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A memoir of my life's journey with mental illness
bipolar bare tells my story of 40 years of undiagnosed bipolar disorder. I had many years of mania and depression that I believed were caused by the events in my childhood. This book recounts those childhood events and the bouts of mania and depression that I suffered after as an adult. The book also follows my path to find ways to mitigate the illness through meditation, and how that worked. The path which lead to a period of redemption ultimately lead to a even worse relapse into serious drug addiction, which was not resolved until I was finally diagnosed with Bipolar 1 disorder.
New Year’s Eve 1980: “I drive down to Venice, California to walk on the
beach. A few people are wandering along the sand this late at night. I see two
couples seated by a lifeguard shack. Their black shapes are silhouetted against the
dark sky. They are huddling close together and laughing. Over the pockmarked
crusty surface, I stumble toward the boulder breakwater I climbed Saturday. The
tide is in. Near high tide I guess. The breakwater is completely offshore, a grayblack
line of rock two hundred feet away from the beach.
“The ocean slowly rolls up into waves and arches into the surf along the open
coast. The surf folds into curved lines of white flares when it collides with the
beach. The ocean is a vast expanse of blue-black darkness laid out to the horizon
beyond the many flows of mottled gray at the shore.
“A black shadow suddenly explodes against the breakwater seam with a muted
booming sound, throwing a ragged tear of white into the sky. Two small waves
appear inside of the breakwater. One arches right; one arches left. As the circumference
of the waves grows larger, the waves collide with one another. Two curves of
surf intersect and dissipate into one another. I stand and watch the phenomenon
repeat again and again. I look at where I am standing and realize that the breakwater
creates with its two small waves a small point of land on the big sweep of the beach.
I am standing on that point. I am in a special place of land’s end.
“My mind is full of thoughts, impressions, and urges. I contemplate walking
straight out from my point into the intersection of waves to the deep water, where
I will drown. This is a fitting end to a life so small and miserable. Quite a history—
I work my way across America from New Haven to New York to Chicago,
where I marry; to Laramie where I have a child, to San Francisco, where it all falls
apart, to Los Angeles, where I drown. This could be the end of it all. I make it
to a place where there is no more land to run across. I make it to the end of the
decade, December 31, 1979.
“The romantic in me feels that a new decade is beginning and I should renew
myself. The cynic in me says that Tuesday, January 1, 1980, will be no different
from any other Tuesday of any year. My sense of reality says the cynical part of my
nature is right. The sun will come up and go down. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner
will follow in an orderly progression. I won’t accomplish much, but I will do
something. The romantic in me wishes that my life would be different. I want to
have a new sense of commitment to life and the dawning of a feeling of satisfaction,
but why bother? Why not just walk out into the waves to the end?
“1979 was a very difficult year. My marriage disintegrated. My career faltered.
I didn’t find my mother. I contemplated self-destruction and suicide. I still had
not surmounted any of the problems which had plagued me for the past year or
the past decade. The patterns of depression, self-absorption, and self-destruction
were woven tightly into the fabric of my life. Irritation, tension, and negativity
still welled up. A loving and positive viewpoint eluded me. Forgiveness of others,
forgiveness of my own faults and failures, was impossible to imagine.
“My thoughts drifted from suicide, to my journey that brought me here, to all
journeys across America. I thought about the line from The Great Gatsby about ‘a
continent commensurate with the ability to wonder.’ Gatsby stands on the Atlantic
coast, looking to the continent in front of him, pondering all that immenseness
and wonder. I am standing on the Pacific, looking west, with all that immenseness
and wonder behind me. I am looking into nothing and have in life experienced
nothing but disappointment. California is the end of dreams.
“The wanderers, the lost, the pioneers traveled across America from the dirty
industrial east through the cold flat plains and hot dry deserts to the end of the
America dream. For some, California is the fulfillment of that dream, but for many
it is the ruination of the dream and of all dreams. The beauty of the place masks a
horrible reality. All grows rapidly and luxuriantly here but shakes and decays into
nothing. California confronts us with the nothingness of our aspirations and our
lives. That sad truth can either drive us mad or be the beginning of the ‘Western
Paradise’ beyond our egos, if we can wake up to the divine.
“I want a revelation. This would be a good spot for it: edge of land, end of the
‘70s, and a Los Angeles beach with the great electronic Sodom behind me. I am
thirty-five years old, with a marriage collapsed, and confused sexuality. My career
dissolved and my self-esteem at its lowest ebb. It is perfect—roll the camera. I look
up in the sky, wishing that I might see God. The clouds are a cottony mat. In the
middle, I see a form. It looks like a head of a grouper, a big ugly fish. God is a
fish? I stare at it some more. The grouper becomes a grotesque, like the gargoyles
of a Gothic church. This is God? This is what you get. The sky will not open. A
flash of light will not appear. A sound of trumpets will not blast. There will be no
spectacular vision tonight. On my point of land, I realized the pain would never
go away. This is the human condition in the Western Paradise. Enjoy the beauty
while you can.”
“Put the notebook away, Carlotta,” I say wearily. “I have heard enough,”
Carlotta closes the book and turns toward me. “I wish you weren’t so sad,” she
says sympathetically. “It’s hard to be your muse when you are so mired in negativity.
But don’t you see the hope that’s still there? You didn’t give it up then. You
need not do it now.”
“I got better after that day. I didn’t swim into the ocean never to come back.
I went home to my loft and felt better the next day.”
“That was good. I shall leave you now. Perhaps I should become your nurse
again. I think you still need help.” Her deep red toga dragging behind her, Carlotta
strides to the bathroom and closes the door. “Think positive, Carlton,” she says
before she disappears.
Easter Sunday is a beautiful day at Las Encinas. My wife comes to visit me. I
am feeling depressed. We have lunch together and sit in the grass courtyard behind
the administration wing of the hospital. She knits; I draw and tell her about my
reading of my journals.
“I have only worked my way through sixteen of the notebooks, but I am
finding plenty of evidence to support my contention that my childhood is what
makes me crazy,” I say to Ginger while I draw the back of the administration
building in my new sketchbook.
“I am not surprised,” Ginger responds. “It is what you have believed all
“No psychiatrist has verified my self-diagnosis, since I don’t have one.”
“You still don’t have a doctor? How can that be? You have been in the hospital
for several days. I would think they would have a doctor for you by now.”
“They don’t, but I don’t want to get into that right now, OK?”
“All right, I won’t go there. Can you share with me some of your findings?”
Ginger puts her knitting in her lap and leans over, putting her hand on my shoulder.
“You know I have stuck by you through thick and thin. It hasn’t been easy,
but I love you, and I want the best for you.”
“I know you do, Ginger. Sometimes I wonder how you have put up with me.
I have done some really horrible things. Please forgive me.”
“I forgive you. Can you forgive yourself?”
“I don’t know. That I am still working on.”
“Perhaps you can talk to Reverend Sacquety about it when he comes here
later this afternoon to visit you.”
“Maybe. Let me read you something I came across.”
I open my notebook for 1979 and begin reading:
“April 1, 1979. This weekend after a photographic outing, I felt more depressed
than I can remember for many years. The low feeling was precipitated when my
camera went on the fritz while visiting the magnificent ruins of the Sutro Baths,
the once-opulent public bathhouses on the San Francisco seashore, now nothing
but curious concrete shapes at the edge of the surf and algae-covered pools at the
base of a steep rock embankment. The failure of the camera’s light meter was a
small frustration, but added to all the other current vexations in my life, it triggered
a massive depressive meltdown. At home, I lay in bed wishing never to get
up again. My mind roams over thoughts of suicide and self-destruction. I could
jump from the Bay Bridge, shoot up with heroin, stab myself, or be physically
humiliated by some sadomasochistic gays. These are my images in my mind as I lie
on the bed, feeling numbness spread over my body. I have felt like this before.
“It’s this numbness that I am remarking upon. In what follows from the same
journal I recall how I felt in 1965 before my first suicide attempt when I became
immobilized. I wonder if this is some kind of biochemical malfunction?” Ginger
shrugged and I return to the journal and read.
“In 1965, isolated in my room in Saybrook College, I lay in bed and felt the
numbness come over me. I thought I was becoming paralyzed. This happened the
day before I took the 150 aspirin tablets. At first I liked the feeling, but then I became
frightened I would never move again After several hours, I managed to shake the
feeling off. I felt the paralysis coming over me again after my failed photographic
sortie. I have no real will to fight the feeling. In a sense, I long for the paralysis.
Perhaps it will mean an end to my frustration. I thought about never getting out of
bed again. I lie in bed on my back, arms at my side, feeling no desire to move and no
ability to move. I concentrated and I was able to move. I knew I must do something
to break this spell or I would descend deeper into this depression, which might lead
to suicide. I forced myself to rise and dress and go for a jog. I ran for an hour. The
fierceness of my ennui was broken. I felt somewhat better.”
“What do you think of that?” I ask Ginger, turning to look at her.
“I am struck by the paralysis you speak of,” she replies. “Does that happen to
you often? I have never seen you in its grip.”
“I often feel paralyzed when I fall into the deepest depressive state,” I explain.
“It is as if the body becomes locked in an inert position. The arms and the legs
can’t move. I can’t raise my head. All the muscles are tense. The jaw is clenched.
It takes a monumental mental effort to break the spell and move. At times, I
have felt like I was falling into an abyss. It’s a very enticing feeling—frightening,
certainly, but at the same time, you want to fall into the abyss to see what would
happen. Once it did happen—or, rather, I thought it did—and I felt like I was in
the company of another being. I have told you before that sometimes I feel like
two people. I wonder if this is some kind of epileptic fit or minor schizophrenic