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Fighting Mental Illness: Comminuty TV

  • Richard Cohen:

    Meet Larry Fricks. Larry’s story of mental illness, stigma, and triumph is an inspiration to us all. When Larry graduated from college he was a businessman on the make. Soon enough the first signs of bipolar disorder set in. Larry, what were the signs?

  • Larry Fricks:

    Well, it’s a speeding up of your thought process and it’s the sort of thing where you have incredible energy.

  • Richard:

    But you had no idea what was going on.

  • Larry:

    No, in my mind it was all good. I mean, it was helping me to be successful.

  • Richard:

    Now, religion, which has played an important part in your life, began to be significant when?

  • Larry:

    Well, I would ... I would use the word “spirituality."

  • Richard:

    But there ... you talk about a church that you are working on.

  • Larry:

    Right. We all have a cultural experience or may have a cultural experience that introduces us to, in my case it was Southern Baptist. And it did play a big part in my life. When I had my manic episode, it’s not unusual to have some sense that you’ve had a connection with God.

  • Richard:

    But when did it cross a line?

  • Larry:

    I was living in an area of Atlanta called Buckhead and that was a period of time when there was a lot of partying going on and ... it was a scene conducive to some extreme behavior around alcohol, and then I also got into cocaine.

  • Richard:

    But you attribute that to the mania.

  • Larry:

    I think you could look at data and it would say that many people with illnesses like bipolar illness, schizophrenia, and depression often self-medicate, and it’s a way of sort of trying to impact your brain chemistry. Now the problem is if you do that enough, you know, who knows when it becomes addiction. But I would say that my abuse of alcohol and cocaine was tied to my brain chemistry. Of course, I didn’t know that until I accepted a diagnosis years later.

  • Richard:

    Now, you were communicating with God directly -- not hearing voices -- but how did that work?

  • Larry:

    Yeah, I’ve got a lot of friends with schizophrenia that are voice hearers, but ... I’m not a voice hearer. But the way this worked is, I would actually ask some questions in my mind and then I would also provide answers in my mind and when I got the right answer, I got this euphoric rush and I thought that’s how God was communicating with me.

    There was a time that I actually believed that -- because God and I were in this partnership together -- that he would cover the checks. Well, God’s not a great banker. I gotta tell you that, Richard. Don’t try that. You know, I was gonna bust the cocaine cartels in South America and bought a one-way ticket to Bogota. And I’m kind of glad a friend told my family I had the ticket because they intervened, and I’m not sure I’d be here today if God and I had gone to Bogota and taken on the cocaine cartels.

  • Richard:

    Now, you met Kimmy, your first wife, in this period, right?

  • Larry:

    Yeah ... she, um ... wonderful person. But it’s not uncommon for illnesses, especially chronic illnesses, to impact a relationship. It often unravels that relationship, and that’s what happened. I actually frightened Kimmy. I mean, she loved me and I loved her, and she was trying to be accepting of this new relationship I thought I had with a higher power. And it was very frightening to her.

  • Richard:

    You had a major spiritual awakening.

  • Larry:

    I did.

  • Richard:

    Tell me about it.

  • Larry:

    
...and you know, you can try to put a diagnosis on it, but the fact of the matter is I had a powerful spiritual awakening. And to this day, it has impacted my life. I believe in service to others. I believe in altruism. It helps ... you know ... I think that is a powerful human dynamic and that all changed, and because of my experience in working with people in recovery from mental illness, I mean ...

  • Richard:

    But can you separate that from your illness?

  • Larry:

    I no longer have to separate it. It’s who I am. The difference is I now accept that I have bipolar illness and I manage it. I proactively manage my illness. And I direct my own recovery. And one of the biggest things I do is watch my sleep patterns. It’s huge with bipolar illness ... sleep deprivation.

  • Richard:

    You were hospitalized a few times.

  • Larry:

    Mm-hmm.

  • Richard:

    You were jailed once. Tell us the story of when you were at your lake house and you thought there were children dead in a landfill.

  • Larry:

    Yeah. Well, in this ability to communicate with God, I discerned that there was a serial killer and that he’d killed some children and put them in a landfill in Cumming, Ga. ... Forsyth County. And so I set out to find where they were buried. And so I left my lake house. And I only had on a pair of, like, sweatpants, no shoes, no socks. So basically what happened is I set out to find this landfill. And my house was on Lake Lanier, which is the water source of Atlanta. And in this communication process of, you know, where to go, God directed me. I ended up swimming across part of a ... part of Lake Lanier. And when I did my sweatpants got waterlogged and came off. So, do you have the term buck naked?

  • Richard:

    I think I’ve heard that term.

  • Larry:

    So you use that that in New York? Good. That’s good. So I ended up walking up to one of these beautiful lake homes and knocking on the door and the woman came to the door and started just screaming. Now, Richard, I don’t think I look that bad naked, but ...

    [LAUGHTER]

  • Richard:

    I’m not going there.

  • Larry:

    [LAUGHS] 

    So it obviously really scared her, you know? And she should have been. I mean, it would be terrifying. So I went next door and there was a weekender cottage and it was locked -- this was during the week, there was nobody there. Broke the window, reached in. Went inside. God obviously meant for me to be there; the guys clothes fit, drank the same wine I drank. Took a shower, put his clothes on. I was just chillin’ out. And I hear this voice, and a neighbor has, you know, been called and he demands that I come out of the house and he has a rifle pointing at me. And, once again, you know, he told me to stand there till the deputies arrived, and once again, you know, I thought I was bulletproof, and so I just said, “Well, you’ll have to shoot me. I’m gonna walk up the hill.” Now, this happens to us and, you know, that was an act that I did that was a criminal act; breaking into somebody's house, obviously. And I’m very fortunate that the owner of that house ... later I called to make amends and he forgave me. But that’s often what gets us into the criminal system. And that’s why there’s, you know, so many of us trapped in jails. I mean, obviously that was criminal behavior, but I was I was acting out of a, you know, of a delusional experience. And so I ended up going to jail. Now, here’s another thing that’s important: Because I’m white, middle class, and I have a brother who’s an attorney, and had friends in Cumming, they immediately got a doctor in to evaluate me. And a deputy transported me down to the hospital.

  • Richard:

    You’ve talked a lot about the mania that you’ve lived through. Tell us a little bit about the depression.

  • Larry:

    Well, depression is not as much fun. [LAUGHTER] It ...

  • Richard:

    But it’s powerful.

  • Larry:

    Oh god. I’d much rather be manic than depressed. I mean, when I went to the other extreme, you know, it’s hard to explain to somebody, but depression is like a black tomb around your thoughts. And you almost can’t have a positive thought. And I mean I can remember sitting on a bed looking at the closet and I couldn’t decide what shirt to put on. And so you’d have this negative self-talk. And I mean it just spirals down and ... it also plays tricks on your thought process, because you do things like lock your keys in the car. You just make mental errors cause you can’t concentrate well. Well, you lock your keys in your car and then you go into that negative self-talk; “God, I’m so stupid,” you know. And so it really is an unbelievable spiral, and you know, I was, you know, as we have said in the book, you know, I was serious about my attempted suicide.

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