Thursday, May 3, 2007

"Your son is a fucked up genius . . ."

Ok, maybe the shrink who evaluated me at age 10 didn't use quite those exact words, but that represents the crux of his conclusions. Over thirty years later, I mainly remember the battery of tests and puzzles that I had to endure for them to reach this conclusion. To say I was a moody kid is an understatement . . . but back then, circa 1974, they didn't throw pills at the problem. My parents and I were sent on our merry way with the suggestion that perhaps a change of schools would might prove helpful. And that was the result: I changed schools.

Fast forward to 2007 and I'm still dealing with the problem, albeit armed with a bit more insight and patience than I had in 1974. I've also had some good meds, from zoloft, prozac, depakote, and topamax to strattera, having also been led to believe that I suffer from adult ADD. Hmmmm, where was I??

I bring this up now, because I've had neither pills nor a doctor in a year. (I won't go into the reasons ad nauseum. Let's just say a combination of frustration with the process and a gap in health insurance prompted a cessation of treatment.) Yet I'm starting to feel as if I need to revisit the couch. One of my doctors had said that I exhibit some of the classic bipolar symptoms, although not to an extreme degree. I'll admit that I've had my share of emotional rollercoaster rides. In my manic stages I tend to spend money like crazy and obsess about sex. Before I had kids, manic phases led to the purchase of cars on two occasions: a classic 1972 BMW 2002 and an MG Midget. Sure, they were fun cars that I had long coveted, but they were foolhardy purchases at the time, given my status as impoverished grad student. Having children has provided a natural check to some of these sprees - certainly lessening their severity - but I'm still prone to stupid spending. Conversely, my depressive phases would leave me without energy or passion for anything. I'd have to force myself to get up and go to work. Again, having children heightened this sense of responsibility and forced me into the office regardless of how I might feel.

Finally, about four years ago, I sought treatment after years of fighting it without any weapons. Started on prozac, eventually shifted to zoloft about two years into the process. I think their main benefit was lessening the severity of each phase . . . think of a sine curve getting flattened out a bit so the climbs and dips aren't so extreme. Sometimes they would leave me in a fog, unable to think in a linear fashion, which is frustrating/enraging if one is trying to work, deal with a spouse and children, AND find time for creative endeavours. On antidepressants I had no creativity. What's the old van Gogh-inspired adage about depression inspiring artistic expression? (Off the medicine, I'll get into a manic phase of painting in which I want to paint everything I see AT THE SAME TIME . . . which is similar to my manic attempts to read EVERY BOOK on my "To read" list AT THE SAME TIME. Both efforts yield nothing but frustration and unfinished paintings/books.) As for side effects, the only side effects I ever experienced were of the "certain sexual side effects" variety mentioned on commercials. In my case, the pills made it more difficult to achieve orgasm. It would take forever, about which I can't say either I or my wife ever complained. Who doesn't want the stamina of long distance runner?

Then there's the ADD label. How to explain this . . . Over the years I've been handed the usual nicknames of "geek" and "nerd" by detractors and close friends have added "polymath" and "renaissance man." I blush over either appellation (and now wear "geek" or "nerd" as a badge of honor. Truth be told, I have a natural curiosity in lots of fields. Sure, I have a ph.d. in history, which says as much about my masochistic tendencies as anything else. I'm also into science, gardening, politics, cooking, philosophy, sports, antiques, architecture . . . and the list goes on. I've also found it easy over the years to pick up new skills pretty quickly, particularly when it's computer related.
When I answer a question or tell a story, I can't do it without giving you the background info plus footnotes and a bibliography. And I can be long-winded in conversations as a result. This personality trait enrages my wife, who prefers "yes or no" answers to just about everything. When I apologized to a friend recently for digressing during one of our environmental think-tank sessions, he replied, "Go right ahead; it's part of your charm." That's always nice to hear - certainly after your wife has stormed away for the umpteenth time because you couldn't answer "yes" or "no."

Without sounding arrogant, I do have an incredibly large amount of info - from myriad subjects - at my fingertips. Don't ever play against me in Trivial Pursuit. But what good is it, one might ask, if I can't marshal these resources, if I can't channel this ability to digest info and skills into extra income or notoriety . . . not that one's quality of life is defined by either income or notoriety, our celebrity-obsessed society's fascination with both notwithstanding. So as I said in the first post of this blog, this is one of the reasons I write: to try and make sense of the maelstrom swirling about in the gray matter. And given the added clutter of late, I guess it's time for some spring cleaning with a visit back to the couch. Will meds again be a part of my equation? Probably, if only to take the edge off some of the anxiety and sleepless nights.

Several months ago I executed a painting of a fire escape on an apartment building on Perry Street near my home. Since I finished it, it's become the work I'll pull out if showing someone my paintings for the first time. (I posted it on this blog a couple of months ago.) It really speaks to my artistic emphasis on the interplay of light, geometry, and architectural texture. But it also says something about my personality vis-a-vis the stark contrasts between light and shadow in a bipolar context. I guess one could also say something about the implied choice between climbing up or climbing down. And, if one looks closely enough through the window, there's the faint outline of someone there. It's me, I think, trying to observe the world without being seen.


Biscuit said...

I can relate to just about everything you've written here. Except for the genius part ;)

One Wink at a Time said...

Wow Brian. I don't know many people in your position who could have written this. The honesty and emotion you've put forth here leave me speechless. This, I'll read over and over. (this is my second time back here...)