Things have a way of working themselves out. Psychiatry is psychiatry; the law is the law – and never the twain shall meet. That said, mental illness is mental illness; crime is crime – and everywhere those twain shall meet.
Thus saith the psychiatrith:
“This arrest you’ve described, while yes, having some association with the bipolar disorder, does not appear to be directly resulting from a manic episode. So I’d say it’s a legal problem that has no implications for treatment. This doesn’t mean I can’t provide some information to the court, if necessary. But the medication should be continued, immediately. There’s no need for a drastic change of treatment based on the legal difficulty. I would recommend against it.”
I told you this good fellow would be on my side. I told him I was tricked, and he believed me.
“See?” I said to my mother and brother. “I told you. I’m fine. I was framed.”
“Then you don’t think he needs to be hospitalized,” my mother asked.
“Nah,” said the good doctor.
“I’m experiencing some anxiety right now,” I said.
He looked at me like I was stupid.
His office was too tight for a gathering like this. It was cubicle made for the one-on-one session. It lacked personal belongings. Nothing in here but a computer, a table, and chairs. It enjoyed a good view, perhaps the best on the fifth floor, because, in this maze of seemingly random new hospital construction, this office was, micaculously, not blocked by new wings or sprouting building. A perk for my doctor, though likely to be temporary. We could look out at a sea of house tops and treetops. The sky was gray; one giant solid cloud with a smooth underside.
“I think he needs a job,” my brother said.
“I wouldn’t argue that one,” said the doctor. “How long have you been paying his expenses?” he asked my mother.
“Always,” she said.
“Interesting,” he said.
My mother shrugged, perplexed, and then nodded in agreement.
“And it’s a good thing,” he said. “I don’t know that he could’ve really held a job in the past. What’s interesting is that you’re skeptical about our staff’s diagnosis now, yet you’ve always known, intuitively, that there was something wrong, and dealt with it as appropriately as you knew how. So you’re reluctant to admit that a mental illness exists, which is a normal response, yet you’re willing to provide for your son’s living expenses. This is normal enough also, but the two viewpoints are somewhat incompatible. In other words, if there’s nothing at all wrong, then there’s nothing to prevent him from supporting himself, and therefore you should cut him off and let him do so.”
“Oh, there’s something wrong,” she said. “I know that.”
This guy was on my side, and he was pretty clever.
“I think he could support himself,” my brother said.
“At this point, it could be more of a behavioral problem,” the doctor said. “The moods are reaching a relatively normal level. And that will continue to improve, maybe. But the old patterns still exist. He’s now reaching the point where he can learn things that normal people learn at a much earlier age.
“There’s a lot you don’t know,” my mother said. “He probably hasn’t told you anything about my mother, and about the way he was as a child. I’m the only one who knows that.”
“I’m sure you are. He did tell me about his father.”
“That was stress,” my brother said.
“I would guess that stress was a contributing factor. But he probably suffered from a chemical depression as well.”
“He didn’t have that,” my brother said.
“It wasn’t diagnosed.”
“So what about the job?” said Your Honor. “Don’t you think he should get one?”
“I think it would be a great idea.”
“Have you been looking?” my mother said.
“Looking?” I said. “Not lately.”
“Anyone knows that work builds self-esteem. Any work is honorable,” said my brother, the honorable your honor. “Personally, I think his problem has more to do with laziness than any kind of chemical imbalance. Bad habits lead to bad problems.”
“I think he just gets too obsessed,” my mother said. “He was that way as a child. He used to get so enthusiastic, so interested in what he was doing. I thought it was good,” she said. “I thought I nurtured his creativity by letting it go on.”
She started to cry.
“Where did I go wrong?” she sobbed. “What did I do?”
“Mom, you did the best you could,” my brother said. “There comes a time when a person has to take responsibility. He’s a grown man!”
“I have four children. I tried to parent them individually,” she said to the doctor. “They were all so different.”
“Sure you did.”
“I wasn’t as strict as I was with the others,” she said.
“You couldn’t have been,” I said.
She shot an angry look at me. “I should have been,” she said.
“It’s relevant only because it bothers you now,” speaketh the psychiatrith. “But there is nothing you could have done about the bipolar disorder. That’s a medical problem with a medical treatment. Suppose he had diabetes. You wouldn’t ask yourself what you could have done differently if he had diabetes now, would you?”
No response here, from my mother or Your Honor.
These guys are always comparing depression to diabetes. It hammers the point home.
I looked at the doctor. He flashed me a smile that my mother and brother didn’t see. They were looking at each other, stewing. They wanted a quick answer to all this. Some solid solutions. Easy action. A plan. Mental illness – control, maintenance medication, living with it the best you can, one day at a time, that bullshit – that wasn’t it. That took too long.
So they were satisfied, willing to live with the doctor’s verdict, forget about it until the next time. Yet, they were not happy at all. Then, they never were.
Dot dot dot.
As a junior in high school, I went into this depression mania combo shit – I don’t know what you’d officially call it – but it zapped the life out of my family, turned them all into desperate, miserable people. It had to do with a car I wanted. I wanted my Mom to buy it for me. She refused. It was an expensive vehicle, a Fiat convertible. But I worked on her pretty good, wore her down, cried, attacked, moaned, shouted – wouldn’t let loose. If my siblings had not stood firmly on her side, she would have found a way to buy me the car.
The whole miserable episode landed us all, except for my little brother, in the office of a psychologist. This was supposed to be family therapy. No discussion, no therapy took place; it was a family argument with a stranger serving as audience. I sat there, angry, but not saying much. I had said my piece at the house. My mother, brother, and sister let me have it. Their exasperation spewed forth, anger gushing like unchecked vomit, while the therapist listened. A few times, he winced. It got rough, vicious – all words directed at him, about me.
The idea, I suppose, was that these feelings needed venting, and that once they were out, they would be gone. Not so.
“He’s a pain in the ass!” said my brother, at that time a law student, and not nearly so eloquent.
“He won’t let up!” said my sister.
“He’s really driving us all up the wall,” said my mother.
This session was all storm, and no peace followed. The only thing I said, with several variations, was, “Well, I need a car, and if I’m going to get one, I might as well get a decent one.” Obsession transformed into logic – briefly.
This sparked the infuriation.
The therapist, who was overpowered, and unable throughout the ninety minutes to convert the lashing into a conversation, did not offer to make another appointment. My family would not have wanted one anyway. A good deal of the anger came from this: my brother and sister didn’t want to be sitting in the home office of a psychologist. They did so because my mom insisted, and blamed me for it.
The therapist did get a few words in at the end. He offered this advice: “Go out and eat. Have some fun. That’s the best thing you can do about all this. Forget about it and have some fun.”
That was his big thing. Fun. I thought he was ridiculous. In retrospect, he was a wise man.
Did we go out and have some fun? Hardly.
But we initiated the motions of such, as suggested. We went to a restaurant. Before we had even ordered, I stated quite plainly why I should be bought a Fiat convertible. My mother was responsed-out. She just threw her napkin on the table and said, “I’m leaving.” She did. My siblings had a few names for me, (very uncreative in their college days, they couldn’t think of any new ones); things like “stupid,” “mean,” and “hurting mom.” They left also.
Having no transportation, I walked home from there; it wasn’t far. This early experience in hoofing it down the road, while others drove around in cars, thinking, angrily, of me, foreshadowed my future.
So what happened?
Well, it’s not a great ending. Things stayed the same. We lived this way: a home full of pissed-off people, for another week. Then I kind of forgot about the car, calmed down a little, and things eased back to normal. Tension lowered.
Only the dots remained.
Much different from this day in the psychiatrist’s conference room. That one ended with handshaking and gratitude, albeit frustration. My next appointment was confirmed. My medication status was quickly reviewed, and we were gone.
The psychiatry aspect handled.
However, the legal side of the twain, having not met the criminal, still remained.
My brother got a lawyer friend to work this one out. Community service. Work. Here in my own hometown. Forty-eight hours. And there was a woman in the courthouse downtown who would assign my duties to me.