The Unseen and the Seen -- Part IV -- Conclusion
Progress and Pain
We mounted the medical merry-go-round that fall, when Clark was diagnosed as being bipolar. He turned his body into a laboratory as the experiments with medication began. But nothing helped. Many side effects, drugs, and physicians later, he slumped into an almost unresponsive depression.
And then I found him lying in bed, spinning the chamber of the gun in his mouth. The memory of that day, which I spent at his side, would affect a decision I made many years down the road. A decision I still question, but that can't be undone.
The doctor who responded to this crisis remained Clark’s physician and confidante for the next ten years. Current with research, he introduced a number of medications not commonly used for the condition. A turning point came when he used Mirapex (commonly prescribed to treat Parkinson’s disease) for Clark’s depression. The dopamine worked.
I'll never forget the day I came home from work to find Clark at the computer, writing about martial arts. He was active again, but the depression had given way to a manic state. He poured everything into writing, and little else, writing morning to night, and then into the night, every day.
I was happy to see him up and about, but concerned that he was not participating in our home life. After waiting so long for him to feel better, putting up with his outbursts, managing his meds; after all my hours of medication research, consultation with doctors, worrying, hoping – when he finally "woke up," he seemed not to see me at all.
My salary barely covered the basics. Clark still could not work, but was feeling well enough to get out and spend money on the various projects he use to keep busy. I can’t say any one item was extravagant, and since these trips to the store got him out of the house they were hard to deny. But what he spent was still way out of line for what I could earn.
I compensated my income with the money I had in savings. It wasn’t long before that was gone, and we went into debt. My concern over finances and Clark took a toll. Despite his surges in creativity, he still was not out of the woods with depression. Every night, as I rounded the corner to our house, I held my breath. If the lights were on, it was a good sign. I had no idea what I’d find if they were off.
He had some good moments, but had become surly towards me almost constantly. He wanted to be left alone to pursue his projects, and my concern over finance represented restriction. I had gotten him on disability, but given our debt and his continued spending, the meager income this provided was not enough. His martial arts studies consumed all his time, becoming his reason for living. We barely spoke.
After seven years of caretaking, I finally wore down. I was, by this time, taking medication for anxiety and depression myself, working full time, doing all home maintenance and shopping, and ready to collapse. Clark wouldn’t listen, would or maybe could not respond, I don’t know. It broke my heart, but I had to walk away.
About a year after our divorce, we became friends once again. Clark apologized; I did my best to help him see that I could only help if I was strong. We each had our problems. This was both the best and worst of times, as we provided friendship and loving support for one another.
He lived with his parents, having good days and bad. The doctor was able to keep him stable, but Clark never improved. Then, plagued by depression and sleeplessness, his body started deteriorating as well.
Clark’s medical “cocktail” consisted of five or more drugs, at any one time – twenty or so pills per day. The chronic insomnia caused him to fall asleep when driving, so he seldom went out. Shards from his palette started poking through his mouth, making it painful to eat. He lost weight. His teeth started looking translucent.
He continued, however, to write – volumes of text on his adventures in Alaska, studies of edged weapons, studies on wood. He taught martial arts, and created The School of Virtue, in which he incorporated his studies of martial arts into a path for life and service to life. He did chores for his teacher, for his parents; was a mentor for his students; reached out to others diagnosed with his condition.
His health problems, however, caused him anxiety. And a $6,000 credit card debt with Chase, which he’d incurred on expenses right after I left, had doubled in size. He told them he wanted to make payments, but couldn’t afford the increased rates. They hounded him and pursued him in court. One of their attorneys said rulings would surely go against him and he would never be free. And then his doctor, upon whom he'd depended for over ten years, became ill. Before suspending his practice, he told Clark of his fear that he might never practice again.
By July of 2008, Clark had lost so much weight that he looked emaciated. I arranged for him to see a physician on the 25th. After his appointment, he called me in a state of agitation over some pruning his father had done to a large evergreen in the yard. Clark mocked my efforts to settle him down. Later that evening he called me to say he’d ruined the saw his father had used, but then replaced it. He expected, however, that he’d be thrown out of the house.
Once again, he was abusive when speaking to me – something he hadn’t done in years. I did my best to work with him, promising to sleep with the phone by my side.
The next morning Clark called and asked if I could come over and visit. I said I wasn’t sure, as an elderly friend was expecting me to take her on errands. Clark’s scathing response was unexpected. He chided me for wasting time when his “suicide meter” was at an 8.3 and he had a gun pointed at his head. This was the first he indicated how serious his condition was. I held my breath.
Memories of that day I spent at his side nearly twelve years ago, standing guard while he held a gun in his mouth, came rushing back. I didn’t want to go through that again. Although I didn’t say a word, he sensed my hesitation and unleashed another tirade. In a calm and low voice, I told him that he did not have to berate me into compassion, and when he could speak with civility to please call me back. I repeated, “please call me back,” and hung upon the phone.
When I hadn’t heard from him after a few minutes, I tried to call him. I was uncomfortable at having drawn a line when he was so clearly in distress, and wanted to make sure that he knew how much I loved him. When he didn’t answer, I thought he was probably in bed, with the covers pulled over his head.
About 20 minutes later, he called. “Thank you for calling me back,” I said, “I'm so sorry that I hung up without telling you how much I love you. It’s too much when you turn on me like that. Do you understand? But I love you, and I’m so glad that you called.”
Clark asked if I could write something down, then gave me the name of a trail he was on in a state park nearby. He said he was near a big rock; that the trail had a sign marking it closed to the public. “Call the sheriff,” he said. “And tell him this is where they will find me. Say good-bye.”
My heart froze. I told him that I wouldn’t say good-bye because that would give him permission to leave, then said things were getting better. “Like what,” he said. I could barely think, but started talking, hoping I’d say anything that might make some sense.
As I was talking, I glanced down at my phone. He'd disconnected the call. With shaking hands, I dialed 911. The operator quickly patched me through to the sheriff. Within minutes, five cars were on their way to the location he’d described.
I called his house to leave a message for his parents, as I assumed he’d been home alone. To my surprise, his mother answered the phone. The first thing she asked is if Clark was with me. I told her that I didn’t want to alarm her, but that he was in crisis; that I’d called 911, and was waiting for information on his condition. We agreed that whoever received word first would call the other right away.
She phoned when the police came to their door. “He did it,” she said. “He’s gone.” "I'm so sorry," I said, then looked up to see a detective and sheriff walking towards my home.
Did you know that law enforcement sends two people with death notifications? I didn’t. Apparently one is there to provide security in case someone goes off the deep end. I was calm, though – or maybe numb, I don’t know. But I’d known he was dead long before the phone call. I’d felt it. Felt him.
Clark's transition has taken a while. I felt his turmoil subside about a month or so after his death -- something I attribute to ceremonies done by some Buddhist friends of his. I believe that prayer and the spiritual work that they did helped bring him peace.
I also believe that he stayed while his family and I went through the most intense phases of grief. More than a year after his death, there are still times when I sense him, but it seems he's in the process of moving on. I have theories about his death and the reasons for it, but the end he chose was not the most important part about him. I remember the best.
My hope is that the day will come when people are not stigmatized by this condition; that a way of properly diagnosing and treating each individual is found; that the suffering they endure is viewed with compassion instead of distance or fear; that the truly unique gifts this condition brings are accepted. For some, like Clark, the strength to get out of bed requires more courage than many must summon in a life. They deserve reocognition, support, and our love.