“We didn’t know what was happening at first. We knew I went insane, we knew I got arrested, we knew I needed strong psychiatric sedatives to bring me back down from my manic episode. But we didn’t know if I had encephalitis, Lyme disease, a really bad, strange fever, or if I was, in fact, a person with a manic depressive illness.
This was back in 1989 before the name was changed to Bipolar disorder. After my manic episode, I got extremely depressed. I was very fortunate that my family was able to care for me, and I got back up off the floor. I went back to college, where I got even more depressed. Bad Thoughts down. It was scary. Again, fortunately, the anti-depressants worked.
Since 1989, I’ve had thirteen manic episodes, each with ensuing depressions. Many of them were very close together in my early twenties. Then I found some balance and some MEDS that worked pretty well, and I went for fourteen years without a hospitalization. A few times I took extra MEDS to bring me back down from the edge. Again, during all this, I was very lucky that first my family, and then my wife were able to be so strong and stand by me, and assure me that I was loved.
I’m 46-years-old now. I’ve had a successful first career as a professional sailor in the America’s Cup and Olympics, and am embarking on a second one as an author. Amanda and I have three wonderful children. (Sometimes we call them professional patience testers!)
Things had been going pretty well until a couple years ago when some exceptional stress at work and in my inner life made it hard to cope and I went manic again. Then again the following year. I’ve been pretty depressed for most of the past year after those two recent episodes so close together.
Realizing that I will always be a person with manic-depressive illness, that I will always have to be vigilant and extra careful about what I do and don’t put in my body, that I need to be aware of stress and nip the stress in the bud – all those things are both a little disappointing and frustrating, and also very liberating. Because it really is up to me. If I listen closely to my heart and monitor my thoughts (and don’t go into a dangerous denial mode and flirt with disaster), it is up to me.
Raising kids is both the hardest and also the most rewarding thing I have ever done. I’ve been in the hospital a few times since the three of them were born. They know that my “Train of Thought” sometimes malfunctions, but they accept it matter-of-factly: “Daddy is sick, he’ll be home soon.”
It may happen again, it may not happen for ten years or more. I am more than my illness, though. I am a father and husband, a brother and son and author and singer and dreamer. Mostly, I’m human. Which means I have ups and downs like we all do. I think being a person with mental illness mostly means those ups and downs are just writ large in the world. I need more care and attention and help than many other people. That’s hard to know. I also have a lot to give. I hope it shows.
Most recently, that giving has included publishing a memoir called Black Sails White Rabbits; Cancer Was the Easy Part. Oh. Did I not mention I got cancer, twice, and that perhaps some of the stress of that contributed to my mental instability? The book is about trying to juggle mental illness, cancer, the drive to become an Olympian, and the journey I’ve been on trying to realize that I am not just my athletic achievements and results, I am also a guy trying to be a good person in this world; I’m a little bit of an artist, I’m a dad, etc….
It was terrifying deciding to put my story out into the world. Since then, I have heard from quite of few people who read it. Most of them have thanked me for the insight the book gives into mental illness, but also the insight into the challenges for my family. I’m proud of the book and what it represents now, and that’s really hard to say but there, I said it.
Those letters are very quickly making all the pain and uncertainty worth it. I hope to get more in the coming months and years. Until then, I will be carefully monitoring my sleep, my level of irritability, my diet (I can do better there but one thing at a time), and striving to be present and loving with my kids and wife just as much as I possibly can.
What I can say for sure, is that I am doing my best, and I always have been. If you live with mental illness, it is very important to remember that. Even when your family and friends might see it differently. They aren’t in your shoes. They have no idea how hard it is. If you’re lucky, they will remind you that they know you are doing your best, too.
PATREON THIS MONTH- Stuart, https://www.flickr.com/photos/74009/
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