All Who Wander are Not Lost…

This past weekend, I went home to Atlanta, for many reasons, but the most important of them being a memorial for my friend Kelly who had passed at the beginning of March.

He and his family had been estranged for many years, more years than not, really. So, they truly did not know very much about him. As his friends, the closest of us, anyway, he shared much and was a giant of a man with the heart of a teddy bear. He was also one of the smartest people I have ever known! Scary smart.

He was a martial artist, a student and teacher of the art of Jiu Jitzu. He made an incredible impression on those he met.

Kelly also lived a”colorful” life. He was an addict, forever recovering and slipping, as addicts do. Yet, the past year – he had been clean and sober. He was getting his body in shape and had found a renewed connection with God.  There were really not many of us who knew these things about him. Kelly, to most, was the tough guy always looking for a party.

I had known Kelly since high school, though, like most friends from that time period of my life, had lost touch and had only reconnected about 5 years ago. I was amazed at the changes in him even then.

However, Kelly was also a very troubled man.

During his Memorial, the preacher asked if anyone had anything they would like to share about Kelly. The coach of his football team when he was 12 years old spoke…Kelly was 45 at his death and this man remembered him from 35 years before. He had a few other friends speak, and while I really wanted to, when I speak about Kelly, very colorful words tend to flow too easily from my mouth and it just wouldn’t be proper in the house of the Lord.

After everyone spoke, the preacher said that the family asked that he mention that Kelly had a drug problem. “We’ll never know why he used drugs or the effect it had on his life “..then went on to preach forgiveness. WHAT?

A Memorial Service was not the proper place to mention that and we, his friends, his true family, we appalled that it was even mentioned. Disrespectful. We wanted to get up and leave, but we could hear Kel saying – just let it go…

I can not just let it go. It is crawling all over me.

However, I believe I can shed light on the reason for Kelly’s drug use.

Kelly had been diagnosed bi-polar, though I am not sure how many years ago the “official” diagnosis was made.

Bi-polar disorder is a mood disorder, more commonly known as manic depression – because we go from extreme highs to extreme lows. I say we because I, too, am bi-polar (

It often begins in late teens, but a traumatic event can bring it on in a child. Kelly’s mother died when he was very young, and his father told him to “get over it.” Not exactly father of the year material this man. I am sure he was going through his own grief process, but a child needs more help to deal than “just get over it.”

As the disorder takes over, people in general tend to attribute it to normal teen moodiness, hormone changes, puberty.. but it is much worse. We usually begin to self medicate – generally starting with alcohol, and when that quits either numbing the pain, or quits being fun (in the manic phase), we move on to drugs.

If a person is lucky, there is someone who loves them enough to notice these things and will get them help. I was. Kelly, not so much.  Once disgnosed, medications, such as anti-depressants, lithium, mood stabilizers and sometimes even medicines used to treat psychosis. Once we begin the meds, we feel better. We feel better, we think we do not need the meds anymore. It can be a terrible, vicious cycle. Again, if the person has someone close who loves them and cares for them, they will notice these changes and help them with treatment again. Rarely are we “fixed” the first go around. Or second. Took me 4…

Meds are a trial and error with bi-polar disorder. People react differently and need to be monitored until the right ‘cocktail’ is found.

Not everyone has the patience for this.

Not everyone has someone around who sees and understands and cares enough to help.

When the meds don’t work, we often go back to self medicating, and, too often, become addicts, as happened in Kelly’s case.

Kelly could be the life of the party. He was the sweetest guy who made huge impressions on everyone he met. He could also be so terribly depressed he absolutely had no idea how he could go on. He called me many times, saying maybe it would be better if he were gone. More than once, he had a suicide plan made. Luckily, he never followed through.

The last couple of years of  Kelly’s life, he had, as I said,  begun a new relationship with God. He was getting his life in order. His body and mind. The doctor wanted to put him on meds for not only for this, but for the extreme pain he was in. He had done serious damage to his body through the years, not just with the drugs, but the Ju Jitsu and MMA fighting he did. His weight had gone way up at one point and he was quite proud to get it back down. The point is – he did not even want to take the meds the doctor prescribed. Whether they were for his pain or psychotropic/psychiatric medications.

He found alternative methods to treat his pain – yoga, meditation. But the brain – bi-polar people – we have a very very difficult time dealing with the day to day – hell – with or without meds. Again, it comes back to the support system – which Kelly just didn’t have often enough.

So this, dear hypocritical preacher man, and family – is the why of the drug use, at least, I suspect. I am though, only speaking from my own experiences…and knowing Kelly.

When I found out, my first thought was – he was finally happy! Why now?

My second thought – He was finally happy. So, he died happy. 

The good that came out of it? I have spoken with the men he worked with at Capitao Jiu Jitsu and MMA in Fort Walton Beach, told me his students are making patches for their uniforms in his honor. He told me he was working with friends on writing a children’s book. He had the life experience that he could tell a young person – that is not the direction you should be taking your life.

Kelly was a wonderful man, a true friend and confidant. He was always there for you when you needed him. Maybe if the family had tried, they may have known this side of him, too.


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