October 19, 1995

The Leslie Test

Her statement did not seem large at the time. Nurses had been grumping and barking at me for two weeks and I had learned to tune them out. The orange carpet interested me more as I wore a path around the edge of the corridor of the L-shaped psych ward. The carpet was much nicer than the gray linoleum of the ward in the other hospital which had first protected me.

I had become a visitor because dying seemed better than living. There were many reasons, but they do not seem important any more. I was on the seesaw of life and there was this weight at the other end which was much heavier. My end was all the way up and I was just barely holding on. I was ready to fall off at any second. It was just a matter of when. Not if, just when.

The doctors have a cure for all of this: medication and all different kinds. They helped to raise me up so that the seesaw was stable and after ten days I went home. But the medication continued to surge and I rose into mania and then crashed again.

I returned to the hospital and they shipped me to another--the one with the orange carpet. The orange carpet became my friend. I was a pacer. Sometimes it seemed like rush hour in those halls because pacing is an important activity of visitors. They did not actually call me a visitor, but I thought of myself that way. I was just temporarily passing through.

The day that I was transferred was a long one. I had to spend several hours breaking in a new doctor. He allowed that I had a lot of problems any time a new medication was introduced. We agreed that no new medication would be given to me unless he first discussed it at length with me.

The time after dinner and before bedtime is a long one in a hospital, especially if you are hardly sleeping at all. When the mind cannot slow down, pacing fills the time.

I was making my rounds in my own way, but I was not doing it conspicuously. I was not making military turns at the corners. I was not talking to the walls. I was not even talking to myself. I would not have been able to speak fast enough to keep up with the chatter going on in my head. I did have to pass by the nurse’s station twice on every lap, but I was not bothering any one. I was not noisy on the carpeted floor. Oh sure, there was a little sound of the flip flop of my running shoes since they had taken away my shoelaces, but it was not much.

“Jim, come here.” It was Nurse Leslie breaking my concentration.


“Here. Take this.” She plopped one tiny white pill down on the countertop.

“What’s that,” I said, frozen in fear by the suggestion.

“It’s Ativan.”

“I’m not taking that.”

Exasperation flew at me over the counter.

“What do you mean your not taking it. You need it. Now just take it.”

“But my doctor said that I wouldn’t have to take any new medication until I had talked it through with him.”

Clearly, she did not want to have this conversation.

“I talked with your doctor and he wants you to take it. So come on, just take it.”

Then I got the look, the “For christsakes, Jim, it’s late, you’re marching up and down the halls like an idiot, I’m tired and I don’t have time for this!” look.

“I’m not taking it.”

Leslie gritted her teeth and curled, “Jim, no one ever died from one Ativan!”

That pronouncement grabbed me. She now was talking in terms that I understood. Death and dying spoke to me.

“OK, I’ll take it.”

Her statement all of a sudden made my decision easy. I was in this hospital to stay alive and if this pill would not kill me, then I would be willing to take the risks of any other side effects it might bring.

Thus the Leslie Test became part of my life. Fear is a consistent thread which weaves through my days. But there are big fears and little fears. What goes in each category shifts on a regular basis. There were days of darkness when everything was was a big fear. But now that category pops to the surface much less frequently. But when a big fear does show up, I pay attention and I give it the Leslie test.

It’s simple: “Has anyone ever died from this?” If the answer is no, I can move forward. I have applied the test to many big fears. Do I want to lead that workshop? Should I accept the invitation to speak at the church? The answer was no to the Leslie Test on these questions so I agreed to do them. These were questions which had been turning over in my mind for a long time. I know it is a big fear if I cannot make a decision and the question keeps reappearing.

Will I do the firewalk? My answer to the Leslie Test was yes, people have died and I will probably die. This answer came leaping from the depths of my insides as soon as the question was asked. It came so forcefully that I knew that the answer was right for me at that time. My answer may be irrational and illogical but it was mine. Sometimes a big fear must be honored.

Howell Raines, in his book Fly Fishing through the Midlife Crisis, speaks to the issue of facing one’s fears. He was embarrassed that in his late forties he was still afraid of his boss. On his desk, next to his intercom, he taped a small piece of paper with this sentence: “It is a good day to die.”

Raines points out that “It is a good day to die.” was the battle cry of the Dog Soldiers, the warrior class of the Cheyenne Indians and the most feared fighters among the Plains Indians. Crazy Horse borrowed this cry and used it to prepare his troops for the battle at The Little Big Horn.

When he spoke to his boss through the intercom he would look at that sentence. The sentence freed Raines from the fear of his boss and it did more. “Somehow, when that fear left, other anxieties began following it out the door.”

Raines understood, and now I understand, that the cry of the Dog Soldiers and the Leslie Test are not about death but are about freedom--freedom to walk through the big fears and do what needs to be done.

I keep my shoelaces tied today because I am moving quickly.

October 12, 1995


It’s back again. Why am I always surprised. And why do I call it “it”. It is too forceful and animated to be an it. Maybe it is only a cold. Maybe I just ate some bad food. No, I know that it is back. It is squeezing the back of my eyeballs, always a sure sign. Turned mayonaisse does not do that to me. Only one thing does it--the dreaded “D” word--depression.

It did not sneak in this time. I saw it coming three weeks ago. It is payback for three glorious high energy weeks. I knew on day one of my energy spurt that it would follow and I was powerless to stop it.

Three weeks ago I signed on the bottom line to sell my house. We have raised our children here for ten years. Many personal profound events happened here. I knew it would not be easy to make the transtion. I have always read that moving is one of the more stressful events in life. I guess my body read the same things. As soon as I signed that document, my shoulders and neck began to ache and they have not stopped.

I have accomplished a lot in the last three weeks. The house is so cleaned out that my family is still spinning in the whirlwind. I have read countless books and written many pages. I even conquered the mountain called going online. The energy has surged and pulsed and danced but never waned. I have been riding a horse at full gallop knowing that I would tire and have to stop. My only hope was that I would not fall off and get hurt. The extent of my injuries has not yet been determined. A few more days will tell the tale.

This is not new territory for me. At one time I had the diagnosis of manic depression, but that diagnosis has been removed. It arose from a medication induced manic state and a crash from those lofty heights. Some day I will write about it. So I know what highs and lows are like and I fear them.

My pattern is that high stress induces hypomania, which is a state lower than fully blown mania. which really is a fine state to be in. You would not believe the creativity and productivity of this state. But it is always followed by depression. My body just runs with it for as long as it can and then it collapses. Depression is the antidote. I wish there were another.

I had hoped that I would stay flying until the move was over, but I have another week to go I knew the jig was up yesterday. We were having an eightieth birthday party for my mother-in-law and I was near tears trying to do small tasks like arrange the food on the table. Decisions were too difficult. And I wanted to run from this room which would soon be filled with relatives and friends. I wanted to be alone.

The World Series started last night. I am a big baseball fan and I was looking forward to the pitching duel. But I was asleep before the game started at seven o’clock. Eleven hours later I arose neither refreshed nor invigorated. It is a sunny fall day outside, but I probably will not make it out there.

A friend just called and it was good to hear her voice after several months. I am scheduled to meet some old friends for dinner tonight and I hope that I can get there. The love of others is a strong help through these times.

I am surprised that I am writing this today. Sitting at the computer takes a lot of energy. But this time the depression seems different. It feels like an unwanted invader instead of an old friend. Maybe the tide is turning.

I do not know how long it will last, but I do know that it will end. Knowing that it will end is an enormous step forward for me. In the past I would go for months not believing that it would end. Hope would be gone. Now, hope is a certainty. I will try to be gentle on myself. Maybe it will end quickly and all of these musings will become unnecessary.