(previously published in Stigma Fighters)
It was over six years ago that I found myself in a psych ward, my long struggle with depression having come to a head. This wouldn’t be the last time, but there was always the desire to get better and that had made all the difference (sorry Mr. Frost). I went from years of being on Lithium to a new schedule of drugs: citalopram, latuda, lamictal and klonopin, trying to calm each point on my neurotransmitter highway (nice band name) with medication.
My official diagnosis was Bipolar II, but I didn’t think it was accurate. Here’s the thing: I felt like a failure as someone with bipolar. I’d heard all of these stories about folks with bipolar calling their spouse from a yak farm in Peru to explain an exciting new start up they’d invested in. Bipolar meant writing an opera in the morning, then standing at the edge of a cliff by afternoon and by bed time, comfortably reading a book with maybe some tea and a meat snack (I like meat snacks).
I was told that with Bipolar II, the sine wave of emotion was much flatter than it’s crazy cousin, Bipolar I. Again, failure on my part to meet, at least in my mind, the requirements of the DSM index. After many discussions with my therapist and my wife, I came to the conclusion that for me, there were two states of being I needed to work with: depression and agitation.
Now that. That made sense.
It had been a long, crooked path, my life. Full of emoting and acts of danger, fights and deep sadness. Firings, divorce, self-medication and the feeling that everything for me was hard. There was never an easy path. Who were all of these people around me, happy, successful, slim? In my teens and 20’s, there just wasn’t anyone to talk with openly about this. My Father had been hospitalized with depression and refused to talk about it and my Mother was an unmedicated rage-aholic. I took stupid chances that resulted in Traumatic Brain Injury, broken bones and the moniker, “Crazy as f$#@.” Oh, I forgot the drug and alcohol abuse, so severe that I’d had my stomach pumped, thus missing the Oingo Boingo concert and yes, I have now dated myself.
ON BEING CRAZY AS F$#@
Honestly, though I’m writing this for Stigma Fighters, it wasn’t until much later that I felt the judgment of others when I uttered the phrase, “mental illness.” Until then, I was simply, “Crazy as F$#@,” a badge of pride as a kid, a label of pride as an adult in the working world – if your working world happens to be advertising, the final resting place for people who flunk out of everything else.
It was true for me that when I was feeling up, I got creative and I got shit done. I’d come up with ad campaigns before lunch, then drink three gin and tonics, fall asleep in a conference room, then go home where my mood would drop and I’d be tons of fun. I believed whole-heartedly in the notion that the truly creative ones were mentally ill. Look at this list of creative bipolar people: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_people_with_bipolar_disorder
If your livelihood depended on creativity, bipolar was great. I’d get rewarded for doing great work quickly. This also enabled others to look the other way when I’d made yet another account person cry or said something inappropriate to a client (like asking if anyone in the room needed a towel after listening to a client presentation given by someone with a slight lisp. It’s true. I did this). We glorify the creative genius even if they’re monsters. Steve Jobs, party of one, your table is ready. But sooner or later, the creativity mattered little and they just wanted you gone gone gone.
This mental illness thing – bad for career, bad for relationships, bad for the person with it.
ROCK BOTTOM ALWAYS HAS A PLACE FOR ONE MORE
I led off this piece by talking about my hospitalization (two actually. Okay – three. But that one could just as easily been a week in Maui to get the same desired effect) and my diagnosis. It seems to me, looking back, that the only way I could get better was to complete my downward spiral, hit rock bottom, and slowly put myself back together again. That is how it went for me. I don’t recommend this path, but so long as we’re being honest here (Oingo Boingo!) I have to say that sometimes you really do have to empty the gas tank to refuel.
For me, it began with two things: Meds and talking. Lots of talking. I learned Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, which addressed interrupting negative thoughts before they took you down. I talked with my therapist. I talked with my wife. My psychiatrist, my friends and family, strangers at pharmacies (Oh, I see you have Wellbutrin. Reminds me of a story….), really any outlet would do. It was almost as if I were coming clean about my mental illness and in doing so, was able to hopefully let the other person have their say as well.
Essentially I rebuilt myself and it was freakin’ hard. But I wanted it. I wanted what everyone else seemed to have which was a seat at the living table (also a cool band name – hold on: The Living Table® Okay, lets continue). Much later I would learn that for some, there just wasn’t any hope they could muster. They toiled on. So I focused on one thing at a time. Get the right meds combination. Find the right therapist. Eat well. Exercise. Get lots of sleep. Whatever worked and wasn’t cocaine or meth. When it came to wellness, collecting Game of Thrones action figures would help move things along. I don’t actually collect them. It’s more that I study them. Grown men do not collect dolls yes they do.
REALLY? OINGO BOINGO? (AND HOW I’M DOING NOW)
So the thing is, I live with depression. Some say they battle it or suffer from it or deal with it. For me, I just live with it. As mentioned, I take my meds. I exercise. Eat well – though I will always be 10-15 pounds overweight because body dysmorphism. Things go better when I have a set schedule. I used to meditate and journal but have gotten away from those things but I plan to put them back into my life. Perfection is unattainable. I have a therapist and a psychiatrist and above all, a wife who gets me and talks me off the ledge. I call all of these components that make up Team Larry®.
I’m a writer living with depression, which is a lot like saying a politician with damning secrets.
Aside from all of those things that I do to keep my depression in check, which also includes goofing off with my kids – that’s a big one – I seek out things that make me happy/laugh/stronger/amazed/introspective/kind/interested/compelled. Despite these things, I still have my days where it’s tough to get out of bed and tougher to have a positive outlook on things.
Just like those folks who don’t have mental illness. Imagine that.