In re: Triggers

 I don’t feel like I’m particularly well suited to discuss this topic.  I’m not a doctor or a therapist, and I haven’t done an inordinate amount of research on the topic, but I have to get it out. My soul can’t contain this. 

Very recently, someone that I love very much was kidnapped. By that I mean they were legitimately taken against their will to another location.  One minute they were walking down the street with friends, and the next thye’re in a hotel room with  someone who is trying to have sex with them.  Fortunately they were able to get away, but they’re still highly traumatized, and rightfully so.  What’s worse is that they were ashamed of the actions they took afterward, trying to reassert control over their own body. It’s not unusual for someone who has gone through a trauma like that to look to regain authority over their body through sex. I know it’s not, because I went through the exact same thing.

So it turns out that this isn’t about them, not really.  It’s about how I can’t concentrate, how I keep thinking about what could have happened.  Wondering if they’re ok.  How I have to stop myself from texting them every five minutes to make sure that they’re ok.  I can’t concentrate on my work. I can barely concentrate on writing this blog post.

I think, in part, I can’t get it out of my head because – on some level, possibly multiple deep levels – this was a big trigger for me.  Not only am I contending with the normal worry for my friend, but it reminds me of portions of my own life that I’d rather not re-live. I’m telling myself that I’m safe, they’re safe, everyone is safe.  I’m telling myself it wasn’t me that happened to, and that I have no reason to be reacting this way.  I even tried calling my therapist.

That helped a little.

When I called my therapist, she said what I had already figured out – that this is a trigger for me.  Some of the things my friend said and did reminded me – painfully – of things that I said and did during my marriage and it’s aftermath. The truth of the matter is that I don’t really thing that I deserve to have the same thoughts and feelings as I am having right now.  It’s been many years since these things happened to me – now I have a loving husband and stepsons and who am I to get triggered by something that didn’t even happen to me? 

But healing isn’t linear, is it? 

I don’t really know what that means for me. Maybe it means that it’s going to get worse before it gets better. Maybe it means I never dealt with things in a timely manner and this is my comeuppance.

Maybe it just is what it is.

Down Time

I just spent two hours alternately staring blankly at my computer screen and checking my phone. I walked around the office once, twice, three times.  I asked all of my co-workers if they had anything they needed help with.

I guess you could say I have some down time.

There’s something about trying to look busy when you are not that really hurts my mood.  It’s not just starting at a computer screen blankly, clicking random buttons in an attempt to look busy.  It’s about what my brain is doing while it is not otherwise occupied with work related tasks – and what it does it think, think, think.  Case in point: I’m going to Washington DC soon to record for another podcast (the Grey Council – check it out) during a neo-nazi rally.  Will it be safe?  Do we really have the money to do something like that?  Obviously not, there are so many other things to do to fix up the house, fix my care – oh, my car.  I need a new tire and an oil change stat, but I couldn’t pull it off this week because we had some major plumbing problems that needed fixed immediately. That on top of the car payment which I KNOW I shouldn’t have agreed to such a high payment.  What was I thinking?

On and on, my brain goes. Finances. (going to end up living in a box).  Health (that spot on the back of my hand – is it melanoma?). Responsibilities (there’s so much to do at home and I’m stuck here). It’s on days like this that my mood will inevitably start to flag. It’s only a matter of time before I start thinking of things that I don’t want to be thinking about – the really scary, disturbing things – start to take over. Perhaps that’s what was meant by the “low tolerance for boredom” article I found when I googled bipolar and boredom.

Honestly, I don’t really even know if that’s the fault of my Bipolar Disorder (well, the too-expensive car probably is) or if everyone’s mood is affected by severe boredom.  I figure that almost everyone is.  The difference, as with everything, is a matter of degree.  Could it put me into a tailspin?  The past few days have been very stable, and I hardly want to break that streak.  Then again, I am allowed to have feelings, right?  Not every thougth that passes through my head is a symptomatic thought.

Three hours, now.

I suppose this blog is a way of keeping my thoughts from entering that dreaded spiral.  It forces me into coherent thought.  Well, I’d like to think that it is coherent thought, anyway.

Why is it that boredom can make you turn on a dime?  I think part of it has to be the unrestrained/untamed mind set loose, while the body is assigned to a seat in which it must sit.  If the body, like the mind, was allowed freedom of place and of movement, then a balance could be achieved.  Boredom is, essentially, imbalance. It forces the mind to turn on itself for distraction, and ultimately the mind is going to fall back into those patterns which have already been well entrenched.  Unfortunately for me, those patterns have more to do with trauma than anything else.

I think part of it is also the useless feeling that comes up when I can’t be completing a task or accomplishing something, even if it’s just the hum drum workaday stuff that I do every day.

32 minutes until lunch.  I don’t know if I can take this much longer.  How do I have NOTHING to do?  How is it possible?

Guest Blog: ‘A Bipolar Life’ By Jason Miller

By Jason Miller

Every one of us has the capacity to make a fundamental choice that has a huge impact on the quality of our time here on Earth: Whether we going to settle for survival or we are going to thrive. And If there is one truth I have learned over the years, it’s that human beings can thrive spiritually, regardless of material conditions and circumstances. Pain is inevitable. But existential suffering is an option.

One of my favorite theologians, CS Lewis, may have said it best:

“It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us. Like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”

I spent many years making mud pies in a slum. And I am happy to share the story with you, as well as the way in which I made my way to the holiday by the sea. It is my fervent prayer that this testimony of a God-rendered miracle of a Phoenix rising from the ashes will provide hope and inspiration to fellow sufferers who read it.

Born in 1966 to a lower middle class American family, I grew up with all my of necessities and many of my creature comforts met. Blessed and privileged, right? Most definitely.

Health care, food, clothes, roof over my head, good education at a suburban school, Scouts, football, pets, friends, sleepovers, camp-outs, dances, some dating. All that “good stuff.”

Yet despite all this, AND despite my father’s frequent reminders that I “had the world by the ass,” I was absolutely miserable. Haunted by the belief that I “should have been happy,” there was a heaping, stinking pile of shame that came with that emotional pain.

For as long as I can remember, I had insomnia. Often I would lie awake in bed until 2 or 3 o’clock in the morning, feeling 100% certain that I was the only human being on the planet still awake. Bed-time arrived with a dose of anxiety that I would never get to sleep that night. This went on until I got into middle school.

Coupled with that, I had depression, pretty serious OCD, and some hypomania, though I hadn’t a clue what these maladies were. Much less that I even “had” them. Much like a fish doesn’t know he is swimming in water, I thought these were “normal” states of being for everyone. I just thought that everyone else was strong enough to handle them without flinching or sweating and that I was a weakling. I had no idea the water was even surrounding me and “normal” people were on dry land.

Making things even more interesting, my dysfunctional family of origin, each member of whom had their own issues, had no more of an idea what to do with me than had I been a three-headed giraffe.

My father had narcissistic, verbally and emotionally abusive tendencies. He was a bully who was very athletic, intelligent, and quite successful in business. Any time we played a game, he delighted in beating me into the ground and rubbing my nose in it, whether it was intellectual, like chess, or physical, like one-on-one basketball. This created my deeply held false core beliefs that I was incompetent and that I was weak and cowardly. One thing about my father though, in a somewhat warped way, he made me feel loved and protected. He also endowed me with a relentless persistence because no matter how many times he “beat me,” he never beat me down.

My mother has an undiagnosed personality disorder that involves empathy-deficiency, withholding love and affection, extreme self-righteousness and judging, and perfectionism. My father referred to her as the “drill sergeant” because of her rigid and demanding demeanor and way of running the house. Looking back now, I am pretty certain she was in a great deal of emotional pain from her own obsessive compulsive thinking, the demands of perfection she placed upon herself, and from enduring the verbal abuse of my father, though I rarely, if ever, recall her standing up for my brother or me when his wraith was focused upon us. Mom did instill a love of reading and learning in me and gave me a solid moral foundation (that I abandoned but later came back to) by sending me to church and Sunday school weekly with my beloved grandparents. Fortunately, it was a United Methodist Church, so I was afforded a high degree of intellectual freedom and spared the “fire and brimstone” of more conservative “evangelical” churches.

To be fair, both of my parents did the best they could with what they had, And through much spiritual effort and the power of God, I have forgiven them both. They were “hurt people hurting people who hurt.” I shudder to think what had happened to them in their youth,  of who may have inflicted it upon them. They treated me as they had been treated, I am sure. And God knows I gave them plenty of Hell as I got older.

Nature abhors a vacuum, and it filled my empty and sick mind and soul with maladaptive “survival” tactics and self-medication, including checking (door locks, windows, appliances, etc), sneaking food and over-eating (my mother put me on a 1,000 calorie a day diet when I was 10 because I was 20 pounds overweight), masturbating to pornography (starting at age 11), and running excessively while seriously restricting my food intake (taking my weight from 155 to 119 with 3% body fat in 6 months). And that was just the “warm-up” before I hit 19.

I took an abnormal psychology course my sophomore year at the University of MO Kansas City and began diagnosing myself with every mental illness in our textbook. That meant, of course, that my world was coming to an end. Because having a mental illness, in my worldview, meant that I was weak, vulnerable, weird, a loser, a pariah, a failure, and destined to a life of misery, poverty, homelessness, and isolation. One particularly disturbing belief that had been espoused in my home growing up that fed my terror of “becoming mentally ill” was that war was good-because it got rid of the undesirables of society. Nothing like a doctrine of Social Darwinism to boost your sense of self-worth when you have a mental illness!

Like a fungus in a damp, dark environment, this particular obsession only grew worse. Excruciating and relentless, these intrusive thoughts plagued me and crippled me psychologically for over a year. Nasty and unstoppable ruminations of this Eagle/Valedictorian becoming an “undesirable’ were too shameful to verbalize to anyone and eventually became a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Further fueling the power of this relentless barrage of unbidden, unwanted, tortuous thoughts was the reality that because I had striven so hard to please my parents by becoming Valedictorian of my HS class and an Eagle Scout by age 14, I had neglected my social life, save for a few friends who were also academic over-achievers. By age 21, I was still a virgin and had never smoked or drank. Social anxiety and limited social skills left me paralyzed with fear at the mere thought of going to a party or any type of social event. Yup. An “undesirable” in the making. Detritus of society. Might as well have used me for cannon fodder right then and there.

Somehow, between sheer willpower, the notion that I was “supposed to live up to the only artificial standard I knew,” the best support my parents could give, and a tad bit of very weak mental health therapy, I managed to muddle through 3 miserable years of undergrad liberal arts classes at UMKC.

It was during that time that I met my first wife. And one of my big fears–that I was not equipped to take risks and leave my secure little world–began to be unmasked for the lie that it was.

My first “adventure” was getting into a physical fight with my very intimidating and much stronger father, who had always dominated me psychologically. For several months I had been standing up to him and yelling back at him. It all came to a head one Friday night as he prepared to leave for the weekend, Things got physical and we came to blows. He shouted, “you and all your shit better be out of the house by the time I get back in town.” Our fight was a draw and I moved out.

Ironically, or perhaps co-dependently, once settled into my own apartment, I wound up going to work for my father as a forklift driver and order packer. I bought a motorcycle, got a tattoo (my first of 13), started smoking, and made a “friend” who introduced me to the best’ medicines’ of my young life: alcohol and marijuana. Addiction to both were almost immediate. We drank straight, hard liquor(including Everclear) right out of the bottle and spent entire weekends hanging out and getting drunk and high. But he didn’t take me anywhere I didn’t want to go.

With all of these “social achievements” under my belt and my virginity history, I “proved” to my wicked obsession that there WAS somewhere in society that I could function. I now felt that I had found “my people.”  Others with low feelings of self-worth, likely mental health issues, and a very freeing lack of giving a fuck about much of anything. And while all of this was true, and to this day those are “my people,” (though I spend the most time with those in recovery), I was still an “undesirable.”

And then I did something monumentally detrimental to the Marine Corps and to me. I enlisted. There was no war going on, so there was no need for me to enlist and no noble cause to pursue. In retrospect, I was looking to further my “social achievements” and continue to prove my demons of self-doubt “wrong.” But it was one of many decisions that became powerful opportunities for growth. (An AA euphemism for a tribulation that is often self-inflicted).

By the time I left for MCRD in San Diego, I had been smoking and drinking alcoholically for about a year. And my untreated Bipolar Disorder was in “full bloom.” Plus, my significant authority defiance issues had become very overt as my “string of conquests” grew. Though in my manic state, of which I was unaware, I gave none of these crippling conditions a moment’s thought. A. Recipe. For. Disaster.

That debacle lasted for about six months. The drill instructors could do nothing with me. Other than lame efforts at the exercises and demeaning tasks they assigned me when I defied them, their real or feigned rage and yelling motivated me to do nothing. I managed to smuggle cigarettes into the barracks, and I found that I could satisfy my alcohol cravings by buying bottles of Listerine at the PX. Imagine choking down a turpentine and using every ounce of your willpower to hold keep from retching. I sweated, choked, gagged, turned green, and ignored the aching protestations of my angry stomach, but I got my buzz.

After a few months of futile efforts to intimidate, cajole, and shame me into cooperation, the drill instructors gave up and moved me to a barracks with other miscreants for about a month. We sat on the barracks floor in front of our bunks all day with nothing to do but read the New Testament or meditate in silence. Communication was not allowed except at chow time. Two weeks later, they sent me home with the a bus ticket and a Convenience of Government Discharge. That was a happy ending. An active alcoholic with untreated Bipolar Disorder would have been nothing but a burden to them. And at that point in my life, I lacked the tools to navigate the realities of day-to-day civilian life, much less the rigors of the Marines.

Not long after I returned from the Marines, my future wife and I moved in together. After a year, I had quit school and started a very under-employed “career” working in machine shops. We flew to Vegas to get married, which contradicted all of her family’s beliefs and defied all their wishes. I ended up staying extremely drunk most of the time we were there and met a fellow discharged miscreant from the MCRD who supplied me with cocaine. My new wife was, to say the least, “displeased.”

Ultimately, I got a job making more money, but it was still hard, hot, dirty, dangerous work that involved a lot of heavy lifting in a sweatshop, production environment with a group of older men hardened by years of this type of labor and environment. I lasted a year and a half at this metal plating facility. (Years later, my grandfather, whom I admired greatly for his moral fortitude and unwavering perseverance in the face of tribulations told me, “Good job.” which was HIGH praise from that quiet man who was not easily impressed by people enduring in difficult circumstances). My drinking progressed to the extent that I was completely absent from our marriage and finishing off a fifth of whiskey a night when my shift ended–drinking until I passed out or blacked out. And I saw to it that the liquor supply never ran out because I drank the cheap stuff right out of the bottle. No bar tabs or $5 shots for me. $5 fifths were my vehicles to inebriation. I just wanted my medicine. No matter how bad it tasted or how isolated I was.

One day I went into work still slightly drunk/hung over and managed to fall into the 1600 gallon tank filled with 200 degree concentrated sodium hydroxide. The “cleaner” was used to strip the grease off of metal parts that we plated with zinc and was the type of solution that the Mafia could use to make a dead body disintegrate. By a miracle of God, when I slipped on the edge of the tank, I went in feet first rather than head first and somehow emerged alive. As I desperately grabbed the lip of the tank, hoisted myself out, and flipped myself out of the near boiling lye soap and onto solid ground, the only other employee was working that night happened to be coming down the stairs. He got the hose and started dowsing me with fresh water to rinse away the chemicals that were still eating my flesh. When I removed my socks, layers of skin peeled off of my heals and ankles. My co-worker rushed me to Trinity Lutheran Hospital where they immediately threw me into a cold shower in the ER to wash away the rest of the chemical. That was one of the most unbearable 15 minutes of my life, as it felt like someone was running a blow torch up and down the chemical burns and scalding on my legs.

I had 1st, 2nd, and 3rd degree burns on 20% of my body. Hospitalized for two weeks due to the risk of infection, the pain was in excruciating, as every day they put me in a whirlpool and scrubbed the scar tissue off that would have prevented the burns from healing properly. I still cringe when I see burn victims. And both of my legs bear significant scarring to remind me of this near-death experience.

After I was released from the hospital, I had to be on bed rest at home for 3 weeks. My wife (if you are reading this, thank you) put me through a forced withdrawal of alcohol by getting rid of all the bottles in the house and refusing to supply me with a single drop. That was 1992 and I haven’t had a drink since, by God’s grace. Thanks to white-knuckling dry drunkdom and replacing alcohol with other addictions for many years. And thanks to AA since 2010. One day at a time.

Also, if you are reading this, former wife, thank you for the time that you saved our lives when I was driving drunk AND for stopping me from shooting those people in the parking lot of our apartment complex.

Without my “medicine,” all I had was Ativan and some conventional therapy that was of little help.I went back to working as a machine operator making $8/hour, performing tasks a monkey could be trained to do. Anxiety-ridden, hiding my knowledge and ability to articulate (so as to fit in with my poorly educated co-workers), and tortured to my mental and emotional limits by my obsessions, compulsions, and ruminations fed by my repetitive, solitary work, hour after hour, day after day, week after week, I was so miserable that I began slipping down the rabbit hole of clinical depression.

Once ruminations and unwanted, unbidden thoughts take a foothold, if one has no tools to cope with them (i.e. exposure therapy or cognitive behavioral), they bedevil a person like the steady drip of Chinese water torture. They become all-consuming. They chase all other thoughts away. They wear a person out as one battles to drive them away, only to discover that the harder one fights, the stronger they become. For instance, the harder I tried not to fixate on whether or not I was going to spill the can of lubricant I used on each of the machined parts into which I was drilling the same pattern of holes for days on end was going to spill or not, the more my mind fixated on it. As if that was of tantamount importance and was the only thing that mattered in the universe These vicious ruminations became so mentally agonizing that I took to putting cigarettes out on the backs of my hands to distract myself from the mental pain and to feel the release of endorphins that comes with self-harm. The OCD component of my illness literally sucked the very marrow out of the joy of life, leaving me mentally exhausted, psychologically vulnerable, and more and more depressed. It came close to bringing me to my knees with depression and misery. Yet I fought on.

Somehow I managed to keep going, we got pregnant, and bought a house. My wife had had a kidney transplant about two years prior, so about halfway through the pregnancy, she had to go on complete bed-rest. That left us with one income. My $8 per hour. And I had re-enrolled in school in an ill-fated attempt to complete my college degree.

I will give myself credit for making a valiant effort to continue being the “hero” I had fancied myself to be when she went through her kidney transplant, but eventually, my psyche’s capacity to continue functioning with a facade of normalcy gave way and I lapsed into a severe depression. At my ex-mother-in-law’s insistence, I was hospitalized for psychiatric care. If you are reading this, thank you.

That was a nice facility covered by insurance, so there were many kind professional people and opportunities to get various types of help, with the exception of my psychiatrist. After several days (in what later would seem like a 5 star hotel), he rendered his “brilliant, professional and incredibly ethical opinion.” He said that I “had a had a shitty personality” and wasn’t mentally ill. While my illness probably manifested itself in shitty ways, telling a mentally ill person they are  defective rather than sick serves to starve their already anemic sense of self-worth and snuffs out nearly all hope. “Doctor,” if you are reading this, I confirmed that you bugged out to Minnesota shortly after you treated me. I pray you never got the opportunity to continue as a charlatan and harm anyone else.

Around the time of my stint in the psychiatric hospital, our beautiful twin sons had been born and were about 6 months old. The pressures of work, impending fatherhood (for which I was about as well-equipped as a school bus is to fly to the moon), school, marriage, and home-ownership converged to throw me into my first manic episode, though I didn’t recognize it as such at the time.

While in the hospital, I met a woman who had been admitted after a suicide attempt. Sick people attract sick people and we went from zero to 60 in a romance faster than the new Tesla. “Naturally” we both decided to abandon our families (she had four children) and run off together since our spouses “didn’t understand us.” An Alcoholic with Bipolar Disorder 2 and a Bulimic with Dis-associative Disorder. A match made in Hell.

And we were hellions for most of the couple of years that we were together. We spent the first several months homeless, living with family, couch surfing with friends, and living in a weekly/hourly rate motel in a particularly rough part of the East Side of KC. Everywhere we went we managed to wear out our welcome very quickly, as we were verbally abusive vandals who stole from individuals, didn’t work, didn’t lift a finger to help others, shop-lifted, stole gas, dined and dashed (those became compulsions for me), smoked pot, carried a gun, lied constantly, and psychiatrist-hopped to get prescription self-medication.

We ended up “settling down,” getting an apartment, and getting married. And I went to work. She filed for disability for her back problems and her psychiatric diagnoses. It was a struggle, as I was under-employed and got fired frequently. We shared one beater of a car that we were fortunate to keep running. Unemployment, food stamps, thrift stores (before they were socially acceptable places to shop), Aldi (when it was the “poor store”), selling our plasma, and robbing Peter to pay Paul were all staples, as we barely scraped by.

One day I returned home and found her passed out face down on our mattress that was on the floor. I found her suicide note and an empty bottle of about 100 Clonazepam. At first I thought she was dead, but she was still breathing. This shit was real. I called 911. They sent cops, fire personnel and paramedics. There were enough emergency personnel in our little apartment to handle a three car collision. And I had a stash of pot big enough to warrant a felony shoved under a desk right next to where they were working on my wife! Doubly scary. Thank God they were able to get her to the hospital and get her stomach pumped in time to save her. And they didn’t notice the marijuana.

Everyone who was still talking to me at that time told me to leave her, but I went and saw here in the hospital anyway. We were so enmeshed that it would have been like cream trying to separate itself from coffee. And I still had that “hero” complex. We stayed together, but only lasted a few more months. Then the laugh was on me, as she moved all of her belongings out of our place while I was at work one day and I never saw here again! I was CRUSHED, but as my therapist predicted, one day I would want to thank her. If you are reading this, thank you!

Not long after her suicide attempt, I sunk into the deepest depression of my life, before or since. My mood and thoughts grew so dark that I lost all hope of ever ascending from the pit of misery. My distorted conclusion was that the shaming, negative, obsessive nature of my thought patterns doomed me to life-long suffering. AND that my parents were the root cause since they had planted the seeds during my childhood. I had grown so hopeless that the only way out, according to my twisted thinking, was to kill them and then to kill myself. I remember laying on my back in my bedroom, eyes closed, Megadeath blaring on my stereo, as I laid out my simple plan. I would go to their house that evening after Dad was home from work, get them to let me in the house on the pretext that I wanted to talk and work things out, shoot them with the gun that I had stolen from them, and then shoot myself.

Again, Divine intervention. I was seeing a therapist at the time. I had an appointment with her that afternoon. Instead of keeping my plan a secret as I had intended, I kept my appointment and ratted myself out. And she promptly had me committed to Western Missouri Mental Health.

That was three weeks of sheer misery. But it was one of the best things that has ever happened to me. It saved three lives immediately and countless others since, as I have been blessed over the last ten years to help many fellow sufferers now that I am in recovery, have had another son, and was/am a father to my twins again. God had a plan. God had a plan.

How does one describe Western Missouri? It was the state-run psychiatric facility for the indigent and homeless-a Hell hole in its own right. The ONLY treatment, activity, or therapy was a 5 minute a day visit from your treating psychiatrist-who was typically an intern who spoke very broken English. The other 23 hours 55 minutes when we weren’t sleeping, those of us who were semi-rational huddled together in the day room smoking and playing cards. We were afraid. AND we were avoiding the patients who were hallucinating, strapped to their beds screaming, zombied out with Thorazine, psychotic, or, in rare cases, violent. Yes, we stigmatized our brothers and sisters I am ashamed to admit. It felt like a necessity for survival at the time though. In my prejudiced, ignorant, sheltered mind, some of the people there were quite scary.

Once I was released from Western Missouri, with my “Scared Straight” certificate, “earned” by living with and witnessing some poor souls whose mental illnesses had become so severe and chronic that they appeared to be past the point of no return, my life started to arc upward. I realized that I still had a chance and a choice.

My mother (and if you are reading this, God bless you and thank you for this and many other things) got me connected with a young therapist who SAVED MY LIFE. She believed in me as a good person who could function in society AND she introduced me to and taught me to use Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. For the first time in my life, I was not at the mercy of my rapacious shaming, negative, self-defeating, and obsessive thinking. A way out. And I took it, practicing it as hard as an Olympic hopeful. I had that powerful tool, group therapy, a diagnosis, someone who loved and believed in me, and stabilizing medication. Happiness, joy, and freedom were in sight!

That was 1994 and I was finally on a path of recovery.

Yet, that was just a beginning. And in some ways, the worst was yet to come.

In working with this wonderful woman, I used the tools and direction she gave me to become a reasonably stable, productive member of society again. I faced one of my biggest fears. I was terrified of trying to get a job that offered reasonable compensation in exchange for responsibility and intellectual challenge. And I had almost zero faith that I could articulate, problem solve, and think on my feet. So what did I do? I got a job at a collection agency as an account manager. My social anxiety, newly minted skill of asserting myself, introversion, and low self-esteem were sorely tested by the rigors and stresses of dealing with people who owed money they didn’t want to pay. Yet the pain birthed a sense of confidence AND a career for me.

At that time I was seeing my twin boys under supervised visitation at their mother’s house, but I ensured that I didn’t miss any visits. I remained single for a year and a half and continued to grow in my recovery. Yet my spirituality remained pretty stunted. I had no fellowship with others in recovery and most of my “spiritual reading” consisted of recovery authors like John Bradshaw and existentialist philosophers. With only a handful of friends and partying buddies (the ‘marijuana maintenance plan’), I was still very nihilistic and often mildly to moderately depressed.

I held that first job for a year and a half (a miracle, considering my past), started paying my child support, and began catching up on past due child support. I had a position with another collection agency within a day of losing my first job. By that time I was quite comfortable with the work and was actually ready to look for something better paying and more challenging. Yet I was still a dry drunk with all the underlying character defects. AND my Bipolar Disorder was not yet properly diagnosed or properly medicated. Marijuana, pornography, and work filled the spiritual void. My soul was still starving.

Several months into my second job with a collection agency, I met my third wife. She was over 10 years younger than me and had a two-year old son. In hindsight, she was looking for a father for her son and I was looking for someone for me to rescue and to save me from my demons that still haunted me. Since there was mutual attraction, we wound up dating for a short time and then moving in together. I was a reluctant father, mostly because I lacked the confidence that I could be one. But since her son’s father was not in the picture, and due to some troubling circumstances never would be, I had no choice. A fact driven home to me by my wonderful therapist.

Initially we were poor as church mice, but as time passed, that changed. She and I both found better jobs. A commercial collections job for me and an office manager job for her. I grew into my role as a father and when our son turned seven, we had his biological father’s parental rights terminated and I adopted him. One of the best things I have ever done. Praise God.

Our relationship was good for several years. I remained stable, we co-parented well together, and she helped me in what became a protracted and bellicose custody battle over the twins from my first marriage. Unfortunately, it was long and ugly, as many of them are. It took a significant financial and emotional toll on all parties involved, including the boys. In the end, I wound up with joint legal custody and unsupervised visitation every other weekend with two weeks during the summer. My wife was an immense help in getting to that point and then carrying out the visitation. If you are reading this, thank you.

Our marriage went on for several years. The twins came over on a regular basis. We moved to a nicer area so our son could be in a good school district. I changed jobs again, landing the one where I am still working as I scribble this testimony. (Today, it’s 17 years on this job. Two promotions. One into a supervisory role. One into mid-level management that involves marketing and operations instead of collections. With God, all things are possible).

Things were going well. On the surface.

But my porn addiction became the “termites that ceaselessly devoured the foundations of the life we had built” (AA 12 Steps & 12 Traditions, Pg 49). Without going into details, suffice it to say that my obsession and compulsion became so consuming that it destroyed my relationship with my third wife. By the time I acknowledged the problem and tried to do something about it, it was too late. She had given up. And I don’t blame her a bit. If you are reading this, I am sorry.

Another broken marriage to add to the pile of wreckage in my wake.

That left me on my own again, with one pre-teen son spending every other week with me, and the pre-teen twins every other weekend. I had become cocky and complacent in my recovery-grossly underestimating the severity of my Bipolar Disorder and the effort that I needed to put forth to manage it. All this despite my porn addiction wiping out my third marriage. Continuing to feed my porn addiction was also akin to pouring gasoline on the smoldering fire of my Bipolar Disorder, which by this time was properly medicated. But as I later learned, medication alone won’t keep Bipolar in check.

This was about 2006, I had gotten involved in Leftist politics, mostly as a Blogger, and I had become a vegetarian. These sound like insignificant details, but come into play heavily later.

Another very significant thing happened around this time. I started seeing my current therapist and she finally gave me an accurate diagnosis of Bipolar Disorder 2. Previously, I had been diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder, Major Depression, and a couple other entries from the DSM-IV. My meds stayed the same, but we attacked it with some additional and new therapeutic tools.

Losing the stability of that long-term relationship-the healthiest relationship I had ever had-sent me into a slow but momentum-gathering downward spiral with my mental health. I acted ugly in the divorce, just as I had in my first. Fortunately for all of us, there were no custody wars to leave deep emotional wounds and scars. We weren’t friendly, but the co-parenting was civil. Much credit to her. Some credit to me for learning my lesson in round one with the twins.

For the first few months, I was severely depressed. I never told anyone, but I contemplated suicide and even came close to sticking my .38 revolver in my mouth and blowing my brains out. But God had plans for me and somehow carried me through the pain. Pretty sure God was working through my therapist, a wonderful woman whom I still see regularly today. However, I still wasn’t being honest enough with her at that time for her to do much more than keep me somewhat in check and functional.

My depressive episode ran its course. And that was the start of what I later learned to be a prolonged hypo-manic episode that eventually morphed into full-blown mania, followed by the inevitable horrifying train crash.

By 2008, my mania and grandiosity were hitting on all cylinders. I complied without objection when the twins told me they didn’t want to see me anymore (they were 15) and stopped exercising visitation. I did continue paying their child support, co-parenting my other son, and managed to keep my job. God only knows how. Looking back, it was those three aspects of my life that kept me from going off the rails completely.

Over the course of the next few years, I set up profiles on numerous dating sites and was constantly in a desperate and obsessive search for someone to replace wife number 4. I became a serial monogamist, jumping from one short intense relationship to another. The common theme was that, as my son would later tell me, and pardon the stigmatizing language, I was “shopping in the crazy aisle.” Which made perfect sense since I was “crazy” at that time.

Eventually I wound up with a woman who had a 14-year-old daughter and a 2-year-old son. We lived together for a few months, but it turns out she was a sex addict. That coupled with my porn addiction and Bipolar Disorder made the relationship, shall we say, “untenable.” It ended on a very nasty note with wicked verbal exchanges and a sucker punch from her as a lovely, parting gift.

Distanced from my parents, I developed a mentee relationship with an older gentlemen who ran a far Left website out of Connecticut and who had noticed my writings on my Blog. We struck up a relationship and he schooled me in Leftist ideology, politics, history, and causes to pursue. He also gave me life advice, which kept me relatively in-check for a time. If you are reading this, thank you for the endless hours of phone conversations, for making me your assistant editor, for your hospitality when I visited you, and for encouraging me to reconcile with my father before he died. (I did).

Unfortunately, my mania, distorted thinking, grandiosity, and vegetarianism/love of animals led me to become connected with some of the ideological leaders of the radical element of the Animal Rights Movement. My increasing radicalism and focus on Animal Rights (to the exclusion of other issues) led to the dissolution of my relationship with my mentor. Besides my job, paying child support, my therapist, and co-parenting one of my sons, my connection with him had been one of the last remnants of stability in my life

As I was becoming more and more embedded in the Animal Rights Movement, I met a young woman on a dating site who was also a vegetarian, a huge animal lover, and an admirer of the Animal Liberation Front, the decentralized, anarchist group that uses violence as a tactic against the buildings and equipment of any industry or business that harms animals (though they have never killed anyone). We started dating. Since I had become aligned with the university professor of philosophy who underpinned and justified ALF actions through his philosophical writings and teachings AND I was a press officer for the ALF”s above-ground website that published anonymous, untraceable, encrypted communiques from ALF members who had committed an illegal action, it seemed to be a match made in heaven.

Not surprisingly, no. Turns out, she had her own mental health struggles. We ended up buying a house together and getting in way over our head financially. I had good credit and began using credit cards to pay the bills. I also began spending recklessly. Our relationship grew sour over time and she moved out for a time. She came back, but it was never quite the same.

I continued down the path of increasing mania, part of which included striking up a relationship with an Animal Rights activist in another state through Facebook. After only a few weeks, I flew to where she lived and we were married within 3 days.

Needless to say, that didn’t go over very well with my girlfriend with whom I had bought the home. When I got home with my new wife, we went by the house to get some of my things and my dog. We barely made it out of the house with Chico, my amazing companion rescue pit bull. Came up empty-handed on the things. Before we could pull away from the curb, my girlfriend managed to get into the car and to start attacking my new wife. (She should have been attacking ME, but I understand her blind rage). The police had already been called by a neighbor, arrived, and broke things up before anyone got hurt. Miraculously, they let me leave with my beloved pit bull.

My wife flew back home with Chico and I moved in with my father, with whom I had an on again, off again relationship for years. The move was necessitated by my girlfriend getting a Temporary Restraining Order against me based on false statements that I had threatened and harmed her, which barred me from entering our house. If you are reading this, I completely understand why you did it, I forgive you, and I am sorry for hurting you so deeply.

I lived with Dad for about three weeks. Despite my manic state, we were able to spend quality time together and reconcile our differences-to the extent that either of us was emotionally capable at the time. A blessing.

A good attorney was able to get the Temporary Restraining Order thrown out, as there was no factual basis for it. At the same time, that judge ordered my girlfriend to vacate the premises of our house permanently.

Meanwhile, my three-week old marriage was imploding (bear in mind that I was manic-things were devolving VERY quickly). She had returned to Idaho and had Chico with her. If you are reading this, I am sorry that I hurt you deeply.

The day that I drove to St Louis to pick Chico up from the airport (my soon-to-be ex-wife flew him back to me), my father died of a massive heart attack. As much acrimony as there had been between us over the years, I didn’t think I would be that upset when he passed, but when I got the news, I bawled like a baby. A call came through on my cell phone that ID’ed as him, but when I answered, it was a police officer informing me of his death. The deeply visceral and almost primal sounds that I made were somewhere between a scream and a sob. But they shot way up the Decibel scale. God rest Dad’s soul.

In the interim, I had managed to rack up $200,000 in credit card debt; had gotten arrested for above ground non-violent Animal Rights activism; was working full-time, was maintaining a widely-read Blog, was acting in my capacity as a press officer for the ALF, was co-raising my son, and was leading two major activist campaigns for an above ground Animal Rights group that I had formed in Kansas City. On top of all that, the FBI had opened a file on me to determine whether or not I was a terrorist threat (they consider the ALF to be a terrorist group) and had interviewed quite a number of people in my life, including me. 2-3 hours of sleep a night and, according to my therapist, who I still see today, I was very near a psychotic break.Yes, ladies and gentlemen, that would be a real-life example of full-blown mania

My life was a runaway locomotive, driven by an engineer intoxicated by the speed. Like Mr Toad’s Wild Ride, it was certain to end badly. But I was blind to the impending disaster.

Then suddenly, without warning, the train crashed. My feelings of invincibility, elation, and grandiosity were pulverized on impact. My mania dissipated, ebbed, burst, went away, or whatever it does. I was left feeling like a person with “normal capacity” facing the Herculean tasks that I had created for myself. I felt like the Earth had crumbled beneath my feet and I was in free-fall into a dark and bottomless abyss. I was terrified. And at the same time tormented by the chaos, turmoil, and intense pressure I had inflicted upon others and myself.

Once the mania train came to a screeching, bone-jarring halt, its nefarious twin demon, depression, reared its ugly head. It was like nothing I had experienced in my life. For a couple of agonizing months, I had a ball of anxiety-fed fire in my belly, but my overall state of being was one of complete and utter deflation with a depressed undertone. My “indomitable” will had met its match. My drive to get back up and keep fighting was gone. I wasn’t suicidal. I just didn’t feel that I had the inner strength to keep going. And to top it all off, I had isolated myself to the point that work was my only socialization and the only three people with whom I was truly connected were my therapist, my son, and my 96-year-old grandfather, whom I called every night. Dark night of the soul. Rock bottom. Spiritual wilderness. Call it what you will. I was there.

   These words penned by Bill Wilson on pages 7 and 8 of the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous could easily have been written about my state of being at that time:

“They did not need to tell me. I knew, and almost welcomed the idea. It was a devastating blow to my  pride. I, who had thought so well of myself and my abilities, of my capacity to surmount obstacles, was cornered at last.  No words can tell of the loneliness and despair I found in that bitter morass of self-pity. Quicksand stretched around me in all directions.”

I felt spiritually dead and utterly defeated. Not knowing where to turn, I heeded the advice of an older and wiser woman with whom I had become Facebook friends through our mutual animal activism.  She told me to go to AA “because those old men have a lot of wisdom and will help you.”

So I, who had been too proud to darken the doors of an AA hall since I “quit drinking on my own” in 1992 swallowed what “pride” I had left and metaphorically crawled on my hands and knees into an AA meeting on 9/6/2010. About 10 of the most loving, understanding, FORMER spiritual derelicts (whom AA had redeemed) welcomed me into their midst and gave me a First Step meeting. I was home. These were my people.

And so began my new life. Within a year of good sponsorship, lots of meetings, and diligently working each of the Twelve Steps of spiritual recovery (which if done in a serious manner is far from easy), I learned the meaning of the line in the Big Book, “We were reborn” as I matriculated “AA’s rugged school of life.”

Just as the Big Book so wisely discerns in “How It Works,” like all alcoholics and addicts, my life was dominated by resentment, fear, and problems related to sex. Through reading, listening, putting forth effort, practicing, and letting God do his part, I was able to begin the life-long process of rooting out these spiritual blights, identifying my character defects, praying for God to remove them, practicing their opposites, making amends to those I had harmed, forgiving those who had harmed me, engaging in daily practices that foster spiritual maintenance and growth, practicing filial love towards my fellow humans, and devoting my life to service of God and others rather than self.

All of these are happening to varying degrees at varying times in varying ways over the course of my spiritual journey. Usually I am moving forward, but sometimes I regress or get way off track, but the Higher Power of My Understanding always seems to send me a reminder, whether it be by painful consequence, through “God in Skin” (another person giving me spiritual advice), or some other means. Not wanting to return to the Hell of untreated Bipolar Disorder and/or addictions, I am typically fairly quick to respond and do what needs to be done. Healthy fear is a great motivator.

AA provided a spiritual component to my overall recovery that had been the missing piece of the puzzle for nearly two decades. For that I am eternally grateful. Had it not been for AA and the countless people in the Fellowship of AA who have helped me, i would not be alive today. Of that I am convinced. And I certainly wouldn’t have a life, as opposed to an existence of chaos, drama, self-inflicted pain, and scratching to survive

Instead, I have been blessed to be able to thrive in my job (now having held onto it for 17 years). I met an exotically beautiful, intelligent, passionate, educated woman with a strong, vibrant, and positive personality that enables her to take over a room like a force of nature. We have been happily married for several years and she has been a wonderful as a step-mother to my sons. Yup. I married up.

I have healthy friendships, in and out of the AA Fellowship, for the first time in years. I attend church (went from a raging agnostic to a believer in Jesus over 9 years) and serve others in recovery at church.

I feel comfortable in my own skin and have a good relationship with God and myself for the first time in my life. I often have an inner peace and serenity, which I RARELY had for many years.

I have been able to make amends to many whom I had harmed, and in some instances, broken relationships have been restored. And as for those to whom I have been unable to make amends yet, my spiritual way of living serves as a living amends.When and if the opportunity presents itself, I pray to be ready to make direct amends to those folks.

For the most part, I lead a sober, stable, sane, and clean life. I have more coping and recovery tools in my life today than ever before. I often help others and sometimes actually think of God and other people before I think of myself!

Today I often act rather than react. Many of the promises on Page 83 of AA’s Big Book have materialized for me. And through my personal relationship with God and efforts to live His way rather than mine, I get to reap the fruit of the spirit (Galatians 5:22-23) at times. All of these things are on a spectrum and ebb and flow of course, but the bottom line is that I have had the “Spiritual Awakening as a result of these steps.”

One last anecdote, which probably represents one of the biggest miracles of my recovery. I had been estranged from my twin sons for about ten years (from ages 15-25). It was indescribably painful, but I had recognized and taken responsibility for my part and worked through it spiritually, accepting that I might never have contact with them again. Then in July, 2016, I found out that one of my sons needed a kidney, as both of his were failing. He had been on the transplant recipient list since February. Applying my new spiritual way of life, I offered him mine via a very brief Facebook message, making it very clear that there were no strings attached and there was no expectation of a relationship or forgiveness. He accepted. I was a match. After a very extensive medical and psycho-social vetting that involved many appointments, lab tests, CT scans and the like, we went into surgery on 1/11/17. It was a success for both of us! The surgeon who extracted my kidney said it was one of the healthiest he had ever seen. Now THAT is a miracle, given how I treated my body over the years.

Today I have a strong, healthy relationship with all three of the young men with whom God blessed me as sons. In fact, the twins and I are going to see the Avengers this afternoon and to dinner tonight.  The  blessings in my life today are infinitely greater than any I could have imagined. And way beyond any that I “earned.” God’s grace flows abundantly. And doing His will instead of mine (through progress, not perfection) certainly doesn’t hurt.

I spent a good many years suffering with untreated, inadequately treated, and self-neglected Bipolar Disorder, Alcoholism, various Addictions, and maladaptive coping mechanisms. If sharing my experience, strength, and hope can spare one person even one hour of the mental and emotional Hell that I endured over the years, then I will have accomplished something very meaningful. Helping to alleviate suffering or simply comforting and offering my love and time to the suffering, particularly the mentally ill and addicts, is my life’s purpose. As forged in the crucible of my own trials and tribulations and handed to me by God. From my daily interactions with people in which I strive to be kind and helpful, to sponsorship in a 12 Step program, to serving at my church, to my vegetarianism, to giving blood and donating my kidney, to my advocacy for the mentally ill, service to others is a fundamental element of my life’s purpose and is essential to my recovery, as it gets me out of my default selfishness and self-centeredness.

Besides continuing to participate in AA and my church to maintain my spiritual fitness and growth and to be of service, I also stay mentally healthy by continuing in therapy, taking my prescribed medication, working my Cognitive Behavioral, working exposure therapy, practicing the 12 Steps and the Sermon on the Mount to the extent that I am able, building and maintaining relationships, talking to others in recovery when I am struggling, reading, praying, eating healthy, taking responsibility for my actions, seeking to practice rigorous honesty and true humility, admitting when I am wrong and making amends, and exercising. If all of that sounds like it would get tiring and difficult, it does. But what choice do I have?


There’s been a lot of talk in the past few years about how unreliable memory can be.

The way I understand it, memory is like a tape that you re-record every time you listen to it.  When you re-visit the memory of that time you wiped out on your bike when you were eleven, you’re not calling up an actual record of the event.  What you’re remembering, in reality, is the memory of the last time you thought about wiping out on your bike when you were eleven.  In this way, so science tells us, the memories we have can change over time.  Maybe that four-inch drop off the side of the road was really more like two inches.    Maybe that skinned knee wasn’t the epic gore-fest that you recall.  These are little changes, built up over time, that color your memories enough to make them unreliable.  It’s why eyewitness testimony has been called into question lately.  It was the basis of the Satanic Panic in the eighties.

It’s an especially difficult problem to solve when there are certain memories that, for a period of time at least, you were unable to keep from thinking about.  Does that mean that every day, multiple times a day for years I was reliving a difficult memory and simultaneously making it worse?

So how, when I’m talking to my therapist, can I talk about my memories with any real clarity?  I asked her this the other day.  I wish I could tell you all that she had some sage and reassuring words about how memories don’t change that much or some such thing.  Not so.  She agreed with me and moved on.

I’m not exactly sure what I expected her to say.  I know the science that says memory is fallible.  Did I expect a reassuring, “oh, I’m sure that your memories are real,” or “I’ll be able to tell.” I suppose either of those would have made me feel better in the moment, but honestly – neither of those things is a.) true or b.) ultimately going to help me determine if I can trust my own memory.

The issue, at its core, is this:  There are some memories of my early childhood that exist in a vacuum.  I don’t have a lot of context for these memories.  They are simply flashes, vignettes of a few moments in time, and then they’re gone.  I believe so strongly that I experienced these things: I can remember the physical sensations, the smells, the confusion.  Everything in me tells me that these things happened.

So why can’t I trust myself?

I suppose the answer to that question should be obvious – sometimes I see things that aren’t there.  It’s unlike me to make experiences up out of whole cloth, however.

I suppose the real answer to the problem is this: It doesn’t really matter.

Even if my memories have been altered by overuse, they had to start somewhere.  Perhaps my mind has added a detail here and there.  Maybe my subconscious gave it the Technicolor treatment.  The memories first had to exist to be altered.

Even if this were not the case, there is no doubt that they have impacted me greatly.  Not only have they played a large part in dreams and nightmares, but in the intrusive thoughts that I have struggled with as well.

In some situations, there might be a reason to err on the side of caution.  People’s lives – if the memories are erroneous, innocent people’s lives – could potentially be destroyed.  Families might be torn apart.  In my case, though, there isn’t this possibility.  The players in this drama are presumed to have died many years ago.  In any case, there isn’t a family there to be destroyed.

I think the approach to take, for me at least, will to accept my memories as true.  They probably are, after all, at least in part, and there aren’t any others that can be hurt by unintentional falsehoods.

I guess I’ll just have to trust myself.

Smile for the Camera

When I worked at the portrait studio inside J.C. Penney, I learned that there are two types of parents. The first type wants a classically beautiful picture.  They want that shoulders-back, eyes-wide, smiling face look that most seven-year-olds just cannot achieve.   This group will insist on retaking pictures over and over until their child is in tears and they’re calling my district manager.   They almost never leave happy.

The second group is generally nicer to be around.  Their main philosophy is “This is how they are at this age.  This is what I want to remember.”  They love all the pictures, even the ones with the droopy eyes and a finger up the nose.  Smiles, no smiles, joker smiles – they’re all good.  These parents almost always leave happy.

The kids are just kids. One set is not better behaved than the other.  It’s the parents that set the tone that ends in their own disappointment.

You can probably see where this is going.

I think this mentality translates to everything in life.  If it must be perfect, if it must be flawless – if it has to smile – then it will inevitably be disappointing.  Even worse than disappointing, it may not happen at all.  I’ve gone through this before.

When I was in college, I did very well.  Until I didn’t.  Once the armor cracked and I missed something, or got a poor grade, or failed to understand something perfectly the first time, I felt it was a total loss. Gradients didn’t factor into it.  I had to retake a few classes for this very reason.

Here’s another example:  a clean house.  It’s not hard to keep a clean house, not when it’s clean to start with.  As soon as someone doesn’t clean up after themselves or throw away their garbage, it’s an instant sense of overwhelm.  I’m miserable because the house isn’t perfect, and more often than not the overwhelm is paralyzing.

Along that same theme, I watched an episode of the show “Hoarders” once (I really didn’t care for it), and something one of the social workers said stuck with me.  They were walking through the home and he stopped and directed the camera to a set of shelves on which a set of collectibles were meticulously laid out.  He said that it’s not unusual for them to see something like that in a hoarder’s home.  That one thing is perfect.  One thing in a sea of garbage is above reproach.  The reason the hoarder’s home gets out of control is that they can’t keep everything perfect.

That gave me the chills.

So here’s my idea:  stop caring about smiles.  Stop caring about perfect.  This is how it is right now.  The memory can be of a happy, imperfect life, or it can be a hellish quest for perfection.

I know which sounds better to me.



Mental Health Awareness Month


Not a bad month, all things considered.  The weather is getting better (here in the northern hemisphere, anyway),  the sun is shining more every day, and season four of The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt is getting released.  What more could you want in a month? Don’t say Christmas.

In addition to all this wonderfulness, May is Mental Health Awareness Month.  Thirty (thirty-one?) whole days dedicated to mental health.  Coincidentally (or maybe not) it also happens to be Borderline Personality Disorder Month.  What an extravaganza for a mental health blog!  The topics!  The stories!  The wit and humor!

Unfortunately, I don’t have a clue what to write about right now.  Not that I’m going to let that stop me, mind you.  I have plans to blog daily during the month of May.  Topics?  Plans?  Pshaw, I say.  Topics will come up, I have no doubt.   What’s more important at the moment is setting a precedent: It’s May 1, and as long as I hit “publish” by midnight, I will have successfully made my first Mental Health Month blog post.  I thought about trying to weasel in my most recent podcast episode as my first post of the month, but no.  You deserve more than that.

My moods seem excited to kick May off with a bang, as well.  The past three or four days have been some of the most consistently “good” days I’ve had in quite a while.  Today worried me just a little bit, though, because anxiety came knocking.  Even so, my streak is alive.  I’ve been able to go to my “happy  place” – yes, really – and calm myself down.

Do you want to know what my happy place looks like?  Good.

Have you ever seen a nature documentary that shows the migration of monarch butterflies?  That’s about as close as I can come to describing it.  Imagine a forest clearing, the sun shining down from above.  There are butterflies everywhere, resting serenely on leaves while slowly beating their beautifully vibrant wings.  Every now and then a few will take to the sky.

I’m not sure why this particular image is so calming to me.  I’ve had therapists tell me to think of puppies or kittens.  While that’s pleasant, it’s not particularly calming.  Maybe that’s because, while I love dogs, I also know how much work goes in to caring for them.  The same goes with kittens.  Butterflies?  They’re just pretty.

May seems like the perfect month for them.

And then I took an arrow to the knee.

Warning: Self Harm

Sitting there in my therapist’s office, I think she must notice. She must have seen others that every so often squeeze their eyes tight and clench their fists, or rub their forearms. She doesn’t mention it, though.

In my head, I’m repeatedly slashing at my forearms, my wrists. I swear I can feel the cuts on my skin welling up with bright red blood. I rub my skin, hard, to convince myself that it isn’t real.

This happens a lot, these intrusive thoughts. Sometimes it’s what I experienced in the therapist’s office. Sometimes it’s something more external – suddenly I’ll feel as if someone has shot me through the eye with an arrow (which is strangely specific, I know). Sometimes it’s being smashed over the head with something, or knifed in the gut.

Sometimes they will just show up out of a clear blue sky, a cosmic whammy that burns straight into my brain, telling me “pull the steering wheel.” More often, though, it’s triggered by something – some stressors.

These thoughts are different from being suicidal in an important way: I don’t want them. I don’t want to act on them. They’re frightening and confusing. It’s almost as if someone has hacked my brain and uploaded a computer virus, leaving me desperately closing pop-ups in order to get back to what I was doing.

When I first started experiencing this mental barrage, I had no name for it. I thought well, I just have a very dark imagination (which is true). As time went on, however, these thoughts more and more intense. I would have graphic vision of being stabbed or shot, often so realistic that I would start, unsure for a second or two if it had actually been real. As I got into therapy and became more willing to accept my diagnoses and try to learn about them, I came across the phrase “intrusive thoughts.” There it was – confirmation that I wasn’t the only one in the world that suffered with this symptom. In fact, it’s common with many different conditions – OCD, Depression, Bipolar Disorder, and PTSD all have intrusive thoughts listed as a possible symptom. I am far from alone. If you’re reading this, there’s a strong chance you know exactly what I’m talking about.

These thoughts don’t always take the form of injury to oneself, either. It differs from person to person, from disorder to disorder. They can take the form of unwanted or “embarrassing” and “bad” sexual thoughts. They can be pictures of harm coming to someone you love or care about. They may take on religious overtones. For me, it’s both self-injurious and sexual in turns. The sense of guilt, of being broken or fundamentally flawed in some way can cause us to attempt to push these thoughts away. We try to ignore them. We tell ourselves that it’s bad and to knock it off, brain. Unfortunately, the harder we push, the stronger they become.

One of the skills learned in DBT (or so I’ve read, since I’ve never had the therapy) is to let your thoughts come and go without judgment. It sounds simple. It totally isn’t.

The method requires us to step back from ourselves, to separate ourselves from our thoughts and look at them objectively and without judgment. There’s a thought about stabbing my eyes out with a pencil. Oh, look, cookies. I’ve been using this method, with mixed success, for a few months now. It’s still very difficult, but I can notice a difference. I’m still affected, but it’s shorter and lighter, if that makes sense. Where I used to have incredible amounts of guilt, now it’s a mild regret. What used to ruin my day – or longer – now only wrecks a few hours. It’s not perfect, but it’s something.

And sometimes, something can be everything.


One part of this blog (and podcast) that I often gloss over is that I am bisexual. Yes, I’m married to a man, but that doesn’t change my sexuality (a fact that my former therapist just couldn’t grasp – which is why she is my former therapist). Bisexual was actually one of the “b” words that In was considering when I first created the show.

In fact, I was in a relationship with a woman when I was first hospitalized. Well, he relationship was ending when I was first hospitalized. It’s still my worst manic (more like mixed) episode. I barely remember my ex having to call a mutual friend because she was afraid. She was probably right to be so. I remember eyeing up the knife block – I think to use on myself, but if I’m honest I don’t actually remember. If that doesn’t make you realize you have a problem, then nothing will, I guess.

I’ve come to realize lately that my hospital stay was a cakewalk compared to some others. I was at a private hospital (I think) that had such a small adult ward that there were only 5 rooms and I didn’t have a roommate until the last night I was there. We had physical class like basketball, art therapy, and a nice little smoking area outside in a big outdoor courtyard, which I used to its best advantage by pacing and crying.

Anyway, back to sexuality. I’ve heard it said that being bi and borderline is quite common. I can only assume that it’s because (speaking from my experience alone) we want everyone to love us forever and never leave. As I saw a meme put it: ” I only care about two things: 1. Everyone on earth and their opinion of me and 2. The crushing psychological weight of being alive.”

I thought it quite appropriate.

Now this isn’t to say that sexuality is somehow a symptom. I think it’s a natural progression. Almost like a coping mechanism.

If you have any thoughts on this, email me. I’d love to get some Other viewpoints!

See you next week!

Announcement: a new domain!

Hi everyone,

We are now the proud owner of! It should make reaching our site much easier. You can also now email me at Don’t worry, the old emails and urls will still work fine.

Thanks! Talk to you soon.


Did he make me a monster?

A few things to know before reading this blog:

1. Trigger warning and I mean trigger WARNING. This is the most raw thing I’ve written on the subject and I didn’t spare some details. So, be aware that there are graphic depictions of sexual violence in this post.

2. This was previously published under a pseudonym on another blog. Shout out to the Mental Illness Happy Hour blog.

3. Please be kind with your comments.

And away we go:

So my husband doesn’t always want to do what I want him to do, and I’m not talking about the dishes or laundry. I can’t really blame him. He’s a good person. He doesn’t want to hurt me.

That’s the problem. I want to be hurt.

Let’s go back a few years.

There was this guy that everyone thought was amazing. Tall, handsome, dark and brooding, the whole package. Let’s call him Keith. We hung out in similar circles, and I knew him casually. We used to hang out at this coffee shop that was a couple miles from my place – close enough to walk, but far enough to make it inconvenient.

I don’t remember what happened to my ride that night. It’s likely that my roommate got tired of waiting for me and left, or maybe we were fighting. We fought a lot in those days. I don’t really remember. A friend of mine agreed to walk home with me and crash on the floor. Then, like a Knight in Shining Black Armor, Keith appeared and offered to walk with us – after all, it was dark and we’d be safer if a guy was with us.

We arrived at my apartment – my roommate was out – and my friend and Keith pulled up some floor space in my bedroom (such as it was – it was really more like a large hallway) and everyone proceeded to crash. Well, everyone except Keith.

I was drifting off when I felt him slide under the covers.

“Mind if i sleep here?” he said, obviously not planning on sleeping.

Of course, I agreed. This guy was like a legend, the way my friends talked about him. I was flattered.

After a few minutes of typical young adult making out (oh, did I mention he was almost 30?) his hand found its way to the waistband of my underwear. I caught it and whispered to him, “I’m a virgin. I’m not ready.” He replied, oh so smoothly and sweetly, that he could still use his tongue.

I relented. My ex had gone down on me a couple of times, so I thought it would be ok. It’s nothing i haven’t done before, right? It’s fine.

So i let him kiss me. I let him take my panties off. Then he rolled on top of me, pinning me, trying to get inside of me.

I tried to push him off. I couldn’t. I tried to block his way with my hand, saying “wait, no. Please.” My hand offered no resistance. He ripped through me like tissue paper.

I was so quiet. I didn’t cry or scream.

After it was over – how long was it? A minute? Two? – i stepped over my still-sleeping friend and headed to the bathroom. I sat there for a long time, bleeding, not sure what to do. Hoping that maybe he’d just leave. After a while i went and stood in front of the sink, washing my hands and brushing my teeth, and staring at myself in the mirror. I stood there a long time – 20 minutes? 45? – working through what just happened.

“Listen,” I told myself, “you knew that not every guy is going to be satisfied with oral, right? I mean, you did accept his offer to come with us, you let him in your bed, you let him take your clothes off – I mean, what was he supposed to think? I must have wanted it in some way. I mean, you can’t ask a guy to stop after he’s gone so far, right? If I didn’t want this, I should have said something earlier. So this is who I am now. Everything is fine. I didn’t just get raped. I didn’t. ”

And i believed that for a long time.

For the record, he didn’t leave. He was still in my bed when i came out of the bathroom, motioning for me to come back to bed.

“Are you alright? You were in there a while.” Like he didn’t even know.

“yes, I’m fine”. And I thought I believed that, too.

Then, a month later – get ready for it – I fucking married him.

You might assume that this marriage would be a shit-show, and you would be 100% right. Predictably, he wasn’t the “love, honor and obey” type. More like the “fuck, belittle and cheat” type. Though, to be fair, it wasn’t technically cheating because technically we were in an open marriage. What? Of course. And you thought this couldn’t get any more fucked up.

Now, let me explain what this open marriage, as he called it, meant. It mean that we could each have sex with whoever we liked. He happened to like extremely young women – 16, 17, 18 years old – and he liked to get me to “join in”, or more accurately, lay there and watch. It also meant that he could invite his friends over and tell them, “go for it, man. She’s down.” Whether or not I was actually “down” didn’t matter. My husband let everyone know I would fuck pretty much anybody, and so I pretty much did. I hesitate to say that I was forced into any of these relationships. I certainly had the appearance of choice. By that time, though, it had become what was normal, what was expected. Was it training, or grooming? I don’t know. I just know that it was my reality, and i had to exist within it.

Eventually, someone was able to talk me into leaving him, though not before I’d found a replacement, of course. That was a pattern that would repeat throughout my life. I would fall madly, passionately in love for a blissful, short period of time. Then, the passion would turn sour. The same energy that was so fulfilling would become toxic (or maybe I needed it to turn toxic, needed the drama. I don’t know) and I would have to find a different partner so that I could leave the previous relationship without ever being alone. Rinse and repeat.

I never claimed to be a saint.

Years later, after a dozen relationships, a few women’s study classes and a hospitalization, I finally accepted that what happened was without my consent and, in fact, rape. I had to face a few uncomfortable facts about myself:

1. I had married my rapist. Which meant that aside from the shame, the stupidity and the nausea that I felt about it, I knew i could never tell anyone. Even if, somehow, they chose to believe me, I feared the judgment and rejection I perceived would follow.


For much of the time since I’d been sexually active (also: since I had my virginity ripped away like an old band-aid) I’ve had some very dark fantasies, the kind that most (normal) people never talk about. In a word: violent. I want to be shoved against a wall with my wrists pinned behind my back and taken from behind. I think about being bound, immobile, and force-fucked until i come against my will. I think about a knife to my throat, being told what to do, how to move, when to come.

Confused? Me too.

My initial conclusion was that something was just broken. That somehow the few years of alcohol and drugs and abuse forged some permanent pathways in my brain and now I was some sexually deviant freak. I was certain, absolutely dead certain, that i was the only person this had ever happened to and other survivors would be horrified to hear my story. I even questioned my own narrative: did it really go down the way i remember it? Am I a fraud? Did I really want it, after all? I would see people say things like “all girls secretly want to be raped” and I would be angry because it was so disgustingly awful, and I would be ashamed because, for me, it was a little bit true. It’s girls like me that make people say those things, I thought.

That’s an awful, irrational burden to bear. That a survivor would see her very existence as a propagation of rape culture seems insane, but that’s what had happened. My talk about Feminism and Empowerment rang hollow in my own ears. I felt so desperately alone, unwanted, monstrous and so deeply, deeply ashamed. I didn’t dare expose the depths of my depravity to my partner. First, they might leave, suddenly realizing the extent of my crazy. Even worse, having seen my vulnerable secret, they might use it against me.

Not to mention, it was dangerous. Once, before I had my realization, I confessed some of my feelings to my then boyfriend. SpecificAlly, I told him I would like him to choke me. The first time, he was understandably apprehensive, tentative. Still, I remember nearly blacking out before having an orgasm that encompassed my whole body. I’d never come that hard or that completely. I asked him to do it again.

The second time, he was stronger. He didn’t hold back and even after I came, he didn’t stop. I felt he would break my neck, he was pressing me into the bed so hard. It wasn’t until I finally scratched him in the face that he came to his senses. He refused to try again.

I stopped asking people to choke me after that. Bondage, sure, candle wax, but the other stuff lived in my head, a fantasy to help me along in bed.

I had never heard of hypersexuality, or of Rape Trauma Syndrome. I didn’t know that increased libido and paraphilic desires were a part of Bipolar disorder and Borderline personality disorder. I didn’t know that i was not alone.

My first therapist was the one to tell me that these feelings didn’t make me a monster. I am not the first, nor will I, unfortunately, be the last person who experiences these feelings after or as a result of a sexual attack. Hearing that from him helped, as has listening to similar stories on the podcast and seeking out some information online. That doesn’t mean that i don’t still feel it, though, the feelings of guilt and fraudulence. But I know, at least on a cognitive level, that I don’t deserve to feel guilty.

That makes a world of difference.