My Broken Compass and Flawed Maps
“I compare myself with my former self, not with others. Not only that, I tend to compare my current self with the best I have been, which is when I have been mildly manic. When I am my present “normal” self, I am far removed from when I have been my liveliest, most productive, most intense, most outgoing and effervescent. In short, for myself, I am a hard act to follow.” – Kay Redfield Jamison Imagine trying to compare yourself to the diagnosed crazy, super charming, delightful version of yourself; alternatively, more so, imagine comparing yourself to the stuck, depressed, and anxious version of yourself. It is difficult. I often find myself asking why I’ve been saddled with a broken compass, (it always points east and west). Right now, in this blog post, you get the “best of me”. A slightly manic Marc coming down from what has been a week of obsession, fixation, and blindness to my life around me. You will also get a blog post that is broken into pieces, jumps all over the place, and may at times, be difficult to follow. I will tell you though, this is a window into my mind. This is a blog showing how my thoughts are fleeting yet concise, hard to understand, but also crystal clear. It is a question to an answer. So please, stick with me and try to keep your seat belt on through this roller coaster. Stay tuned for my next post because it may be slightly more coherent.
What better way to introduce myself than by rambling on like someone who desperately needs a nap, am I right? I’ve always wanted to put my thoughts and story to paper so here is my best shot….. Hi, I am Marc, I am diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder . The diagnosis is something I no longer hide from because life is much too confusing with a secret like this. It’s also hard to hide things when you are anxiously trying to decide between almond butter or peanut butter at work because of a fear of possibly offending the peanut butter lovers at work…this has happened.
The Early Days
I was born in the St. Louis Metro area and I never left because I had too much anxiety over the people I cared about passing away while I was gone. I was raised by my grandmother because my 16-year-old mother was busy being a teenager, imagine that. I have never met my dad because my 16-year-old mother denied his proposal for marriage ( again, imagine that) and he skipped town after that. I’ve never really met him, but a few years I found him on Facebook and called him out. As for my mother, I never really had a chance to know my mother because she was out doing cool teenager things that often didn’t involve the company of a child. Because of all of this, I grew up with a lot of anger.
The Initial Diagnosis
When I was 15 years old my grandma began taking me to a counselor. It was the free kind your work pays for because why would grandma have money at the time for this? The counselor was more concerned with my mother and asked me lots of questions about her enjoyment of whips and chains. Uh…guess what? That guy really didn’t work out for me. I quickly moved on to a new therapist who was not as concerned with my mother’s bedroom habits. This therapist very quickly slapped a diagnosis on me at 15. The DSM now pronounces me as depressed. Fine, give me the medicine and let me go on with my life. I was given an anti-depressant and took it as directed for a few months. Unfortunately, things got worse. I dropped out of high school, slept on the streets for a while and eventually tried to end my life by ingesting all kinds of bad things. After recovering I was sent to live with other ‘mentally ill’ kids in the hospital for some evaluation and therapy. Unfortunately, while there, I fell in with a crowd of kids with drug connections and was prescribed yet another (worse) prescription for depression. After being discharged from the hospital, my life was a mess. I remember none of it except that one night I stole a $200 bottle of cognac and mixed it with milk because I thought that’s how you made a White Russian. Makes sense, right? This, my friends, is the mind of a 17-year-old.
The RIGHT Diagnosis
Fast-forward to 18-year-old Marc. I guess my grandma felt like my life plan to become a pirate and plunder the oceans was not going to suit me well in life. At the time I wouldn’t have believed that this was not a good life plan. I’m not joking when I say this. Ask all of my friends at the time. I was truly going to become a pirate. Not a real modern day pirate mind you; I had in mind someone more like a Jack Sparrow type, with a hand cannon and sword. I share all of this because this is when my grandma decided to pay for a well-known psychiatrist that could do a proper assessment of my meds. This therapist quickly realized that I had been given the wrong medication for all those years and that unfortunately had a lot to do with my pirate delusions and drug problems. It also turns out I was Bipolar and not depressed.
With new meds, I had a new life outlook. I had enough motivation to pull myself out of my funk and go to Culinary School. I figured, what better place for a f**k up like me to go. In school, I met others like me and I fell into a militant structure that kept me clean. Ultimately, the experience helped me grow up. After graduation, I worked in the field for a while but eventually left because of the addiction problem in the restaurant world. Now I needed a new plan which resulted in me going back to school and getting a bachelors in business so I could open up my own place! Well….that didn’t work. As we all know medication cost money and I did not have health insurance and…well, that was the year I stopped taking my meds. I think I changed my major 20 times and ultimately fell into whatever fit my laundry list of credits I had obtained.
Round and Round I Go
Eventually, I graduated with a Sociology degree, you know that one degree you cannot do anything with except go to graduate school or Law school; yep, I got that one! The intention was to go to law school. I took my LSAT, scored a 161, and was ready to go! At the last minute, I decided I wanted to work with older adults and went to grad school to get a Master’s in Gerontology instead! Somewhere in grad school, I ended up working in a neurology lab and a Gerontology clinic diagnosing Alzheimer’s Disease! So, here I am today working at one of the better universities in the U.S. in the school of social work. Yeah, somehow I went from being a chef to working on research grants in social work. Often times my life journey is the equivalent of rolling down a hill, collecting debris as I go, and then standing up looking like I intentionally wore camouflage to a dinner party. “Look! I really thought the invitation said to wear your best camouflage, not cocktail attire, psh silly me!”
Focusing is Difficult
Did I mention I am still not medicated? Did I mention that I was somehow able to go through undergrad working three to four jobs while maintaining a 4.0 GPA? Did I mention I got married at 21? Did I mention that I went through grad school with two internships and three jobs all while having two children and still graduated at the top of my class? You might think this makes me look like an overachiever, but that’s not what it is in my mind. I think this makes me an underachiever who CANNOT FOCUS ON ANYTHING! I jump from one thing to another, with little to no sleep, completing everything I do in a matter of minutes with very questionable quality. I wrote all my papers in under an hour. It didn’t matter if they were one page or 20 pages. They were all done the day they were due. I finished everything I needed to at the last minute because there are so many things to do and so little time!
So… About Running…
So, what does this have to do with running? Well, after giving up smoking, three jobs, graduate school, the feeding of two babies, and everything else on my plate I needed to lose weight. Also, I was bored. I needed something extremely tiring, difficult, and pain-inducing to fill all of those unoccupied shitty hours of my life! I started running two months after giving up smoking and I hated it (loved it). Everything hurt and I felt busy. I keep running because… IT’S THE ONLY TIME I STOP THINKING!!! The more I run, the less I think and I love that. I honestly feel like a robot just flipping the autopilot button and letting go. Sometimes in life, you just have to let go… More to come. Maybe next time I will be “normal”. I am so excited to be able to write this all out for others to read and hopefully, my story connects with one person. I want one person (or more) to know that they are not alone in how they feel. This thing…… this diagnosis of Bipolar Disorder. Blessing or curse is not just in your head, it’s in mine as well.