As I See it: Reflections
(Column: Editor-At-Large: As I See It)
Years ago, I believed hard work would get me anywhere I wanted to go; I could achieve or accomplish anything. I felt by studying to the best of my abilities I could become a high school history and economics teacher. My goal was derailed by mental illness, which occurred in 1960.
My illness took the road of being hypomania and then I sank into an extended depression. I spent a month and a half in Bellevue and six months at LIJ Hillside Hospital. I returned to school in September to complete my senior year, but was surprised by my friends and fellow classmates' silence. I experienced stigma of a different sort. Their silence meant to me they were trying to be kind or were shocked. I felt they all knew. They had seen the gradual, but radical change in my behavior before I dropped out of school on April Fool's Day of all days. The joke was on me.
I never thought I would become ill again. Four years passed and then it struck again. Between winding up in jail, being sent to a state hospital and making another visit to LIJ Hillside Hospital, I lost a year of my life.
I spent the next nineteen years in the revolving door of hospitalizations. Most of the time I went off of thorazine as it numbed my thoughts and body. I tried other medicines as well with lesser or greater results.
Ambition? That went down the drain. All I could eventually do was fight another hospitalization. I wasn't keen about lithium carbonate, went off it and back to Bellevue I went. However, I did settle in with this extraordinary salt that stabilized my moods. Months and then a year passed without a hospitalization. I also met Reta, so now I had a reason to live too.
Years passed without a return visit to my horror of horrors. All told, I stayed out for twenty-one continuous, and to some extent, glorious years. Life was sweet. Reta and I were married.
However, I never returned to college after two tries early in my life. Work and school added too much stress and I physically wore myself out. They always eventually led to a hospitalization. As far as I was concerned, college and I were like oil and water: they just didn't mix.
I gave up the idea of college for another reason as well. I couldn't concentrate and my memory went. I feel this was due to psychotropic medicines used for a prolonged time. Some friends of mine have severely damaged memories also.
Being on new medicines, now I'm reading my first book after 20 years. I just finished a collection of poetry. This is a tremendous accomplishment. I'm also the proud owner of a library card. I can't say to you what that card means to me. All I can say is I am in tears as I write this paragraph. Simple things now mean so much. I take nothing for granted. I've worked a few hours a week at the Mental Health Association of NYC for seventeen years. It's a blessing to have meaningful work. I speak to other consumers about recovery and how to achieve it. Now I'm more modest about this achievement. But one hospitalization in twenty-two-and-a-half years isn't bad at all.
I have real good friends now. While I am still shy in groups, I'm no longer a loner. I recently stopped mourning the death of my wife who died four years ago. We were together twenty-five years. That is the greatest achievement and joy of my life. Reta was the only person I ever trusted completely with my thoughts. After so great a loss, I am finding it hard to trust the new people that I meet.
So where am I now? Even though I graduated from high school, I now attend evening high school. Believe me, sitting in a class almost two hours twice a week and doing homework isn't easy. I plan to obtain a two-year degree at a rate of a course a term. Will I make it? I'll give it my best shot.