This is the saddest story that I will ever have to write.
I first met my friend Mark, in Ohio, where we were both from, when we were teenagers. We were each other’s first young love. We only parted because my family moved several states away. However, we stayed in touch sporadically, some 47 years now, and he went on to live a successful life as a husband and father of four children and a career as a minister of the Free Will Baptist Church. I moved to the south and I married and had three children of my own and worked in a career in accounting.
We saw each other at a 20th high school class reunion and it was very emotional for both of us. We knew that we still had a connection between us but we of course could not voice it or act upon it. About 20 years later, in 2019, I found out through the grapevine that Mark had developed late in life bipolar disorder and it was pretty severe. His family could not and would not understand or help him. He lost his marriage and his kids and this disease sent him into a spiral of despair. Sadly, he ended up in prison for three years for stalking and violating a restraining order from his ex-wife. Several months of that prison time was spent in the mental ward where he was finally regulated properly with his medications so he finished his prison term in fairly good shape, all things considered.
Upon his release from prison, he had to start over completely. He had no wife, no children, no career. He had nothing, but he was taking his medication. And he was healthy, if not a bit over medicated. He was determined to starting his new life on solid mental ground. I was very proud of him, as I too, suffer from mental illness, in my case, major depressive disorder, and I understand all too well how important it is to stay on your medication and stay vigilant.
He’d suffered terrible losses. But he never lost his faith in God and he lived a life that he was proud of. He continued to progress forward in his new life and became involved in his church and got an apartment and was doing well. I reached out to him in late 2019 and he was just kind of living his life as a loner, spending most of his time in worship and service to God, having put his past successes and failures behind him.
We were in regular touch for about two years. We visited each other and we supported each other through our lives, and our trials. It was a good and very comforting friendship that I cherished.
Unfortunately, Mark was arrested for violating parole because he contacted his ex-wife in order to obtain permission to see his children on Father’s Day in 2021. This resulted in a six month prison sentence for parole violation which began in June of 2021. As I write this, Mark will be released in seven days, on Monday, November 29. And up until last week, I was scheduled to go pick him up from prison and take him back home and stay up there for several days to help him get back on his feet. He has absolutely no family support whatsoever. It’s quite sad and speaks to the ongoing stigma of mental illness. But I am his champion and advocate by choice and have been grateful for the opportunity to be the one person he can count on. We’ve stayed in touch daily during his prison sentence, and I have been devoted and diligent in writing him letters, talking to him by phone, scheduling video chats and just being available. I have covered his costs of commissary, telephone, etc. Since his own family has given up on him, he would agree that I was all that he had in this world besides God and his church.
Unfortunately, upon his arrest in late May, he was denied medication and had to go off his medications cold turkey which was extremely dangerous as anyone who suffers from mental illness knows. He, however, was not disappointed because he was feeling so much better being off the medication. Apparently, it was obvious that he was very over medicated during the past two years as he was often depressed and slept 16 plus hours a day and had trouble making decisions. He was looking forward to seeing his doctor to regulate his medications as he knew that his quality of life could be better but then the arrest happened and all of the medications ended. I was really impressed and proud of how he was handling his time in prison. I really expected him to freefall into mania or depression and I was quite concerned. But he was socializing, making friends, spreading the Word of God, from whom his faith has never wavered, and he was feeling very positive about his future.
He saw the prison mental health professionals a couple of times during his incarceration and he told them that he was fine and that he was cured from this disease. However, this was absolutely not the case. I didn’t really begin to recognize the effects of the lack of medication until about September. He was only sleeping three to four hours during a 24 hour period, if even that much. When we would talk on the phone, he would talk quite rapidly and just tell me every bit of detailed minutiae of what he’d been doing, what music he was listening to, what movies he was watching, et cetera. It became so overwhelming that I just couldn’t get a word in edgewise. He was just frankly talking gibberish and the letters that he sent me were unreadable. They were just pages and pages of drawings and numbers and calculations and meaningless paragraphs that made no sense.
Around the beginning of October I called him out on this. I said I really think he needed to get back on some proper medication and he vehemently said absolutely not. He felt like a million bucks! And he had grand plans for when he was released. He was in the arrogant, grandiose phase of his mania. Meanwhile, at least six bunkmates he’d shared a cell with over the time he’d been in prison requested that he be moved because he never slept, talked all the time and generally drove them crazy. And he just was driving everyone crazy, including prison authorities. In the six months that he spent in prison to this day, he has been sent to solitary confinement seven times for minor infractions.
As I’ve observed this massive and unchecked deterioration, my heart has been breaking because I knew him to be a humble, kind, loving, faithful, compassionate person and that person has completely disappeared, absorbed by this monster disease. He’s been transformed into this manic, grandiose, angry, obnoxious, crazy talking, non-sleeping person that I’ve never known and certainly do not recognize. At this point I don’t even see a flicker of the Mark I knew and loved. But he doesn’t in any way accept that anything is wrong with him, that anything had changed. He is convinced that he’s been cured by the Grace of God of his mental illness.
A few days ago, which would have been two weeks before his release, I once again called him out on his behavior, saying that he had to own his part in what he’s been doing and that he can’t blame everyone else for all of his problems. And he completely lost control and cussed at me and berated me and was horribly hateful and belligerent. I simply couldn’t have a rational conversation with him. It was impossible. I had to hang up on him. He called back the next day because he had been sent to solitary again, presumably after throwing a fit following our phone call. He told me that prisoners were trying to kill him. He’d become delusional. By this point, I was so angry and so disappointed and so frustrated that I told him that he was on his own. I told him that I canceled him. And I did cancel him. I canceled my trip. I canceled everything that I had done for him. I canceled my financial support. I told him to never speak to me again unless and/or until he saw a doctor and got back on medication. And he went on to cuss me out again, and tell me how horrible I was. He called me names such as baby killer because I am pro-choice. He was spouting homophobic and racist tirades. He was just delusional and completely off the wall with his anger towards me, something I’ve never ever heard from this formerly peaceful God loving and forgiving soul that I knew.
It’s now seven days until his release and my understanding is that he will take a Greyhound bus from the prison back to his hometown and he has no one to pick him up and get him settled. But he is not worried about it. He has got it all under control. He is going to go out and preach The Word of God to the world as he has been personally instructed by God to do, so he believes. He insists that I will see him on TV someday soon. I can’t even imagine what additional utter nonsense he would say to me at this point.
I’m absolutely devastated by this. I feel like I have watched a man that I have loved my whole life spiral into someone completely unrecognizable, whom I do not know, and I watched it happen day by day, hour by hour in real time. It has been one of the most brutal experiences that I have ever had. I genuinely fear for his life. I fear for the damage that he will do to himself and to others especially once he is released from prison. I suspect that he will be back in prison fairly soon. And it is heartbreaking to me because we were so close and I was such a great supporter of him while he was incarcerated. And now I feel that I have failed him. even though I know intellectually that is not true. I don’t know who to blame. Although I do think he needs to take ownership of what has happened to him. And he is in no way going to do that. As far as he’s concerned, he’s fine, and everyone else is doing him wrong. This is indeed the saddest story that I have ever written. And my heart is broken, irrevocably.