When I was 22 years old I lost my mind. Literally. I was a senior in college and had a fairly confident outlook on life when I began my slide into mania. It had all the hallmarks. My mind was filled with racing thoughts, I exhibited erratic behavior (it didn’t seem erratic at the time), and for several months I got by on 2-4 hours of sleep a night. It started during the summer of 2007 when I was overcome with the premonition that a world-altering event was about to commence. I did not know what this event was but I knew I had to prepare for it. Perhaps, if I had been a little saner, I would have begun storing canned food and building a bunker in the woods. Instead, I started perfecting my newly discovered talent for telepathic manipulation and I started taking my 1986 Toyota Tercel out on nightly time-traveling missions. During the day, I did what I thought was a pretty good impression of being a college student. It was all very exciting. I wish I were joking. I wish I could tell you that this is a prank story and that I did not spend several months in a realm of thought that was so far beyond rational I still cannot quite comprehend how I ended up there. Eventually and fortunately, the delusion fell apart.
That December, my psychiatrist broke the news to me matter-of-factly. He diagnosed me with bipolar disorder. He gave me a brochure so I could look over the symptoms myself and I was forced to conclude that I did fit the profile. I have to admit it was little heartbreaking to learn that I did not, in fact, have super powers. What was more heartbreaking was having to come to terms with how unhinged I had been and how much danger I had put myself and others in. And then there was the fear that it could happen again. That was terrifying. Even more distressing was that I had planned a career in anthropology, a field that demands critical observational and analytical skills. How could I survive in such a field when my perception of the world around me could so easily descend into madness? My depression was so great that I graduated from college convinced that I did not deserve my degree. I also shied away from engaging in any critical thought that was not directed at how much of an utter failure I was bound to become.
Luckily for me, I graduated into the worst recession since the Great Depression. The job market at home was not particularly robust so I took a look at opportunities abroad. This led to my first experience of being stigmatized for having a mental illness. I applied for a job teaching English in South Korea, which I thought would look nice on a CV/Resume, and had come fairly close to securing the position. The final step in the interview process was completing a medical health history form. “Do you have any chronic medical conditions and if so, what are they?” I thought about it but I did not think very hard. My diagnosis will be with me for the rest of my life regardless of whether I have another episode and, barring some kind of revolutionary treatment, I would be taking medication for it for the rest of my life. It was an incredibly naïve decision and if I did I have a time machine I would certainly revisit it. The negative response was quick and it was a crushing blow. Despite responding very well to the mood stabilizer I had been prescribed, my depression was never really far away and it was easy to give into the notion that my disorder would forever be a wall between me and the future I had imagined for myself. In fact, I could not really imagine a future at all beyond a single goal: stay sane. The years went by and I was more or less successful.
Above all of this hovered the specter of Lamar Street, my father. I never knew the man. There is picture evidence that he was a part of my early life but he was out of the picture before any sustained memories could be formed. He died when I was in junior high, before I ever even contemplated trying to find out where he was. I did not ask my mother about him very often and when I did she would talk about similar we were. He was very bright, she would say, and creative. The most bizarre likenesses were the way we walked, how we both fidgeted with our hands, and our facial expressions. Now we have one more thing in common. I still do not know very much about Lamar Street but I know that his mental illness ruined his life.
So far, it has not ruined my life. I do not let my disorder define my narrative the way I once did. . Regular sessions with a psychiatrist and a regular dose of Lamotrigine keep my feet off the cliff’s edge and my head on my shoulders. Still, I have yet to truly dispel the depression that set in 7 years ago. It has transformed into a less devastating sense of melancholy at the fact that the career in anthropology I had once planned seems just as out of reach now as it ever has. And as grateful as I am that there exists a pill which can keep me on an even keel, it has its downsides. I don’t cry anymore. I don’t experience very much joy, either. It stifles my creativity. But I have my mind back. So, you know, there’s that.