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Mod. Hal

by hal » Wed Aug 16, 2017 4:04 pm

In 1965, at age 24, I attended the California Military Academy, the Army National Guard Officer Candidate School (OCS). There I had my first manic episode, and it was a doozie. They kicked my *ss out “with prejudice,” meaning they never wanted to see my sorry face again. Fortunately, a very wise chaplain was at the hearing; he searched me out and encouraged me to consider hospitalization, and then he drove me himself up to Fort Ord, where I was hospitalized for a few days. During that time, two officers from the CMA visited me and told me the Guard had lifted the “with prejudice” designation. So no more blot on my ‘scutcheon. I was transferred to the Army General Hospital in San Francisco and was there about six weeks. The incorrect diagnosis was “schizophrenic reaction, undifferentiated type.” Neither Dr. Albert Kopp nor (practically) any American or German psychiatrist was diagnosing manic-depression at that time, though it was well understood in Britain and Australia, where lithium was first discovered to be effective with mania in 1953. I had to wait ten years before a British psychiatrist got the diagnosis right.

I started teaching at the University of Maine at Orono with high hopes of spending the rest of my life teaching and doing scholarly research. But I was hit by depression. This happened every semester. Teaching made me depressed. I lasted five years, then quit. That was when I opened the bookshop and tried to make a go of it. When I realized that wasn’t feasible, Sharon and I sat and talked. She said, “You might like computer programming.” So I took a few classes, taught myself more, worked for nothing at first, and then as an employee for the Leighton Agency in Bangor.

When we got to Mount Vernon, I joined Norand, in Cedar Rapids, and worked there for seventeen years. When I started there, I told myself I just wanted to be an obscure programmer, but the desire to be a leader/manager overtook me. I forgot what OCS had taught me. So I struggled to be successful, to be recognized, to rise to a position of which I thought myself capable. And, finally, I made it! only to be laid off a couple of years later.

Not being able to find similar work, I took a part-time job teaching writing at the local community college. I thought maybe this time I could teach and not get depressed. Nope. I lasted three semesters. When I quit, the department chair, the best boss I ever had, who knew about my bipolar, said it had been an act of courage on my part to have tried. In 2005 I retired, at age 63, though continuing with part-time writing jobs until 2009.

What’s the moral of my bipolar story? This disorder makes life tough, very tough, and every one of us living with it gets bruised, some more than others. And yet, it’s possible to live a life, to have some sort of career, crazy as it may be, to accomplish things, to have relationships, to find some peace. My faith has helped. I’ve also been blessed with a good wife and good medical care (in spite of the original misdiagnosis).

Bipolar Disorder is not necessarily a death sentence. But it can ruin your life. It doesn’t usually completely ruin the lives of everybody who has had it. Lots of people with bipolar have made it through school and had decent careers and families and some have even distinguished themselves. In fact, some very distinguished people have suffered from bipolar disorder: Kay Redfield Jamison’s Touched with Fire discusses many of those who were artists and poets. In fact, though the illness is limiting, there are no particular limits to what a person with BP can do. No one of us knows in advance what our limits are. We can only go forward and do the best with what we’ve got.
. . . all times I have enjoyed
Greatly, have suffered greatly, both with those
That loved me, and alone.
-- Tennyson
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