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LAWYER READS HIS RECENT CONFESSION – Suicide Bridge on the Devil’s Backbone: in the Spring of 2012, almost the final stop in my bipolar legal career





VIDEO: AUTHOR READS “Suicide Bridge on the Devil’s Backbone: in the Spring of 2012, almost the final stop in my bipolar legal career.”



In the Spring of 2012 and while living in Tennessee, bi-polar symptoms sent me to psych hospitals three times in three months. The last time was after Williamson County, Tennessee Sheriff’s Deputies came to visit me at the Natchez Trace Bridge. I’d spent too long discussing the merits of crashing onto State route 96 – in the seventh wealthiest county in entire country – with the lady at the “please don’t jump” number on the sign in this feature photo. (1-800-273-8255)

Since my return to Tucson in April of 2012, I’ve experienced no psychiatric emergencies of any type, barring frequent suicidal ideations during my first year or so back here. Cognitively, I’m at the top of my game. I wrote the bulk of this essay in the few weeks between my sixth and my last hospitalizations.


They lost loved ones to suicide on the Natchez Trace Bridge. They say better barriers could prevent more tragedies.


The Natchez Trace was called the Devil’s Backbone long before Spring 2012, when it almost became the final stop in my bipolar legal career

[March 2012, somewhere near Franklin, Tennessee] The patients in the psychiatric unit mumbled their revulsion for the distinguished lawyer whose bloated colostomy bag had slipped open, sending its vile contents onto the floor and furnishings of the break room where the patients had gathered to watch television.

I loathed the man for another reason.

Moments earlier the gentleman confided in me that he bore the ugly bag because he had blown out his insides with buckshot. He had tried to kill himself, he said, because bipolar disorder had destroyed his legal career.

My disgust wasn’t at the wretched odor that now hung in the break room. It was at this man; his simple existence mocked my hope that my own bipolar disorder would stop terrorizing me and let me return to what society calls worthwhile work.

Two days earlier, I’d almost killed myself. Williamson County, Tennessee Sheriff’s Deputies came to visit me at the Natchez Trace Bridge, an award-winning structure that as of 25 January 2019, had kept its promise to 32 men and women who chose this extraordinarily beautiful part of Middle Tennessee to end their lives. I’d spent too long discussing the merits of crashing onto State route 96 – with the lady at the phone number on the “please don’t jump” sign.

And now I stood, again, in pale blue scrubs behind the locked doors of a mental hospital. I looked down at the fecal trail that followed my fellow lawyer down the hall. I thought of my own path. It reeked too. It consisted of less-than-political statements and acts, simmered in the cauldron of pharmaceutical side effects I had to endure, I was told, if I was to live.

It wasn’t always this way. I had started my legal career as a prosecutor who didn’t have the slightest clue how many people are broken. But my case load included more than criminal cases. It included the commitment of men and women who had become a danger to themselves or others. In stately courtrooms, Spartan jail cells and ammonia-laced emergency rooms, I asked judges to lock up broken people like this lawyer I had just met.

To lock up people like me.

In the years that followed¸ my legal career continued to intersect the blurry line that is mental illness. Reviewing psychiatric records, questioning expert witnesses who tried to explain the depths of somebody’s darkness and getting courts to see that my clients were more than just numbers on file folders, were just things that any lawyer should do. That I was particularly passionate about mental health issues didn’t occur to me.

I slept little in those days. Back then, I could rely, again and again, on having enough energy to work late at my office or to meet with clients at the Oklahoma County jail well past midnight even though I had to be in court first thing in the morning.

Despite a caseload of time-intensive state and federal cases, I volunteered time and energy to serve as an officer of my local chapter of the Federal Bar Association and as a member of the American Inns of Court. I judged law school moot court competitions and taught a couple of CLEs. I took the time to write articles and essays that proposed strengthening a federal criminal statute and which encouraged my colleagues to think outside the box about the death penalty and about how we practice law.

“How do you keep up that pace?” asked the lawyer who would soon handle my divorce. “You’ll burn out,” he said.

John was right.

On a blistering July afternoon, my mind began to race itself toward a crash, with both brake and gas slammed to the floor. The intensity was strangely familiar, but this time the sensation was unbearable. I was in the passenger seat, with my wife driving and our daughter in the back.

I jumped.

In the days that followed, I roamed the streets, a shopping mall, barely sure where I was. I rummaged through my mind like a bargain hunter digs through the leftovers at a garage sale. I wanted to find something familiar.

But no matter what I turned over in my mind, I couldn’t find my clients’ names. I couldn’t find what their cases were about. And I couldn’t find a single memory that told me how I could file even the simplest of legal documents for them.

I was already scheduled, as president of my Federal Bar Association chapter, to welcome attorneys who had recently been admitted to practice in federal court. It was no big deal. But I was terrified, and for good reason. As I stepped to the podium and began to speak, I found that everything I knew so well about our federal courts was balled up in my mind like a spider web. I heard that same confusion in the words I tried to welcome my fellow lawyers with. I didn’t want anyone to see me after that.

In the months that followed, I passed off my cases to other lawyers, closed my practice, left my wife and child, had an affair, wrote an overly confessional 300-page novel manuscript, returned to Nashville – where I’d finished high school – and tried to start a new life.

I stopped listening to news and to any commentary about the world around me. Old friends Sammy Hagar and Angus Young started coming around a lot more often. And I banged hard on my old upright piano, hoping to drown out the screaming tension that had taken over my life.

The doctors diagnosed me with bipolar disorder, also known as manic depression. According to Kay Redfield Jamison, PhD, co-author of the definitive medical text on Manic-Depressive Illness, bipolar is a condition that is characterized by fierce energy, high mood, quick intelligence, increased risk taking and decreased need for sleep. It also comes with a high risk of suicide.

I certainly knew of bipolar disorder and had studied the DSM diagnostic criteria. It was the unbridled manic-depressive symptomology that made a lot of those commitment hearings necessary during my tenure as an assistant D.A. The condition never has been and never will be a stranger to my criminal cases, either as a prosecutor or a defense lawyer.

I considered the diagnosis a death sentence.

John had been right. It would have been impossible – at least for me – to maintain that same kind of pace indefinitely. But I was handling it all pretty well and hadn’t sacrificed any of the top-shelf legal work that I did for my clients.

Something specific must have triggered otherwise dormant symptoms. At least it’s always seemed that way to me.

At the time, I was trench deep in reviewing seemingly never-ending evidence that federal prosecutors had turned over in a multi-state child-sex-trafficking case. I was having a hard time shaking an image my mind had created while reading through FD-302s and other investigation documents: a ten-year-old girl who’d been kidnapped and taken from her home state so that she could be sold out for sex. What was left of the child’s broken body had been found in a dumpster behind a grocery store across town. The poor kid had refused a bottom bitch’s order to let an over-the-road trucker rape her.

My little girl had been that age not too many years earlier.





Whatever the cause or causes, I still considered my new bi-polar diagnosis a death sentence. For my career. For my life.

But men and women in white coats with their names embroidered on them told me that if I took my medications, saw a therapist and steered clear of drugs and alcohol, that my condition would no longer interfere with my life and my ability to practice law. This should be easy enough, I thought. Illegal drugs had never been a problem for me. And I hadn’t abused alcohol since I was in college.

I did everything the doctors told me to do. And I did it exactly as they had instructed. Between late Summer of 2004 and April of 2012 – seven years ago – my bipolar disorder cost me two jobs and forced me to close a private practice. BP severed relationships with those I cared about most, alienated friends and family, and put me in psychiatric hospitals seven times. My manic depression made me want to die more times than I can count.

[Even though I’ve not once thought of killing myself for almost six years, I remain wary. Bipolar disorder has a way of jumping up and biting you in the ass. So I may again clutch a 38 revolver as i try to figure out how to make the smallest mess for folks to have to clean up. I my again stand on a sidewalk, struggling to make an educated guess as to optimal moment when I should step off the sidewalk and into the path of a bus traveling at 40 mph. If so, I hope I’ll do a better job remembering this analysis than I did that day in late March or early April of 2012, when I drew near to a jumping bridge on the Devil’s backbone.

“I can either kill myself, which would take me away from those who love me but it would stop the pain, or I can choose to live. If I am to live, I’m going to have to remember five important truths.

First, I am not alone with this illness. And the lawyer who filled himself with buckshot is not alone either. According to the U.S. Surgeon General, we are among more than fifteen million people (statistic needs updating) who suffer from severe depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia and obsessive compulsive disorder during a given year. As my medical expert explained it to jurors some years ago, people with bipolar disorder can rise to the very top of their profession. And, the physician explained, we’re talking about people with household names.

A second fact I need to remember is that there are organizations out there to help me and my loved ones. The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) and the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance (DBSA) are just two of the groups dedicated to helping individuals and their families cope with what can be a disabling condition. Crisis hotlines exist in many cities for those who think they can’t go on.

That there have been profound pharmaceutical advances is a third truth I should keep in mind if I am to avoid becoming just another statistic. I need to remember that some of my medications have helped me live and work as well as anyone else. It’s just that sometimes the medications need changing. Yes, I become weary as the doctors try to find one or more that works. But the science of treating brain disorders has allowed medications to target parts of the brain with increased focus and efficacy. The likelihood that medications will again help me function is greater if I just let the doctors continue their work.

The fourth truth I should remember about bipolar disorder is that it has forced me to stop and ask if my career is consistent with my passion in this life. Years before many ask the question, I have the opportunity to ask “what am I here for?” and to change direction while there is still time.

[Now, I maintain a perfectly good Tennessee law license. And before that I had a perfectly good Oklahoma law license. There’s never been reason to investigate me for professional misconduct. And even though bipolar disorder can be a fast track to a criminal record, I still don’t have a criminal record. But even so,] bipolar disorder has given me a fifth issue to consider.

Manic-depressive illness has forced me to look deep inside and find my worth in who I am and not in what I do. It’s not easy. Ours is a society that tells people they count if they work in professions that others think matter. That is, the more others pay for someone, the greater that person’s worth.

But I have a worth separate and apart from what others say or pay. I have worth because the Divine says so – because God says so – and because I am part of the human family. Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “the greatest difficulty is that men do not think enough of themselves, do not consider what it is that they are sacrificing when they follow in a herd, or when they cater for their establishment.” Bipolar Disorder has forced me to see the truth in Emerson’s statement. It has forced me to tell the establishment that it will no longer define my worth.

Strange as it sounds, bipolar disorder has given me a reason to live.







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Five Finger Death Punch

WRONG SIDE OF HEAVEN – scrolling list of resources for past and present mil

Wrong Side of Heaven + resources for all past and present military personnel

BLUE ON BLACK. The Gary Sinise Foundation to benefitFirst Responders.

Official music video for Blue On Black (feat. Kenny Wayne Shepherd, Brantley Gilbert & Brian May) by Five Finger Death Punch. Stream or Download:

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The Fighter
C.J. Chivers
After graduating in January 1988, Chivers served as an infantry officer in the U.S. Marine Corps. He graduated from the United States Army’s Ranger School, served in the first Gulf War and in peacekeeping operations during the Los Angeles riots in 1992 before being honorably discharged as a captain in 1994.[5] Chivers graduated from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism a year later.[6]
Tracking The Lives Of Veterans To Figure Out Where They Slip Through TheCracks
About 20 veterans a day commit suicide, according to the Department of Veterans Affairs. But that number is probably far higher if you factor in those less than honorably and dishonorably discharged, which the VA doesn’t include in its statistics.
In general, these deaths often have contributing factors that are recognized in hindsight, say, depression or substance abuse, and maybe access to a firearm. But that doesn’t really tell much about who the person was or how they interacted with their community.
A $3.5 million research initiative led by the nonprofit veteran services group America’s Warrior Partnership, along with the University of Alabama and the Bristol-Myers Squibb Foundation, aims to change that by first tracking all of the local-level risk factors that lead to veteran suicides, and then creating a holistic plan to help communities prevent more of them.
Jim Lorraine, the president and CEO of America’s Warrior Partnership (AWP), considers this a new kind of sorely needed battle plan. By his count, there are 21 million former military service people in America, but the VA only serves about half that number. “It’s a general way to say it, but we can move from fishing for those veterans who might take their life, to hunting for [them],” he says. (Lorraine is the former Deputy Command Surgeon for the United States Special Operations Command, so prone to militaristic terminology.)


Re Bad Paper: Legal Services Center, Harvard University, National Veterans Legal Services Program, & Swords to Ploughshares. (2016, March). Underserved: How the VA Wrongfully Excludes Veterans with Bad Paper.

[PLEASE NOTE: Late last year, President Trump and the Congress made sure that the VA provides short-term mental health services to veterans in crisis but who are not receiving services from the VA. For more info, contact:]
The VA encourages those who need help to reach out: “Veterans, Service members, and their loved ones can call 1-800-273-8255 and Press 1, send a text message to 838255, or chat online to receive free, confidential support 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year, even if they are not registered with VA or enrolled in VA health care.”

(GREAT BRITAIN / UK) All Call Signs is a peer-to-peer communication app for Veterans and serving Military Personnel. Our chat service is manned by volunteers who have served in The Forces and understand the stresses and struggles that come with daily life in and out of uniform. If life is getting you down and you need someone to speak to, hit the chat button below. We’re here.