It’s Bell Let’s Talk Day – let’s review


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.

Let’s Talk!

1,013 followers – questions?


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?

Another important day for self-acceptance


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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

 

1 2 3

Post #1031: My latest ‘Aha!’ moment


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.)

Whispering “Help!” from the windmills (or silos) of my mind


Those of you who have followed me, be it through my writing, my tweets, or home from the convenience store will have picked up on the fact that I have a fair amount on my plate.

I’m a very slow eater.

I recently joined a support group for long-term survivors of HIV/AIDS – in my case it’s been no less than 23 years. Even more recently I quit the group when I convinced myself that there was something to the quizzical looks I was getting from existing supportive friends, surprised that I might have anything I couldn’t discuss with them.

Particularly those who were also HIV-positive; also long-term survivors.

It felt good to formally end my relationship, short though it was, with the “support group” and to tell them why.

I don’t want to compartmentalize my life any more than I’m ever convinced I have to – if at all.

I want to safely, sanely integrate the many facets of my life – which too often feel like they’re in individual silos – into something that I can present to anyone I choose.

To recap what loyal readers already know:

I am a survivor of childhood trauma at the hands of an elementary school head teacher/principal.

I was bullied – by him and by peers both in early grades and in high school. I survived.

In my adolescence I was sexually abused by strangers, i.e. more than once, in a part of my home-town that I would only, as an adult, recognize as a “cruising area” for men seeking casual sex with other men (or, since I was there, with boys).

I buried that sexual trauma until I described the first incident in the third person at a HIV/AIDS-related workshop in 1990, some eighteen years after it started.

Then I buried it again, for the most part, but it kept reappearing particularly in the context of dealing with alcohol and other addiction.

I sought support for the addiction but only occasionally mentioned the trauma(s), believing that help was not available as one-stop shopping. (It was also too much to deal with in the context of my HIV progression to AIDS-related illness, the support and care of friends who have long since succumbed, and my inability to stay sober for more than five to seven years at a time maximum.)

When my brother Craig died tragically in 2007, and I was drinking at the time even if not in the presence – not even the same town – of my grieving family I came to a critical point of despair. Thoughts of suicide both tormented and comforted me.

Earlier that spring I had considered running for political office. Me! On long-term disability insurance! I had also wasted the bulk of an insurance settlement from a 2003 accident as if I wasn’t going to live long enough to enjoy it.

I was assessed and diagnosed with/as (I’m not sure which) bipolar II, one step on the spectrum from the more notorious bipolar disorder or manic-depressive illness, as it used to be called.

Believe it or not it was a relief to get a better understanding of what had begun, to me, simply as an absence of depression – for which I had been treated since around the time I tested HIV-positive – and to make sense of what had clearly become episodes of hypomania and depression.

The cautionary experiences of my peers, plus the general stigma still associated with mental illness, have made it difficult to articulate all that I have been discovering about myself as I review the years but one thing is for sure: I can no longer just be a gay, HIV-positive and (to some a recovering addict) friend or relative to some while hiding the largely successful, but ongoing, treatment of my psychiatric illness. The silos drive me crazy – and anyone with a passing acquaintance of farming will know that silos can spontaneously combust!

I do not know to whom any, or all, of this is news. Please let me know. Maybe this is just a rant I occasionally need to let rip. My emotions are not helped by a temporary physical malady today but, then again, I know that’s what it takes to move me sometimes!

The bottom line is that I want to be able to describe the whole picture, even if I mix oil with pastels, chalk with water. The silos aren’t all filled at the same time, usually, but that’s just the point. I don’t want silos any more. Could you at least help me with a better analogy?  I would be so grateful.

There are at least a few, if not many, important people with whom I need to have my own conversation about…


…this!

It’s certainly not too early to think about Mental Illness Awareness Week

When I read the Ottawa Citizen article (linked above) I immediately thought, “Mom will have read that yesterday,” and what an opening it would give me to discuss my own mental health history with her.

Not long after sobering up five+ years ago, I was diagnosed with bipolar II and, although it might seem strange, the news came as a relief to me. It helped to explain behaviour, over and above (and below) drunkenness and depression, which had dogged me most of my adult life. The eventual absence – thanks to treatment – of depression, which became hypomania, went undiagnosed for so long because I quite enjoyed said absence of depression, despite the danger, stupidity and recklessness which accompanied it.

Of course, as my 1,002 posts here can illustrate – at least in part – there’s been more going on in my life than depression so, absent or otherwise, there have been many other factors contributing to my state of being and my sense of self.

I cannot deny, and quite enjoy reporting, that seeking help – even if it took sinking to “rock bottom” to do so – has me feeling mentally stronger than I have in a long time, the occasional extraneous screw-ups notwithstanding.

For that I am truly thankful.

College sports governing body slams Penn State post-Sandusky, Paterno


The NCAA has handed down its sentence on Penn State University’s football program, as outlined in this news release:

By perpetuating a “football first” culture that ultimately enabled serial child sexual abuse to occur, The Pennsylvania State University leadership failed to value and uphold institutional integrity, resulting in a breach of the NCAA Constitution and rules. The NCAA Division I Board of Directors and NCAA Executive Committee directed Association president Mark Emmert to examine the circumstances and determine appropriate action in consultation with these presidential bodies.

“As we evaluated the situation, the victims affected by Jerry Sandusky and the efforts by many to conceal his crimes informed our actions,” said Emmert. “At our core, we are educators. Penn State leadership lost sight of that.”

According to the NCAA conclusions and sanctions, the Freeh Report “presents an unprecedented failure of institutional integrity leading to a culture in which a football program was held in higher esteem than the values of the institution, the values of the NCAA, the values of higher education, and most disturbingly the values of human decency.”

As a result, the NCAA imposed a $60 million sanction on the university, which is equivalent to the average gross annual revenue of the football program. These funds must be paid into an endowment for external programs preventing child sexual abuse or assisting victims and may not be used to fund such programs at the university. (emphasis mine)

The sanctions also include a four-year football postseason ban and a vacation of all wins from 1998 through 2011. The career record of former head football coach Joe Paterno will reflect these vacated records. Penn State must also reduce 10 initial and 20 total scholarships each year for a four-year period. In addition, the NCAA reserves the right to impose additional sanctions on involved individuals at the conclusion of any criminal proceedings.

The NCAA recognizes that student-athletes are not responsible for these events and worked to minimize the impact of its sanctions on current and incoming football student-athletes. Any entering or returning student-athlete will be allowed to immediately transfer and compete at another school. Further, any football student-athletes who remain at the university may retain their scholarships, regardless of whether they compete on the team.

To further integrate the athletics department into the university, Penn State will be required to enter into an “Athletics Integrity Agreement” with the NCAA. It also must adopt all Freeh Report recommendations and appoint an independent, NCAA-selected Athletics Integrity Monitor, who will oversee compliance with the agreement.

Effective immediately, the university faces five years of probation. Specifically, the university is subject to more severe penalties if it does not adhere to these requirements or violates NCAA rules in any sport during this time period.

“There has been much speculation on whether or not the NCAA has the authority to impose any type of penalty related to Penn State,” said Ed Ray, Executive Committee chair and Oregon State president. “This egregious behavior not only goes against our rules and Constitution, but also against our values.”

Because Penn State accepted the Freeh Report factual findings, which the university itself commissioned, the NCAA determined traditional investigative proceedings would be redundant and unnecessary.

“We cannot look to NCAA history to determine how to handle circumstances so disturbing, shocking and disappointing,” said Emmert. “As the individuals charged with governing college sports, we have a responsibility to act. These events should serve as a call to every single school and athletics department to take an honest look at its campus environment and eradicate the ‘sports are king’ mindset that can so dramatically cloud the judgment of educators.” (emphasis mine)

Penn State fully cooperated with the NCAA on this examination of the issues and took decisive action in removing individuals in leadership who were culpable.

“The actions already taken by the new Penn State Board of Trustees chair Karen Peetz and Penn State president Rodney Erickson have demonstrated a strong desire and determination to take the steps necessary for Penn State to right these severe wrongs,” said Emmert.