The whole thing about being manic is that it’s fun, until it isn’t. The strength and speed of the outward spiral feeds on itself until the tether to reality is severed.
The worst manic years are still a blur, and what I do remember I don’t always trust. However, I think the slow train wreck that led me to that open window started in the spring of 2004. After the dotcom crash and 9/11 I was forced to move back to Raleigh to find work. I spent three years at a small yet wildly popular software startup. It had a cult following. Due in part to its raging and rapid rise to greatness, it was one of those places where petulant behavior was tolerated and even encouraged as long as the job got done. It was a say anything, do anything environment and I figured I was in my element.
Then one day, seemingly out of nowhere, I got fired. FIRED. Me, the supposed dream employee? Getting things done at all costs? I joked with my colleague when I got the call to come downstairs to what was referred to as the HR Huddle Room. “Hey Don, I think I’m being called to the principal’s office.” He just laughed a little, not looking up from his work. I remember thinking what a good ally he had been over the past 3 years.
Don was the manager of software development. He was always a little scruffy and hunched over his Mac with his headphones, typing away. He had the kind of sarcasm that was a tad surly but I found him amusing and relatable. He was super smart and I respected that. His one employee, Allison, was his protégé. She admired him in such a way that I found slightly annoying yet I appreciated her loyalty to him. Allison was one of those anti-establishment types with long purple hair and a snarky attitude much like Don’s. I took direction from their contrary natures and felt comfortable settling in as a trio.
Don, Allison, and I were partners in what amounted to a crusade to oust our manager who we thought was not fit for his position. Mark was very buttoned up in an “I’m an executive, look at me” kind of way yet awkward and not quite comfortable in his position. We all knew, I think even he knew, that he was in over his head. He didn’t have any understanding of the work we did. It was often rumored that he only had this position because his brother was one of our company’s biggest clients.
It was a worthy cause. Things would be better with Mark gone. If there were others who stood with me, I must have been on the side of good. Why then was I the only one in the now dreaded huddle room having a meltdown so severe I could not even breathe?
I never understood until years later that Don and Allison weren’t standing with me, they were standing behind me. My fearlessness served as their shield. I was the one falling on the sword for the cause, the only one. I would say I couldn’t forgive them for that but the reality was this one was all on me. I was accountable for my actions, not them. This was a lesson I’d have to learn more than once, that regardless of the severity of my condition at any given time, I always had to be accountable. Yeah, I got dealt a sucky hand but I didn’t get to use it as an excuse for bad behavior. I was an adult. My actions had consequences.