When people ask me to “share my story,” my first thought is to question whether I have a story to tell. My second reaction is to think my story is a cliche. Despite these doubts, however, something happened to me to make me different, so it must be significant, and talking about it may help someone else, so here we go.
I was born with a disability I can’t hide, so I was teased, harassed, and then abused in school, in that order. In the years between first grade and eighth, we went from simple name-calling to smearing my locker and its contents with human feces, threatening my life, and constant “on again, off again” friendships, depending on who was around.
My family was not fully aware of what went on at school, despite my efforts to communicate, and in retrospect, I don’t think they wanted to know, because it would remind them they had a child who wasn’t “quite right.” My father was harsh with me, because he didn’t want the world walking all over me. With (by his own admission) excessive spankings, yelling, threatening, and punishments, all he managed to do was break down my ability to stand up for myself–the exact opposite of what he said he wanted.
In fifth grade, I was misdiagnosed with what was called ADD; I don’t know what they call it these days. The doctor put me on Ritalin, which–had I known I actually have bipolar type one–I would have realized is what made me aggressive and manic for several months. During that time, I became combative, resistant to authority (more than I already was), and self-abusive. My teacher that year was also much like my father, and he threatened to expel me several times for things like spilling soap on the carpet.
I was also molested by a family member six times–that I can remember–over the course of about six years. In addition, I was molested twice by strangers during my childhood. As a result, I developed a pre-pubescent interest in sex and pornography, though the interest in the latter was passive until I was fourteen years old. At that point, I went from viewing Victoria’s Secret catalogs to hardcore BDSM in a week.
Just before the start of what would have been my sophomore year, I was expelled for threatening the lives of my classmates, though by the time I was expelled, I had no such plans to harm them, and to this day, I think the officials who expelled me made the right choice, and I am thankful I was caught and forced to see a psychiatrist, despite another wrong diagnosis: atypical depression. For that, I was put on Paxil.
For the entire time I took Paxil, I was suicidal, though I failed to make the connection between my medication and my mental state. I finally quit taking any medication, and though I wasn’t suicidal as often anymore, I was severely damaged and dysfunctional. I could not hold a job, my physical disability and lack of self-care resulted in multiple injuries, and I went months without cleaning myself beyond a rinse in the shower.
Thankfully, the story doesn’t end there. Several years ago, after moving back in under the care of my parents, I met someone who helped me to care for myself, and to discover my true problem. Still, it wasn’t until 2014 that I was willing and able to see a therapist, who recommended I volunteer myself for a stay at the psychiatric hospital. I went, and was diagnosed with PTSD from child abuse and bipolar disorder type one.
I’ve gone through my ups and downs since my stay at the hospital, but none so severe as that roller coaster from Hell I was on for years before. Thanks to my therapist, my mentor, my psychiatrist, and my network of support, I am able to stay on track, even when things don’t go as I’d like them to. My mental illness has cost me dearly, both in the errors I’ve made and in the would-be relationships that people rejected because they stigmatize my illness.
Because of stigmas, I have lost my parents, my (now former) church community–they do not believe mental illness exists–and many people who assume they know what bipolar is because they saw “Silver Linings Playbook.” I believe in offering education and inspiration through entertainment in writing fiction, so I use my stories to explain what mental illness is and isn’t.
Additionally, I use the concept of “Waddle On,” because A) I love penguins and B) penguins are persistent, loyal, and loving–all the things we could learn to be if we stopped to consider the waddlers. Oh, and yeah, I have a limp, so I waddle. However, Winston Churchill once said (and I’m paraphrasing), “Success is going from failure to failure without a loss of enthusiasm.” Well, that’s a waddle–a limp with enthusiasm. So, when life is hard, no matter what, always, always, always Waddle On.