Psychotic Depression

My depression is recurrent, and when it is untreated it comes complete with psychotic features – a component that is frightening, confusing and simply cruel to my family.

In that state, I have no idea how sick I really am, or even that I am sick at all – I’m in a world where 2+2 = 7.  A place where those who are, in reality, trying to help me, seem themselves lost and out of touch with the truth.

I don’t know how many times I screamed at my wife, “I’m not sick!” or, “I’m not taking those drugs!”  In my mind there was nothing wrong with me.

Everything was someone else’s fault or doing, and my perspective was so skewed, my judgment so clouded, I honestly believed I was OK.

I felt nothing, except anger – and my rage filled antics dominated my once peaceful home.  No one knew when I would go off, or what would cause the next episode – and all of my rage and frustration was invalid and inappropriate, I was completely irrational.

My thoughts were random and disconnected, I couldn’t hold a coherent conversation – I couldn’t even follow a line of thought, my own or anyone else’s.  My short term memory failed me constantly …

I was paranoid, anxious and delusional – and I thought I was fine.  I didn’t understand that people who are actually fine don’t behave as I was behaving.  People who are fine are in control of their emotions and behavior, and I was not.

I didn’t sleep, I couldn’t … and yet I don’t remember feeling tired.

I didn’t think I needed help – even when I was seeing a psychiatrist and a therapist I did it only to appease my wife and children.

Everyone around me knew something was terribly wrong, and yet I couldn’t see it.

And it is damn near impossible to convince someone who doesn’t realize they’re sick to seek help; the catch-22 of mental illness – the illness itself keeps us from treating it.

I was afraid of treatment, especially of being inpatient … irrationally terrified of the entire process.  I clearly needed it, but there was no way on earth I was going to allow it to happen.

Looking back I don’t know how my wife tolerated me in that condition for as long as she did, but after two years she finally reached the end of her rope … she told me she would leave that day if I didn’t seek inpatient treatment, so that afternoon I checked myself into a mental health facility.

That was a year ago, and today I am well and happy again …

I don’t remember everything I said and did during the worst of my illness – and whereas I am thankful for that, I deeply regret how I know my family suffered because of it.  I couldn’t help being sick, but I hate knowing what it did to my wife and children.

Living Well and Revenge

As I’ve already stated, I’m not truly vengeful, nor am I vindictive – and I have subscribed to the view that Living Well is The Best Revenge for a long time …

but, on occasion, I’m not so sure that it is.

There was a time when I believed that not seeing me, or having the privilege of knowing their grandchildren, to be a very high price – the ultimate price – paid for having failed so miserably as parents.  Perhaps I even thought there to be some justice in my course of action, and my decision to cut them out of my life so completely.

Now, I don’t really believe any of that matters at all – not to them; for that to matter they’d have to be the kind of people who were incapable of intentionally hurting their children to begin with, and they just aren’t.

Their thought processes and feelings must be very flawed, and very different from my own.  They don’t feel the pain of others, even when that pain belongs to their own child, so not knowing me now, and not knowing their grandchildren, can’t mean anything to them … it is a loss they have never felt.

Still, I am happy with my life – very happy in fact.

Whereas that isn’t exactly revenge stemming from a well lived life, it does feel damn good.

Reflections on My Sister

For whatever reason, the judge released my sister from a mental health care facility yesterday …

She wasn’t ready to do the work required to get well; I’m not sure she even knows how sick she really is.  At least while she was being cared for as an inpatient, I didn’t worry about her immediate danger from another attempt at suicide.

She and I were estranged for many years – 27 to be exact.  There are lots of reasons for this;  byproduct of my having no relationship with our mother, something she has – at least in a strained way – despite our shared loss of contact with our father.  My own inability to deal well [in my younger years] with my sister’s emotional problems, now diagnosed as Unattached Syndrome – and the fact that our family was so dysfunctional we failed to bond as siblings cannot be discounted either.

She emailed my wife, whose social media presence makes her easier to find than me,  just after Christmas two years ago.  I was in the midst of my own mental health issues at the time, but with some coaxing from my wife, agreed to give a brother/sister relationship a try …

I found out she was married and had one child, my niece who is a delightful young lady just two years older than my own precious daughter.

I met her husband, a great guy who is devoted to my sister and their family in ways I applaud and respect …

But my sister is ill – she needs help she is refusing to get, and that means she is at risk of losing everything she has; her child, her husband, her career, her home … her life.

I know mental illness from a personal perspective, and yet I cannot reach my sister – can’t help her husband and child to convince her to get help before it’s too late.

I’m worried about her, and there isn’t a damn thing I can do.

Sometimes it seems like we’ll never transcend the legacy of pain and abuse … but I also know that we must accept responsibility for our own here and now.

The question is:  if she doesn’t realize how sick she really is – the illness itself, in essence, keeping her from seeking treatment, how do we guide her to a place of acceptance and responsibility for herself and her actions?

How do we help her get well?

Repressed Memories

Although I did not get this first hand (I haven’t spoken to Pat in damn near thirty years) I am now told she claims to have Repressed Memories of my youngest sister’s childhood.

Apparently she knew our father was molesting my sister, but she somehow blocked this out – having no recollection until recently that it had even happened.

“Hmmmm,” says I. Interesting.

I was told during the course of my own therapy that abusive parents often deny the abuse occurred when confronted by their adult children …

But Repressed Memories?

Although I guess it might be possible, I’m inclined to believe this is utter bullshit in my mother’s case.

If she doesn’t remember, how can she be held accountable?  She is manipulative, unfeeling and completely unwilling to accept responsibility for what she caused, but she isn’t stupid.

Repressed Memories are her way of saying to my sister, “I can’t be held accountable for what your father did to you as a child, nor am I responsible for what has happened to you because of it … I didn’t even *know* it had happened!”

And …

More than thirty years ago, my mother once made my girlfriend promise that if we got married and had children, she would never leave them alone with my father because he had molested my sister …

She also told me – more than once – that my father molested my sister.

 

Sounds like her memory was just fine then …

My Sister …

Tried to kill herself ten days ago, this isn’t the first time, but it was by far the most serious.

She was in ICU for several days, and is now in a mental health facility … but she doesn’t want to be there, claims she hasn’t time for treatment.  There is a hearing later today and a judge will decide the course of further care.

She is a wife and mother, has a career she can be proud of – and everything in the world to live for.  My hope is that the judge makes the right decision for her … but even with that I know she will have to do the work required to get well, and right now she is unwilling.

She has Unattached Syndrome (she told me this last summer) – Lord knows what other mental health issues she battles; I could venture a guess, but it would be only a guess, so I’ll leave it at that …

She drinks too much.  I assume she does this to escape the pain she feels in being who she is … maybe this was learned; our mother used to sit on the couch at night and drink cheap wine through a straw from the bottle – something she told us she did so she could face going to bed with our father.

I’m coming to realize just how ill my parents were …

What if …

I just happened to see my parents today?

I.  Don’t.  Know.

I confronted Ed once – must be almost twenty years ago now, but that was long before I had a sense of how much trauma he had actually caused me; years before I was middle-aged and the wall came crashing down.

My sons were very young at the time, and in my love for them I found it impossible to conceive of how any parent hurts their child – so knowing how Ed had hurt me made me angry and indignant.

I had also cut Ed out of my life in a cowardly way — by allowing him to believe I was doing so because my fiance (later my wife) was uncomfortable around him.  It was true, she was never at ease with him, but she had made it quite clear to me that she would support my having a relationship with Ed despite her own unwillingness to do the same.  I was young and I took the easy way out, something that was never fair to my wife, so I chose to right that wrong.

I met Ed at a train station, he didn’t even recognize me.  I did all the talking, and I told him the reason I cut him out of my life was because he’d been an abusive parent, and a rapist.  He tried to speak, but I wouldn’t let him.  It felt powerful to be the one in control; the confrontation was very cathartic, but it didn’t provide the closure I had hoped it would.  I didn’t understand why that was for many years …

In my heart I truly believe that someone capable of doing the things Ed has done is incapable of feeling … anything.  Not compassion, empathy, remorse, regret or sorrow.  He is empty and devoid of emotion, and I needed him to feel pain and accept responsibility for what he had done to me … that would have given me closure.

When I was ill the thought of a chance meeting with Ed scared me – I was literally afraid I might try to hurt him physically.

Now, I know I wouldn’t hurt him … but I also know that I never want to see him again.

Pat I have never confronted, although she too believes I cut her out of my life for reasons other than her own cruelty.  At the end of the day, my positive feelings for her are nonexistent.   She is weak, melodramatic and manipulative and she failed completely as a mother.  I probably come closer to hating her than I do anyone else in the world, strangely that includes  Ed.  Maybe it’s because mothers are supposed to be loving, nurturing and protective by nature, and she was none of those things.  Maybe it’s because I felt a sense of betrayal when I finally recognized her for who she actually is – I don’t know, and I may never know.

By choice I will never see her again.

Demons

We all have our demons, and my parents aren’t exempt from consideration here; most of us do the best we can to manage our lives, read: Play The Hand We Are Dealt.

If Ed is to be believed, he was beaten by his parents.  I did not know my grandparents well enough to draw my own conclusions here, and Ed isn’t well known for his honesty or loyalty to the reputation of others, but his having been abused might explain why he thought it was OK to abuse his own children.

Pat’s family I knew a little better.  My grandfather died when I was young, my grandmother lived to my adulthood.  They were kind to my sisters and I, and they took us to their mountain cabin with some frequency, but I really don’t know the content of their character.

My parents married very young, with my mother pregnant at the time.  She once told me that her own parents were so upset with her for becoming pregnant they wouldn’t speak  to her for months; she received no emotional support at a time when she desperately needed it.

Neither family, according to the story, liked the other … leaving a seventeen year old girl and eighteen year old boy alone to manage in whatever way they could.

My oldest sister contracted spinal meningitis when she was about eighteen months old; the resulting fever left her with irreversible brain damage and she never progressed developmentally beyond the age of two.  She was later institutionalized as it became impossible for Pat to care for her at home – I think I was about seven at the time.

My parents divorced when I was about fourteen, and by the time they did so there was bitterness and resentment on both sides.

During their marriage my father had been a shoe salesman, then later a camera counter salesman and money was a constant issue – there was just never enough.  They both drank, and Pat claimed Ed drugged her so that she would be less inhibited sexually.  It is some kind of miracle they were married as long as they were.

I have tried to view Ed and Pat through a lens of compassion, with a realization that their lives may not have been easy.

And I do recognize their demons, but I cannot act out of empathy for them – I can’t even view Ed and Pat as human much of the time.

They were cruel and violent, acting out of rage toward their own children; in my book that makes them monsters.

Me In Brevity

I am by all accounts successful. I’m a college educated professional,  my twenty-six and a half year marriage is whole and satisfying, and I am the father of three children any man would be proud of.  I am open-minded, and my point-of-view has been shaped by world travel and exposure to culture and diversity.  I own a house, have health insurance and a retirement plan, but I’m not conventional; I question even the idea of God and western Christian philosophy – I home-school(ed) my children for a time in order to make the world their classroom.  I do not view my country solely through the veiled eyes of patriotism, but pragmatically and occassionally in dissent.  I am my own man.

Despite my accomplishments and perspective on life, Dysthymia, a condition I now know I’ve had since childhood, can make maintaining a happy outlook quite a challenge for me, and when I’m also in the grip of a bout with Major Clinical Depression I can feel hopeless and lost.

I’ve always had dark periods in my life – cyclical moodiness and irritability, but the cycle would end and life would continue more or less unchanged.

Then, in the fall of 2009, I suffered a complete emotional breakdown.  In all probability it had been coming since my oldest and dearest friend committed suicide in the spring of 2003 – that’s when those closest to me realized I was behaving differently.  I became withdrawn and apathetic; eventually  I spent more time angry and frustrated than happy and confident, I suffered chronic pain – my feet and back hurt all the time, and I developed gout as well as a host of other endocrine related maladies.  Work suffered, as did my marriage …

But I didn’t see that anything was wrong, I had no idea how ill I was until the insomnia began – I subsequently went days with no sleep at all.  It was at this point psychotic rages became part of my life and my wife insisted that I see a doctor.  I ended up seeing many doctors.

The eventual diagnosis: Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Dysthymia, Major Clinical Depression; recurrent with psychotic features (when untreated), and an anxiety disorder.  Yeah, I was sick, and there was no longer any way to deny it to myself.

I did a lot of research, and I spoke to many doctors; Psychiatrists, Endocrinologists and General Practitioners, I also spoke to therapists …

I needed to know why.  My life had been so good, so stable, how and why did this happen to me?

The answers were complicated; I never really dealt with my abusive childhood – I simply cut my parents out of my life and moved forward, something I believed was in my own best interest; however, I have since learned that when this is the course, an abuse survivor is likely to have his world come crashing down around him – usually in his 40s, as I was.

Then there are the actual changes to the brain that abuse causes … changes that predispose the future adult to mental illnesses such as depression, PTSD and anxiety disorders.

I also have deep and abiding abandonment issues – the source of this the topic of a future post.

And I was never taught to cope with my emotions; my parents favorite line, “Too Bad Charlie Brown.”  They left to manage my feelings as best I could … not something any child is able to do well.

Stress triggers my depression … and life is nothing if not occasionally stressful.

I am well now, a combination of medication(s), therapy and the love and support of my family.  I have learned to cope with my illness, the stressors that can trigger a recurrence, and most importantly the abusive childhood that is its source.

Do I hold my parents responsible for my illness? Yes.  In my case the evidence is clear, compelling and supported by medical evidence.

Do I use my abusive childhood to justify my own shortcomings?  Absolutely not.   I alone am morally responsible for every decision I make, and everything I do.

My greatest accomplishment in life may well be that I broke the cycle of abuse; my own children are loved and valued, and my respect for them is deep and eternal.  They are simply the best part of who I am.

Edward, An Introduction

When I think of him, my father, I am immediately aware of fear.  I spent my childhood in terror of this man and his violent, rage-filled beatings.

Fear is now only an emotion remembered, but the memory is profound and powerful.

Once, when I was about five, I got hurt at a church picnic playing tug-of-war.  Ed became livid with me for ending his day prematurely and walked me home with the back of my neck pinched firmly between his thumb and fingers – when I walked too slowly, he would shove me.  During one such shove, I fell and a man on the street, a complete stranger, stopped his car to admonish Ed for hurting me – my father told him to fuck off.

When he got me home, he stipped me naked and violently beat me with his belt before making me take a bath …

He beat me often, favoring his belt, but sticks and wire coat hangers were not uncommon.

He taught me how to be a victim.

I was forbidden from fighting back in altercations at school, my father’s rule.  If I broke it and stood up for myself, he beat me when I got home.

When an emotional break down in 2009 forced me to seek therapy, I needed a medical history so I emailed Ed.  He gave me the requested information, then signed off saying that he might have been a bad father, but he went on to say that he had a valid reason for that; he was beaten as a child.  No remorse, no acceptance of responsibility – just a casual statement, “I may have been a bad father.”

In quiet dismay I read that note over and over again.

I am normally compassionate and empathetic toward fellow abuse survivors, but never when they use their childhood misfortune to justify their own abusive parenting.

When I was in high school, Ed was incarcerated at Deuel Vocational Institution (DVI) for raping one of my younger sister’s friends.  This girl was only fourteen years old at the time.  There were the usual civil and criminal hearings – and his lawyer was eventually able to have the charges reduced to Lewd and Lascivious Acts with a Minor through brutal and emotionally damaging examination of this shy and fearful young girl, but the fact remains; he engaged in forced sex with a child.  Ed had his criminal record expunged shortly after he was released from DVI.

He was a 21 year old shoe salesman when I was born in 1962, though he now claims to have graduated from college in 1961.  The fact that I have a sister, now deceased, who was almost two years older than me, along with my growing up hearing that he didn’t go to college, makes me doubt that his suggested alma mater, Samuel Merritt University, would confirm his claim to hold a degree conferred in 1961.

I suppose he has reinvented himself, and I suppose that’s easy to do when your children – the most relevant connection to your past, will have nothing what-so-ever to do with you.  We made it easy for him to tell any story he chose to tell, to create any truth he was clever enough to craft.