You Call it Bipolar- I Call it MSD
Is Your head Screwed on Right?
Mama was up on the mountain Saturday, just in time to view my initial weed-eating efforts. When Annie and I paid a visit in the afternoon, it was just like old times.
“So you’ve been seeing this psychiatrist for a while now. Have you got your head screwed on right, yet?” She kept her face neutral, as she was so capable of, until after the smile had appeared on my face, whereupon she beamed.
“Well, Mama, I honestly don’t know that that’s ever going to happen. Let’s not get carried away.” I could just as easily have said, “Not yet Mama, he only had a straight-edged screwdriver, and we needed a Philips-head.” The idea is that as long as I can poke fun at myself, or have others feel comfortable enough to do the same, then I think this will work.
I am getting past the point, where I am cruising along, minding my own business, and suddenly I am thinking, “Hey, I am bipolar,” and having the gong go off in my head. Getting rid of that gong was key. As our conversation went along, I thought to ask Mama the question I had about my father’s sleep habits.
“Did Robert have insomnia, or other sleep issues?” I asked.
“Well, he could go to sleep just like that,” and she snapped her fingers. “But you know that from seeing him sit down in front of a movie.” She paused.
“Did he wake up in the middle of the night, and not be able to go back to sleep? Or did he wake up really early, and get up at 3 or 4 in the morning?” I asked, because these were characteristics of my sleep issues.
“No, he didn’t wake up in the middle of the night that I know of. And no, he didn’t get up early either.”
“I just ask, because I think Robert had a mood spectrum disorder, also. I mentioned this to you, when your brother, Ralph, was here. I know we all saw the depressive side of him, the black Irish moods, but we also saw him engage in an endless stream of projects, that required that he expend a lot of energy, and from a guy who worked in a steel factory full time, that was a lot. It is a key component of a mood spectrum disorder, and falls under the heading of hypomania.”
I went on to describe some of the projects I remember him working on, including the utility trailers he used to construct, bringing scrap iron home from the shop, and welding the chassis in the side yard. By the time he was done, and the trailer was painted, he could command as much as three hundred dollars for it, which back in the late sixties, was a veritable fortune. He began construction on the Honah Lee, a sailboat, which he never completed, but still traded for a four-feet-deep Doughboy swimming pool. He sure talked about what he would do when the Honah Lee was completed. Sailing around the world is not that exotic, but still would seem a little grandiose for most people to consider.
For a while he was building these tile-topped tables, the undercarriage of which he made as he did the trailers. Then he would inlay plywood in the frame, and tile the surface, creating different designs. On the top of one, he got his brother Joe to draw a Chinese New Years dragon, and he used tiny red and black tiles to create the mosaic. The effect was quite stunning and it amazed me that something that began with a welding torch and some useless scraps of iron, could become such an exquisite piece of furniture. He had an excellent sense of vision.
He was a master craftsman, when it came to brick/stone work, and fine carpentry. He had a tremendous capacity for working creatively with his hands. The chests of drawers he assembled after his retirement, are works of skill and artistry. He also began to collect coins, sometime in the sixties, and he would spend hours nightly, pouring over his pennies, sorting them, organizing them, and storing them in the proper containers.
My father operated a great deal out of the right side of his brain, and engaged in hypomania, for long stretches at a time. For at least a five-year time period, he also became seriously health-conscious, beginning a daily program of not only going to the track in the afternoons to run, but also jogging in place in the early mornings. Through the open windows, in the boys’ bedroom at the lower end of the house, I could hear his feet rhythmically dancing, as he jogged in place, something I have never been able to sustain, for more than a minute or two. That was a lot of energy for him to be able to have, and still work the way he did. He would also contract jobs on the weekends, doing projects for extra money.
Though prone to fits of melancholy, he also had great capacity for warmth and enthusiasm, as he demonstrated every summer when he would take the entire family camping. I was always amazed that I had almost none of the normal duties, that plagued me at home. I did not have to wash dishes, or peel potatoes, and he seemed mostly to be in the best spirits while camping.
No one disputes that mental illness tends to be genetic. My own diagnosis of mood spectrum disorder, makes a great deal of sense, if I conclude that my father suffered in some degree from the same disorder. It doesn’t/didn’t make him a bad guy, just as it doesn’t make me a bad guy. I simply need to get my head screwed on right.