In late September, HOPress-Shorehouse Books hosted the launch party for It Comes From Within: Living With Bipolar Illness by Michael Solomon and Gloria Hochman. From the outset of this project, I knew it was something special. I read Michael and Gloria’s words and I listened to Mike Solomon talk about not only his struggles with this condition but his work in helping others with this condition. On the day of the book launch party, I was blown away. People came to talk to Mike about themselves and family members, and Mike and Gloria embraced them emotionally, physically and I’m pretty sure spiritually. Mike reached out to strangers and they opened up to him sharing their experiences and struggles. As I watched the interaction, I realized how proud I was of this man and all he wanted to do. Please take a moment to read this excerpt and buy the book. Proceeds benefit organizations who support and counsel those afflicted with mental illness.
Two reviews of It Comes From Within:
I really enjoyed Michael’s book. Sometimes books about a persons journey and be really hard to read, but that is not the case with Michael’s book. He and Gloria did a great job including his story and how it impacted those around him. I highly recommend this book.– Kay A. Raga NAMI Stark County Executive Director
This book took me by surprise. It was given to me as a gift and I will be honest, I was hesitant to take it out on the airplane, lest someone think I was suffering from bipolar disease. Then fate jumped in and my airline TV was the only one on a plane of hundreds that would not work. So I picked up Michael Solomon’s book and could not put it down, even to choose between chicken and pasta for my meal. I love the honesty, the insight and the real-life feel of this book. Of course, I now realize my heinous error in not wanting to read this in public. Michael and Gloria made me understand that this is a conversation that needs to be loud and proud. This book is great. Everyone should read it. But if you have a loved one who is working hard at their life because of a bipolar diagnosis, you should buy a copy for every one of their friends and family members. I sure hope Michael has it in him to write a sequel as my only criticism is I wish there were more stories of his life. He writes with charm, grace and truth. –Cathy Sikorski, attorney specializing in elder care and author of Showering with Nana: Confessions of a Serial Caregiver and Who Moved My Teeth? Preparing for Self, Loved Ones and Caregiving
Hello…I’m Michael Solomon
I’m 62 and I’ve been in a psychiatric hospital 25 times. Some of those in-patient stays came even before I was diagnosed with what was then called manic-depression.
Through my twenties and thirties, I grappled with unpredictable bouts of mania and depression and their impact on my relationships, my independence and my career.
I consider it almost a miracle that for more than 20 years I’ve been living a normal, healthy life, aware every day of what I need to do to maintain my mental health. I’ve been happily married since June 3, 2007. My mission during this time has been and continues to be as a beacon for the nearly 7 million people in this country who struggle with what is known today as bipolar illness.
Take this journey with me, and I promise that you will learn as I have how to live with hope and move toward the productive life you may believe is out of your reach.
What Is Bipolar Illness Anyway?
I know that everyone has times when they feel “blue,” when they want to pull the covers over their heads and shut out the world…other times when they feel as though they could conquer the world. This is normal. What I lived through for more than 43 years is not. It is no wonder that I couldn’t get a handle on what was wrong with me. I’ve learned that there are so many varieties of bipolar illness that, depending on what part of your manic-depressive cycle you are in when the doctor sees you, he or she might not recognize your condition, at least not at first.
Bipolar illness is a devastating mood disorder that can take a toll on your ability to function, to hold a job, to be in a successful relationship. It is different from unipolar depression, which affects as many as 15 million men, women and even children, and feels like a black cloud which will never turn into daylight.
The National Institute of Mental Health defines bipolar illness as “episodic.” Those with the condition swing from mania to depression with periods of normalcy in-between.
In the depressive state, you may feel sad, anxious and hopeless. You’re slowed down, have trouble concentrating, experience little energy, have trouble sleeping or need to sleep all the time. I know. I’ve had all those symptoms.
I can tell you about mania, too. That feels great, as though there is nothing you can’t do. You talk fast, your words often tripping over each other as you try to articulate them. You have poor judgment, insatiable sexual drive, racing thoughts and find you can function on little sleep. You also deny that anything is wrong.
Not everyone with bipolar illness experiences all of the symptoms. Not everyone buys an airplane, as Patty Duke did, and leaves it running at the gate. Nor does everyone who feels depressed become suicidal. I’m going to tell you what it has been like for me, how it feels to live with a mental illness.
Mental health experts say it is not, as is often believed, something a person can control on his own. It is primarily a medical condition that results from abnormal brain chemistry—an imbalance of brain chemicals called neurotransmitters. Some of these chemicals related to mood disorder are serotonin, dopamine and norepinephrine. That’s why I call my book “It Comes From Within.” Fortunately, because it is a brain disorder, it is usually treatable although there may likely be a period of trial and error with a variety of medications. Unfortunately, just a little more than a quarter of those afflicted never get professional help. I hope this book will change that.
How Did I Get This Way?
Some people insist that bipolar illness has its genesis in a chaotic, dysfunctional early childhood. This is not my experience. I was lucky to have grown up in a comfortable, loving family—my father, Abraham Martin Solomon, over six feet tall with a receding hairline and generous with his hugs; my mom, Sylvia Dorothy Rubin (her maiden name), one of five children, my older siblings—my brother Robert and my sister Carol. By the time I was born, my father had a more flexible schedule from his job as a food broker…and more time to spend with me, his “magic baby.” One of my most vivid memories is that of me always making his breakfast even if it was just cereal and milk. The nourishment we gave each other was more love than food. My dad was my God. If I made him happy, I was happy.
As soon as I learned to read, I began studying the sports section of the newspapers. I couldn’t wait until Sundays when my dad, who had season tickets, and I drove to Franklin Field for the Eagles football games. We were frequent visitors, too, to Connie Mack Stadium where the Phillies swung the bat. I saw Sandy Koufax in a no hitter. I loved basketball and hockey too, and met Billy Cunningham, the only person in the 76ers history to win a championship first as a player, then as a coach. I envisioned that someday I would become a sportscaster.
As I grew up, my life was good, filled with love, sports and the synagogue. My father was president of B’nai Jeshurun in our Philadelphia neighborhood. He was what in Yiddish is known as a “macher,” which means that he made things happen. I had been playing basketball in the neighborhood since I was a little kid…and I was good at it. So my dad found a way to set up a basketball court in the synagogue—two portable baskets in a room with lots of space and a good floor. He was the champion for the formation of a synagogue league in which I became a stickout player by the time I was 11 or 12. Our league won two championships in a row. Basketball was a highlight for me. I could have starred in the movie, “White Men Can’t Jump.” My dad always said that I was the Jewish hope to become the next Wilt Chamberlain.
Ironically, although my family was devoted to Judaism, we grew up eating pork and bacon because that was my father’s business. He once took a picture of my brother in the kitchen with a can of ham in the background. By accident it showed up in his Bar Mitzvah album.
Nonetheless, when I was 13, I became a Bar Mitzvah, in the traditional Jewish ceremony signifying that a boy has now become a man, that he can be part of a minyan in the synagogue. My family beamed as I recited the prayers. I had been given the choice of a big Bar Mitzvah party or a family trip to Los Angeles. I chose the trip, which we took three years later. But we still had a Sunday party. Because I was sick for the week before my Bar Mitzvah, my dad brought a barber in to cut my hair. And before the party, he filled the refrigerator with cans of imported ham, just to be funny.
When I was two, my father became an independent food broker selling pork and turkey, an occupation that continued until his death. I began working with him, and he sent me on my first plane trip to visit two manufacturers in Iowa.
I loved my immediate and my extended family. My Uncle Max was an honest Republican politician who never imposed his views on the family. It was partly because of him that I became a people person who loved public speaking. Uncle Max was a delegate for Ronald Reagan when he was running for President, he was president of Old York Road Temple in Abington, a Philadelphia suburb and was commissioner, treasurer and a tax collector of Abington Township. And he had a good heart. I’ve heard that if someone couldn’t afford to pay his taxes, Uncle Max would pay them for him. I was so proud to be his nephew.
But it wasn’t only Uncle Max who made me feel good about myself. Because of my outgoing personality, I was the favorite nephew to all of my uncles. Uncle Al took me to play golf. Uncle Norm was my buddy and always there for me. “Come on over,” he would urge me. “We’ll watch the Eagles together.”
If my outgoing personality and love for people have its origin in my extraordinary family, it was Kate Jackson, our family housekeeper, who instilled in me my disdain for prejudice and support for people of color. Kate was like a surrogate mother to me.
This was a time of racial turmoil in our country and I was deeply affected by it even though I wasn’t mature enough to understand what was happening in the world. Dr. Martin Luther King was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee. Our middle class neighborhood was turned upside down when a radical African-American family who owned and used guns moved in. I was slapped in the schoolyard by two black teenagers who stole a small amount of money from my pocket.
I remember hugging Kate and feeling soothed as I watched her meticulously iron my shirts and pants.
Later in life, Kate became a caregiver for her son Noel who was paralyzed in the Korean War. I visited him with her at the Veterans’ Hospital in West Philadelphia. Kate introduced me to the staff as “my Michael.”
Against my background of love and nurturing, it was no wonder that I did well in school and made friends easily, I even became first lieutenant of the school’s safety patrol. I lived what you might call a blissful life. Until I was 14.
I know now that depression and bipolar illness often run in families, that its mystery is encoded in the genes. That’s why doctors who treat this condition take a thorough family history. In my case, the genetic markers are subtle, but significant. My grandmother May and my grandfather Barney, on my father’s side, were first cousins. They had four sons, none of whom exhibited symptoms. But on my mother’s side of the family, her first cousin’s son, Sandor, is living with schizophrenia.
Environment contributes too. My mom’s family—the Rubins—suffered a devastating loss, which shaped their dynamics. Uncle Phillip, my mom’s oldest brother, a promising athlete, was hit in the head by a baseball and died when he was 16. Uncle Eddie, my mom’s twin brother, lived with a high-functioning form of mental retardation. How much all of this has to do with my mental illness is something no one can know with certainty.
But I know that life changed for me when our family moved to a tony suburb just outside Philadelphia, where I became a ninth grade student in a new middle school. The other kids, most of whom had known each other for years, shunned me. They called me “Stinky Solomon.” It wasn’t until I learned that I had bad breath caused by instant breakfast with coffee-flavored milk that I knew what precipitated the name-calling. I was too ashamed to tell my parents, so I just repressed my emotions.
But basketball became my ticket to respect. I made the varsity team as a ninth grade newcomer. And yet, I yearned for my old neighborhood, Mount Airy, and my father would drive me there frequently to play football with my old buddies.
In the fall of 1970, when I was 15 and playing tackle football without pads, my left knee was crushed by an illegal block from behind. I spent a week in the hospital enduring excruciating pain followed by most of tenth grade on crutches. I didn’t know then that this physical pain would pale compared to the emotional turmoil that lie ahead, with behavior I couldn’t control and an illness that doctors couldn’t seem to eradicate.
Mike Solomon Bio:
Michael has lived with Bipolar Illness since the summer of 1974. However, the initial diagnosis was Depression. In 1975 at the Carrier Clinic/Foundation, doctors changed Michael’s diagnosis to Bipolar which started him on a journey into the world of Mental Health/Illness.
Since that time and despite many mood swings and challenges that accompany Bipolar Illness, Michael has worked primarily in the helping profession.
A one-time sales manager for AMS Brokerage (Abraham Martin Solomon)—a father and son food brokerage business, Michael lives in Montgomery County, PA with his wife Judy, a retired school teacher, and their three television sets.
Gloria Hochman Bio:
Gloria Hochman is a New York Times best-selling author and has won 23 journalism awards for her article writing in health, psychology and social issues. Her books include: A Brilliant Madness: Living with Manic-Depressive Illness which she co-authored with the late actor Patty Duke. Her other books are Heart Bypass: What Every Patient Must Know and Adult Children of Divorce which she co-authored with Washington, D.C psychiatrist Edward W. Beal.
Ms. Hochman has published hundreds of articles for The Philadelphia Inquirer, Newsweek, Psychology Today, Reader’s Digest and Science Digest. For more than 25 years, she has directed communications for the Philadelphia-based National Adoption Center where she is responsible for media relations, writes and edits the Center’s print and online publications, moderates public forums on adoption and child welfare issues, and works closely with the executive director to carry out the Center’s mission.
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