Except that someone I trust far more than I do myself thinks this might not be so bad.
To most of you I’m a semidescript blogger who tends to wax and wane in his anti-religious, anti-nonsense ways, coming and going at random. Just one more guy with a high-flown opinion. In reality, I’m just a guy in his late thirties whose life has been ruined–by my reckoning beyond measurable redemption–by alcoholism, bipolar disorder, and possibly six or seven other diagnosable satellite maladies that aren’t worth discussing.
I first began accruing consequences from these various niceties about a dozen years ago, when I managed to drink my way out of the top of my class at an an Ivy League medical school. (I’m not being overly mawkish here; I’m stating what happened.)
Since then I’ve managed to accomplish a few minor things here and there between pratfalls, and have even had periods in which I’ve been happy more often than not for entire weeks at a time. I haven’t worked nine-to-fives much–I don’t like office jobs and I wind up drinking them away within a few months even when I do undertake them–but have managed to support myself by writing and editing at home in my underwear. Typically, not without help.
Ever the social animal on a good day, I have endeavored in several long-term relationships, all with the best and giddiest of intentions, and have destroyed each of them in more or less the same way.
As time has passed, the slips have become more and more frequent and the enjoyable times sparser, and as things stand now, I’ve all but given up on my all-subsuming hobby (running), could seemingly not care less about making an honest go at a career as a writer (or as an ass-wiper, for that matter), and spend a lot of time planning ways to off myself and freely discussing such ideas with the very few friends I’ve kept close, which may be for the best.
My launching point for this is a two-year-old post that I considered a seminal outpouring at the time, and which of course strikes me as even more so now. Karmen Franklin of Chaotic Utopia–whom I have since had the pleasure of meeting–wrote candidly of what it was like to live in the throes of bipolar disorder, and to try to bludgeon her way through this by dint of the written word. Karmen, unlike me, had a diagnosis to hang things on from her teenage years. These things are never cut and dried; I’ve known forever that I’ve been “different,” and have unquestionably been a rip-roaring drunk; but not until this year did I dedicate myself to more formal exploration.
I’m no stranger to what might be called a genre. When I read the novelist William Styron’s memoir Darkness Visible a few years ago, it chased me into the deepest of nights, which were and are often indistinguishable from days.
I probably could have been diagnosed as a “beeper” (someone with bipolar disorder; in my case “bipolar spectrum” or cyclothymia) in my late 20s, but I was too busy being a raging binge-drinker, and besides, no one else knew about the hypomanic episodes I was periodically experiencing–multi-day periods without sleep that differed from my troubling bouts of insomnia in that they were anything but troubling. I would stay up, write, make lists, scheme about saving the world, think extremely witty thoughts, and become sufficiently punchy somewhere into my second twenty-four hours sans sleep that every stimulus that found purchase on my brain, from inane TV commercials to the sight of a toddler incompetently riding a tricycle in circles, struck me as extraordinarily funny.
In the years intervening, this has only become more pronounced. I can recall times when I met friends for late-afternoon runs and planned to meet up with them again in the morning for another run. And I did–often without sleep, and was I to ‘fess up to this?
When I would come into contact with the mental-health system as a result of drinking, as happened at least once a year, I would usually be given a token evaluation for depression. But this diagnosis never stuck, in large part because I knew owing to my educational background how to elude it without appearing to be trying. And my bipolar tendencies, mostly unknown to others owing to a basic lack of material witnesses (when I didn’t live alone, I lived with people who actually slept at night and therefore assumed I did, too), could be attributed to basic hyperactivity, irritability, and impulsiveness, traits I’d carried since childhood; in any case, they were shielded from professional detection by the twin towers of alcoholism and, possibly looking over drink’s beefy shoulder, some degree of simple depression.
It was not until I was watching an episode of House, M.D. (the only show I never miss) this spring that I had an epiphany, a revelation, a sudden and irrevocable certainty. The main character was a self-medicating, adrenalin-charged journalist who had a habit of starting things he never went on to finish and was notably impulsive as well as “moody,” and at the end of the episode he was forced to tell his wife what he’d been hiding: He was bipolar. And suddenly, this disorder I knew a little about from medical school and other sources took on paramount significance.
Soon enough, I found a way around my lack of health insurance and managed to see a psychiatrist, who officially diagnosed me and put me on 1,000 mg of Depakote a day. I’ve been taking my daily dose, now up to 1,500 milligrams, more or less faithfully since then, with the exception of times I’ve gone on benders, and these have been frequent and recurrent.
I credit the medication with the elimination of “all-nighters” from my palette of erratic behaviors, yet as the year has gone on I’ve become markedly less stable. There are no good answers, and I have managed to get myself plugged into the local mental-health network. My compliance with this is mine alone. I visit many bipolar blogs and online resources.
Inasmuch as I persist, it may mean that I achieve my latest conception of Utopia, which involves finding a clean place to live with a Labrador retriever, working (if necessary) a no-pressure sinecure, and doing an truckload of reading, recreational scribbling, Web surfing, and television watching. Maybe even spending time with someone else. If I’m going to stick around, I should, after all, happily go on enjoying basic tactile and intellectual pleasures.
But make no mistake: What I call “Utopia” is a product of mental arbitration, of scaling back expectations to suit a reality that routinely issues me knockout punches. I do retain stronger and more far-ranging desires than those I listed, but not only can I not manage them once they are tentatively in hand, I no longer have the wherewithal to even seek them out. I’m an observer in this world–not a bad station for a writer. So I’m working on accepting that any pretense I’ve clung to in recent years about making the most of my so-called cognitive and creative gifts and my ability to initially strike potential companions as composed is just that–an illusion. I shall leave such pursuits to the people who either deserve their fruits or are too heroically dumb to understand that they don’t.
Despite my necessary self-relegation to solitude, I’m very much in love with someone I have yet to physically touch. This, along with the fact that my being smitten hasn’t helped keep me in line, is a recurrent, preponderant theme in my series of Todays. Her whimsical ways belies her fiercely intellectual and practical nature, but she reminds me every time I think of her that I have a considerable capacity for affection even if none of it is directed toward myself.
And that’s it. I can’t think of much else. It’s dead-ebb 3:30 here on the East Coast of the United States.
I have many debts to pay, I am owed nothing for this outpouring of grief, I love my family, and I’m glad for everyone who read ’till the end.