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There is sex after sexual abuse

June 3rd, 2010

As a survivor of sexual abuse, I wasn’t sure that I would ever be able to fully enjoy a sexual experience as an adult.  For a long time, I didn’t know what to enjoy it even meant.  The side effects were shame, guilt, panic, and suicidal thoughts.

The first time I had sex, I was drunk.  That set the theme for me from that point on, I couldn’t participate in any type of sexual activity unless I was drunk or on some type of mind altering drug.  Even then, the “ick” came through at the end of the experience and sometimes lasted for days.

Then, I got sober and EVERYTHING became harder to carry out.  I was used to functioning high during the day and drunk at night.  I was in a relationship at the beginning of my sobriety and it wasn’t going so well at the time.  Within the year, we would have broken up for the last time after many attempts over a five year period.

Between that time and me being five or six years sober, sex usually meant I would have some type of panic attack.  Before, after, during.  A lot of times during and I would cry.  I tried to warn my partners that sometimes I get a little weird and cry.  Most of them seemed to understand and were compassionate.  (I now know that this is a common experience for most women and even some men.)

Around three years sober, I found myself wanting to die more than I wanted to live and I went to get some help.  For the next three years, I saw this therapist and she guided me through the Courage to Heal Workbook.  I hated almost every hour of it, and would frequently cancel appointments with her.  We did some major work in that whole area and I thought it was going to kill me.

In one of the early sessions I asked her if she thought I would ever be able to move beyond the problem, she told me I would if I did the work.

I believed her.

She said it would always be a part of me, but if I did the work I could rearrange the reactions and find coping skills for the parts it left behind.

No one had ever said that to me before.

During that three year period with her, I was single and celibate.  It didn’t help that I gained a bunch of weight and basically didn’t care much for my outside appearance.  This is a typical side effect when you are working through major stuff like that.  It won’t last forever.

It was a really, really fucked up time for me and I knew I was transforming myself for the good, but afraid of what I would end up with.  It would prove to be one of the most important things I could’ve ever done for myself, and beyond my wildest dreams.

I would’ve liked to just fast forwarded to the good part (being able to enjoy sexual relations) but there wouldn’t have been a good part if I hadn’t trudged through the bad part.

Oddly enough as I got better towards the end of the three year work, I started losing weight without even trying.  I started cleaning my apartment, getting rid of things I didn’t need and my life seemed to almost get itself in order.

This would prove to be a benefit for doing the actual work in therapy, one I hadn’t anticipated.

As for my sexual situation, that got better too.  MUCH BETTER.  I tried things I’d never tried, I was fully present, and I finally got what people were talking about, and I wanted to make up for lost time.

I’ve wanted to write something like this for a long time, I want people to know that we can recover in a way that allows us to enjoy certain aspects of life.  By no means am I “cured” and I’ve had flashbacks here and there (depending on what is going on in my life at the time) but it doesn’t paralyze me anymore and I can talk myself through most situations.

It does not paralyze me any more.

We all deserve a healthy sex life, and I’m certain that all of us on some level, whether you were abused or not have struggled with sexual issues.  I blame religion for a lot of it.

It’s a taboo subject (much like mental illness), and the only way I have found to heal is by discussing it with a trusted source that helped me to find my way back to the present in order to enjoy so many things we never dreamed of actually enjoying.

Sex is CAN be good and it CAN be your friend.

The Ones We Leave Behind

January 28th, 2010

My mom has an incredibly annoying habit of starting conversations with me with the phrase, “What’s wrong?”

Example:  It is the day after Christmas.  I have been downstairs eating cake for breakfast in my pajamas.  I walk up the stairs and see my mom.  Startled, she looks at me.  “What’s wrong?”

Nothing. I say.  I was just eating cake downstairs.  Everything is perfect.

Example:  My mom calls me on the phone and leaves a voice mail.  I return her call.  She answers the phone—no “hello”—but “What’s wrong?”

It wasn’t always this way.


I don’t know what it is, what makes her do this.  It unnerves me to no end, makes me feel like she’s always on edge.  I have my theories, of course—that our relationship is forever changed by the knowledge of my mental illness, that she feels guilty that she didn’t know I had so many problems.  Guilty because she discouraged me from getting treatment the first time around.  Scared that it could happen again, a snap of the crazy finger and everything changed, or gone, again.

Once, when I was 21 and in the middle of the arduous task of being diagnosed with bipolar disorder, I spent the night at home.  It was Daylight Savings Time, the one where you spring forward and lose an hour, the same lost hour that started everything the year before.  The boy and I were both upset—him with me, and me with myself.  In the middle of the night, I slipped out of my bed and left a note saying I had gone to sleep at his house.  Later, in the early hours of the morning, someone shot a gun outside my house.  My parents awoke, saw I was out of bed, and immediately feared for the worst.  I got my mom’s panicked call on my cell phone, out-of-breath and hysterical.

I’m here. I said.  I’m alive.

But it was eye-opening, having a glimpse into the fears they had about my life and my illness.  The fact that they thought it could have been me has always shaken me to my core.


An essay on suicide and its presence in my life:

In 2002, a month before starting my senior year of high school, one of my best friend’s fathers committed suicide in the woods outside their house while no one was home.  Her mother, out of town and worried that she couldn’t contact him, called my friend on the phone and my father, brother and I drove home with her.  While we were in transit, he was found dead.  One of his employees knew me and knew that I was a friend of his daughter.  Trying to track her down, they called me.  We were halfway there.  We pulled over in the rain and I got out of the car.  At the age of 17, I had to tell this girl that her father died, that he’d committed suicide.  And then there, in my arms, were the pieces he’d blown apart with his gun.  I held the one who’d been left behind.

Last week, one of my closest friends called me—after a string of numbed-out half-started words, he finally choked out that he’d lost his college roommate.  I went over to his house and we sat outside as he smoked cigarettes.  He told me about the questionable nature of the death, about the erratic driving and an overcorrection of the steering wheel that flipped a car and left its driver DOA.

“His father told me that he’d been on pills, and I knew that he was having some problems.  But nothing like this.  And he never told me how he was feeling.  He never told me.  Why wouldn’t he tell me?”

He was asking because he knows about my experiences with mental illness, because he knows that I’ve been depressed.

So, I told him the truth.  That sometimes we don’t tell the people who are closest to us because we don’t want to change their perceptions of us.  We don’t tell them because we can’t bear the sideways glances, the frightened looks that make us feel crazier.  That we can’t stand the thought of hurting and worrying the ones we love.  That when we tell the closest ones, that’s when it really hits us.  That’s when it’s real.

It’s easy to tell strangers and people you’ve just met.  They don’t have any emotional investment in you or your well-being.  They don’t worry at night or when you call them on the phone.  They never will have to ask you, “What’s wrong,” and be scared of what the answer might be.

So he’s quiet and drunk and upset—all the things I’ve been before, when someone I knew unexpectedly died.  And he looks at me, and repeats himself.  “I just wish he had told me.”

And here I am, once more—holding in my arms one of the ones who’s been left behind.


It’s not my intention to proselytize or blame.  I’ve been on both sides of the matter, flipping back and forth like a metronome from experience to experience.  I know what it’s like to wallow in desperation and sadness that feels like it will never end.  I’ve visualized it in my head a thousand times—what it would look like to rake a razor down my wrist, what my feet would look like hanging from a rope or the moment of clarity I would have just as I jumped.  I’ve wished for cars to hit me in crosswalks, and I’ve thought incessantly on rough days of turning the steering wheel and careening into a tree.

But I know, too, about the ones we leave behind.  Friends, family, teachers and acquaintances.  The ones who will sit in doorways, mouths drooping with cigarettes and veins running with vodka, the ones who will ask “why” and “how” and blame themselves, no matter what anyone else tells them to the contrary.  I’ve been there too many times, and the pressure of these times is always enough to push me back.

But in the light of this most recent experience, I feel guilty for being so frustrated with my mother.  She asks “What’s wrong?” because she worries that the time she doesn’t is the time it will matter.  I want desperately to tell her that she shouldn’t worry.  That the truth is that, if that time came, she wouldn’t be the one to know.  No one would.  Our hearts are full of secrets and lies, of deceit and worry and fear, of questions that have no answers.

But I want to reassure her.  I want to reassure all of them.  “Don’t worry,” I want to whisper.  And even if I can’t guarantee it, I’m pretty sure.  If I could, I’d write them all promises.  “No matter what, no matter how hard it gets—I won’t leave you behind.”

Premature Evacuation

December 10th, 2009

I work at 30 Rockefeller Plaza. As you may know, each year around Thanksgiving, a giant evergreen tree is trucked in and trussed up in time for the televised “Lighting of the Tree.” The tree is big. It’s so big that decorating it takes weeks. And scaffolding. Lots and lots of scaffolding.

Now, this is only my second Christmas in NYC, but I’ve already got my own ritual for this event. I, along with everyone who works in the building, evacuate at 3pm before the crowds gather to watch the tree get blown up and sung to by rock stars.

Occasionally, I get irritable in New York. Sometimes when I’m walking and people (confession, I call them tourons, but I don’t mean you) stop on the sidewalk and impede the flow of foot traffic, I clench my jaw and widen my eyes in exasperation as I pause and wait for a path through to make itself known. I walk quickly, but I don’t run over people—they more or less veer into my path, like cicadas bobbling into a windshield.

As I’ve said on Twitter, if you lack the spatial awareness to step aside when exiting a door, elevator, or escalator, you’re probably really bad in bed.

Occasionally, as I walk through the city, I’m glad for the jostling, because it makes me feel connected in a sea of well-dressed anonymity. At these times, I’m filled with the spirit of kum-ba-yah, and I’ll often find that I’m smiling to myself. It’s not forced, it just happens. Who knows what brings it on—maybe I had a really good doughnut that day—but I certainly prefer being at peace with humanity rather than being a steaming bowl of annoyed.

But I digress. This post is supposed to be about managing mental illness, right? And, as I type this, it’s 8 days late according to my self-imposed monthly deadline. I’ve known I wanted to write about the holidays for at least a month, so why have I stalled?

Because I kind of hate the holidays.

And believe me, there are reasons.

This is a whole book, this here topic of me and the holidays.

It’s genetic.

No, really.

It started with my grandmother.

Okay. [Deep breath.]

My grandmother was a Jehovah’s Witness. She wasn’t born that way. She chose it. And she was one of the 144,000 who are actually going to join God in Heaven. Well, she’s there already. She died six years ago this month.

I hardly knew my grandmother. My few memories of her center around rare visits during which I watched her shove vitamins down her Siamese cat’s throat and slather enormous quantities of hand lotion on herself and anyone within arm’s reach. Once I turned age 12, these visits stopped. With a complete lack of irony, my mother said she didn’t want my grandmother to hurt me the way she had hurt her. There were a few feeble attempts at communication over the years, but that ended when I got a note from my grandmother saying how worried she was because I was going to burn in hell for going to college.

You may know that Witnesses don’t celebrate holidays. My mother grew up never celebrating her birthday or Christmas. This of course meant that the holidays assumed an importance to her that was…spectacular.

I don’t remember a single holiday from my childhood (I’m talking even Independence Day) where my mother didn’t end up yelling. As I got older, and began to stick up for myself, her screams turned to sobs that I had caused by…well…by sticking up for myself. I was hollowed out after each encounter, and once I realized this pattern wasn’t going to end, I began methodically desensitizing myself by unplugging emotionally from the holidays as best as I could.

I evacuated.

One way I learned to manage the holidays was to encourage group gatherings. On those lucky holidays, we’d celebrate at a friend’s home, and keep the crying and humiliation confined to the car. (And here the memories are starting to come back. Ugh.) Another way I learned to manage the holidays was to stop going home. Of course there were repercussions to this decision, but it felt like survival more than a choice. For the most part, my mother has understood when I’ve chosen not to go  home. As much as she has lashed out, there’s always been a part of her that has known things were really messed up and simply not known how to fix it.

Now, my grandmother had been a traveling private nurse, and in her late 60s, she checked herself into a nursing home because she said she was ready to let people take care of her. It was her turn. She then went and lived for another 20-odd years. To me it just seemed like giving up. My mother said for years that she thought her mother might die soon, but this time, in 2003, I knew it was serious. I hadn’t planned on going home for Christmas that year, but my mother sounded destroyed by what was happening to her mother, so I was down in Florida at the nursing home the next day. All three of us were in the room when my grandmother left this world on December 18.

I’ve written elsewhere at length about what transpired in the days and weeks following. We had some wonderful talks as we parsed apart the legacy of choices that had led us to where we were. But then something snapped and there she was, glaring and furious because I had rolled her coins. (Funny because it’s true.) I remember saying, as things devolved, “I never understood why you kept me.” It wasn’t an accusation, it was a genuine question borne out of the confusion I’d always experienced at being told I was loved one moment and treated with contempt in the next. She quietly responded, “I don’t know why I did either. There were plenty of other people who would’ve taken you.” She later clarified that she meant that, for all she gave up in order to raise me, it seemed that it was all for naught because I didn’t know that she loved me.

I’ve only called a suicide hotline twice, and this was one of those times. It actually ended up being funny. The fact that I had counted out my sleeping pills wasn’t what scared me—it was that I was suddenly deeply altered, like I had checked out. I was calm, affectless, and almost in a trance as I counted. The very freaked-out part of me that wanted to live then promptly sat on the floor, sandwiched herself between the bed and the wall, and called a hotline. I was on hold for so long—what with it being the holidays and all—that by the time I finally reached someone, I basically said that I couldn’t take up his time when there were clearly so many people needing help right then. I didn’t know at that time that the name for one of the conditions I had was Passive Suicidal Ideation, but I knew enough to know that, even though I wanted to give up because I couldn’t seem to find a way out of my pain, I wouldn’t really *do* anything, as seductive as that thought was at the time. So I hung up once I felt connected again.

The next day, after my zombie self unlocked the bedroom door, my mother came in, sat down on the bed, and made a solemn promise to me that she would never let an event like that happen again. I snorted a little because I didn’t believe her—belief like that costs too much. I remember thinking that’s right, it wouldn’t happen again, because I’ll do my best not to be that vulnerable again. I told her, “You can’t promise that.”

I don’t think my mother has ever really had a full round of therapy. I can’t imagine how hard it must be to navigate her particular emotional minefield without professional support. I know I wouldn’t have made it had I not had the help of others far smarter than I. I remember thinking at the time that if it were that easy for her to stop ridiculing me, why had she tormented us both over the years. I didn’t believe she had that kind of control over herself. But, I guess I had scared not only myself, but her as well, so even though she lacked the understanding, she made a choice of will to never behave that way again. I had forgotten she’d even made the promise, until she reminded me recently. I have to say, I think she’s kept her promise.

And I think maybe that’s love.

In a few weeks, I’m visiting my mother for Christmas. She’s been so self-aware lately that I recently asked her, “Are you getting therapy and not telling me?” (Answer: No, but she’s had time to think things over.)  I’m not hoping for a wonderful time, but I’m not dreading it like I used to. I’m actually a little optimistic, because you have to be, right? But I’m also on guard just in case, because I know there’s a part of her that is so hurt that she might lash out. And there’s room for that now without it making me crumble. It’s my job to defend myself, though it’s still new and difficult—it feels like I’m not allowed, like it hurts her.

Whew. Okay. That wasn’t sooooo bad.

The holidays can be rough for some of us. There’s not enough time, not enough money, not enough warmth and ease. We each find our ways of coping with the strain—I know I deliberately let myself get a little numb. I evacuate. I have my rituals of checking out. Where I used to love singing carols and decorating my home, I just sort of don’t go there because it would make me sad. And I used to love giving gifts, until the lean years when I was embarrassed that I couldn’t afford to give them. So my protective choice to emotionally ignore the holidays means I don’t appreciate the outdoor festivities, but I do have friends who get excited, and that makes me happy, because even though I don’t look forward to the holidays, I understand that for some, it’s a time of renewal in the midst of the bitter cold. For others, it’s a time of grieving. For me, this year, it’s a time for both—I know the holidays will probably always be a trigger for me, just like they are for my mother, but I also can slowly begin to let my guard down and hope that it might be just a little different this year. Which is terrifying, by the way.

Many people are struggling with mental illness, and some also are fending off emotional violence in the home. I’ve never felt ashamed for having had depression and all those other things. In a way I sometimes think I’m lucky because the root cause of my depression wasn’t chemical, it was external, circumstantial, a problem to be solved. (Though I’m guessing the decades of depression had a chemical effect.) I’m still working on telling my story in a way that doesn’t hurt my family by revealing too much of their part in things, but I’ve always believed that sharing our stories can heal on both ends of the transaction.

And I believe that I am entitled to my story.

Sort of.

I’m working on it.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to bundle up and head home through the holiday crowds on Fifth Avenue. I have gifts to buy.

Self Diagnosed

August 28th, 2009

I used to long for a diagnosis.  Something snappy from the DSM-IV would have done nicely.  I wanted an impressive-sounding label to stick on the mess that bubbled constantly inside my head and my guts.  If I had an official Mental Disorder, it would mean that people would have to take me seriously.  Maybe it would mean that I could get some help.

Sometimes I felt that I wasn’t being taken seriously enough.  Other times I accepted what others said.  “She’s throwing a tantrum.  Just ignore her.”  “Oh, she’s crying again?  Never mind, she’ll be fine.”  It was easy for them to minimize what they saw, because they were too busy, or too self-absorbed, or too contemptuous to stop and evaluate how much I was actually suffering.

I started cutting myself.  No one noticed.  I went to my doctor to discuss my mental health.  He had misplaced his Suicide Risk Checklist.  He looked through his files for 2 minutes trying to find it, and then decided it would be good enough to ask me whatever questions he remembered.  He forgot to ask if I had looked into killing myself.  I had, in fact, visited a website that provided techniques for suicide.  But he never asked, and I wasn’t able to summon my voice to volunteer the information.

I did ask him to prescribe me an anti-depressant.  I needed something, anything, to get me through my days.  Every hour, sometimes every minute, was excruciating.

The doctor told me he thought it was “just psychological”.  He wanted to refer me to see a psychologist for counseling, who happened to be his sister.  He said it might be Post Traumatic Stress Disorder because my difficult childhood.  Finally, with reservations, he did write me a prescription for Zoloft.

I took it straight to a bookstore, found a book on the medical effects that are possible when people come off anti-depressants, and became too scared to fill the prescription.  I went back to toughing it out on my own.  I’m aware that I’m lucky to have that choice.

In the end, I diagnosed myself.  Moderate Depression, and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.  And after years of dealing with my moods I’ve learned how to keep myself on an even keel, most of the time.  It means I live a life that is relatively very limited, but within those safe boundaries I have found a way to be me that works.


April 22nd, 2009

My leg is touching the door and I can feel the vibrations of the music through my knee cap. I’m not thinking. I’m just feeling the bass line and mouthing the words. My mouth opens and closes with the words but no sound comes out. I don’t think I know this song. If I was the passenger in the car to the left, I would think I was singing. But if I was the passenger in the car to the left, I wouldn’t be me. I would be him. I think about this for awhile, forgetting to mouth along to the song, my jaw slightly slack.

What if I was him? That guy to the left? I wouldn’t be me. Or I would be both. I would have his feelings. Or they would be the same as the ones I have now, just his. Or they would be different. And I would look over and see me and wonder about the lady driving in the big black van and hope she had at least one other person in the car to make that beast worth while. And I would know that she wasn’t really singing because I didn’t really sing, either. Orange would be slightly different, but how, I couldn’t say. I would like the air slightly warmer in the cab of the car while driving, but my wife would want it cooler and I’d wear gloves to keep my hands warm, even in the summer. I’d hate the birds that shit on the car under the palm tree. I’d love orange suckers and I’d do ceramics on the weekend as a hobby to calm my nerves. Or are they my nerves. Or mine. I don’t know.

My shoe is near the speaker and I can feel the vibrations of the music climbing up my leg. I turn the bass up and look up to notice the sign that says the name of street I know, but isn’t on my route home. I’m confused for a moment and then I realize I passed my exit about twenty minutes back.

I wonder where I’m going.

I’m driving as if I don’t care that I’m not headed in the right direction. I just passed an exit where I could have turned around. And another one. And another. I’m not changing lanes to get to the right. I’m just going forward at a steady 73 miles per hour. Maybe I don’t care. But I don’t know where I’m going.

I’m out of water. My mouth is dry. I have a headache. I get off the freeway and get back on, heading west.

My hands are on the steering wheel and the vibrations are coursing through my fingers and into my wrists. The music is too loud and I turn it down. Then off. The car on my right is driving right in my blind spot. When I speed up, he speeds up. When I slow down, He slows down. I punch the gas and hit over 80, moving away from the irritation. The road is bumpy on this stretch and the van bobs up and down violently for a few seconds. The Santa Annas are blowing hard against the windshield and I can hear the whistle it makes as it leaks through the seams around the doors. It’s high pitched and screaming. All it would take is my not handling the wind very well. Just a tiny mistake going around the right bend of the hills. The tire would hit a pothole and explode. The van would flip over and over, jumping over the guardrail and into the middle of oncoming traffic. I could even take off my seat belt first. I look at myself in the rear view mirror. And then I look away. My foot comes off the gas pedal a little and I slow down to 68 and hit cruise control.

The wind whistling through the doors grows deeper and less insistent. It sounds more like a hum and less like a shriek. I take a few slow breaths and turn the music back on, but softly. I click forward through the songs until I find something mellow.

I’m close to home now. And I think I’m glad. The thoughts and feelings I’ve been avoiding come rushing at me. I’m a horrible person. I’m so unworthy of love. The world would be a better place without me. My kids deserve a better mom. Joe would have a better life without me. I imagine saying that out loud to Joe and I can hear his voice in my head. I would say, ‘I’m too broken. It’s never going to get better. How many times can I say I’m sorry before I get on your nerves? Once a day? Twice? I should just leave.’ and he would say, ‘Only say sorry if you commit a sin of commission or omission against me. You haven’t. You don’t need to be sorry. Your existence is not a sin. I love you. I hope you don’t leave. I want to spend the rest of my life with you.’ And then I’m crying but I don’t know if it’s happening now or yesterday when he said it for real.

The car is stopped and parked in front of the house. I’m home. Home. The thrumming I feel isn’t music. It’s my thoughts and I’m trying to get them under control before I walk in the house. I’m numbing out my mind, creating a buffer around my body and settling in the center where it’s calm and one tiny bit of what I hope is reality comforts me as I gather my things and head up the walkway.

Your existence is not a sin. I love you.

Originally published here.

Who You Are – Lourdes

April 16th, 2009

People call me/I call myself Lourdes.

I see myself as slowly sinking into the dark, losing me, becoming someone I can’t recognize.

If I thought you cared and you were listening, I would tell you please stop pretending you care and are listening, you say the right words but your actions prove otherwise.

I am struggling with being the most miserable I have ever been. The overwhelming sadness is slowly killing me.

Something I have been keeping a secret is I can now understand why people cut them selves or choose to die. I wonder every day about suicide.

I am trying to think positive and something I’m good at is pretending all is well, and caring for all others more than myself.

I love my cat and t.

I want people to know that as crazy as I am feeling, somewhere there is still a glimmer of hope, a little itsy bitsy glimmer, but I do know it’s there.

The More Things Change, The More They Stay The Same

April 14th, 2009

From David

In 1979, when I was 18, my mind had what I colorfully like to call a “come-apart”. I didn’t realize it or even know what it was, but deep clinical depression was growing in me like some toxic black mold. I had no idea what was wrong and I became so sick so fast I lost all ability to even articulate what was happening inside of me. Rapidly I skidded down the slickery slope to psychotic, suicidal hell. Weeeeeeee!!!

My mind soon began to shut down. The simplest tasks took extraordinary effort to complete. Ask me my name and I’d have looked at you as if you’d just said to me, “Tell me what 137 to the 27th power is or I’ll stab you in the neck.” I wouldn’t have been able to answer you. I’d have stared at you with panic and confusion on my face and would have weeped uncontrollably. All because you asked me my name.

I was exhausted constantly. All I ever wanted to do was lie down and sleep, preferably forever and ever. And ever. And ever. But night would come and my brain wouldn’t shut off the internal noise and sleep would elude me. At some point I realized I was going mad. What could possibly be more frightening than being aware you’re losing your mind, losing control of your own self, your own thoughts, and not knowing what to do about it? Relentless suicidal and self-destructive ideas were bombarding and tormenting me. I am, and always have been, a peaceful person yet suddenly my mind was roaring with violent, vicious, grizzly thoughts all directed at me.

I felt as if I had split in two. The old part of me: timid, sweet, funny, generous. The new part of me: dark, powerful, the devil. The thoughts in my head soon became external and loud, and they took on a different voice. A deep, loud, growling voice telling me to “kill yourself” or “worthless piece of crap” or “idiot” or “people hate you”. Then one day the voice said “cut” so I did. I don’t know why I did or why I listened, but I did. I cut in places no one could see, but I cut. I cut my arms, my chest, my stomach, my thighs. I still look at the scars and wonder why I cut myself, but in some way those scars are my friends and I’m fond of them.

During that time, the early 1980s, I was in and out of hospitals. Diagnosed as manic/depressive, then with borderline personality disorder, then borderline paranoid schizophrenic, then this and then that. Ah, the inexact science of psychiatric medicine in the 1980s. Tell me, is it any more exact today? Eventually someone hung the label “acute psychotic major depressive disorder” on me and it stuck. But with differing diagnoses comes differing pharmaceuticals. Artane, Navane, Elavil, Mellaril, Thorazine, Stellazine, Ritalin, lithium, Nardil, and probably a dozen others I can’t recall. You think the dry mouth or limp noodle side effects from Paxil is bad? You take Thorazine and then come talk to me. All the while, though, the voice kept talking to me, telling me to “cut”, “kill”, telling me I’m “worthless”.

Many doses of ECT offered no relief either. ECT kills one’s short term memories and yet I still vividly remember the zombie-like feeling following a round of having an electrical current fired through my noggin. Feeling neither happy nor sad. Quite literally devoid of any feeling. An electrically induced temporary lobotomy.

Yet still the voice screamed at me. “Cut yourself.” “You’re worthless, shoot yourself. Now!” Nothing could make the voice stop. Oftentimes the voice was crude and quite vivid in the gruesome plans it wanted me to carry out on myself, but due to decorum I’ll omit those here. If a voice you hear, but nobody else does, telling you awful things to do to yourself doesn’t drive you over the edge then probably nothing will.

After the 7,112,976th time of the voice telling me to “kill yourself” I decided to listen to it. I worked at a hospital and had access to all sorts of festively colored pills and capsules, just ripe for the picking. I swallowed several bottles of anything I could get my grubby hands on. Heart medication, blood pressure medication, migraine pills, tranquilizers, the prescriptions I was currently taking, even a huge bottle of Tylenol. Obviously I was discovered, I’m not writing this from the grave, and they pumped my tummy clean and revived me and then, as punishment for my crime, I was sent for a stay at the lovely and oh so inviting “Timberlawn Sanitarium”, it actually had that name etched in stone over one of the old original buildings that is used as administrative/admissions offices now, in Dallas, Texas for a period of approximately 11 months.

The Timberlawn Psychiatric Hospital facility was incredibly secure. With heavy metal screens over all windows, plexiglass on all the bay windows, doors that lock automatically when shut, etc. You’ll pardon me, I hope, if when I speak of Timberlawn Psychiatric Hospital I speak of it as a prison and of my stay there as a prison sentence. I will refer to the nurses and staff as guards and my psychiatrist as the warden.

Upon induction into Timberlawn, thankfully there was no full body cavity search and no delousing, I was swiftly removed of my shoelaces, my belt, my razor, my nail clippers, and anything else I had which was shiny or sharp. Meals would be served to me by the guards on my cell block until such time as I had earned the trust from the guards and the warden that I wouldn’t try to escape or hurt myself. Then, and only then, would I be allowed to take my meals across campus, the prison yard, and eat in in the dining hall proper. Welcome to your new home, inmate.

When asked to “please release me, let me go” I was told if I didn’t stay voluntarily I would be committed. The frustration of that was immense so I shut down. Refused to talk or take my meds or participate in anything. I wasn’t totally lacking in rational thought, and it quickly dawned on me, after being threatened with restraints and IVs and suppositories, that if I wanted to get out of there any time soon I needed to play the game, follow the rules, and go with the flow. Having my meds forced up my backside just didn’t sound like much of a bargain to me, then or now.

So I settled down and got with the program and within a couple of months I was allowed to go to the gym and go do crafts and walk, under escort by a couple of the guards, to the dining hall for my meals. I also got just crazy good at ping-pong. Every evening after supper it was ping-pong-a-palooza for those of us on the unit who had high enough privileges to walk down the hall to the ping-pong room. And then if you really behave and contribute to group therapy and show you’re serious about your treatment, maybe in six months if you’re lucky, they might let you out, with a guard of course, to go see a movie. Well I hated it. Can you tell? Every blessed moment of it, I hated it. Finally I was discharged, paroled, my illness cured. Yeah right.

Twenty years pass and I’ve fought this nightmare countless times off and on ever since, but for the most part keeping it to myself. I feared if I told anyone I’m hearing the voice again or that I’m incessantly thinking of suicide I’ll be locked away again. Within the past year the voice and my dreadful thoughts have become overwhelming. Over the years it seemed that if I just weathered the storm, waited it out and not acted on the self-destructive thoughts, it would ease up on it’s own and I’d come out of this hellish pit on my own. But this time, for nearly a year, I can’t get out. I can’t control my own thoughts and everyday I wake up contemplating suicide. It’s devouring me. I’m losing the battle. I want to walk into a field and sit down in the cold rain and just let it dissolve me into a puddle.

Once again I find myself frightened of myself. “I hate myself”. “I don’t belong here”. “I am a misfit”. “A freak”. “I want to die”. “My core is rotting”. These are the thoughts that consume me again, each and every day. My brain is being destroyed by the horrible thoughts which I can’t control.

I recently sought help. I am now on the second week of medication consisting of Paxil and Trazodone, but will they work? The best meds of the 70s and 80s did no good. Multiple rounds of shock treatments bought little lasting relief. Long term hospitalization made me angry at and scared of the psychiatric profession. Some may say, “But Dave, you’re alive.” Yes I’m alive, but that’s a small victory if you ask me. A very hollow victory indeed. Almost 30 years since this nightmare began and I can’t wake up from it to escape it.