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  • I spent two months at the V.A. Hospital’s Depression Clinic. I knew almost immediately that it was where I was meant to be. I was in there with about 20 other veterans, and these folks, I could relate to. They were of all ages, mostly older than me, though one of my roommates was a young guy in his late teens. After being pretty much alone with my head for the previous several months, it was good just to be around people, other than my family. We played a lot of cards in the Day Room, when we weren’t being tested and interviewed and getting diagnosed and all of that.

    They determined in my first several days there that I was manic-depressive, with depressive tendencies. These days, that would probably by labeled “bi-polar”. It made sense, when I looked back at the previous year. I’d been on an extended manic “high” when I went AWOL, and did my cross-country jaunt, working 3 different jobs at the same time at one point out in Portalnd, OR, then working for the Chaplains at day and down on Fisherman’s Wharf at night when I was at Treasure Island, everything go-go-go. Then the inevitable crash, and the months of not wanting to live, of deep, clinical depression.

    Having a name for all of it, and way out of the wild see-saw of swinging emotions and behaviors, was so helpful, and hopeful. They decided to try me on a regimen of lithium, which they explained should help me to become more stable, emotionally. I was cool with it. I had already decided that I was going with whatever program they had here – I was a willing Guinea Pig. I was actually kind of relieved that there was no brain surgery involved. I would have been o.k. with that too, if it was necessary.

    I just wanted whatever might help me function and become a useful member of society again. That’s exactly what I got there. The lithium made such a difference, it felt kind of miraculous, to me. It was way more than I had hoped for. All the feelings and thoughts of inadequacy as a human being that had been playing through my brain, keeping me down, seemed to just float away during my time there. I started to feel good about life again. I didn’t feel like going out and dancing down Broad Street and singing, “Oh, What a Beautiful Morning” or anything like that, but I did feel much better. Stable. When Mom and Dad and Jim and Mary would come to visit me, they noted that I seemed to be doing a lot better.
  • While I was in the V.A. Hospital, representatives from the Disabled American Veterans (DAV) organization came around to talk to us. They were a really funny looking lot, roaming the halls of the hospital in their crazy unifrom get-ups, with even goofier looking hats, chomping on cigars, old World War II Veteran geezers. I tried to avoid them, but they were hard to ignore. One fellow started asking me questions, about how I wound up there, what had happened, and he started pumping me with questions about any problems I’d had while I was in the service. I did mention about the time, right before my 7 month Mediterranean Cruise, where I tried getting help at sick bay on my ship, and they turned me away, thinking I was just another gold-bricker trying to get out of going on the cruise. He perked up at that, and had me fill out a bunch of forms, and said, “Leave this up to me. You’ll hear back from the V.A. about this later on. It usually takes a few months to process.” I really didn’t know what he was talking about, and never gave it another thought after they all left.

    After two months, I was ready to go back out into the world. I had worked with a counselor there on a plan for what I would do when I got out of the hospital, and charted a path forward. It was April, and I wanted to get going back to school on the G.I. Bill, which had been one of my reasons for joining the Navy in the first place, so I enrolled in a couple of summer semester classes at Rutgers College of Arts and Sciences in Camden, N.J. I took a course in Abnormal Psychology and a course in Economics.

    Mary’s fiance, Jim B., had been working at a printing company as a printing press operator, and he arranged for a job interview there for me, and I got a job there as a forklift operator, pulling rolls of paper for the press operators. It was a good, physical, low-skilled job – perfect for me at that point. Jim’s older brother had a car he was selling, which I bought for a couple hundred dollars, so I had something to get back and forth to work with. Everything was falling into place.
  • One other thing that had happened at the V.A. hospital was, the young guy I shared a room with also had a stash of grass that he freely shared with me. I wasn’t too sure if it was such a good idea, but when I was able to get high, without all of the rest of the insanity that had previously been associated with my getting high, I decided it must be o.k. Apparently, the lithium kept me balanced out, even if I did occasionally get high. I figured, as long as I stick to just grass, and nothing else, it should be o.k. I knew I couldn’t drink, and I knew I needed to stay away from any and all other drugs, and I’d be o.k.

    This seemed to work out fine for the next couple of years. In fact, the combination of lithium and marijuana seemed like a perfect deal. The lithium really kept me on an even keel, but it also kind of made me feel like the Tin Man from the Wizard of Oz. It was like there was a layer between me and my real emotions. Granted, for the most part, it was a welcome layer – since my emotions seemed to play a role in my downfall in the first place, it seemed like a good idea to put a barrier between us, between me and them. However, that also makes you feel a little bit like a robot – or, the Tin Man. Pot helped with that. A couple of tokes, and suddenly I felt a whole new realm of emotions, and I felt really good, and I had a sense of humor, and life had a depth, a richness, if only for a couple of hours. It was a reasonable trade-off to be able to work, and have a life. I didn’t get high often, at first. I worked hard at Paris Business Forms, really threw myself into the job there, and once a month or so, I would drive up to Connecticut to visit my friends Reed and Peg and Dave and the rest.

    I would continue working at Paris for the next two years, eventually becoming the Warehouse Manager, and I developed an Inventory Control system that they eventually computerized, with my assistance. It seemed that I had found my niche. Life was good, for the most part, for the next couple of years.
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