I was aware of the existence of categories and tags at the beginning. And I initially created a lot of categories. But I had a nagging suspicion that I was not implementing categories in the best way. Also, I found myself totally ignoring tags. The following two articles allowed me to understand the difference between categories and tags. With the knowledge that I gleaned, I have already created some better-named categories and applied these selectively to all of my posts. Now I am positioned to do similarly with tags.
I am still getting my head around blogging. I have realised that it is actually quite difficult to relate an entire story via individual posts (or instalments) while maintaining a logical sequence. I have noticed that, in practice, my story as a written thing is less of a line and more like the branches of a tree. So, it may be best to treat each post as a self-contained essay or ‘mini-story.’ This will give me the freedom to change the topic from one post to the next, and eliminate worry about ‘gaps’ in my story or ‘leaving things out.’ This blog, then, might end up being a collection of mini-experiences and short theses. Above all, I should allow the blog to be a growing text with an evolving direction.
Events of Thursday, 15 January 1998.
Today is the day when ‘I lose it’ on the job and my employer really sits up and takes notice. What I tried to keep to myself becomes very public.
My trip to work.
I am a computer technician. I arrive at work, a ticketing firm in Southbank, in the usual way, after: walking to the bus stop in Bundoora; facing towards the traffic to look for the bus, while being uncomfortable that people in their vehicles can read my discomfort; riding the bus to Keon Park train station; prior to alighting the bus, facing the difficulty of what to say to the bus driver and how to say it—and how to make it sound natural; as a train passes, trying not to think about throwing myself under it and cutting myself in two from anxiety and depression; standing on the platform and trying to look normal (or minimally pacing the platform and trying to look normal); after its doors open, entering the carriage and looking for a seat; hoping not to have to sit knee-to-knee opposite a beautiful young woman; (just my luck) but pretending hard that it does not bother me; diving into a religious book and pretending that I do not notice anyone else—to the point that I clearly do notice everyone else; looking at absolutely no-one; periodically making natural looks, at the station-name signs; repeating, repeating, suffering all the while; alighting at Flinders Street station and loving to be anonymous in the crowd for a short time; trying to walk as efficiently and casually as possible across the Yarra River’s ‘arc’ bridge; stressing and trying to work out which of the two elevators will have the fewest people, or if I may be fortunate and get an empty one; stressing and trying to work out what to do and where to look if my elevator takes on a passenger or passengers; stressing and trying to plan what to do and say if I encounter a work colleague on my way to my work-station; throwing out a few natural-forced greetings of ‘Good morning,’ especially to the most important one, the manager Myles; coming to my shared work-station in my small, shared office; waking to the dawn of despair that it is another day under nerdy, aloof, green-clothes-wearing sysadmin Paul, . . . technician and disgruntled-Turk Osman, . . . and my own dedicated bully, technician and rev-head Ted.
This is something that has waited a long time to be done. Twenty-three years is a long time for it to wait, but recently the task has seemed more urgent. I am going to run through honestly what I remember doing in the seven days from Thursday, 15 January 1998. That is my episode at its greatest impact—on me and others—and it comprises my ‘brick wall.’ Keep in mind that I had experienced a build-up of years. (Perhaps in another series I will treat in a similar way of incidents from that developmental or prodromal period.) I am also going to include what I remember thinking at the time, i.e., what my beliefs were. The result, I hope, will be an uncommon and fascinating first-person account of a very severe—in fact, a catastrophic—example of mental illness. The whole episode of several days will be reduced to a sequence of vignettes, not unlike the storyboarding of a motion picture.
But before I begin, can someone who is completely ‘off his head’ (i.e., psychotic) and causing high-grade mayhem be aware of what he is doing, let alone remember his actions and concurrent thoughts? Some have doubted these abilities to my face, which I quietly found insulting. Sick as I was, all of my senses remained active. Once, soon after the episode, I referred to one of my crazed antics in conversation with a witness—a family member I think—who inquired, ‘Who told you about that?’ To which I answered, ‘No-one told me; I remember doing it.’ Indeed, the bulk of my episode is still in my memory and has been waiting patiently to be expressed. Therefore, this first-person account will be the rare and detailed snapshot of a state of mind that drove me to act in a wide variety of disordered ways in January 1998.
In my tragic but precious and undeniable experience of life, I see that the words ‘masturbation’ and ‘benefit’ do not belong close together. In this short essay I will state how, by masturbation, remorse has followed pleasure, my mental health has been destroyed, and my life left in ruins. Lastly I will further explore how this tragedy happened, and exhort young people and their custodians to avoid my errors.
Remorse follows pleasure: I come from Catholic parents. I had received all of the sacraments and knew quite well what is right and wrong. I had a keen sense that masturbation is beyond taboo—that it is bad and harmful. Through listening to the radio, I happened upon a sex-advice programme, and eventually I gave in to its encouragements to masturbate. My remorse was immediate and profound; yet it was game over, as I was hooked from the word go. Indeed, the habit is still with me, despite all of my efforts to free myself from it.
Mental health destroyed: Confession and absolution always brought some relief of my remorse but, since I was already an addict, I would repeat the masturbatory action. In doing so, two things happened: the masturbation became entrenched (i.e., I became more addicted to it), and the pain of remorse was renewed each time that I did it. Thus emerged what I call a ‘binary pattern’ of anxiety-and-depression-of-remorse and relief-of-absolution. Over and over it would go on this way. It was not long—a matter of weeks or months—before depression had become a significant problem. I should have had treatment then, as a fifteen-year-old, but I was in denial about mental illness and would not accept medication. So, you see a second layer of trauma here: anxiety and depression keyed in with cyclic remorse. First my moral health was compromised, and now was my mental health compromised. There would be a third layer added within a year or two: psychosis. I was sixteen or seventeen when I picked up a brochure about schizophrenia. I recognised myself in the brochure’s description and I was absolutely terrified; so terrified that I held my worsening symptoms under cover until I was twenty. At that time I had an acute psychotic episode whose main feature was several police officers together having a great deal of difficulty in physically restraining me. After that I spent six weeks in the psychiatric hospital.
Life in ruins: This section will be a lot shorter. My troubles started through masturbation but this original problem led to others (the mental illnesses, as I have demonstrated) which compounded over the years. Now I live with the assorted effects of remorse, anxiety, depression and psychosis. Concretely, that means that I do not have a career nor even a job and, because I cannot look after them, I have no wife and children. What potential has been lost!
Avoiding my errors: Young people should be encouraged to stay away from pornography of any kind or form, because it is the thin end of the wedge; and to avoid curiosity in sexual matters (beyond developmental and practical questions) because, with curiosity, you give it your hand and it takes your arm. Those in a position to help young people include their parents and older siblings. Teachers are morally obliged to warn young people about the dangers that exist and how to avoid them, rather than allow any student to pass through more ignorant than before. Only few of my teachers had any care for me, and the few who cared did not care enough. Priests should engage their God-given and practically limitless authority in order to influence young people for the good. There is so much potential in priests. I would hang off every word of priests when I was growing up. I can forgive my father for not caring about me—because he did not understand me and was not aware of my issues. But beyond Dad, there was no senior male with whom I felt at ease and whom I felt comfortable talking to. So, being without a mentor at an important time, I fell through the cracks.
To sum up, experiences of mental illness are unique. Mental illness can have different causes and different triggers, and I have told you mine. I believe that I have the right to be Storyteller of my condition, just as others have the privilege of listening to my storytelling. I have learned that sex is a powerful force and not simply a plaything. You can do good as well as bad things with it. It is not a neutral commodity or something without a value. What I have sought to do here is to show how I got off to a bad start with sex and how things got a lot worse. The day that I have spent writing this piece has been very good for me: I had been wanting to document the sad story for years and years. However, I did not write it only for myself, but to help others; to help them avoid the mire that I have put my own self into. If my story is uncommon or novel, still it may resound with some who are in charge of young people, and perhaps inspire a number of those young people; with the net benefit that a few of them be preserved from an experience that I have barely survived.
‘Sobriety is not achievable.’ I let that statement sit with me for a few moments. (As I said some time ago: in order to critique something, you have to let it change you first.) Did I really believe what I was saying, that sobriety is not achievable? Yes, for a few moments. You see, all along I had firmly believed the converse: that sobriety is achievable. That was my whole framework. What made me change my mind (for a few moments)? Things were not working, again. So, in the frustration and desperation of an addict, I was trying to flip the statement on its head and get the opposite angle on it. But the notion that sobriety is not achievable makes little sense! It is so devoid of hope! The reason for my addicted behaviour must lie in something else. If sobriety is indeed achievable, then the problem might in fact lie with me—since I have not achieved sobriety—or it might not lie with me at all. To find out for sure, I should look around at alternative causes for my repeated failures. To express this a different way: given that I believe that sobriety is achievable, I have to keep looking for the fault line.
Assuming now that sobriety is achievable, but that I was doing something wrong in my pursuit of it, I immediately see two phenomena rise up: divine grace is the first. Immediately and with certainty I assess that my problem does not lie with divine grace, either in its quality or in its quantity. This is because divine grace is divine, i.e., of God; He is perfect and so is everything that comes from Him. Likewise, the gifts of his grace are without limit. What I am coming to here is that, as an addicted person, I have plenty of divine help—even more than I need.
What else could I be doing wrong in my pursuit of sobriety? What is it that can and should go hand-in-hand with divine grace, and is perhaps my missing link? If everything is well on God’s side, then something must be ill on mine. I suspect that my human effort was lacking. Specifically, I think that I had been expecting God to do most or all of the heavy lifting, and myself to do little or none of it. The answer seems to be that I need to take a more active and a stronger rôle in my quest for sobriety: stepping up from the passive and weak part that I played before. I need to put in my limited human-effort to be combined with and multiplied by God’s limitless divine-grace, in order to reap a harvest of sobriety.
It can hurt. I feel it still. But the pain of being diagnosed or ‘labelled’ or ‘branded’ or ‘marked’ has faded with the passing of time. This has not occurred by default but mainly by my choice and is the result of constant, hard work on myself. It involves a kind of ‘coming out of the closet.’ Having said that, I emphasise that a greater comfort with the diagnosis cannot happen quickly or all of a sudden. The human being is complex and, in certain things, often this organism changes extremely slowly. And such has been the case with me. But there is a great, practical way to accelerate the process of change: it is to challenge yourself. Because I eventually saw my discomfort with the diagnoses of schizophrenia and depression as inconsistent and problematic, I started challenging myself to break down that discomfort. So, the practical way that I found was . . . to tell other people about what I have. I would not have achieved my current level of acceptance only by self-talk. No, I had to externalise and communicate the fact that ‘I have schizophrenia and depression.’ Now (hold your horses), there are ways and ways of doing that; and remember that self-acceptance does not come easily or quickly. I would advise you to work yourself outwards. That is, to start the conversation with your closest friend, and work outwards from there: friends . . . family . . . church community . . . sporting and work colleagues. There is no rush whatsoever: you will need to pace yourself; but you can chip away at your inhibition. Please note that I am not being prescriptive: the process will require some individual discernment and give-and-take and will look different for everyone. Because I have chosen to supercharge the process of outing myself, well . . . here I am, online. I have usually been an all-in kind of person. After you have decided that opening-up about your illness has value, then it is your right foot on the accelerator pedal—which fortunately is very close to the brake pedal! Let me leave you with the following image: if a doctor diagnosed me with something today, I am still me; and I am much the same me as I was yesterday. But what has changed is that I know myself better: an expert in the field has told me about myself. This may be painful, but it can be a ‘wholesome’ pain; because a diagnosis is like a key that opens the door to treatment and getting better.
In the end, I only got help because I was forced to by the severity of my illness. (It ended up affecting not only me and my family, but public life and people in the street.) The main reason that I tried to keep ‘things’ to myself was fear. Now, fear is essentially irrational: there are usually no good reasons for it. But fear was the umbrella that kept my other secret concerns ‘in the shade.’ Those other concerns are interlinked by a common thread of fear, and were: shame, or feeling that I would be judged very poorly if people knew; shyness, in the sense of being reserved and a very ‘private person,’ which inhibited me from opening myself up to strangers, like doctors; self-sufficiency, which is the lie that I had no need for outside help, including medication; a refusal to accept myself, in that I absolutely refused to identify as mentally ill; and culture, in that I was coming from a context in which ‘such things’ were not accepted or openly discussed or known about. Most unfortunately, all of these factors worked together to my detriment and, in the ensuing delay, I got about as sick as you can get. Then it was that I started getting treatment and, fortunately, I complied with it from early on. It was a huge relief finally to admit that I needed this new help, and to lie down the oppressive burdens of absolute fear and total denial. My twofold task had now become a quest for ‘wellness’ in reality, and the slow and gradual ‘closing of the umbrella of fear’ which cast a full shadow on me in the first and second decades of my life.
When should I have gotten help, ideally? Definitely as a fifteen-year-old, but even the year before. The age of fifteen was when I began being very depressed. I really needed medical intervention (and medication) already then. Keep in mind that my brain stewed for another five years before I had the acute psychotic episode. That is far too long to have serious mental illness and be without treatment. When it comes to any illness, early intervention is always better! Next, I discuss the reasons for my delay in getting help.
This will be hard for me to explain, and harder still for most readers to grasp. The greatest ‘pain’ of my mental illness obviously could not have been purely physical . . . but it was not a purely spiritual pain either. It contained a noticeable amount of physical discomfort while being mostly spiritual discomfort. What it felt like was . . . well, imagine the life force that is through your body shifting just a little, but enough to ‘tear’ away partially from your material self. A similar feeling might be that of ‘dying inside,’ but my ‘internal death’ felt a lot stronger than that. I experienced this feeling after I had come to in the psychiatric hospital and I had the urge to go out the door and run away. I kept trying to get outside. Every time that I tried to do this, I was gently but firmly obstructed by the nursing staff. This greatest pain was my realisation that I was not free and could not be free.