Darkness to Light by Albert Hsu

 

The first time I tried to kill myself I was 11-years old. Suicide always lurks in my consciousness as the final option. I don’t know if other people think that way. I knew something was wrong early on. I was functional—despite my soaring highs and debilitating lows, which then triggered violent outbursts by my father, often followed by equally violent beatings. From the age of 4 on I developed hyper-sexuality that developed after a neighbor’s daughter molested me.

My inability to be in stable, intimate relationships from my teens on was driven by alternating highs and lows. I sought help; seeing over 10 therapists. Nothing helped. Eventually, I married a woman thinking it could help. In time, that faded and again my outbursts and hyper-sexuality continued. My wife and children withdrew from me as I cycled. I slept with so many women, during my manic periods, sometimes 3 or 4 a month and then none during my down periods.

My career was successful though, especially in the years before I imploded. My highs fed an aggressive drive, resulting in positions of increasing responsibility and salary. Even then, the signs were there. My jobs were short-lived as I became increasingly unstable. Being in the highflying investment world masked this and as my compensation grew, it fed my highs. I spent money like water.

When I was 39-years old, I began a three-year affair that only exacerbated my disorder. My family life was disintegrating and one night, after a particularly violent outburst, I loaded a rifle threatening to shoot myself. I remember thinking that I didn’t want to leave my brains all over the dining room so I should do this elsewhere. My wife called the police who took me to a local hospital where the staff did a perfunctory evaluation and released me that night.

We don’t need to suffer alone without compassion, assistance
and proper medical treatment.

For the first time in my life, I accepted that I needed psychiatric help. I met a local psychiatrist who loosely diagnosed me as having bipolar disorder and prescribed a low, non-therapeutic dosage of a mood stabilizer.

A few months later, my mistress broke off the affair, sending me into a tailspin. I couldn’t accept it. I became increasingly paranoid.

Increasingly, I had frequent violent outbursts toward my family and business partners and then in 2006, I entered a prolonged depression and, over the next year, sank progressively lower until I hit rock bottom. In November 2006, I solicited someone over the Internet to have my mistress kidnapped. Fortunately, I was apprehended, pled guilty and sent to prison for almost 2 ½ years followed by 12 years or probation with continued monitoring by my psychiatrist and therapist.

As you may suspect, prison psychiatric treatment is poor, and my therapeutic needs went unmet. Prisons have become the mental institutions of the 21st century and more inmates in prison suffer from at least one mental disorder. I was one of the fortunate ones because once released, I obtained good medical help.

I began seeing an excellent psychiatrist and therapist on a regular basis. I received a much deeper diagnosis of my bipolar depressive disorder and my medications and dosages were adjusted until we found the right combination. But I had the resources to do so, limited as they may be now.

No organization accepts me as a volunteer due to my (criminal) record.

During this entire time, my kids stopped communicating with me, my wife divorced me and I lost everything that I thought defined me. However, in the process of recovery, I obtained stability. My ex-wife and parents helped get me back on my feet and my children and I are very slowly repairing our relationships. That may well take decades.

I became a Quaker, joining my local Meeting which has helped restore my faith in those of others. While I was away I had seen too much violence, blood and the death of an inmate. Pacifism is one of our core testimonies as is being part of a larger community. I also volunteer as much free time as I can, sometimes to my own physical detriment. No other organization accepts me as a volunteer due to my record so I quietly give back to the community through deeds as best I can without them knowing that I am amongst them and that I do so with great psychic benefit knowing that I am helping others who are suffer from illnesses not dissimilar to mine.

With these stabilizing influences, my highs and lows are under better control. Sometimes, I wish I still had those great highs but now I will always have to be diligent and watch for my warning signs because I can’t go back to the lows of my past.

Only in the past few years has the wider diagnosis and acceptance of bipolar and unipolar depression caught the public’s awareness and lightened the load of its stigma just a bit. I don’t begrudge celebrities and stars that tell their stories on television or through autobiographies for we all have suffered our separate and incredibly lonely paths. What is clear though is that we don’t need to suffer alone without compassion, assistance and proper medical treatment.

Symptoms and behaviors have garnered more attention from the medical community making it less difficult to identify and treat a wider range of psychiatric disorders.

The stigma surrounding mental illness continues to lessen in recent years, but the numbers show that so many still suffer and in silence, afraid to seek help or to be judged harshly. It is not surprising that we see these people where we sometimes see ourselves.

You are not alone, we are not alone, we can reach for that helping hand and as a human being, a caring and loving soul, and for me a Quaker, build a community that can survive and thrive for each other.

 

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