Home > Uncategorized > The Confessions of Mike Trapp. Chapter VIII: Breakdown and Rebirth

The Confessions of Mike Trapp. Chapter VIII: Breakdown and Rebirth

Eventually you get to gate be long in the tooth to be a student organizer.

I started late after grad school and had done it for two and a half years. I had a nice lucrative gig in Arkansas, did some speaking engagements and got $1,000 check and decided that I was going to use that thousand dollars to start a new life.

Of course I went on an Epic road trip and I visited my girlfriend at the time in

Mike with the children

Huntsville, Alabama and caught a ride with her brother to Texas. In Texas, I caught a ride with some other friends who had been on a road trip and we all gathered – my brother and his partner and some other friends – for this cool camp out in Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument in Arizona on the Mexican border.

On this camp out, I was with two couples. I was just kind of a fifth wheel and wasn’t really sure what I wanted to do. I’d been on the road for years and didn’t want to just kind of be on a permanent road trip tour. My brother at this point was on this two and a half year trip with he and his partner where they stayed in all of the bioregions of the West and they really got to deeply know and understand North America by going and living in every bioregion for months at a time just by hitchhiking and being careful with their expenses.

So I hung out with them and got to see the desert. We did a lot of rock climbing and bouldering and in canyons and hung out with climbing bums. And it had some adventure, but I decided to get off on my own. And so I crossed over into Mexico and I got a bus to Tijuana and then I crossed over the border from Tijuana into San Diego and I took a Greyhound because I didn’t want to hitchhike through LA, which is a giant cluster.

I got to Santa Barbara. When I was on the Greyhound to Santa Barbara, I had met this sixteen year old teenage runaway from Iowa. She had gotten snatched up by the police and sent home to Iowa. She just took some money from her mom’s purse and climbed out the bedroom window and bought a bus ticket and was on her way back to her boyfriend in Santa Barbara.

She introduced me to the Santa Barbara Beach bum community. I decided that I would kind of do this sociological experiment and I would just be homeless for a while and hang out in paradise. It was really informative. I do some work with the homeless and that week of kind of hanging out with the homeless folks and being a beach bum was enlightening. It’s like a full time job, you know, you gotta carry your stuff everywhere. You got to walk across town to get to the free place. And then you got to find a place to, to safe place to be able to spend the night. I spent one night on the beach. Then I met these other guys who found some private land where they said that the land owner didn’t mind if he pitched a tent. So we’d go pitch our tent and take it down.

I just hung out and blew through money. Homeless people can sense, you know, the guy who’s got a little bit held back. I ended up blowing through most of my money pretty quick there. I decided I’d better get moving.

It had been six weeks since I’d had a shower, since I’d left my my girlfriend’s brother’s in Texas. I had been on a long bus trip in Mexico and weeks and weeks of camping. It was like a sunny day. And so I got out in the Pacific and when the sun went behind the clouds. It got cold. My core temperature dropped. I was just cold and I’m miserable. I realized that I wasn’t on vacation anymore, that I was homeless. It was pretty miserable.

I started hitchhiking North. I stayed off Highway 1, which was a mistake and tried to go up the 101. I had trouble getting rides until this guy pulled over in a pickup truck. I said, “Hey, where are you going?” He’s like “Farther than you are now.” So I took the ride. His name was Workman and he was this really cool guy. He had this bit of a Jesus delusion maybe he was Jesus or maybe he was just someone living like Jesus.

He lived in this converted school bus that he had made into a camper. He dumpster dove his food and he was a sign painter and had painted a sign at a junk yard for the chance to park his bus there for a month. Now, he was going around painting signs, mostly in Spanish, and he was teaching himself Spanish as he’s worked his way South with a plan to get to the equator, because he liked the idea of being at zero degrees latitude. So he was on his way to Quito, Ecuador or thereabouts.

He was amazing, a real humble spiritual guy. I painted some signs with him and hung out for a few days. He offered to let me stay in his bus and he would get me a vehicle and he would teach me the art of sign painting and we would learn Spanish together. He would do things like, name anything, and I would name whenever I was hungry for. And he would pull it out of the dumpster or he would pull it out of his dried stocks. He was a fruit fast and kept finding a bunch of meat and dry it. We would eat anything I could think of. He could cook by what he had and his boss or what he could go pull out of a dumpster right now. We just had a great time. I had been planning on visiting my friend Jim Squatter, who was this anarchist super activist who had broken his neck and had come to the last Fermi protest in 1995, the year after the big one that I told the story about and helped organize some protests.

I had planned on seeing him and check out UC Santa Cruz and think about getting into a PhD program because if you don’t, I didn’t really want to go to work and didn’t know what I wanted to do. And I thought, well, PhD in sociology would be more useful than a master’s degree in sociology. And they had the best social movements department.

I called Squatter to let them know that I was going to be a little bit longer and maybe not coming at all because I was intrigued by Lance Workman’s live like Jesus right now style of live in, of just kinda humbly being a random force for good and living modestly off people’s waste. Squatters dad had died and he needed someone to watch his lizard and take care of his place so he could go back for the funeral. I parted from Workman. We exchanged some letters but I never made it back down to be able to find him again.

I got to Squatters’ place eventually. He gets that name cause he lived in squats in San Francisco. If you see that Michelle Shocked album where she’s being dragged off by the police, Squatter was the one who organized the protest that she got arrested on. It was cool because Michelle Shocked would call the house because she was still friends with Squatter. He was all in on the local activist scenes and had been a big protestor, but he had broken his neck and had become a cannabis activist because it helped with his muscle spasticity and he walked, even though he had a broken neck. He had some quadriplegia, but he got movement and got himself to walk through force of will and cannabis.

He introduced me to Debbie Goldbery with the Cannabis Action Network. That was in 1996 when they had just working towards the end of collecting signatures for the medical marijuana initiative, Prop 215. I tried to get a job as a lobbyist for a highway safety organization and that fell through. At the time cannabis reform was about 99th on my list of a hundred most important issues. I like to smoke weed and I found it to be good and I didn’t like the drug war, but there were a lot of other problems that seemed more immediate and important to me, but it was significant. Mostly I needed a job and so CAN had a great model. They had a communal house. Debbie had started the group. They did tabling on Telegraph Avenue. They also did tabling on rock concerts and they sold products and shared information about marijuana and hemp. They also did some other organizing.

Debbie had never had anybody come into CAN who brought previous organizing experience. She had done a lot of stuff and was a great organizer, but I had done a lot of stuff and was a great organizer, too. We ended up working really well together and we got into a place where we were coordinating the statewide grassroots effort for we started the PAC Friends of 215 with a group of activists and were real leaders on the statewide movement. We worked with the big money activists supported with funds George Zimmer from Men’s Warehouse and George Soros. That’s funny when you always hear about professional protesters, since I was an agent of Soros. I remember going to Men’s warehouse and picking up a $5,000 check and we got some funding. They spend a lot of money on advertising.

We kept the grassroots activists out of the media and we focused on some basic politics of voter registration and get out the vote activities. And we harnessed that grassroots energy and we won. We raised more money. We did a stealth campaign because the big money people didn’t put their money in until late. By the time that the preventionists and the cops started trying to do their organizing, they never caught up to us. We passed it and it changed the world. That was funny. Even as we were working towards it, we didn’t know if it would create a positive defense for people who were charged or if it would be a law that would really work because it was a new model rather than be in conflict with federal law it didn’t touch federal law at all and it just said, ‘You shall be exempted from state penalties and doctors shall not be punished for making recommendations.’

It created this system of legal protections requiring the state shall build a framework. But the day after it passed, everybody started opening up pot clubs. My friends who had been activists suddenly started to make a lot of money.

I had been struggling with depression. When you’re, when you’re living in poverty and you have a transitory lifestyle, there’s a lot of stresses to that. I had been depressed and not even kind of realized it. We went to this Renaissance festival. A friend of mine gave me this hit of ecstasy, mDMA. It really blew my mind, enlightened it. It made me have me this kind of happiness hangover for a number of days. It reminded me what it was like to feel joyful and to feel really good. I had forgotten and had been kind of going through the motions in life, even with all of these adventures and amazing experiences. I would not say that I was super happy most of the time. So I started to do that and use.

When you’re a drug policy reform activist, you end up having to use a lot of drugs. I had been pretty moderate in my use, but started to use massive doses of the highest quality cannabis and cannabis extracts and then supplementing that with mDMA on the weekends. That was my lifestyle through the spring, summer and into the fall.

We passed the election.

It was pretty euphoric. And then we had this three week trip to Amsterdam where Debbie was working security for the Cannabis Cup, which is the international pot growing championship that they would host in Amsterdam. She would work security alongside her friends. Her boyfriend was a guitar tech for Fishbone and they always played in Amsterdam during Cannabis Cup. She would go and week early and then and party and hang out and have fun and then work for a week and then stay a week after. So it was a three week trip. I was a little tight on money and almost didn’t go, but they really talked me into going and said it would be fine and I would have a good time.

We went and we stayed at this mind spa. The owner must have been involved in the international drug trade. There were no customers to this building and it didn’t look like it was used. He had all of this stuff including a sensory deprivation tank that we tried out. He had these things called synchro-tech machines that were syncopated light and sound that were supposed to generate psychedelic experiences. We went and stayed and ate good food and went to the clubs and smoked.

We did everything that there was to be done, which was a lot. And we turned it up a degree.

One night, Aaron, who is the person I was hanging out with the most he had gotten this stuff called organic ecstasy – some mDMA variant – he talked me in to doing it. We stayed up all night doing ecstasy until the next night came around. He talked me into it again and we stayed up all night doing ecstasy. A flip in my mind switched and I didn’t need to do ecstasy anymore. It was like being high all the time. Looking back on it, it was a manic breakdown while I was having this just this incredible psychedelic experience. From what I’ve been able to put together, I didn’t sleep for over a week. This flip switching was about a week into the trip and I didn’t sleep again for the entire trip.

I was afraid that if I tried to sleep, if I closed my eyes, that people would be whispering in my ears and trying to hypnotize me. I had one bag when we had gone to Amsterdam and had carried a friend’s bag with me. We hadn’t talked about it, but there was this expectations that since she had come with three bags and I came with one bag and you were allowed two bags that I would be carrying one of these bags back. There were these plates of hash that were CD-sized and were being dipped in wax the night before we left. I knew that part of what had been in that box were these Fishbone CDs that we had brought over.

I came to believe that this was some kind of initiation into some kind of psychedelic drug smuggling gang or I was having some kind of delusional experience. There’s really no way to know.

I had the bag and we’re going out on the trip. In the train I’m moving sluggish because I haven’t slept in two weeks. I had just started to feel a little bit tired. I didn’t make it out of the doors with the bags when we got to the train and the train left the airport. I didn’t know what to do because I felt like there was a good chance that one of those bags was filled with perhaps millions of dollars of hash. I know that there are decriminalized drugs in Amsterdam, but not suitcases full of them.

There were some people behind me who were going to the airport and I thought that the only people that I could trust would be random people. And so I poured my story out to this random girl who was standing behind me because I didn’t allow her to get off the train and missed the door. She said if I separated from my friends, they would wait for me at the airport. So if they’re there when you get there, they’ll, you can know that your friends and you can trust them. That seemed like real good advice. And I got there and my friends were long gone. Not only were they long gone, so was my plane ticket. I know that I had had it. I started to wonder. I didn’t know what to do.

I walked out to the airport and there was this this pile driver, this giant thing, and it was doing this rhythmic thing. And I had been kind of obsessed with the power of techno music to hypnotize. I felt drawn to this. And I felt like there was this cosmic confrontation that was coming and had wondered about the host of the mind spa and what was his involvement. Some cryptic things that had come up. I had read Gravity’s Rainbow by Pynchon, which ironically has this character named Rocket Man who finds comes into a giant pile of hash and stumbles across Europe. It’s classic paranoid conspiracy novel, Pulitzer Prize winning. I’m living the story-line out of this novel.

One of the people who got me to go on the trip had given it to me to read. I’m putting all these things together. I don’t know what’s true and what’s not. Even to this day.

I was sitting out a bus. I fought the urge to go to this construction site based on this rhythmic pile driver. I’m sitting at the bus stop and I just decided that I pulled a bag of personal effects out of the bag and just left it at the bus stop and I walked away.

When I would get emotionally overwhelmed or in trouble, sometimes I would go hitchhiking because the day to day struggle of where are you going to eat? How are you going to keep yourself safe? Where are you going to lay your head? That was very centering, when you get into this primal quest for survival.

I walked away from the airport and walked down in the highway and put my thumb out and I started the walk. As I walked, I started thinking if I was miked or bugged or what was going on. I started throwing away things like lighters that I had picked up at the mind spa. I had been chain smoking. When you get emotional, when you get mentally fractured nicotine is a powerful focusing drug. When you’d smoke a cigarette, I have this moment of clarity and being able to organize my thoughts for just a brief moment. I had smoked all my cigarettes so had to reply on a progressive relaxation technique to fight my migraines. This had become part of my spiritual practice: breathe in through my nose, out through my mouth, slowly and deeply.

I had done a lot of this as an activist, but I couldn’t do that now because my nose had been clogged up. I finally blew the snot out of my nose and took a deep breath and I felt this rush of power and energy and I felt my spiritual form and I realized that I was 10,000 feet tall and that my spiritual self was powerful and that I could call down any powers that I needed to make anything happen that I needed to happen. I didn’t why that I either had broken through into this place of being able to wield magic or I was some cosmic spirit that had this power.

I was tired of walking and was frustrated and I said, “I whisper when I want to hypnotize and I shout when I want something” and I said, “If I don’t get a ride right now, I will destroy Phillip Morris!” because I would, I was blaming tobacco for my inability to breathe. Instantly, there was this van that was in the far left lane and it flew through four lanes of traffic and pulled over and stopped. I got in and it was a woman who looked just like my mom. I just felt this great sense of calm and I immediately spilled my guts about what was going on and I didn’t know what to do.

She drove me up a ways and she pulled off an exit. And she drew me a map about how to get to Denmark or Belgium or something through back-ways where I wouldn’t have to go through customs, and felt that I would be safer leaving from another country if I had been involved in this. Then she gave me a hundred guilders and made me promise not to spend it on drugs and sent me on my way.

(I went and I had a series of adventures that I won’t go into the details because this is, again, this is a story that’s worthy of its own.)

I ended up going back to the mind spa. The dude was there and I asked him if anybody had called or said anything or left my plane ticket. He offered for me to come in saying that we could work it out. I thought, “Well, that was the whole plan of this of taking my plane ticket?” I had knew I didn’t lose it. I had checked it and it was in my backpack and then it wasn’t. I knew that it had been taken or it was reasonably certain of. I wasn’t certain of anything at that point, but I felt like that was what had happened. I said, no, I’m gonna stay with friends.

I went and called some people that I had met at various parties through having these weird conversations. I was pretty spun and didn’t get ahold of anybody. I had this hundred guilders. I did buy a pack of cigarettes and felt bad because I’d promised her I wouldn’t buy any drugs. It was any port in a storm. I bought a phone card and called my mom because she looked like my mom. My mom said, “We’ll get to the airport and we will get you a plane ticket.” They had taken out a loan. It was a lot of money. My parents bought me a plane ticket. I’m so glad I called when I was at the airport. My friends had told my family, “Mike disappeared. He was acting weird.” They told my brother who lived at the CAN office when they came back without me, they called my mom and told her Mike’s missing in Europe. It was funny because I almost did a journey to the East and was going to hitchhike around the entire world and come back to North America from the other side. But then I decided instead to call my mom. That ended up being a pretty transformative thing.

One thing I did before I left the bus station, was that I went to the train station, checked everything, and put all my stuff in a  locker. And I felt like I had heard a story about somebody else who had been caught with drugs leaving Amsterdam. I felt like that maybe if somebody had planted drugs on me. I didn’t know what all was in my bag. I just knew they’d taken my plane ticket.

I took out all of my stuff and checked it into a locker and then took the key and threw it in the garbage can. The only thing I kept was my wallet because my dad had ingrained in me to hold onto my wallet as a lifelong lesson. I also held on to my passport. I didn’t even have a pencil. I didn’t know what was bugged or if people were listening or if I was just engaged in this kind of spiritual transformation and had unleashed and awakened some kind of spiritual power. 

My dad through its series of mnemonics taught me to memorize in all of my scattered state this confirmation number to be able to pick up my bag. He did it by breaking it into chunks. I think it was MCH, Mickey Call Home and and it went on to some numbers. He was able to relate those numbers to things that I did. He learned me that. I got my ticket on KLM. Mind you, the guy who owned the mind spa was a heir to the KLM fortune from what I had understood. I was wondering about this international conspiracy of airline people and what was going on with that?

I was getting on the plane, I felt like the flight attendant had given me an eye took a right and I went right into a first class and sat down and drank the champagne and mimosas and ate a nice meal and went to the captain’s restroom and put on his cologne and I felt like I was something special. Come to find out I really didn’t have a courtesy flight with total all-access. This was before 9/11. A really big flight attendant – a bodybuilder flight attendant type – walked me back to the class that I was supposed to be in. It was funny because my ticketed seat didn’t exist. I have my ticket and I’m pulling it out and looking at it. There’s all of these kind of disconnects in reality warps.

When you go insane, you don’t just go insane. The universe goes insane or maybe the universe is always insane and you just wake up to be able to see it. I sat down and I talked to the guy. Everything that everybody said fed into this delusional reality. I had ran it a lot of stuff and I had the capacity to develop this amazingly complex and robust kind of delusional reality on almost everything.

When I got back, Oh, when I got back home, I walked in through customs. I don’t have any luggage. They pulled me out for special screening and they searched and they had done the same thing in the Netherlands because I couldn’t answer the questions right. You know, everything had too much meaning and I was too scattered, but too, they’d given me a search and a once over and didn’t find anything, put me on the plane.

So they gave me a search and a once over and lo and behold, they find four hits of LSD I’m in my wallet. I used to carry LSD in my wallet, but I distinctly remember pulling them out and leaving them on my dresser at home. It looked like those four squares that I had left over from this bad acid I’d bought from my housemate Kurt. They gave me a ticket, which turned out to be good. I got out and kind of expected everything to be over, but this whole kind of weirdness followed me. There were a lot of ominous things. For instance, there was this comic book laying in my bed in my parents’ house from the Stranger, and it had this thing about this guy who had got hypnotized to carry a bomb onto a plane that he thought was a box of chocolates. I swear to fucking God, that comic book is laying open, folded over in my room.

There was a Stephen King’s The Green Mile came out as a serial book. It was six little novelettes and they were laid out in the room. As time went on, their corners were starting to chew, like they were being eaten by mice. I looked the next day and more of it was gone. I felt like this compelling reason that I had to read this book and it was all this stuff about laying on of hands and spiritual experience that all seem really powerful because I was sleeping a couple hours a night and waking up bright and alert and rapid speech and not able to control myself.

I started to write poetry. I’d never done that even though I had had this creative writing class and had read a lot of poetry, but suddenly poetry started to spill out of me and I could write it at will on any subject. I was writing sonnets in five minutes with the right meter and rhyme scheme. I couldn’t harness it. I was all scattered. I started writing stuff in notebooks. There were just so many things that objectively really happened. At some point, everyone’s telling me that I’m disturbed and that there’s something wrong with me and they’re trying to get me to accept that I need to go help and go to the mental health agency that I used to work at. I’m doubting it.

I saw this flutter in this light by the window and thought, “Well, maybe I am delusional and I’m having this experience.” I went and opened the window. It was a bird that had gotten behind the storm window and now there’s a bird flying around the house. I was delusional about the airlines and then an airplane crashed in Ida, the town that I’m from about 15 miles from where I was at. I had gotten this concern about this mental health agency and then all the mental health agency people in the airport or on TV doing press conferences about how they’re doing the support for the people who died in the plane crash. Right before the plane crashed, I had felt like I had been compelled that I should paint and I didn’t want to paint and then I turn on the TV and this airplane crash and I felt like it was done to punish me for not doing this thing.

I had all of this craziness and it just kept accelerating.

Ultimately, my sister got me to go out to the mental health agency. I scared the person who was doing the assessment because I was too demonstrative and I’m a big guy and I’m waving my arms around. So she called the police and they took me to the psychiatric unit that I used to work at, Pineview. I stood in the sign-in room that I had gone down and talked to people into voluntarily signing in by saying “If you don’t sign in, they’re gonna commit you.” The mental health agency came through for me and they paid to send me to a hospital in a nearby community. So I only had to work with four of my former colleagues instead of 30 or 40 of them.

I signed myself in because I knew the process. I had worked in it. I was not convinced that I could act sane in front of a judge for a half an hour. I signed myself in and I stayed for two weeks and it was a really enlightening experience. Any one who works on a psychiatric unit if they get a chance to experience what it’s like from the other side of the counter, it can be really powerful because I had no idea the deep shame of being there, of not having your thoughts work, of feeling judged of people implying or telling you that you’re crazy. I was articulate and passionate and my thoughts were working very quickly and I had this great knowledge base. About half the people who are on a psychiatric unit don’t want to be there. And so I started talking to the people who didn’t want to be there and I’m like, “Oh man, if you don’t want to be here, it’s easier to get out. Just call your insurance company and tell them that you don’t want to be here. Because as soon as your insurance stops paying, they don’t keep you.”

There are these little four sheets that they put on the front of the chart that say what date your insurance runs out and before it goes out, they either let you go or they call and get more time. Nobody, no matter what problems they have, ever gets to stay one more day than their insurance will pay. So the people got on the phone and they called their insurance company and then they’re packing their bags and leaving. I got there and I discharged half the unit right before Christmas and then staff were getting sent home because they have low census days. And there was this resentment because I knew how all their bullshit worked and I would call them out on it.

I was filled with this sense of justice.

This guide told me about these witches who were at this Detroit mental hospital and I believed him and I’m asking them on the details. As we talked, I said, “I just figured out” –  because I was this wild, wildly empathetic – “they’re really not witches. There’s just people who are really mean to you, weren’t they? And he’s crying. And he’s like, yeah. And we had this breakthrough.

One of my old colleagues, this guy who had been through college on football scholarship and was not a very helpful guy, I noticed he was, had changed and he had become this really kind of great listener and supportive guy. And he was actually really good. Just when I had worked with them just a few years ago you know, he was a piece of shit employee. He just wanted to play foosball and get through his thing and you know, he wasn’t mean to people but he didn’t go out of his way to help. Now he was this really excellent clinician. There was this kind of wise old mental health advocate who had been doing it for like 20 years and he was really funny and really engaging and can meet you where you were at. Even though I was creating, we played foosball, but you were, we used to not let the patients play because none of them, they weren’t good. You have to work there to get really good at it, you know? So it would be like the for the, the guy who ran our unit love foosball and he’d grabbed the three best players and we play foosball while the poor nurse had have to do all the work and the patients never got to play cause they were, they were never any good.

Now, they played with the patients and he was really validating. And I saw that this just kind of magic about his approach. There were some other mental health patients that I just bonded with in a powerful way. This poet who was there and we would talk and write poetry and he shared his broad sheet with me and there was a girl I was flirting with. It was a transformative time.

I got on this medication called Risperidol, this anti-psychotic, which has got me sleeping every night. And I started putting my thoughts together and I was only sleeping for three or four hours, but I was sleeping every night and I left two weeks, a little bit more pulled together, but still pretty delusional.

All of these even more weird things continue to happen that I couldn’t understand that I couldn’t understand. This happened in November and in April of the following year I was sitting there and I was thinking about all that had happened. For the first time I thought, well, maybe I’m just crazy? Maybe this is just what people are saying it is. I was mixed up of whether I was caught up in an international conspiracy of people who were trying to blow my mind, some kind of Illuminati-style, trickster, CIA, psychedelics thing or was I have in this spiritual experience where I was coming into my personal spiritual power in a positive way.

I had this third possibility: maybe I’m just crazy and I made a list and I was able to identify like 10 or 12 things that were objectively real and fundamentally super weird and an amazing set of things –  like the airplane crash and a bunch of other things that had, that I knew for a fact that that had happened – and I made this list and I thought, I might never know what’s going to happen, but I know that I was a lot happier when I thought that the world operated like everybody else does.

In my mind, I made this mental box and I put all of those things in it that I didn’t understand and I put the word unknown and I decided that I would never know what happened, but that I was going to act like the world was like it was before all of this began because I was happier then, because now I had lost my girlfriend, I lost my job. I was living with my parents and and my thoughts didn’t work right anymore.

That day I started to get better rapidly.

So my mom was pushing me to go to work. And so I went to Voc Rehab and I had hoped that they would like send me to training or school. But you know, I got a master’s degree and a pretty decent work history, so they just made me get dressed up every day and show up, like I was going to work and look for work. And so I thought, well shit, if I have to do that, I might as well get a job. My mom handed me a newspaper and had circled this group home and I got a job at a group home like I had been doing 10 years before making about the same amount of money. I worked midnights at the group home. I only had one coworker. I continued to put my thoughts together and save up enough money to buy a beater car. I worked there for a few months and then I got a job as a Families First worker, my first social work job.

I went to my case manager and I said, “Hey man, I got a job, kinda like what you have. I think it would be a good idea.” I was on meds and they added Depakote, a mood stabilizer. (It kinda messed up my poops. It slowed my thinking.) They took a level and it wasn’t at therapeutic levels and the doctor wanted to raise it. And I said, “No, I don’t think so. I’m feeling better now.” There’s this classic pattern of people with bipolar disorder who gets stabilized on meds, don’t like the side effects, go off their meds and then have a manic breakdown again. It gets worse and bad things happen. I know that’s what he was thinking. But he said “You have a very serious mental illness and you’re never going to get better.”

That was devastating to me, but I knew there was no court order. I didn’t have to take the meds. And so I just said it was hard, but I was, I knew it was my decision. I just said, well, I’m still not going to take more Depakote. When I came back and he saw that I was still stable, he’s like, well, let’s get rid of the Depakote because it’s not at a stable level. I came back and I was still doing good. He’s like, well, let’s reduce the Risperidol. And then I came back and he’s like, well, let’s take you off the Risperidol. I managed. I had a whole set of tools that I would use to manage when I was depressed.

Going back to sociology I recall the idea of status and master status. Most people organize who there are from their job, but people with mental illness think of themselves as mentally ill: I’m a schizophrenia, I’m a bipolar. I’m borderline. I knew that that was dangerous. I thought of myself as someone who was struggling with symptoms of bipolar disorder that I didn’t always have them. I wasn’t always going to have them. It wasn’t who I was. I’m a good person who has symptoms of bipolar disorder right now. That protected me cause I don’t know of anyone who is so shattered and severe psychiatric symptoms who pulled themselves together and then went on to have a regular life. I did. I still struggle with mood stuff, but I have a whole array of mechanisms to manage it and to bring it on when I need that.

The quest after this period in life was how to integrate all of those experiences. I harvested those ideas and things that appeared delusional and sane at the time. I knew things were different when poems that I couldn’t get anybody to listen to because nobody wants to listen to a crazy person, that same poem I read at a poetry slam in Fayetteville, Arkansas, and I won and they gave me a crystal dish and a check for $25 for the same words that they wouldn’t listen to from a crazy person, but from a poet in a coffee shop, that was worthy of a cash prize.

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