Epiphany

When I was inpatient, routine family therapy sessions were part of the program.   In one such session, my therapist and psychiatrist asked that only my wife attend, and this session ended up  addressing the abuse – and what it led to.

Therapy in this facility was very gentle – thorough and focused, but done with extreme care and sensitivity. In therapy I had spoken of, reluctantly, the way in which I had been raised, but I hadn’t provided details.  I had also exhibited tremendous fear and anxiety at being in this hospital, but I didn’t know why that was exactly; I just knew I was terrified.  And most of all, I was convinced my wife was going to leave me.

So there we were, the four of us; two mental health care professionals, an emotionally devastated wife who had been through hell because of her husband’s mental illness, and me; paranoid, scared, recently-psychotic-but-stable-now, me.  I don’t know how it happened, but in the course of this conversation, I finally spoke of the abuse in detail – detail I had never spoken of before.

I told them of the beatings my parents had routinely given me – the humiliating, excruciating pants down beatings with belts, wooden spoons, tree branches, coat hangers and paddles.  I told them of the day my mother, to punish me, left me in a grocery store parking lot; I was very young but I don’t recall my exact age.  She was gone long enough to drive home and put away the groceries before she came back and beat the hell out of me.  I told them of the pinches, the slaps the glasses of water thrown in my face. I them of my father marching me home from a church picnic, the back of my neck held tightly in his hand; I was six or seven, and when I walked too slowly, he would shove me until I fell down.  I told them I never felt as though what I wanted or needed mattered to my parents, TBCB (Too Bad Charlie Brown) was the response I got to any need I voiced as a child.

My wife was crying as I spoke – I don’t know how many tissues they handed her during the course of my unburdening.  When I had finished, my therapist asked her how long she’d known about the abuse – her reply; “a long time, and just now.”

I had spoken of ‘spankings’ … even told her they’d been ‘hard spankings,’ but I hadn’t confessed to much else, no details.  I didn’t want to remember, so I didn’t speak of these things.

And:

I didn’t think myself unique, I thought every child was ‘disciplined’ as I was.  I thought all children were subject to emotional disconnect from their parents — I thought all children feared their mother and father to the depths of their soul.  I thought all families were like mine.

Until I met my wife that is – she let me know that spankings, especially hard spankings, weren’t OK, and not all children received them.  She made me understand that children are delicate, and need tender care.  She spoke of mutual respect between parent and child, never fear.  I didn’t have much to contribute to a conversation that centered on parents treating children with respect and care.

So I understood her comment’  “a long time, and just now,” as did our team of professionals.  And I guess I felt safe, because I went on and told them of the morning we left Janet, my developmentally retarded older sister, at a state hospital – forever.  In my child’s mind, I thought my parents were doing this because she’d been bad, so bad not even a beating would be enough to punish her – and if they could leave her there, they could leave me there too.  God knows I was bad – they always told me I was.

And there we were, in my Pit of Hell …

And then my therapist began to connect all the dots for me,  and suddenly everything made sense.  My fear of abandonment had a root cause, and my terror at being hospitalized [institutionalized] especially after my behavior had been so shocking was completely understandable, as was my belief that my wife would leave me.  And my psychiatrist explained, and I finally accepted, that I was mentally ill now because I had been so horribly abused as a child.

It was like the weight of the world had been lifted from my shoulders and I was finally able to heal.

 

 

 

No Survivors

I have been labeled a Child Abuse Survivor.

But I think that label is a misnomer, or at least misleading; I am not who I would have been without the abuse.

Pain, fear and trauma alters children – it literally changes who they are.

The person I was born to be did not survive.

When I realized this, there was a grieving process – it was unceremonious, and something I kept largely to myself, but it was very real.

Despite the intact physical connection I had with whomever I would have been, I was mourning a stranger …

I was letting go of what might have been, and what should have been.

I was accepting the loss of self.

It made me angry:

I felt betrayed

raped

victimized.

It took a long time to find peace, and to accept who I became.

As I have stated before, I’m happy now – I like who I am; I wouldn’t trade my life today for anything, including the chance to be who I might have been …

But that doesn’t absolve my parents:

I had the right to know myself.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Why?

It isn’t about blaming my parents,

It is about understanding why I have the illnesses I have.

Without this understanding, treatment would fail – in fact before I understood, I disallowed treatment.

I had to know why.

So:

Do I blame my parents?  Of course I do; in my case the evidence is vast, clear and irrefutable — I blame them in the sense that I hold them responsible; what they did to me caused my illness.

Do I use that blame, or my illness, as justification for my own actions?  Absolutely not.

Understanding why you are as you are is never [or should never be] about justification or blame,

It is about finding a foundation upon which to build a healthy life.

Quite simply:

To find peace, you have to find all your pieces.

Serenity only comes when you understand why it eluded you.

Therapy, to be successful, must address why you need it.

 

 

 

Living With Bipolar …

I’m learning.

Sleep is critical; I go to bed at approximately the same time each night and get up at the same time each morning – even on weekends.  I find being rested helps me feel centered and stable – and I experience far less anxiety, too.

Meds must be in balance – and I can now recognize early on when they are not; too much Depakote and my cognition suffers tremendously – to the point where I can be moronic – too little Depakote and hyper-sexuality kicks in.  Too little Ability and I’m intense in conversation and interaction with others, even slightly uncooperative; too much and I’m a zombie who can’t feel anything.   Too little Wellbutrin and I feel hopeless, too much and I’m euphoric.

With my doctor’s help, I’ve learned to regulate my Abilify as needed — stressful days require a little more.

And of course I have a prescription for Ativan, which I take PRN; I almost never need it anymore.

Doing things I enjoy; practicing karate, listening to music, working in the garden, spending time with my wife and children, traveling, following baseball (go Giants!) reading – all these things help me to keep perspective and know that life is good.

I’ve learned my triggers; lack of sleep due to insomnia, and stress.  I take Lunesta as needed for occasional insomnia, and when it becomes pervasive I call my doctor – my psychotic breakdown was triggered/preceded by extreme insomnia, so I’m vigilant in this area of management.  And as for stress, it can’t be avoided 100% of the time; I do what I can to control what is within my ability to control, and let the rest go.  And I take a little more Abilify on the rare occasion when  letting go isn’t possible.

I think about relapse, which is likely inevitable —  who knows how many episodes I actually had prior to diagnosis and treatment, so to think it will never happen again is a little naïve.  I’m prepared now, though – and confident I will catch it early enough to avoid any lasting effects.  I also have no fear of inpatient treatment these days, which means treatment, if/when necessary, won’t be delayed or avoided.

I try to remain positive and focus on the good.  I remind myself of my accomplishments.  I celebrate my successes, and I don’t dwell on my failures.  I remember I was sick and couldn’t help my behavior – I have forgiven myself, but I still take healthy responsibility for the things I did that hurt my family.

A man should not be defined by his mistakes, but by what he does to make them right. 

I find catharsis in embracing and acting upon this philosophy.

 

 

 

 

The Legacy of Abuse

Mental illness hurts everyone involved – the patient suffers, obviously, but so does everyone who loves him.  My family has been to hell and back with me.

My oldest son was away at college during the worst of my illness/psychosis – the months between September 2009 and June 2010, but Thanksgiving of 2010 was an unstable time for me, and he experienced my illness in damaging and painful ways.  The damage was, thankfully, reparable – but it should not have happened at all.

My daughter was protected and sheltered by her mother to an extent I did not know was possible – my daughter remains, happily, my adored princess and I her beloved, daddy – but the sacrifices my wife made to know this end weren’t few.

My youngest son, who is my middle child, suffered tremendous emotional pain.  Too old to be as protected from my raging and psychosis as my daughter was, he saw and experienced his father at his worst.  Thankfully, our relationship to that point had been solid and emotionally close, and he has his mother’s sense of loyalty, so he forgives my darkness and is truly supportive and understanding – but one of my deepest regrets is the pain I caused him.

My wife, in some ways, struggles still …

My therapist and psychiatrist diagnosed her as having PTSD as a result of living with my anger and raging, and at the height of my psychosis she was understandably depressed, but her biggest challenge is knowing what happened to me was the result of child abuse, and thus it was completely avoidable.

To say she is a protective mother is an understatement there are no words to describe, and our children are her life.  She taught me early-on how fragile children are, how false it can be to say they are resilient.  She helped me to become a great father, and I found catharsis in being the kind of father I wished I had had, but …

The thing is, what my parents did to me ended up hurting our children, and that is difficult for  my wife to reconcile.  She never had a chance of protecting our children from knowing  this horror  –  it was set into motion before she knew my name.

I hurt her, too …

Knowing what my family has endured because of my illness fills me with shame – and watching my wife struggle with feelings caused, however indirectly, by my parents, is painful for me … I feel like their victim all over again, and I hate knowing I wasn’t able to protect the people I love most from the monsters I knew as a child.

I cut them out of my life — my  wife hasn’t seen them in almost three decades, and my children have never even met them … and still I couldn’t protect them:

My parents hurt them all, and that causes me more distress, more pain, more shame and humiliation than anything else they have ever done to me.

 

 

 

 

 

What I Wish I Had Known

If I had known the connection between child abuse and adult onset mental illness years ago, I might have been spared a great deal of anguish and pain.

1983 – 2005

What I knew was: as a child – I had been hurt by my parents, the people who were supposed to love and protect me – and I knew that had left me unable to have a productive relationship with them as an adult …

I also knew [in a vague way] I had difficulties coping with life – not my professional life, or my ability to succeed by the standards set by society, but with my emotions, and the emotions of the people I care about … here my coping skills were virtually nonexistent; I don’t know how my wife, who is highly sensitive, was able put up with my ineptitude and dysfunction when it came to caring for her feelings and sensibilities; I said and did things no man should say or do, but I didn’t know why.

I was easily frustrated and became angry quickly – I had always been like this, so I thought my wife was overreacting when she suggested I see a therapist to learn how to cope with my emotions.  I also thought that people have a right to be angry – and to show their anger;  I cited all the 1980s self-help nonsense about how bad it was for your health to keep anger inside … wake-up call for me:  it’s also bad for the people you love if you voice your anger in a way that leaves them in a wake of emotional destruction, a wake that could linger for days, even weeks — but I didn’t acknowledge this then.

My wife noted the cyclical patterns long before I did:  the angry outbursts, the frustration that led to rants and rages, the hyper-sexuality, the intensity I interjected into even the most quiet of conversation, the utterly ridiculous position I took regarding everything I saw as contentious – all occurred in cycles.  She pleaded with me to see a psychiatrist, but the cycles did not last long – they would end and I would be back to the man she married, the man she adored, and I was always able to close the cycle and heal any damage I had caused … and months and months would pass before anything negative occurred again.

2005 – 2008:

I was severely depressed, but I didn’t know it.  My entire body hurt, I had night sweats that required me to shower and change pajamas at 2:00 – 3:00 am, I developed gout and I became apathetic.  I withdrew from my family and found little joy or happiness in things I had always loved.  Again my wife urged me to see a doctor, but I wouldn’t do it.  My best friend since childhood had committed suicide, and I blamed everything I was feeling and experiencing on the grieving process.  My wife began living her own life, and I didn’t even notice.

2009:

My entire life fell apart, and my mental illness couldn’t be ignored any longer.  I had a complete psychotic breakdown.

Had I known child abuse causes mental illness, perhaps I could have avoided living through the darkest days of my life.  Perhaps I’d have sought professional help when I should have – 25 years earlier.

Not knowing left me believing I was simply the way I was; not ill in any way, just me.

2010 – 2011:

I received some very bad care early on; fall of 2009 – spring of 2010.  The wrong meds – first the wrong diagnosis, then an incomplete diagnosis, bad therapeutic advice – there was a point where psychiatric intervention was actually making thing worse.  I was a Bipolar patient taking anti-depressants, so I was manic.  Inpatient treatment was suggested, and I was so terrified of that prospect I stopped seeing my psychiatrist and taking my meds.

February 2012 -present:

My wife was at her wits end and told me she was leaving me – I checked myself into the hospital that night; my Global Assessment of Functioning was noted at 42, and in hindsight I know that assessment was generous.  It was during that hospital stay I finally understood what my endocrinologist had told me in 2010:  I had  mental illnesses caused by child abuse;  PTSD, Major Clinical Depression; recurrent with psychotic features, Dysthymia and an Anxiety Disorder.  All physiycal causes for my symptoms had been ruled out, and my brain scans and hormone levels were confirmation of what was wrong and why.

Life slowly began to get back on track – the hospital stay provided a background for understanding, the new meds were working, my wife still wanted to be married to me.

In October of 2013, I received an official diagnosis of Bipolar Disorder – but even my psychiatrist acknowledged that it should have come much sooner.  Depakote was added to my meds and I have never felt better.  I can function as I should, my mind is clear and the occasional mania I had to contend with is gone.

I’m luckier than most in my shoes – something I attribute that to my wife’s unwavering loyalty, love, and dedication to me, our marriage and our children.  I could have lost everything to mental illness …

If I could offer an abuse survivor a little advice, it would be this:  if your life isn’t working for you – be that your personal life or your professional life, if people you love and trust tell you there is something wrong with you or your behavior, if you have pervasive feelings of anxiety, anger or rage, if you aren’t happy – get help, and make sure your health care professional(s) know about your past.

Nothing can change what happened to you, but there is hope for a better today and tomorrow.

Child Abuse and Future Mental Illness

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Another Wrinkle

Got the results of recent blood panels yesterday – I am now prediabetic and have elevated cholesterol.

I have Metabolic Syndrome, so this diagnosis isn’t a huge surprise, but it is an unwelcome reality that has given me something new to diligently manage health wise.

I’m up for the challenge; back to avidly practicing martial arts (at least 3 times weekly) daily riding of exercise bicycle and cutting excess sugar and fats from my diet.   My doctor assured me this would be enough to keep me from developing full-on Type 2 diabetes and lower my cholesterol levels enough to avoid heart disease or stroke.

I’m glad it all was caught early, and very glad my higher than normal blood sugar isn’t connected to the Abilify I take daily.

Abilify has been a life-saver for me psychologically and I don’t even want to imagine living without it.  My psychiatrist recently suggested a change from Abilify to Lithium – this because Lithium is cheap and my insurance will cover it all, and Abilify is very expensive and my insurance only covers it in part, but I chose to keep Abilify and pay the additional out-of-pocket cost; I trust Abilify as my necessary anti-psychotic, and my family trusts my stability when I take it — this is priceless.   I received bad care early on, and it took a long time to find the right doctors, therapists and meds — now that I have, I intend to stay the course.

This study explains the correlation between child abuse and Metabolic Syndrome.

 

 

 

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Fathers Day Is Everyday

My.  Life.  Is.  Good.

It was just more difficult to get to the Good than it should have been.

I have a wife I adore, children I love and am proud of, a house in the suburbs … security.  I’m educated, have always had a good job – sometimes more than one at a time, and I’ve seen more of the world than most people ever dream of seeing.

I’ve crossed the Atlantic on a ship, in 5 star luxury no less, seen the cathedrals of Europe, eaten pizza in Naples and paella in Spain …

Explored Pompeii, the souks in Tunis, the ruins of Carthage, the Mayan pyramids in Tulum and the Medina in Malta.

I’ve been snorkeling in Cabo and swimming with sea turtles on Barbados.

I’ve gone deep sea fishing in Antigua, Alaska and the Bahamas …

My children have been to Disneyland more times than they ca remember, to Disney World 3 times, Disneyland Paris and more Disney Cruise Line vacations than I care to count … They have been to far more foreign countries than US states, and they’ve been to a fair few US states.

They prefer live theater to movies

Appreciate great works of art and literature

They enjoy classical music

They play the piano

One son could have been a writer had he not chosen medicine

The other son speaks multiple languages and is an International Relations/Political Science double major who is law school bound

My daughter at seventeen is already an accomplished vocalist

I:

Coached T-ball

Got up at night with crying infants and enjoyed my time alone with them

Helped with homework

Drove to lessons and classes

Attended recitals and games and academic competitions

Pay for college

And love being a father

Love giving my children the world, my time …

And the best of who I am

 

 

 

 

Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) and Future Mental Health

Abstract:

The Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) Study is one of the largest investigations ever conducted to assess associations between childhood maltreatment and later-life health and well-being. The study is a collaboration between the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Kaiser Permanente’s Health Appraisal Clinic in San Diego …

Con’t here

FIND YOUR OWN ACE SCORE

What does your score mean?

My own score is a solid 8 …

I’m stable, I’m happy now – life is good.  But the road wasn’t easy.  Children are delicate and fragile – they need tender care given by adults who are committed to them having a good life. 

 

 

 

Explaining Why Here

In reading my own words on past posts, I realize how broken I may sound … but I’m really not, at least not anymore.

I would very much like explain to my parents face-to-face what their abusive parenting caused,  but my therapist cautioned me against that. Although confrontation can provide catharsis and closure, more often than not abusive parents, when confronted, deny the abuse occurred, or they try to minimize it.  They never accept responsibility – or they blame their adult child, saying if he hadn’t been such a bad kid they wouldn’t have had to beat him, thus the abuse just continues.

In my case, stopping the cycle of abuse means no direct contact with Pat and Ed; it means I must disallow them the opportunity to deny or minimize.

They aren’t the kind of people who would acknowledge and accept responsibility, and I’m no longer the kind of person who will be their victim.