The hope of others

Originally written in French.

The guest professor at the Université de Montréal’s 2013 Political Science Summer School and I shared a common experience in our early twenties that would leave a lasting impression. We had respectively fallen deep into American politics as we witnessed the meteoric rise of a charismatic young senator to become the Democratic Party’s presidential candidate. For John Parisella, who would become a specialist in the American presidency, it was Kennedy in 1960. For me, doing my dissertation on the civil rights era, it was Obama in 2008.

Barack Obama’s candidacy and election had instilled confidence in the future. If an African-American could get the job of the most powerful man on earth, what was to stop us from beating our personal best times in the next half-marathon, or starting a business? This was especially true for me. My existence seemed to be tied to what was happening south of the border. I’d been through a lot in the preceding months. I had the impression that the light that now illuminated my existence came from the same source that would chase away the dreariness of the Bush years. Every day, I was enveloped by this fairy tale, the latest developments of which I compulsively read in the dailies and monthlies, on the radio and on television. I was exhilarated by the feeling that justice ultimately had the last word, and that a happy ending punctuated every ordeal. I was overflowing with energy, thirsting for challenges, surpassing myself in everything I undertook.

Three months passed between the historic election date of November 4, 2008, and January 20, 2009, the day on which the first black president of the United States was sworn in. It was a gray day in Washington and Montreal. Everything had changed in the space of a few weeks. I was no longer on an elevation; I was in a psychiatrist’s office. Ouch. My plane had lost all its fuel. My descent from the peaks to the concrete had been shattering.

Entering the grounds of a psychiatric hospital was in itself a traumatic experience for me. I had in mind the image of a gloomy place with faded walls inhabited by deranged and dangerous patients. This wasn’t the case, of course, but the stereotypes of the collective imagination were having a hard time giving way to the reality of a waiting room populated by the same old-fashioned cooking magazines as at the dentist. What the man in front of me was saying completely altered my memory of the summer and autumn that had just ended. A new word: hypomania. A state experienced by people with bipolar disorder type II, the ‘soft’ version of type I. A state that makes them feel over-confident, efficient at work, sociable and elated.

With this new diagnosis came the medications I was going to take, every day, forever. Another trauma. What do you become when you take medication? Another person? What does it mean to become another person? Will my tastes change? Will I become weird? Forever? I had no choice but to treat myself. In my mind, it meant I had no choice but to step into the unknown. The rest would prove that none of these fears would materialize. I would continue to be the same, I would just get better.

By Charles-Albert Morin