In my lifetime, I have had a variety of diagnoses. They are, in chronological order- chemical depression, bipolar disorder Type 1, Borderline Personality Disorder (misdiagnosis), Multiple Personality Disorder (now known as Dissociative Identity Disorder), and my current diagnosis, Schizoaffective Disorder: Bipolar Type. Schizoaffective Disorder: Bipolar type, indicates that I have Bipolar Disorder with mania and some symptoms of Schizophrenia. Recently, we have been considering the possibility that I have a dissociative disorder in addition to my Schizoaffective Disorder.
My parents described me as a happy, normal child who suddenly developed problems in the sixth grade. It is my recollection that I had my first psychotic episode on the last day of Elementary School. I was contemplating the fact that all my school friends were going to the local public school and I was going to a prestigious private school where I knew no one. As I sat on the sidewalk watching my friends play, I had my first depressive episode with dissociative and psychotic features. I attribute the onset of my illness to that date- although it’s more likely it began earlier.
It feels like that first psychotic episode was like a form of birth. In my mind, I became self-aware at that moment. It felt like almost all my early childhood memories had been wiped away. There was a profound sense of mystery and loss associated with this amnesia. However, a recent inventory of early memories uncovered around 22 memories from pre-school till the last day of Elementary School.
I came from a liberal household. My parents were interested in art and I grew up around adult artists with diverse backgrounds. My new school was segregated. Most of the student body had been there since first grade and formed an affluent close-knit social group I did not fit into. There were also class issues- I came from a middle-class family and most of the students came from upper-class families. Most of the teachers and students were racist, homophobic, and anti-semitic. I looked Jewish, so, even though I was a Christian I had to deal with antisemitism.
I was subject to bipolar moods and dissociative symptoms from the last day of Elementary School forward. When I was up some people (including my family) told me I was charming, witty, funny, and entertaining. Other people, perhaps sensing I was driven by a pathological mood or that I was unreliable or untrustworthy, let me know that they didn’t trust or like me. When I was depressed I felt terribly alone and hopeless. I dealt with negative thoughts and feelings by keeping to myself.
Studying was easy when I was up. Studying, particularly memorization, was difficult when I was depressed. In addition, I experienced chronic anxiety that was driven by a feeling that I was not safe. Anxiety also scrambled my thinking- making learning languages, doing geometric proofs, studying mathematics and the sciences a struggle.
Although I lived in the city, I lived in an affluent suburb that had an abandoned orchard, undeveloped forested areas, a small stream, a two-lane bridge across the stream, and a deteriorating abandoned motel taken over by vegetation. There was also a private pond about a mile from my house. I spent much of my free time exploring on my bicycle and hiking. I caught snakes, turtles, lizards, frogs, toads, mice, and the occasional mole. I also sneaked to the pond and fished. Sometimes, when I caught fish, I would bring them home for lunch or dinner.
I had an urge to create that I expressed by creating “forts”, “caves”, and “bridges” in undeveloped areas. I also tried to build models that included monsters, aircraft, military vehicles, cars, and Ed Roth Rat Fink models. My fine motor skills were poor, so building models was frustrating and I never quite got them right.
I had two more psychotic episodes in Middle School. When I described them to my parents, their response was that I had a powerful imagination.
As a junior in High School, I took a course in poetry. I wrote because I found relief in self-expression, was searching for some inner meaning and sought a sense of personal value by producing something other people valued. My writing method was to write down random thoughts and work from there.
The content and mood of my poetry were shaped by bipolar moods and periods of euthymia between bipolar moods. Euthymia refers to a stable and normal mood. For me, euthymia includes a sense of well-being and a normal connection to reality.
Around 1972, a fellow college student introduced me to Surrealism. I was particularly interested in the work of Andre Breton. Based on the information I had on hand, I considered myself a Surrealist.
Hypomania, the early stages of Mania, and Melancholy facilitated a connection to a dream-like state that I believed was the foundation of my creativity. Unusual associations of words, imagery, and metaphors came easily in this dream-like state. I thought that my surreal writing would provide clues to unraveling the personal sense of mystery and loss that plagued me from the onset of my illness on the last day of Elementary School.
A couple of extramarital affairs in the mid-1980s, driven in part by mania, ended with disastrous results. I stopped writing Surrealistic poems driven by emotional and perceptual changes related to hypomania and the early stages of mania. When I resumed writing, I abandoned Surrealism and wrote lyrical (confessional) poems during periods of euthymia.
Between 1990-92, I underwent therapy in an unsuccessful attempt to recover my lost childhood memories. I created a 3″ ring binder of handwriting in different styles and crude drawings of demons and sexual Images. I consider that work to be art brut – art created by a mentally ill person lacking in training and not intended for exhibition.
The conclusion of the therapy for past trauma was that I had suffered some traumatic event and that I would never recover memories that could be verified. At the time, trauma due to sexual abuse and Multiple Personality Disorder were popular diagnoses. So, they were part of my final diagnosis. I suspected the amnesia was related to my mental illness.
Between 1992-2006, medications that had worked for years failed me. I was also undermedicated, over-medicated, and inappropriately medicated. My wife of 18 years divorced me in 1996 and, in 1998, I had an intense psychotic episode that included homicidal and suicidal urges. I had never had homicidal urges before. I described it to my psychiatrist and he told me I could voluntarily hospitalize myself in a locked psych ward or he would hospitalize me involuntarily. I chose to voluntarily hospitalize myself.
In the locked ward, I identified with the psych techs. Like them, I wrote notes about the events that occurred on the ward. I had had considerable training in, and experience with, observing behaviors and keeping notes.
For example, I worked with toddlers for almost seven years. I kept notes about, and photographs of, their behavior and developmental progression on a daily basis for parents. Shortly thereafter, I was one of the first men in The United States to take Montessori Infant/Toddler training sponsored by AMS (American Montessori Society). A fundamental part of the Montessori Method is observing children’s behavior in order to guide him/her to work that would interest and meet the needs of the child.
In addition, I took a year and a half of college-level training to become an intake worker in the public health system. The training was for high functioning disabled people with either a diagnosis of Bipolar Disorder or Schizophrenia. We were trained to identify the symptoms of mental illness and evaluate their severity. We were also trained in counseling. The end of the course was to evaluate a stranger’s condition, record my recommendations and indicate if their condition met the criteria for intake into the public healthcare system.
My subject reflected my interest in people who live on the outskirts of normal society. He/She was a pre-op transsexual who was a contender for the Miss Gay USA pageant.
According to my psychiatrist and an old therapist, the psychiatrists supervising my psychiatric hospitalization gave up trying to solve my issues. Instead, they prescribed a tranquilizer that eliminated my anxiety and gave me a wonderful sense of well-being so that I could be discharged.
A normal stay on the ward was three days. I was there for almost two weeks. After being released, I read and saw Girl Interrupted. I was disappointed by the lack of detail about personal symptoms. It seemed to me that, I had 10-11 interesting vignettes of my experiences during my hospitalization. My therapist, an avid reader, suggested that the stories could be interesting to others- including psychology students, people who had been hospitalized, people interested in mental illness, and healthcare professionals.
I was awarded Social Security Disability Insurance in 2000.
Between 2006 and 2013, I was prescribed four effective medications and I recovered more of my sense of self. As I gradually improved, I gradually gave up Surrealism in my writing and focused on reality as depicted in Confessional poetry. Confessional poetry “has been described as poetry “of the personal,” focusing on extreme moments of individual experience, the psyche, and personal trauma, including previously taboo matter such as mental illness, sexuality, and suicide, often set in relation to broader social themes. It is sometimes also classified as Postmodernism.” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Confessional_poetry).
To be continued
John Eugene Panic 4/03/22