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Jerald Archer

Musicians and Manic Disorders

November 13, 2008 at 5:12 AM

A fellow member of this site recently contacted me and asked if I would be interested in writing a blog article about a sometimes misunderstood disease that affects millions of people, many of which are musicians artists and other creative thinkers. After a bit of consideration, and a great deal of drawing upon my own courage, I decided to expose the topic, to the best of my personal understanding, for the considerations of other members of this site who may relate to the subject. The disease I refer to is bi-polar disorder, depression, and other manias that can limit the most talented of musicians, and render their professional careers a living nightmare for all involved.

I was diagnosed in 1996 with bi-polar disorder 1, accompanied with severe depression and anxiety, topped with an added diagnosis of psycho-affective disorder an the occasional delusions of grandeur. This diagnosis was followed by several medications, over a period of time, that did not work, but caused more trouble, and worse fits of anxiety and depression and eventually rendered me as legally disabled. I had enjoyed working and performing, both in the classical arena and popular music fields, for 20 years prior to the diagnosis. I had many great opportunities and travels along the way, which I can say has only been a blessing. Not many persons can work and make a decent living at what they really enjoy doing. Alcohol abuse was rampant in my business, and I drank heavily for many of those years. The popular music jobs often found me in very dangerous places, and drinking, along with some recreational marijuana use, was a way to handle being able to deal with people. It never affected my playing, but often I would become belligerent and verbally abusive to other musicians and colleagues who were not as talented as I. These things were only a prelude to the culmination of the disease in its worst form. I have witnessed the worse of people and the best of people. I have seen murders committed less than 10 feet away and not a cop in sight. I have been in the company of the most refined of socialites and the most violent of criminals. Often, I could tell no difference between the two.

The symptoms may have actually always been there, possibly surfacing around the pre-teen years, being inherited genealogically from my blood parents (I am adopted, and a twin). Other childhood factors included certain traumatic incidents, both physical and mental. I was raised in an extremely disciplined, almost Victorian manner by a strict step brother, a Vietnam vet who ran things in a ship-shape military fashion, as he convinced himself that my brother and I were to become soldiers at 18. Laughing and pointless talk was prohibited in the home, and the orders were followed without a word of question. Failure to do so resulted in severe discipline with a fan belt or a custom made paddle. Difficulties in some schoolwork, particularly mathematics, and disruptive social behaviors soon became evident and were quickly disciplined by both the school and my mother. The ideas of medications, in those days, were out of the question. They used a thick wooden paddle to solve problems with students. Of course, this is not permitted today, and we can see the results of that decision in our prisons.

The violin, and music in general, was my only real interest, almost to the point of obsession. Reading everything I could get my hands on was also an intense preoccupation. It was impossible to practice at home without my step brother condemning me for such a waste of time, and calling me "a sissy violin player". To remedy this, I would practice after school for 6 hours a day in order to keep from having to go home from school. Sometimes I would spend a few hours in the school darkroom, developing photos (I was the school newspaper’s chief photographer) and write my various homework assignments on a typewriter, which was forbidden to have at home, due to the clacking of the keys! I would find anything to do, in order to stay at school well up into the time I had to go home to bed. This could be considered a form of depression, or social withdraw. However, this paid off in the long run, as it took me around the world in my senior year for free, put me into college very well prepared and out of the home. The depression and anxiety made me intensely competitive and hard working. I pushed my self to often mentally debilitating limits, and sacrificed every thing that would occupy a normal teenager’s time.

In my professional career, I was my own boss and played by my rules. But in the end, the rules changed. The disease was not factored into the equation, and around 2004, it was apparent that I was incapable to holding a job, holding a relationship, being in the public eye and having a reputation for hard-nosed and often violent attitudes. I married once, but it was a failure after 4 years, partly due to my disease, and partly due to other personal circumstances that involved the disease. Luckily, I have no children.

As for teaching, I find it impossible to keep students after I tell them of my disease. I speak with the parent, but they have a limited understanding as to the realities of the disease. All that comes to mind for them is the tragic incidents they have seen or heard of in the news. Nothing can convince them otherwise, and this misunderstanding of what I suffer from has taken every student I have away. Parents are scared today, and rightly so. The references I may make to "my students" are those of the past that I had, before my diagnosis.

I quit drinking and drugging in 2006 and have been the better man for it, although it was the most difficult thing to do in my life. Personal productivity increased by 70% on the average, and my free time is never wasted. Being able to not be able to deal with certain social situations has proven to be a blessing in disguise, I always used to say "avoid the situation and you eradicate the problem". Now I practice religiously what I always preached. I live in relatively hermetic retirement, I still perform on occasion, record quite a bit and compose voraciously, and have my Faith to hold me steady. I appreciate the little things more than ever, and no day is taken for granted. I feel that it has, along with my past adventures, made me a more aware musician, and able to interpret and compose music on a more deeper emotional level. This is the goal of any artist: to be able to express inner feelings, not so much in words, like a poet, but with sound and the infinite wisdom and insights that are achieved only through experiences of the world. To date, my medications have finally been regulated, after a long trial and error period for the physicians, and to a minimum of those medications that have been proven by time. No SSRI’s are tolerated by my personal chemistry. Despite the dark days I have, I know they will not last forever. If one has to see the blessings and wisdom gained in tragedy, mine would be a classic case. The violin saved my life, one could say and is therapeutic in itself. No gift that the Lord has blessed me with has been more responsible for changing mine, as well and others lives for the good. Even when it seemed not so good…

If one should like an introduction to the aspects of the various kinds of mental illnesses, and to further understand how they affects artistic and non-artistic persons alike, and their relationships, visit:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bipolar_disorder

 

Bear in mind, that it is a wide medical opinion of most physicians and psychologists, that bi-polar disorder, and its accompanying symptoms, are a relatively new field of study, although it has been around since man himself. It was just termed differently in the past: distracted, melancholy, hysterics, the "blues" and many other terms were used to refer to depression and anxiety. It is unique to the psychology of each individual as to the severity and management of the disorder.

 

 Jerald Franklin Archer 


From Pauline Lerner
Posted via 138.88.132.111 on November 13, 2008 at 7:29 AM

Thank you so much for sharing the information about yourself and your struggles with bipolar illness.  It must have taken a lot of courage to write this.  Many years ago, when I was working as a research scientist, I did some research on this disorder.  It was a small addition to the effort to understand the ways the brain works, bipolar and various other mental illnesses, and drugs used to treat these illnesses, but I'm glad I did it.  Reading your personal experiences put a more human face on the disorders I studied.

I'm so glad that playing violin has helped you so much.  I often feel grateful for my relationship with my violin.  It is always there for me, and it always understands my moods.  I've never felt tempted to use alcohol or drugs of abuse.  My violin fills a lot of needs for me.


From Dottie Case
Posted via 207.118.250.137 on November 13, 2008 at 4:55 PM

Thank You Jerald.  Very helpful and informative. 


From Bart Meijer
Posted via 82.73.148.12 on November 13, 2008 at 7:43 PM

I salute your courage in telling us about your condition, and I firmly believe that your worst days are over now you know what the real cause of the trouble is.

All the best,

Bart


From Royce Faina
Posted via 75.165.212.225 on November 13, 2008 at 8:29 PM

Jerald,

     This is better than I anticipated.  I recognized your tallent for writting and am thnakful that you went ahead and wrote this article! I've made a mess of myself here at v.com and due to my Pschizoaffective-Bi-polar type disorder by flying off the handle at v.commers. I beg forgiveness from all of you. And tske responsibility for it. Take responsibility for our actions and press forwards. I think of Christian Ferras, who commited suicide battling depression all his life, and think of what wonderfull contribution he made to music, too humanity. Your playing is great, I hope to have a cd of you some day.

Again, Thanks my friend for this article. I hope other violinists here with mental illness chalanges will continue to keep pressing forwards fighting the fine fight, not for ourselves alone, but for someone who's life we may touch for the best.

      


From Terry Hsu
Posted via 64.253.166.252 on November 13, 2008 at 8:45 PM

Go Jerald! Best of luck in all your endeavours, including the violin. May they all bring you great joy. Terry


From Anne-Marie Proulx
Posted via 70.48.93.111 on November 13, 2008 at 9:19 PM

Congratulations! How a courageous man are you! 

Really, you could make a film about this!  But, it is a true story!  At least you have become the person you want: a violinist!  A few minutes ago, I was just talking in Sydney's blog of this issues: how many people couldn't do what they like and some reasons why the young generation is the way it is but it is nothing compared to your story.  Really, don't ever be ashamed of anything. I know some people who have the same diesase and with the medication you would never know it and it is absoluntly possible to have a normal and fantastic life after!  What a nice story of courage and I'm sure you steel have a fantastic life to come.  How powerful is the violin to be able to cure anyone regardless of what dease they have!

Thanks for this posting and good luck in everything!

Anne-Marie


From Joy Laydbak
Posted via 205.175.123.21 on November 13, 2008 at 9:24 PM

You are not alone out there.  I was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder when I was a teenager and it is very well managed with medication.  I have not had a single episode in 5yrs since I started Lithium.  I never did drugs, abused alcohol, or had any of the other problems common to this disease, but there was a period in my life which was very rough.  I know somewhat of what you are going through because I've been up all night long because I just had to sew new drapes for the kitchen.  Luckily that was a long time ago.

While I'm not secretive about my disease, I don't tell employers or prospective employers.  I don't  shout it out on a first date.  I mostly keep it to myself.  The few people I have told have been receptive to it because they've got to know me first and saw zero "insanity."  In fact, I'm quite boring and very reliable.  

My belief is that I don't tell my employers or prospective employers what my cholesterol level is.  I don't tell them what type of birth control I use is.  I don't tell them I have asthma, why should I tell them I have bipolar disorder?  Perhaps you should just not tell your students that you have a disease.  It's not lying, it just isn't relevent to whether you are a good teacher or not. 

Our private lives are private and have nothing to do with whether we are good at our jobs. 


From Ray Randall
Posted via 71.10.191.114 on November 13, 2008 at 10:59 PM

Your courage in writing this is a gift to us all. Our daughter suffered from this and life wa not fun with her. Now that it is under control and a proper diagnosis was finally rendered she was able to treat it and is so much the better for it. Many people don't know they have it.If they only knew how well the simple medicines work with this disease they would run to the nearest doctor for treatment and begin life anew.

Thank you for writing this.


From Jerald Archer
Posted via 99.130.172.66 on November 13, 2008 at 11:32 PM

Thank you all for your encouraging comments and understanding on such a delicate and personal topic as I have presented. As Ms. Laydback has commented, it is usually a good policy not to disclose such information outright. In some cases this is good for some, in others, such as mine, I have always been a rather up-front and extremly honest person. Sometimes this gets me in some minor trouble. But I feel that it is necessary, as I am not one to take on a responsibility unless I am absolutly sure I can carry it out to my best ability. My account, is mild compared to some of my observations and those of my personal collegues, some of whom lost the fight despite all the help that was available to them. I am thankful that I was strong willed enough to handle most of the nightmare situations that occured in the early stages of the disease. The hard-core and sometimes mentally abusive situations of my early childhood were more useful in my later life than I may have considered in the article. The military attitude in which I was reared taught me both extreme dicipline and how to handle dangerous situations, should they arise. I may experience panic and anxiety due to this conditioning, but they have served to save not only my life, in many instances, but possibly those of others, as well.  

Now it is simply a management process, and a conscience effort to control myself personally, and avoid occasions where an episode may manifest itself. I am on a limited amount of meds by choice, lithium and visaril, which are both well proven to manage the disease, and seem to be handling mine to a great effect, with very little side effects involved, which are very acceptable to me, personally. But I must also handle some occasional re-curring symptoms without the use of other medications, such as SSRI's. They tended to " zombify" me and I experienced terrible fits of uncontrolled rage while taking them. The weight gain was very depressing in and of it's self. It did not help my self view, but embarrased me to the point where I avoided all public appearances. Obviously, SSRI's work for some individuals, and not for others, or they would not be on the market. Everyone's personal chemistry is as unique as their own fingerprint, and it seems that the physicians must do a little experimentation in order to achieve the desired results in the individual patient.

When we hear of tragic news about some individuals and violent acts they commit, they either have a very severe psychotic tendency hidden within the bi-polar disorder, are not taking their meds properly or were prescribed the wrong medication in the first place. This is how the general public see all persons with bi-polar disorder, as it is a human psychological response to what they know, and not what is necessarly truth of the matter. It is normal human nature to fear what one does not understand, or have come to believe through bad and unscupulous press practices.


From Drew Lecher
Posted via 64.53.208.254 on November 14, 2008 at 6:17 AM

Jerald,

Thank you for such an open, self-exposing and informative testimony. I know individuals with this condition in various forms, and have never understood it—now I do.

May God bless guide and keep you and all.

Drew


From Emily Grossman
Posted via 209.193.50.107 on November 14, 2008 at 9:21 AM

Oh I feel for you!  Thank you for sharing this, Jerald.  I know you're not alone, and your openness is encouraging to many.


From Royce Faina
Posted via 129.72.146.24 on November 14, 2008 at 12:58 PM

It gives me comfort having someone here on the site that can empathize with a day in my life! Jerald can understand where most of you can not. We need more persons with bi-polar/mood disorders that can be spokespersons... ambassadors who bridge the casam between those with and those without!!!! So that it's not a we/they but an US! And be better equpied to understand and contribute in ways previously we were unable too regardless of where we find what side of the fence we are on! It'll pull the members here closer togeather to a tighter community.


From Jodi B
Posted via 99.50.135.119 on November 14, 2008 at 4:16 PM

Jerald,

Thank you for posting this blog. I think the only way to understand is by education. IMHO, you have more gifts than you think.

Jodi


From al ku
Posted via 69.115.221.104 on November 14, 2008 at 7:42 PM

concur with others that your utter candor with your experiences is beyond comprehension and really not fair for me to even qualify it.  suffice it to say that some have to struggle so much more than others through life and to try to turn a bad hand into a manageable one, to stay still  in a seeming downhill slide,  takes so much more than some of us can imagine.   some with mental illnesses may not be that fully alert and oriented, thus in a way the suffering may not be as torturing.  some others, caught in the middle of nowhere,  with enough alertness and feel to experience every second of the agony, emptiness, the impending doom, truly suffer.  often,  family and friends, or even health care profs  may not be that understanding or tolerant after a while.   so easy to burn a bridge.

i wish you (royce as well) continued success with this fight to be where you want to be and hope that you, violin in hand, also have in place a help system in case of flare ups. 

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