THE MISFIT'S MANIFESTO by Lidia Yuknavitch (TED Books/Simon & Schuster)
I watched Lidia Yuknavitch's TEDTalks "The beauty of being a misfit" this past year. This past year has been a very bad year among terrible years and worse years. But Lidia's talk gave me hope, and I borrowed some of her courage.
Although I was a much-wanted and loved child, I have not had the life I thought I would.
"Who does?" you may ask, as though I were dim and naive.
I was dim and naive. My parents and grandparents, uncles and aunts, cousins, and neighbors were good, decent people. They kept me safe, and protected me from many types of dangers. They told me I was special just because I was me, and I felt loved. I was an inquisitive child who began reading at age two and a half. I eavesdropped on adult conversations. I had amblyopia ("lazy eye"), and wore an eye patch over my right eye, and eye glasses, eventually bifocals. Because I saw the world differently, I did not excel when we kids played outside. I knew I was the cheese who stood alone, the last one picked for a team. The only place I felt free and strong physically was when I was swimming. And I practiced, and I won races, and I practiced at the YMCA during the winter, and won more swim meets. I learned that if I worked hard, was disciplined and tenacious, I could win.
My first name "Maura" means "Star of the Sea." In Irish my surname "Lynch" is "O Loingsigh." It is derived from the word "longseach." That is the Irish word for "mariner."
The sea of life was fairly smooth. As a child and then a teen I kept busy with school, music studies, singing, performing in plays, being with friends, and reading, always reading. My father's alcoholism was difficult, and our family kept his disease as a shameful secret (although most people knew). I attended a top university, and received a stellar education. Then I went to work in book publishing, and steadily worked at building a solid career, first at a trade publishing house, and then at two prestigious literary agencies. Then Daddy got lung cancer in 1990. His diagnosis spurred me to steer in another direction because life is too short. I found a dream job: working for a film producer's office finding manuscripts to read and decide whether they could be adapted for the screen.
1991 was hard year to navigate because my father died in February. Six weeks later I was roofied by a friend of a friend at a club. He took me back to my apartment, raped and strangled me. On the advice of a friend who worked in the DA's office, I did not report it. It would have been my word against his, he would claim I had consensual "rough sex," and I couldn't remember anything, so what could I tell the police? My boss at Warner Bros. had AIDS, and if he had been out about it, he would have been fired. I covered for him when he was too sick to come to the office so that the producer in Los Angeles did not find out. In April my beloved aunt, my godmother, died, and her loss was devastating. Still I worked hard, advanced forward, and then up. By age twenty-nine, my promotion to Vice President of the New York office for a producer at Warner Bros. was the cover story of daily Variety on April 15, 1992.
Then I formed my own consulting business, having producers as my clients rather than as my boss. I continued to work hard until I couldn't any more. I was drinking too much, I was crying constantly. I had held my grief at bay but the dam had burst. My therapist suggested I see a psychiatrist who could prescribe medication for my depression. He sent me to see Dr. Riese in December 1993. Riese confirmed that I was suffering from clinical depression, and prescribed small dosages of Prozac and Klonopin. Six weeks later, on February 14, 1994, he told me that I had bipolar II disorder. He said that my high intelligence, functioning (success) and creativity were all symptoms of this form of manic-depression. He bragged that only a psychiatrist as gifted as he could determine that I had this. The ensuing tidal wave from seeing this doctor left me lost at sea for fourteen years.
I do not have nor did I have bipolar II disorder. But I was thirty-one. The FDA had approved the use of women of child-bearing years in clinical drug trials for psychiatric medications, and Dr. Riese decided I was to be one of his guinea pigs.
I became a misfit who was misdiagnosed, mis-medicated and made ill. Eventually I had to stop working. My physical health and my cognitive abilities were impacted. I gave up my dreams of marrying, of having children. I was an easy target for a lot of predatory people. To use a phrase from John Irving's The World According to Garp, I had become a victim of the Under Toad.
But I did the dog paddle, and stayed afloat. When I could not see land, I navigated by the stars of my hopes and dreams. Then I finally found a psychiatrist who took me at my word when I told him, in May 2008, that I did NOT have bipolar II disorder. I had Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). I still do.
I have cruised the darkness alone. I have been blasted by enemy fire, and have scars from those battles. Still I am at the helm of my life. I have survived. I definitely am a misfit, but were I not, would I still be here?