I can talk to my sister but not my Mom about the abuse…

I can talk to my sister but not my Mom about the abuse at an early age. My Mom cannot accept that something heinous occurred on her watch, though it obviously wasn’t her fault. My sister and I talk about it from time to time.

My sister several months back informed me that our Dad received death threats when we were little about the work he was doing in the deep South. When my sister and I were growing up, my Dad ran a non-profit to help Black men find meaningful work. This was in the 60s and 70s and for a light-skinned man to be doing this, was not the norm. To this day, I have no idea whether the abuse I sustained is tied in some way to these death threats to my Dad. I assume he had many enemies given the fact that he was so progressive for his time. Maybe those enemies wanted to extend the death threats to my Dad’s family which would explain my early encounter with abuse. I don’t know for sure if this is the case, but it is one scenario that seems plausible.

This disclosure brings us full circle to the events of today – racial justice and Black Lives Matter. Let it be known that some light-skinned folks were in for the fight 50 years ago. Good for them but not so good that we have not progressed further in the course of those 50 years.

My Sojourn through Bipolar Illness – Family Then (part one)

There had been no prior established case of bipolar illness in my family before 1985 when I was diagnosed.  There was an isolated incident of an uncle who wanted to drop out of college and sail a boat around the world, though this incident was not widely discussed then or now.  The uncle with the sailing fantasy never was treated for a mental illness though he continued and continues to be highly religious in his outlook and in his behaviors. 

So, like for many families, this incident of bipolar illness was unprecedented at that time in February of 1985.  Upon return from Ivy College my parents placed me in a local psychiatric hospital.  Within a number of weeks from the episode on the runway of the airport near Ivy College, I was diagnosed with bipolar illness.  This was about in July 1985.  The relay of the diagnosis was less than spectacular.  I was in session with the psychiatrist whose name for the sake of this text is Dr. Hamilton.  At the end of the session Dr. Hamilton informed me that I was bipolar and left little to no time in the session to talk about what that meant or how it impacted me and my family. 

As with any developmental story after being diagnosed, I had issues with my parents that would consume a portion of my therapy early on in the years following college.  A lot of this therapy focused on the death of my older brother John who was an infant when he died of spinal meningitis.  He would have been 2 years older than me.  Through extended therapy in the early years, I pieced together memories that would allow me to see that much of my parents’ separation and divorce could be seen in the light of John’s early and tragic death.  Few parents I learned survive in marriage the deaths of their children.  And so it was with my parents.  Once I understood more about John’s death and its impact on my parents I could begin to process my place in the family as “the replacement child” or not. This seemed to be a place in which my parents diverged.

My childhood appears to have been largely uneventful with the exception of this divorce, which included happy re-marriages for both parents.  But as we have seen time and time again, that may not be the case.  On the one hand, I later began to believe that these two second marriages provided me the opportunity to have two examples of working parents but with two very different sets of role models.  My Dad and stepmother lived a very quiet life with few outside stimuli. My Dad was a minister yet he preferred to be working in the garden on his rose bushes rather than leading a congregation.  This was probably due to the stress of stigma that at the time accompanied the divorce of a member “of the cloth.”  My Mom and step-dad were both very involved career people and active in the church where our family attended.  They married when I was 15.  We had the typical turmoils of a mixed family particularly since there were four teens in the combined family.  The remarriage was more difficult for my stepbrother and stepsister.  Just months before they had been with their mother who was blind from diabetes as she was killed in a car collision.  In hindsight, my parents agreed that this might have been handled differently. 

What I am mostly trying to express about family is that my childhood originally seems to have relatively very little trauma or negligence or abuse.  I was raised by caring parents whose marriage did not work out for reasons beyond my control and theirs.  I continued to claim responsibility for that divorce well into my twenties as most adult children of divorce do.  But overall, it appears at first blush that I had very little trauma compared to others with a similar diagnosis.  Oftentimes, I tell myself I did not have a particularly difficult upbringing.

However, with the benefit and hindsight of a few more years of emotional work and discovery, I am coming to terms with the fact that I likely sustained substantial abuse at about the age of six.  This abuse was likely at the hand of a neighbor.  Regarding this potential abuse, I have deep pockets of black-out symptoms.   I also recall certain images (not exactly memories) of sexual assault but they are very unclear and very murky. Abuse at the age of six remains relatively unexplored territory at this time and will continue to be a focus of work with my therapist going further. 

(To be continued.)

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I am letting go….

I am letting go of any childhood abuse I sustained between six and ten years of age. I recently have had an abnormal mammogram, an abnormal ultrasound and a request for an MRI for both breasts.

I feel like I am being called to let go of the abuse I experienced as a young child so that I can continue to heal particularly with respect to any sort of breast abnormality or cancer I may currently have or any cancer that is soon to be discovered.

I won’t find out for at least two weeks if I have breast cancer. My MRI is on June 17th. Until then, I will be working on forgiving those who I believe participated in the sexual exploitation of me and my body and my mind when I was six, seven, eight, nine and ten.

I release any perpetrator and give the abuse over to God as to how to handle those individuals and how to judge those individuals. The judgment is not mine to make.

Again, I will also be working on forgiveness to those parties with the main desire to move forward in my life in a way that is free from anxiety and free from these deep pockets of pain. I feel that by letting go of this abuse, I may be more able to forgive and more able to have an illness-free life going forward.

Thanks in advance for any support you can muster for me as I release this abuse to God and to the void. I no longer want to possess this experience and the anxiety and depression that comes along with it.

My Sojourn through Bipolar Illness – Life before Anxiety

I have limited or very limited memories of what life was like for me as a child and/or a teen before bipolar illness hit me in my twenties as a college student.   This is particularly true of my early childhood years before middle school. These memories before middle school are largely blank. They are not bad memories, per say, they are just not memories at all. Like a blank screen on a TV set — all images gone with little sound either. I am seeking to explore the lack of early memories as time moves forward and as my therapy progresses.

In high school, I was a typical over-achiever and straight A student.  I graduated at the top of my high school class and was voted by high school peers to be “the most likely to succeed.”  I had a steady high school boyfriend for my Junior and Senior years in high school.  My study peers were the Advanced Placement teens while my social peers were “the in-crowd.”  Somehow it was important for me to feel that I was part of “the in-crowd” rather than just being satisfied with my academic peer group. Most of my memories of high school are very strong as I was able to hold onto this vision of myself as “successful.” These memories are much more vigorous than memories from the years before middle school.

Most of my memory absence appears to be before middle school years. When I was in sixth grade, my parents divorced.  I tended to manage what I now recognize as what may have been anxiety and feelings of depression by becoming a great student and high achiever.  I felt somehow if I could be a straight A student, there was no wrong happening in my life and all was right with the world. 

My Dad remarried a short time after I transferred in sixth grade to a private school. When I was a Sophomore in high school, my Mom also remarried.   With both parents happily remarried, I continued to live life relatively anxiety-free or so it seemed.  I was a super student and a valued member of the cheerleading squad, the track team and the student council.  I was the top student in my Senior class and voted in as “the May Queen” by my Senior class peers. 

It was not until I arrived at Ivy College that I first experienced anxiety that I was aware of.  Suddenly everybody was as smart as I was.  Suddenly my coping mechanisms for stress – being the top in my class – seemed very very far away.  I took to studying all the time to keep my grade point average in the “A” zone rather than adopting an acceptance for “B” work.  This preponderance for “A” work I think was a factor in my inability to distance myself from the come-on’s and other subpar behaviors of my college thesis professor–  Professor Flannigan — during my Senior year.   The coping mechanisms I had adopted in my middle school and upper school years were inadequate for coping with the challenges in college days, particularly those challenges of my late Junior and early Senior year days.  Perhaps unlike many college students, in college I did not appear to grow out of or beyond coping mechanisms that were helpful in my younger years in middle and high school.    

In addition, it may have been that Professor Flannigan, untrained therapist that he was, was somehow trespassing dangerously into the “safe world” of that six-year-old child while that six-year-old child was striving desperately to stay on course.  Once again, Flannigan’s assuming to be a trained therapist or acting like one was likely very, very dangerous for me particularly if sexual or other abuse was present for me as a young child.

What has changed since college days? There is still a blank screen there where there should be early memories, but at least now I am in a place to work through those voids with a trained therapist rather than an emotionally immature egotist.

My Sojourn through Bipolar Illness – Becoming a Mom

Becoming a Mom has been the greatest gift God has ever given to me.

I got married at 38, got pregnant at 39 and had my child at 40.  I often talk and think about how as a person with a behavioral health diagnosis I have done everything “late.”  I have to talk with myself about how life events like graduating from Ivy College or graduating from Business School or obtaining my professional project management certification may have occurred on God’s timeline rather than on my own.

Perhaps I am not late in achieving these life events any more than I am early in my perceptions or thoughts about time and matter and anti-matter.  Perhaps all of these thoughts and events and timelines are under control with the ultimate project manager – God himself.

Still, I have a hard-time accepting that these successes are on God’s timeline rather than my own.  I want to be able to say “I’m normal” and therefore “my successes have occurred in the way I have prepared for, planned and executed.”  In reality these successes are contingent upon allowing myself some “grace” and the opportunity to pursue my accomplishments in an elongated timeframe.  There are many goals that I have currently that I continue to pursue – the message to myself along these pursuits is that God is in control of these developments, even though I would prefer to be in control myself.  I would prefer to be in control just as that ten-year-old child within does so as perhaps despite myself to take full blame when things don’t go according to plan.  If my child within is six and/or if God is in control, I am no longer in control of the outcomes of my life.  If I give my life over truly to God, then every outcome including the potential for child abuse at age six is part of his plan for me and I need not accept any particular outcome as “my doing” or “my fault.”  Perhaps my role in God’s eyes is to tell my story of abuse so that others will not have to endure such happenings or at a minimum can feel some solidarity surrounding those events.

So it was with having my daughter — the biggest accomplishment of my life.  For years, I heard that Lithium was contra-positive toward being pregnant and carrying a child.  For years in my twenties and my thirties, I asked to change my meds so that I might be ready once I got married to carry a child.  When I met my husband, we talked at length about the fact that bipolar illness has a huge genetic component and that there would be some risk of passing the illness along to my child.  I considered this strongly and even looked into the idea of surrogate eggs and surrogate Moms.  In addition, there was a study occurring at a local university hospital which posited that risks to the fetus for heart impacts associated with lithium use by the mom were grossly overstated. My husband was not keen on the surrogate or adoption alternatives, so about 7 months after we were married, we started to try through traditional methods to get pregnant.  I was 39 at the time.  I believe that prior to this time, I may not have been ready to be a Mom, at the same time I do not really advise people to wait too long to have kids.  My husband and I were very blessed to become pregnant within two months of trying.  For most people at the age of 39 in vitro and other pregnancy/fertilization tactics would have been needed.

Even amidst the throes of postpartum depression and related problems, having my daughter in my life and experiencing her as part of my family with my husband continues to be the greatest blessing in my life.  Even now in the midst of the teen years and our occasional head-butting, my daughter continues without a doubt to be the love of my life tying with my husband. 

I am afraid

I am afraid for others to know my story of potential child abuse at age 6. I have talked this through in therapy a lot. But coming out of the closet so to speak is different and difficult. I am afraid others will not believe me or will believe I am making up the story in order to place blame on someone other than myself. I have written more extensively in my journaling about the specifics involved in the abuse, but cannot share that level of detail at this time. It feels like being splayed wide open. I also feel like I should be apologizing.

My Sojourn through Bipolar Illness – Understanding the Inner Child

As discussed in a prior post, my inner child is like two very different people simultaneously.  There is that child who feels hugely responsible for every negative event that occurs going back to my parents’ divorce.  This child is about ten years of age.  Then there is that child of say maybe six who is seemingly ahead of the curve of regular events in time who may see things more in terms of circular time.   I continue to seek to find this six-year-old child within and nurture her.  My goal in seeking to find this child within is that by understanding her and nurturing her and her relationship to the ten-year-old worrier, I will have much less anxiety when there are situations outside of my control.

Over the years, I have been in the process of discussing this six-year-old child within with my therapist.  I am not sure technically what it might mean if I have a six-year-old and a ten-year-old child within.

I have spent years focusing on the ten-year-old child within who is often consumed with worries for the future.  I have focused on the typical feelings that the child within may feel responsible for negative events like my parents’ divorce and that this may translate some 20 years of illness forward to feelings of responsibility for terrorist threats (real or imagined).

Only since my daughter turned ten have I begun to focus on that six-year-old child.  Until now, the six-year-old child within has remained relatively undisclosed.  I am currently mid-process in finding out about her and what she is concerned about.  So far, what I feel is true is that the six-year-old child within is not plagued by high anxiety and is very carefree.  She believes in “magical outcomes” much like any child of six years.  She loves to think about match-making for people who are alone or appear to be alone.  She loves to think about patterns and how numbers and colors organize themselves in and around patterns.  She is generally a happy child and does not feel abandoned by divorce since the divorce “has not yet occurred.” 

How this six-year-old child relates to the ten-year-old child within will be a designated focus for me in my on-going spiritual journey.  My goal will be to honor that younger child within so as to perhaps relinquish the feelings of blame and responsibility for all things negative held tight by the older child.  I am not yet sure if this approach is supported by current therapy directions but I will plan to review in the months ahead.  Perhaps the reconciliation of the six-year-old and the ten-year-old will be the focus of a next text I will write.

Ironically, the ten-year-old child within likely has the ability to “tell time” in the linear and logical sense of the phrase.  The six-year-old child appears not to be able to “tell time” but experiences time more in terms of circular time or dream time and appears to be largely unconstrained by the realities of linear time and linear events.   

More recently (in the past two years) I have come to believe that there is a reason for the child within at age 6 and at age 10.  I am convinced some fifty years after the fact that I was sexually or otherwise abused as a child of about 6 years old.  I believe I was targeted by one or another neighbors.  My memories of this experience are largely blank, yet I feel that I endured something terrible at that age.  I will continue to explore feelings of abuse as time progresses.  This may help to explain the split between the child of 6 and the child of 10.  The six-year-old exists prior to the time of abuse.  The ten-year-old somehow feels responsible for that abuse as well as other painful events including happenings such as my parents’ divorce. 

A “Me Too” Movement Moment

I would be interested in what others have to say about abuse that is psycho-social or psycho-sexual rather than physical. I have tried to heal myself from wounds associated with my college thesis advisor’s behavior toward me for 30 plus years. I don’t seem to get all the way through the processing and foregiveness stages since it seems to the general public that “me too” moments only speak to physical abuse or assault which I did not suffer. I sometimes feel that psycho-social or psycho-sexual assault is worse because we don’t have any context for addressing it.

Do you feel that psycho-social or psycho-sexual behavior toward another person qualifies as abuse? I’d be interested in your thoughts. By these terms I loosely mean that someone is seeking to psychoanalyze you and perhaps make you vulnerable so as to increase his or her own sense of power over you. This includes sexual advances that are not physical in nature but that help reinforce the power dynamic of one person over another.

My Sojourn through Bipolar Illness – a “me too” movement moment

During the fall of 1984 I was working on my thesis with a professor named Professor Dean Flannigan.  My thesis topic was somewhat controversial as I was using Modern Fiction in my research and drawing conclusions from authors of the times like Alice Walker and Flannery O’Connor.  I was looking at the way family is portrayed in Modern Fiction as an indicator of the socio-political developments and historical dynamics of the time.  It felt like the English Department was not altogether in favor of such a modern approach to a thesis, yet approval for my thesis topic was provided by the relevant committee.  This was a couple of years after my approval of a major in American Studies. 

Professor Dean Flannigan is a story in and of itself and one which I will not detail right now except to say I now feel that Professor Flannigan was someone who needed to be revered and admired by his students yet also considered a peer.  This situation was associated with risky behavior including serving cocaine to students in his home and invitations to Chicago which may have triggered my illness.

For me at the time, this was a “me too movement” moment. While I was not physically abused by Professor Flannigan, I believe I was psychologically abused. Professor Flannigan without any training tried to psychoanalyze me through the thesis advisement process and perhaps even tried to make me feel unstable. This unwarranted psychoanalysis triggered the response of a six-year-old child within me that likely experienced child abuse. Professor Flannigan’s attempts to psychoanalyze me I call psycho-social or psycho-sexual abuse. They left me with exposure of this six-year-old child with no way to regain security.

Today, I continue have high disregard for this professor and for Ivy College given the behavior of Professor Flannigan.  I also readily agree now that I was not mature enough to distance myself from his later “come-ons” and “innuendos.”  While an excellent scholar, I was not mature enough to tell Professor Flannigan to go to hell when he started to make advances toward me.  I was confused with feelings of respect I held for him intellectually vying with feelings of confusion and paranoia at being asked to travel with him unaccompanied to Chicago. 

Immediately after my first breakdown, Professor Flannigan began to distance himself from me in an effort to secure tenure.  This effort to secure tenure was after he and I had several thesis review meetings, after he invited me to join him on a trip to Chicago, after he tried to analyze my childhood on several occasions and after he tried to seduce me into coming solo with him to Chicago and after making zodiac references to me like “Scorpio riseth…” I had no idea what that saying was supposed to mean.  I also had no idea how to establish a boundary with Professor Flannigan.  On the one-hand, I thought he was brilliant and a brilliant scholastic role model.  On the other hand, I felt his actions to seduce me (as I understood them) were highly inappropriate.  But I did not have the strength to articulate this to myself much less to him. If I had perhaps been more mature myself, I could have indicated to this Professor Flannigan that while I revered his intellect, I found great fault with his personal behavior.  Bottom line I was emotionally too immature to know how to say no to a trip to Chicago or to an invitation toward some sort of sexual interlude.  I was academically brilliant as a scholar but not so much so as a student to a professor who consistently pushed the boundaries of appropriate behavior.      

Since that time, Professor Flannigan has enjoyed getting tenure at Ivy College and has secured virtually unprecedented popularity on campus.  I, on the other hand, have not enjoyed similar successes particularly in my professional life which has been hampered over the years on numerous occasions by my illness.