“We could never learn to be brave and patient if there were only joy in the world”. (Helen Keller)
Once I found out I had bipolar disorder, I was both excited and stunned. I briefly previously read about the illness in my psychology book, but had no clue I had it. Renewed hope for a better life, and of “freedom”, I started imagine what “high-paying job” I would get in the future. I also wondered what “normal” meant and felt like.
Before prescribing with new meds, I had almost complete confidence in my new physiatrist’s abilities: “He is a licensed doctor, and he has probably treated hundreds of patients, so he must know what he was doing, right?” So I figured, he would give me some pills, and immediately, I would be “normal”. Right? Wrong!
The medication Depakote made me real sick and weak. (I think the doctor later told me “it was killing some of my white blood cells”. ) Unfortunately, I was in the midst of my core computer classes – and they were very intensive and difficult to learn. Is this déjà vu to what happened to me in the Navy? Am I going to make it this time through school?
Striving to reach my dreams, and to prove to all, I was good, competent, and worthy of love, there were many times I felt like giving up. Every day I prayed and prayed for God’s deliverance, but many days it felt like it was a futile action. However, on a day I badly needed hope and encouragement, I found it from an unlikely source.
Just before one of my computer classes was about to start, I decided to stroll to the pop machine to release some anxiety and sadness. As my weary heart felt like breaking, I encountered some of the players of the men’s basketball team, the ones I exhorted during games. When they saw me, they asked me what was going on with me. After telling them, like cheerleaders, they in unison gave me a cheer, and said my name, and exhorting me to continue the fight. After they left, I felt almost teary eyed, as they “paid it forward” to many times I cheered them during their games. Their acts of love inspired me to continue the fight against my stronghold as I realized I was both loved and cared for.
As I struggled to handle both school and the meds of my illness, I told my teachers about my diagnosis. Instructors like Matthews, Largent, Brillhart, Dobbert, and Syler became very supportive of me. Matthews did that as I was encouraging him to be strong in some medical problems he had; he later told the class “I (me) am a really good guy, once you get to know him.” Karl Largent also became a friend of me; one day he wrote on one of my graded assignments: “Keep on trying. I see considerable improvement in your writing.” After I presented a PowerPoint presentation to the class, and I kept flubbing up, I saw Syler teary-eyed as I left the classroom in tears, as the project was 25 % of my total class grade.
In a Dan Matthews class, I learned how to create web pages using HTML. This acquired skills of learning how to independently learn how to use web design software would prove useful in later years for me, in unpredictable ways, about ten years after my college graduation.
Ironically, I participated in my graduation ceremony, the summer before that last semester. I was real nervous, especially after being next in line to receive my diploma as they skipped my name. They said some foreigner’s name, and then, a female one; so I got out of line, and headed toward back my seat in rejection, when someone noticed the mistake. The business school chair whispered to me when we shook hands, saying, “Thanks for handling it well”.
Durability Plus Engines
During the summer of June 1998, six months before finishing my studies at TSU, I realized I needed a summer job for income. Creative Dining Service, where I washed dishes for the university, didn’t need any help at this time. For a month, I didn’t find any job.
Unfortunately, I will never forget working at Durability Plus Engines, a father -and son-private business, in association with motor engines. A female at my physiatrist office told me about the position.
During my first day, I washed cars using a shammy. I also did “cold calling” phone calls, with the objective of making sales. Durability Plus was an extremely stressful job as the boss, Greg Long, was very hyperactive, awfully confusing in his instructions, and strict in details. That didn’t mix well my illness.
After the first day was over, I enjoyed both a steak dinner and waterskiing at the boss’s lake property. I thought “this may not be so bad after all, working at Durability Plus”. “Boy, I was wrong!”
The more I was around Greg, the more I believe he was crazy and a crook. First, he kept on calling me “Papa Smurf”. He would say “Papa Smurf, do this” . . .”Papa Smurf, do that.” . . . “Come here, Papa Smurf” . . . “I got a job for you, Papa Smurf”. Secondly, he sent me to stores to return items without a receipt. He taped up a package containing two black and two silver batteries; an unopened TV dinner that was past its expiration date, and two different kinds of light fixtures in a package. Like a fool, I went to these businesses, trying to get his money back.
One day, he sent me to a shop rag cleaning services business, to exchange his dirty shop rags with new ones. Before Greg sent me, he told me: “If you have any problems with them accepting our dirty rags, call me and I will talk to them.” So I went to the company to exchange rags, when a customer service rep said to me: “We cannot accept your dirty rags. Mr. Long doesn’t have an account her. We told him several times he needs an account before we do business with him, but he keeps sending people like to try to exchange rags, and each time, we tell them, we cannot do business without having an account.”
In fear of losing my job, I call Greg Long like as instructed. Dialing his number on the customer service phone, with the rep standing right next to me, I accidently put the call on speaker phone. After explaining the situation with Greg, he said the following: “Tell the rep if he doesn’t exchange the rags, we’ll take our shop rags and go to their nearest competitor, and do business with them. Don’t let these people take any crap from you.” The rep, hearing the entire dialogue, angrily ordered me: “You can leave and take your rags and tell Mr. Long ‘to go ahead and take the rags to someone else. We aren’t going to do business with him.” So I returned the dirty rags back to Durability Plus.
I also remember Greg hiring a new employee and then firing him two hours later, after the new worker came back from an errand to get pizza for lunch. On another occasion, being sent to get paint from a business, Greg’s son warned me not to tell the business “We are from Durability Plus” because in the son’s words: “Because they won’t do business with us if you do.”
Working for Greg was extremely draining, as I often perceived Long being like my abusive stepdad. I gave 150 percent effort almost every day to avoid losing the job. Feeling anger, depression, frustration, and fear, I worked 45 hours a week, doing: sandblasting, power washing parts, data entry, sales, washing cars, and running errands. Getting paid for two weeks work, he paid me two hundred dollars cash!
Greg had the nerve to say to me: “If you don’t have sufficient money to pay your bills, I make good loan deals.” In response to me getting enraged and threatening to quit, I was told by him: “Don’t quit yet! I believe in you! If you keep working a little longer, I promise I will make you a very successful and wealthy man.” I received the same wages at Durability Plus, in spite of the fact I made more car sales.
Desperately wanting to quit several times, I finished working there until the summer was over. There I experienced much anxiety and emotional pressure with my mental stronghold. Perhaps the experience I remember the most when working at that “sweatshop” had to do with me driving a used sports car to Montpelier.
One day Greg had me take my license plate off my car and put it on an automobile I never seen before. It was a middle-aged sports car. He then told me to “stay bumper to bumper to his son” as he was to guide me to some destination in Montpelier; where in Montpelier, I had no clue.
Inside the city limits of Angola, In, I struggled to keep up with the kid, as he was driving 60 mph in a 35 mph area. I didn’t know what to do, but to follow him. Surprisingly, I didn’t get caught while in town.
Outside Angola, on US 20, he is driving over 90 mph which made it hard for me to keep up with him; especially, when he passed two semi-trucks around a curve going approximately that speed. This made me real nervous and uncertain what to do, as I was I didn’t want to get killed or lose my license. So I tried my best to stay close, until he became out of my sight.
Stopping at a local diner, I asked someone if they knew any place in Montpelier that involved used sports cars. He had no idea. After leaving the building and headed to my car, I hear a horn repeatedly honking. It was Greg’s son, who turned his car around and found me, realizing he lost me.
As I got in the car, the kid started driving like a maniac; again he lost me, and then turned around to find me. We ended up at a car auction in Montpelier. That is where I was to take the automobile – a place to sell the car I was driving.
After the silent auction was over, I drove back to Durability Plus Engines with my license plate on a different vehicle. Thank God, the day was over, as I was driving home in my own car.