Back in my New Mexico Tech days, I took a 100 level psychology class to fulfill a humanities core course. Three credit hours of a class I felt was a distractive time-wasting academia that took my efforts (and singular interest) in learning everything I could about geology. So, I wasn’t invested in the class beyond fulfilling a humanities requirement, and it seemed more interesting than a fifth semester of French (I took four years of French in high school). Ready glazed eyes, yawning, and clock watching… I was prepared for Psych 101.

How often has poetic justice become a instance of irritation in my life? Too many times. The grandest irony was when I was first showing severe symptoms of bipolar, I was taking Psych 101. Too bad I didn’t get my diagnosis then instead of ten years later. Bygones.

As said, I wasn’t invested in the class so I retain very little of the coursework or purpose of the professor’s instructions. I do remember one very specific lecture, and it’s interesting how the one time my interest was piqued that semester would be one of the most important metaphors I use when speaking to peers.

The lecture centered upon a psychological laboratory involving a large, round, steep-walled water tank, a groups of rats, and some parametaquasi-sadistic scientists.

The experiment was simple. What happens if we put rats in a water tank that they cannot climb out of and have them swim and swim and swim and swim?

Initially, the answer is most rats gave up the will to live and allowed themselves to drown.

Now, what happens when the scientists grabbed the rats out of the tank just at that moment they gave up on life, dried them off, gave them a warm cage with plenty of food… and then put them back in the tank?

Invariably, the rats who were “rescued” and “recuperated” would swim and swim and swim and swim…

…and ultimately these rats would die of exhaustion rather than drowning.

Four years back in July 2012, I had given up. Too many hospitalizations at Kamp Kaseman, too many med changes with accompanying side effects, too many ups, too many downs, too many firings, too many flunking out of college time and again… this was my third visit to Kamp Kaseman that year, and I was in my garage feeling worn out, completely drained of the will to live. So fortunately for me, my Dad was in town, and he and I had a most important conversation with a most important decision. I would let the headshrinkers at Kamp Kaseman pull me out of the tank ONE LAST TIME, dry me off, give me a warm, comfortable room, and feed me regularly and heartily.

I stayed in Kamp Kaseman (by choice) for several weeks. I started exercising again, I tried risky medication treatments (such as five days of a high dosage of lexipro, to get me to either a good, happy baseline from which to work, or a severe mania where I would be at Kamp Kaseman for a month or two), I made the supreme effort to speak to other patients and not isolate, I rallied the troops so we would go outside a few times a day to enjoy the sunshine…

And I got to feeling better. So much better. I rediscovered a capacity for joy once again. I could feel real, proportional, and honest emotions unrelated to bipolar symptoms. I felt once again like the person I remembered I could be. I felt like Steve again.

Of course, the rescued rats were not given the opportunity to live through the experiment – again, dying of exhaustion and not drowning – but this experiment related to me in Psych 101 at New Mexico Tech in the early 90s belatedly imprinted on me a very similar sentiment I adhere and adore as a continuous daily ritual.

The rats who were “saved” had imprinted upon their rat brains that “I made it through one time and didn’t drown and die. There is no reason why I can’t make it through again.”

At Kamp Kaseman in 2012 (props to Dr. Yutzy), I saw life could get better, that I wasn’t doomed by bipolar, and I could make it through to the other side if I worked hard enough. The decision was made those weeks in Kamp Kaseman:

I will never drown. I will die of exhaustion first.

Why can I be so certain of this? Because I made it through one time, so I can obviously make it through again. And again. And again. And however many times I feel hopeless in my recovery journey. And I did the hard, nearly insurmountable work to make this happen for me.

This might seem a gruesome or inappropriate metaphor for how I feel, think, and live, and I share this here at Thoughtcrimes because maybe the notion set forth in my analogy will resonate with other peers… peers who have the ability to push aside how messed up it is for a human being to place animals in an environment where death – one way or another – was inevitable.

Look, here’s a way to reconcile “useful metaphor” and “sadistic experiment.” I once wrote horoscopes for an LA music rag, and they were quite popular in a “Far Side” kind of way. This horoscope is a good relation and reconciling tool, so here you go:

Your faith in mankind was renewed today as you watched an Asian man jump into a frozen lake to save a drowning dog. You chose to ignore when the dog went straight from the lake onto the waiting barbecue grill.

No, I’m not a Trump Rump. I’m a quarter Chinese. So, I can make these jokes without being racist. So get over it and accept the message. I’ve got faith in every peer to never drown. I’ve got faith every peer has the fortitude, strength, and will of life to make it through as many times as they need.

And that’s what I wanted to share and how tormented rats and their sadistic scientist caretakers have strongly affected my worldview and how I approach managing my mental health symptoms in a positive, proactive, and productive way.

I’m nowhere near exhausted, by the by. For better or worse…