Over the years many of my friends have seen from me the explosive fits and bursts of creativity and passion. These episodes 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 on my internal fire. Through different and successive 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 none of the above.
Depending on which of my therapists you were to question, I am gifted with either manic depressive episodes (MDE’s) or a mild schizotypal disorder. I call it my gift because this is where my creativity is nurtured. The highs and lows of MDE’s have been an 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, the healthy medium known as moderation. Like many typical manic depressives, the extremes are intensified and often craved. The transitional ups and downs are what made me feel alive, allowed me to feel things, and feel them I did. When I permitted (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 variations. I’ve also participated in multiple and different types of counseling, everything from talk therapy to new age aura cleansing, dietary supplements to psychotherapy. 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 life-filter, and I’m quite confident the pitfalls for an artistic extremophile are readily apparent. 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 substances to augment, inhibit or attenuate the experiences in my life, which, by the way, is a recipe for disaster. Luckily, I found sobriety when I did, or I would likely not be here writing this blog.
What followed was a period of religious ‘seeking.’ If these artistic impulses 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 hardly surprising 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, and I invite you to explore those posts for more detail. Suffice it to say I found my way out and that particular tool didn’t sate my thirst for knowledge of the world. It was, however, a challenging transition back to reality.
At that point in my life, I was dealing with all the extremes discussed earlier: Breaking away from religious indoctrination, divorced, parenting with a 4-year-old child, in an apparently 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 these extremes launched my creativity to an all-time high which included writing Facebook poetry on demand and performing live improv music for Yoga classes and healing sessions. Unfortunately, at this point in my life, 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 adequately implemented and guided by a professional therapist can and do save lives. What happened next for me was a brutal experience (possibly through misdiagnosis?) due to the side effects of the medications. They found some medicines that smoothed everything out but when you squelch the lows the side effect is a loss of the highs. An analogy would be the roller coaster effect, the long slow climb to the top is exciting because I know there is a big and exciting free-fall coming soon. I lived for the anticipatory rise and the scream-inducing fall. This is where life happened, where the creative juices come to a boil. When the first medicines took effect, the turned my rollercoaster into a merry-go-round of ho-hum. With this in mind, we tried some different medication, and I found out the hard way that sometimes they can intensify instead of attenuate. I found myself at Shoal Creek mental hospital so far beyond the pale of normalcy that 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 was 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 respect for myself has been a lifelong struggle. I am aware this stems from problems encountered throughout my life, childhood through my present condition. Love is one of those tricky things, unlike alcohol and drugs where one can take an accurate 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 rather learning to love and respect myself enough not to become lost for want of another’s affection. This has been my most troublesome and persistent affliction: letting go of the need control and conform to how others see me. In my religious searching, I did seriously consider becoming a Soto Zen monk. While this may have allowed me to remove myself from the equation and find some peace I’m not sure it would be better. Thank goodness for bad knees after years of sitting Zazen or, who knows what might have happened!
Now, back to the central 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 experiments. No, I no longer consider them to be some divine test to forge me in the fires of some spiritual entity, 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 merely 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.