CARBONDALE, Pa. — Charlie Wysocki could use a job. His days are filled with visits to therapists and watching Judge Judy dispense justice on the TV in his small corner of a group home.
He could use a hearing aid, and his diabetes would benefit from a better diet than the one provided by the cans of soup and spaghetti in the pantry.
His left hand sometimes shakes as a result of the medicine he takes, the same ones that caused him to put on more than a few pounds.
Yet after more than 20 years of chaos caused by bipolar disorder, these are still the best times for Wysocki since he went into the 1981 season as a candidate for the Heisman Trophy as a running back for the Maryland Terrapins.
Bipolar disorder robbed him of an NFL career, two marriages and any permanent stability, but the 44-year-old hasn’t been hospitalized in three years, and now there is a new grandson that can put a smile on his face.
The condition often emerges in early adulthood. Episodes of extreme mania and depression can vary from hours to months. There’s no cure, though many attain good results through medication. Bipolar patients can intermix good and bad stretches.
There’s no self pity, no wondering why he’s one of 2.3 million Americans who suffer from manic depression caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain. Just a mellow acceptance forged by living with the disorder his entire adult life.
“I’m no different than anybody else,” Wysocki said. “I just have to take medicine.”
Wysocki takes 17 pills each day to try to avoid returning to a hospital for the 17th time since 1982.
The medication allows him to live comfortably in a house he shares with five others on a side street of this hardscrabble town in northeastern Pennsylvania, a town not far from where Wysocki became a prep legend recruited by more than 100 colleges.
Wysocki takes a bus or gets a lift from friends to the thrice-weekly therapy sessions and to church twice on Sundays. There’s a corner market for grocery shopping and a YMCA one door down.
At least it’s a roof over his head. Wysocki nearly wound up on the streets at age 15. He was the 16th of 18 children in a family torn apart by their father’s death. A nearby family took in and later adopted Wysocki, who changed his surname from DeGraffenreid.
Football was Wysocki’s escape. He became a star at Maryland as the Terps’ workhorse. There was a 50-carry game against Duke. There were so many standout efforts over three seasons that Wysocki ended his college career as the Terps’ all-time rushing leader, a distinction he held until LaMont Jordan surpassed him in 2000.
Wysocki expected to be drafted in April 1982, and he and 200 friends crowded into his adoptive parents house to watch the ESPN broadcast of the draft. One by one his friends slowly slipped out of the party as a bitterly disappointed Wysocki failed to be selected. It was the beginning of his slide.
Wysocki passed up several more promising opportunities with other NFL teams to sign with the Dallas Cowboys. He wanted to prove he was better than Cowboys running back Tony Dorsett, but Wysocki soon told coach Tom Landry there was “something wrong with his brain.” He was released after a week.