Sansaku: A Different Diagnosis
From my years as a training director, I have notebooks on most of the major clinical disorders. They’re filled with lecture notes and articles, along with a few case notes and evaluations. The one on bipolar disorder is definitely the fattest of the batch.
I don’t know when I first suspected my father had a bipolar condition. It seems obvious now. There’s a clear family history and as I go through the check-list, he fits them all; including that most confusing aspect, the long periods of seeming normality.
There’s an essay I’ve often copied and given away in Murray Stein’s anthology, Jungian Analysis, “Psychopathology and Analysis.” It’s written by Donald Sandner and John Beebe. This sentence caught my eye, “Mania often represents possession of the ego by an archetypal aspect of the shadow, aptly called the Trickster.” Interesting.
“Characteristic of a manic episode is its disturbing impact on others in the manic patient’s life.” They go on to quote Janowsky’s “Playing the Manic Game,” which is the other article I frequently copy and give away. “No other psychiatric syndrome is characterized by as many disquieting and irritating qualities…”
Someone in the grip of a manic episode has a number of ways to drive those closest to him crazy. Janowsky describes how they create interpersonal havoc and discomfort. Dad was a master game-player. He was highly skilled at using praise and deflation to manipulate the self-esteem of others. He was extremely perceptive of areas of vulnerability and conflict, and knew how to exploit them. He projected responsibility, usually onto the culture and system, and tested limits like a madman.
Needless to say, he alienated a lot of people along the way.
When Kay Redfield Jamison wrote Touched by Fire: Manic-Depressive Illness and the Artistic Temperament, I found the key I’d been looking for. My father comes from a long line of eccentrics, which is easily traced to our grandmother’s side of the family.
All three of us siblings run a little hot and have that characteristic love of language. My brother needs precious little sleep and even seems to thrive on it. His mood is almost pathologically optimistic, and he has that genius spark our father possessed in such troubling abundance.
Mom said she first realized something was wrong with him in Leadville. This was just before the war, when they were a newly married couple and he’d begun his law practice with one of the more prominent attorneys in the state.
Gene Bond was a regent at the university and on the board of governors for the bar association. He was also a notorious drinker who found his equal in our father. Mom said, “Corder could drink a dozen martinis, get precious little sleep, and show up in court the next morning, not only prepared, but brilliant.”
Bipolar has a curious on-set, and his probably began during the war. He was in his mid-twenties, and volunteered the day after Pearl Harbor. It didn’t take long for the military to recognize his unique abilities, and he was channeled into counter-espionage and sent to New Orleans.
Since mom was with him and privy to the operations, I know the story from her side better than his. I do remember asking him once, “Did you trail suspects?” He stared at me like I was crazy. “Colin, look at me.”
He was a tall man with an unforgettable face and voice. He said, “I didn’t trail them, I befriended them.” I began to see why the instability of the war had been so hard on him. Things started to unravel.