A Companion Called Fred
"I'm normal! I kept insisting over and over, much to Fred's quiet
A THANKSGIVING TRIBUTE
It's like a cardiac arrest, only it happens in the brain - something
responsible for holding the gray mass together abruptly shifts,
a sickening feeling of something terrible about to happen, and
thing your head is experiencing the awful sensation of being
out. From somewhere inside the power goes down and the body
seems to collapse into itself like a marionette being folded
into a box.
You look for a way out, and what's left of your broken brain
best to oblige with images of high bridges and frozen ponds
nooses dangling from balconies.
In January this year when my family brought me to the emergency
room at our local hospital I could never imagine eleven months
that I'd be writing about anything I had to be thankful for,
paying tribute to this beast inside that sent me there in the
the one that goes by two names, both of them woefully inadequate:
manic depression and bipolar.
May as well call the thing Fred, as far as I'm concerned.
For most of my life, Fred has been my constant traveling companion,
even as I denied his existence and tried so hard to pretend
I was a
master of my own fate. I'm normal! I kept insisting over and
to Fred's quiet amusement.
Twenty-one years ago I was well on the way to proving it. After
those wasted years at the mercy of the very condition I denied
I landed on my feet in New Zealand. I had successfully completed
second year of law school there, and I was married with a beautiful
three-month-old daughter. There had been some other Americans
our birthing classes and we invited them over, together with
Kiwi-Yank couple we knew, to celebrate Thanksgiving. I recall
my glass to make a toast, but then words failed me.
We were seated on cushions on the floor with the turkey and all
fixings on a low table. But the stars of the show were the new
of planet earth. I looked at the proud parents and their newborns
all the baby paraphernalia they had brought, and simply choked
Life was beautiful.
Little did I realize in ten years I would find myself in another
broke and alone and unemployable and in search of a convenient
bridge to jump off. I couldn't blame it all on Fred. Besides,
Fred has a
way of convincing you he doesn't exist.
Boy, you showed them, Fred let me know less a year later. You're
back on your feet again and working on your own terms, not theirs.
had one book out and another on the way. And there was my
daughter, now eleven, together with my parents, in my apartment
celebrate Christmas. Like a considerate roommate, Fred made
When he showed up again I was back in the States. Think of
someone on a high hill lobbing boulders at you, that was Fred.
large stone would hit me on the chest and send me into a crushing
depression. Then the next one would come thudding down on me
lay sprawled on the ground, compounding my despair with a
depression on top of a depression.
But I made Fred work hard, damn hard. Several years and an untold
number of boulders it took, but finally I went down and didn't
After all these years, I finally acknowledged Fred's dominion,
mention his existence.
So now, at long last, I'm going to give Fred his due. After all,
me what I am. Whatever our differences, he is responsible for
being me, so to hate Fred would be to hate me. Besides, having
around does have its advantages.
It is Fred who painted my brain with amazing visions and insights,
filled my senses with the type of sensations few mortals experience.
is Fred who made it possible to for me to find the sublime in
most mundane, and it is Fred who cloaked me in a humanity and
godliness that I would not exchange for a winning lottery ticket.
So, yes, Fred, on this Thanksgiving, for the very first time,
I will sing
your praises and give you thanks. In a few months I will see
daughter, here from New Zealand, and I give thanks for that,
too. I will
give thanks to my family who were there for me, and to a God
somehow has proved to me he does not and does exist.
And yes, Fred, I know one day again, you'll be waiting for me
dark alley. But for now I invite you to pull up a chair while
I lift my
glass in a toast.
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