Finding a balance: Scherer’s quest to cope with bipolar disorder

Local photographer Alan Scherer, the grandson of former Red Sox center fielder Jimmy Piersall, speaks about his battle with bipolar disorder, the same disease that made his grandfather famous 50 years ago. SENTINEL & ENTERPRISE / Ashley Green

LEOMINSTER — Alan Scherer was 11 years old when he tried to kill himself.

It was around Christmas, and he had just gotten into an argument with his mother over what to watch on TV. He threatened to commit suicide if he wouldn’t be allowed to watch “Buck Rogers,” one of his favorite shows.

“Who’s going to believe an 11-year-old kid who says they’re going to do that to themselves?” the now 43-year-old Scherer asks.

But he did go upstairs to his room where he would find the belt he regularly wore to his karate classes.

“I was a stick figure of a kid at the time, all collar bones, huge head of red hair. I went and looked in the mirror to say goodbye to myself, and then I tied my karate belt around my neck until my face was past purple because I had come to the point where I was done,” he said.

Scherer didn’t die that night. His family found him a short while later and was able to revive him. In an attempt to wake him up his mother slapped him hard across the face, forcing him to lie about the mark it left when he went to school the next day. He told all of his friends that he got the bruise from wrestling with his uncle.

“From that moment until I was 37 years old, every day was self-destructive,” Scherer said.

It would be another 16 years before Scherer would learn that the reason for much of his turmoil was bipolar disorder, an illness he and his family were more than familiar with.

His maternal grandfather had it, too.

Red Sox center fielder Jimmy Piersall had done well in his nearly 20-year career in the major leagues. He was a two-time All-Star, winning the Gold Glove Award while playing in Boston and again during his three-year stint with the Cleveland Indians.

Despite these accolades, Piersall attracted more attention for his unconventional and sometimes bizarre behavior. Following a series of physical altercations with other players, he was demoted to the minor leagues in 1952 and eventually checked into Westborough State Hospital for nervous exhaustion.

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