The Winter Semester (#5)


The first thing in the morning and I’m sitting with a cup of coffee in my hand and nodding to the people coming in for group.  Each and every one of them has my problem, or one very similar in nature.  First, there are three, then six.  They are either hypo or hyper, depressed or like me, borderline suicides.

What I never knew was that there were so many of them.

I was not exactly shocked at the numbers, and I don’t know if ‘impressed’ is the right word, but it was a little unnerving to think, Wow, this is just the tip of the iceberg.  How many more of us are out there?

The first thing we would do each day is to introduce ourselves and then respond to a list of questions: what’s your diagnosis, how are you feeling, have you thought of hurting yourself or others, what are goals for today, that sort of thing.  At first I found it funny in a way that people would respond to that last question with small, tiny-step goals.  For me it was more like, I need to get this madness out of my head or I’m trying to not kill myself, that sort of thing.  Grandiose in the scheme of things, as it turns out.  But it turns out that the other, more seasoned members in this program knew where to aim.

You can’t fly out of the nest without hitting the bottom if you don’t learn how to jump off the cliff properly — and when you’re ready.

We had different classes with different instructors.  Sometimes they were painfully slow and I would sit there rolling my eyes and saying to myself, I know all this, let’s move on.  How selfish that was – and it illustrates the fact that I Was Not Listening.

We would begin the day with a reading, not unlike Alcoholics Anonymous.  In fact, many of the exercises and rituals that we did each day were rather like AA.  And I detested AA.  I thought it weak, too religious, too vulnerable to abuse by people smarter than the program and therefore able to manipulate it.  I’d seen that myself with a very close friend who was a lot like me in many respects, not that I think I’m so smart, but he certainly was.  And he knew evasive tactics and manipulative actions and responses and would wrap those AA folks right around his little finger.

However, to their credit, I was not dealing with anyone that could be manipulated.  Fortunately for me, I was dealing with people that knew every single trick in the book, who were unafraid to call you out on your shit and would shape and remold your thinking if you tried such amateurish nonsense.

So I dropped my resistance and my snide internal running commentary and tried to give it a go.  When we began each day with two readings from two different self-help books, I would still sometimes make fun of the entries, or come up with internal resistance and find them laughable or worse, unacceptable.  Not to dish on anyone but there are people who are from all faiths (or lack thereof) in the program and these readings simply didn’t apply to all if us.

At least that was my initial impression.  I was to be proven wrong time and again.  My selfishness and snobbery was preventing me from HEARING the lesson and applying its value to myself and my thinking.  That’s not progression.  As time in the program passed I began to yield to this as well, but it took time to break through my preconceptions and allow myself to learn rather than resist what turned out to be some very good information and a very necessary change of perspective.

We would then move on to the next counselor, and the next, and each class was so different from the other; we would discuss failed thinking.  We would take examples in our lives and put them up for scrutiny by the group.  We would allow ourselves the comfort of the exchange of understanding — and in that action, become more sensitized to other’s needs and less focused on damaging internal dialogue.

In other words, empathetic.



I was shocked when I understood where they were going with this.  Gradual understanding through repeated, definitive exposure to others sharing roughly the same issues and problems.  It was — brilliant.  And all this time, I had resisted group therapy because I didn’t like my first experiences with it.  That resistance was a mistake.

It’s at this point that I began to really express myself in the group.  Now, being one of the world’s most prolific non-stop yakkers, I suddenly found myself in a captive audience.  It gave me an opportunity I could not resist — forget about my problems and analyze and talk about other people’s issues rather than my own.

That went on for a short while until they called me out on it: You’re not working hard enough on your own issues.  You’re being evasive.  You’re not dealing with your reality.  Get to work.

Ooooh, snagged.  Yikes.

I realized they knew that I was attempting to manipulate my time there in order to reject my own life and focus myself away from my illness, away from my own pain.  I was much easier to deal with the problems of others.  I was projecting my knowledge and intellect in every direction but the one that needed those smarts the most.  And I was doing myself and others a disservice.  In other words: SABOTAGE.

I was ashamed.  And rightfully so.  I guess I wasn’t quite so smart as I thought.  They stood there, day after day of the first four weeks, and watched me screw it up.  And then, they straightened me out but good.

There’s noting quite like being put in your place by peers and receiving correction from educators — and yes, they were educators — to make you change your tune.  That, and the introduction of the miracle of my pharmacological life: Trileptal, or as it’s known in the generic pill world, Oxcarbazepine.


It was four weeks into the program that I was told my problem was not simply severe depression, but that I was in fact suffering from Bipolar Disorder.  All this time, my medication was only going halfway toward helping me.  And so, once I received the new medication, I had an epiphany.

I am not kidding you when I say that, after taking a single dose, I no longer had suicide as the center of my waking world.  I awakened the next morning thinking that something important was missing… something was not quite right.  And then I realized that I was not considering some method of self-inflicted injury to off myself.  No jumping from buildings while on fire, no gobbling a massive mountain of barbiturates, no wrapping my head with a plastic bag.  Where those thoughts had been, right between my eyes, there was only a strange quiet that frankly, unnerved me.

Wow.  It was as if someone had turned on the Sun.


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