Learn more about #DearTeenageMe at http://sayitforwardcampaign.org/
My journey through bipolar disorder started genetically, but wasn’t kicked off symptomatically until the major traumatic event that could shatter any teenager’s life. My mother died suddenly of a ruptured brain aneurysm one week before Christmas when I was 14. Mother was just 34 and had two younger sons ages seven and three. The seven-year old turned seven the day after mother died. He eventually resorted to suicide when he was 35 after refusing treatment for bipolar because of his fear of stigma.
The shadow of what I call now from scripture was in the “valley of death” fell over me. It is from the 23rd Psalm which I mumbled as I read from the big Bible Grandma gave us as mom’s life slipped away in the hospital. I’m told in the Psalm I do not have to fear because God is watching over me. He makes me calm as he strengthens my soul (“personality”). It took the next 40 years to believe that promise.
What would I tell “Tommy”, as my family called me in those days, while he agonized with deep and often long-lasting depressions?
There are exceptions to the stages of grief (denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance) that teach you’ll probably start to feel better in six to eight weeks. The whole process can normally last anywhere from six months to four years. If you feel like you’re having trouble dealing with your emotions, ask for help. But you have reservations: “Ask for help? Who would understand? They’ll think I’m crazy!” Seek out one of your favorite teachers like Ms. Nita Felts, your 11th grade English teacher who remains your friend now on Facebook. In fact, after she read your memoir, she said “had I only known what you were going through then, Tom, I would have reached out to help you”. That could have been the beginning of the road to diagnosis and treatment. Instead, you self-medicated with alcohol abuse by stealing beer from your dad, running around with high school friends on Friday and Saturday nights drinking home brew (beer made at a stranger’s home) or getting real beer and hard liquor illegally from a bootlegger who brought it to your little Arkansas town from a nearby wet county since alcohol sale was not permitted in your town. You learned to break the rules just to get temporary relief from overwhelming depression. You did not know the alcohol only made it worse because alcohol IS a depressant.
You continued breaking the rules to get relief as the manic side of your bipolar disorder emerged intermittently. Hyper-sexuality was the worst and destroyed an 18-year marriage to your only high school girlfriend and mother of your son and daughter. You found a mood-lifter with nicotine and it became a life-threatening companion even when you were purportedly a Christian college professor who claimed to be a non-smoker or drinker and it was assumed, of course, he was faithful to his wife.
“Tommy”, the memory of those days has inspired me to tell your story to as many high school and college students as I can reach. Suicide is the 2nd leading cause of death today among 15-24-year-olds and the 3rdleading cause of death among all college students. Let’s tell them your story so they can get past stigma and ask for help. They can alter the course of their lives one-day-at-a-time. You will make many new friends in recovery and learn from their stories. One of mine is a war veteran who has both PTSD and bipolar disorder. He is a poet now that he is permanently disabled. It is your option how the journey ends if you choose not to ask for help. Consider his words:
The End of The Journey
Looking forward into the past,
I see events that will always last.
Sleepless thoughts held in day dreams,
slumbering visions with hellish screams.
Some pain I earned, some came free, how long will it torture me?
Is there an escape that will come in time?
Or will I be condemned by my own mind?
I avoid the mirror and things of vanity,
as I’m slowly losing my own sanity.
Yes I’m slipping day by day,
as my life slowly fades away.
My food tastes bland and has no smell.
Is this my life? Or is this Hell?
All the colors are bleeding into one,
I feel death’s chill with each new sun.
I have no future path in mind,
grandiose visions one day to find.
Life and love or death and fear,
confusing concepts, so unclear.
All that’s left of my mortal strand,
is my aimless walk upon this land.
– Stanley Victor Paskavich
To see more of Tom’s work, visit his website, read his posts on MVP seminars, Tumblr and Stigma Fighters, or check out the rest of his posts for IBPF here.