Over the years many of my friends have seen the explosive fits and bursts of creativity and passion that have defined my life and its ever-tumultuous trajectory. Music, poetry, love, and the quest for knowledge (both factual and not-so-factual. See my previous post) have been the gasoline for my internal fire. Through different phases of my life, I questioned the origins of this behavior alternately attributing it to spirituality, divine or God-given talent, intellect, or just plain luck. It turns out it was really none of the above. Depending on which of my therapists you ask I am gifted with either manic depressive episodes or a mild schizotypal disorder. I call it my gift because it is where my creativity is nurtured. The highs and lows of MDE’s have been my inspirational wellspring. The contrast between feeling invincible, able to accomplish anything and feeling vulnerable, at the mercy of the world, brought forth my favorite creations. The trouble for me is, like any other good but not potentially ‘good for you.’ thing in this world, it’s difficult finding the middle ground of moderation. Like many typical manic depressives, the extremes are intensified and often craved. The up and downs are what made me feel alive because I could feel things, and feel them I did. When I allowed (did I have a choice?) too many extreme circumstances into my life at one time that’s when the troubles began. The highs were too high and the lows too low which forced me to find something to attenuate my life. I tried drinking and drugs, religion, and love in individual and compounded applications. I’ve also participated in multiple and different types of counseling, from talk therapy to new age aura cleansing to psychotherapy. The result of this menagerie of ‘cures’ is reflected in the man who stands before you today. Today I am 29 years clean and sober, de-converted from my religious views, and free from psychiatric medicines. The drugs and alcohol were one of the first ‘tools’ I used as a filter, and I’m quite certain you can see the pitfalls for and artistic extremophile. Every binge had to be a little bit better than the last, so I would drink/use a little more, a little longer and harder in search of the next big high. It is relevant to note that I used to augment, inhibit or attenuate the experiences in my life, which is a recipe for disaster. Luckily, I found sobriety when I did, or I would likely not be here writing this blog. Next was the religious seeking. If these were divinely inspired, then I was going to find the God who was making this all happen. Hindsight tells me I was in a very vulnerable position when I started on my path to sobriety, so it’s no surprise when someone ‘finds religion/belief’ as they clean up. I certainly did, and it fit into my manic worldview, hand in glove. As I stated before, my music and poetry are raw, inspired explosions and they come and go as they wish, laying claim to everything in my life when they do. I had to credit all of this with something so why not God? Art and religion are both emotional experiences so connecting the dots between the two was a simple exercise. I have documented my religious deconversion throughout other writings on my blog so, I won’t go into it much more here. Suffice to say I found my way out and that tool didn’t sate my thirst for knowledge of the world. It was, however, a challenging transition back to reality. At this point in my life, I had all those extremes I was discussing earlier: Breaking away from religious indoctrination, divorced with a 4-year-old, in an obviously failing relationship with a new-age healer and spirituality extremist, band broken up and penniless to a level that is hard to explain even today. All of these extremes had my creativity at an all-time high which included writing Facebook poetry on demand and performing live improv music for Yoga classes and healing sessions, but no support system to speak of, no God, drugs, and no love. Enter the counselor’s couch and the inevitable prescription of this medicine or that to “help me get back on my feet.” Before we move on, I need to make this clear. I am in no way opposed to medical assistance for mental disorders. These medicines when properly implemented and guided by a professional therapist can and does save lives. What happened to me was a brutal experience (possibly through misdiagnosis?) with the side effects of the medications. I found myself at Shoal Creek mental hospital so far beyond the pale of normalcy they ‘invited’ me to stay for a while. So what is an emotion rider to do? I stayed for ten days, was misdiagnosed again by someone who spent less than thirty minutes with me the entire stay, and sent home due to ‘insufficient coverage’ by my insurance. Knock another fix off the list. I spent the next few months in one of the darkest periods of my life, and it was worth every single step.
One issue I have skirted here is love. Over-zealous love of others and lack of love for myself has been a lifelong struggle. It stems from problems encountered throughout my life, from childhood through my present condition. Love is one of those tricky things, unlike alcohol and drugs where one can take a true measure of ‘Did I use today? Yes or no?’ no such measure is available for our most complex and oft-misunderstood emotion. I have no desire to go cold turkey on love but learning to love and respect myself enough not to become lost at the expense of another’s affection. ( in my religious searching I did seriously consider becoming a Soto Zen monk. Thank goodness for bad knees after years of sitting Zazen or, who knows what might have happened!)
Back to the main premise of this blog, The Gift. Why do I call my life a gift? It seems I have been through many trials (most of which have not been touched upon here) and, for now, I can see what lessons were learned from those trials. No, I no longer consider them to be some sort of divine test to forge me in the fires of some spiritual being but I think I am lucky to have survived despite my own best efforts to the contrary. My MDE is a gift because I am willing to accept it, learn from it and share the experience with others. I make no effort to hide my sobriety either. By simply being out there and allowing someone to see that it is possible to function, thrive even, in society can bring a bit of hope to someone who may be watching. Maybe that watcher will be inspired to ask “How do you do that?’ That crusty old aphorism is true. Walk the walk. But I would amend it to read
Walk the walk with your hand held out, ready to lift someone who may not be as fortunate as you.