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Friday, September 22, 2006

Flights of Fancy From a Dark Closet


In recent months I have been treated for profound grief and depression triggered by the death of my father and the then eminent death of my older brother. Gary passed away 3 months after our father died. He lost his battle with cancer not for the lack of a will to live but for the strength and viciousness of a murderous disease.

My eventual and inevitable diagnosis of bipolar depression was not so much a surprise but strangely a relief. Finally after 51 years, my depression had a name and an explanation.

That explanation helped explain the whys and wherefores of a life that included suicide ideation, two serious overt attempts of suicide, and episodic flirts with death through self-destructive behaviors. Those self-destructive behaviors began sometime following my 14th birthday. An unspeakably traumatic experience set in motion my journey down the path (with promiscuity and the use of drugs and alcohol) to self-destructive addictions.

The lessons of thriftiness taught to me by my depression era parents were “lost on me” due to the bipolar compulsion to spend money that I didn’t have. My binge buying sprees were attempts to make myself happy. Both Mom and Dad parents whose cultural heritage was stereotypically true. Mom’s German father and Canadian-Reserved bipolar mother passed down a peculiar legacy of intractable stubbornness, neat-freakish homemaking, and the conservative use of money. Dad’s Canadian-Reserved and Scottish parentage resulted in an incomprehensible work ethic, emotional distance, generosity, and an uncanny ability to successfully squeeze a dime.

The encouragement to seek satisfying and successful life goals came from my public school teachers and counselors. The encouragement to choose a servant ministry and a humble “life path” was attempted because of selfless and caring role models. I choose a career that was intrinsically rewarding yet poorly compensated – teaching in a public school district. Though I was encouraged and expected to become a school principal, I chose to always remain a teacher. I never wanted the responsibilities of administration because I endeavored to serve both my community and church in the most direct and effective manner.

My bipolar personality traits helped me remain confident of my skills and creativity through long periods of my life when I was imprisoned by worthlessness and despair. My moodiness was even projected in a Freudian naming of a beloved stuffed monkey. I didn’t have a blankie, binky, or love-worn teddy bear; I had “Helpless”, a brown fuzzy monkey with an infectious, plastic smile of joy. After my 50th birthday I asked my best friend and life-companion to take Helpless out from my childhood collections and dispose of him. “Just take him and don’t tell me what you did with him.”

My frequently “racing mind” was seen by me to be gifts of inspiration and clarity of thought. I was and have been forever grateful for the confidence and the intelligence granted to me by nature and/or nurture. Whether or not my moody roller coaster disposition resulted from bipolarity or was a gift from God, I am thankful that I had the wherewithal to cope with wobbly eyes (congenital Nystagmus) and an equally jerky life. I have coped. And, I have been successful.

I have a lust for life. My experiences while traveling through life (and the United States and Canada, with excursions to Mexico and northern Europe) have been incredible. The road from childhood to middle age (I do have an AARP card – so does Billy, hehehe) has been… what it’s been. The fact is -- I have and I will survive.

“So it is with minds. Unless you keep them busy with some definite subject that will bridle and control them, they throw themselves in disorder hither and yon in the vague field of imagination ... And there is no mad or idle fancy that they do not bring forth in the agitation.” -Michel de Montaigne

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