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Sex, Death, and Other People's Money
by Freddy Bosco
The circumstances of my origin are shrouded in clarity. All my life I’ve had blinding reality to deal with and always tried to find something superior to live with in my imagination. This practice has cost me. Dearly. So long as I was a little boy inventing daytime dream mates and activities, the richness of my fantasies was acceptable to the world. A kid is expected to conjure up a world of his own. At some point – maybe gunpoint – a person is dissuaded from living in a world of his dreams. We must take up concerns: bottom line and insurance policies. We are not given the prerogative of playing all day, not unless we can sell our fantasies and take the risk of institutionalization should we lapse in our correspondence to “reality.”
It has always been for me, maybe more than to other people, a question of Making Sense. My mother told me so many times, and still does, that I wasn’t doing that. I had an inner sense that I conformed to. I had a feeling I wanted to satisfy, a grand sense of something lyrical and profound. The harsh world I was born into just didn’t match my yearnings and rarely appreciated my efforts to develop my circumstances into what I wanted.
While I was small, blankets draped over dining room chairs met with delight on the part of my family. And little books drawn in a childish scrawl pleased everyone. When such activities happen in older life, people begin to wonder. But the glory of my life, the pleasure I derive from being who I am comes from being able to convince others to support me in my grand and lyrical pursuits. In history, thousands of men and women pull off this trade. Lots more don’t quite pull it off and suffer terrible consequences accordingly. I’d have to say that I have never fully supported myself by society’s standards by selling the fruit of my imagination. But look! Van Gogh didn’t sell anything in his life and his paintings now go for millions. No comparison, really, but I’m just trying to say that monetary success is not always within reach, and does not always prove much.
Our world, or should we say ‘their world’, is a place where gently, lyrical people get ground up like sausage and left to occupy doorsteps with a few pathetic possessions in bags next to them. I have been homeless. I know what it is to wander barefoot in the winter foraging for food out of garbage cans. My vivid imagination has gotten so big sometimes that I have just about occupied it. Anything that came along for me in the way of a new enthusiasm was a potential dissuasion from reality. I have met activities like jobs and religions that have been potential hiding places. So, you ask, what am I hiding from? The blinding reality I mentioned in the first paragraph has always been too harsh for me. Rarely have I been able to dance my dance in the noon-day sun when midnight moonlight was available. I am crippled by the glare of cold facts.
I could make a list of the ways I have tried to hide. I recall a girlfriend – sometimes I have one – who held me and asked, “What is it you would say out of anything right now?” “Hide me inside,” I begged. “I can’t,” she said, and while I knew it all along anyway, I was a bit disappointed by her prosaic view. I needed, I felt, someone who could appreciate the terror that life causes me and my passion to shield myself from the world. There are a few compadres in life, people who can see another’s weakness and provide accordingly to compensate for it. In my case, I am very fortunate that I have produced artistic works that please some people. My compadres come to my rescue here and there with some cash, or a ride, or a night’s lodging or a meal…not that I get too terribly strung out.
Alcohol, that dread potion, turned out to be a friend for a little while in my evasion of reality. I was able to find many people willing to join with me in my grand scheme of dodging the terrible and inescapable facts of life by indulging in spirits. Our culture makes a billion dollars a day out of other people’s desire to dodge as I did. For me, however, adding alcohol to my problems was like nothing so much as adding gasoline to a burning fire.
Anyone who has ever suffered as a result of alcoholic indulgence can have an understanding of the terrible pain the habit caused me. I began wondering if I were a professional masochist. The morning agony. The shameful panic trying to recall what I had said to people the night before or what I had done. The balm that booze gave me at night soon became poison. Now it has been 14 years since I gave up drinking, and for awhile, I found a home in AA. Sobriety is heaven now. I faced with AA and therapy some of the things I hid from earlier in my life. But, in truth, I will always look for caves. Big hiding places. My experience with drinking gave me suspicion for escape. I am careful of things that are easy to get into and hard to get out of.
Psychotherapy has been a friend for 30 years. In therapy, I find a way to deal with the genetic condition that causes me to want to hide from the sun and all the things it displays. I discovered, through therapy and the judicious administration of lithium, that I do not need to take on the whole world, provided that I can find its components when it becomes necessary. My life is now a patched entity made up of hard-won discoveries. It is said that a person who knows others is wise, but a person with self-knowledge is enlightened. I don’t know if I am enlightened, but I know now that I have a better understanding of those things that are me than when I first went into a counselor’s office in college 30 years ago. I knew something was wrong. My anxiety was so intense, I could barely see or walk. I thought I was schizophrenic.
Everybody thought I was schizophrenic up until the time I met a very astute doctor in Colorado who sized up the situation and saw the clear indications of bipolar disorder. He ran me through extensive tests, both physical and psychiatric. At the end of his testing, he announced his results. While I must admit that this self-knowledge has not ended my problems, I now have the tools to arrive at an understanding of certain terrible situations. I can see their origin in my disease, and I can consequently come to clarity as to their solution.
Before my correct diagnosis, I was a patient in a revolving door. I wound up in Bellevue Psychiatric Hospital again and again. The doctors tried to treat me and met with partial success. Soon I would be back, torn up and full of despair. Since my correct diagnosis, however, I have had far fewer hospitalizations for much shorter periods of time. And now that alcohol is not part of my picture, I am much closer to living in the light.
A sober individual is not necessarily a joyous person, but the realizations that come to me now, in light of my sobriety and correct diagnosis, are closer to an acceptance of the givens of this world than they have ever been. I can look out on a rainy day and not have to see Napoleon riding into battle. The gift of imagination is mine, but what I do with it is something more practical than it has ever been. I write stories for publication and sketch in a journal when my bipolar insomnia keeps me up. I work with people who suffer mental disorders in a clinic where I have worked for nine years, and I recruit schizophrenics for a laboratory located in the very hospital where my late father lived as a patient.
The genetic component in my disease is real. I see others in my family suffering, too, although I am the Identified Patient among us. They look to me for an example of redemption. I see the same grand lyrical longing in others in my family. I see baby versions of my disease. I think I am so much more fortunate than anyone around for the help I get for my suffering. Lithium, while it taxes my kidneys and makes my hands shake, has been a godsend for the symptoms I face.
I have the staff to comfort me. Professionals have their own situations to deal with, but I am not alone for their ministrations. They know what I am going through, although they have a textbook path to get to their understanding. Some of them are angelic in their capacity for compassion and care. I cringe to think of the times in my life when I was too paranoid to trust others in my situation. If only I could reach those who refuse help, to say that our world is a smaller, sweeter place because of the care that professionals give. It has made all the difference for me. I am now a man of his full height.