My Sister

My sister is sick – very sick.

I am not a doctor, but I have researched child abuse and its connection to mental illness in-depth, and so completely that If I were a grad student I could easily write my dissertation on this topic and achieve high honors.

Although I tried, and tried hard, I don’t have a relationship with my sister, I can’t – she is emotionally exhausting for me.  She creates drama, and then tries to suck me in; I don’t do drama.  She is extreme and never in control of herself or what she feels, and she doesn’t take responsibility for the pain this causes.  She has been this way all of her life, but it has intensified over time.

I know better than anyone else the abuse she suffered as a child; I know what our parents did to her, and I know the lasting impact it can have; the probability that she suffers from an array of mental illnesses is high.  Sky high.

In talking to her (I haven’t seen her in more than a year) her memories of our childhood are distorted.  She sees herself as some sort of “Golden Child” our parents adored and worshiped while I was cast aside and made to feel somehow less than she. Um, no.  In reality, our parents were equal opportunity abusers … they beat the hell out of us both.  They verbally and sexually abused us both.  They neglected us both.  And they left deep emotional scars on us both …

In my considered-but-non-medical-opinion, she is still dissociating, still trying to cling to an idealized [and utterly false] version of her childhood. She will admit she was beaten … she will admit that Ed molested her … she will admit she was never happy, but she will not own these things in any real internal way.  And she definitely won’t treat the illness(es) the abuse caused.

She has been in and out of therapy, has seen psychologists and psychiatrists, but she fires them the minute they want to discuss Ed.

She drinks, a lot.  Self-medicating to avoid the pain inherent to being who she is,  to being a survivor.

She will never be well until she confronts why she is ill and treats the right illness(es)  She might actually be an alcoholic – but that is not, in all likelihood, her primary disease.   Alcoholism is a symptom [probably] of a much deeper pathology.

Her first suicide attempt occurred when she was in junior high school; I don’t remember much about it, only the incident itself.  She has made other attempts since then.  I worry that she’ll eventually succeed.

She blames innocent people for ruining her life; when who they are doesn’t fit into her neat little idealized and carefully crafted world, she lashes out, cruelly [and ridiculously] blaming them for the disruption to her universe.

I am not without empathy – I know first hand the kind of pain she is in, but I also know she is responsible for her behavior in the here and now.  She is responsible for the heartbreak and anguish she has caused. She is responsible for turning the lives of her family upside-down …

Compassion dictates that the standard for accountability in behavior is different for someone with mental illness, but the standard is NOT non-existent, and even that  minor consideration gets revoked when no real attempt at getting well is being made.  Tough love, baby.

And tragically, at some point, if she doesn’t turn this around and commit to wellness, she will lose everyone in her life.  At some point, her family will be unable to live in the toxic environment mental illness creates.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Depression, PTSD, Bipolar Disorder and Treatment in the Abuse Survivor

In the beginning, I was unsuccessfully treated for Depression.  It isn’t that I wasn’t suffering from Depression, I definitely was, but I was suffering from Depression whose origin is child abuse  – and this type of Depression is resistant to drug therapy.  This type of Depression is biologically different from other types of Depression.

This is why:

Child abuse affects you on a genetic level, alterations known as epigenetic changes:  chemical differences that don’t mutate the genes, but affect how actively and efficiently genes are made into proteins.  By silencing or activating genes, epigenetic changes influence everything from brain development and functioning to the risk of for certain diseases, to the effectiveness of drug therapies. These changes last a lifetime, and can actually be passed on to the next generation.

PTSD is also a completely unique disease if acquired through child abuse: epigenetic changes in the abuse survivor are 12 times higher than in someone who experienced trauma later in life.  And for later in life victims of trauma, the effects of PTSD tend to be short-lived, for survivors of child abuse, they can be, and usually are, permanent.

And, of course, Bipolar Disorder has its own unique epigenetic signature in the abuse survivor, a variation that complicates treatment many times over.

Even though my health care team knew about my childhood, and was therefore cognizant of the epigenetic changes I had, it was still challenging to find the right meds; a process of trial and error resulting in my being over-medicated and under-medicated, even a combination of both at the same time – the latter was especially prevalent when I tried Cymbalta. With Cymbalta, some symptoms were better controlled that others, some were not controlled at all, and  some were intensified as a result of the drug.

Two-or-three-drugs-in-one-pill simply does not work for me, I take a cocktail of Depakote, Abilify and Wellbutrin with Ativan PRN for the anxiety caused by PTSD.  And I react most favorably to low doses of all of them, which is atypical.

I respond to low doses not because of the mildness or severity of my illness(es) — I respond to low doses, in all likelihood, because of my own unique epigenetic changes and their impact on the effectiveness of the drugs.

Success of treatment is [or can be] all about knowing and understanding why you are sick.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder in Adult Survivors of Child Abuse

There are three iron-clad rules in a violent and abusive home: Don’t tell.  Don’t trust.  Don’t feel.  To break any one of these rules means punishment, rejection and alienation.

Children do not instinctively know how to suppress feelings, they have to be taught, and a troubled, abusive parent is the best teacher of all.

We all base interaction with others on predictability of response, children most of all, but an abusive parent is often unpredictable – or so negatively predictable the child learns to stifle natural reactions and feelings in avoidance of pain, humiliation or rejection.

Children  in abusive homes learn to dissociate, to assume responsibility for the abuse and to avoid intimate connections with others.  They alienate themselves from their own reality and experience …

I remember telling myself I deserved to be beaten, that there was nothing wrong or unusual in my parents’ rage and violence. I made sense of it by feeling guilty and responsible, and I believed them when they told me time and time again it was my fault they beat me. I was bad so they had no choice.  Believing them actually quieted my feelings of rage, hurt, terror, sadness and confusion …

This coping mechanism – this tool for survival, lays the ground work for PTSD.

Children simply cannot think rationally in the face of trauma, and their thinking errors reflect their best attempt to comprehend the incomprehensible.

It took me a long time to understand that I wasn’t responsible for what my parents did to me …

That I wasn’t bad and undeserving of love, respect and compassion.

I felt anger, terror, injustice and betrayal while working through PTSD, and I came to accept that those were the emotions I should have felt as a child – would have felt if I hadn’t been under the manipulation, tyranny and influence of abusive parents.

This phase was followed by profound sadness – grieving for the self I had lost.

Eventually, I got to a place where the trauma was fully mourned and it lost most of its power in my life.

I still have triggers, but I know what they are and how to avoid them, and when I can’t avoid them, I know how to minimize their impact.

My aunt remembered me as a ‘sad little boy,’ and I was – but I didn’t know it then …

I was living Pat and Ed’s lie — and being taught to make it my own.

 

 

To Raise a Child

My parents fed me, clothed me and put a roof over my head.  They did not, however, raise me.

Raising a child is not about meeting his basic needs …

Raising a child is about giving him the skills he needs to succeed at life.

It’s about being a mentor, a teacher and a guide.

It’s about giving unconditional love and support.

It’s about helping him find his passion, his interests and his calling.

It’s about developing his talents so he is able to find fulfillment.

It’s about helping him to set and achieve goals so he knows a sense of accomplishment.

It’s about expectation that he will live up to his potential.

It’s about instilling respect for himself above all.

It’s about being his first best friend.

It’s about teaching him to dream, to love, to care.

It’s being compassionate and empathetic with him so he knows how to be compassionate and empathetic with himself, and others.

And in the end, it’s about letting go gracefully and accepting who he is without judgment or condemnation …

But with all-consuming, never-ending love and pride.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Emotional Intelligence and Anger

Anger, for the most part, is a secondary emotion – a cover-up for what we really feel; pain, heartbreak, fear, betrayal, helplessness, vulnerability …

It is easier to feel angry than it is to feel hopeless or lost or sad or victimized.  Often, anger is a choice we make.

That said, all human emotion is valid – we have the right to feel what we feel, even if that feeling is anger.

But healing – and/or anger resolution, requires that we get in touch with the primary emotion underneath.

Therapy, meditation, self-help literature, creative pursuits, spiritual study can all be beneficial, but the key is finding what works for you.

For me, its practicing martial arts — and this came about as a conscious decision I made to never again be anyone’s victim; I really loathe feeling victimized – it makes me mad, and I have learned, through studying Karate, to channel that anger for personal growth and good …

I was told that acquiring a black belt changes you – it does.  The grit and determination required to persevere through the challenges of progressing through the ranks is all consuming, and I used my anger as the source of energy and focus I needed to succeed; a positive spin on anger, a sometimes damaging emotion.

Karate gave me the life-skills and defensive tools I need to take care of myself, thus addressing my primary issue:  fear of being a victim.

And the skills I learn through practicing martial arts carry over to the rest of my life as well …

I don’t like feeling angry – it’s draining physically, emotionally and spiritually.  Anger is also difficult to contain, and it comes out in ways that hurt the people I love.  Anger leads to my making mistakes, which leads me to guilt, which takes me right back to depression.  No, thank you!

But when I identify the primary emotion – the one that leads to my feeling angry – and then determine what I can do to address it in a positive, effective way …

and then do it,

All, well maybe not All – I’m certainly not Pollyanna, is right with the world.

Now Righteous Anger, as I spoke of yesterday, is another matter entirely; this anger IS primary – I’m not trying to replace feelings rooted in any another emotion with anger.  Anger itself is what I feel.  There is a stand-alone reason for this kind of anger, but its mission is finite – even Righteous Anger must be released …

Anger is energy, both positive and negative – and what you do with it, and how you channel it, will determine outcome; I plan to pour this energy into Karate, and let it go when it has served its purpose, whatever that happens to be .

 

On Second Thought

On February 9, 2013, I wrote this:

“I didn’t, for the record, ever believe that Ed molested Janet – and I’ve contemplated that perhaps I just didn’t want to know that he had – didn’t want the best in Ed to be tarnished, or taken away.

At the end of the day, I can’t believe that Ed – even with all his flaws – would do that …”

The full text can be found here:  Vindictive Transparency

 

At the end of the day today, I do believe it possible that Ed molested Janet.

God help me, I want to believe the best of people – all people, and that can render me naive at times.

Ed’s devotion to Janet could have been a prop, just like the photos of my sister and I in his house.  His caring and concern for her feigned – the ultimate in manipulation; how could he be seen as evil when his heart was so freely given to his terribly ill and helpless daughter?

Pat may have wanted me to believe the worst of Ed for her own twisted gain, but today I understand that doesn’t mean it can’t also be true.

Ed was capable of unspeakable cruelty and depravity – I personally experienced his evil, and knew of and saw so much more, and yet I couldn’t assimilate the possibility that he had hurt Janet until just now, today.

It is hell to think he may have hurt her, but it’s  also no picnic knowing how he hurt me and my younger sister …  He was emotionally, verbally, physically and sexually abusive to his children – how could I ever have so naively believed Janet was exempt?

She might have been, and by all that is sacred I hope she was …

But today my eyes are wide open to the possibility that she too suffered the horror and pain of having been born Ed’s child.

 

 

Anger

I find catharsis in writing this blog.  Writing is an outlet for my creativity, but also my anger: yes, I said anger.

For the longest time I wasn’t angry with Pat and Ed – I just went on with my life.  I am, in truth, a  laid back ‘Live and Let Live’ kind of guy, so this is in keeping with who I am, but I’m finding more and more that righteous anger is also part of who I am.

I am not talking about the psychotic rage filled anger that comes with a bout of Major Clinical Depression – that kind of anger is unfounded, based in illness, and quite destructive.

This anger is quiet and unyielding, and it is more like well-controlled fury than simple anger – but it isn’t destructive, quite the opposite actually–most importantly, this anger is based in total wellness.

Of all the things Pat and Ed did to me, nothing is more profound, terrible and damaging than causing me to have Bipolar Disorder, Dysthymia, PTSD and Major Clinical Depression – and let’s not forget serious abandonment issues and anxiety.

As bad as it was, the abuse itself I was able to walk away from.  I didn’t feel compelled to analyze and dig for deeper meaning.  I didn’t assign it an active role in my adult life – it didn’t drive me toward anything, even understanding.  I took my exit from Pat and Ed’s life and left it at that.

But now that I understand what they did, and what it caused, I am no longer able to simply close the door and walk away.

I have serious health concerns, and whereas I am completely well today, I wasn’t well for a long time–and there may come a time when I won’t be well again.  Mental illness requires diligent care and management, I can’t NOT think about it – that would be catastrophic.

Writing requires me to think everything through completely – what I post here is the culmination of hours of cogitation, and I now know exactly why my therapist suggested that I keep a journal — through writing I have been forced to explore my feelings in-depth, and I’ve gotten in touch with myself; I am God damned mad at Pat and Ed.

It is morally bereft to hurt your child.  It is reprehensible to allow someone else to hurt your child.  It is small-minded and ignorant to assume there was no permanent damage done when you know your child was hurt. And it is weak and personally repugnant not to own and accept responsibility for what you did and what it caused, Pat and Ed.

It took me a long time to get here, to a place where I can think clearly about my childhood and its undeniable impact on my life.  And to admit to being angry with anyone for anything is a very big and healing step for me; after all the pain my depressed anger caused my family, I vowed never to be angry again – with anyone, a promise I have kept for more than two years.

But some anger, I’ve learned [quite honestly just in the last few days] is good.  It is cleansing and appropriate; it just, fair and right.

It is morally sound and acceptable for me to be angry with Pat and Ed – the monsters who are directly responsible for the illnesses that almost destroyed my life.

God and Ed

I don’t believe in God, and I never have.  As a child I was forced to go to church, and I was expected to endure this ritual graciously.  I was also beaten severely by both parents when I couldn’t sit through the service quietly and with due reverence.

I wouldn’t believe in God even if I didn’t have negative memories of the church experience — but if my faith and belief in God was the parenting goal in forcing me to attend, beating me in association with these things could not have been helpful to further their cause.

I live a very considered and examined life.  I question everything, and I’m so far from conventional we aren’t even in the same zip code.  I don’t do anything for the sake of tradition, or simply because it has always been done, or done in a specific, given way. There is more than one path to any positive outcome in life. I think outside the box as habit, and I’m fairly certain my ability to do so is a gift that comes along with having an atypical thought process – bipolar, but it might also have stemmed from the fact that …

Ed drove me nuts when I was a child.  Aside from his being a cruel, abusive and heartless father, he never thought anything through – and he never allowed his lack of knowledge or inability to do something stop him from doing it.  And he was positively obsessed with the appearance of ‘Normal.’ Which is why our going to church as a family mattered so much to him.  It’s what good, strong, normal families did in the 60s and 70s.

We were far from normal – in fact, we were as dysfunctional as we could possibly be.  And Ed, for all his insistence on our going to church, certainly didn’t exemplify Christian values or teachings.  He was the biggest hypocrite who ever drew breath.

Later in my childhood he went to prison for Lewd and Lascivious Acts with a Minor – a charge plead down from the original charge of rape. There had been other allegations of his sexual impropriety with various family members along the way, but this one stuck, sort of – at least it wasn’t totally deflected.

I will never openly question the faith or stated belief of another; religious beliefs are sacred and deserving of respect and even reverence.  But if you profess to have them, profess to live your life according to some moral code set forth by God, claim to follow the teachings of Christ and then hurt others, including your children, with heinous acts of violence and depravity you are a hypocrite of the first order in my book.  And what’s more – you are a hindrance to the faith of others.

I’ve been told Ed now counsels young married couples and new parents at his church, which is positively terrifying given what he did to his own marriage and children.  He has also served as a volunteer chaplain — which leaves me wondering what the job qualifications for this position are; he may believe, but he does not not exemplify.

Ed always claimed he was responsible to God for my soul.  Perhaps he should have been more concerned with his own.

 

 

 

 

Further Thoughts on Estrangement

It is really easy, when your children have exited your life, to create yourself anew.  The past can be a secret hidden world that never existed if you are clever and deceptive.

I have my suspicions as to what Pat and Ed told people early on – back when they probably got questions from friends and extended family about what happened to me – and I don’t think my  suspicions are too from fact, truth be told.

I think Pat hides from the truth, it’s painful and she doesn’t want to think herself complicit in what actually took place in her home.  Pat still blamed my wife as recently as two years ago when my sister reminded me of this fact – but my wife was never the reason I chose to estrange myself from my mother; my wife was merely a convenient scapegoat saving Pat from having to consider an ugly personal truth. As bad as this is, it is somewhat understandable given what actually happened to her children under her roof — no one in their right mind would want to believe they took part in this.  She beat me.  She allowed Ed to beat me, and worse.  She failed to protect me.  She condoned the abuse and willingly participated in it.  But I don’t think she denies my existence, or pretends to be someone she is not today …

Ed, on the other hand, has used our estranged circumstances to create a whole new world [past] for himself.  His children simply do not exist on his biographies for work and high school class alumni page, yet there are pictures of us in his home.  The latter allows him to play the martyred father to the hilt for those who actually know my sister and I do exist; the photos are props.  The former means he doesn’t have to answer unwanted questions, questions about our lives he likely can’t answer.

His story when he needs one: his ex-wife poisoned his children against him and it led to estrangement.  Simple.  Easy.  Believable.

He leads a respectable life now – city council meetings.  Caring for the homeless.  Church Chaplain.  Career as a professional financial planner, not a shoe or camera salesman.

He didn’t beat his children.

He didn’t go to prison.

He didn’t hurt anyone.

He has been wounded by his children who at once don’t exist, but whose photos he displays in his home.  He is a martyr now.  A victim. A father cruelly cast aside.

Could he have done any of this if I were in his life?

Could he have kept secrets and hidden his past with such success?

Would I ever have tolerated his deceptions?

Would I have lied to his new family and friends on his behalf?

No.

He’d have people believe he feels a sense of loss at our estrangement, the people he wants to see him as decent and good now; this is manipulation, the truth is:

He has to be very glad I’m gone.

I know who he really is, and I will never be his victim again, nor will I cloak his sins.  I am not vulnerable to his manipulations or distorted view of reality.  I lived it, I know what he did.

And I know where it led, and I know what it caused.

Estrangement, although right for me, has allowed them to rewrite history.  It has allowed them to hide and recreate.  It has allowed them to deny …

I don’t like knowing this:

But estrangement was the only way I could survive.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In Love and Bipolar — Finding Balance

My wife will tell you she fell in love with the sick guy, and I suppose she did.  She is a complicated person and would never have been happy with an ordinary life; she loves my edginess, my wit, my humor, my creativity and even my darkness.

She doesn’t like, or even do, easy – a facet of her personality I am grateful for, but being married to me – a man with Bipolar Disorder, challenges her relationship skills to an absurd degree, especially when I am depressed.

I am at my worst when I’m depressed … I’m irritable, moody, apathetic, angry and unpredictable.  I have been known to rage.  And let’s not forget my depression has psychotic features, which means I analyze every word she (my wife) says and put my own spin on it – my own fallacious, ridiculous and often cruel spin on it. I’m paranoid and anxious. I am no fun when I’m depressed.

However, when I’m manic …

I’m happy.  I believe in myself.  I’m sexually alive, free and uninhibited. I’m exciting and spontaneous.  And somehow, I’ve been able to – for the most part – channel my mania for good.  Productive, constructive good.

While in the longest bout of mania I have experienced to date, I simultaneously finished college, got my 2nd degree black belt in martial arts, worked my full time job while moonlighting as an adjunct professor at a local community college – and I never missed a beat as a father!  (Not bad, huh?  I didn’t need much sleep in those days!)

As a husband I’m deeply empathetic, compassionate and fully engaged in my marriage when I’m manic — my passion knows no bounds. Mania, in my case, is the silver-lining to my cloudy, dark depression. It’s really no wonder  that my wife says she fell in love with the sick guy, and it’s easy to see why.

The most complex and difficult part of treating my Bipolar has been finding and maintaining balance through chemistry and pharmaceuticals. I, and even my wife, understand(s) why so many refuse to take their meds; no one wants to lose the best of who they are to a drug induced zombie-like state of being.

For better or worse, I am happiest in all aspects of my life when I am not depressed, and feel slightly manic.  I wouldn’t dream of not taking my meds, but my psychiatrist and I have worked very hard at getting the balance just right for me.  I have been both under and over medicated – both horrible states, but over-medicated is so much worse.  Moronic and sad is no way to go through life.

Right now, my drug cocktail is in perfect balance and I feel better than I ever have before – and I’m still creative and fun, spontaneous without being impulsive, passionate but not hyper-sexual; I’m compassionate and empathetic but nowhere near sad and withdrawn.  I’m fully engaged in my life – my marriage, my children, my career.

And I’m happy, content and at peace with the woman who fell in love with the sick guy.