I am usually very open about my life. I write about bad choices in relationships, my tendencies to love individuals that cannot or decide not to reciprocate the love I give, sexual escapades good and bad, pregnancy at the age of nineteen, and an abortion I received in my early twenties. Yes. I am pretty open. But I want to share something that I have only hinted around in many of my essays. My personal journey with mental illness disorders. Yes. I am part of that ever growing group of millions that suffer from bipolar disorder. I was first diagnosed with a mental illness disorder when I was thirteen and a half years old. I often look back at my younger self and wish I could hug and comfort her. The raging onslaught of emotions and sensitivities that puberty plagued me with were only magnified when depression reared its ugly head. I didn’t understand why my emotions were all over the place. I could be ecstatic in one moment and suicidal in a matter of minutes. Some experts in parenting and teenagers would suggest that what I was experiencing at the age of thirteen was simply puberty. However, it was something more insidious. I can remember feeling lost and hopeless. Desperate. I wanted to be a part of life; I believed myself to be captive and chained to my home. I wanted to go places and do things. Live and meet people. Run and be free. Then there were moments when I just wanted to die. A rollercoaster of emotions. I was in so much pain. I was very upset and did not know how to express the anger I was feeling towards my biological father who was not a part of my life. I assumed by choice. Later I was to learn that perhaps it was my mother and stepfather’s decision. Whatever the case, at thirteen, I knew I had a father different than my younger sister, even literally bumped into him at the local grocery store in Detroit at the age of nine. Why didn’t he love me enough to check up on me? Didn’t he care that my parents were struggling to survive and that there were days when we didn’t have enough food to eat or the electricity was shut off due to the lack of money in the dead of winter? My thirteen year old self struggled with the obvious. My biological father had abandoned me because I wasn’t good enough. I wanted to die. I had days when I was totally happy. I had a secret boyfriend. He was literally the boy next door. He liked me and listened to me. I shared my world with him. The dysfunction of my family life disappeared when we were together. My family were Jehovah’s Witnesses and this added to my frustration and feelings of unworthiness. How could I ever receive God’s mercy and live in the New World or Paradise when I believed myself to be so wicked? I began having psychic dreams and moments of déjà vu at the age of eight. What I was being indoctrinated with as a young person is that those type of ‘gifts’ are satanic in origin and everything that emanates from Satan or the purveyor of all that is evil, is demonic. I knew that my eventuality would be everlasting destruction. What a weight to put upon a child! No matter how much I bargained with God, prayed for this phenomenon to disappear, it never happened. So, there I was, my thirteen year old self, proselyting and ministering to others, trying to convince them to convert to my religion for salvation, when I was confident I was earmarked for eternal destruction. That is certainly a lot of baggage for a thirteen year old to carry. What on earth did I have to live for? I believed my life to be a tragic one. Family life was the pits. My mother was sick and oftentimes, I was responsible for caring for her and my sister, while my stepfather became lost in what we now understand to be Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, stemming from his service in Vietnam as a Marine. The only time I felt any sort of happiness or sense of relief is when I spent weekends and summers with my grandparents. In those moments of happiness, I still plotted to end my life. Then quietly one spring day, I awakened in a room at Children’s Hospital of Michigan. I had swallowed an entire bottle of my asthma medication. Damn! I was ALIVE! How could that be? Marilyn Monroe was successful with her attempt. Why wasn’t I so lucky? I could not believe my misfortune! I had planned my demise well. Or so I thought. I wrote good-bye cards to my Mother and a last love letter to my boyfriend. I had given my Jackson Five albums to my bewildered little sister, and willed her my favorite doll. Where had I gone wrong when I had done everything as planned? A doctor came in to speak with me. I remember that it was a conversation about my suicide attempt. Why had I done it? I proceeded to tell him. It was nothing like the reason my stepfather gave. He told them I was mad about not being allowed to go to the mall without adult supervision. Right. Like I was too stupid to skip school, get on the bus, and go without them knowing about it? After about a week in the hospital, intense one on one therapy, and a strange sense of resignation, I was released. On the ride home, my parents informed me that the psychologists and the psychiatrist had suggested that I continue my treatment on an outpatient basis. I had been diagnosed with manic depression. I didn’t know what that was. My parents vetoed that idea. Why? My stepfather told the doctors that as one of Jehovah’s Witnesses, we had ‘elders’ or spiritual leaders to help me with my manic depression. Yep. Unlicensed, non-medical degree holding, so-called ‘men of God’ would be my counselors and therapists. Right. So, to recap, at the age of thirteen and a half, in 1981, after months of plotting and planning, I attempted suicide, horribly failed, lived to talk about it, was diagnosed with manic depression, (now known as Bipolar Disorder II) and then my mental illness disorder was trivialized and dismissed as nothing more than the angst of a young girl wanting to go the mall. Suggested treatment and therapy would be rejected for ‘spiritual help.’ Of course, my young life was about to get worse. Much worse.
(To be continued...)
You can view Tracey Ricks' blog at this link: The Musings of An Intelligent Black Woman