“Smooth seas do not make skillful sailors” –African Proverb
After adopting a strongly suggested diet of heavy psychotropic medication, I was able to sleep—sixty six percent of the time. I also discovered a doctor with a masterful six sense of humor to complement his deep reserves of compassion, patience and pragmatism. Doctor Jones was a blessing as well as an absolute necessity. But, as the serotonin levels dropped and I had the lucid light of hindsight to dwell on the wild, wild events so common in my serotonin-spun summa, I learned that the laws of gravity applied, not only to matter, but also to mind.
For several exponentially excruciating spells that felt unbound by time, I experienced the low pole of a condition coined "manic-depressive insanity" by Emil Kraeplin—father of Modern Psychiatry, as a flagrantly persistent and seemingly inescapable reality. For the sake of not making the sixteen hours asleep a day doldrums and midnight black shadows of clinical depression contagious, I won’t write about the arctic, subterranean bride of bipolar mania—at least in this tale. But I will stress the historical factuality of the notion that I felt buried under the enormous pressure of damp, heavy sand with an intensity so profound that it made the North Pole of my condition look like a freshly blazed hippie. Every season brought a fresh ice storm from the South Pole, supplemented with a few fierce, two-part manic episodes. And these consistent, callous cycles were invariably a constant to every single year of my early adulthood.
I tricked and trained myself to believe that I was “mentally ill”—that I had a special need of constant psychotherapy—that the frequent condescension was well-deserved and so I just wore the Bipolar Disorder Stigma around my unconscious, dip-stained Virgina T and let my will to live fade away.
“Oh, you’re bipolar, so you're crazy. Mentally Ill. Psychotic. A leper in a sea of beauty kings and princesses. You'll just live w/your parents and collect a little government cheese for the rest of your life. Over/under's 37. ” Was a frequent, annoyingly persuasive, early assessment.
“You’re another bipolar loon, a drain on society. Just jump off the King & Queen's seat at Rock State Park tonight and spare yourself from a lifetime of melancholy and infinite sadness.”
"You're not gonna wake up for another ten hours but the trains coming, maybe you should lay on the tracks?" Were constant, cancerous hiccups from my second spring semester at Sacred Heart and my first summer in my parent's basement and the third winter to follow a major manic episode that no book, medicine nor fellow human could successfully cure.
I used to be religious but was indoctrinated by a Catholic mental health professional to believe that my transcendental experiences were symptoms of a biochemical brain imbalance. A former class comedian and handsome soccer player, I was now an incredibly unsick and smelly joke. Fat, drunk, and stupid. Lazy and unlovable. A real loser I was in my motionless mind, out of touch with reality. Mentally ill. Unworthy of respect, unworthy of dignity—unworthy of the remaining years in my potentially beautiful life. The fact that my youth was blissful only rubbed extra salt in my sour patches of seemingly inoperable wounds. Truly, when you’ve experienced the highest pinnacles of heaven, the decrepid depths of hell are infinitely more furious. I tried to find comfort in late-night fried food and the result was eighty eight extra pounds, mostly in my belly and butt. And I found so much more discomfort in my knees, heart and mirror reflection.
I now saw myself at twenty one—a two hundred ninety five pound bipolar virgin without a will to see twenty two, just three years after posting four phenomenal years as an active, athletic, attractive and equally Academic, class comedian. But instead of surveying the precise spot in my enormous stomach to plant a samurai sword, I reached for a blue, ballpoint pen and it has continued to make all the difference between being a big, fat bipolar loser and escalating as a pleasantly plump published author.
Initially, I simply began to record my thoughts and talk with a veteran school psychologist, Bill Jones. Recording my most pervasive thoughts, whether gloomy or sunlit; transferring my seemingly endless treasury of memories to the Microsoft Office suite and absorbing the wise, carefully weighed words of my favorite doctor served the underrated and equally therapeutic function of understanding, pinpointing then releasing my “Seers Catalogue” of frustrations with the serotonin-driven life. My extensive, empathetic and most importantly, honest dialogues with Doctor J transformed my perspectives and invariably, allowed a spectrum of adjustments to living with a profound mood disorder. He taught me to see being manic-depressive as a blessing, when balanced, that mainly smart people are touched with; “a key source of easy access to creative regions and crowning perspectives that most people could never even begin to access, even in their dreams.” And although it took burning alive in an inferno fueled by clinical insanity to become born anew, I was able to, step by step, dull day to dream day, dig my way out of the quicksand and into an earth-toned life that was comically in balance.
A keystone of the Metamorphosis was quality, holistic therapy and scanning my memory bank for content I could later mold into a custom, charismatic narrative but, not to lose consciousness in a 3AM blackout, were my discoveries of some life-changing aphorisms and intuitively inspired verses.
“It’s not the things themselves that disturb men, but their judgments about them.” – Marcus Aurelius
“If you don’t compete or compare and simply be yourself everyone will respect you.” – Lao-Tzu
“If you bring forth what is within you, what you bring forth will save you.”
- Yeshua, "The Gospel of Thomas"
Slowly swimming my way out of the freezing waters of deep depression and inertia with these innate ideas as my guiding torch, I began to change my mind about being pretty bipolar. Of course I suffered, but suffering, when risen beyond, only builds character and a desert dry wit. Of course I had been out of my body, but in Periclian Age Athens—arguably the most enlightened setting in human history, such a state was praised and respected. Why? Because the brightest of the Classical Greeks perceived it as Ecstasis—a state in which an individual transcends his everyday self and has a heightened capacity for exceptional thoughts, insights and momentous experiences as a result. Clearly, I had a condition that I would require heavy psychotropic medication for the rest of my life to neutralize but at least there was Lamictal, Abilify and a few good healers to treat the bio-chemically based neurotransmitter imbalance. I'd experienced a lot of legit drama and shattered glass with the people I was most attracted to erotically, duh. But what teenager hasn’t? And at least I drove away from the Pagan Palace with a crowning, emerald jewel.
Undeniably, I had been born into the belly of a ruby red dragon. But I accepted the fact that I'd been gifted with the infinite atomic energy inherent to extreme artistic temperament. I embraced my pre-arranged marriage to pendulum mood swings and also felt a strong sense of duty wed to the faculties unique to my kind of brain chemistry. The manic-depressive furnace was also reality for a lot of other smart, creative people throughout human history. Vincent Van Gogh, F Scott Fitzgerald, William Blake, Winston Churchill, Jimi Hendrix, Joan of Arc, Edgar Allen Poe, Mozart, Mark Twain, DMX and Teddy Roosevelt are a few super-heavyweights enshrined on a more Himalayan version of Rushmore who also suffered from exalted highs and crippling but clearly surmountable lows.
At 27, I looked in the window to my soul and saw a creative, comedic, medicated, educated and awake young man laughing back. Despite my seasonal cycles of insomnia, seemingly unstoppable rushes of creativity and my “DSM I-IV official” psychiatric diagnosis, I could no longer see myself as mentally ill but rather,mentally chill. And that discovery, my friends, double banked Socially-Held Stigmas' last cup, sealing my comeback win—in case you're not familiar with the rules of ruit, without any chance for rebuttal.
-Christopher Casteel 12.12.12