The Innocent Years
My art career started as the result of yet another mid life crisis. I've had many. Perhaps I should start at the beginning (for those few that are interested in knowing the whole story).
I was born a poor black child (sorry, couldn't resist that line) north of Quebec, Canada. I naturalized to the USA with my parents when I was 4, speaking only French, which would account for the French-sounding name.
I grew up in Southern California, a pretty normal spoiled brat ... you know, the whole Sex, Drugs and Rock & Roll scene. Sex, unfortunately, accounting for the lesser of the three.
In my early adult years I invested ten years in the restaurant business, seven of those years with Carl's Jr., a multi-state chain. I worked up from Manager to Management Training Instructor to Multi-Unit Supervisor, where I was responsible for eleven restaurants – ten of which I opened in one year. A Major Burnout!
Having exhausted this career (as well as becoming grossly disenchanted with the crowded, smog-choked rat-race of Southern California), it was time for a change; a MAJOR change; a new life from scratch - a pattern that I would repeat many times throughout my life.
Off to Alaska
My first wife, Francine, and I packed up everything we had and drove north to Eagle River, Alaska - about as far away from So Cal as we could get - to start another new life.
In Alaska, I worked in the restaurant business for a while (Captain Cook Hotel in Anchorage) while studying for my real estate license. The timing for a change of career was incredibly fortunate - I got in on the ground floor of the Great Alaska Real Estate Boom of the 80's.
My First Fortune: Boom and Bust
Working like a madman for five years, I made a fortune in real estate in the early 80's, amassing numerous rental properties and material toys; luxury cars, sailboats and other ‘stuff.' I also didn't realize that I was getting caught up in this 'high-roller alcoholic, cocaine haze' that spiraled me into a free-fall depression. It didn't help that the market fell FLAT in 1985. I promptly lost the fortune I'd worked 5 years to build. Overnight, the market dried up!
I moved to Washington state to start over from scratch (again), at which time I filed for bankruptcy. Oh well. I did it once - guess I could do it again. What I didn’t expect was another couple years of devastating depression and severe alcohol abuse.
Hitting Bottom and the Gift of Sobriety
My drinking had progressed to where I literally drank myself into blackouts, most every night. I hid my dirty little secret from my associates and managed to function fairly well, on the outside. On the inside, I was dying a slow, torturous death. Alcohol had me in a death grip, yet I was convinced I was having a nervous breakdown. I saw two different therapists who both suggested I had a drinking problem. A drinking problem! "I drank because of my problems - my problems were not caused BY alcohol," I convinced myself.
With a family of 5, desperately trying to cope with starting over in Washington after a large Alaskan bankruptcy, going from comfortable 6 figure income to $0, literally overnight, shook my confidence to the core. Add to this mix, un-diagnosed alcoholism and mental illness and something had to give - and it did. I woke up one day, with the usual pounding hangover, listening to the words I knew would eventually hear;
"I love you too much to watch you die. Either you get help and quite drinking, or I'm going to have to take the kids and leave you."
As with most major life changes, we don't change unless the actual pain of remaining the same exceeds the perceived pain of making the change - 'hitting bottom' they call it. I soon hit that bottom, a place of incomprehensible emotional, physical and spiritual bankruptcy.
But not yet! Even holding my 6 month old son, tears flooding down my face as I passed him to his mother, watching them drive away, was not enough pain to counter not only my addiction to alcohol, but also to cover my need to self medicate mental illness that was lurking within, that I had no clue was tearing me apart.
In mid-December 1989, after 6 more months of serious drinking, there came one especially dark night, a night of such hopelessness and despair that I consciously decided that I needed to make a choice. By morning, I was either going to drive to Milam and admit myself into an alcohol treatment program or I was going to take my life. Both sounded equally horrible.
Morning came. I decided to live and admitted myself into a 30-day alcohol treatment program. For almost 30 years, with a lot of help from family and friends, I've enjoyed sobriety - with a few brief relapses in between.
With alcohol no longer creating new problems or providing self-medication for my underlying time bomb (manic depression), it wouldn't be long before my lifelong secret demon would launch another attack at me. My hidden disease laid quietly in the background, waiting ever so patiently for the right combination of life events - 'The Perfect Storm' that would make its final assault on my soul.
My Second Fortune
In the booming Seattle real estate market of the late 80's / early 90's, I once again managed to rebuild my career and amass another fortune, building quite a reputation for marketing and promotion.
After 15 years in real estate, I'd decided to try something different by starting my own marketing company (Vision Resources Unlimited, Inc.). This new company was very successful from the start. I consulted with real estate professionals and small business owners, teaching them how to market and promote themselves, develop marketing plans and create media formats. Business was good. Life was good. I was on top of my game again. Once again, I was 'Master of the Universe.' But not for long.
Mental Illness Takes Over My Life
With clinical Bi-Polar depression still unrecognized, I succumbed to a horrible bout of depression which lasted over a year. Inadvertently, I'd fallen back into another hidden addiction, another sick form of self medication - compulsive overeating. Looking back over my life would clearly show that food was my first form of self medication, a challenge that I face today and probably will for life. With alcohol out of the picture, I’d unconsciously reverted back into food, my new drug of choice.
I gained 70 lbs. over 6 months, pretty much lived in my sweats and eventually became too ashamed to see clients, rarely leaving the house. As I slowly became consumed by my new addiction, I became more and more isolated, shutting down and closing myself off from everyone around me, including my wife and kids – which eventually resulted in divorce. I couldn't blame her, yet I didn't know what has happening to me and felt powerless to change. I was falling apart – imploding - watching myself lose my mind - yet I felt powerless to stop this free fall into hell. I was totally and completely out of control.
"I love you too much to watch you kill yourself. Either you get help or I have to leave you."OMG - Really, again! Only this time it was because of food, my addiction to food! It would take years before I would realize that this was just one of many dysfunctional means of slef medicating my mental illness.
As with any addiction, eventually it fails to soothe the underlying pain (in my case, depression). So here I was, a blimp stuffed into sweat pants, hidden in my basement office, wife and kids gone and so ashamed and disgusted with myself that all I could do was sit there looking out the window, crying. How I managed to stay sober still amazes me.
Six months later the fog lifted long enough for me to pick up the pieces. Ever so slowly, I started putting myself back together again. I joined a gym, lost the 70 lbs and accepted a lucrative job offer in Phoenix with an advertising agency. The move would be a major turning point for me.
In Phoenix I developed a national seminar and wrote two books on marketing. My self-esteem was coming back. I travelled around the U.S. teaching 'Strategic Power Marketing,' primarily to real estate agents and small business owners. Business was good and I was on top of my game. It seemed like everyone wanted what I had to offer. I was useful, productive and once again, “Master of the Universe." Little did I know that this was simply the flip side of yet another cycle of manic depression - the high side of the wave: mania. It was only a question of time before I would once again plunge into the depths of hell.
It’s very common for people suffering from clinical long-term depression to self-medicate for relief from the relentless suffering. I had tried many forms over the years; food, work, drugs, alcohol, buying 'stuff,' sex, relationships 'hostages,' geographic relocations, compulsive exercise and soon ... walking across the country. Alcohol was the quickest and surest means of self- annihilation.
Back Down into the Pit of Alcoholism
After six years of sobriety and an inadvertent sloppy recovery program, I relapsed back into active alcoholism. I was now stuck in an all-too-familiar treadmill from hell, a vicious downward spiral of despair and hopelessness from depression, drinking to try and survive, more depression from the effects of drinking and depression - drinking / depression / drinking, depression / drinking / depression, etc., etc., etc. I wandered around for a few years in this cold, dark fog of drunken insanity, utterly lost.
I felt very much like a shattered, worth-less, useless, pathetic example of humanity, feeling more and more hopeless that I could ever manage to feel normal and fit in. I felt 'terminally unique,' ashamed and desperately lonely.
As lonely as I was, I felt like I needed to protect those around me as a leper would isolate themselves on an island. I hid to protect those I loved from worrying about me as well as to protect myself from well-meaning but threatening people. 'Threatening' in the sense that in their loving intention to want to help, they might try to take away the only thing that helped me to forget - my best friend that was trying to kill me: alcohol. I hated myself. I had to find an escape. Alcohol was tightening its grip on me, creating even more problems, yet failing to ease the pain and only creating more. This vicious cycle was eating me alive.
My 'Ultimate' Escape: A Two-Year, 5,000 Mile Solo Walk Across America
It was at this low point in my life that I decided I needed to do something - anything! There was no way out but up, or suicide. I'd hit an emotional, physical and spiritual bottom. I still had a glimmer of hope. I believed in God, most days, and God knows we talked a lot. Or should I say, I talked a lot. He couldn't get a word in.
Once again, I was blessed with the gift of sobriety. I was attending daily AA meetings in Phoenix and obtained some much needed support, slowly crawling out of that alcoholic pit of despair. Now there was hope in my life and a little strength to try again. I was coming out of a depressive cycle, soon to throw myself headlong into a massive manic episode.
While driving through the Arizona desert one hot day, once again praying (pleading) to God for relief from depression, the crazy idea of walking across America suddenly popped into my foggy little mind. Huh? It was so sudden, yet so clear, that it stunned me. Walk Across America??? You gotta be kidding.
Huh? Why? Why Not?
Apart from the fact that I was a two-pack-a-day smoker, 30 lbs. overweight (again) and walking to the pantry for a bag of potato chips was a major challenge - why not? What did I have to lose? I had no life. I felt nothing inside. I was dead.
I had put aside some money but I wasn’t passionate about starting another business. This might give me an opportunity to discover myself, again. I knew that I had to try to save my life, and maybe even do some good in the process.
Over the summer I sold everything I owned to raise money for travel expenses. This was another one of those periods in my life - all or nothing – where I burned all my bridges behind me. There was no way out except to finish what I'd started. I had no career, no home, no relationship - just time and 5,000 miles of road ahead of me. The prospect of so much freedom was overwhelming, yet offered boundless exhilaration with anticipation of unknown adventures. I felt like I was 17 again, when I spent summers hitchhiking around the U.S. and Canada.
I trained for a few months in the summer of 1996 to get in shape. Not even 800 miles of 115 degree desert would prepare me for the Florida humidity. Damned good thing we don't know what's ahead of us, or we'd never get out of bed.
Kids with AIDS?
Prior to starting the walk I'd read a book called 'A Walk Across America,' by Peter Jenkins, which suggested I would most likely receive a tremendous amount of publicity during this adventure. I considered it a great opportunity to do some good, thus I started looking for a worthy cause.
I put the word out to friends for charity suggestions. Soon thereafter someone suggested I go to a luncheon to hear a man speak about kids with AIDS. Kids with AIDS? I didn't even realize that kids had AIDS. I was curious. After the presentation I introduced myself to Jim Jenkins (no relation to Peter), an incredible man who had personally adopted two HIV positive children and started an organization called Children With AIDS Project of America, a nonprofit in Phoenix, AZ.
Over the next couple weeks, Jim introduced me to a number of children with AIDS. After hearing their stories I KNEW that I’d found the worthwhile cause I had been looking for. I'd found a cause bigger than life itself, and passion filled me once again. I was coming alive. Once again, unknowingly, this passion was intertwined with - and most-likely inspired by - the upside of my personal madness, the manic side of my yet diagnosed mental illness.
After reading that book about the cross country walker, I knew the media would be interested in the novelty of a pudgy, burned out middle-aged guy walking across America. I hoped to redirect their attention to the cause of Pediatric AIDS. Could it work? Would they be interested in covering the stories of children and families dealing with AIDS? I figured I had a good shot at it. Celebrities call attention to their favorite charities all the time. I was no celebrity, but my effort was odd enough.
On September 15th, 1996, I hopped on a plane in Phoenix for Miami and began the long walk back to Seattle via San Diego, a journey of 5,200 miles that would take me a little over two years to complete.
Alcohol Catches up with Me at the Oregon Border
Those last six months, from Northern California to Seattle, were a miserable slow grind, made especially harsh as I had to return the motor home and relapsed into active alcoholism.
The RV was donated for the walk, (Rainbow RV - Seattle, WA), but I could no longer live up to my part of the bargain to pay all expenses. I was flat broke. Donations had come to a grinding halt - people lose interest in donating to a cause that takes so long to complete.
For the few months prior to deciding to return the RV, there was were many weeks with no money for gas, or food. There were 'many' days that all I could do was sit in the RV, unable to move forward and conserved what food and water I had. All I could do was pray. Often, I would park and hide behind train cars, old buildings or deep in the woods for fear of being arrested for vagrancy. These were very tense, stress filled times - and there were many of them.
Eventually a small donation would come in - I'd put some gas in the tank, buy a little food and hit the road again to walk as far as I could go. My mother had helped support the walk for the entire duration - I don't think it would have been possible without her help.
One thing I knew for sure, I would finish what I'd started - or die trying.Eventually, I returned the RV to Seattle and took a bus back to where I finished walking, having purchased the gear needed to live independently on the road. If I wanted to finish the walk I'd have to do it fully self-contained. The RV was gone. My new backpack weighed 65 lbs., as I needed to carry everything I'd need to live, as opposed to the 15 lb. daypack I normally carried with me.
To make matters worse, it rained every day for months as I groped along in a drunken stupor, hundreds of miles up and down those damned steep Oregon coast cliff-side roads.
Miserable would be a gross understatement! I was so ashamed of my pathetic state that I removed the sign on my backpack "Miami to Seattle for Kids with AIDS," as I didn't want people to associate this staggering, drunken wet bum with the kids. But I HAD to finish what I'd started, even if it killed me - which at this point, I welcomed.
OMG, only a few hundred miles to go, am I really going to Quit after 5000 miles?Nearly 5,000 miles of trudging through every conceivable condition and here I was, sopping wet and stinkin' drunk, stumbling up the coast, almost home, in constant physical and emotional pain, with only a few hundred miles to go - and I was pretty sure I couldn’t finish the walk. I was raging mad at God, feeling completely betrayed and abandoned. I would hold my head up screaming at Him, reminding me now of that scene in Forrest Gump when Lt. Dan Taylor (Gary Sinise) rages at God in the full fury of a hurricane. I don't recommend this to anyone! But I assure you, at the time, I was out of my mind in self pity.
I believed from the very start, that this walk was 'His' idea. That was the truly maddening part. The way I saw it, I'd walked through hell, pushing past relentless fears, facing serious death threats and countless obstacles, always forcing myself to take that one extra step when I felt my legs, mind, and spirit were failing me – and for what? So God could dump me on the side of the road, a miserable drunken failure, only a few hundred miles from the finish line? Perhaps an example of a defective human being, riddled with sin, to be discarded and forgotten - an example of what NOT to be? Poor betrayed me. I was having a major pity party, all by myself. But this was how I felt. I don't think I had ever, for since then, ever felt so defeated and hopeless in my life.
Later it would become clear to me that He carried me all the way, never once leaving my side. God hadn't forsaken me – I had forsaken me. All of those hardships, every single miserable moment, were indispensable in forging me into the man I am today.
How could I be of any use to others – how could I help encourage anyone to keep walking through hell - if I hadn't been there myself? All of that pain was not wasted - unless, of course, I didn't pass along my story, my experience, strength and hope. Maybe, then I could witness God's will for me and be of some use. Maybe then, my life would mean something. I'd started this walk to find myself, yet felt more lost and confused, than ever.
For over two years of actual walking, in spite of countless hardships, I had a vision that kept me moving forward, day-by-day, step-by-step (over ten million steps). That vision, which I would play over and over again in my mind, especially in times of doubt, was of those last few steps walking up to the base of the Space Needle in Seattle, with my son at my side, to complete this once-in-a-lifetime adventure - holding Alex’s hand in mine; touching the 'Needle.' DONE! My proudest moment - well, that's what I thought.
The Ultimate High
The experience was larger than life itself. Making a difference is the ultimate high. I have thousands of pictures, hundreds of stories and incredible memories from this adventure. Who knows? Maybe someday I'll write a book.
The Great Depression
For a couple years while walking, I had a great deal of time to think, to imagine unlimited possibilities for my life - for my 'after-walk life.' What I hadn't foreseen was the excruciatingly torturous and incapacitating manic depressive episode that would soon consume me, mind, body and soul.
While walking, my life made perfect sense. I had a purpose. I was useful and productive. I knew who I was. I 'was' making a difference and my ego had identified who I was with what I had accomplished. When the walk ended, almost overnight, I was lost, totally and utterly lost. I had no idea who I was.
I was overwhelmed, feeling worthless, useless and pathetic, once again. I thought that I’d walked away from a mid-life identity crisis (family, career, aging; you know, the usual 'who am I and what's it all about' stuff). That crisis was nothing compared to the confusion, anxiety and desperation I felt after finishing the walk, with no new identity to attach to.
Back Surgery and a Manic Depressive Free-Fall into Hell
For three years I rode a tidal wave of mania. The flip side of this manic depressive episode was a free-fall into the depths of insanity - an eight-year, nearly fatal depression which I never saw coming.
The surgeons told me later that when the two disks in my lower back ruptured, it was the straw that broke the camel’s back. Ten million steps, day-in and day-out, and those last few months carrying a waterlogged behemoth pack, up and down the Oregon coastal hills eventually blew out my back.
The last few months of the walk I couldn’t remove my backpack at the end of the day, for days at a time, as it quite literally held my spine together. Every night I would set up my filthy, smelly tent, in the rain, crawl inside with a bottle of booze and a box of pop tarts, pull the waist straps of my pack tight around me and fall into a fitful stupor - only to wake up with my head pounding, stomach churning and seemingly endless miles of steep wet roads ahead. God, I was one miserable son-of-a-bitch.
Within six months I could no longer walk, and could only stand for a few minutes at a time. This was just another excuse for me to feel sorry for myself and rage at God. And once again, later, I would realize it was a miracle that I could even finish the walk at all - considering the deterioration of my spine. Perhaps even my relapse was a part of His plan, providing an anesthesia to block some of the pain, allowing me to walk that last few hundred miles up and down those hills. Who knows?
I underwent a long, risky fusion surgery where they inserted dozens of stainless steel parts into my spine to hold everything together. I looked at this as one less problem to deal with. But as painful as the back problem was, it paled in comparison to the relentless depression/alcohol cycle which was just warming up again, ready to take me down.
Standing Up (Again)
Totally lacking the self-confidence or desire to go back into marketing or sales, I didn't know what to do. I needed something that would provide an outlet for my insatiable appetite for expressing myself, allowing me to unleash the yet-to-be-discovered 'demons of my soul.'
Once again, not knowing I was mentally ill, I was trying to fix myself from the outside in.
I just wanted to feel okay in my own skin. I hated myself for what I saw in the mirror, much of it due to an undiagnosed illness manifesting itself a desperate shell of a person. I despised what I saw in that mirror.
A vicious battle was always being fought within me. One part of me loved life and wanted desperately to fit in, to play with the other kids, to love, to live. The other part of me was always scared to death, hiding in shame, insecure, self-loathing and wanting to die.
I didn't know I was sick. I felt like I was terminally unique; a defective freak of nature. Until I could root out the insidious disease that was eating me alive, there would be no relief, just many more failed attempts at trying to be 'normal.' This was my disease - up and down, played over and over again. This was my life. It was time to go up again.
The Beginning of My Art Career
It was time to start my life over again, from scratch. I decided to become an 'Artiste.' I've had a passion for creativity all of my life, yet frustrated that I had no talent. I had tried everything; sculpting, oil and watercolor painting and collage. I sucked, yet every now and then, I'd try something new. This would be another attempt to find my passion.
I never had the ability to sit still long enough to attend college. Nevertheless, all the careers I undertook and succeeded in, I learned by just jumping in and doing it. I was never afraid of hard work or trying new things. This had always worked me for me in the past, so why not now?
I figured art isn’t rocket science - it's just expressing what's inside onto something on the outside. If it's the truth, it's good art. How it looks and whether it is 'good art,' well, that's just someone else's opinion.
Aside from the fact that I had no formal art training and knew nothing of art, I decided to just figure it out on my own.
I went to the library to check out some books to learn how to become an artist. I discovered a book entitled "The Simple Screamer," a book written by Dan 'The Monster Man' Reeder. As I sat there on the floor of the library reading, I couldn't stop laughing! It was a book showcasing and describing how to build papier mache monsters. Dan's creations struck a nerve with me. They were tongue-in-cheek, colorful and fun. This exciting new medium offered unlimited potential, allowing me to create, three-dimensionally, anything my mind could conceive. And that's scary.
Dan's wonderful creations reminded me of life-sized cartoons. No – larger-than-life (something me and my ego were quite fond of). I'd found my medium and immediately commenced work on my first 'creature-ation.' From this first effort came inspiration to create many more pieces, each one providing a means to express myself more fully.
I desperately wanted to be happy and find some meaning in life. Just like everyone else, I suppose. Art would be my new addiction - something I could throw myself into, yet another desperate attempt to fix my defective self from the outside in. I just didn't know any better.
I would throw myself into papier mache sculpture for five years.
The Strangest Little Gallery in Washington
In the Fall of 2004, my son Alex and I moved to Ocean Shores, a small beachfront community on the Washington coast, where I created a gallery and working studio. I hoped to sell enough assorted artwork from friends so I could focus my time and energy on creating larger works.
'Rochon Sculpture Gallery and Studio' was commonly referred to by the locals and media as 'The Strangest Little Art Gallery in Washington.'
I didn't sell enough of other people's art to pay the bills, so I created a line of more affordable papier mache art pieces which I called 'FisHeads.' Living in a beach town (fish theme), and pricing them within a range that most people could afford, 'FisHeads' were very popular and sold well.
My new problem? I had created an art factory. I would have to create and sell four FisHeads a month to pay the bills, and there was no time left to do any of the work I wanted to do. I was basically living to work, and not very happy about it.
Calling it Quits for the Gallery Business
I suffered a great deal of depression for this year in Ocean Shores. When the waves of depression got so severe that I couldn't talk to customers (which happened a lot), I'd shut down the gallery, go to the beach with 'The Power of Now' by Eckhart Tolle, pray and read all day. I heard numerous complaints from locals who visited my shop only to find it closed. I didn't care. That was a major benefit of having my own business - I could do what I wanted, when I wanted. This isn't, however, a very successful work ethic. Maybe not being open to the public might have contributed to not making sales? I was so shut down with depression, I was struggling just to stay alive. Breathing, was painful.
When the lease on the gallery was up for annual renewal in September of 2005, I took a hard look at my situation, assessed the goals I'd established when I opened the gallery and concluded that I was basically creating art for my landlord, the utility companies and all the other services sucking my income. This didn't make sense to me. I wanted to work to make a living, not live to work. If I could have created my BIG art, I probably would have stuck with it. All I was doing was mass producing fun, colorful crafts.
Did I look at this year as a failure? Not even for a minute. If I hadn't tried, I would never have known and 'that' would be failing. I don't like the idea of having regrets at the end of my life. I went for it!
A big part of my decision to close down the gallery was due to the onset of yet another serious bout of depression, which eventually resulted in cardiac problems. I didn't know it at the time, but five of my coronary arteries were almost completely closed off. Over the next two years I would have two heart surgeries with six metal tubes (stents) placed into clogged arties to keep the blood flowing.
I really didn't care. 'Fix it if you want,' was my inner attitude, all the while hoping I wouldn’t survive the surgery. I just wanted the pain to end and didn't care how.
On December 24th, 2005, I finally hit my lowest bottom.
For months I was trying to cope with relentless waves of depression and mania squeezing me from both ends. They call this 'rapid cycling,' or 'mixed mania.' This night it I felt like my head was exploding. I couldn’t take any more pain and suffering - it just hurt too damned bad. I'd lost all hope that I could ever get any relief, let alone any semblance of peace. I 'had' to end the pain, regardless of consequence. I was burning alive, from the inside and had to put out the fire. I contemplated a shotgun ending.
There have been many times in life when I felt desperate and fantacized suicide, with half-assed attempts which were really desperate cries for help - but this was completely different. I was done. I simply couldn’t take it anymore. There was no more hope. I hit my knees, sobbing, and in despair pleaded to God for help.
A Christmas Miracle - Really!
This truly was the moment when I was reborn, though looking back, it would be another couple of years before I would fully realize this. This was not a religious, burning bush kind of re-born - this was one of those rare moments in life; a 'divine' moment of clarity.
I really didn't want to die - I just had to stop the pain. I was going insane. The next thing I knew I found myself on the internet, frantically searching suicide hotlines. I ran across a posting which I thought was from a person suffering with suicidal depression. I needed some hope – I need to hear from someone I could relate to. I needed to find someone that had been where I was and had made it through to the other side.
As I read more of the story, I realized this was was not a letter from a fellow depressive, but from the 17-year-old son of a man who had killed himself. The letter was a detailed account of this boy's shattered life since the time his father shot himself in the garage, with a shotgun, on Christmas Eve! In trying to end his suffering, this father's solution destroyed his only son. In essence, he killed two people that day.
These words struck me like a lightening bolt. I clearly saw an image in my mind of my own son, Alex, 17-years-old at the time, writing that letter about me after I shot myself with a shotgun on Christmas Eve. On Christmas Eve!
Like a bolt of lightening, I was jolted into the realization that suicide could never be an option. NEVER! I couldn’t kill my son. I had to find another way out.
Oddly, after such a revelation, you would think there would be relief – but it was exactly the opposite. It was as if the pressure was instantly turned up 100 fold. With suicide no longer an option, I could see no possibility of relief. I felt like a caged animal in a pressure cooker about to explode and I was mad at God! Why? Why me? Now, I was quite certain I was going insane and wondered what a complete 'nervous-breakdown' looked like, and even googled it to prepare myself. I was scared, no, terrified!
I never realized He was there, by my side, the whole time. I didn't realize that He showed me the letter from that boy and that He lifted the phone to my ear when I called that suicide hotline as I spent hours talking with angels over the phone, through a very long dark night. No doubt about it. Christmas Eve, 2005, my bottom and yet, a major turning point, a new life.
In January of 2007 I was finally diagnosed properly as having Bipolar II Disorder, formerly known as Manic Depression. Since then, I have been working incredibly hard with a specialist using mood stabilizers to adjust the chemical levels in my brain, as well as a host of other tools that I use on a daily basis (more on that later). There have been many ups and downs, but today I know there is a solution.
Crawling out of the Darkness
Recovery (remission really, as there is no total recovery from Bipolar II) is a slow, methodical process. There will always be peaks and valleys, cycles of depression and mania, often at the same time. But there is hope - there are options. Today I have accumulated many tools and if I maintain diligence in their use, I can dramatically improve the quality of my life and greatly diminish emotional suffering.
Some of the tools in my bag include: prayer and meditation, managing prescribed medications, getting enough sleep, eating right, exercise, therapy as needed, reducing stress and situations that overly-excite me, service to others and accepting the love and support of family, friends and one incredible woman in particular - my loving girlfriend Sandy.
I am no saint, as my story clearly demonstrates, but I do the best I can. I have found that peace of mind is directly proportional to the degree in which I use these tools.
There is still a stigma of shame surrounding mental illness. This is getting better as more people are 'coming out' and sharing their struggles. I do not hide my illness no more than I try to hide my alcoholism. Both are illnesses that are chronic, will be with me for life yet both are also capable of being managed.
I am an outspoken supporter of mental health issues and post on various sites. I freely offer my story hoping that it can bring some encouragement for all those suffering, in silence, in shame. There is help, hope and recovery and a great life, in spite of addiction and mental illness. It just takes that first phone call.
Finally, I've found the 'Love's' of my Life!
I've taken countless classes to learn to paint, to study technique, color, composition, drawing yet thru it all, it never quite clicked for me - I didn't have the patience to follow thru or follow their suggestions - their rules. I was hoping that sculpture would appease my creative urges. It couldn't match the rhythm of my BiPolar.
In 2010, I picked up an old friend - a camera. Photography opened up a new world for me. It wasn't long before I'd realized that I could paint whatever my heart envisioned, with my camera! There were no limits and it allowed me to move fast, instant results, which for my BiPolar appreciated.
I had truly found my passion. When I was with my camera, I was lost within a whole new world - the zone. I was oblivious to all that was around me. I could capture what I saw, what I fealt and express it to others. I fealt truly alive when I was co-creating with my camera and God.
I post new work regularly on My Facebook Site and will soon be publishing a new website (details will be on my Facebook site) ... http://www.facebook.com/louierochonphotography
The love of my life, Sandy Rubini, shared this passion for photography with me. We often spent our weekends traveling around the state, looking for interesting photo-ops.
MY LIFE's PASSION - PAINTING!
"Life isn't about finding yourself. Life is about creating yourself."
George Bernard Shaw
A period of new life, creativity, rebirth. This is how I feel these days ... a fresh start. This past 9 months has been the most exciting creative spurt of my life. I am amazed at the newfound energy that flows thru me. In 9 short months, since starting this new medium, I have completed 25 paintings and moved into a large new studio and gallery. This does not require much effort on my part, just a great deal of pain and suffering and courage. Painting is, by far the hardest thing I've ever done. Each day, I must face all of my demons, my fears and insecurities, to be able to even walk into my studio, let alone that big white canvas. But the reward, the freedom of dipping my brushes into vibrant color and allowing whatever spirit it is that allows the movement and arrangement of this color - this is my love affair with painting.
Check out a Recent Feature Article about NEW Studio/Gallery.