It’s like reincarnation; living one life after another, each one vastly different from the last.
Every life goes through changes. Through normal maturation, needs, desires, circumstances, environments, disasters, and successes carry one from one place to another. And during this journey it’s almost like becoming a new person. If you look at someone at 21, then again at 45 and then 70, it can be difficult to tell it’s the same one. There is likely a first real job, which provides money to do new things and explore activities that couldn’t be afforded before. Then the serious relationships develop, followed by marriage, children, college tuition, weddings, grandchildren and finally retirement. The focus of a young adult is totally different from one who is moving into retirement, each stage bringing its own perspective and behaviors.
At least, a normal life.
My own life has followed that path to at least some degree. I had the young fun, the marriage, children, and soon the grandchildren. I haven’t planned much for retirement, but it’s coming, ready or not.
But there’s a difference.
Throughout my adulthood I’ve taken on many different careers and personas. Much of this has been influenced by my early development and then my disease. My first marriage and even career were driven by a need for a strong family. My wife came from a very close-knit clan. The immediate family was very tight, deeply involved with each other. I had never experienced that, and craved that sense of belonging. They were very religious, and I adopted their fervor for acceptance. The father was a retired accountant, and I dove into that as my own career. I struggled through a two year degree in accounting, than joined with my father in law in starting our own accounting practice. It was the religion that eventually ended the marriage. It’s not that I’m a non-believer, but their church was extreme, and extremely fundamental. My own views were more progressive, and I found their dogma to be overly strict and unenlightened. Over time, it drove a wedge between us all, and we divorced. I had gained proficiency in my profession well however, and continued on with the business on my own.
After the demise of the marriage, I quickly became involved with someone of a much different sort. She wasn’t extremely religious, and all the taboo activities were possible. She had issues of her own however, and we met in a mental hospital. But, maybe because of this we were reasonably compatible. We bought an old house out in a very small town, and I went back to my roots, and then some. For a time, I became ‘a redneck’. Any time I wasn’t working, I was in overalls, hanging out at the local farm store and cutting and splitting wood for our heat. But our issues fed into each others, and I began to cycle ever higher and deeper with one hospitalization after another. Over time, it was impossible to maintain my business and I lost it all.
Enter phase three.
I surrendered completely to being bipolar. It dominated my whole life, nothing but therapy, doctors, medications, hospitalizations and even a brief institutionalizing. I was a very sick man, and behaved as one. The one silver lining was my children. Since I wasn’t working, I became a stay at home Dad. In spite of all the illness, it was arguably one of the best times of my life. I had the joy of full involvement with them; taking care of their daily needs, walking them to daycare, chaperoning field trips, and fully responsible for them in all ways. I was comfortable in my disease, and had fully embraced it. And I loved my children as you can love no other. But giving in to the illness only made it more prevalent, and it ultimately took complete control. And then it wasn’t so comfortable anymore. I knew I was capable of so much more. As my children entered school and I found more time on my hands, I began to crave the challenges and fulfillment of a career. But the environment didn’t support that development, and ultimately I had to make a choice. And I chose to move on.
I had enough of the accounting, and was drawn to technology and computers. I had no education or experience however, and had to talk my way into a job as a computer operator to break into the field. Once I had my foot in the door however, I found a flair for it and quickly advanced. Before long, I learned the technology and became more adept at computer support. Then I was leading the group as a team lead. This turned into department management. And I changed jobs a few times until I was running the full computer support for a large government agency. I had become a techno-guru.
And I began to get restless. My career path didn’t show any change; only responsibility for larger staffs and bigger customers. So I took that experience into customer support. Bridging the technology background with new management skills, I worked my way into another job heading a customer support department for a software company. It was in the technology field, but it was more about caring for the customer than it was the high-tech role. I became very good at anticipating and fulfilling our customer needs in a complex and very specific world. The nature of the product was highly specialized, and as I learned more about it I became an immersed in a totally new field. I moved out of customer support, and into a training and efficiency expert role. I was traveling the world, going from company to company; teaching the users how to use our product and helping management become more productive and profitable.
And again, it changed. I entered the world of Senior Executives.
I was now a Vice President in a totally different industry. It combined the accounting, technology, management and services. I had responsibility for all of operations in a project management firm. It was a highfalutin’ time; hanging out with other top dogs, country club membership, a huge house in an upscale neighborhood, vacation home and luxury cars. I really felt I had arrived. Like many with new found wealth, I developed a superiority complex. I had come so far; it just proved to me that I was better than others stuck in their mundane, middle class lives. I admit; I was a complete jerk.
But all ‘good’ things must come to an end, and when the industry tanked, I found myself unemployed and unable to find a job. The house, the cars and the lavish lifestyle melted away and I found myself on the brink of disaster. I called in a favor from one of the few former associates I’d had and finagled a job as a team lead for quality control in a manufacturing facility. No experience in quality at all; but as my friend said, a good manager can manage anything. And surprise! I excelled at it. Not only did I find a knack for the engineering side of it, but it was a Japanese owned company and I dove into the culture and even started learning the language. It was a huge difference however, going from the highbrow executive world to the greasy, dirty world of manufacturing. And I was having a blast.
And Mr. Bipolar reared his ugly head again.
I became extremely manic. I was constantly angry, impossibly high expectations, frustration with my management and a superiority complex. But I couldn’t maintain the insanely intense pace, and ultimately crashed ending up in yet another hospitalization. I was already on the cusp of dismissal anyway, but the Japanese perspective of mental illness is that of a dishonorable weakness.
And that was the end of that.
Here was another long period of unemployment. I haven’t mentioned the other three wives I gained and lost during that time, but concurrent with losing my job, my marriage failed. I entered a deep depression that almost killed me. Ultimately, I was able to pull out of it, and somehow found a job back in front line support.
And that’s where I am today.
So progressing up the career ladder and crashing back to the start doesn’t sound that unusual, does it? I guess the way I see it is because of all the different industries and roles I’ve had. Sales accounting, computer technology, government contracting, telecom, construction, manufacturing, and back to customer support is quite a spread. My wives have been ultra conservative, liberal, snooty and fantasy. My illness had fed greatly into all these changes as I’ve moved up and down through cycling moods. My adaptability and quick learning skills allowed me to conform to where I was at the time. And there was a little piece of who I am that followed through all the changes. But not enough to ever feel like I had really found myself. I’ve never really felt like I’ve fit in anywhere. I’m not a redneck, but I was not comfortable in the upper management role either.
I guess I’ve never really been comfortable with myself at all.
So now things have settled down, and I don’t feel like I’m dominated by all the mood swings and influences of being bipolar. I feel like I have a clean slate in front of me; a time to really discover who I am and what I want to be without the interference of my illness. But honestly I haven’t a clue of who or what that is. I don’t fit in anywhere, yet I fit in everywhere. Now I just need to decide where that is that is true and comfortable. It’s a process that I’m just getting started with, and much harder than I would have imagined. With all the variables and experiences it’s really difficult to see where I fall. I think though that I’m in a good place to figure it out. My challenge is to not fall into the path of least resistance, but really follow what’s in my soul. I have a great therapist, I’m in a strong relationship, and my emotions and actions are stabilized. It’s time to take time.
It’s time to be me.