A Week of Full-Blown Mania

Back in 1990 I got a Master of Arts in Psychology from New College of California. I worked hard over the next two years to rack up 3,000 internship hours, and study for and pass both the written and oral exams to become what was then called a Marriage, Family and Child Counselor. The license has since been renamed Marriage and Family Therapist. I specialized in counseling adolescents, so the former license name better described what I did. I’m not sure exactly what went into the license name change, but I do recall that child psychologists seemed to lay claim to working with children. In fact, while in grad school, a school that offered a masters, not doctorate, my child psychology instructor told me that I could not make it professionally as a child therapist, that to get clients one must do psychological testing, the domain of psychologists. I was enraged. She was wrong. There was a strong demand for psychotherapists in the non-profit sector to work with high-risk adolescents. Upon graduation, that was where I found my jobs, working with teens — pregnant and parenting teens and severely emotionally disturbed adolescents in residential and day treatment.

That’s my “ancient” history, my short-lived profession practiced when I was in my mid-twenties to age thirty. At thirty I had a complete psychiatric breakdown, was literally unable to get up out of bed, and had to stop working. I turned for the first time to my medical doctor for medication, up until then I had managed my depression with psychotherapy. First with Prozac, which overstimulated me and felt as if I had an electric current running through me, then with added Trazodone to take the edge off the Prozac side effects. My parents urged me to get a second opinion from a psychiatrist. Unfortunately, the psychiatrist I saw was old school, did not believe in using an SSRI (selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitor) for it was relatively new, and he put me on a tricyclic antidepressant which led to ramping and cycling. I ended up spending a week awake, thinking simultaneously at rapid speed in binary (in zeroes and ones), about chaos theory (which I had never studied), and about Christian mystics, with whom I strongly identify. At the time, I wished that there had been a way to record my thoughts so that later I (and a computer) could decipher them and see if any made sense. The content involved topics with which I had some basic knowledge and interest, but the experience was that of channeling information beyond my comprehension, way above my pay grade.

After that week of full-blown mania, I decided that I was not fit to be a psychotherapist. I had a psychotic episode. I wasn’t sure whether I was bipolar, for the episode was likely precipitated by the tricyclic. I was not put on a mood stabilizer. My psychiatrist prescribed a three-day regime of antipsychotics which stopped the racing thoughts in their track and allowed me to sleep.

Interesting note, I see myself more as a “former” psychotherapist than a “former” commercial real estate professional in spite of the fact that I subsequently worked in commercial real estate for twice as many years (that’s ten years as opposed to a meager five). In part, I believe it is because I was educated as a psychotherapist. My graduate education, internships, and written and oral exams, as well as continuing education, weekly supervision, case conferences, and a lifetime of dealing with mental health issues.