June 1, 2007

Now that my first post is out of the way, I thought I might include a history of events leading up to my diagnosis. This won’t be a short post, and will cover some topics that might make some people uncomfortable …

I was born to a nurse who desperately wanted to be a mother, and to a soldier who wanted nothing to do with being a father. My father volunteered for an overseas assignment shortly after my birth, knowing that my mother and I couldn’t follow. I’m not certain how long I was gone – my mother used to tell stories about how I’d excitedly throw my arms open to men in uniform at the commissary or BX and call them ‘Daddy‘ – I can only guess this means my father was gone for a while. When my father returned, it was apparently to a new job as drill instructor, and to a son he had even less regard for – according to him, I was long-haired, soft and spoiled, things he took pride in fixing.

I guess life went on normally for me for a few years afterward – I have vague glimpses of memory, mainly of being terrified of my father. The feeling of terror when it came to my father was something easy enough to feel – the man was a veteran sniper, a drill instructor who took great pride in his work, and at six feet in height, physically imposing. His ideas on proper discipline also left little room to feel anything other than fear toward him. He was thoroughly convinced that the best way to raise his son was to treat me as though I were one of his trainees – another of my vague memories from these years was of the pride with which he marched me into his best friend’s home (a retired Army officer), using military marching commands.

It was at the home of my father’s best friend that I was first molested – during my fourth and fifth years of age – by the best friend’s teenage son, who was usually relied upon to be my babysitter. During the course of time, this would also wind up happening at my own home. The kid (we’ll give him the fictitious name of Robby) used to tell me that if I did things for him, it would make me cool – I guess at that age, I thought being cool was the very best thing I could be, I know during that time I revered Robby as though he were a god. My parents, for their part, didn’t suspect anything: when one day my parents asked me what Robby and I had done that day, and I said “oh, we were sucking dick,” my father’s response was to crack me across the jaw rather than wonder where I might have come up with that phrase to begin with.

This went on until my father came home early one day, and saw Robby streaking from my bedroom to the bathroom, trying to juggle all of his clothes. After this, I was taken to see a psychologist, who explained to my parents that I was fine, that I was too young to have realized anything wrong happened, and that it would be better for all of us if the matter were never discussed – that if we never talked about it, I would eventually forget it. Well, my parents certainly didn’t need any further encouragement – I was even banned from telling my grandparents about this, it became one of my family’s dark secrets. While my parents held up their end of the bargain, I didn’t hold up mine: I never forgot. To this day, when I’m out walking around, I will sometimes even catch a scent in the air that reminds me of how he smelled.

If there is one rule of being a child, it’s that you can sometimes be quite brutal towards other children. The names we used to throw at each other on the playground were spectacular: we didn’t know what most of them meant, but we knew they sounded vicious and that was enough for us. One of these words was ‘faggot’ – I don’t know why it was as popular an insult as it was back then, it doesn’t pack the sound appeal that other insults do, but it was one of those words that would escalate insults to punches in a hurry. I didn’t learn its meaning until I was around ten or eleven years old. When I learned, it dawned on me that when I was younger, I’d done things with another guy – that I’d even enjoyed doing these things (keep in mind that, at the time, I was enjoying the praise from Robby, rather than what Robby and I were doing – it would be several years before I could understand the difference). What I understood at that point was that I actually was the very thing that kids on the playground didn’t want to let anyone call them. I developed a sense of homophobia that would stay with me for a number of years afterward.

This was a hard period of time for me overall: school wasn’t looking so good, I was very unpopular with the kids, and things between my father and I had gotten much worse. I was hating myself pretty intensely. My father tried around this time to turn me into a basketball player, and taught me to pass the ball aggressively by flipping the ball into my face until, with my nose streaming blood, I tried to throw the ball through him – which apparently was how I was supposed to pass the ball in the future. I quit basketball after the first season, and never heard the end of how much money my father wasted on a basketball hoop. His other great ambition for me during this time was to turn me into a hunter – one of his great passions in life. When I discovered that I have a strong dislike for killing things, and refused to hunt, a rift formed that my father and I would never be able to bridge, no matter how hard I tried. It was after one of our many arguments that I had the first suicidal urge I can remember – I was in tears, kneeling in my bedroom, with the hunting knife my father gave me pointed at my heart, when my father found me. He didn’t come close to me, he simply commanded me to put the knife down while standing at my bedroom door – he had to repeat this command a couple of times – and when I put the knife down, he simply walked off and never spoke further about it. My mother, to the best of my knowledge, never knew about the incident, either – and my knives were never taken from me.

My teen years were also pretty turbulent. I was smart, but unfocused and at times outright rebellious. My aggression grew right along with me during this time and, like so many other American kids, I found myself behind the wheel of a car. Not just a car, but a tank with a big motor. It was also the first time I actively sought help for what was going through my mind. I had problems with what I called back then a ‘black rage’, along with bouts of intense sadness. I painted a self-portrait in art class that had my face half grey and black, and half red and orange. I went to my high school guidance counselor, explained some of the war that was going through my head, and I was given the message to take home to my parents that I needed to see a professional therapist. My mother took me to a psychologist – ironically, working at the same hospital where the psychologist worked, who told my parents to sweep my molestation under the carpet – and this psychologist told me that there was nothing wrong with me, that I just needed to ‘get a grip’ and focus myself, and ignore my darker thoughts. This would be the last time I relied on a therapist for over a decade.

When I was eighteen, I held a newborn baby in my hands – this was a powerful moment for me, holding something innocent and fragile with my hands, that had been instruments of so much of my rage and fury. I decided then and there that I would subdue the beast, so to speak – that I would put the rage and fury down, the parts of me that made me feel less than human. While my motivation may have been noble enough, my goal and even my perspectives on things were pretty warped – this would prove to be one of my many mistakes in life.

One of the things I managed to do right was a self-therapy regarding my homophobia. Once I learned what homophobia was, and why people had it, I decided that my fears needed to be faced down. When I was around nineteen, I hung out in a club frequented by gay men, and decided to confront homosexuality head-on. I learned some very valuable things from this experience, and got to know some really good people. The first and most important thing I learned was that what happened to me as a child had nothing to do with homosexuality, absolutely nothing. Second, I learned that I wasn’t gay. It may not have been a textbook therapy, but the results were that my homophobia evaporated – I still hated myself, but I no longer hated homosexuals. Other than that, nothing else went right for me – at least nothing that would last.

When I was nineteen, the baby I’d held in my hands, a child I loved and regarded as my own, died from leukemia. By this point in time, my closest friends had also moved to the other side of the world, and my home life couldn’t have been worse. I can’t remember this period with any great clarity, but I can remember that I was in pain, and very unstable. I was still bent on sublimating my rage, but my self-hatred grew. A year later, I was again suicidal – my attempt didn’t involve knives, it was to walk out into the desert and freeze to death on a winter night. That didn’t work – I got really sick, and wore some really nasty blisters into my feet, though.

Fast-forwarding through a decade of self-hatred, failure and instability, I got to a point where I thought again to try the therapy route. This time, a therapist took me seriously, and I was treated for depression. This depression was pretty bleak, even by my standards, and I soon found myself going through antidepressant after antidepressant. I was in therapy for a year before one of the medications actually seemed to have an effect on my mind (the others, if they had any effect at all, worked mainly on my bowels or erectile duration) – that was Venlafaxine, and other than triggering me to finally feel some energy again, I also started hearing voices. These auditory hallucinations caused me to be yanked from the Venlafaxine perhaps a bit faster than would normally be advised, and I was switched into another medication shortly thereafter. The auditory hallucinations are still there for me, from time to time – mostly, it’s as though something about the size of a mouse were listening to a mouse-sized radio. For the first time in a long time, I felt my rage again – again, thanks to the Venlafaxine. In therapy, I learned that trying to sublimate my rage for so long was dangerous – eventually, after having gone through this process for a total of two years, I allowed my rage to speak to me and guide me away from the therapy. I had it in my mind that I could use the rage to burn off the slag of depression I’d been encased in for so long.

Six months after I removed myself from therapy and took myself off medications, my mother died from leukemia. Within the following year, my grandfather committed suicide (a man whom I believe is my genetic link to bipolar disorder), and I was married to someone I knew and loved when I was still in high school. Within eighteen months of my mother’s death, my wife (who was not American) and I had to either separate or both move to her home country, thanks to complications with immigration policies. We moved, and roughly a year after our move, I found myself back in therapy – and therapy in a foreign language is certainly something interesting. Along with the recurrence of bleakness that seemed to go beyond the norm for depression as far as depth and duration, I also had booming explosions of anger, along with what I can only describe as a growing sense of dissociation to add to my list of symptoms.

The problem with this therapy, though, was that I felt motivated to keep researching my symptoms – I didn’t trust my therapist when he told me that all of my problems were caused by depression. When our contract of twenty-five sessions ran out, and I felt worse than when I’d started, I opted not to sign up for more sessions with this therapist, and was basically out of the system for another six months, trying to figure out what was wrong with me on my own.

Then it hit me one day, a burst of energy out of nowhere – I was happy, no, I was ecstatic – I was bouncing around the home, antagonizing my wife, antagonizing my cats, trying to communicate in some sort of turbo-babble. Eventually, I found myself standing in a corner, basically going ‘blah-blah-blah-blah-babble-babble’ over and over, like a robot with a shorted circuit. I don’t know how long the energy spike lasted, but I know that it was after this that I realized it was time to consider bipolar disorder as a possible candidate for what was going on in my head. I had been aware of bipolar disorder before this incident, and had dismissed it because I never considered myself manic (although I used to pride myself on being able to go a few days and nights without sleep, then crash for only a few hours before going right back at it). I think I was more or less afraid of bipolar disorder – the suicide rate and the idea of emotions (like my rage) being out of my control. A month or so afterward, my regular doctor and a psychiatrist agreed; and after an EEG to rule out seizure disorders, I found myself on an introductory dose of lithium.

After one week on the lithium, though, I had some pretty rough problems – migraine, muscle cramping, a lot of this period I don’t remember, other than that I thought death would feel better. My wife was terrified, and my doctors told me to come off the lithium. Since my psychiatrist was scheduled to go on vacation for a month, and had a month-long waiting list, this bout cost me another two months off medication. Three or four weeks ago, I was finally put back on it, and have not experienced the same symptoms as the first time – this is something I’m pretty happy about, because everything I’ve read suggests lithium is really the way to go for people with bipolar disorder, when possible.

And so we find ourselves in the here and now. I’ll probably refer to my past as this blog progresses – I think that there are still a lot of things from my past (as might be imagined, this blog entry represents only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to what I’ve been through) that I need to sort through; and I suspect that, if I have any comorbid conditions, their source will almost certainly come from my past.



  1. Thank you for sharing your history. It took much courage to put those events down in black and white, and you did it very eloquently. This is a blog that I will keep my eye on.

  2. Thank you for your comment, and for your compliments, Eva! I thought that, as time progressed, I would randomly refer to events in my past (especially in my ranting phases); and I thought it appropriate to have something here that readers could refer back to, to get a better idea of where I was coming from.

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