I Suppressed Everything – A Story of Abuse and Bipolar
by Lisa Stout
In my younger years, I labeled my upbringing, traumatic experiences, and unfortunate circumstances as extraneous baggage. I fought and defied them, in effort to prove that I was more than the poor trailer park girl who was physically, sexually, and mentally abused.
When I was a child, I was molested multiple times by my biological father. Most of my childhood, I was raised by my mom and stepfather. He would “spank” me often. I can still remember the look of rage in his eyes as he raised his belt. I remember the black and purple bruises that covered my backside and legs. I remember being afraid to move a certain way at school for fear of someone seeing the bruises and asking me what happened. The slaps, the busted nose, and the derogatory name calling all started weighing on my self-esteem. Some days I felt so stupid, worthless, as if I was unable to do anything right. My mom, a meek and submissive woman, didn’t believe in standing up to the head of the household, so this abuse continued until I was eighteen.
Growing up, I suppressed everything in an effort to be a “normal person.” I knew I wasn’t part of a typical family. I’d watched family sitcoms on television and go to friend’s houses, I saw that kids weren’t treated the way that I was. I pretended that nothing was wrong. I did not confide in my best friend, because I didn’t want to be different. I wanted to be like everyone else. I suppressed my feelings. In many ways, it worked. People always saw me as a bubbly ball of energy, which I was, for the most part. It was what was going on inside of me that no one knew about.
I knew early in my life that I had problems. I distinctly remember my first suicidal thoughts at the age of fourteen years old. That night, I laid in bed replaying the names, ‘moron’, ‘idiot, ‘dumbass’, and ‘lazy’ in my mind. I felt that I could never do anything right in our house, and that the world would be a better place if I just wasn’t in it. After my parents went to bed, I walked into the kitchen and grabbed the largest knife from the butcher block. Staring at it, I fantasized about slitting my wrists. I stood there for what felt like an eternity, returned the knife to the block, and went back to bed.
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I hated my family situation, the mistreatment, and the stress that I had to endure. Not only was I dealing with the mistreatment from my stepfather, but my siblings and I also experienced significant stress from our mother. She was bipolar but did not take medication, and we were constantly tiptoeing around her in effort to keep her calm. Whatever she wanted; we did. My step-dad would say things like, ‘Be quiet, you’ll stress out your mom’, ‘Your mom’s depressed and in her room, so don’t go in there (for days)’, ‘We’re moving to another state again because your mother wants a change’, or ‘You’re a bitch, that orange juice was specifically bought for your mother.’ Her emotional lability and erratic behavior were distressing for all of us.
None of my peers were going through the things that I was- that I knew of. I had good days, of course, and enjoyed the things normal teenagers do; I had a small group of friends that I was close with, but not close enough to let them know about my home life. During my high-school years, I found myself using creative outlets, specifically writing. I journaled and wrote pages of analogous poetry describing feelings that I couldn’t express otherwise.
By the age of nineteen, I had a well paid job at a factory, my own apartment, and a nice car. I was engaged and I had few new friends. My fiancé adored me, but he had an explosive temper. I loved him despite his flaws. My friends were fun-loving and lived in the same apartment complex as me. We would watch movies and music videos, go to clubs to dance, and sit outside on our patios and talk for hours. I opened up to one girl in particular. She had a rough upbringing also, so I felt comfortable confiding in her. For once, I truly was happy, energetic, and full of life. It was no longer a facade.
After a while, these friends began pressuring me to experiment with drinking and partying. I cannot fully blame the new behavior on my friends. In my high school years, I was always the goody-two-shoes, church-going girl; at least this was how I was seen to others. Some people even made a game of ‘who can make Lisa curse for the first time?’ Now, I was the typical good-girl going bad. As the weeks went by, my behavior declined rapidly.
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I noticed that my need for sleep began to wane—sometimes going days without getting any sleep. I began flirting with other guys and suddenly broke up with my fiancé of two years. I blamed it on his lack of job stability and maturation, but I know that I simply had an urge for change. Within a six month period, I’d had several sexual partners, was partying more, started smoking, and had several new tattoos and piercings. Little did I know, I was having my first major manic episode, which lasted several months. At that time, I chalked it up to being a typical teenager rebelling against their upbringing.
At the tail-end of that inexplicable high, I became depressed. I was angry at myself for the behaviors that I had been engaging in. I had lost my job, was in debt, no longer had a fiancé and was now losing my apartment. I hated myself, and I felt that I was a disappointment to my religious and strict family. What’s strange is that for some reason, despite my upbringing, we are all still to this day a very close family. I love both my father and step-father; it is still a topic in therapy today. My therapist says that this is not unusual. I explained to him that my feelings towards them are cautiously affectionate. I love them from a healthy distance. In other words, I now don’t allow myself to get too close for fear of being hurt or disappointed.
During my depression, I began writing again. So much so, that there were times that, while driving, I had to pull over on the side of the road to jot down poetic inspiration. Writing, for me, was a way to get the ugly feelings outside of myself. It was therapeutic and it felt nice to see beautiful work coming from something that felt so terrible. In many of my poems, I equated depression to drowning, and I still do. It’s like being thrown into an ocean of darkness without knowing how to swim. All I want is to get my head above water to breathe, but the depression pushes me down, drowning in my own despair.
At the conclusion of this downward spiral, I ended up in a relationship with a married man. He was a large man and an alcoholic. One night, he wrapped both of his hands around my neck as he threatened to kill me. I knew right then that something had to change in my life. I went back to my apartment, from which I was being evicted, and packed my things. Within two weeks, I had moved back in with my parents and began rebuilding my life. Living with my family wasn’t easy. Although my step-father no longer laid a hand on me, I witnessed the mistreatment of my siblings. I confronted him several times about it, which always caused a heated verbal altercation. I moved out after four months.
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Ten years passed. Over the years, I had experienced some minor manic and depressive episodes. I was not yet diagnosed, but I had a feeling that I was bipolar, like my mother. Life was going great for me now. I was very pleased that my hardships and mental illness hadn’t stopped me from aspiring to all that I had envisioned in my teen years. I had a lucrative career as a Strategic Consultant for a fortune 500 company, three beautiful children, and a new husband that worshipped the ground I walked on. When the feelings of depression crept back in, I just couldn’t understand why. What did I have to be depressed about? This depression was a deep and lengthy one. I started drinking a bottle of wine each night just to dull the pain and stress. Once again, I found myself becoming suicidal. I had intent, and a complete plan on how I would carry it out. I was at home, just before the kids came home from school and before my husband came home from work. I stood in my bathroom with a pair of scissors at my wrist. I plotted ways that I could hide myself so that my family didn’t have to find me in this way. I wanted to cut my wrists so badly, but the thought of my beautiful children overwhelmed my desire to die. Just in time, my husband came home from work to find me sobbing in despair. For the first time, I really opened up about just how depressed I was and told him of my serious intent of suicide. Within a short matter of time, we are at the emergency room in effort to get me placed at an inpatient facility.
I was inpatient for just over three days. During that time, I began new medications, therapy, and I started climbing out of the hole that I had found myself in. After I was released, I made an appointment with a psychologist to help diagnose my condition and a psychiatrist to continue my medication regimen. After a battery of tests with the psychologist, I learned that I had bipolar disorder, histrionic personality disorder, adjustment disorder with self-defeating traits, and anxiety. I actually felt empowered with this information because these feelings that I’d been experiencing had a name and a treatment regimen. I was determined to get well. I read books and articles, joined online support groups, and found pages like OC87 Recovery Diaries. It was helpful to know that I was not alone in this. Once again, I turned to my old friend, writing. I began writing short stories, blogging, and writing poetry.
Since then, I’ve learned a lot about myself, my disorders, and have become more self-aware. I try to take life one day at a time. I’ve tried several different medications, and finally feel that we’ve found the right combination that allows me to have a happy and well-adjusted life. My husband and family have been a fantastic support system for me, and help me recognize when I may be trending off my baseline. Right now, I’m working as a nurse part-time and am back in school to further my career. Do I still have hard times? Sure, but I feel well equipped now, something I never felt when I was younger. I want to be a healthy role model and educator for my children. They may someday find themselves fighting depression or some other circumstance, and I want them and others to know it is okay to talk about these feelings and seek help.