- July 2018
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- December 2017
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- December 2016
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- April 2016
- Amy Bleuel
- black lives matter
- Borderline Personality Disorder
- Catholic school
- childhood terror
- class reunion
- Dialectical Behavioral Therapy
- donald trump
- existential dread
- factory of sadness
- Fat Shaming
- feeling good
- getting old
- good memories
- growing up
- Mad Pride
- mental health
- Mental Health Month
- middle age
- mood swings
- my father
- New York City
- Pittsburgh Penguins
- Pittsburgh Pirates
- Project Semicolon
- self care
- social anxiety
- Social Media
- spoon theory
- suicide prevention awareness
- suicide prevention awareness month
- The Mighty
- Twilight Zone
- When we were very young
- Wonder Years
- World Mental Health Day
And the rollercoaster goes up sometimes.
It didn’t start out that way. I woke at 4:20 a.m. (yeah, yeah, I know, 420) and felt like it was time to get up. Then I looked at the clock and, miraculously went back to sleep. When the alarm went off at 5:10, it was a titanic struggle to get out of bed.
And then it happened. The lows come without warning and so do the highs. Little by little, not only did I wake up, I started electric sliding down the hallway to brush my teeth. There was music in my head – the upbeat kind – and I couldn’t stop moving.
You know when this happens; don’t question it – just go with the flow.
In the car, instead of the classical music I usually get use to face the day, I listened to the curated parade of garage band music on satellite radio and I drove like I was auditioning for the pace car duties at the Indy 500. And yes, I sang in the car.
At work, I bounded up the stairs (by this time I was suspecting some unearthly entity switched my body with someone else’s), turned on the computer and put some of my favorite mambo music on mix because there was no one in the office yet.
There was no one to see me cha-cha across the office. And that is probably a good thing.
I know this isn’t mania – and that’s a good thing. I have no desire to jump back in my car and drive to Florida on a whim – although the idea sounds pretty intriguing.
It’s just Monday morning. And for whatever reason, I’m higher than a kite. And I fear someone will walk in my office and catch me salsa dancing around the copier.
But – damn it – these times are so rare that I have to make the most of them. Whether you have bipolar or Borderline Personality Disorder like I do, or any mental condition that has its unknowable highs and lows (and the lows almost always outnumber the highs; at least for me), when the highs come I’ve learned to appreciate it.
With my BPD, I never know how long it will last. I never know when the music will stop. After all, it takes one word, one look, one perceived slight and the downward slide is rocket fast.
So if the mood hits you without warning, I advise you to milk it as long as you can. Let that rare smile break the lines on your face, don’t worry about tomorrow and experience a joy you normally deny yourself.
And above all, I hope you dance . . . like no one’s watching.
It’s Mental Health Awareness Month and I talk about a ‘Men’s Health’ magazine story about how the strong and silent shtick is killing men. Also, you may be able to go to your shrink and ask for some Molly (ecstasy) for PTSD. That and the usual musical interludes.
I think the thing my father hated most about me was that I started expressing my feelings at a very young age.
And to him, they were all the wrong feelings. They were the feelings of a kid raised on the gentle fun of Captain Kangaroo, of getting up early and watching the sun rise from my bedroom window and experiencing a kind of religious epiphany. They were the feelings of sadness for caught fish who had to die, deer my father killed and hung up outside in the cold, for aquarium fish I could never quite keep alive and for a beloved cat killed on the road by a car who just made it to the porch where I stood before dying.
I cried. My God how I cried. My sister too. My mother came home in the car and though the house was on fire. When my father buried the cat in the backyard, I felt the sting of tears on my face as I watched from my bedroom window.
Just thinking about it now, 45 years later, I can still see our kitty, taking one last breath in my arms on the porch. And I want to bawl all over again.
When my father went hunting and killed animals it excited him. There was never a second of concern for the animal that died. It was a sport and one he enjoyed more than anything including spending time with his snowflake son.
But the one thing absolutely, positively guaranteed to unglue my father was the sight of me in tears.
Part of how he would yell at me I have blocked out of my mind. The things he would say that would cut right to the bone of my personhood. These words, piled on top of each other time and time again, made me believe that I did not have the guts or the will to be a man – that the real world would chew me up and spit me out – that I was ungrateful for what he had done for us and that I was soft and an embarrassment to him and his hunting friends.
Walking off the parade field at Ft. Jackson having completed Army basic training in December 1987 should have put most of that deeply-felt invective to rest; but it didn’t. I proved I could do something real men do – to me, but not to my father, who had died four years earlier.
Even though the official cause of death of my 51-year-old father was non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, I am convinced that whatever demons he kept inside killed him earlier. Real men don’t go to doctors and complain about lumps on their necks and when they finally do, they do as they are told and believe the doctor when he says the tumor is nothing more than fatty tissue because my father was fat.
I’m writing today because it’s National Mental Health Awareness Month but also because the statistics for the strong and silent men are not good according to this article in Men’s Health: Not Talking About Mental Health is Literally Killing Men
From the article:
“What’s real is the fact that 9 percent of men experience depression on a daily basis. That’s more than 6 million men. Even if we understand what depression feels like, we rarely admit that’s the culprit. We lie and say we’re tired or just cranky. More than 3 million men struggle with anxiety daily. Of the 3.5 million people diagnosed as schizophrenic by the age of 30, more than 90 percent are men. An estimated 10 million men in the U.S. will suffer from an eating disorder in their lifetime. . . (W)e retreat from friends and instead drown sorrows in numbing substances. One out of every five men will develop an alcohol dependency during his life.
Male suicide is rising at such an alarming rate that it’s been classified as a “silent epidemic.” It’s the seventh leading cause of death for males. That’s a staggering statistic. Drill down into the numbers and suicide is the second most common cause of death for every age group for men 10 through 39.”
My father had his good moments, his happy moments, but for too much of his time on earth he lived with a smoldering rage that he could not talk about. He was a pressure cooker always ready to go off on me, my sister, even my mother, on the slightest sign of disobedience or respect.
I have a host of mental conditions, of course. They tend to make me far more emotional, at least outwardly, than most men. I have been made to feel uncomfortable around other men for broaching certain subject that contain, well, ‘feelings.’ I don’t even bother anymore. I find it much easier to speak with women and the vast majority of my friends are women because, in general, they’re more in touch with their emotions, generally more intelligent, and talk about far more interesting subjects that sports, money or guns.
When I see fraternity brothers led in front of the docket, accused of rape or allowing pledges to die over drinking games, or see videos of typical bro’s engaging in racist and sexist talk, I thank the Gods that I wasn’t put together like that.
Because I will live longer.
And because I want to be a decent man but a decent human being as well.
I can only speak for American men but it will be a monumental, if not hopeless task, to undue centuries of social conditioning that create the man who will not ask for help.
You know, I can’t blame them for keeping quiet. I felt the social pressure among my peers to can the feels stuff before some of the guys questioned your sexual orientation – out loud – in the locker room.
And too often this is what happens when a man confides in another man. From the commenting section of the Men’s Health article:
“I opened up to a person I thought was a good friend. Not only did he tell other people he kept egging me on to what I told him. I couldn’t go a day with that constant reminder. I drive (sic) me to wanting to commit suicide. So you men should open up? I’ll keep it to myself I know what really happens to you when you open up to someone. Thanks but not (sic) thanks.”
All it takes is one person to fuck you up for life. The writer will never say anything again and I don’t blame him a bit.
But people ask – what about The Rock? What about the Cavs’ Kevin Love? Many men will respond that they are wealthy and famous and can get away with such admissions without many repercussions. In the real world, admitting weakness could cost you your job, your friends, maybe even your girlfriend if she buys into the strong and silent archetype.
In my own way, with this blog, Facebook page, podcast and You Tube channel, I am trying. But the only feedback I get is overwhelmingly from women; say by a 20-1 ratio.
The job may be impossible. Right now a Canadian professor named Jordan Peterson is gaining a huge audience of mostly young men by telling them that the strong and silent archetype is ordained by nature. This is akin to cheering your own death warrant.
But too many men would rather die than talk.
There’s a part of my childhood I don’t talk about much, but I always wonder about it.
My major diagnosis is Borderline Personality Disorder. After a lifetime of misdiagnosis, I can accept that and work to mitigate what it does to me. I also have concurrent diagnoses of PTSD and Generalized Anxiety Disorder. But at the age of 11, I went through a period of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder that lasted around 18 months. It started with an infestation of flying ants in my bedroom which freaked me out.
When I would hear the telltale buzz, if I couldn’t find the critter, I would reach for the can of Raid and douse my bedroom. When my parents would peek in on me at night they gagged from all the bug spray. I was literally sleeping while waves of insecticide wafted over me.
I started methodically looking in the heat registers, the baseboards, in the closet and under my bed for these ants. It became a habit and then it became a ritual. And then, for reasons I still don’t understand, the counting compulsions started.
The nightly ritual started with checking, double checking and triple checking my bedroom. Then I would hide under the covers and begin to count in series of eights – 1-2-3-4-5-6-8 and repeat that eight times. And then repeat the series of numbers four times – and then two – and then I could try to fall asleep. The numbers always had to be even: 4-8-12-16 were the key numbers.
Then the tapping rituals started. I had to tap the inside of my door a certain (even) number of times before I could leave the bedroom. Slowly, this tapping to even numbers compulsion took over everything. If I inadvertently touched something, I had to touch it again.
In addition, I became a compulsive hand washer.
I believed, as people with OCD do, that somehow these rituals would protect me – not just from the ants, but from all bad things. I figured I spent roughly two hours a day doing nothing but OCD behaviors. Being in school was a nightmare – I had to silently tap the underside of my desk to perform my rituals.
My parents never knew. My mom was very happy though, that I had learned to wash my hands before dinner. She didn’t seem to see that I washed my hands about 20-30 times a day.
I gradually, very gradually, stopped doing all the rituals. I don’t know why. I knew the rituals made no sense but for this period of time, I couldn’t stop doing them. This episode came and went before I saw my first psychologist at the age of 14. It wasn’t until I was in my thirties that I realized what I did even had a name. By the way, thank you Howie Mandel.
To this day the effects linger. I still have an even numbers compulsion. I still catch myself tapping twice on a wall I brushed against. But the condition does not radically slow down my life as it did when I was 11 and 12.
I’m left wondering if my early battle with OCD was a harbinger of things to come? My childhood was stressful, but it was fairly constant stress. Other than the ants, I can’t think of any other triggers for it.
Studies show that OCD is sometimes accompanied by depression, eating disorders, substance abuse, attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder or other anxiety disorders – this may have been the case, but I can’t say for sure. The whole episode still confuses me to this day. I know ‘mild’ OCD can go away on its own – but will it come back? It’s been 40 years – I hope not.
Or maybe I’m still performing rituals and I don’t realize it.
Every counselor I have had has no explanation for what happened to me – why my OCD started, why it went away, what it meant and if it had anything to do with my current conditions.
As it happens with mental illness, sometimes we are left with mysteries that are unsolvable.
But as I wrote this story, I was almost overcome by anxiety. I wonder what does that mean?
I officially received my First Holy Communion (Catholic capitals) on April 17, 1971.
I unofficially received it a few months earlier.
And my mother damn near killed my dad over it.
First, my mom was a cradle Catholic and a Polish Catholic, which, like many other ethnic Catholic groups, has a whole lot of lore and custom surrounding them. For Polish Catholics, a deep, reverential respect for Catholic tradition and a fanatical devotion to the Pope are hallmarks of their tradition. And butter in the shape of a lamb blessed by the priest for Easter Dinner as well, but I’m digressing here.
Anyway, you don’t screw around with the sacred rites of the church or even joke about them if you’re Polish Catholic. Many of them old enough to remember have still never recovered from Vatican II.
My father, on the other hand, converted to the faith to marry my mother. He came from a long line of lackadaisical German Lutherans who generally were too hungover to attend services on Sunday morning. So they didn’t.
So the whole mysticism of the Sacrament of the Mass did not dutifully impress itself on my father. It was just a lot of bowing and scraping he needed to do to marry my mother and keep my grandmother happy with the whole marriage (which she wasn’t).
One Sunday, my mother felt too sick to go to Mass and when that happened, you knew she was really sick. Maybe my sister was sick too, I don’t know, but my mother entrusted my father to take me to Mass.
Just the two of us – and it would never happen again.
OK, so we get to the point in the Mass where everyone who is going to get Communion rises from the pews. As usual, I wanted to be like everyone else and get to chew the wafer.
See, we hadn’t had our communion lessons at my Catholic school yet. I was jumping the gun – big time.
Well I must have really bugged the Hell out of dad because he let me go up with him.
If you are or were Catholic, can you imagine the horror of what was about to happen?
I got to the Communion rail and kneeled down and pretended I had business there just like everyone else and when the priest came around I just said and did what everyone else said and did and finally got to chomp the cracker.
You know, when in Rome. . .(sorry, had to).
So when we got home my father made the biggest mistake of his adult life and mentioned in passing he let me go up and get Communion.
“You did what,” my mother yelled.
“Ah, I got tired of him buggin’ me about it so I let him go up,” my dad said . . . innocently enough.
My dad was a Marine MP, Korean War Veteran and I generally lived in perpetual fear of him. But on this one occasion, my mother reduced him to a pile of ash.
“HOW. . . COULD. . .YOU. . . DO. . .THAT?!”
This was the one and only time I knew dad was in trouble with mom and I wasn’t. I was transfixed by her rage – I had never seen her so mad and never would again.
“Well geez, Connie is it such a big deal?” My father was actually whining!
“THAT IS THE BODY OF CHRIST,” my mother shrieked.
“It tasted like cardboard,” I said.
“YOU! YOU GET UPSTAIRS AND START PRAYING FOR YOUR SOUL – RIGHT NOW!”
I burned carpet getting up the stairs. I knelt in front of my bed and started apologizing to Jesus. Meanwhile below me, all Hell was still breaking loose. My mom let my dad have it with both barrels for another fifteen minutes. It was surreal to me. I was assumed to be ignorant of what I had just done but the secret is, I knew full well what I got away with and felt kind of sneaky happy that my dad was catching it for what I jawboned him into doing.
Then it was quiet in the house for a while, and then my mother came up the stairs.
“I called the Monsignor,” she said. “And he said it wouldn’t count and that you would be OK but you should pray on it.”
She made it sound like I was lucky that I had swallowed Drano and lived.
“And one more thing,” mom said. And then her voice got low and mean: “you must never tell anyone about this ever – not the nuns, not your classmates – NO ONE!”
“Is dad OK,” I asked.
“He will be,” mom said. “He’ll need to talk to the priest.”
So on the day of my First Holy Communion when I was walking to the rail I had a little secret over everyone else – I had knelt on this rail before any of them.
And the photos of me that day show my telltale smirk.
What is ‘crazy’ anymore? Or even ‘disturbed?’
I recently came across this comment on a friend’s Facebook page:
“I’m so happy Trump beat Clinton otherwise at this point everyone on planet earth would be nuked. We still may be, but there is a chance and she trafficked children from Haiti. He sucks; she is an absolute Monster!”
This person is a practicing pediatrician.
She is also what some in the neurodivergent community would call a ‘normie,’ i.e. someone at least assumed to be unaffected by mental illness due to their job and their social presence in real life.
I’m using politics as a measuring stick here (advisedly), but there are so many other ways one can demonstrate that despite outward appearances, they believe some pretty outlandish stuff.
When I was much younger, the rage was fluoridation and the fear that America was being poisoned by this monstrous plan. Fluoridation was a major plot point in the movie ‘Dr. Strangelove.’ There was just enough doubt about the science to give the whole movement the patina of legitimacy.
Today you see it with Hollywood stars like Jenny McCarthy and Charlie Sheen who lead the anti-vaccination movement, whose crowning achievement seems to be that whooping cough and mumps are making comebacks in the United States after having been all but eradicated.
There are many other examples out there – so many it would take a book the size of an old Encyclopedia Britannica volume to list them all.
And yet, these people may be publicly chastised but still humored in a way that makes them legit dangerous to the public good.
But if you start talking about the real harm of psychotropic medication and question the legitimacy of therapeutic techniques, you will still be marginalized. After all, you’re attacking one of the most lucrative businesses and one of the most entrenched professions in America. And who listens to ‘crazy’ people anyway?
So my head spins because I want to know things about psychiatry, but I want to guard against looking only for data that supports my own biases. My research has only just begun, but I just have to trust myself. I remember being quite concerned as the parent of an autistic child of the whole ‘vaccinations cause autism’ movement of the 1990s and early 2000s.
I became convinced in the end that the cause was more environmental than through inoculations but one thing I also became adamant about is that the whole ‘curing autism’ movement was way off base. My son was fine the way he was and didn’t any treatment regimens of oils, behavioral modifications, vitamins and the like to be ‘normal.’
For instance, if the belief that leading Democrats were sex trafficking children at a Washington DC pizza parlor is ‘normal,’ than normal is highly overrated.
They say I’m irrational, yet I trust science. They say I’m antisocial, but I believe in intersectionality. They say I suffer from depersonalization and ‘splitting’ yet I desire meaningful friendships. They say I could be dangerous, but I haven’t thrown a punch since the seventh grade.
Sometimes I wonder who the real ‘crazy’ people are.