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

He was placed in an in-patient care facility for at-risk youth for about three months, where he underwent counseling both by himself and with family members. After that he was placed in long-term foster care, which he said offered some needed stability.The foster father who took him in for eight months was the general manager of the Cape Cod League Hyannis Mets.

“They housed some of the baseball players in their house as well, so I got to kind of have some male role models, which was really good at the time,” he said. “Sports was my solace from the world at that time, whether it was Little League baseball, or basketball, or starting to play football when I went to Cape Cod Tech.”

As Scherer explained, physical activity would become one of his biggest tools in fighting off his symptoms during his youth. It served as a way for him to relate to his family members, who were also sports enthusiasts, but it also gave him an excuse to get out into the world and not think about the illness.

“You just want to find a way to handle life in a way that’s not so manic or depressive, not so amazingly awesome or terribly terrible,” he said. “I think one of the biggest goals I’ve ever had in my life has been to find that balance.”

Although they had so much in common, Scherer had very few opportunities to ask his grandfather for advice as he had become estranged from the family. Until recently, Scherer had only met his grandfather a handful of times.

Even with the knowledge that he did suffer from a mental illness, Scherer continued to struggle through his adult life. A combination of unhealthy lifestyle choices, including drug and alcohol use, and a series of bad jobs and relationships left him aimless.

In 2009 he returned to his home state of Massachusetts, where he said he had an epiphany.

“I was 265 pounds, I was angry, all those same things I felt when I was 11. Just hopeless. … The question I asked myself was, ‘Is this my life? Is this all I have to offer the world around me?’ I realized the answer was ‘no’,” he said.

That night Scherer went out and bought himself a pair of running shoes and a gym membership, bringing the therapy of physical activity back into his life. A few weeks later he bought a camera, giving him a new outlet and, eventually, the career he now enjoys today.

“I can be around people, but I don’t necessarily have to be interacting and social with these people. I could hide behind the lens, but I could learn to be more comfortable with myself as I did it,” he explained.

His recovery took an even greater step forward when Scherer began a relationship with Elizabeth Carr in 2014.

“Everything that we’ve gone through that’s been painful, yelling or screaming, has always led to us being able to move that much more forward,” Scherer said.

When they first met, Carr explained that Scherer had been very open about his diagnosis. Though she hadn’t known at the time what it would be like to share a life with someone with bipolar disorder, she said she’s since learned it has its negative and positive qualities.

“I think the hardest thing was not knowing what I could or couldn’t say. I never wanted to upset him. I never knew if I could be totally honest if he was ever feeling bad,” she said. “The good thing about it now is that it’s very apparent how he is feeling. Most people when they don’t feel good put on a face like everything’s fine. With him, if something’s wrong I know instantly. And it’s the same when he feels happy or accomplished.”

In recent years Scherer has strived to be open with his illness, speaking not only with his loved ones about bipolar disorder, but also traveling to schools and speaking engagements as well.

“I’m very proud of him for what he’s doing and how he’s kind of taken the reins on awareness,” Scherer’s mother, Eileen Piersall Scherer said. “My father had brought a lot of awareness to it, but not to the extent that Alan is doing now.”

Despite her father’s public persona, as well as all that the work he did to bring attention to bipolar disorder, she said discussions of mental illness were rare in the Piersall household she grew up in.

“We didn’t realize he had any issues. That was just who he was. As I got older, I started to realize there was a problem,” Piersall Scherer explained.

It wasn’t until she was a teenager that she learned about “Fear Strikes Out” or that her father had her father had ever been hospitalized.

“I wish I had known then what I know now. It’s all water under the bridge now, but it would have made a big difference then,” she said.

Scherer and his mother have since reconciled with Piersall, now 87 and living in the Chicago area. The three reunited in November, and Scherer is looking forward to seeing his grandfather again in June.

“It was an amazing experience to sit there and to see that he really is human, that he’s fallible and life has not been easy for him, and for him to say to me ‘I love you’ and ‘I’m sorry’,” Scherer said.

Until that next visit, Scherer continues enjoying life more every day.

The North Leominster home he shares with Carr and her son is adorned with the photographic evidence of the life they’ve succeeded in stitching together.

On the walls you’ll find a lot of the work Scherer has done over the years, but its the photos taken by other people that tell the real story. The births of children, moments with Carr and her son, and family vacations are all happy memories frozen in time.

One of those rare encounters between grandfather and grandson can also be seen. It’s the day Scherer graduated from high school, and the two are shown hugging.

He plans on being able to hang up more photos of the two of them soon.

“I’ve become more comfortable with being uncomfortable,” Scherer said. “I have a mental illness, it doesn’t have me.”