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test-traveler/polar star

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desks
salt water solution
polar star
crumbling
miracle manor
lithium
woodstock nation
63 frozen sirloins
cleansing the senses
main street


© photo by Dona McAdams 2000

scene 6

lithium

I was destined for something before I entered Columbia University in the fall of 1973. My freshman English teacher Stewart Justman said I'd be the first in my class to die before my 18th birthday because I paced up and down Broadway between 110th and 116th st. at four in the morning  slugging Wild Turkey and reading Dostoyevsky. I wanted to know what it was like being an alcoholic like my father.

I didn't die by hanging or an overdose like many Columbia undergrads distraught over failing grades perhaps but I was the first in the Class of 1977 to be hospitalized on the Psychiatric Ward of St. Luke's Hospital across from The Church of St. John the Divine. My classmates visited and asked what was wrong; I told them I didn't know but I'd be fine.

Thirteen years and many false diagnoses later, I began taking Lithium.
Dr. Saul of Santa Monica, (who wasn't a psychiatrist but knew about lithium from prescribing it to inmates at Soledad Prison in California) told me I was simply a manic-depressive. I agreed.

I had known something was wrong for a long time. Uncle Julie had taken Lithium already in his sixties but it didn't keep him from jumping off his balcony in West New York, New Jersey. Cousin Mark took it. Ted Turner, Patty Duke (an Oscar winner) and Art Buchwald took it and they were still kicking.

I was thirty-one, loathe to take this stuff, but not dead yet. Maybe Van Gogh and Virginia Woolf could've used lithium, not to mention Poe, Pound and Plath, Robert Lowell, Theodore Roethke and Delmore Schwartz. Lithium wasn't around to help Hemingway, Mingus, Irving Berlin or 'The Bird." I was told to give  myself a chance.

So I took it, half-assed, like Vicks throat lozenges, Big Red or a bag of salt pretzels, which tasted better and weren't going to take away my precious highs or make my hands shake at night. I took it when I felt like it which wasn't "twice daily" as my doctor had prescribed.

 

 

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