I never finished my degree at New Mexico Tech.

There is a misconception because I babble so knowingly and boringly about rocks and such that I must have graduated from Tech and went on to do great and wonderful geology stuff. Not true.

I was a semester and a half away from graduation when I had my first immensely severe bipolar mixed episode, and I went an additional seven years undiagnosed and untreated. I did come to New Mexico Tech in 1988 to study geology and mineralogy.

This mixed episode crisis had me sleeping all day (to avoid the world) and then cramming with no sleep for the last two weeks of the semester. I had done this for about three years before I finally cracked and shattered. And I didn’t finish my degree.

This crisis was a culmination of bipolar symptoms that started right before graduating from the high school and then beginning college. Wonderful timing. I had great grades right around this period… and when bipolar kicks in, all bets are off. Grades suffer that perfectly express macroscopically what is happening within, much like the unit cell of a perfectly equant fluorite hexoctahedron crystal. You gotta be a mineralogy geek to get this analogy. Go to New Mexico Tech! Learn of unit cells and lattices and crystal morphology!

And in the interim, let me explain the mental health phenomenon of “kindling” as it is definitely a factor in my not graduating. Kindling has to do with manic episodes in bipolar. It begins with one very severe manic episode, and then when the next one rolls around after an unexpected lull (often marked by severe depression), bam, the next manic episode hits, and this time its stronger in symptomatic magnitude, and often it lasts longer. Then there is a lull which is typically shorter in duration, and bam, another manic episode occurs of grander magnitude… and then a shorter period with a grander magnitude, and then a shorter period with a grander magnitude, and then a shorter period with a grander magnitude… with all of this bringing on a mixed episode where you want to commit suicide and have the energy and creativity to make it happen. And that’s something else I dealt with, looking in retrospect my academic career and how it affects me today.

It’s interesting. At the time I attended Tech (I came to New Mexico from SoCal in 1988), there were no mental health services available to students aside from the university nurse. I recall going into the office uncontrollably weeping, and when they asked me what had happened, I said, “Nothing!” Bipolar is wonderful this way.

Now, at every building and hall on campus (I visited recently), the business card for Kathryn Fleming, LMSW, is available to students. She is the university Mental Health Counselor. That’s a huge step forward that took a few decades to happen, and now I hope there are no Tech students who have to endure what I did because the university now recognizes mental illness and is there to assist their students… particularly because with bipolar it often manifests in men right about the time they head off to college.

I haven’t talked about this openly much, so as a brief closing to this article I’ll share that I was convicted in Carslbad, New Mexico, of fourth degree felony embezzlement for “transferring” a mineral specimen from there to the mineral collection and New Mexico Tech. Mania psychosis. There’s another fun story for another time, and this story essentially spawned me anew as a pariah rather than a mineralogical golden boy… and this helped in killing my academic career in mineralogy.

Once February rolls by (I’ve got a few talks to present, training peers for our Peer Education Programs, and receiving a Lifetime Achievement Award from the State of New Mexico to keep me occupied), I intend to ask for a meeting with Kathryn and share my story with her from my time at Tech in late 80s/early 90s, and ask her what types of services she provides, as well as how she approaches students seeking her services.

It’s way cool to see these services available to New Mexico Tech students and faculty, and I’m excited to speak with Kathryn about the great work she’s been doing (I’ve been asking around about her because I’m nosy that way).