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I Go Insane: Part the Third

My insanity lay dormant for a few years. About the second week of June in 2003  my niece Farzanna came to town. This is the girl child of Gary's flaky Muslim-convert sister and the Pakistani mail-order doctor husband. We looked through photos of her fifth grade graduation. One photo was simply surreal: Three eleven-year old girls in the '70s Charlie's Angels pose swathed in full Muslim head scarves and tennisshoes.

So she came to town and we (Gary, Farzanna, Gary's non-nutty sister Karen, her husband, and I) went to Six-Flags. I hadn't been to Six Flags for a while (too hot) but the weather was cool and there were no lines. Aunt Karen, who is a phobic of some type, sat out all rides that left the surface of the earth (leaving only the train and the Chevy Show). I got on the first ride, used to be called the Buccaneer, it's like a big swing that goes waaayyy up and comes waaaayyy down and evidently you are expected to use your survival instincts to keep in your seat. I screamed the whole time. Farzanna explained, "Aunt Ellen, this is a baby ride."

So when I saw the Mr. Freeze ride looming in the distance I decided Farzanna needed to have a strong female role model, and I decided to go on this ride, which is a loop-the-loop coaster that terminates with a track that goes 90 degrees straight up in the air, then you plummet down and go through the whole ride backwards. Since I decided to go on the two men had to follow or be emotionally castrated. Farzanna and Anunt Karen were to stay outside.

I walked toward the ride a few steps, then dramatically turned around, walked back to Farzanna, hugged her, and declared, "If I never see you again, know that I love you." Then I walked in the ride.

There was no line since it was Friday, so we only had to wait about five minutes. I was looking at the machinery, thinking, "This is a billion-dollar piece of machinery, not some swing I have to hold on to keep from flying out." And I was comforted. Plus, the actual ride only lasts less than a minute. Form the viewpoint of the person waiting in line, the riders are launched at almost 80mph, there is horrified silence in line, then the riders are back in less than a minute they same way they left and their hair is messed up. The girl behind me wanted to know if I'd been on the ride before. I said no, but it looked like a substantial piece of machinery and I was not afraid.

And it was a great ride. They clamp you in so tightly you can't breathe, so its good that its a 50-second ride. On the first upside-down part I thought, yes this is much better than the ride where I thought I could fall out. I'm not falling out of this. And by the time I'd formulated that thought I'd hit the top of the 90 degree peak and was doing it all backwards and then I was back where the line was.

This is where you usually hear the pneumatic noise of the ride releasing its passengers, and then you hear laughing as the people pile out of the ride. We heard no pneumatic noise. What WE heard was the high school kid in the Control Panel yelling "Joe - what does your panel say?" (Joe didn't answer). Then in a panicky voice: "Joe! Your panel! Is IT FLASHING RED?!"  "Joe" was occupied going from seat to seat checking if we were okay. Then, the guy in the panel switches to Calm Professional High-School Student Voice and says "Ladies and Gentlemen, I regret to inform you the Mr. Freeze ride has to be temporarily shut down. If you are waiting in line and you would would like to exit, please do so in an orderly manner." It was evident those of us trapped on Mr. Freeze would not be released from the death grip of the broken roller-coaster. Joe was going from seat to seat seeing if everyone was okay. My brother-in-law reported no, he was not okay, the seat clamp was pressing on the Chinese he had for lunch and he had to use the bathroom. Joe said "Can't help you." It was clear he was asking "Are you going to sue us," not, "Are you okay." I am thankful to report I did not have to go to the bathroom. Joe asked if I was ok. I demanded to be reassured the ride was NOT going to START ON ITS OWN and then I wanted to know what was wrong. Joe said, "You came back a little too fast." After he left Gary whispered "Do you smell a burning smell?" I did not, my fear was not burning alive, my fear was the roller coaster would shoot off again and this time not ... quite...work right. Nothing like the security of being clamped to a well-maintained roller coaster, and nothing like the panic of being clamped to a speed-crazed roller coaster with a mind of its own. "You came back a little too fast." What else could be say? "You left the track for a while there."

Mind you, all Farzanna knows at the point is that people have streamed out of the Mr. Freeze ride and told her "something's gone wrong with the ride." She immediately assumes I have had a baby spineless pansy attack like her Aunt Karen and I am in some way responsible, as if I pulled the brakes in mid-flight.

Back inside the ride, there are actually some people so stupid they still want to ride Mr. Freeze, which is, allow me to restate, a broken malfunctioning roller coaster. I called over to the girl who had been behind me in line, "You know, it was really scary. Are you sure you want to get on?" At that moment the ride started to roll forward.

I would have screamed but like I said, this clamp was secure and I could barely breathe. Then I heard that sound of the seat clamp releasing, the loveliest sound in the world, and I got the hell off that thing.

Farzanna, as I said, had been imagining the new reporters asking "So your Aunt Ellen, was she known to be afraid of amusement park rides?" or "So your Aunt Ellen, has she had a history of mental illness?" So when it was clear I had not been responsible I was cool. I was Cool Aunt Ellen then, (EVEN THOUGH THIS INCIDENT WAS LATER TOUTED AS POOR JUDGEMENT AND EVIDENCE OF MANIA) especially since I had enough energy to wear out an 11 year old at the amusemnent park (FURTHER MANIC ACTIVITY).

I was particularly Cool Aunt Ellen after she spent the night (don't let me forget, the trash-can corner of the guest bedroom points toward Mecca) and we stayed up till 1am. (EVIDENCE OF MANIA!)

So it was fun. I spent a fair chunk of money, however, not more than I had budgeted (EVEN MORE MANIA) and Mr. Freeze experience was an excellent test of my new and improved bowel function God or Allah has been kind enough to grant me.

The first week of June, I was at MasterCard and I cried because I was in an empty conference room that had no table so the fax had to sit on a chair. Poor fax. Unbearably sad. Also very difficult to explain when your client comes by and wonders why you are crying. When really, you don't feel normal sadness as much as you feel just distraught this fax machine is sitting here without a table, for pete's sake.

The next day I woke up and within 2 minutes I was screaming at Gary. Usually I have to be a little more awake before I scream, I can't work up a good scream-fest until late in the day even. Then I looked at the dogs and screamed at them. It was a brief scream, but I was shaking after it.

"Wake up on the wrong side of the bed?" Gary asked.

The dogs just stared at each other in horror.

I was driving to MasterCard and Holly called on my cell. I screamed at her and hung up. She called back and asked me what my problem was and I burst into tears. Then I hung up again. At that point I strongly considered taking a sick day, because I knew if I encountered any clients there was a good chance I would yell at them and they would fire us all. Holly called back again and said to come back to WestPort, the meeting location had changed. That just annoyed me, and I just had to fight the urge to run all the other cars off the road.

Back at WestPort, I attended the meeting ..and..laughed..and laughed. Funniest meeting I ever went to. I laughed myself sick. In my defense, everyone was laughing, except Holly, who just sat there looking at her watch wondering when we would be done with this silliness. I was relieved. My bad mood was lifting. That was the end of my bad day, and the rest of the week was normal. I know, because I kept track on my calendar -- I wrote an "E" for emotional for that day and the previous one.

The third week of June, I went for my yearly visit to the neurologist. I reported the irrational crying I'd had the first week of the month. I was expecting a prescription for an anti-depressant, and I'd made my peace with that, because I just can't be wandering around sobbing over the furniture arrangement of the MasterCard conference rooms. Besides, I have an illness that eats chunks out of my brain. I can't expect to have normal brain chemistry.

However, he didn't think I was just depressed. It seems your average depressed people (your "depresseds") stay depressed and become more and more depressed. However, other mental illnesses (your "bipolars" or "manic-depressives") get over their depressions and find they have lots of energy afterward . . . and they take unusual risks (thrill rides) . . .  and they stay up late . . and sometimes they spend lots of money on clothes. . . .

"No," I said "I'm not bipolar. My brother's bipolar." Well, kiss of death. Stamp my head with the big CRAZY stamp right there. Actually, he did convince me that I need to look in to it, because I know I did have that one major depression and right before and after it I'd had that sense of being incredibly healthy. Like the time I decided I could jog home from Chesterfield Mall. So, crazy depressed nuts + crazy healthy happy nuts = some type of bipolar nuts. So I said sure (heavy sigh with gritted teeth) I'll go to a psychiatrist and see what he has to say.

And in case you ever need to know, when a doctor gets you to say that, the doctor immediately picks up the phone with you there, calls the psychiatrist, gives him your phone number, then the PSYCHIATRIST calls YOU to make an appointment. (Because of course you can't be trusted, because perhaps one of your multiple personalities agreed to see the psychiatrist and the others weren't on board.)

I decided if I had to be called bipolar or manic-depressive to protect myself from another major depression I would. I don't want even a minor depression when I cry over the fax machine (and I've seen that fax machine since then and it looks perfectly happy).

So, I made a very involved spreadsheet chronicling my episodes of sadness and screaming and my other episodes of feeling excessively healthy. Gary said as soon as the shrink sees that he'll write down "makes overly detailed lists."

I imagine Dr. G_______ didn't get much out of the first fifteen minutes of our talk since I was crying violently and when I do that my voice just comes out making a peeping sound every few syllables. He's from Peru so I'm sure that doesn't help. I cried solidly for five minutes. Of the $200 for that initial visit -- that's what it costs the insurance company -- I ate up about $25 with "Enn neen ee snif ween shl kuh ee ooo snif" (That's "And then he said I should come see you.")

The mood-modification medicine worked. For about a year. Then everything went to shit again.