The Bipolar II* Symphony and Death by Lymphoma (updated)

I wish I could be more surprised at my behaviour last evening which began, and should have ended, with Mozart’s second and third violin concertos and his 39th Symphony, thanks to the Toronto Symphony Orchestra and guest soloist Isabelle van Keulen.

This review from yesterday’s paper, describing the programme’s opening night Wednesday, gives a sense of what I experienced, only to sabotage it somewhat a little later. (My only plans for writing had been to jot down a few more memories of my friend Jim’s death, and I will get to that, related to the imminent death by AIDS/Hodgkin’s of Pissed Off Housewife‘s friend Dean.

It could have been such a fine conclusion to the day, had I not taken a soul-stripping detour on the way home from the concert, the details of which are not worthy of description. The day had begun with a very successful visit, in the afternoon, to the social worker I have been seeing at the Mount Sinai Hospital Department of Psychiatry’s Clinic for HIV-related Concerns.

I will describe success, in this case, as being a review of insights gained – and projected crises not developing – over the Christmas holidays, followed by the traumatization and strong empathy I have been feeling, and writing about, in relation to the media whirlwind surrounding the Missouri boys’ abductions and recovery.

I was attempting to put into words the conflicting emotions I had been experiencing beneath the umbrella of present-day elation over the reuniting of these boys with their families. While none of the abuse I experienced was in the context of kidnapping the exploitive, abusive sexual experiences I endured – when sexuality should have been all about playful curiosity and discovery – held me captive by secrecy, hiding, downright lying to my parents about my whereabouts, and by manipulating me in such a way that I would return looking for more. Oh, and did I mention shame which set me up for a life of acting out?

Self-examination, psychobloggingly, is inherently self-centered (hence the common prefix), even with the help of a professional. But this is my blog to do with as I wish – within Terms of Service Agreement guidelines of course – and most blogs are, at the very least, subjective.

Without going over details, documented well in previous entries, one of the major contributors to my neuroses and adolescent trauma was my first sexual perpetrator’s outrage when I didn’t share, to put it delicately, what my body was experiencing for the first time. I was so freaked out by these strange physical sensations that it seemed absolutely natural to turn away. Cue the perp’s rage, followed by my shame. Just friggin’ lovely, and something beautiful and positive to build upon.

Is it any wonder that I have ‘intimacy issues’!

So it was an hour chock full of self-revelation, feedback and insights with this amazingly empathetic, supportive social worker yesterday. After waves of emotions I left feeling a great deal of the familiar catharsis such sessions have always provided in one way or another. (See “Update” below.)

Afterwards I walked home where, in the midst of freshening up for the evening concert, I received the message from Pissed Off Housewife – in which she hoped I would be posting again soon – so here I am.

Something I forgot to include in my account of Jim’s death was the tension, among those of us in Jim’s circle, concerning his HIV status and the fact that he was dying of lymphoma. By the way, just as I was plugging in the html code for this link, I decided to take further steps to conceal the identities of Jim’s friends and family. There is enough identifying information for anyone involved to recognize themselves but the whole world does not need to know them as the entire episode was dealt with in so many different ways by each of us. Such is grief.

Okay, so back to the HIV-lymphoma tension.

My bias leans this way: when one is HIV-positive, whether ‘full-blown AIDS’ is yet diagnosed or not, every illness is HIV-related. One may not directly cause the other but HIV, I believe, has an enormous impact on accompanying illnesses.

It’s been thirteen years so my memory is fuzzy and the out-of-body-like grief I was experiencing has not made the recall of events, on a cellular level, particularly easy.

Long story short: on one side was the Jim has AIDS camp, of which I was probably Activities Coordinator, along with – but not limited to – one of his sisters with whom I have remained close. In the other, “it’s lymphoma – that’s cancer – camp” were Jim’s partner, his parents and the other ‘tsk’ sister.

Jim’s death notice, in which quite a variety of his chosen charities were listed, was seen by the ‘cancer’ camp as a sufficient wink and a nod to AIDS. Not satisfied, Sister-friend and I, much to the annoyance of the others, put a notice in the “Proud Lives” section of one of the local gay newspapers. “Proud Lives” was begun as AIDS deaths started to mount in Toronto in the 1980s and was a way for the community to announce deaths of these young (mostly) guys (again, mostly). What’s more, Sis and I paid to have Jim’s name engraved on Toronto’s permanent AIDS Memorial. Of course this doubly upset the cancer camp.

All of which is to remind myself of the stigma that has always surrounded HIV/AIDS – and it continues to this day. Also, while it now kills most acutely in “less-developed” countries where the availability of medications is still spotty, the longterm effects of living with HIV and AIDS, as well as AIDS-defining illnesses themselves, continue to kill here.

As far as I am concerned I cannot be too alarmist about AIDS here, if only to counter-balance the utter apathy and deplorable government inaction to combat it.

* “more than plain depression, but not delusional or psychotic” (


Something that got lost in the telling…I described Mom, to the counselor, as one of my best friends these days which makes my not telling her what’s been going on lately, i.e. all this childhood stuff, seem like I’m keeping secrets. I am, of course, but the context is much different now.

When the sexual abuse began, in the early 1970s, I was about 12 years old. That would make Mom in her early forties. It is impossible to scold myself for being secretive now, protecting a 76-year old woman in the process, and so the only way I can cool off my guilt a little is to realize that, knowing what I know now of the inner strength of Mom and Dad, I would have had very strong advocates had the abuse been reported. I love Mom as a 76-year old no less and, therefore, want to protect her from knowing about something a mother can no longer do anything about.


One thought on “The Bipolar II* Symphony and Death by Lymphoma (updated)

  1. I understand not telling your mother.

    When you’re past the point of her being able to help you it seems cruel and narcissistic to tell everything.

    We all reach an age when we learn to be our own parents. Congratulations on a very important moment.

    I also understand the cancer v. HIV thing well. I find the cancer aspect terrifying because my father has Leukemia (remission! Hooray!) and my mother in law was just given a 50-50 chance of survival with her newly diagnosed and very aggressive lymphoma.

    For my sanity I need to believe that HIV killed Dean. I may be wrong and it may have been the cancer but we all twist things in our brains so we can sleep at night.

    This is my coping skill. It may not fly with a shrink but I’m the one who’s gotta make it through the day.


    Thank you for your strength and candor.

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