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About Dr. Ed Ergenzinger
Ed Ergenzinger, J.D., Ph.D., is a patent attorney, neuroscientist, adjunct professor, and writer. He's also a mental health advocate and educator living with bipolar I disorder.
The following is an excerpt from "Mourning the Living: Mental Illness and Family Estrangement," published by Dr. Ergenzinger on his Psychology Today blog:
"I was diagnosed with bipolar I disorder at the beginning of 2019 after I had been kicked into a severe manic episode from multiple stresses, including the collapse of my 20-year marriage, estrangement from my daughters, and alcoholism. I then swung into an intractable depression that left me unemployed, uninsured, filing for bankruptcy, and collecting Social Security Disability.
With medicine and therapy, I've been able to manage my bipolar disorder well enough to start working again while also becoming a mental health advocate and educator. One of the things I've enjoyed most about getting involved in mental health advocacy has been getting to know and work with other mental health advocates.
One of those advocates is Major General Gregg F. Martin, Ph.D., U.S. Army (Retired), who shared a writing exercise with me in which he’d been challenged to write a “love letter” of sorts to bipolar disorder. While we both agreed the idea sounded a little hokey, he had found it to be a valuable experience. So I gave it a try.
An open letter to my bipolar disorder
Dear Bipolar Disorder,
One of the intrusive thoughts that haunts me is of my oldest daughter crying and screaming, “I wish I had a normal dad!” That was back before she cut all ties with me.
You're to blame for that.
I hate you. You've taken my girls from me, and I f---ing hate you for that more than I've ever hated anything in my life. Because I've never loved anyone or anything in my life more than them. It’s still incredibly difficult for me to discuss. I’ve only recently been able to start discussing it with my therapist.
I’ve had to mourn their loss, even though they are still very much alive and don’t want a relationship with me. I’ve had to watch them graduate high school and start college through my youngest’s Instagram account. (My oldest blocked me from hers.)
I’m reminded of them dozens of times a day—whether scrolling past a show on Netflix that used to be “our show” with my younger daughter, or knowing that for the rest of my life if I eat something with coconut in it, I will immediately think about how my older daughter absolutely hates coconut.
Their ghosts are present in everything I do and see and hear and feel and think. I can’t throw out six-pack rings without cutting them up because my older daughter loves sea turtles, and she did a report about them once. At least I assume she still loves sea turtles.
I miss them so much it sometimes paralyzes me in both thought and action, and the triggers come from everywhere, constantly. The source of that pain can be traced directly back to you
You're why I've been fired from three law firms. You're why I see colleagues who started along with me who are doing so amazingly well financially, while in the couple of years leading up to my 50th birthday, I had a house in foreclosure, two cars repossessed, no money or assets, and several hundred thousand dollars owed in taxes and unsecured debts.
You're why, for years, I led a secret life of affairs, prostitutes, and Craigslist/AdultFriendFinder hook-ups. Until I would feel so guilty that I would stop, only to resume a few years later. Why I eventually deluded myself into believing that my ex-wife had to know what was going on, and so she was giving her tacit approval. Why I discovered instead that it was not a "don't ask, don't tell" situation; it was an "I'm asking, and tell me right now" situation. At the time she discovered what had been going on, I was seeing four women and chatting up a fifth. You are why I actually said to my ex-wife, "Can't I just keep one?"
There are so many examples I could list. You’re the reason I’ve been handcuffed in the back of a police car twice, and why, in a separate unrelated incident, I was able to punch the windshield of a parked minivan and shatter the glass without breaking or even bruising my hand. Let's just agree that before I knew you were to blame, I had just about resigned myself to the fact that maybe I'm just not a very good person. And I guess the jury's still out on that, but at least now that I know you're involved, the story is more nuanced.
You are the source of my greatest pain and weakness. But, goddamn it, you're the joy and the strength too. And the creativity. And intelligence. And drive.
You’re how I was able to juggle my third year of law school with the birth of my oldest daughter. How I was able to get through the oceans of cortisol generated from studying for and taking a bar exam when my new job, new home, and new baby all depended on the result.
You're how I became a ghostwriter for Senator Bob Dole when he joined my law firm. How I had the guts to insert a joke (that I made up) into the first speech I ever wrote for him, one he loved so much he used it over and over.
You're how I became the golden boy at that law firm. How, in addition to working with Senator Dole, I chaired panel presentations for five years at meetings of the Biotechnology Industry Organization which included members of Congress. One of them was chosen for a special "second run" on Capitol Hill for members of Congress and their staff, and an equity partner asked if he could get in by carrying my bag. I was a first-year associate.
You're how I was able to do such sophisticated legal work at such a high level, like managing the worldwide patent portfolio for Prevnar-13, the world's best-selling vaccine before COVID-19. I get a sense of accomplishment looking at the list of clients from over the years: Johns Hopkins University, Syngenta, Illumina, Duke University, Wyeth (now Pfizer), and my alma mater Wake Forest University, to name a few.
You're also the source of my creativity—or at least you're the bellows that stoke the fire. I write, I draw, I paint, and I cook because of you or your help.
My personality can change so very much. At times it's been hard to tell where I end and you begin. Is there a core "me" who lies somewhere between the alcoholic serial adulterer prone to explosive anger and the catatonic shell whose big accomplishment for the day is moving from the bed to the couch?
I've desperately wished that I could disclaim my extremes. That I could excise the tail ends of the distribution. But, actually, I don't think that's the appropriate metaphor.
Getting rid of you would be more like a redaction of my life—one that would leave a document that is so marked up that it's hard to make any sense of it.
I'm the "core me," and I'm the extremes. I'm all of it. You aren't just an add-on—you’re baked into me.
I used to think that if I had the power to change things, I would choose to have never known you—to be "normal." But more recently I've been thinking that maybe I would choose to go back and hand my younger self a bottle of lithium and a custom-drafted owner’s manual for the care and feeding of us.
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