high blood pressure. She had not been so well looked-after for years. She died 17 days later. And her patients, her people, her tribe, either died as well or moved on to other warmer climes with better community resources. They are all dead now, too, no doubt. Just like I will be dead soon. Until that day comes I will always remember what she said to me a few days before her surrender. “When you hear the voice of God give you a command to help and care for His people, you do it. This is something you do not question. It is an honor. But tell no one, because unless you hear it for yourself, it is not an honor…it is a psychotic religious delusion.”
I have never heard the voice of God. Sometimes I think I’m translating His message, but I have never heard the actual voice of God speak to me. There were hundreds of times on the psychiatric ward where I felt a tap on my shoulder and a whisper, an unspoken suggestion, perhaps, to “pay attention,” but that was as close as it has ever come. I am thankful for this. I know He gives me only what I can handle. If I did hear the voice of God telling me to go out there, into the streets, and help alcoholics and drug addicts recover from substance abuse, I would die lying next to one as he seized, choking on his own vomit, with the needle still hanging out of his arm in an alley filled with feral cats and pigeon shit.
This afternoon I woke up with no access to Facebook. I cannot unlock the screen on my phone. My ATM card has been confiscated and hidden. I am not legally allowed to drive anywhere. I have no access to money. Before you go thinking Tracy Davis is a tyrant, think twice. This was done under doctor’s orders. I had one of the most manic episodes last night–joining groups, spending money, volunteering people for 5K mud races, ordering clothes off questionable websites, contacting my boss and telling her I was ready to return to work, scheming about ways to end world hunger, cleaning, cleaning, cleaning… Hypomania is a time of great activity and the good part of it is that it is goal-directed and focused. It doesn’t last long, though. Soon the hallucinations and delusions creep in. The ideas about ways to end world hunger become detailed reports and ten-thousand sticky notes covering every fucking square inch of your kitchen with pointers, a laser beam, phone calls being made to government officials (and sometimes to Walmart and Krispy Kreme headquarters). And sooner or later, if you don’t pull this off, the entire human race will perish and you will be its only living survivor sentenced to live out your days among the bodies and waste and endless, tortuous moments of subsisting with all the food you could ever eat until your stomach just finally explodes. Dr. Kimball actually wrote TD a prescription this morning with the order: “No phone, no computer, no access to money today.”
It’s for my own good. They jacked me up with steroids last night in the ER and I was WIRED FOR SOUND. BUT…and this ALWAYS begs the question: By whose authority do “they” get to decide what is for my own good? Shouldn’t I be the judge of that? Even at my craziest spending, my most delusional thought processes, my most wildest tangents and spinning and out-of-control use of adjectives and profanity, do I still not have free will? Am I not still the master of my own fate? I’m using these next examples as references only–I do NOT consider myself worthy to make their tea–wasn’t Sylvia Plath the master of her fate (when she wrote her poetry and when she duct taped the cracks to the dining room door when she gassed herself in the kitchen? Wasn’t van Gogh the master of his fate when he painted and when he cut off his ear for the love of a prostitute? Wasn’t Mother Theresa the master of her fate when she served God and when she decided to devote herself to the lepers? Wasn’t Hemingway the master of his fate when he wrote those words, unmatched by any, and when he pulled the trigger of the shotgun? To bring it down a notch, wasn’t your neighbor down the street the master of his fate when he got his MBA and when he decided to chuck it all and go live in Bora Bora and make wicker bird houses? Who decides these things? I hope you don’t think it’s you. It’s not you. There are entire committees of people weighing in on these things and some of these people have a lot of pull and influence…even the ones you’d least expect (like your child, your dog, your minister, your grandmother). Don’t fool yourself. We are not free to do whatever we want if other people don’t want us to do it badly enough.
Today I am 82. It’s for my own good. It has certainly inspired a lot of writing, so maybe it was necessary. I’m supposed to be relaxing today. I’m supposed to be taking it easy. I’m supposed to be being true to myself. I guess maybe one day won’t hurt. After all, I’ve aged thirty years today and I’m starting to feel exceedingly tired.