Me and Him
by Stephen Surgener

The best stories have great endings. What will my ending be? When the sun stops rising in my world, what will be the final note of this opera that is my life? For so many years now I have tried to make sense of days filled… they’re always filled. Like a humming bird that can’t seem to do the very thing he was designed for, hover, it’s a mad dash into windows, walls, and lampposts, followed by terrifying freefall. Then off again. Filled. What sense is there to be had? I’m 35, and plagued with the apathy found in 50-year-old bachelors at the counter in Denny’s. Glaring at their mug-o-coffee as if it insults them and mumbling blue-collar incantations of ex’s, and bastard children. But in many ways my fortune is better than the Denny’s “counter club” members, the forefather of my apathy has a name, and comes complete with a wide variety of medications, and consequently a host of side effects that can make an accountant interesting. This suspected illegitimate child of microbial promiscuity is called bipolar. So what of my story? I, the central character, dealing with BP, the antagonist, must face off in battles of epic proportions where the reward for my valiant heroism is an almost stable life.

Like any war, there are innocent bystanders caught up in the carnage of battle. Today’s military calls it collateral damage. A term that can assist in disassociation from responsibility, but only on the surface. As guilt builds proportionate to the list of “collateral damages”, rationalizations, and justifications, take on new levels of transparency leaving you with just you; kind of. When America entered the civil war raging in Viet Nam our military had no clue the Pandora’s box they were jumping into, but quickly realized the effects of having the enemy sleeping within your own encampment. Focus of intelligence departments rapidly shifted to internal threats. In essence, my enemy is me. This sadistic realization has been with me for decades, but it wasn’t until my diagnosis 4 years ago that I realized how convoluted things could be in a BP world. Like jumping from a garbage barge into the Hudson, you may think it will wash the stink off.

Hostility had always been a part of discussions involving my need to seek professional assistance. In part, it was an unwillingness to give up this fight that had consumed so much of me. An addiction to discovering the secret mental Yoga position that would present me to the world as “Joe Average”. But well beyond my stubborn disposition, was fear. By the age of ten, it was a stone tablet law that an open, honest, unadjusted response to the actions of those around me, resulted in the general population scattering like a scene from Godzilla. This pattern was the manure rich soil for my first seeds of fear to be planted in. Fear that if anyone knew me, I mean really knew me; it would initiate a chain reaction leading to padded rooms, sedatives, and special white jackets with sleeves in the back. It was my then wife, now chapter president of EDICT (Ex’s Dedicated to Increased Cranial Tampering), who was the final voice of reason (oh, the irony) convincing me to risk loosing the security of anonymous insanity, and speak with the local M.D.

It was the standard 20 questions of eating and sleeping habits, followed by the “How often do you _____?” section, guided by the what are your symptoms answers. A routine new to me then, that I can now recite in my sleep, and have corrected Pdoc screeners on there scoring and what section to turn to next, when they forget to compare the overall score to the answers on the key questions. My response to the Doc’s diagnosis of bipolar was quite appropriate, considering the lack of mass attention BP received 4 years ago, “What is that?” Though I should have been paying more attention to the Doc, my mind and eyes kept drifting to the exam room door. It was my honest expectation that orderlies with names like “Joe” and “Bubba” were going to enter any minute to present me with my new jacket, and an all insurance paid vacation to Club Medicated. The stigma’s attached to mental illness strike again. Needless to say, “Joe” and “Bubba” were too busy reeking havoc on my nervous system, to actually materialize and give my ex the nuclear ammunition she was looking for to assist her in our divorce a month later. But her exit didn’t make me bitter, and I wasn’t angry with her.

So many times I have wished to be able to leave. To walk away from myself, because the frustration is too high, the depression is too low, and there never seems to be a moment in time when I can just breathe. A moment without questioning what my mood is, or where it’s going. Not having to prepare for inevitable fallout. Not having to fight for motivations that always seem to fall short of what’s required. A moment of not having to say goodbye to someone close to you, that just doesn’t have the energy for you anymore. Quite the opposite of bitter, I was impressed, and grateful for the 13 years she did stick it out. Unfortunately, many times people say goodbye with a sledgehammer. They never understood, or forget, that all the reasons they have for leaving; the hurt, anger, pain, are all the same for me. There seems to be this notion, that because I’m the one with BP, I am somehow immune to the residual effects of coping with it. My ex falls into that category, and has combined one ignorance with another, labeling me a danger to my daughters. Her efforts over the last few years, combined with a particularly high manic episode which of course was followed by an equally low depression, have resulted in an alienation from the one thing in my life I am truly proud of… my Baby Girls.

These days I find myself having more and more in common with the Denny’s “counter club”, and to be honest, I’m not quite sure how to feel about that. There have been moments of wanting to join them, but it seems transferring your anger to the mug-o-coffee is a prerequisite, and my love of that sassy dark liquid is too great for me to even fake it. Besides, I am inherently a member of a club with 2.5 million members in the U.S. alone, though I think that figure is inaccurate. It doesn’t reflect the manic you, the depressed you, the you you, or the ever elusive, middle you. So, technically, shouldn’t that figure be 10 million? Either way, the point remains that I’m not alone in my epic struggles to achieve almost stable, and this does bring about a sense of Holy Crap! Could you imagine a week in America during a universal manic phase? Of course, on a more positive note, we could match the gross national product of Japan with a universal hypomania. The phrase “To jest is BP” should be a mantra taught to at least Pdocs, if not general society. What better way is there to cope with the inherent despair associated with fighting a battle that more often than not feels like you can’t win, than to poke fun at the more benign shortcomings of ourselves and others. I feel its an important part of treating BP, and thanks to the greed of pharmaceutical companies, it is only a part and not the entirety.

The list of meds reads like ingredient labels on canned cheese. Zyprexa, lithium, depakote, prozac to name a few. My theories of why science insists on using names never before found in the English language center around paying back society for all the wedgies they got in high school. It would be nice to see a movement within the scientific community of naming drugs in ways that would help us understand what they did. Names like CalmUDown, BluesBGone, or PsycoNoMor, could completely revolutionize the patient pill relationship. My personal drug of treatment was Zyprexa. There was the slight side effect of gaining 80 lbs in 3 months, but what’s a little cardiac stress among friends. My employer was very understanding during the 60 day adjustment period as I first began treatment, when I was an average of 2 hours late most every day. They were kind enough to not fire me after being motivated to examine the legal ramifications of terminating my employment. But I think it was the $700 million class action settlement that the makers of Zyprexa paid out, which served as the springboard for my thoughts of getting off of it. The difficulty I face with any med treatment, is the fact that I have rapid cycling BP. To the best of my knowledge, they have not come up with meds intelligent enough to be effective, so I am currently not on any. Maybe pharmaceutical companies should get together with the military, and develop “smart” meds. We could all sit around and watch “shock and awe” sorties of PsycoNoMor on the Medical Channel. Even if the meds weren’t anymore effective, and didn’t have fewer side effects, there would at least be the entertainment value helping to offset repercussions of curing the headache by cutting off the head. But my medication story reads like “Jack and Jill” compared to the Hemingway novels of many, if not most BP sufferers.

Hemingway himself had a first hand knowledge of BP, as well as his granddaughter. Just two, of a stellar list of famous names, that have brought about profound changes, despite their illness, in the world as we know it today . There is no questioning certain characteristics of BP can be powerful motivation to take on the impossible. Unfortunately, the manifestations of those characteristics have a tendency to be viewed as bullish, though I prefer to say; powerfully forthright. One of my favorite quotes; “Genius and insanity are two sides of the same street.“ illustrates determining factors as to whether my name will rank among listings of “fame”, or “shame”. It’s an eternal game of mental Frogger. Rib-it….rib-it rib-it, depression, croak… rib-it rib-it, full manic, croak. And the game never ends because of a childhood dream, turned nightmare, UNLIMITED LIVES.

So what of my story? How will it end? I ,the central character, face off with BP, the antagonist, in an epic struggle to achieve almost stable.

I'm not sure how to feel about that..


Copyright 2006 Stephen Surgener

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