It is a measure of self-compassion on this Bell Let’s Talk Day when I can slow down and remind myself of where I am and where I’ve come from.
I have a long history of, and recovery from, substance abuse – chiefly, but not solely, alcohol – begun shortly after a period of sexual abuse in my adolescence – which followed an elementary school teacher experience with hell.
Since I was diagnosed with HIV/AIDS in 1989 I have been treated for depression, and later bipolar II which is treated with medications and talk therapy.
I have been through a lot but I’m always gratified to hear of other people’s struggles on days like this.
I describe myself, rightly so I think, as a long-term survivor of AIDS and HIV. I offer as evidence my being diagnosed with HIV in 1989 and my long, slow recovery from AIDS-related Cryptosporidiosis in the early 90s – the effects of which shadow me to this day.
Over the years, due to a serious accident and other incidents, I have also been treated for major depression, post-traumatic stress disorder and bipolar II.
My mood has been mostly stable, arching towards a bit of depression after Christmas.
With the approach of Bell Let’s Talk I find myself taking stock of my mental state and wondering, what’s next?
While the good folks at the University of Toronto Faculty of Dentistry work on my smile in a major . long overdue way, I feel optimistic, not having realized how isolating broken teeth have affected me.
But now what?
I sometimes still tie my survival, and my right to pull the plug, to my mother’s life (no pressure, Mom!), having made a commitment to myself to live as long as she does.
But if I get a nice set of teeth after all this oral surgery is over, I won’t want to squander all that with a shortened life – certainly not of my own doing.
I don’t know who you all are, but the blog machine tells me there are 1,013 of you following me here. You can also find me, Kenn Chaplin, on Facebook.
You’ll know that I haven’t been writing much lately so, might I ask, if you have any questions for me?
I am reminded of December 6, 1989 at Montreal’s Ecole Polytechnique.
I am reminded of February 5, 1981 – Toronto’s bath house raids, the catalyst for my coming out.
I am reminded of stolen innocence as a child at the hands of a stranger.
I am reminded of the “flu” I couldn’t shake in May of 1989 when HIV was settling in.
I am reminded of the impact of a taxi cab as it rolled me on to the street on April 30, 2003.
I am reminded of a street preacher verbally assaulting me following the opening ceremonies of World Pride 2014.
I am reminded of AIDS vigils when I was incoherent with grief as I thought of the scores of people I knew who have died.
I am reminded of my connection to the human family and, in the context of the Orlando massacre, my LGBT family and friends in particular.
Today marks eleven years since the beginning of events which form the basis of my autobiographical piece entitled Chopin, Roman Polanski and a cab.
I will attempt to stay home after dark.
If I have learned nothing else about my bipolar II today, it is that I am certainly not the only one in similar circumstances who has found photography to be a healing past-time. Facebook is teeming today with some of the creative works of the bipolar support community.
Scrolling through various blogs and web sites I have also seen confirmed that we face many of the same risks to ourselves as my fellow survivors of childhood abuse, sexual and otherwise, most pointedly suicide. Which doesn’t make me suicidal. Just so you know. It’s just one of those options I have kept in my back pocket since it seemed clear, however wrong, that I would be dead of AIDS-related illness before the 90s were finished. Of course it’s also a tragic reality among those who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), as we have heard about too often in connection with soldiers returning from Afghanistan or other battle-weary countries.
To be frank I am feeling very optimistic about my process right now. My p-doc is closely monitoring me as I add another “head med”, as I call them, to my cocktail of HIV, diabetes and bipolar medications. Spring has, for many years, been a time of hypomania which I used to refer to simply as an absence of depression. But it got much worse than a passive absence. When the cat (or black dog) is away, well…I played alot. Absent of depression, present with feelings I thought I could control, a deception of self that alcoholics often talk about, too.
I have often described the feeling of hearing the Bipolar II diagnosis, and the ways it fits me, as a day of sweet relief. It was difficult enough to live with a lifetime of, let’s say, ultimately poor decisions; I was glad to hear a biological explanation for them It doesn’t absolve me of everything but I have more compassion for myself and others.
Anyway the new med seems to be helping a lot. There are fewer sleepless nights, especially deliberately sleepless nights and I’m back on an even keel that I have experienced many times before on this journey.
Here is a series of three recent photographs taken here in Toronto, Canada, which I call Walking past colours
I’m very close to finishing the book Survivor – Auschwitz, The Death March and My Fight for Freedom by Sam Pivnik and some two-thirds of the way through I was jolted by this passage:
We could have run, could have made it, could have reached the welcoming arms of the British, who surely wouldn’t fire on scarecrows wearing the stripes of a concentration camp? But we didn’t. None of us. And it’s something I’ve read about since in the memoirs of other survivors. The years of terror, of barbed wire, of electric fences, they never leave you. You turn in on yourself, hiding in the only Hell you know. Why? Because out there, in those fields and woodlands, across the ploughed farmland of North Germany was a world I didn’t know at all. I was just thirteen when the Wehrmacht invaded my homeland and in a way my life had been put on hold ever since. In a word, I was too scared to run away.
Almost an entire shelf of my book cabinet is stocked with various accounts of the Holocaust, a collection I started with Primo Levi’s Survival in Auschwitz on the recommendation of a psychiatrist I was seeing for post-traumatic stress that followed a serious accident in 2003.
While the ‘woulda, coulda, shouldas’ of Pivnik’s experience differ greatly from my own, I recognize my own mindset in how I processed difficulties in my childhood. (By the time I was Pivnik’s thirteen years of age, I had experienced this example of the drubbing of a head teacher/principal in elementary school and the sexual abuse and subsequent exploitation at what I would now recognize as a sexual cruising area.)
I have long since absolved myself, intellectually at least, of any guilt in these matters. However Pivnik’s laser-like identification of lingering fear – my fear, too, of the world – has amazing resonance with me. It’s not the first time I have named fear as a foundational part of my emotional operating system, and I could quantify it in reviewing the hypomanic behaviour which has characterized my history with bipolar II, but to read Pivnik’s account is to affirm how I can relate my experience with what has followed.
(I still aspire to writing my life story, such as it is, told only in fits and starts in this blog.)