I'm not sure how I got so lucky as to get out of the behavioral health center at the hospital. It was a place of terror, where one could get trapped by rules and by the stubborn heartlessness of hopeless people. My brief stay there was probably the time I was in the greatest danger through my whole odyssey of madness.
I suspect that the visits from friends helped, by signalling to the staff and to the other patients that people on the outside were looking out for me. Unlike those poor elderly women, warehoused away to die.
As it was, life continued. I was laid off from my job, with half a day's notice. One day after lunch, Frank took me aside and told me that it was my last day. The company was moving in a different direction. At least the Corporation left me with one beneficial parting gift - they footed the very expensive bill for my stay at the hospital.
Another thing that happened is that Fred and George moved out of the house, into an apartment together. I guess they got tired of the cats. So I found myself unemployed and living alone.
I entered an extremely difficult time in my life: a deep, deep depression. It was like a heavy blanket of despair weighed down on me constantly. I would awaken in the day and my consciousness could only just barely peep out from underneath its oppression. I would sleep whole days away, only rousing out of bed for as long as it took to feed the cats. Their insistent pestering would eventually compel me to get up and leave my room, but after feeding them I would immediately head for the couch, driven by the weight of depression, and lie down to sleep away the afternoon.
This was a time when I became acquainted with late night television, as the hours surrounding midnight became my most active ones. I also learned about what happens when you neglect basic chores for a long period. At one point a notice appeared on the front door, informing me that there would be a fine if the grass wasn't cut below a certain height. I rarely checked the mail, and after I pulled a huge wad of envelopes and flyers out, the mailbox stayed empty for over a week. A call to the USPS toll-free number - to one of the very call centers I used to support at the Corporation - determined that mail delivery had stopped to the address because too long a period had gone by without it being picked up.
In this time, in the morning hours when I lay beneath my cloak of gloom, I would have bizarre hallucinations. I would hear the sounds of people moving about in the kitchen, murmuring, and the clattering of dishes being put away, even though the house was empty except for myself. Sometimes characters from my dreams would linger in my waking awareness, shadowy figures hovering in the room beside the bed. And I would often hear amazing music being played on piano - the most beautiful I have ever heard. I wish I could have written it down, but I didn't know how to read or write music, and I do not hear it any more.
Eventually I dug my way out of the deep hole I was in. It helped that I quit smoking weed, and that I went to my appointments with the psychiatrist. Most of my appointments, anyway. He took me off the Zyprexa and moved me onto Prozac, based on my new state of mind. And he encouraged me to be more social. Clearly my isolated life was damaging to my mental health.
So ever so slowly I came out of my shell,. With the help of the Internet, I found a new gaming group. At first I would drive to the venue, but then turn around and return home. After a few weeks of doing this, I mustered the courage to enter, walk among the gamers, and then leave. And then one day I actually talked to someone, and actually played a game. And so by baby steps I left my world of solitude and rejoined the world of men.
Prompted by my friend Tom, I joined a support group for people with temperamental issues. It used a kind of cognitive therapy of memorizing 'spots' - statements to talk oneself out of an emotional bind. As with the gaming group, it took me a few iterations to work up the heart to fully participate. When I did, I found the meetings valuable, although it felt embarassing when I shared my problems. My malfunction seemed so much more extreme than that of most of the others - so much more irrational.
And after a protracted period of unemployment, I returned to work. I was able to talk up my experience at the Corporation and find a gig for which I was a bit underqualified, but for which I quickly got up to speed with some research in the computer techonology section of the bookstore. That position ended up lasting over five years, my longest tenure at any job.
I also finally got my implant capped, by a ceramic tooth which looked more or less exactly like all my others. My transformation was complete.
2008 and beyond
My thought processes were never quite so convoluted again, although there were occasional flashes of the old paranoia. Once, at my new job, there was a day when my cubicle neighbor was very busy. Something was buggy in the software she supported. She was on the phone when another co-worker came up and then waited beside us. Politely, I asked him if I could do anything for him, but he just shook his head and indicated my neighbor, saying "I need to talk to her; I'm number..." - here he rattled off a large number - "...in line."
At this point I froze. The number he had stated, presumably meaning to joke about just how many people needed to talk to our overwhlemed coworker, was the PIN to my ATM card. Instantly the old feeling of fear washed over me, the sense of time slowing as my busy mind calculated, fitting this startling new information into my model of reality.
How did he know my PIN? Was he telling me as a warning? Or merely to taunt me? Was the Conspiracy back after its long hiatus, come to finish me off through this unexpected sleeper agent?
I wanted to confront him, to meet the threat that he represented with righteous anger. I wanted to immediately check my account balance, perhaps to have the bank deactivate my card, if it wasn't already too late. But instead I talked myself down, using the techniques I had learned in therapy. My feelings were not facts. I was in no danger. This was mere coincidence, no portent of something grand and sinister.
I maintained my calm, my reason, and nothing further developed from this incident. My coworker remained a friendly and harmless acquaintance. My bank account was left alone, and no trace of the malfeasance of the Corporation surfaced.
But truth be told, I was never sure I had disproved that the Conspiracy exists. They might be out there still, dreaming up new insanities.
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