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Worst holiday ever

Clay standing in the middle of a giant chess board.

Worst holiday ever

Understanding mental health is a mystery, because it carries a heavy stigma that plays out day after day, in homes, ambulances, police cars, emergency rooms, and psychiatric hospitals around the world.

I know, because it happened to me. How, you ask? The answer is straightforward in a mixed up, topsy-turvy way. My tendency to be a workaholic reared its terrifying head as I attempted to live in Portugal while working the same hours as my colleagues and clients at Reno Type. At the same time, I was in the early stages of monetizing my own business, Sales Dad. That 8-hour time difference combined with a heavy workload was too great. 

I wasn’t aware that I was creating a perfect vortex of a manic break, until I made my way to Trindade CUF, a local private hospital in Porto.

how it went down

I went from working 8 to 10 hours a day in the states to working 16-18 hours per day in Portugal, trying to prove I could — to myself, my co-workers, and my clients. I don’t recommend trying this at home, or anywhere for that matter. I managed to keep my shit together for nearly six weeks, until I burned out in a spectacular fashion. 

Imagine the largest firework show you’ve ever seen — my brain was doing the same thing, except there were no pauses between explosions.

In early May, Jackie and I hosted a dinner party in our Gaia flat for our new Portuguese friends. Normally, we divide the responsibilities, I cook while Jackie takes care of setting the table and entertaining our guests, and we tag team the cleanup afterward. While I was cooking, one of our guests asked me a question. Voila, I had a new audience for my stories, and I stopped paying attention to the food, forcing Jackie to finish preparing the meal, which is decidedly not on her “favorite things to do” list.

While that should have been enough of a clue, we both missed it, although Jackie had suspicions something was up, because I was talking without breathing between sentences, coupled with having dozens of ideas every minute. We put it down to the excitement of having guests over and having a new audience for my stories. However, the party was a sign of things to come with my motormouth and thoughts, which were coming faster and faster until I wasn’t making a lot of sense. 

Jackie knew I needed medical help to sleep, but I resisted, because I was having all the ideas, and a few of them were pretty good (more on those later). After a few weeks of this, I finally decided to seek assistance, more as a way to appease Jackie, as I was convinced I was fine, and having a creative renaissance. 

A Hospital in Porto

I never called to make an appointment. Instead, I was gently awakened by a metro passenger who allowed me to sleep on his shoulder, which caused me to miss my planned destination by five stops. Still half-asleep, I made my way off the train and recognized the Trindade station, as our bank branch was nearby.

After shaking off my drowsiness, I noticed Trindade CUF private hospital was across the street. I was given a number and waited impatiently in the waiting room (only after being redirected from their dental facility to the emergency room entrance). After waiting about 30 minutes before being called to see the doctor, I briefly explained my situation, and the doctor hurriedly wrote three prescriptions, one for sleep, one for stabilizing my mood, and an antidepressant. 

When the pharmacy refused to fill an entire year of my sleep med (the equivalent of Valium), as it’s against Portuguese law to have a large amount of a controlled substance on your person, it should have been a clue. As it was, I ended up with a year’s supply of Trazodone and Lexapro, and 112 days of the Valium-like pill.

The boxes filled a large shopping bag, which seemed too obvious, so I hid behind a wall at the train station and shoved the drug boxes into my oversized backpack. Unfortunately, the train I planned to board left before I was ready, so I waited another 15 minutes for the next one. 

During all of this, my phone and watch batteries had died, which meant Jackie had no way of knowing where I was when I didn’t arrive home several hours after I was supposed to. It never occurred to me to borrow a phone and update her, as I was busy in my own head, while talking to anyone who was unlucky enough to make eye contact. 

Though I started taking my prescriptions, my sleep still became more erratic, and I started having difficulty focusing on basic tasks (reading emails, writing up jobs, eating etc.) while I could mono-focus on other tasks, like the morning I spent picking up trash in our neighborhood with my bare hands for over an hour, no phone, no watch, again scaring the daylights out of Jackie, who had no idea where I was. Looking back, we’re pretty sure the anti-depressant was not helping.

Fast-forward to our trip to London. It took me roughly 11 hours to finish packing our belongings with the items we were bringing with us from Portugal, a task that would normally take no more than a few hours, and that was slowed down because I refused to let Jackie have a say in any of it.

A Non-Holiday In London 

We had planned a short layover in England on our way back to Reno, and through Trusted Housesitters, Jackie had found a lovely home in the Sevenoaks suburb of London. By the time we settled in, I had moved from elevated into hypo-mania and was heading toward a full mania. My thoughts were racing faster than my words, so much of what I was saying was out of context, and made no sense to anyone I encountered. Jackie gave up on our idea of London sightseeing, and instead focused on the restfulness of the home we were staying in, hoping that would help me get back to where I needed to be.

Instead, my sleep became even more erratic and by the time we left Sevenoaks for our hotel in London, I was in a full-blown manic breakdown. Jackie had called for an ambulance the day before, and it never arrived. She called again from the hotel, and this time they responded.

As soon as I saw the uniformed EMTs, I knew I was in deep shit, but I was pretty sure I could talk my way out of it. Spoiler alert – I could not. 

Rookie move number one was agreeing to walk over to the ambulance, where it was more “quiet.” I still thought I had the upper hand, and kept my motor mouth in 6th gear. My heart rate was hovering near 140, which alarmed them enough to tell me they saw me as a heart attack risk patient. My response was something like, “If I’m having an effing heart attack, why are we still parked in front of the hotel?” Strangely, they did not find my comment helpful. 

After lowering my heart rate using breath work, I continued resisting their offers to drive to a local hospital for a complete check-up. “No thank you” became my mantra, with a few swears thrown in for good measure. Damian and Ben soon tired of my resistance and called in their buddies from the local police department. This is the part when it got super-serious. 

Jack and Jess (I know, I said it out loud more than once) arrived and it took about two seconds for me to get into a machismo match-up with Jack. His vibe was ex-military testosterone enhanced personae, which was an interesting match for a sun-reflecting, 57-year-old American with a sharp tongue and racing brain. I was certain I could take him, until I saw the pepper spray and his unholstered taser. I still puffed out my chest and told him he was full of shit, or something like that. And yes, I now see the futility (and possible danger) of going head-to-head with the police in that manner. 

Shortly after Jack and Jess’s arrival, I agreed to go to the hospital, as I had tired myself out with talking, and had run out of reasons I shouldn’t go. It turns out the ambulance provider in London has terrible GPS equipment onboard their rigs, so the drivers are left to sort it out using their knowledge of the area and Google Maps. Not a great set up if your life depended on them getting you medical care at a hospital. 

Jackie captured my ride to the hospital from the front seat of the police car following us.

London’s Public Healthcare System

Eventually we arrived at Middlesex Hospital (it’s real name is UCL Medical School but locals still refer to it as Middlesex). As Jackie soon found out, locals wince when you tell them you have a loved one there (boy, don’t I know it). The place was a complete shit-show, understaffed, overworked, and seriously under-funded. If the Royal family wanted to make an impact, they should invest in public healthcare, rather than funding another multi-acre public park or art installation. 

I get why Prince Harry bailed – his family is focused on the wrong things for the wrong reasons, while thousands of people are suffering waiting for treatment at public facilities. 

While I was lecturing the hospital staff on the shortcomings of the facility, Jackie was busy trying to get me moved to a private hospital. My first interview with their lead psychiatrist didn’t go well, so I ended up spending two nights in the emergency department at Middlesex, without a shower, toothbrush or change of clothes (it’s worse than you’re thinking). I bristled when the Middlesex psychiatric team rolled into my room, in a four-on-one situation. The woman who headed up the team saw me as the “crazy American” and made a hasty retreat after I browbeat her with my words and privileged attitude. 

When Jackie wasn’t at the hospital, she was in an Uber on her way to the hospital, including this self-driving Tesla.

I managed to talk myself into a night at the psychiatric ward of Middlesex, while simultaneously talking myself out of the private option Jackie was so busy arranging.

My 24-hour stay in the Middlesex psychiatric ward was hair-raising. For everyone. I tried to escape, I schemed with other patients on how we could “game” the staff, and on and on. I also met a guy who claimed to be one of David Bowie’s illegitimate children. It’s possible Sir William (he claimed he was also a knight), was one of Bowie’s progeny as he had the same different colored eyes as the singer. When Jackie humored me by looking it up, it turned out that Bowie acknowledged his promiscuity and so left money in his will for any children he might have fathered and not known about. 

A kid nicknamed Abz saved me when another patient who hated America, got pissed off and started arguing with me. I walked away, only to hear seconds later, “Kill the American.” I paused for a second, and thought, “Hmm, wait a second, I’m the American!” I turned around and saw that he was struggling through the other patients to get to me. I took off running, only to have Abz grab me by my shirt and pull me into his room, locking the door behind him just before the other patient reached me. I sobbed in Abz’ arms, as he told me repeatedly it was okay. 

Behind the scenes, Jackie went back to work and used her certain set of skills to get me approval for Priory Roehamption, London’s best private psychiatric hospital. Dr. Kumar from the Priory team, eventually granted me admittance later that day, as I was finally able to control my mouth. I initially resisted, because in my mind, I didn’t have an official diagnosis. What I didn’t know, is that in Jackie’s private meetings with the Middlesex and Priory representatives, they all landed on bipolar disorder. Once I heard it, I fought against the diagnosis, claiming I was simply smarter and more quick-witted than anyone they’d ever encountered.

While Jackie was kind enough not to tell me this in real time,
I was being a gigantic asshole throughout all of this. 

If Priory Roehamption isn’t the most beautiful hospital in England, we can’t imagine which one is.

Private Care

Luxurious hospital room with a bed and a chair
One of the nicest places I’ve ever stayed, and it happened to be a hospital room.

I don’t remember the ambulance ride to Priory with Jackie, though I knew I was happy and relieved to leave Middlesex.

Priory was the Ritz Carlton of psychiatric facilities — the food was exquisite, as was the staff. By accident, I ordered six breakfasts on my first day, and received all of them. I ate my way through four dishes, before giving up and saving the other two for later in the day. 

If you have to spend time in a psychiatric hospital, I highly recommend this one. Five stars.

I did feel pretty special when I realized I was staying in the same hospital where Eric Clapton and Johnny Depp had rehabbed, and I think I spotted a few celebrities on the grounds, but I had no clue who they were. 

Because I was still erratic and talking too much, the staff decided I shouldn’t be in any of the group therapy classes, because I would be a huge distraction (they were correct). During my first few days, I upset nearly everyone I spoke with, because I was still the smartest guy in the room. Nope. I was the most manic guy in the room. 

After about a week, things improved for everyone as my new medication kicked in and my sleep increased to 6+ hours per night. As my brain healed, I got to know the other patients, and was finally able to listen to their stories.

Though I was on a Section 2 (which meant they could legally keep me locked up for 28 days), Jackie worked with the doctors and medical team to get me out in two weeks (yes, she’s a badass). Though I was a little sad to leave the swankiest hospital I’d ever been in, I was more sad for the wrench I had thrown into our plans for spending time in London before returning to Reno. 

Back in the States

Jackie standing in front of artistic angel wings.
Jackie earned her wings on this trip. Hopefully she doesn’t need to use them again anytime soon.

Once we arrived in Reno, I had a telehealth appointment with Dr. Amanda Melone, who listened to me for an hour before she repeated the diagnosis that everyone else had — bipolar disorder. Somehow the way she asked her questions and explained the diagnosis made it make sense for me and I realized that she had filled in a huge missing puzzle piece to many aspects of my life. 

I’ve evidently been holding myself together through sheer force of will. Now, at nearly 60 years old, I have medical help and prescriptions to make everything make sense. It will be interesting to see who I am now that I have some help. 

I’m incredibly grateful to Dr. Kumar, his team and the other “guests” at Priory; Dr. Melone; Kurt Hoge and rest of the Reno Type team who kept everything going while I was on leave; my kids for advising Jackie through this; our other friends and family who supported us both in many different ways; and most of all, Jackie. 

It kills me that I put her through hell, leaving her to navigate London, its healthcare system, travel arrangements, and my non-stop mouth all on her own. Of course she kicked ass at it as she does, but I will spend the rest of my life making this up to her. When in mania, I referred to her as Jacqueline, my queen, and that is exactly how I still feel.

The takeaways from this long-winded story? Get your sleep and don’t work so hard, as nobody will be talking about how many hours you spent at the office at your funeral. Pay attention to the signs — your body (and mind) will let you know when it’s time to take a break. And appreciate (and listen) to your people, as they could end up saving your life.

Jackie’s working on her own article, outlining how to navigate healthcare in a foreign country, so stay tuned for that. None of us know when we’re going to need emergency help, and I hope you get as good of help (after Middlesex) as I received, if you do. 

Clay has worked with advertisers and marketers to find unique solutions to their business challenges. His insight informs clients’ choices across several mediums, including direct mail, print, branded merchandise and digital advertising.

Comments

  • Beth Law
    July 8, 2024

    Thank you for sharing your health update. I can’t imagine how frightened and concerned you both were in your own ways as you moved through the event.
    So, happy you are home in Reno for now. Take good care of each other.

    If I can help in anyway, please let me know.

    Best,
    Beth

    reply
    • July 8, 2024

      Thank you for reaching out Beth. It was very scary. We’re happy to be back home. 🙂

      reply
  • Shannon Ward
    July 8, 2024

    So glad you are back and feeling better. You have an amazing wife and partner and I know the two of you have many wonderful adventures ahead and life lessons to share!
    Much love to you both!

    reply
  • Cheryl Ruiz
    July 8, 2024

    Thank you so much for sharing.

    reply
  • Brooke Santina
    July 8, 2024

    Having been married to a bi-polar person for 11 years, I have two bits of advice.
    #1. Stay on your meds. Too often people feel better and don’t think they need mental health meds anymore, but you do – because you slowly go back to mania when you stop, and yet it is such a common thing for people suffering with bi-polar disorder to quit taking them, over and over again. Please don’t restart the cycle again, just stay on the meds.
    #2. If you have a counselor or doctor you see on a regular basis, be honest with them. They cannot help you, which ultimately helps Jackie and your marriage, if you aren’t 100% honest. My husband was not solid with his meds, nor honest with his counselor, and though it took me years to find out, it killed my trust in his recovery and we ultimately split. This diagnosis does not define you, it just gives you something to always work on, but you gotta do the work. Keep on the meds, be honest, keep Jackie in the loop of how you REALLY feel, and you will be such the better man for it! Good Luck!

    reply
    • July 8, 2024

      Thanks Brooke. Clay has experience with this with some people he loves, and he knows the importance of being honest and taking his meds.
      He’s not going to do anything to risk his health or our marriage. 🙂

      reply
  • John King
    July 9, 2024

    Omg my brother! What a wild ride through the unexpected. If vulnerability is strength *and btw it is). then you are ferociously strong; only bested by a baddass partner in Jackie- But then you and I agree that women are stronger period- Thank you for this share- Got me a little misty eyed. Love ya my friend.

    reply
  • Jodi Jung
    July 9, 2024

    Clay, so glad you and Jackie made it home safe, where you can rest and heal. Much love ❤️

    reply
    • July 12, 2024

      Thank you Jodi! It’s great seeing you now that we’re back.

      reply
  • Edwin Lyngar
    July 9, 2024

    What a harrowing story. We’re glad you’re okay and back stateside.. I can’t wait to hear more later this month. Take care!

    reply
    • July 12, 2024

      Thank you Ed. We’re looking forward to catching up with you!

      reply
  • Laura Newman
    July 9, 2024

    Beautifully expressed and what a wild ride. Jackie, I am still amazed at how you managed a most difficult situation, and Clay, so difficult for you in a completely different way. I wish you both many nights of good sleep.

    reply
    • July 12, 2024

      Thank you Laura. Yeah, it was wild. And sleep is good. 🙂

      reply
  • Kevin Ciccotti
    July 9, 2024

    What a harrowing tale! Clay – you are a very courageous man for sharing your story. And in doing so, you give others permission to share theirs. That is no small thing. There is unfortunately still so much stigma attached to our mental health. We ALL need help at some point. And Jackie, Clay is right, you ARE a badass! When the ones we love are suffering (and maybe even hurting us in the process) it can be hard to stay focused, do what needs to be done, and of course still say, “I love this person.” You set a wonderful example for all of us to follow in showing love and staying committed. I hope to see you both while you’re in Reno. Much Love.

    reply
  • Brendan Devine
    July 9, 2024

    Clay, I’m sorry for what you went through and can’t imagine the fear and worry you and Jackie felt. I’m super happy you guys have each other. Mental health is one of the most underappreciated aspects of our lives, and your story shouldn’t be taken lightly. It serves as a message of caution to us all.

    Stay strong, my friend. I look forward to seeing you back in action when you’re ready!

    reply
  • Karen Ross
    July 10, 2024

    A harrowing tale. Thank you for sharing this journey with such honesty and personal insight. Wishing you both some peace and rest now that you have returned to Reno.

    reply
    • July 12, 2024

      Thank you for reaching out Karen. We have found much peace and rest here.

      reply
  • July 10, 2024

    Sending you guys so much love and strength. I recently had a mini manic episode myself and all I can say is thank the Gods for therapy, my partner, and some very understanding friends.

    reply
    • July 12, 2024

      Thank you Lyric. I’m so glad you were in a position to get help and love. 🙂

      reply
  • Mariussan
    July 12, 2024

    WOW….just read this and am in awe of the love , support and courage from this situation. Thank you for sharing…. gives us all needed perspective.

    reply

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