|David Bates 27/12/1951|
I was a sickly child with infantile asthma and eczema, hypersensitive it seems, shy timid, one of C.G. Jung's introverted types, later to be known by the great John Bowlby as an avoidant attachment type. These days as labels, lists and categories grow, it seems reactive attachment disorder might better fit the bill, aren't we all in form of disguise? At age 12 I smoked a couple of Dunhill cigarettes and descended back into asthma via a long period of yellow jaundice. This illness took out my first three months of high school and I took three years to climb up to second in the first grade class.
As I now understand, chaos, chance and circumstance plays a pivotal role in all our lives, thats just the way it is, and at age 14 we left Manchester to begin a new life down south in Eastbourne. My dad was an ambitious, married to the company, doing the best he can man at the time, and my mother bereft of her own family for most of her life urged him away from his own mothers clan. I struggled through that last year of high school, going backwards academically and falling into a motor vehicle mechanic apprenticeship when my dad took me to the labor exchange and I said 'ok' to first card in the mans hand.
I left the job after six months when the old sensitivity thing manifested dermatitis this time, an electrician apprenticeship was offered by the boss mans golfing friend. This took me on to 18 years of age, still only in my second year of apprenticeship when chaos, chance and circumstance intervened again. Imagine it? Eighteen years old in Eastbourne, just starting to find some friendships and flirt with the girls, on those three piece suit Saturday night dances. It was 1969 for God's sake, the music of Mowtown was the groove, the Isley Brothers, The Four Tops, Diana Ross and whole host of others. Remember "This Old Heart of Mine?" "Maybe its my mistake to show this love I feel inside" Yeah! Right tell me about it, especially when it leads a lonely boy on towards psychosis. In January 1970 I emigrated to Australia with my Father, Mother and my only brother.
So what leads anyone into the waking dream or nightmare of mania - psychosis? As we are coming to better understand through the outstanding work of people like Allan N Schore and Stephen Porges, early life experience is crucial in creating a balanced brain/nervous system, one socially well adapted to the affective state we label, being human. I use this term label to indicate that all our thoughts and words are just that, labels, symbols of a deeper reality that is thoughtless and wordless. Yet in average human interactions the deeper reality goes unnoticed, safely immersed in the yellow submarine of a conscious state, social affective.
Readers of this blog will identify the yellow submarine as metaphor for Porges third branch of the autonomic nervous system, the "social engagement system," successfully brought online during very early mutual gaze transactions with a loving mother. Yet what happens if this foundation of "being human" is maladaptive due to chaos, chance and circumstance? What happens when our experience of life leads not to well balanced body/brain/mind, but a disjointed body/brain connection. What happens when you can't really feel your feet because dissociation has trapped you in your head, too much? Reading the world of PHD'd academia for the past four years without much of a break, leads me to wonder just how many conservative intellectuals can really dance? Can really connect their brain to their heart, body and soul?
Two years before James was born I had my first episode of psychosis which I describe in the article living with bipolar. Through twenty years of marriage my ex wife and I raised four boys, bought and sold houses and created a very successful business for a while. Through those years I tried many drug therapies to manage my condition, often driving through the night with my four young boys, on frequent long trips when so-called medical help had me drugged up to the eyeballs. You may be able to sense my anger about what may have happened on one of those nights, when not only was I fighting chronic side effects, my daily thoughts of suicide reflected the sheer depth of helplessness I felt, from a care less, immature and lazy medical system that treated me like a child.
I watched James go through the same system you see, the university, the degree, and the education works really well, he got his social status, his rank and he now stands tall above me. Well, if we view the social system through the eyes of capitalism maybe. I tried for over twenty years to see the logical side of an object oriented view to this reality, yet always got pulled back into the imaginative day dreams of my childhood, where an unwanted child had to emotionally nurtured himself. I still had not found what I needed to adapt and balance my over sensitive nervous system. I had not found the self love that heals old wounds and allows a joyful approach to this life. As an adult I'd lost my natural bearings, I'd lost my trust in a deeper reality beyond every day concerns, and when I'd tried to insert myself into the grown ups world, the rational objective world.
Well! I'd lost my logical song:
Its completely true that when viewed with objective eyes my life has followed a classic bipolar pattern from 1980 to 2010, a trail of broken relationships, bankruptcy, shattered dreams and the classic isolation of an outcast, and aging man. In 2003 I had started my journey towards self discovery and what I needed to be with a coarse in telephone counseling at Lifeline Sydney, I needed to invest in self esteem. This road led me on to a degree in counseling with the Jansen Newmen Institute, also in Sydney, where I shifted from the reserved and constricted man that had managed two decades of labeled mental illness, towards the possibility that perhaps my mania's were about thwarted emotional growth, maybe?
In 2006 for example, I'd completed a 12,000 word essay on "differentiation of self," part of the self growth experience therapists need to identify emotionally with others and guided by Family Therapy approaches pioneered by Murray Bowen. I'd researched the emotional life of three generations of my family of origin, obviously keen to see if I could detect any signs of mental illness. I could not yet did uncover the kind of "family secrets" Bowen predicts will lead to emotional disorder over many generations. You can read that 2006 differentiation of self assignment entitled "Don't talk about Emotional Things; You might Upset Someone" its an early attempt to explain myself to myself using awareness beyond everyday reasoning.
In 2007 this teasing, tempting feeling led me into another major psychosis after leaving a bright young lover and moving in with James, my precious first born son. Don't get me wrong with an inference of tone here, James is wonderful and at his age at least a good a man as I was, given that he has not had to deal with psychosis, or help raise four children. As the inevitable manic phase began, which it always did for me with a major loss, James had to cope with his father alone, and he did his best to walk beside me through the emotional storm. I wanted to go through this episode unassisted, after coping with mood swings by using self medication for many years before this.
I did my best to document this episode, by now well versed in the daily journal writing of so many therapy approaches. I'd just recently started a Gestalt Therapy coarse prompted by disappointment in my ability to go there with clients who needed to become emotional during one on one therapy sessions. The break with my latest lover had triggered my issues around separation, which had always challenged me to re-draw my emotional boundaries, just as it always has in classic early adulthood onset bipolar, in those well documented cases prior to our drug therapy era.
With the rise in post WWII higher education, new technologies for laboratory science, and with psychiatry's yearning to have a proven scientific method. Decades of careful observation by mature and gifted psychotherapists went out the window in favor of the young lab rat generation and economies of scale. Drug therapy promised a new mental health paradigm, yet when we look at human history we see a plethora of beliefs and faiths that seemed like a perfectly good idea at the time, only to founder on the rock of experience. It seemed like a good idea at the time has been my own experience of finding individual maturity. My differentiation of a self, my self actualization or individuation, or which ever word symbolizes this unseen, unknowable internal processes for people. As we struggle to get an impossible mindful sense of our internal thermodynamic process, only recently uncovered by science.
As the psychosis of 2007 began its unfolding process I had just finished reading Robert W. Firestone's "The Fantasy Bond," which was the best and least romantic observation on the human condition I'd read up to that point. As James had remarked " the word love didn't really enter the civilized western world before the renascence period." Firestone suggests its best understood as a defense against expressing our needy vulnerability, our deep need of each other without giving our patner power over us. "The one who loves least holds all the aces," to put it in a gamblers parlance, and why take the risk of admitting real needs when the illusion of giving and not needing seems to reduce the possibility of emotional pain.
Loss and Separation?
The family systems therapy approach which had loosened my rigid constriction of my internal emotions, which I'd unconsciously used to survive two decades of mental illness shame, now took me into the deep ravines of my family emotional system, with its generations of loss accumulating in the experience of its most sensitive members. As an unwanted child I had been the emotional glue that held my parents immature emotionality together through by focusing their fears onto a sickly child, the "identified patient." Monica McGoldrick is famous for her gift in identifying the emotional systems which guide generations of family members, and her term "Loss is the Pivotal Human Experience" rang through my rising experience of mania in 2007.
The greatest loss in my life has been the gulf of separation between my mother and I, and the most unconsciously painful loss of all was the sanctioned murder of my first born child, the daughter who's abortion I condoned prior to my first manic episode in 1980, a birth that may well have healed great pains in both my wife's and my family. As always during my loneliest periods of loss, music has been the great comforter and driving inspiration, and always a particular music album, standing like a signpost in my journey. In 2007 it was Snow Patrol and there song "You Could be Happy" held a deep unconscious resonance for me. Is My Lost Daughter - Out There Somewhere?
Using the pulsing melodies of Snow Patrol's album I spent a month riding waves of upwelling emotion, of the kind day to day consciousness seeks to suppress, in our need to deal with the immediate demands of living. As many psychotics will testify, strange things happen when your going round the twist. Normal experience shy's away from real awareness of these things, fearful of things that might go bump in the night. One of the many strange twists of the tail that occurred during this period was driving towards a friends home and finding myself approaching the Bahai Temple north of Sydney, with no conscious recollection of how I'd arrived there.
In a highly emotional state I walked slowly into this fabulous temple not sure of why or what I should do here and I found myself kneeling at the lectern praying for forgiveness from my lost daughter. It was a Wednesday afternoon and as James can testify this incident really blasted my manic emotionality into psychotic orbit, with my thoughts once more turning towards my childhood hero's in the New Testament Bible stories.
Prior to this event I'd been hanging on to my sense of earth sky and sea, and demanding proof of a cosmic voice in my head (don't jump to conclusions here, it was never someone else's voice, always my own and coming from my previous life experiences.) Two hours after this I was back in the city talking to a devout Catholic, in the Sisters of Mercy book shop, wanting to buy a copy of the Catholic Bible. Again a serendipity moment of loss seemed to find resonance and coincidence when out of the blue a Russian woman came into the shop and interrupted my conversation to say, "there are only three pure female names in Russia, Olga, Sveta and Luba, then she left.
Olga is the name of the Russian love of my life, my soul mate and a lover I still missed three years after our separation. Of coarse the rational response to this story is, "it did not happen that way in reality, you were delusional." Yet this was another of many manic psychosis I'd been through and I was asking the universe to show me proof of this powerful experience as a spiritual awakening. There were many other such serendipitous moments during this particular psychosis that I will detail in another article.
Suffice to say I looked for support during and towards the end of this month long trail only to end up being sectioned for the first time in my life when an immature boy with pre-tensions of being a man decided I needed locking up for my own good. This came despite the fact there were no signs of self harm or violence towards others, only other peoples lucid imagination about what I might do. The clipboard list that greets the mentally anguished when they enter a hospital seeking support from another human being beggars belief, with its labeled objectification of the human experience. Seeking one to one emotional contact with a personally accountable other gives way to more wounds and raging frustration as the health care "professional" falls back on rules and regulations, and insult of "statistics." We feel like the Elephant Man, with his desperate "I'm not an animal!" We are not widgets, we are not statistics, we need care not over reactive crisis management.
Leaving Hospital after six days with an apology and an expressed hope by an embarrassed young man that I would not be back again, I determined there was no support in the field that Gestalt Therapy suggests, and I needed to support myself. This resolve took me into an intense study of the neurobiology of my brain and nervous system after another chance encounter saw me stumble across Allan N Schore's "Affect Dysregulation & the Disorders of the Self." Over the next three years my journey towards self actualization gathered pace, and led me on through another psychosis and the end of my cyclic manic depressions to here where I continue my unfolding journey in the writing of this blog.
|January 14th 2010 & I begin the next phase of my life here in Thailand|
In January 2010 I packed my life into a 32kg suitcase and came to Thailand, hoping the last of my life savings would allow me the time needed to read and to write. Fanciful notions of taking six months to write a book energized the exodus from my life in Sydney Australia, where I'd spent 40 years of my adult life. It was and still is a heart felt journey, a real need to go beyond concerns about certainty of future outcomes. It did not take long though to discover I had no real understanding of the reality of "affect" and the part it plays in my bipolar affective disorder. Two months of pretending to write what I thought I knew, found me in need of sitting back down to read and re-read every book I'd brought with me and throwing myself into even more research.
I wrote five chapters of "When Sasiprapha Smiles" before a relationship split triggered a six week sojourn into what most will consider symptoms of "mental illness" during Sept/Oct last year. Most people will think that a desire to experience a psychosis unaided, is the epitome of madness and proof positive that my bipolar diagnosis is indeed a mental illness. Yet all our present moments come with a history and mine had been leading me towards this period in my life for over a decade. During that time my continuing drive for increased self awareness held a deep desire to know my bipolar condition inside out and regain the respect of my four sons.
Given the concerted effort to understand my own neurobiology prior to last September, perhaps my willingness to experience unrestrained psychosis becomes understandable, in that I was safe and free of commitments to others or a working life. My deep desire has been to write about what mental illness really is and not just describe the behaviors, the symptoms and the crazy titillating antics that already consume the bipolar biography field.
My experience last Sept/Oct did not disappoint in terms of outlandish behavior even if tame by some standards, although certainly embarrassing enough by any normal social benchmark. The fact that my desired outcome has happened is obviously debatable, with easy answers to my lack of depressive rebound and current health attributable to disease remission. Yet as I look at my graying temples in the photo above, I'm reminded of a spontaneous vision I had when nine years old. I was walking down the stairs in junior school when an image of myself as a silver haired 70 year old filled my mind, accompanied by a strong sense of peace of mind.
As a lifelong outsider, an unwanted child, I have had a few unusual experiences like that one, two out of body experiences and the mystery of why I did not die in April 1982. I was trapped under an elevator that should have ripped my leg off, leaving me to bleed to death. Why it stopped for no apparent reason remains a mystery, as too, why it remained stationary for an hour before the electric power was turned off. Suffice to say that when the machine was switched back on two days later, it simply resumed the downward motion that should have killed me. Life can be a mystery at times, particularly when such unusual events happen in our lives and we are left to ponder the meaning of destiny.
Perhaps my destiny involves writing a particular book about mental illness and perhaps not, only time will tell? At this point in time I am processing the affect on my internal make up of the last 12 months and all I have learned and experienced. There have been periods of quickening as my cup of acquired knowledge has spilled over into physical changes in postural being, my muscular tensions, my spontaneous depth of breathe, my freedom from lifelong fear based motivations. Breakthrough epiphany moments have given me a whole new perspective on human relationships, and a control over my own emotional energies that I had only dreamed possible.
Its now early July 2011 and I feel like a certain process is near complete, with a natural balance of healthy autonomic nervous system function restored. Excursions into the online support groups for those suffering similar dysfunction have proven just how difficult a task it will be to convince others of my experience and recovery. Perhaps if I returned to Australia or went to Britain or North America I could convince people through first hand interaction. In person I could explain in ten minutes what it takes me hours to write, and with the immediacy of all those subtle signals and affects that proximity brings.
For the moment if anyone reads this far into a long bio, I can only suggest the resist and persist advice I give myself. Resist the instinctual impulse to for decisive judgement now, and persist in a slow process of reading. Allow time for your brilliant organic computer of body/brain/mind to do its integration work of self growth and maturation. Perhaps I'll make a video soon to aid my readers with some semblance of proximity?