Meet Bobby: A Portrait of Bi-Polar Disorder
The following is a true story of a friend of mine who was bipolar.


I had a friend in college who was bipolar.  We'll call him Bobby, even though that wasn't his real name.  I first met him in an English class.  Early on in the semester we had to write a short piece based around an incident in a story we had just read, only our version had to be from the perspective of another character in it.  The story was called "Gimple the Fool" and was sort of a "Forrest Gump" kind of story about a guy who was the village idiot and was genuinely not terribly bright but who always managed to be successful no matter how foolish the endeavor.

We were divided into groups of four students.  I ended up with bipolar Bobby, a girl named Karen (with whom I became pretty good friends for the next few years), and some sorority girl.  The latter wanted to be the scribe because that way she could get credit for the work without having to do much thinking.  We sat down and one of us kind of called the meeting to order, so to speak.  "Okay, so how do we want to approach this?"

Without another word, Bobby launched into what sounded like Robin Williams making a pitch for a movie during the height of his cocaine years.  The rest of us were pushed back in our chairs like we were pulling six Gs, and the sorority girl's jaw and pen were about equal height from the paper as she just sat frozen in place trying to figure out how she was going to get all this down.  She finally started scribbling quickly, but undoubtedly missed most of it.

A few minutes later, the professor called us all back together and asked who would like to share.  As you might expect, the supremely manic Bobby volunteered.  The sorority girl offered him her notes, but he just extemporaneously launched into his telling of this tale.  I don't even remember the details of it, but it was really funny because he was so animated in describing what the character was thinking about Gimple.

When he was done, the professor and the whole rest of the class were like, "Whoa!"  Someone commented, "I'm not sure if I want to follow that!"

I got to know Bobby pretty well, although we were never all that close.  It turned out he lived in my dorm and he also worked in the cafeteria.  I saw him on a fairly regular basis, and somewhere along the way he revealed to me that he was bipolar.  I knew what manic depression was but had never met anyone with it personally, so I asked him for details about how it affected him.  He said the worst he ever was in the down-swing was that (before he was diagnosed) he wouldn't leave his dorm room for three days at a time.  He would just sit there and leave the tv running.  He wouldn't get out of bed for anything other than basic human needs, and never left his room.  On the most manic days, he would do things like write what was supposed to be a 10 page research paper without ever cracking a book, and he would have twenty pages of single-spaced material when he was finished.

You never knew who you were going to get with Bobby either.  I don't know that he was rapid cycling, but he never seemed to be able to get his medication to keep him perfectly level.  He was still always either too "up" or was clearly "down."  For example, I came into the cafeteria one day and he was working behind the lunch line putting out desserts.  I asked him if they had any more slices of a chocolate pie they used to make regularly.  He went into another Robin Williams-esque routine about how I should fill out a comment card to put down the cafeteria for not having the food I wanted, then proceeded to give his take on some of the complaints he's read on some of these before.  "Yeah, people are like, 'The cafeteria doesn't have big enough spoons, man,'" he said/performed in what sounded a lot like an impression of Dennis Hopper in, well, just about every movie he made in the '70s.  Bobby was actually holding up the line at this point because we were all listening and laughing and didn't want to move through to get our food while he was "on" like this.

A few days later, Bobby was working in the cafeteria again.  I went in expecting the manic guy from earlier in the week.  I tried to feed him something to riff on.  "Hey, Bobby.  How about these crazy deserts?"  He was like, "Yeah."  Pause.  "Same old stuff."  It was like his dog just died.  A few days later, he would be back up again.

One day he came out of the kitchen with a big tray of food to be put on one of the servers in the middle of the cafeteria, saw me, and made a detour for my table.  He sat down with his apron and hat and this giant serving tray of steaming corn on the cob, and proceeded to just start talking away giving his crazy take on the world.  He had all of us at the table laughing hysterically.  One of the ladies who worked in the cafeteria came out of the kitchen and saw him sitting around not doing his job and yelled at him to get back to work.  He was like, "Oh, I'm just talking with my buddy from 'Nam..." and proceeded to launch into a story she couldn't care less about.  I can imagine that went on a lot in Bobby's life.  He was very likable, but I don't know how he ever managed to keep a job.

Anyway, I wish I had a good closure on that story.  I'm not sure what became of him.  I don't remember what his last name was (if I ever knew) to look him up.  At least he was being treated, but I know (like everything else in pharmacology) there wasn't a magic bullet to set him right 100% of the time.





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