Saturday, June 09, 2007


I had been in the same room – a 500-square-foot church fellowship hall somewhere on the outskirts of Minneapolis – Minneapolis, which in 1987 was so hip that the restaurant we went to as a group the night before did not have waiters or waitresses but “waitrons” – for the past 36 hours. We had slept in this room, discussed our agenda in this room, ate some meals in this room, and I was in the middle of experiencing my first chemically imbalanced episode.

It had started in the bathroom at work about five days earlier.

Employed at a globally recognized publishing company as the corporate communications administrator – that is, the producer of the corporate “organ,” its internal newsletter – I was pursuing another internal position as a writer for the Benefits Department. Why I was gunning for this position was beyond me. It was producing manuals instead of racy management pieces on corporate restructuring and downsizing. Maybe it was the salary increase from $32,000 to $36,000. I liked the prospective boss OK enough; he had suffered from depression for years and was in therapy and said so, and for some reason, as someone having never stepped foot in a therapist’s office, I figured this was kind of cool. That he was that open about it. And it spoke to me. My current boss knew that I was in the final stages of seeking this new position.

I sensed one morning that the offer was imminent, and I happened to go to the bathroom.

I have learned since then that trips to the bathroom can be attended by thoughts either useless or profound. Very few in between.

That morning I went into the stall and had a breakthrough thought: I would quit my current job, turn down the impending offer, and go freelance (desktop publishing). Yes! A splendid idea! It made all the sense in the world. It seemed Solomonic. (Rhymes with moronic.)

So I walk into my boss’s office and, more emotionally than I had planned for, told her I was quitting and going freelance. My eyes misted. Her eyebrows kind of rose up. I gave six weeks notice.

Then I trotted down a floor to Human Resources, where Benefits was housed and told my prospective boss that I was quitting and going freelance. Mmmmm, was his attitude.

“Do you have many clients?” he asked.

Deafening pause on my part.


Yes, well, I’ll get some, I thought. Can’t remember what my response was. That’s when panic first reared its serpent head.

Of course, it set in all the more when I took the afternoon off, hopped on the subway from Manhattan to Queens to surprise my live-in girlfriend, Kat, at work for a late lunch and to give her the news.

“You what?!!”

She could not capture the vision.

Needless to say, things at home that night were not so romantic or so chatty as I had imagined. I started to sink into a deep crevasse of thought.

What had I done?! Ay yay yay yay yay…

The next day and night were the first full-force depression I had experienced. I was…catatonic is a good word. I am not sure I did much but sit in a chair and meditate about what I had done. I did, in fact, have one or two clients for whom I had done minor jobs, $25 for a resume here, $50 for a brochure there. Our rent for this two bedroom apartment was about $1200 a month. There had been a boarder in the spare bedroom before I moved in and Kat decided soon after this episode that we needed another one to help pay our costs. But for now it was my office.

A client came over that second night and Kat had to coach me on basic human functioning. “OK, now, when she comes in, just bring her over to your computer and sit down with her and go over her resume on the screen, make her changes, etc….” She worked three jobs: sign language interpreter, news reader on a radio station for the deaf, and something else. I just remember her doing three “gigs” as she called them. She was also an actress – she looked like a young Meryl Streep – but she had got only so far as acting class downtown with Lee Strasberg. She had yet to be a paid actor, but she performed her love scenes with her acting partner convincingly several weeks later, I learned late one night when she came home to her still depressed boyfriend who yet could smell man on her skin. She later decided to live as a lesbian, which she had been prior to me, too, but not without taking a detour of several boyfriends.

Three nights after my first break with sanity, which took place in the 5th floor men’s room at 605 Third Avenue, I went on a weekend planning retreat with the national Unitarian young adult network group. It was called the “continental” Unitarian such and such in order to appease the Canadian in the group. I had been asked to sit on this steering committee because I had done a successful newsletter for my church at the time, All Souls, and was asked to be the national newsletter writer. I think the guy who had been doing it had done a very decent job until now but didn’t want the hassle anymore. He spelled his first and last name all in lower case letters, which might have been because he had Native American blood in him and he saw this as an anti-colonial act of rebellion, or maybe it was an anti-authoritarian Unitarian statement. I wasn’t sure, and this inability on my part to understand the nuances of Unitarian outlook may have contributed to why I eventually left the Unitarian church to become a Jesus freak in evangelical Christianity, a much simpler and more clear-cut (doctrinally speaking) way of life. Like going from a babaghanoush worldview to grilled swordfish. In a sense.

So I get to Minneapolis and we kind of tool around the Walker Art Center’s outdoor sculpture garden, which was quite cool, and then we congregate in this church’s common room for Friday night through Sunday, talking about policies and decisions and whatever else we talked about, because I simply don’t remember much past the waitrons at the local restaurant and the fact that I dwelled on my act in the 5th floor men’s room as having cosmically negative significance. Just couldn’t get it out of my mind. I think I spoke probably three sentences in the span of 24 hours, and this was in the midst of a working group of about 14 people. Think it was conspicuous?

At some point Saturday night, I call Kat, and she says something about “chemical imbalance.” This is the first time I had heard that phrase. I was 25 years old. And it struck a chord.

“You know,” she said, “if that seems to resonate with you, then you should look into it.”

Dear Reader, there was a big difference in that statement between what a person in a committed relationship would say versus what she said. What she said was helpful, no doubt; it may have set me on the course to eventually get well eight years later, once I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and put on meds. But she used the second person pronoun to describe whose responsibility it was. She had checked out, but I didn’t know it at the time.

I slept soundly that night.

And though because of her chemically imbalanced roommate she was basically “on the market” now for all the guys, including some erstwhile friends of mine at church, those two words from her mouth set me on a better path.

photo: dimshik

1 comment:

MICHAEL said...

About 3 years ago I dropped into a black hole – four months of absolute terror. I wanted to end my life, but somehow [Holy Spirit], I reached out to a friend who took me to hospital. I had three visits [hospital] in four months – I actually thought I was in hell. I imagine I was going through some sort of metamorphosis [mental, physical & spiritual]. I had been seeing a therapist [1994] on a regular basis, up until this point in time. I actually thought I would be locked away – but the hospital staff was very supportive [I had no control over my process]. I was released from hospital 16th September 1994, but my fear, pain & shame had only subsided a little. I remember this particular morning waking up [home] & my process would start up again [fear, pain, & shame]. No one could help me, not even my therapist [I was terrified]. I asked Jesus Christ to have mercy on me & forgive me my sins. Slowly, all my fear has dissipated & I believe Jesus delivered me from my “psychological prison.” I am a practicing Catholic & the Holy Spirit is my friend & strength; every day since then has been a joy & blessing. I deserve to go to hell for the life I have led, but Jesus through His sacrifice on the cross, delivered me from my inequities. John 3: 8, John 15: 26, are verses I can relate to, organically. He’s a real person who is with me all the time. I have so much joy & peace in my life, today, after a childhood spent in orphanages [England & Australia]. God LOVES me so much. Fear, pain, & shame, are no longer my constant companions. I just wanted to share my experience with you [Luke 8: 16 – 17].

Peace Be With You