Because Quinn posted a brief introduction, it falls to me to do the same. The sketch of who I am runs like this: I am 57 years old, a graduate of a prestigious undergraduate school, and a graduate school dropout. As you might expect of someone with my illness and an idealistic bent, I chose the wrong major — Anthropology — which made it hard to get a job after my academic career crumbled. My immediate emotional support network consists of my wife, a Boston Terrier, and a gray tabby cat. For years, I could only brand myself as a failure.
My diagnosis with bipolar disorder (I don’t do numbers) came when I was 47 years old. I had texted my last will and testament to my wife then sat down on a log in Whiting Ranch Wilderness Park to ponder just how to slice my wrists. The phone rang. I answered. The voice of my psychiatrist spoke into my ear and asked me if I was all right. She persuaded me to get down to South Coast Medical Center (now Mission Laguna Beach Hospital) and commit myself. The next day a staff psychiatrist asked me if anyone had ever told me that I might be bipolar. I sat for a long moment and wondered just where I had missed this message in my life.
It isn’t as if it wasn’t there. I took Prozac for 11 years. One day and I was out of my depression. That was a warning. People told me about the dangers of the SSRI such as suicidal thoughts, but though these infested my mind, I disregarded them. My wife kept telling stories about people with bipolar that she had known or read about even before I sought the help of a psychiatrist. Once I had that depression diagnosis that is where I wanted to stop. People told me that I acted crazy. Some asked if I had been taking drugs or drinking. It wasn’t until that day when the hospital psychiatrist asked me the big question that I realized that people had been hinting about this all along.
Oh, I could –and will — tell you stories from the time when I was in college and thought I was God — but with the catch that I had messed up the Universe and couldn’t fix it — to my various failed schemes and plots. Today I volunteer at various activities, lead Meetup hikes, and help other people with mood disorders get a grasp on their illness through DBSA, the Bipolar_Blogs Twitter account, and various chatrooms. Note that I use the word “illness” — bipolar is not a character flaw, but a disease of the brain. And I call myself a patient not a consumer, one of a growing number of us who rebel against this terminology.
I hope to have other voices from our DBSA Chapter writing here, telling you the stories of their lives, sharing their discoveries, and commenting on culture. It is not an easy step to come out as living with a mental illness, but I hope more of us will take it. Too many people think wrong things about what kind of people we are. If we want truth to rule, we need to tell you who you are.
And I am Joel. I live with Bipolar Disorder.