Wednesday, January 29, 2014

America Moves to the 'Open-Free Quadrant' OR What Really Happened to Morgan Molthrop

Social media has blurred the lines between our personal "selves" and our so-called professional image. If you want to know what a potential client is interested in or what they believe, you simply Google them, examine their Facebook Timeline or follow their Twitter feeds. Poor LinkedIN, which is openly referred to as "Facebook for Old People," is the last bastion of old-line career professionalism: that is, it's the only place where people can pretend that they can separate work, home, Instagram and Ashley Madison. But, as the Snowden affair has shown us, everyone is bound to know everything about everyone.

In Psychology 101 we studied Johari's Window. Illustrated below from a graph I pirated off of the Internet, I believe we, as a society, have moved from the "Hidden" - that is, "I know, they don't know" Quadrant to the transparent "I know, they know" Quadrant. To put this in social media terms, LinkedIN is still trying to help people maintain illusions. Everyone else - especially the upcoming generation - couldn't care less. Just look at what we/they are posting. Those who grew up using the technology will be the workforce of tomorrow. America, where are you going to find enough "professionals" from among the hordes of teens that are today hogging cyberspace with TMI?

For me, this is a freeing transition. I have consistently flirted with the "Open/Free" Quadrant. Having been raised in the South, I was too opinionated, talkative and seemingly too honest to live within the codes of discretion required by genteel New Orleans. When I moved to New York, a city that - at least then - exemplified "Open/Free," I felt as if I finally fit in. Working on Wall Street for years, no one balked at my aggressive, impatient, impulsive, moody and sometimes angry behavior. Results were expected and celebrated even when abrasive or abusive actions were required to achieve them.

Here's the deal, though: as honest as I seemed to be - as large as my personality was - there was something I was hiding. And it wasn't the fact that I am gay. Although being one of the first "out" men on Wall Street wasn't a picnic, I could take care of myself. The problem was that I had these mood swings. Dramatic ones. I got depressed. Nothing filled me with more shame or dread.

Workaholism kept this at bay. And then there was plenty to self-medicate with in those 'go-go' late-80 s and early-90 s. Booze and coke were prevalent. I worked my ass off and partied like a rock star. For four years I worked all day on Wall Street and went to law school at night. This certainly numbed me. I was running so fast that I used to say to my staff, "I'm on the express, there are no local stops. Get on now or I'm leaving the station without you."

The mood swings got worse. The crutches I used began to expand into a portfolio of prescription and illegal drugs. Still, in fine suits, holding multiple degrees, I seemed the picture of American professional success. This would go on for decades; even as I moved to California to become the vice president of a major telecom.

There is no way to make this sound glamorous or pretty. Mental disorder and addiction - in my case, inextricable -destroy people and their families. Untreated they lead to violence, suicide and death. Societal stigmatization and the lack of access to adequate health care have exacerbated the problem. Mine is just one relatively insignificant story.

When I finally hit bottom, I found myself HIV+, without health care, and back in the New Orleans, a 'town' that, after living the high life and traveling the world, I saw as provincial. Delusional still, I challenged my family and demanded that the local community accept my superiority, clearly demonstrated by a full resume of international experience.

Stuck with no money and no prospects, I lowered my expectations. I went from a career of six figures annually to competing for jobs in the $40,000 range. I went to law firms and asked them if they could use my corporate legal experience. I went to law schools with a resume that read: "Adjunct Associate Professor at NYU." I tried to temp. There simply weren't any opportunities. I spiraled down, thinking that I was a failure, thinking I just couldn't get it together. I numbed out on 180 Daiquiris and slammed down the illegal equivalent thereof. At the lowest point, I became a greeter at a local restaurant. Then I worked out on a barge that was adminstering to workers cleaning up the BP oil spill.

No insurance company would cover the drugs I needed to save my life. My only health care option was the NO AIDS Task Force on Tulane Avenue. I was mortified to have to go into a clinic to seek help. But the staff there made me feel comfortable. They helped stabilize my physical health. That was no easy task, as I had fallen into bad habits, challenging my parents' tolerance, endangering my life and making matters far worse. But NO AIDS also provided me with counseling.

I remember sitting across from my psychiatrist and answering his questions. I was in a bad mood and being unresponsive. "Have you ever thought that you might be bipolar?" he asked. Bipolar? What the hell did that even mean. Being HIV+ was stigmatizing enough. But being crazy? In addition to being an addict? This was way too much for me to get my head around.

But I was just one of fifteen people waiting to see the doctor that day. He'd seen this before. "For years you've been self-medicating dramatic mood swings with drugs and alcohol. You can keep doing that and die or you can stop. Once you stop - if you stop - we can see what is really going on in that head of yours and try to fix it."

The road from there to here was not perfect. Lord knows it wasn't. But today I am healthier than I can remember. I am no longer manic. I have embraced a new set of values that - before - would have seemed almost corny. I love my family and am committed to being a part of the community in which I live. New Orleans' unique qualities, diversity and history have reinvigorated me. I have become a gifted interpreter of my town to guests. And, with the help of artist friends I am cultivating talents as a journalist, photographer, lecturer and - most excitingly - a writer.

I am making up lost time by having a solid relationship with myself. I cherish time getting to know my parents as adults. I get along well with my business partner, who is supportive and acts as a mentor. I have strong, charismatic, giving friends. I find myselfin that "Open/Free" Quadrant quite often.

So we come to this: I don't want to hide. What I have been through is important. It has been a journey. But most people don't have a resourceful family or access to the kind of health care that I found. Many people don't even know how to ask for help.

Frankly, I doubt my judgment in publishing this. I wonder if I will have the courage to push the button, even in this "Open/Free" world. I imagine some people who thought of me as one kind of person will see me as another. Surely judgments will be made. But balance that against the feeling inside - this compulsion - to tell my story.I will not be ashamed about my journey.I have to talk about this. Why?

As more people "come out" to tell their stories, the stigma associated with mental disorders and addiction will fade. It won't be so tough for a kid or a parent to deal with mood swings and depression. People won't have to keep demons inside or live in fear of the injustice and ignorance that deprive them of livelihoods. People will find their way to treatment. Creative professionals will go back to work after bouts of depression, having the full support of colleagues who understand. That day will come. I'm sure of it. Because very few things in life are irreversible or unforgivable.

With tremendous love and gratitude for those who helped me get my life back, I am, most sincerely, Morgan Molthrop.
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