Fall’s Early Mornings Are Still Night

I closed the door behind me and with it the toasty comfort and wafting aroma of brewing coffee.  Turning to Jenni who was dancing at the gate, fall’s early morning rigor prompted my quick donning of gloves.  Carefully stepping down the frosted front stairs I blew into the air looking for the smoking gun, the evidence I’d need to herald to the neighborhood (like Paul Revere) the Winter is coming!  The Winter is coming!  Though I studied the air carefully as though I was looking for fingerprints, nary a puff appeared; no telltale sign besides my goose-flesh.  Fall‘s playing cat and mouse with us, I told Jenni as I turned the gates lever and she bolted out like a favored gelding at a horse race.

We’d gotten an early start today, earlier than normal.  Jenni was up and out of bed at half past five and though I pleaded for patience, her answer was determined and direct: any limb (or part of limb) which had poked out during the night like Punxsutawney Phil or General Beauregard Lee was suddenly startled by a dogged lapping of tongue as though the targeted extremity was a popsicle on the hottest dog-days of summer.  Heavy-lidded doziness and a ten thousand duck down comforter can be very seductive, but what’s really arousing is the cold and wet dogma of the persuasive lap-ping dog which highlighted my dog-eat-dog world.

Jenni’s quite content cavorting in Fall’s early morning chills.  I’ve donned thin gloves but toughed it out and left the toque at home.  There’s a certain sadness during fall; like knowing the fireworks-like trees will soon be bones unable to produce shade; the morning chill creeps longer into the morning like the warned child near the cookie jar; leaves once an inferno, crackling like dry wood now slimy and slippery and stick together like wet newspaper.  Fall is falling; it’s falling leaves and falling temperatures and falling daylight. 

But to Jenni, there’s never been a better, brighter or brisk beginning.

 

The (Un)expected Outcome(s)

Fear stops me like a two by four to the back of the head.  Real fear.  Not anxiety, not nervousness, not hesitation.  The kind of fear that rushes to a moment of quiet like children playing musical chairs.  Real Fear.  Life or Death Fear.  My fear has been the writers-block-in-residence for the past fourteen days.  My fear was a distraction; then my fear developed into an annoyance; then fear and I were bedfellows, fear being the last thing at night and first thing upon waking that knocked on my mind’s front door.  What is my fear?  I’m afraid I’m dying.

As you know, in November, 2008 I was classified as bipolar.  This determination included established and biased reasoning for my life on a seesaw: I was predisposed to life as a yo-yo by genetic roulette.  This milestone was marked by a simple psychiatric ah-ha.  Their specialty professes its ideological conjecture as formative and their ignorance evidenced by the devastating news that they can’t offer a cure, or even a likely protocol.  Instead they offer an indifferent forecast of pharmaceutical trials often resulting in failure and cautioned of a likely future weathering mania-driven misjudgments followed by the doomed deciension into a grey melancholia exacerbated by the digestion of manic destruction and attempted repair.  And then there’s that overcast statistic regarding effectual suicides: 40%.

Fear immediately hit the brakes and sent my entire life crashing headlong into the windshield. Fear sat immobilized by truths: I’ll only be free of madness if I’m one of four out of ten.  Fear’s rationale was logical and pragmatic; why endure decades of depression and delirium only to draw the same conclusion?  I’d decided to ignore Fear’s advice and try, one day at a time, to continue my membership in the sixty percent club.

But two months ago despite my determined effort to avoid that 40%, a wholly separate yet equally incurable physical condition reappeared. Its symptoms are aggravated and impairing; inexplicable weight gain (45 pounds in six weeks); undermining fatigue; breathlessness following exertion; intentional harboring of fluid forced from arteries and causes swelling and immobility.  But just like the Rambler my father owned in the early sixties, no one could determine the cause of the knocking.  That is, until the 1959 V-8 wagon blew a cylinder and sent my father’s first love to every car’s destiny: an auto scrap yard seen from the interstate.  Will my erosion be similar?  An unidentifiable murmur like a whispered yet repeated rumor one day erupts and immediately my initial litany of enigmatic symptoms is sensible, albeit much too late for prevention and most likely too late for intervention.

I’ve been blindsided by these illnesses and worse, hobbled by their improbable cures.  This simply was not my life’s expected outcome.  Or so I believed until very recently when I remembered what a mentor once suggested as a remedy to writer’s block:

“Writer’s block excuses lazy writers; Write about what’s preventing you from writing; Suddenly you’re mindlessly writing and only when you pause do you remember what was prohibiting your expression, but you can’t remember why.  When you can’t write, you must write.  The living face death every day — and then go about living!”

The American Lexicon Is Fundamentally Evolutionary

We make all kinds of decisions every day.  I’d assert that a tenet of life is decision.

Decisions are based on a fundamental understanding of options.  These options are often presented through language.  Our language has mirrored our intellectual expansion during the past twenty years (since the commercialization of the internet), but it’s also exponentially increased the likelihood of poor decisions versus good decisions.  And not for the reason you’re probably thinking about right now.

It’s not that our decision-making ability has declined, it’s that our American English lexicon has been stripped of standards and replaced by Idiolects which are varieties of a specific language unique to an individual. In other words, how an individual (all individuals) use parts of speech specific to the language they’re speaking.  Huh?  Are you suggesting that we’re using vocabulary generally accepted but individually defined?

Yes, for example: I’ve had a great evening; would you like to come up for a night cap?  Twenty years ago you had a pretty good idea that the night cap meant some form of refreshment and m-a-y-b-e. . .But today a night cap most likely is prone to interpretation, and depending on the interpreter, the night cap might be the evening’s last tango which spins and dips and clutches its way to dawn, or the night cap might be the gut-wrenching sound of starboard iron scraping along larboard iron in a dense fog on a moonless night in the frigid north sea.  Both invitations were accepted but only one, the former, seemed to coalesce.  The latter was respectfully disharmonious and most likely eliminated any tandem future.  Okay, so what?  What’s this got to do with me?

We’re all assuming that what we say and what they hear are synonymous.  But in this day and age of individuality, identity, and me-me-meism which is reinforced constantly through internet-based social networks and the hardboiled, pragmatic, and mundane personal updates which someone somewhere will proclaim as unique (dismissing our language’s standard usages) and applaud their meism misuse (interpretation) of vocabulary, and whammo!  A word or phrase which held a generalized meaning now has a bastard son.  This phenomenon is known as Language Evolution Based on the Idiolectic Intersection of Individual Adoption.

So what’ve you been blathering on about?

Simply put: What you know you’re saying (standardized use) is being heard as something different (Idiolectic use).  Perhaps if communication was bipartisan (the talkers and listeners understand that their communication is reshaping the English lexicon) then we might lessen misunderstandings and agree to use a mutually standardized language in order to foster a sense of unity.

I Had a Car Like Me Once

QUESTION:
If you were a car, what kind of car would you be?

An old classic?
Something like the 1967 Aston Martin convertible?

Maybe the 1968 Mustang GT Fastback?

The car most resembling how I’ve been feeling recently happened to be our third car, the car like me.  We’d bought it used from some co-worker whose face (much less his name) has breached my mind’s curved horizon.  Used is a benevolent description: a couple of common idioms would aptly depict its constitution: . . .On its last legs or has one foot in the grave.  Desperation left little choice: I needed any car that worked to travel the 40 miles daily to a necessary yet useless and under paying job that freed me from beneath the spiked heel of a former employer who was a notoriously brutal, hateful, and infamously outspoken attorney that beguiled jurists to award her clients the largest financial settlements in state history.  Charm was never wasted on me, though.  Neither was persuasion.  She wasn’t the boss, she was the owner: I wasn’t her assistant, I was her indentured servant.  It was I who felt the eviscerating pressure from the pointy toe of her blah-blah collection of blah-blah-blah’s high-heeled shoe.  So I grabbed at the first job even though they’d lowball me and I’d need to buy any car.

The car, a foster child of sorts, had been purchased then passed on, then sold and sold and sold until the gravely agitated owner whispered the auto’s immediate availability for cash only.  And so I became the hastily orphaned auto’s benefactor.  Until that one day arrived (the last bead threaded onto the string), when, as no surprise, another function failed and the pertinent idioms came to mind like eerie messages in the Magic Eight Ball: Are you throwing good money after bad or Are you pouring money down the drain?  It all boiled down to a decision which I couldn’t face, so just like I did in the sixth grade when I was up to bat and had to face the gawky southpaw with a screaming heater which always caught the inside corner, or the lower back of a cowering batter, I fainted on my way to the plate.  I was removed from the game and poor Gerry Schmidt took a fastball in the kidneys. Procrastination is a conundrum best dealt with tomorrow.

But while I’m not a car, I’m spending more time in the shop and starting to string beads.  Unimaginable maladies have begun to appear (besides hum-drum mental illnesses): Edema of the lower extremities; rare forms of heart failure; pulmonary compromise; and rare to boot!  My conditions occur in less than one percent of patients!  Rare is a good thing, right?  Not in medicine.  Rare means few, few means no research, no research means no remedy.

I’ve been feeling lately like a mid-year 1983 Buick which runs, starts in the coldest Chicago winters, and does what a car should do.  Yet recently I’ve heard more pings, louder knocks, noticed oil spots on the garage floor, and the lighter no longer glows orange.  That’s why I’ve been posting less frequently: I’m fatigued, terribly sad witnessing this decline, and frightened.

But to end on a bright note, here’s the car I’d be: a 1965 Cadillac Eldorado! 

 

Election 2012: Forget the Gays! Let’s Kill the Middle-Class!

SCENE:

A mob of men and women sporting haute couture ensembles are followed by domestic staff brandishing fiery torches, weed-wackers, and gilded “breaking ground” shovels move at an accelerated pace (note: they are not running; they never run; they simply walk with tremendous determination) between the craggy, overhanging cliffs somewhere near Malibu or the tall, dense sand dunes near the Hampton’s.  They scream hateful epithets like “And you thought Polo was just an after-shave,” or “Only a monster prepares his own taxes,” or “Even a hunchback is beholden to religion for its servile and miserable life.”

CUT TO:

A group of men and women run up narrow, rocky paths or stumble through swallowing, deep sand.  They’re absolutely terrified, and yet they clutch one or two possessions (laptop, picture frames, deed to a house) even though their requires two hands.  You get the sense that they’re clutching all that remains of their life.  Suddenly a heavyset, winded man loses his balance and though others try to grab his free hand, they yell things like, “Let go of the picture,” or “It’s only a college degree!”

But suddenly he holds the framed diploma tightly against his chest as he teeters over the edge and everyone watches as he falls into the abyss tightly holding his most precious possession.

Welcome to December, 2012 if the Republican machine takes hold of the White House.

I think that it’s perfectly normal to ignore distracting noise, especially campaign noise, when 120% of your attention to personal-matters-at-hand is parsed and you’re really not interested in cockfighting.

That is until your private AGI (adjusted gross income) permits political campaigns to assign you a specific economic class moniker. The herding of same AGI’s should get your attention.  Once you’ve been economically branded you begin to recognize topics related to your self-proclaimed monikers (or, sub-classifications) which label behaviors and values, your distinguishing parts, (which you once defended, affirmed, and proudly paraded). These distinguishing parts have been diminished by time into a complex, amalgamated you much less the “youthfully combative sum of your parts” and much more like your mother or father (with very distinctive differences).

Until the amalgamated you becomes campaign fodder, a cadaver dissected in public by wielding derisive displays of contempt and hatred resurrecting foregone battles to right history’s wrongs and to spread fear like an airborne toxin.  How on earth, you think to yourself, have I been put on the ballot?

Because the run for leader of the free world has nothing to do with leading.  It’s become a referendum prosecuting or defending the future of the middle-class.  The American middle-class: devoted family, work ethics, values, respect, you get what you can afford, hard-working, proud, stable, honest, neighborly, caught. . .in the middle. . .of change.

But greed changed all that.  First bankers got greedy, then brokers got greedy, the home owners got greedy, and then. . .lower to lower-middle class were qualified for mortgages on real estate which was falsely inflated to satisfy everyone’s greed.  Families that simply couldn’t afford to buy a home found themselves underwater (owing more that the home is really worth.  In other words sellers, brokers and lenders all told varying degrees of lies and the poor schmuck wanting his piece of the American Dream ended up being the real sucker in the scheme.  But not one banking executive has gone to jail or forced to pay for those lousy mortgages out of their skyrocketing profits.

. . . later that night . . . (excerpt from “The Other: A Collection of Doubt”)

“So, what did you want to know?” Scott asks placing the bottle of wine on a coaster.

Tom stands, adjusts the flame and walks to the sofa where he sits.  Scott sits cross-legged at the corner.  “Well, how you came to be here.  Not here, in my house per ce, but, I guess, how you came to be period.  I mean, I know about your mom and your dad and how they came from China and about your sister, but I don’t really know anything about you besides you’re an excellent kisser and I love the softness of your skin and blackness of your hair and your smell.  I want to know about you.”

Tom reaches for the bottle and pours himself more wine and refills Scott’s glass all the while struggling with the desire to simply strip him naked and bring them both to a mind-blowing orgasm.  Scott remains steadfastly silent.  “You don’t have to tell me, if you prefer,” Tom adds finally.

“I don’t know how to answer.  I mean, no one has ever asked me that question before.  Has anyone ever asked you to tell them about yourself?  How do you answer that question?  I feel like anything I say will sound grossly trite and insignificant.”

“But those are the things I want to hear.  And I’d rather than hear them now. . .than after.  Maybe I’m afraid that. . .after. . .you won’t feel so compelled to share them with me,” Tom says feeling suddenly embarrassed and insecure.  “I’ve never had anyone over to my house like this,” he admits.

“Like this, like what?” Scott asks.

“Like you,” Tom continues.  “And it’s not like I’m trying to protect the house or even myself for that matter.  It’s just that this is all so unusual.  This morning, this day, tonight, even you.  It’s all very unusual.   I don’t normally behave this way, not that the way I’m behaving is bad, it’s just different.  Different is all.  And I guess I want to understand you.  In a way that’s bigger or deeper or larger than kisses and erections and orgasms,” Tom says sheepishly.

Tom feels that slight sickening feeling of overexposure, that sorrow you feel when you realize you’ve stayed out in the sun too long and you’ve got a fitful night of prickly sunburn ahead of you.  Perhaps he should’ve kept his mouth shut and quickly stripped Scott in the kitchen and wasted no more than ten minutes including the awkward “so long.”  Perhaps by now he’d be in his shower washing away the remnants of weakness.  Simple.  Easy.  Clean.

Tom takes a long swallow of wine and looks at Scott, at the front of Scott’s jeans which no longer suggest his passion, but which now sit folded politely much like his own.  All that remains of their bodies collision against the countertop is an unforgiving stickiness.

“I never knew what I wanted.  Growing up, I never knew what I wanted.  What I wanted to do, wanted to be, or who I wanted to be with.  I knew almost immediately what I didn’t want.  What I didn’t want to do or who I didn’t want to be or who I didn’t want to be with.  And it seemed easier, I guess, to eliminate things than to chase things.  So I’ve spent the better part of my life in a state of subtraction.

“I never gave it much actual thought, you know, the reason for the activity of eliminating things from my life.  I guess I just found it to be an easier way to get by. And somewhere, some time I thought that I’d eventually find something that I’d be interested in enough to actually add to my life.  Something that I’d be willing to pursue.”

Scott takes a long drink and studies the wine as though he were reading tea leaves.  Tom watches Scott’s intense stare into the wine glass.  Leave him alone, Tom thinks.  Maybe all Scott wants is a quickie and you’re trying to make it into something more.  Maybe all this talk will lead to nothing.  Maybe Scott will find you too needy.  Maybe you should simply lean over and kiss him so you can get this over with; but Tom feels that their attraction has waned.

“I can give you a ride home if you’d like,” Tom says quietly, uncertain of Scott’s desire to stay.

“Why?  Did I say something wrong?”

“No, no you didn’t say anything wrong.  I just thought that. . .” Tom adds quickly, trying to allay Scott’s uncomfortableness.

“See?  This is exactly the reason why I never tell people what I’m thinking!  It’s like they think they want to hear it, and then when I’m straight with them they realize that they’re not really interested.  It happens all the time.  So I think it’s just easier to do what we both want and get it over with.  Simple.  Clean.  Easy,” Scott says defensively.

Tom stands up and walks to the fireplace for no reason than to move away from Scott.  He studies the fire and wonders how this day could end this way.  “Well, what is it that you think is so simple, clean and easy?” he says without looking at Scott.

“The same thing you do,” Scott says still studying his wine.

Tom watches the fire immediately realizing that they have reached the fork in the road.  The same divergence he has reached scores of times before: the familiar scenarios play out in his head like a montage: Scott stands and lets himself out; Scott stands up and walks to him, kisses him lightly and leaves; Tom walks to Scott, kisses him and they do indeed play out the inevitable, in exchange for the fifteen awkward minutes when scraps of paper with false phone numbers are exchanged and Tom locks the door securely behind Scott.  They all seem obvious.  They do seem simple and clean and easy.

Tom rubs his face with his hand, “I don’t think so, Scott.  I don’t think I want simple, clean and easy.  Not this time,” he admits finally looking at Scott.  “I think this time I want it difficult, dirty and hard,” he says walking to the sofa.  “And I think it all has to do with you, with you Scott” sitting next to him, “and I think it’s all about me letting someone in and all about you knocking on a door you want to open.  I think it’s all about you and me, here and now.  I think both of us are done, at least right now anyway, with simple, clean and easy.”

Tom reaches a hand to Scott’s face which he tilts upward.  Scott’s eyes meet his.  They both sit in silence for a few moments.  Tom’s thumb gently caresses Scott’s cheek and chin feeling the soft stubble of his beard.  Scott smiles slightly at his tenderness and reaches a hand to Tom’s face which he touches softly.  Tom thinks that this is the tenderness discovered between friends, friends willing to be naked and exposed, friends that share intimacies deeper and darker than just sex.  These are the moments which relationships are built on he thinks as their tender caresses continue.

Scott leans forward and kisses Tom’s cheek, then pulls away slightly, “no one’s ever taken the time to articulate it like that,” he says, “usually they simply dismiss me.  Usually by this time I find myself on the stoop of their house wondering how in the hell I’m going to get home.”

Tom takes Scott’s hand off his cheek and kisses his exposed palm, “but are you up to it, Scott?  Up to the difficult, dirty and hard?  Because I am, I mean, at least I think I am, right now anyways.  If you’re not then I’m not sure I want to complicate this any more,” he admits, again kissing the hand, “and I think that that would be a shame because it seems that we’ve already achieved a certain distance.  Given all the opportunities we’ve had today to simply sprint to an orgasm it would seem odd that you’re not up to the long distance run,” he adds.

Scott lifts himself out of the corner of the sofa and kneels at Tom’s side.  He leans in close and turns Tom’s face to his and kisses him devotedly, closed mouth, without passion but with longing.  “I’ve trained for a run like this all my life,” he says quietly while kissing Tom’s cheek.

Tom stands and places his wine glass on the coffee table.  He moves in front of the fireplace and slowly begins to undress starting with his shirt and opening one button at a time.  His fingers move slowly over the fabric feeling its softness, the stitching of the buttonholes; as he pulls the tails out of his trousers Scott takes a drink from his glass, places it on the coffee table next to Tom’s and walks in front of him.  Scott reaches for the hem of his fleece and in one smooth motion pulls it over his head and drops it on the carpet at his feet.  Tom peels the shirt off his shoulders, pulls his arms out of the sleeves and allows the shirt to slip out of his hand and fall to the floor gathering in a cotton heap.

Scott reaches slowly for the buckle of his belt, pulls on the length of leather which winds its way through loops, tugs at it, and unbuckles the latch.  At the same time Tom undoes his own belt.  They are now in-sync with each other as they both reach for the closures on their pants: Tom’s clasp and Scott’s button.  Both pop open as they grab the metal tab at the top of the zipper and slowly pull down, the metal teeth sliding into a wide-mouthed grin showing the soft fabric of their underwear to each other; Scott’s being steel-gray with Tommy Hilfiger emblazoned in purple on the waistband and Tom’s being simple, white Nautica boxers.  They stand motionless for a moment studying each other.  Tom grabs the edges of his wool trousers and lifting one knee withdraws one leg and then the other from his trousers; Scott simply allows the added weight of keys, cell phone and change to draw his jeans off his hips and down his legs like an anchor being dropped into the ocean and settle at his feet.  He stands watching Tom fold his trousers neatly laying them on top of his shirt.  Scott pulls one foot free from his jeans and then slowly, the other.  He kicks the denim to the side.  They stand three feet apart in only their underwear looking at each other.  Scott moves first, slowly hooking his fingers in the waistband of his shorts and drawing them down his hips, past the curve of his buttocks, out and over his erection and past his thighs releasing his hold on the cotton which folds like meringue at his feet: now naked in front of him.  Tom hooks his own fingers into the waistband of his boxers and pulls them in one swift motion off one leg, then the other finally naked to Scott.

Tom feels the heat of the fire brushing his back as he studies Scotts body: his long, lithe neck meeting the angle of his clavicle dissected by its horizontal bones; shoulders which spread out and bend with muscular caps bow slightly at the junction of his biceps and triceps; the mounds of his chest crest with lean muscles and are topped with two, quarter-sized auburn nipples which are separated by small, sparse hairs; the chest falls onto the ribs which look like pale piano keys and descend into the diamond form of his abdominals which drain into the slightly indented bellybutton centering his core; muscles like hands forming a “V” fan out on either side of his groin, a furrow of muscle rising from his crotch up to his hips and disappearing into the flesh of his buttocks; his hairless thighs give way to bony knees and lithe, muscular calves which have a splattering of stray, black hairs.

Scott studies Tom’s form: the wide chest painted by brown hair which continues down his stomach and empties into the hair surrounding his erection; muscular thighs support the heavy foundation; the most obvious characteristic is the abundance of body hair which Scott finds very sexy; Scott yearns to bury himself in Tom’s masculinity.

“You’re absolutely beautiful,” Tom hears himself whisper, afraid he’s sounding trite and wishing he could summon up words he thinks would be worthy of the apparition.  He wishes he could utter the oohs and aahs reserved for firework displays he enjoys.

“You’re better than I had imagined,” Scott admits while feeling himself pulled by an invisible string into Tom’s embrace.  Better than I imagined, Tom thinks to himself, better than he imagined.  No one has ever said that to him before, and, he wondered, if anyone had ever even thought it.

At the same moment they both take steps towards the other and meet in the middle of the carpet, Tom feeling a cooling of his backside and Scott feeling the warmth of the fire wash over his body.  They stand less than a foot apart, their hands at the same time begin to touch areas of acute attraction; Scott to Tom’s formidable chest hair, Tom to Scott’s slender hips.  At first their touch is tentative, as though they can’t quite believe they have acquired permission, but quickly their caresses gain momentum and purpose.  As they move closer together their hips, pressed tightly together as hands continue to roam, to explore, to touch and discover.  Tom’s hand leaves Scott’s hips and move hastily around to his back then hungrily to his bottom, groping, kneading the soft flesh which tightens as Scott pushes himself against Tom, feeling himself being blanketed by Tom’s abundance of soft yet protective hair, recalling a similar feeling when his mother would pull the blanket to his chin and tuck in the sides; bliss he thought, blissful then and simply bliss tonight.

Chicago Tribune Feature – Published Sun., Aug. 26

No rhetoric; no sublime style; no lexicons or etymology.  Pure and simple disclosure of disquieting issues.

Please, REPOST THIS ON YOUR BLOG.  Personally, I prefer privacy over publicity; I exposed my life in the hope that the stigmas of mental illness, obesity, and homosexuality might be reconsidered to be human conditions worthy of respect and empathy.

http://www.chicagotribune.com/health/ct-met-bipolar-20120824,0,3948031.story

Bipolar II disorder: Another Chicagoan’s story

Like Jesse Jackson Jr., Harlan Didrickson has the illness and has had weight-loss surgery

 Harlan Didrickson poses outside his Rogers Park home. (Chris Walker, Tribune photo / August 17, 2012)
By Barbara Brotman, Chicago Tribune reporter, August 26, 2012
Harlan Didrickson was a model of middle-class stability.He lived with his partner of more than two decades in a handsome Victorian on a leafy North Side street. He worked as manager of executive and administrative services for a high-powered architectural firm, where he made hospitality and travel arrangements for large meetings and oversaw budgets that ran into millions of dollars.He was not the kind of person who would go to lunch with friends and come home having spent $4,500 on a puppy and a month of obedience training.

Or who would get up at 2 a.m., go to Dunkin’ Donuts, then drive to Indiana and back, snacking on Munchkins.

But that’s who he became.

Four years ago, his life was upended by bipolar II disorder, the same illness recently diagnosed in U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr.

This is not Jackson’s story. People with the disorder — nearly 6 million in the U.S. — have unique experiences with the illness, which cycles between moods of manic energy and deep depression.

“The symptoms of bipolar disorder can be very different from one person compared to another,” said Dr. John Zajecka, a psychiatrist with Rush University Medical Center who specializes in mood disorders.

Manic states leave some people euphoric, others irritable. “There are people who can function their whole lives in these hypomanic states,” though they may lose marriages, jobs and money, Zajecka said.

Depression, too, can appear in a variety of ways. Some sufferers stay in either mania or depression for decades; others cycle between them many times a day. And people respond differently to treatment.

But Didrickson’s struggle provides one look at how bipolar II disorder and its treatment can affect a life.

And he does have one key factor in common with Jackson. Like the congressman, Didrickson, 54, had weight-loss surgery before being diagnosed with bipolar. He had a gastric bypass procedure; Jackson had a duodenal switch.

It became a serious complication in his treatment. The weight-loss procedure, which causes the body to absorb fewer calories, prevented him from absorbing the full dose of his antidepressant medication.

Didrickson’s illness began when he started feeling extremely stressed at work. He considered himself skilled at his job but felt beleaguered by office politics.

“I felt as though I was fighting a lot of fights on different fronts in my life, and that I didn’t have the wherewithal, the energy,” he said. “I was profoundly unhappy.”

He changed jobs, twice. He still felt miserable. And he also felt trapped, having to do work he now found unbearably stressful.

More than 60 percent of people with bipolar engage in substance abuse as they try to self-medicate their inner pain. Didrickson was among them. At night he would wash down some hydrocodone, an opiate he had been prescribed for a back injury, with beer. He would stay up till 4 a.m. watching TV, then take Ambien to fall asleep.

“At 6 o’clock I woke up, got dressed and went to work. I was probably still high,” he said. “Then somewhere around noon, I would crash. I would go to the men’s bathroom, go sit on the toilet and fall asleep.”

His partner, Nick Harkin, a publicist with an entertainment and lifestyle marketing firm, had no idea how deeply troubled Didrickson had become.

But then Didrickson didn’t show up on time for a planned out-of-town getaway. When he arrived the next day, he was morose, secretive and exhausted. “It was a very abrupt shift,” Harkin said. “It was quite obvious that something was very seriously wrong.”

Didrickson was thinking of ending their relationship, he told Harkin. And he wanted to move to California’s Death Valley. He wanted to start a new life.

“I was falling apart,” Didrickson said. “It was this desperate: I will do anything to get out from under this pressure.’ It was like having a heart attack, and if you don’t get out from under it, it will kill you.”

Back home, he called a friend who had once been his therapist. She asked if he was suicidal.

“I was, like, ‘Of course I am. I think about it all the time,'” he said. “‘It’s the only comfort I have.'”

She told him to see a psychiatrist. He did, and was told he had depression — a common initial diagnosis for people with bipolar, who generally seek treatment during a depressed phase of the illness.

The antidepressant the doctor prescribed didn’t work. Didrickson developed memory problems, to the point where he forgot how to do simple tasks like using a phone.

“I could not take a shower, because I couldn’t recall the sequence of activities … turning on the water, stepping into the spray, getting wet, washing,” he said.

He lost 40 pounds and neglected bathing and grooming. And yet there were also times when Didrickson felt powerful, energetic, nearly like a superhero. He could do anything he wanted, no matter how dangerous or destructive, with no consequences.

He ran red lights. He drove the wrong way down one-way streets. “I felt like I was back to being in charge, like I was back to saying, ‘It’s going to go like this because I said so,'” Didrickson said. “I felt kind of emancipated.

“I thought, Wow, this (antidepressant) Paxil is really working.'”

But it wasn’t. A psychopharmacologist gave him a new diagnosis: bipolar II disorder, a form of bipolar disorder with less extreme mood swings.

His new doctor told him to stop self-medicating — Didrickson said he hasn’t had a drink or abused a drug since — and put him on a mood stabilizer. And then began the painstaking process of trying to find the right antidepressant: six weeks getting to a therapeutic amount of a drug, then six weeks being weaned off when it didn’t work, again and again.

“My symptoms came back. I just felt terrible,” he said.

He was still manic, once getting up at 4 a.m. to drive to Lake Shore Drive to look at newly fixed potholes. He spent money recklessly. He spent hours obsessing over the paper stock to use for custom stationery.

The manic states always turned dark, ending with him lashing out at people — usually Harkin.

“When I begin my mania, it’s a great party,” he said. “But when it gets to be months into it, it gets uglier and uglier and uglier, to the point where you really are a monster.

“Mania isn’t happy; mania is crazy,” he said.

No antidepressant worked. Then a friend with bipolar recommended Adderall, the stimulant often prescribed for attention deficit disorder.

His doctor prescribed a standard amount. It did nothing.

So Didrickson took another dose. And he felt a little better.

“I started to feel buoyant,” he said. “I always talk about feeling underwater. I felt like I was finally breaking the surface.”

He didn’t know why he needed a higher dose. But then he came upon online message board postings by people who had undergone gastric bypass surgery and then found that their antidepressant medicines stopped working.

The gastric bypass surgery he had undergone years earlier to lose weight, he concluded, was keeping his body from absorbing the medicine.

Indeed, Zajecka said, gastric bypass surgery can change how people absorb medicines given for bipolar disorder.

The Mayo Clinic statement announcing Jackson’s diagnosis also noted that the weight-loss surgery he had “can change how the body absorbs food, liquids, vitamins, nutrients and medications.”

Didrickson’s doctor would only marginally increase his dosage of the notoriously abused amphetamine. It wasn’t until he switched doctors because of a change in his health care coverage that he got what he found to be an effective dose.

His longtime internist, Dr. Eric Christoff, assistant professor of clinical medicine at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine, gradually increased Didrickson’s dosage, with weekly appointments to check his blood pressure.

The depression lifted. He has been on the higher dosage for a year and a half.

“We have never seen any evidence of drug toxicity or high blood pressure,” Christoff said. “He’s really not absorbing much of any dose he’s taking.”

Many people with bipolar disorder are able to resume their previous lives.

“It’s one of the most treatable illnesses we have in medicine,” Zajecka said. “If it’s diagnosed properly and treated appropriately, there’s no reason they can’t get back to resuming a normal lifestyle and their normal goals in life.”

But Didrickson has been unable to go back to work and still has periods of depression and mania, though much milder ones. He manages the house, cooks and has taken up woodworking.

“Going out in the evening can be very, very, challenging for him,” Harkin said. “If we go to a concert or a dance performance and it’s too noisy, he’ll have to leave. If … there’s someone in a film who’s violent or cruel, that’s very upsetting to him too.”

“It’s nothing like I thought my life would be,” Didrickson said.

“The good thing, I guess, is that I don’t hold on to yesterdays,” he said. “That’s a blessing, I think, frankly. But I also don’t have tomorrow. My life isn’t about tomorrow.”

He has gone back to writing, which he did in college. He writes a blog about his experiences with bipolar, under the name T.M. Mulligan. The moniker stands for “Taking My Mulligan.”

“I’m having my do-over,” he said. “I’m taking the second chance.”

Copyright © 2012, Chicago Tribune