Head, Heart, and Soul
I accept chaos, I’m not sure whether it accepts me.”
― Bob Dylan
I don’t know if or how ADHD and PTSD have affected my life or in what ways.
I do know that I have, for as long as I can remember, felt the need and excitement of being hyper-vigilant. My therapist suggested that turbulence in my child homelife could have influenced later events in my life and made hyperawareness and adrenaline seem normal. I believe(d) that everyone had this “edginess” in them. Perhaps not as intensely as I, but it seemed that everyone should feel this way.
I have only recently regained any significant access to the memories of my childhood… or wanted to. All that I could tell an inquirer when I was 19 was that I had survived childhood. The past was past and I wanted no part of it. Now, well, let’s just say there are things I want to understand.
It’s not that growing up was all bad. My first five years were spent in a high mountain town, close to a forested and wild country. It was nature close by and real. Even the times that I broke my arm, or was blinded in one eye were okay somehow. I wonder, if we had not moved would we have been a better family? Very possibly not.
The move to the “big city” seemed to be traumatic to the entire family. My memories here become spotty and I feel my anxiety rise even now. I must assume things here to fill in the blanks as best I can.
My father told me that he felt that he had started becoming an alcoholic after he started brewing his own beer before we moved. He was a brilliant man (Mensa), wanted dearly to be a novelist, wouldn’t stay with any job for very long, stopped coming home when my mother started yelling at him every time he walked in the door smelling of alcohol and, I believe, he wanted to be a good father. He started getting help at AA and was divorced from my mother when I was 18. He and I reconciled and he helped me gain my independence, at least to a degree, from my mother. He was not a perfect person. I have some memory of his being very angry at times. He was murdered by his second wife when I was 31 and he was 63.
My mother: I have to fill in more here. She was the sixth of seven children born and raised on a cotton farm in the Texas Panhandle. I never met her parents who died within a short time of me being born. But I have gathered that it was a hard, sometimes brutal childhood. My mother and her family spoke very little about this. After we moved to the city, I remember her as haggard and depressed. Within a few years, she had the first of several “nervous breakdowns”. Psychiatric medicine was not really available and the social stigma kept her from getting real help early on. Later in life, she ended up being prescribed a variety of drugs and having a number of rounds of ECT. I believe she suffered from bipolar and PTSD, but I’m just guessing since no mental health professional was ever able to say anything specific. Anyway, for much of my childhood, she was either fine or seriously disturbed and it could change in a moment. She passed away in the hospice of the mental facility where she spent the last several years of her life.
My brother, born a year and a half after me, had severe learning disabilities and ended up leaving the educational system at the beginning of tenth grade. He developed paranoia (possibly schizophrenia?), worked off and on, lived with our mother and was supported by her, inheriting her house and a small income. The last time I saw him he was drinking heavily, isolated and fearful. I tried to get him help from several social service agencies to no avail.
My sister was born one day short of five years behind me. I wish that I could remember more about her. I remember her playing dolls with a neighbor girl as a child and disappearing into her room as she went through school, and becoming serially involved with a number of religious groups as she went through high school and after. She reappeared in my world after her first suicide attempt, a few years later, when I visited her a few times in the hospital (Drinking Draino messes up the digestive system and the larynx). She eventually was an out-patient from a mental health unit and seemed to be doing better and was eventually allowed to get her own apartment. A few months later, she locked herself in and suicided with a butcher knife. This was a month and a half before my Dad was murdered. She was 26.
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That was the cast of characters that I grew up with., other than a couple of neighborhood boys with whom I never discussed my home life. Some details have been omitted and a few assumptions added.
There has always been a shame to being different. In the 1950s and 60s, all families in white middle-class suburbs were stable and loving according to the common mythology. If you were smart, you went on to college and otherwise, you found a trade that suited you and you did that for the next 20 to 40 years. My family never fit this mold, but I had to pretend for the sake of…something…Maybe just to be “normal”.
The fear of losing my family and being found out (because it was somehow my fault) kept me from ever showing how I felt or talking about my feelings (if anyone had ever asked).
There was an internal conflict as the oldest child of somehow being “responsible” for my siblings and my personal survival and not knowing what to do. I came to feel that I was unworthy of respect and love. My mother knew “need” but not love.
I can’t say that I was a “good kid” or felt like one. Between hiding and having to be a “man”, I found hiding to be my strength even while “being a man”. I hid anger, embarrassment, and grief, and still do.
My level of coping was to sneak out of the house at night to go for long walks, cry in my pillow, and an occasional angry outburst when I lost control totally… And sometimes hide in the top of a tall cottonwood tree. I learned to be alone. Yes, I can be a sneaky S.O.B.
When I finally “escaped” my mothers’ house at 19 years old (She screamed, cried, and got on her knees and begged me to stay with her. And I felt like a selfish ass but didn’t want to die there.) I had feelings of guilt and freedom, simultaneously. I was working, living on my own, and confused. My Dad gave me a couple of psychology/philosophy books which helped me realize myself as an individual separate and apart from family. Individuation is a complicated balancing act when you have been so dependent and believed yourself totally responsible to and for others. And have had to be so emotionally tough.
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Even now, I want to rewrite this to say that everything was fine and I was responsible for everything and am responsible for myself now. I don’t want to lay disasters on anyone else. They were victims and someone should be responsible… ME.
Self-sacrifice? It’s been my Modus Operandi. I withhold my thoughts and emotions lest they cause problems and I explode. I have been the “guilty party”. It became a personal badge of honor. It’s called “stuffing” in the mental health community. It is unhealthy, but it doesn’t rock the boat when rocking the boat swamps everyone.
Yes, there is survivor guilt. I knew early on, when I left home, that I might be the only one to “survive”. I didn’t know how literal that might be. I had to disconnect emotionally from my family to stay sane and alive and though I have had to admit to “crazy” most of the time, I’ve made it to almost 70. (I’m sorry. “Crazy” isn’t really acceptable but I find “mentally ill” to be personally insulting.)
I’ve learned that I survive. Hypervigilance, impulsivity, intelligence, a sense of humor, and friendly disposition have helped me along.
I have searched for “family”. I have joined groups and other peoples families where I was accepted as “part of the family”. These often didn’t last for more than a few years.- I don’t know, at some basic level, how to “family”. I even let friends disappear into the past.
Pets have served their place as my family — They don’t argue or say stupid things or hound (that’s a pun) me to change my ways, and they forgive quickly and snuggle when you are sad or sorry. But, I still carry guilt for not being enough of a good person…Not being there for them and not taking care of them as well as I should.
“Family” is something of an enigma to me. Relationships fail after time has passed. I’m just too independent or too sensitive or have had too little trust to let others inside my mental walls. I lose that “connecting power” that makes for long-term associations.
This is an overview of some of my life and my psyche. I’m progressively healing and learning, partly by writing here. ADHD and PTSD do fit many of my attributes. I hope this will provide insight for others.