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You Can’t Always Get What You Want

I’ve always been a goal-setter. Graduate from college by 22 (check). Marry by 24 (check). Buy a house by 25 (check). Get a job offering international travel by 30 (check). Have a kid by 40 (check).

Mom always told me I could do anything I set my mind to, and for the most part, she was right. What she didn’t count on was some 15 years after her death, I, her golden child, would be hit with a double whammy: a dual diagnosis of bipolar disorder and alcoholism.

Everyday’s A Party

My problems with booze were coming apparent before Mom died. Living in New Orleans for 13 years, PR director for two award-winning French Quarter hotels, I entertained celebrities, media and VIPs year-round with a seemingly-endless supply of food and beverages. By the time I moved to Chicago in 2001, I was a “problem drinker.”

Then, in rapid succession, came 9/11, my mom’s passing, a second marriage. The drinking escalated and major depression set in. The first psychiatrist I ever saw in my life suggested I might be a candidate for bipolar 1, but I resisted, saying I didn’t have any manic episodes, only the low lows (or, as my idol, Audrey Hepburn, said in Breakfast at Tiffany’s, the Mean Reds.)

Within four year, my marriage crumbled, I lost custody of my only child, and within a couple of years found myself homeless and penniless. The magna cum laude college graduate, former TV reporter/anchor and PR pro once voted “Special Events Person of the Year” by the local Ad Club had hit bottom. Or so I thought.


In my job with the hotels, I traveled around the world, once even spending an entire month in Taipei, Taiwan overseeing a special promotion. Fast forward 15 years, and I’m on the road again: only this time, I’m not staying at five-star hotels.

One time I flew to Los Angeles for reasons unknown. Out of money and a possessing only a maxed-out credit card, I found a key card in the lobby of an airport hotel. Amazingly, there was a room number on the packet — an industry no-no. I ascended the elevator, keyed in, ordered room service — mahi-mahi, no less — and crawled into bed. Nobody ever bothered me, thank God.

The next day, my soon-to-be-ex-husband was saddled with the responsibility of getting me back to Chicago (he said he’d buy me a plane ticket if I’d sign the divorce papers).

Another time, after a fight with my boyfriend, I hitchhiked for the first time in my life at 49. I got a gig as a “ride-along” with a trucker from Tucson named J.D. and ended up traversing 11 states with him. The road trip abruptly ended after I called the police in the Bible Belt of Louisiana when he didn’t want to be “just friends” anymore.

I drove all the way from Chicago to Savannah to Philadelphia in a rental car last year, and was an access control volunteer at the 2016 Democratic National Convention after being thoroughly vetted by the DNC. Oh, and I happened to be sleeping by the Delaware River.

Then, as recently as July of this year, I bought a ticket to Quebec, and showed up at O’Hare without a passport. I made a scene at the United Airlines counter, screeching along the lines of, “do you know who I am?” when they refused to give me a boarding pass (this, right after the infamous dragging incident. I think they were relieved to have the spotlight taken off of them for awhile.)

Pretty risky, irresponsible behavior, right?

An Epiphany

In August of this year, while in the psych hospital for the umpteenth time, I was discussing some of the aforementioned behaviors with a mental health professional and the bipolar thing came up again. And I realized that these trips, which I had been chalking up to my “adventurous, spontaneous spirit,” was full-blown mania, with some psychosis thrown in for good measure.

So why am bearing my soul like this, you ask?

Because of stigma and all of the misinformation out there. Watching the news, I grew weary of hearing people suppose whether the Las Vegas shooter had a history of mental illness, and worried that I would be marked for life because of my new diagnosis. I’m not a bipolar alcoholic; I have bipolar disorder and a disease called alcoholism. I’m not my diseases.

This was not part of the life plan. And no matter how hard I set my mind to it, Mom, it doesn’t just go away. I have to work hard every day to keep the symptoms at bay.

Like the Rolling Stones song says, you can’t always get what you want. But sometimes, you just might find you get what you need. In my case, I think it has made me a better writer, more compassionate and empathetic. And I sincerely believe that every single person who has been put in my circuitous path has been put there for a reason.

That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.