Yesterday I was walking along the beach, alone enjoying all the new shells that the hurricane had brought in, when and a young man in his early twenties approached me and asked if I had a hammer. I thought this was a bit odd, but I smiled, then asked him what he needed it for. In his hand was a large, black, unopened clam.
“I was thinking there’s some good meat in here,” he said.
“Wow, you can just eat the stuff you find?” I asked
“Oh, yeah. Yesterday I ate a live snake.”
“Huh?” I said noting the wild look in his eyes. I humored him.
“Where are you from?” I asked.
“Well I’m not from Brazil, but I’ve studied it a lot.”
There was nothing Brazilian about him.
“Do you live around here?” I asked.
“Look at me,” he said. “Can you tell? I live off the land.”
I looked at his lean, tan body. Sure he was scrawny, but he looked like any other college aged kid. (He later told me he worked at Wal-Mart)
He then went on in a rapid ramble about his mom being crazy, and putting him on all kinds of medications, all of which he proudly said he is now off of.
At this point I was able to use my beachside psychiatric abilities to create a diagnosis for my companion, who had joined me for my walk. ADHD and bipolar. Having bipolar disorder myself, I recognize the frenzied agitation of someone not on their meds. Fortunately for me I take care of myself, take my meds and live a very stable life, but mania is seductive. There’s a pull to live in the magical, fantasy life of the mind that inspires you to create. People say it’s a lot like being on cocaine.
The kid picked up another black clam and said as if he was imparting wisdom, “You know how to find things? Don’t look for them.” This made sense to me on some sort of manic level. Afer all I had found this crazy kid, when I certainly was not looking for him. In my manic moments of the past I would have thought this was the wisest advice I had ever heard.
As we walked he kept picking up clams. “Here’s another one! See I wasn’t looking for it, but here it is.” Every shell he found had magically arrived to him.
“You know I had a heart attack in my car last night?” he said kind of proudly.
“Oh my gosh!” I said, humoring him.
“Yeah I died for like two hours. Last time I did that I ended up in the hospital.”
“You know I was in the hospital when I was your age.” I said. This was going to be my strange attempt at reaching out. “I have bipolar disorder and back then decided to go off my meds. I take them all the time now and I do just fine.”
“It’s a lie you know? Bipolar isn’t real. They said I had bipolar and ADHD.”
“I’ve been taking medication for bipolar for twenty years and I have had very few problems,” I answered.
Over the ocean’s roar, as we scoured the ground for sea shells he asked, “Do I seem like I have bipolar?’
I looked to this kid who I just met ten minutes earlier and said, “Yeah. A little.”
His defenses went up, but I had no investment in his well being so I just smiled. Maybe what I said would sink in, maybe it wouldn’t.
I grew tired of hearing the heart attack story for the third time and our conversation eventually dwindled. He invited me to come by the beach and party with him later and I just smiled and thanked him for the invitation. I headed alone down the shoreline.
As I climbed from the beach up the wooden stairs to A1A, carrying a handful of sea shells that I had just found I couldn’t help but hope that maybe, just maybe I was the magical thing that this boy had found that day–that he hadn’t been looking for.