Our local mental health association recently announced a public forum for mental health awareness. Twenty years ago, I joined the MHA Board to be an advocate for such awareness.
This was based on my 25 years on a emotional roller coaster. Usually triggered by some event, often minor, I would be consumed by an overwhelming anxiety (I likened it to being in a room on fire). In such a state I could lie awake all night fixating over and over on my lifetime shortcomings. After such a session, exhausted, I would plunge into a hopeless depression. Though wanting to hide under the desk, I could get by at work. How strange no one noticed. I could not wait to get home to smoke cigarettes, my only activity, and await the dark.
Many a night I lay down in the hope that I would not wake up. Then, there was the dreaded early light and, finally, the sound of traffic. I would curl in bed until the last moment and then scramble to get to work. After three or four days, this would lift and I would launch back into life. In retrospect, it is unsettling how I came back with such force and so oblivious to the recent ordeal.
One can imagine how this complicates living. This on and off existence. "But, Jim, I thought that you wanted to go…" When going to work I would see the homeless and troubled folks in the park and I knew that if these bouts had been extended, soon, I would lose my job, my marriage, and my ability to maintain myself. I would be over there with them. (This certainly would become part of my awareness of the homeless when, years later, I became involved with that cause.)
During all these years I sought help from many counselors. They were wonderful. As much friends as professionals. But their help, essential at the time, was only stop gap. Not a solution. Finally, with this problem escalating and a threat to my marriage, I mobilized with the help of an earnest Dr. with the great name of Seymour and tried drug solutions, which I had always been wary of. On Sept. 9, 1990, I took lithium, which I like to call "a glorified salt tablet." It worked immediately. I have never been overwhelmed in 22 years. My problem was not being weak and oversensitive. I was simply a few molecules off. I am a manic-depressive. I prefer that title. So would George Carlin! Bi-polar doesn’t really get it.
Though I loved kids, for obvious reasons, I had not felt confident to be a father. We went on a six-month trial period for my stability. I passed. Parenthood came soon after.
I do not not tell this saga to be self-indulgent, though I am certainly taken with the drama of it. It is the miracle of my, our life. I tell it to give perspective for people so afflicted. First thought is that one should be open to suggestions. As I found out, one educated guess may be as good as another, professional or not. My sister back in the early ’70s told me of lithium, but, due to her drug dependence, I was leery. (I don’t dwell on that "what if"!)
Second, don’t be your own counsel in the throes of such states. One’s perspectives are so skewed and limited at those times. Third, and this is related, do not get cornered with no exit. There are solutions, perhaps not as dramatic as mine, that will make things better. I am wrenched whenever I learn of a suicide, that lonely, hopeless act. And fourth, talk to people, get it out for immediate relief and, maybe, in time, there will be a solution.
I never got to share this in an official way, but like a message in a bottle maybe this will make it to someone’s troubled shore. In any case, it’s been therapeutic for my mental health which will always be a pursuit.