Strike Three, an Undeniable Success: Finding Confidence Through Bipolar Depression
Listen to Editor in Chief Gabriel Nathan read this story:
My name is Leigh Abraham, I’m thirty-nine years old. I live in Chester County, Pennsylvania with my wife and daughter. It has not been my lifelong dream to help others, or write an article in a mental health journal. I am writing this story because I saw my own story in someone else’s. And this was no coincidence. In fact, I know someone out there will read this and see themselves through my experiences.
My mental health journey isn’t really a journey, and I hate the word. It’s just me living a life, the only one I know. There was a bit of this and a bit of that, substance use, bipolar depression and such. I’m not here to tell you my life is outrageously bad or overly amazing. It’s moving along at the pace of life. There have been some tragedies, some bad moments, but overall I can’t say it’s been awful.
My life growing up was fairly normal, nothing really bad happened. There were some minor difficulties in school, maybe some mild behavior problems at a young age.
I always seemed to be the person singled out by teachers, often having to sit close to their desk. I can remember one teacher gave me a thumbs up when I answered a question correctly. It never made me feel good; of course I can answer a question. The same teachers who knew my intelligence patronized me for using it and displaying my talents. In my school I was pegged as a misbehaving, immature student early on. When I got home, my parents reminded me what I was, usually something like “irresponsible,” mixed in with other adjectives.
In my very early twenties, situations I used to find simple became difficult. I wasn’t in college anymore and I was living with a girlfriend. I had a job at a television station working as a TV weatherman. The same jokes I made in college didn’t seem to go over so smoothly at the network level. My immaturity became very clear as I accumulated more responsibility and eventually lost my job as a television meteorologist. I was arrested for prescription fraud, a tactic I had developed to fuel frequent speed binges. My temper was raging, relationships were broken. Drugs were becoming a problem. My family seemed to be an enemy. Doctors told me I should be on some kind of medicine like lithium or other mood stabilizer. I guess I never took it seriously. I know I danced with the devil more than I ought. But the troubles I caused, I seemed to get away with for most of my life. But with age comes responsibility, and stress, and many more chances to fuck up life on a big scale.
“Going crazy” is the term most people would use to describe what happened to me during the summer of 2017. My friend gave me a cute little black and white kitten as a gift. Turned out this little fluff ball had a bad flea infestation. I started getting some flea bites and they were itchy and annoying, so I quickly hired a professional exterminator and took the kitten to the vet. Fleas are a tough problem to resolve but they certainly are not permanent. Many months had gone by since the last flea had died, and I was still ripping up my furniture and still scrubbing my skin for hours. I eventually became totally out of touch. It got so bad I was hallucinating. I saw things crawling and started to mix up things I saw on TV with my own reality. This was the catalyst for me getting help.
I was officially diagnosed with bipolar depression in 2017 and began a regimen for treatment. For me, having a mental issue like bipolar depression is a lot like wearing glasses that are just a bit out of focus. Things seem okay at first glance, but you know there is something not quite right. A bright day may seem eerie. The blue sky looks dark.
Feeling blue is real. Depression changes how I see and feel, but only slightly. There is an underlying feeling of impending doom in my gut. The lump in my throat that won’t go away. Slicing guilt is cutting me down at every turn. There are maybe a few fleeting thoughts: “Everyone treats me like dirt.” “My friends don’t respect me.” “Everyone hates me.” “I’m not really a good person.” My vision is not clear. Medication has been a real help in the battle to see clearly. Medication is like wearing better glasses. It helps me see through these ridiculous thoughts. Sometimes I can laugh because I know these feelings and thoughts can’t be true.
I can say for sure my instability has been a continual pinch in the side of my life. I seemed to always derail myself when things started going well. There have been great successes in my life. I am not a stranger to accomplishment, but certainly I am more accustomed to failure. Long bouts of failure have plagued me at the most important of times. Unchecked, this problem in my thinking can take almost all of my confidence. That is where my deepest wound festers.
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I can tell you a lot of things about myself. I have some real special, impressive talents. I play the guitar with ease. I can play the drums without much effort. My public speaking skills will make anyone envious. My quick wit will skewer even the sharpest of men. I can talk to anyone about anything and never miss a beat. Nothing much gets by me when it comes to personal or business situations. I pick up on vibes and can easily slip into any conversation.
I think ultimately I am fearful of becoming a productive person. Productive people have jobs and houses and wives. These are things I will surely lose if I get ahead in life. I tried various forms of elevating my self-worth. Work, money, a house, a wife, a daughter. Though these are all amazing things, they still left me feeling empty and somewhat unearned. I didn’t really do anything specific to make those things happen, with the exception of reproducing. You could say depression adds a layer of worthlessness on top of all my accomplishments.
Looking back, I think I was always looking for people to confirm something I was doing was actually responsible. This time, I wanted to do something in which I couldn’t deny my own abilities. Whatever that thing was, I needed to be able to see it with my own eyes and have people tell me, “you’re okay at this!” I needed proof.
I wish I could tell you my confidence came from overcoming a great struggle. My confidence wasn’t born from a happy horseshit meeting with my therapist, discussing the inner-child. It didn’t come from a warm fuzzy meditation session. It didn’t result from any group therapy, or medication. It wasn’t through a great personal achievement or promotion at work. I wanted my confidence to come from talent.
I always had an interest in baseball and looked at baseball players as special people. Major League baseball players have no fear and in my mind are true professionals. They dress in uniforms, command respect, and are part of a team. They are responsible and productive every day, and I can see it. Batters stand calmly at the plate. They have confidence. I knew I didn’t. I knew I could hit a baseball, and if I did, people would be impressed, and I couldn’t deny that what I did was remarkable. For once, I wouldn’t be able to deny my confidence. No matter how I looked at it, if I hit a fastball, it would be a success, undeniably.
My life changing moment, the one that means the most to me, the experience, which I hold as close to my heart as the birth of my daughter, happened on a baseball field with a bunch of people I never had never met before.
More specifically it happened in the batter’s box. I saw an ad somewhere. The Brandywine Valley Men’s Baseball league needed players. Years of saying to my wife, “I am going to play this summer,” and never doing anything about it, I found myself in the right-handed batters box on a baseball field. I was more nervous than I had ever felt, totally terrified. My hands were shaking. A guy half my age with a beard and tattoos was about to throw me a pitch near eighty MPH.
The first pitch came in so fast I don’t think I saw it until it was in the catcher’s mitt. I remember saying, “holy shit!” I can’t even remember the rest of the at-bat. It’s not important really. You may ask, well what was the life-changing experience? What changed for me at that moment?
I think this was the first time in my life I acknowledged and saw myself as a guy who had balls. I respected myself, and what I had faced. Many have dreamed of stepping to the plate on a manicured baseball field, with the sun out and fans about the fences. I did it! I kept stepping in the box, and later in the season I hit the ball quite a few times. I drove in two runs and did my job.
My confidence kept growing with each stride. The feeling of “I can do it” started to appear. I didn’t shake or tremble at the plate. I knew I looked nice in my uniform, with my blue baseball belt. It may have culminated when I got hit by a pitch going about seventy MPH. I hadn’t been hit by a pitch since little league. After I realized what the breathtaking pain was, getting hit by a pitch never felt so good. I stood there and took it like a ball player. Now I am in my second season and have not yet recorded a hit. But, I am confident and I know I will get one soon.
I took a chance at baseball and a step toward a better life by addressing my mental health issues. With something as simple as swinging a bat I was able to get a little better, feel a bit more confident, and find some real perspective.