Joel’s Story: Bipolar Beginnings
I can’t start from the beginning because I cannot remember when It started. By It I mean my mental problems. When I was young I had bad vision and saw floaters in my peripheral vision. After I hit puberty, I thought I could see little unicellular microbes, but I did not tell anybody. To this day, when I am exhausted, I see them and do not know what they are. I am taking a risk of telling you about my Life because you may not understand. My hope is that a least a few will read this and say: “I can relate. I understand!” For those who do not understand, I apologize for my frankness.
My real problems began in college my senior year. I was co-captain of the swim team and was a leader on campus. I was popular among my friends and I had a girlfriend we’ll call Lisa. Life was good. When the winter hit that year, I took it harder than usual because of the snow, short days and overcast skies. To top it off, I had a sinus infection. When the nurse practitioner treated me with antibiotics I had an allergic reaction and did not compete in my last swim meet, which I took hard. I swam the meet, but fell far short of my personal bests: My first Failure. In addition I was attempting to finish my Senior Thesis on William Carlos Williams. My grades were suffering and threatening to blow my hard earned G.P.A. Life was starting to suck. I had my first taste of Major Depression. Although at the time, I just thought that I now hated Christmas. Lisa and Professors Anderson were the only ones helping me to keep it together. I did not tell my parents how I felt, although they knew something going wrong and tried to help.
Spring semester was even worse because even though the season was changing, I still felt Major Depression. I skated through my incomplete Senior Thesis and could not write the paper I had in my head. I just had an inability to put together a sentence: My second Failure.
Then I graduated with honors, somehow, despite my plunging grades. Fortunately, my last quarter was a cake walk, class wise. Because of my erratic thoughts and behaviors, most of my relationships were on the Rocks. I was no longer popular and even Lisa did not want to be around me for any length of time.
But somehow by July, I started to feel a little better. I had a great job and was taking two classes at the University of Illinois. Life was good again. “I can feel it coming in the air tonight. I’ve been waiting for this moment all my life.”
My first Manic Episode had begun. Where have you been all my life? Less sleep, more libido, more drinking, more fun. This is awesome! I had arrived. “Please don’t stop the Music!”
And so it was while it lasted or three months that is. Then I leveled out without the aid of medicine for the first and last time. Still I had no idea what was going on with my brain chemistry. I was three years away from the correct Diagnosis and six months from my first Diagnosis. “It’s a hard, hard, hard, hard, a hard rain’s gonna fall.”
I started a new job as a case manager at an HIV/AIDS clinic which had a steep learning curve. By Thanksgiving It was back. My work became difficult and I was sleeping ten hours a night: then Lisa broke up with me: The straw that broke the camel’s back. I was Depressed again. “All ever wanted was you and me.”
I finally told a co-worker about my Problems and he told our boss. She showed me the Employee Assistance Program. I saw a psychiatrist who prescribed me Paxil because I was Anxious and Depressed. I did not tell him about my Binge Drinking. After a few weeks I was feeling better about the time Spring rolled around. The Problem came when I started feeling too good. Just a few hours’ sleep, a killer libido, excessive spending no appetite, more binge drinking to try to self-medicate. “Around the World: Give Life back to Music.”
Because of the Paxil, I started a sexual relationship one of my roommates, I’ll call her Alice. I had always liked Alice, but if it weren’t for the SSRI a would never made the move. We were happy in each other’s arms, but the relationship was destined to fail because of my worsening Mania. “If you Love somebody set them Free.”
Fortunately, I lost my health insurance when I gave up my job after a year of service in the Lutheran Volunteer Corps. So I came off Paxil in October. My drinking binges became longer and more frequent. I had started a job as an assistant manager at New York Café and Bagel Co. in Nashville, Tennessee and regularly got stoned with Corporate. I tried cocaine for the first time, but it made me calmer and was a complete waste of money. My pot habit had gone from occasional to chronic which I could now afford because the job paid more than I’ve made before or since. “Feeling Stronger Every day!”
I lived two blocks from Belmont in a ‘transitional’ neighborhood at that time. My favorite hangout was Bongo Java because they made killer espresso and I enjoyed the company of like-minded, intelligencia. Playing chess stoned was my favorite activity after clocking out at two in the afternoon. “Is it any wonder that I’ve got too much time on my hands?”
I met John at Bongo Java and we got stoned at his house. His girlfriend and roommate had a bad case of schizophrenia. Cindy talked about how she was one of Hitler’s mistresses in a very detailed way. She scared the shit outta me. Funny thing was when she smoked a joint, she was completely normal. So we got stoned almost every day. One thing that John taught me was that two half pints of whiskey is cheaper than buying a whole pint. I did not have any friends in the traditional sense. But when I found someone who drank like I did, we at least got along. “If life is a highway, I want to drive it all night long.”
Some say I was being tempted by the Devil. I believe I was simply straying from my path. I wasn’t a bad person, but I was behaving badly. I was moving down a path to destruction. “But what’s puzzling you is the Nature of my game.”
So began a four year love affair of booze, pot and debauchery.