I can't remember much of the conversation in that consulting room. Just two words lodged in my mind: manic depression.
Until I began to respond to a sense of call to Christian ministry my life had been directionless and mostly "gray," but it was not until I was a theological student that depression began to take a hold. I had a driving job, delivering photographic equipment to retailers. I would be driving from one delivery to another weeping. I was scared. I didn't know why I was crying. I wasn't consciously unhappy about anything (I had just gotten engaged to the woman who would become my wife). I wasn't consciously worried about anything. I was just weeping uncontrollably.
After seeing a number of general physicians, I was prescribed anti-depressants and referred to a psychiatrist. Once a month, I saw the psychiatrist to ensure that my moods were stabilizing. I am one of the fortunate people for whom lithium works. Lithium is not a "cure" but an effective means of limiting the extremes of mood swing. When the lithium "kicked in" and my mood stabilized, life became manageable. Imagine the horror of my physician when, after barely two years of continuous stability, I announced that I wanted to stop taking the tablets. They made me feel truncated.
A while ago, Stephen Fry presented a series of television programs on the subject of manic depression. One of his interviewees described being on lithium as being "letter-boxed." When some films shot in wide-screen format are shown on television, the top and the bottom of the television screen are blanked-out. That is precisely what it feels like to be on lithium: the extremes of mania and despair have gone, but so has a third of your personality. You feel temperamentally castrated.
All but one of those interviewed did not wish to be other than they were. I'm sure this is incomprehensible to those peering in from the outside: ...