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Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Part 2 of Tracey Ricks,' an Ex-Jehovah's Witness, Journey With Bipolar Disorder

 cropped-tray112014.jpg In a previous article, I disclosed my journey with manic depression (Bipolar Disorder II) as a young person. Or the beginning of my journey. I grew up in a religious household. My parents were, and are, Jehovah’s Witnesses. Coping with the dysfunction of my family, the stresses of being an intelligent and inquisitive young woman within the confines of a restrictive religion, and living with bipolar disorder were the ingredients of what I like to define as ‘the perfect storm.’ I know that a few people who believe that they ‘know’ me will read this essay, and the others like it, and want to debate with me the role that being one of Jehovah’s Witnesses may have played in the progression of the my mental disorder. If you like, we can go there. But this is my story and not an indictment of the religion. Not at this point. In the third installment of this article, it will be. Some of you may not get that far because of your enslaved mind. You might not make it after this paragraph. I was thirteen and a half when I was diagnosed with manic depression in 1981. At the time, the only treatment options were psychotherapy and the psychotropic drug lithium. I was not placed on any anti-depressive medication and to my knowledge, I do not know if my parents were given a prescription to fill and decided against it. My gut instincts infer that this was more than likely the case. My mental disposition was not in the hands of trained medical professionals. It was now in the ‘competent’ and ‘capable’ hands of ‘spiritual men’ also known as ‘elders’ at the local Kingdom Hall that my family and I attended. I remember that very first, well, the ONLY meeting I was to have with these ‘spiritual men.’ Let me correct myself. I first had to go before a ‘committee’ of two ‘spiritual men’ first. Then I chose a ‘spiritual man’ or elder to confide in later.



The first session I had with the ‘spiritual men’ or elders was unnerving. Of course, my stepfather presented his tale of why I attempted suicide. Do you remember the reason? Yes. The reason I tried to attempt suicide was because I wanted permission to hang out at the mall with friends without parental supervision. Even now at forty-blur something, I cringe. We lived in the city of Detroit. The happening mall was Northland. There were in the year of 1981, three buses I could have taken from my home straight to Northland. I did not need to ask for bus fare. I could just get bus tickets from my middle school counselor. If I really wanted to hang out at the mall with my friends minus my parents, I had plenty of opportunities to do so. That line of thinking my stepfather attributed to me was insulting. He thought that little of me and my intellectual capability. But, I also realize that neither one of my parents wanted to admit the truth. The truth was that beyond that happy family fa├žade, our situation was crap. Crapola. In the shitter. For real.
In the meeting with the men that were going to ‘fix my life,’ I had one ‘spiritual man’ who was a known drunk and a very, very, very good friend of my stepfather’s, and another ‘spiritual man’ who I liked and felt comfortable with. I was asked what led up to my suicide attempt and I confessed that I was very unhappy with my family life, I suffered through horrible periods of happiness and then darkness. I told them there were moments when I wanted to just walk away from everything and everyone (which I would do many, many, many times).  I disclosed how my stepfather’s anger, exasperated by alcohol addiction, would lead to the physical abuse of my mother and extreme episodes of corporal punishment upon me. What did this startling revelation get me? What helpful advice was I given? Simply that Jehovah God would not resurrect me from the dead if I took my own life. Point blank. I needed to pray to God and deeply study the publications of Jehovah’s Witnesses. The end. It would be the intense studying of the publications that would become the very first jolts of lightening that would awaken me about certain beliefs of Jehovah’s Witnesses. But at thirteen, that was all the therapy I received. I was doomed if I was ever successful at a suicide attempt. Well, in my thirteen year old mind, I was doomed already.
I entered the ninth grade at Detroit Central High School in the fall of 1981. I only remember bits and pieces of that period in my life. I fluctuated frequently from being obsessed with Michael Jackson, Motown music, and Marilyn Monroe. Life and death. I had already experienced my first runaway attempt. That’s right. Suicide and runaway attempts would become a constant in my teenaged life. I was a deeply troubled young woman. Deeply troubled. But I experienced episodes of peace. I found peace on Roselawn. My grandparents’ home and neighborhood. I was FREE! My grandmother was one of Jehovah’s Witnesses. However, she lived slightly differently from my parents. My grandmother allowed me to BREATHE. I could play theater, read books, write plays, listen to music, go bike riding with kids who were from Jehovah Witness families, and those who were not. This interaction gave me insight into how the real world operated outside of the bubble in which I lived. Two weekends out of the month, I was at peace. I even contemplated killing myself in the backyard of my grandparents’ home. Damn. I needed help.
I also experienced weekends of peace with a family that I made my own. I will call them for legal purposes, the Tylers. The Tylers were very close friends of my parents and for some reason, I was allowed to spend the weekends with them. Outside of my grandparents, this was kind of big. My parents did not allow me or my sister to spend the night or entire weekends with anyone! And no one spent the night at our house. Who wanted to? Everyone knew my parents were a trip and a half. Even kids didn’t want to be bothered with that. The Tylers had a huge family with about seven or eight kids. There was always something fun going on in their home! But it was with their eldest child and daughter, Mel, that I felt a kindred spirit. Mel had this sense of knowing who she was and what she wanted. I listened to Mel outline her goals and confide her feelings about her life. Due to my illness, I have no idea what I confided in her, and I wonder if I ever spoke about dying, death, and suicide. I really do not recall confiding in anyone about my true feelings. Except Michael Jackson. What I do remember is feeling safe around Mel and her family. On one of my runaway escapades, I actually stopped by their home. I knew I couldn’t stay and that my parents would call looking for me. But the Tyler home was a refuge when I ran. No matter how brief.
My manic depression or bipolar disorder began to progress. I could feel my reality shifting from time to time. The structure of school gave me focus. I was able to navigate and function within the world of high school. No one wanted anything from me. I could be friends with whomever I wanted. I could create a Tracey that my parents would know nothing about. And I did. I was the intelligent Tracey. Smart. Quiet. Shy. Introverted. I created a family that didn’t exist. A family that came complete with a biological father who cared about me and had a glamorous life as a record producer. I laugh now at the fantasy I concocted. But at that time in my young life, it was hardly a joke. I created another world for myself.
What Jehovah’s Witnesses like to call a ‘double life’ was really the way I learned how to survive. My persona at home was to be whatever the folks wanted me to be. A prodigy Jehovah’s Witness youth? I was that plus some. That is why no one can really tell me too much of anything about Jehovah’s Witnesses and their doctrine. I know all there is to know about it. From the ages of fourteen to seventeen, I read every Jehovah’s Witness publication ever written between the years of 1889 through the 1980’s. As a teenager, I was a prolific Jehovah’s Witness historian. If I was going to be the Tracey my parents wanted, I had to study the part. But I could also see the hypocrisy, the double standards, the sexism, the masochism, and the weird way that Jehovah’s Witness doctrine metamorphosed over the years. I remember asking my stepfather why this was. He answered with that old infamous Jehovah’s Witness phrase: “The light gets brighter.”
Living in two worlds was about to become even more difficult. My mental illness was progressing and I was struggling to live in the present, was obsessed with the past, and could not see the future. It was very dark for me. Sinister. When I turned sixteen, I had what I now recognize as my first serious breakdown. Two Traceys collided and the consequences broke me. I wear the scars of this breakdown today. 1984 was the year. Chocolate, bipolar disorder, and a brutal physical assault by a parent would change my life forever.
(To be continued...)

You can view Tracey Ricks' blog at this link:  
The Musings of An Intelligent Black Woman