Monday, September 14, 2009

Onset - Pt 1

Excerpted from journal entries made in December 1997

For weeks now I have found myself fascinated by the revelation that I have manic-depressive illness, as opposed to having had a manic episode eleven years ago from which I heroically recovered. It has been a powerful distraction from almost everything else that has a claim on my life. I manage to tear myself away, but “tear” is definitely the correct verb. As soon as I decently can I’m drawn back into the bipolar world like a dog to its vomit. Outwardly my life looks as bland as can be, but inwardly I’ve embarked on one of the most absorbing adventures I have ever had. I’ve been learning about the illness, reflecting on what it means to have one’s personality so powerfully shaped by moods, and spelunking down long shafts of memory. It’s a pity so much of this will have to be recorded in summary form if it’s to be recorded at all. But that’s the only realistic possibility.

I could start at lots of points, but I think I’ll just start with last night. I was watching Mystery Science Theater 3000. Usually if anything can distract me from the cares of the day, MST3K will do it. But after a while I noticed I wasn’t following the film or the wisecracks very well. I was too busy ruminating about the probable onset of the illness.

My gut feeling has been that it probably began with an undiagnosed manic episode in the winter of 1976-77, followed by a suicidal depression in May 1977. To test this theory I cracked open Notebook 17, the fourth installment of a journal I’d begun keeping in April 1975. The first entry was for March 15, 1977. I had not read far before I had the sense that I was reading the words of someone who was hypomanic, but of course when you’re looking for something as subjective as evidence of a mood disorder you’re quite likely to find it, especially in the writings of someone seventeen years of age. I quickly decided to backtrack into the previous installment, Notebook 11 (forget trying to understand my numbering system), but before doing so I skimmed through up to the point of the suicide attempt, which occurs on page 59. It’s introduced with deadpan flippancy: “Monday Jennifer [a girl friend with whom I’d just broken up—not her real name, by the way] was not at school. Tuesday I saw her, Wednesday I sent her flowers. Thursday I committed suicide.”

The preceding three weeks of entries are unhelpful, because they’re not really entries, just obscure notes to remind myself about events that, for the most part, have long passed from memory. For example: “Tuesday, 10 May—No school—OHC—The Kent Affair—I Was There—1:30—Olan Mills Proofs—Morse Rd: IWT—Ponderosa for lunch—5:35-10:35.” I can guess at some of this, judging from my general recollections of the time, but in terms of any direct recollection of that particular day, I haven’t a clue. And it goes on like that for an entire page: nine days of entries, the last of them just eight days prior to the suicide attempt, for which a catch-up entry dated June 2 provides the basic background. But those nine hectic days probably held a good clue to what was going on with me that shifted my thoughts toward suicide, and it seemed a pity I could not unlock the code.

Finally at the bottom of the dehydrated entries I found a notation, “Taped Entries For These Dates are on Cassette Two.” Great, I thought. “Cassette Two,” whatever that is, is long gone. Then abruptly I realized it wasn’t—I’d just seen a cassette tape by that label among some stuff I brought up from the basement. I checked, found the tape, played it, and sure enough, I heard my own voice from across half a lifetime.

Prologue - Part 1 - Part 2 - Part 3 - Part 4 - Part 5


Laura said...


This entry shakes me to the core. This is much different than simply describing your current memories of your suicide attempt. While your own memories are still very real and not in anyway diminished by those you tell, this entry is different because it really puts the reader right in your shoes, right back to that time. This is very moving, and emphasizes the seriousness and impact of the illness, but also the humanity of those who suffer from it. I'm proud of you. Blog said...

I like what you are writing. A good idea would be to do two things from this point on. First, it would be great for you to post your actual journal entries onto your blog so we all can see the great historical import of them. I think they would be really cool.

Second, of course, is to do the same with the audio tapes. That is, convert them to digital and post them to. Wow!

This would truly be remarkable. To actually go back that far. I can imagine the researchers who would be very interested in reading/hearing these....researchers from across the world even.

Think about it.

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