I wrote this piece "as"  and for my cousin.
He was present during the 'intervention' and
I found it easier to write about this experience from his perspective.
Understand that:  I = my cousin; James = my father-in-law;
Jim = my husband; Liz = me;
Celia = RendinWolf and Jimmy = The Boy
The following is the truth as I see it.

(There are several of these links scattered throughout this essay.)
Return to Extended Bio

Failed Intervention

     On a brittle, overcast afternoon in November of 1997, I met my best friendís father for the first time.  Before that day, I had only a cursory awareness of James Grackleís existence.  I had seen photographs and listened to occasional anecdotes that featured his activities.  I knew he was a stockbroker living a comfortable life with his second wife in Arizona.  My friend, Jim, did not see his dad often.   They kept in touch, sporadically, over the Internet and exchanged big parcels on holidays.  Jim's wife, who is also my cousin, had met James but didn't know him well.
    At Christmastime, three or four years ago, James sent a disposable camera to Jimís family and asked that they chronicle their activities for a day and then return the camera.  I remember helping Jim by taking several photographs of our families at a movie theater.  I thought the concept was interesting and somewhat fun.
    On a number of occasions, over the course of several years, I had considered contacting James personally.  I wanted to seek his advice about investing, but I never quite got around to it.  The only communication we ever had, before that cold day in 1997, consisted of brief greetings and comments conveyed through Jim.
     In the autumn of 1997, I started to hear some disquieting news about James.  His wife telephoned Jim a number of times to discuss her concern and, eventually, her fear of Jamesís state of mind.  There were rumblings about erratic behavior that involved, among other things, bonfires in the back yard and obsessive gun cleaning.  I listened to Jim and his wife, Liz, relate these accusations with interested doubt.  In various conversations, I tried to help them figure out the truth of the situation.  We wondered about the condition of the marriage and even questioned the wifeís perceptions.  I advised them to try to gather more information by speaking to James.  Life went on.  I remained curious but was fundamentally untouched by the drama that was slowly unfolding in my friendís life.

    By Labor Day, other family members began to call Jim to discuss Jamesís odd actions.  Apparently, Jamesís wife had contacted several of Jamesís siblings and his mother.  She voiced her concerns to them and they, in turn, contacted Jim.  Because he is Jamesís eldest child and only son, they seemed to think that my friend had a responsibility to his father, despite years of merely casual contact.  Jim accepted this responsibility but did not have any idea how to obtain more information or to intercede.  We spent several evenings discussing Jimís options.  I began to take a more active interest in the situation because I was concerned about the obvious stress with which Jim was dealing.
    In late October, Jim decided to go to Las Vegas, at his fatherís invitation, for the weekend.  He thought it would be a good opportunity to explore Jamesís state of mind.  We spoke briefly of the possibility that I would accompany him, but we were both operating under the assumption that accounts of dangerous behavior had been exaggerated.  After all, Jim had talked to his father over the telephone several times in the preceding weeks.  Jamesís explanations of his estranged wifeís accusations were plausible.  Aside from a new, slightly obsessive interest in numbers and patterns, he sounded only mildly upset to his son.  I agreed with Jimís perception when he related his fatherís words to me.  A certain amount of anger and sadness are to be expected during the breakup of a marriage.  I gave Jim a ride to the airport without being very concerned about his welfare.
    I did not speak to him until he returned three days later.  He was exhausted due to the frantic pace he and his father had kept over the weekend, but the news was good.  Yes, it was true that James had a fascination with numbers, but he was in Las Vegas trying to figure the odds.    Many of the other complaints of odd behavior could also be explained by his location.  In Las Vegas, it does not seem strange to drink more, sleep less, and spend money more freely than usual.  Jim told me that his dad seemed to have become more social.  In fact, he spoke of his own desire to open up to strangers a little more after watching his father banter with blackjack dealers, cocktail waitresses and other tourists.  As Jim and I talked, I could tell that my normally quiet friend had experienced a sort of epiphany during the weekend.  He admired his dadís resilience in the face of marital difficulties.  His dadís animation and enthusiasm for life intrigued him. Jim was relieved and pleased to have had the opportunity to spend some time with his dad and was also looking forward to a visit from James in three weeks.
    Now that our suspicions about Jamesís mental health had been allayed, I looked forward to meeting the man too.  Maybe we would finally have an opportunity to talk face to face about the stock market and the investment industry.  Still, as my friendís family and I anticipated Jamesís upcoming visit, we were oblivious to the clear signs of his illness.  Reassured by our ability to rationalize his behaviors by attributing them to the breakup of his marriage and the location of his retreat in the face of those difficulties, we returned to our normal activities.  Jim and his wife didnít know exactly when James would arrive due to his unpredictable schedule.  They promised to call me when he was available for a visit.

Return to Extended Bio 1

    A few weeks passed before I found a voice mail message from Jim when I got home from work. His dad had arrived.  James had called from the airport and Jim and Liz had gone to pick him up.  They didnít have much information about how long he intended to stay; they would let me know when they got home.  As much as I looked forward to meeting James, I knew I wouldnít be able to get away on that particular evening.  I assumed that he would stay through the week and I expected an opportunity would present itself.  When Jim called me later that evening, I told him I wouldn't be able to come over.  I did ask him how the visit was going.  He told me that everything seemed all right and that James was getting along well with Liz and the kids.  He said that James would be spending the night at his house.  He expected that in the morning his dad would be conducting some business such as renting a car and contacting other relatives and friends he intended to see.  He thought James might be driving up north to see his mom and siblings, but he would be returning in a few days.  I would have a Jimmy to get together with him then.
    The entire conversation lasted no more than ten minutes.  I went about the remainder my evening with hardly a thought about Jamesís presence in town.
The next day was Tuesday.  I had a fine day at work.  As I was driving home, I used my cell phone to call my house to check in with the sitter.  Liz answered the telephone.  After a moment of confusion, I confirmed that I had dialed correctly.  I also began to experience a sinking sensation in the pit of my stomach.  She was upset.  Within a minute of my initial inquiry about the reason for her being at my house, she was crying.  Though I tried to calm her in order to be able to understand her words more easily, I was able to clearly make out only a few phrases.  She said something about the police.  I heard her sonís name, Jimmy, repeatedly.  She couldnít find her husband Jim.  James had her van.  Yes, everyone was physically fine and safe.  My wife, Anne, was at my home with her.  Anne had come home from work to do something for Lizís daughter, my goddaughter, Celia, but I couldnít make out what.  Finally, I asked to speak with my wife.
    Anne attempted to explain her understanding of the dayís events to me.  Though she was a little shaky on some of the details, she was able to outline the following events.
Jim had gone to work that morning while James was still at his house.  James wanted to spend some time there, using the phone and playing with his two grandchildren.  Liz allowed her eleven-year-old daughter to stay home from school in order to spend some extra time with her grandfather.  Using the van, Liz had driven James, Celia, and her two-year-old son, Jimmy, to a local discount store.  Apparently James had wanted to buy some personal items such as vitamins and toothpaste for himself.  He also wanted to buy Celia a stereo with karaoke capabilities so that she could sing with him.
Throughout the morning, Jamesís intensity and sociability escalated until Liz began to feel uncomfortable.  For example, James had purchased coffee for everyone that stopped into the little coffee shop located in the store, for the duration of time that he was shopping.  He also harangued the store personnel until he received a steep discount on his purchases.
    Upon leaving the store, by strength of his personality, James insisted on driving.  He began to lecture Liz and Celia stridently on the benefits of fresh air and vitamin supplements.  His plans for the day continued to change and expand at a frightening pace.  Liz eventually convinced him to drive them home so that he and Celia could set up the stereo and Jimmy could take a nap.  Reluctantly, he complied.
Liz, leaving Celia and James to pore over the instruction manual for the stereo in the living room, put Jimmy down for his nap.  She then attempted to reach Jim without success.  As a computer consultant, Jim moves from one client site to another frequently.  Normally, a quick call to the receptionist at his home office would provide a phone number at which he could be reached.  Unfortunately, at that particular time, the home office was moving and in an uproar.  Repeated calls failed to turn up anyone who could access Jimís location.  She left a message on his voicemail with little expectation that he would check it.  She could only hope he would call home to check in.  Busy at the new client site, confident in his father's stability, he never did.
    Apparently, Liz regained some confidence as she watched James and Celia rearrange her living room to accommodate the new stereo while Jimmy napped.  She did not attempt to find anyone, other than Jim, to come over to help her keep the situation under control.

.Return to Extended Bio 2

    She was completely unprepared for the events that unfolded upon Jimmyís waking.  He woke crying shrilly.  She carried him downstairs, concerned because he felt hot.  While she was taking his temperature, he vomited.  James became unhinged.
He began to pace and shout.  He wanted to draw the drapes.  He wanted to call an ambulance but then thought better of it.  The paramedics could not be trusted.  Instead, he would drive everyone to the hospital.  With any luck, the CIA did not control the hospital itself.  It was imperative that the antidote, strong lemon water, be administered immediately.  He couldnít believe that his estranged wife would take advantage of her connections with the CIA to poison one of the grandchildren deliberately.  Jimmy must have gotten into something that was meant for James.
    Lizís response to the situation was to go along with his delusions.  As she explained to Anne, all she wanted to do was to separate herself and the children from James.  She attempted to devise a way that would allow her to take the children and go.  She phoned the family clinic and made an appointment for Jimmy.  Of course, the appointment was scheduled for later in the afternoon.  Realizing that James would not be able to wait calmly until it was time to go, she pretended that the pediatrician wanted to see Jimmy right away.  She intended to leave James at the house and go.  Over her strenuous objections, James insisted on driving.  He still had the keys to the van in his pocket.  Uncertain about her plans, leaving Celia at home with instructions to lock the door, she got into the van with him at the wheel.  James would not allow her to put Jimmy in the car seat.  He made a stop to get the required lemon water and shouted at her to make Jimmy drink it or he would die.  She turned the boy away from James and pretended he was drinking the sour water.
    Upon arriving at the clinic, James told her to go in ahead of him because he needed to hide the van.  Thrilled at the unexpected opportunity, Liz took Jimmy into the clinic.  She went straight to the administratorís office and, offering only the briefest explanation, asked to be shown to any room immediately.  Because the administrator was an acquaintance, she accommodated Liz.  The clinic staff asked if they should call the police.  Liz gave them permission to do so if James became abusive or unmanageable.  She asked for a few minutes to attempt to reach her sister-in-law, Jamesís adult daughter, before any other action was taken.  As she began to explain the dayís events to her sister-in-law, James came into the clinic and demanded to be shown to his grandson.  As he grew louder in his demands, the receptionist called the police.  Becoming suspicious, James left the clinic before they arrived.
    Liz contacted my wife at work.  Anneís dental office is only minutes from Jim and Lizís house.  Liz asked Anne to get Celia and take her to my house.  Liz didnít know how she was going to get there yet, but she would meet them there.  Because Anne was familiar with the rumors of Jamesís instability, she didnít ask many questions.  She simply went to pick up my goddaughter and took her to the safety of my home.  James, though aware that I lived nearby, didnít know the location of my house and probably wouldnít be able to remember my last name even if he did think to check the phone book.
    When the police arrived at the clinic, they spoke to the staff and to Liz.  They located the van, parked in a nearby lot, right away.  Liz could not honestly tell them that James had threatened anyone with physical harm.  They offered to find him and talk to him.  Not knowing what to do, and afraid of angering him, she told them to allow James to take the van and the keys to the house and to send him home to wait for Jim.  She then asked for a ride to my house.
    Anne concluded her account just as I turned on to my own street.  I stayed on the phone, asking for clarifications, until I walked in through the front door.  All of the children were playing in the backyard as if nothing had happened.  Anne seemed relieved to see me.  Liz looked angry and scared.
    Liz told me that she had spoken to Jessie, Jim's sister, just before I had called.  Jessie had arranged for James's mother and four siblings to meet at Jim and Liz's house to confront James with his behavior.
    I didn't have any idea of what the appropriate actions were at that point.  I remember that my first and strongest reaction to the fact that Liz had taken refuge at my house was apprehension.  More than anything, I did not want James to figure out where I lived.  Despite my best efforts to talk to Liz, my thoughts kept flashing to the idea that this man could have had access to my kids.  Then a more discomforting thought occurred: the person experiencing this break from reality could have been Jim instead of his father. I had to make a conscious effort to direct my attention to the situation. While we were discussing our options, the phone rang.  I picked up the receiver cautiously.
    Jim's strained voice came over the line asking, "Is my wife there?"  I said, "Yes, where ARE you?"  His answer conveyed his stress, "Oh, I'm sitting here with my dad who says that Liz has left me and that she's been acting oddly all day."  I assured him that she was fine and handed the phone to her.
    She went from quietly and reasonably discussing her feelings with Anne to screaming at Jim about how irresponsible he was.  She kept asking him how he could have failed to call and check in.  It didn't seem that any progress was being made so I asked if I could talk to Jim.  She nearly threw the phone at me and stormed away, crying.  On the phone Jim was hissing something at me but I had to ask him to repeat it.  "I don't want to be alone here with him!"  Once I realized that James could overhear what Jim was saying I asked a series of questions.  I was able to determine that James had been semi-violent with Jim and that Jim was hoping someone would join them to diffuse the tension.  I promised him that I was on my way and that I'd be bringing Liz.
    As I hung up, Liz told me that she was NOT going home.  Under no circumstances was she going to spend the evening with people she hardly knew who had decided to throw an intervention at her house.  In order to calm her, I agreed to stay with her through whatever happened.  We made sure Anne was comfortable watching the kids.  We left for her house.

Return to Extended Bio 3

    When we arrived, Jim was visibly relieved.  Though James tried to engage Liz in an argument about where she had been, she ignored him and went upstairs, leaving Jim, his father and me alone in the living room.  Not knowing what to do, I simply strolled in, introduced myself and shook James's hand.  He was extremely friendly and indicated that he knew quite a bit about me through Jim.  He said that, based on Jim's comments, he suspected that I would enjoy a good scotch.  I laughed, Jim poured three shots and we all sat down to enjoy good scotch and good conversation.  Jim told me that Jessie was coming over but didn't mention the rest of the family.  I took that to mean that James didn't know what to expect.  I even wondered if Jim knew to expect them.  I later found out that Jessie had left a message for Jim on the voice mail.
James seemed okay to me.  I could not reconcile the man in front of me with the man my cousin had described.  He was witty and approachable.  In the half-hour or so that we waited for someone to arrive, I was only able to detect his illness by his incessant pacing and an occasional, marginally unusual comment here and there.
    When the first car pulled into the driveway, James was obviously pleased.  He thought that his brother had simply come for a visit.  Throughout introductions, no one led him to believe any differently.  Jessie then arrived and the room took on the atmosphere of a party.  When the third car, carrying James's mother, sister and brother-in-law, pulled up, something clicked behind James's eyes.  I watched him go from jovial to guarded.  I actually felt sorry for him as I saw his animation die down.
    James made a valiant effort, as more and more relatives arrived, to pretend that the event was some sort of surprise party.   Eventually, Liz came back downstairs, the last sibling came in, and everyone except James quieted.  I think James's oldest sister,         Esther, began the intervention by asking James about an odd, late-night phone call he had made to her.  Slowly, but gaining speed as each person spoke, an obviously disturbing picture developed.  Though each incident seemed no more than slightly eccentric alone, taken together they clearly showed that James's behavior had dramatically altered over the preceding six or seven months.
    I was stunned to see how well James held up in the face of this litany.  He had an excuse or explanation for everything.  He held on to his composure far longer than anyone else did. While James remained calm and reasonable, most of his family took turns yelling, crying and storming about the room.  He repeatedly called attention to the fact that he was not acting irrationally despite the strain his family was putting him under.  His act was so convincing that it appeared everyone in the room was rethinking the conclusions they had come to.
     Finally, after everyone else had taken a turn, and it seemed there was nothing else to say, Liz walked over to James and sat on the floor at his feet.  She held his hand and looked directly at James while she relayed the afternoon's events to the now quiet room.  He didn't interrupt; he didn't look away; he didn't remove his hand from hers.  By the time she was done talking, she was crying.  He was not.  His unnatural calm held.  He asked her what she wanted him to do about it.  At this point, several people in the room chimed in with the suggestion that he go to the psychiatric ward and allow an evaluation.  Without a second thought, he agreed to go.  The room rang with silence for a full thirty seconds before James's youngest brother stood up and said, "All right then, let's go."
    James smiled and said that he had a few things he wanted to take care of but he'd go in the morning.  We all settled in for a long night.  We knew we needed to stay until he actually walked out the door.  Without any sort of organized plan, we each managed to get some sleep while others stayed awake to watch over James.  He never slept, he never stopped drinking and he never seemed to get even close to drunk.

Return to Extended Bio 4

     During the night James periodically let his composure slip a little.  Every so often, he decided that he had thought of a good way to convince us that he wasn't crazy.  Though the events of the hours between midnight and dawn are blurry for me, I remember a few occurrences.  It was after one in the morning when James placed a call to his estranged wife, May.
    We were able to hear his side of the conversation; he spoke loudly and clearly so that we'd be able to understand that we were overly worried about his marital situation.  After talking to May for at least an hour, we heard him ask he if she would please tell his family that she had exaggerated her concerns.  Apparently she agreed.  I never took the phone but it was clear, from talking to Liz and listening to the brothers and sisters talk amongst themselves, that May did not say that she had exaggerated.  Occasionally, James would take the phone back and ask her what she was saying.  Each time she reassured him and he gave the phone to another family member.  I understand that she warned each person that she spoke to that she was through with him and would not antagonize him further.
    Eventually, everyone that wanted to had spoken to May.  By then it must have been after three o'clock in the morning.  He next placed a call to his lawyer friend in Minneapolis.  They chatted for some time before James came back into the room to say that everyone could go home because the coming morning wasn't going to be good for him.  He'd get back to us when he'd put his business in order.
    The crying and shouting began anew.  By the time the sun came up, most of the relatives had given up.  Those that hadn't entirely lost hope were too worn out to continue.  Each of them hugged James, Liz and Jim, then left.
     Sometime during the night, James had made arrangements for another friend to come pick him up and take him to the airport so he could return to Arizona.  I was stunned and exhausted.  I could not believe that all the effort had come to nothing.  I sat, completely drained, in Jim and Liz's living room and watched them say good bye to James.  He would not speak to me because he had decided that I was some sort of intervention specialist.
    When everyone was gone, except me, the three of us began to pick up the house.  Ironically, the area looked like there had been a party.  We didn't say much.  There didn't seem to be much to say.  I would have liked to have been able to help ease the pain Jim was experiencing, but I couldn't.  I left within the hour.  Jim called me at about nine o'clock that night.  Apparently, James's friend had decided to let James off somewhere on Hennepin Avenue instead of taking him to the airport.
    James stayed in Minnesota for another week or so.  He placed several calls to his relatives.  He ran up a huge bill at one of the local hotels.  He bought a car and then lost it.  When he left, he didn't tell anyone, including the hotel.  Apparently he left a recently purchased laptop computer and a stereo system in the room.  They kept both items to defray the unpaid bill.
    I don't know what will happen with James.  He has not returned to Minnesota.  He still hasn't directly threatened anyone, that we know of, besides his now ex-wife.  She refuses to press charges or have him committed.  Jim is either unwilling or unable to attempt to have his father hospitalized involuntarily.

     Throughout this extended period, I learned a great deal about manic depression.  I was not, however, aware of it at the time.  Only in the aftermath,  as Jim, Liz and the children tried to pick up the pieces, did I become fully aware of the significance of Jamesís early behaviors.
     I am a reasonably well-educated and intelligent adult.  One of my strengths is the ability to perceive and define problems.  My career depends on this ability.  I have found the same skill essential to personal relationships as well.  If I had truly understood the term ďmanic depressionĒ, and the possible consequences of the condition, when Jamesís wife first mentioned it to Jim, maybe I would have been able to help my friend more.
    When I asked Jim for  his permission to write this paper, he loaned me a book entitled An Unquiet Mind by Kay Redfield Jamison.  He thought it might help me to have a deeper understanding of the subject.  He was right.  I only wish one or both of us had read it before the reports of erratic behavior started.  Near the middle of the book, in a section relating the authorís psychiatric evaluation just prior to her diagnosis of manic depression, I found the following list of questions:

  • How many hours of sleep had I been getting?
  • Did I have any problems in concentrating?
  • Had I been more talkative than usual?  Did I talk faster than usual?  Had anyone told me to slow down or that they couldnít make sense out of what I was saying?
  • Had I felt a pressure to talk constantly?
  • Had I been more energetic than usual?
  • Were other people saying that they were having trouble keeping up with me?
  • Had I become more involved in activities than usual or undertaken more projects?
  • Had my thoughts been more agitated than usual?  More sexually active?
  • Had I been spending more money?  Acting impulsively?
  • Had any visions or heard sounds or voices that other people probably hadnít seen or heard?
  • Had I experienced any strange sensations in my body?
  • Had I ever had any of these symptoms earlier in my life?  Did anyone else in my family have similar sorts of problems?
Return to Extended Bio 5

    In retrospect, James's earliest, and most subtle, dysfunctional behaviors may have been adequate to alert a person educated in the symptoms of manic depression to the brewing storm.  Certainly, the trip to Las Vegas should have, at least, made someone ask the right questions.  Its true that James was able to use his exceptionally bright mind to assuage the doubts of the people around him.  Its also true that Las Vegas can hide a multitude of sins.  I cannot believe, however, that anyone sitting in the room on the night of the intervention would be so blind again.  Becoming wiser in the ways of manic depression has not comforted me.  I'm left to wonder where I should draw the line in attempting to educate myself.  I can only try to avoid making assumptions in the future.
    I have not had an exceptionally sheltered life.  I have had experience with a variety of people and situations that have exposed me to such problems as alcoholism, obsessive-compulsive disorder, agoraphobia (the compulsion to avoid leaving oneís home), and clinical depression.  I thought I had a comprehensive understanding of mental illness.  Now, after my encounter with manic depression, I realize that the conditions with which I was familiar are relatively benign.  Granted, I had opportunities to observe unusual, even odd, behaviors caused by mental illness.  I had felt sorrow for the people that suffered from these primarily self-destructive conditions.  I did not understand that good people can be derailed by mental illness, sometimes without warning.  The only other image of mental illness that I had came from movies like Silence of the Lambs and news reports of Jeffrey Dahmerís monstrosities.   In a way, I had been lulled into a belief that mental illness came in two varieties.  One variety existed in mental institutions, in distant, impersonal cities, and in movies.  The other variety might be present and real in my life, but I felt I could handle its impact.  I was over confident because of my exposure to emotional illness.
    In the time since the intervention, I have done more than read a book or two about emotional illnesses.  The behavior of my friends and family has become more important to me.  I was able to help Jim when he came to the conclusion that he had probably been battling clinical depression for years.  Together, with his wife, we sat down and talked through our common past.  After educating ourselves about manic depression we were aware that some theories classify it as an extreme version of clinical depression.  Though the final decision to seek treatment was left in Jim's hands, Liz and I were able to assist him in honestly assessing his emotional health.  He did seek the opinion of a  doctor and is now taking an anti-depressant.  Since beginning this treatment, he says that he feels more in control of his life, and more connected to the people around him.  I can see the improvement in his ability to deal with family and friends, especially in times of stress.
    I've learned not to underestimate the seriousness of "normal" dysfunction.  Everyone experiences difficulties occasionally, but anything that lingers or becomes a chronic problem deserves close observation.

Return to Extended Bio