If there is one thing that I have learned while writing interview features on my blog is that in every walk of life for someone dealing with a mental illness, the story is different. Our stories are what define us, and hopefully, make us better people in the end.
I always imagined telling the story of someone much like myself, and in truth, I have a real affinity for stories. It was amazing the number of people willing to have me share their story.
When I first met Tony, it was on my blog, and over the course of just a short time, he shared pieces of his experience within my blog posts. When the opportunity came to share the major parts of his story, Tony jumped at the chance to be featured on The Bipolar Writer. Here is the story of one human being and his journey from his orgins to today—Tony from Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.
How does one deal daily with the struggle of a mental illness? Tony’s explains his daily experience in this way, “Having depression is like having a fog, of varying colors, consistencies, smells that kind of sharp itself, hovers, reveals and conceals different things at different times.”
It is always easier to capture how a person feels in their own words, and in the interview with Tony, he uses his creative side to describe the daily struggle with depression.
When talking further about depression Tony had this to say, “Sometimes, heavy as a lead blanket, sinking to the ocean floor. Other times sparse, allowing more breathable air, less stifling. Sometimes it’s grey, other times its pink. But the fog is there, it just looks and feels different at times.”
The “fog” that Tony describes is commonly thought of how depression feels, and it can mean the difference between a good day and bad one. For Tony, the fog means simple daily tasks taking up most of this morning with time stretching out like a wad of gum, seconds cutting like blades, and every moment weighted down by the depression.
Tony can trace his diagnosis to his childhood days. When he was very young, Tony was diagnosed dysthymia (mild depression) with severe depressive episodes in which he describes as, “Kind of like cloudy, with a chance of storms.”
It was much later and recent when he received the diagnosis of Bipolar Two and avoidant personality disorder.
An avoidant personality disorder is described as a psychiatric condition characterized by a lifelong pattern of extreme social inhibition, feelings of inadequacy, and sensitivity to rejection. But for Tony, this diagnosis means so much more, “It’s a tendency to retreat than to face things (problems) face on.” This is common with someone with a mental illness, but for Tony, his avoidance is rooted in the history that is can only be told in his own words.
“I don’t really remember having a mental illness or not having a mental illness.”
It is easier to walk in another person with a mental illness’ shoes if you know his story, and Tony’s story is one of amazing perseverance in the face of turmoil. Tony was adopted at birth by a devoted family with loving parents, but he describes their personalities as much different than his own. “My adopted father was a hard-working gregarious man who severe Bipolar disorder who had to go off work permanently while I was still young,” Tony recalls.
Tony’s mother, who was also a nurse, spent most of her free time with her husband’s issues leaving little time for Tony and his sister. “She too was loving and kind, but distant as well.” It was most likely this isolation that led Tony to begin to show signs of his avoidant personality disorder and it didn’t help that he was diagnosed so young with mild depression.
Tony was identified at a very young age as a gifted child and got through his elementary school days well enough, and weathered most of the storms at home. But, Tony began to use food as a coping mechanism and began to gain weight all the way to the beginning of his high school days. At this point in Tony’s life, we see how turmoil can lead someone down disastrous behaviors with depression as the copilot.
Tony remembers his early days and describes himself as having crooked teeth and a lazy eye, which led to severe bullying in teen years, “By the time high school hit, I was already 300lbs, and was bullied on a daily basis. I started having the shit kicked out of me. I hated school so much I would set my alarm to 2 am and hit snooze for the next four hours until it was time to get up so that I could fall asleep and wake that many times knowing I didn’t have to get up and face the day.”
With the daily torment of his peers and need to find a way to cope with the darkest depths of his depression, Tony chose to use hallucinogens dropping acid or eating mushrooms just to get through the moments of his school life. It only made things worse for that he was labeled a stoner and had little support from his teachers who cared little about the struggling teen.
“I dropped out, I isolated, I sat in my bedrooms for weeks on end, not showering, doing anything, barely surviving. I was depressed. I was allowed and encouraged to be depressed by an ill parent.” It can be tough living with a parent that mirrors your own issues, and these types of relationships, when reflected on later in life, this can feel destructive.
It was tough going for Tony for most of his childhood and his teenage years. But as a human being, our journey is one that teaches us perseverance, and though it may seem as if this life is not worth living in the struggles of a mental illness, there is always a time when things feel okay. As if life is showing you a little light in the darkest places.
Tony eventually found that he could be functional after losing the majority of the weight he gained over the years. Tony found a few years of “normalcy” that often comes with the end of a depression cycle. In this period of time Tony made the decision to go back to school where he received his college diploma in Social Service Work. As most stories with a mental illness go, this short period of normalcy was quickly followed by a glut of personal tragedies in his adult life.
Everyone experiences personal tragedies in their life, but for someone prone to severe depression it will often sink the sufferer deeper into depression as a response. The shorter the period of time and succession of tragedies can often leave a mental illness to suffer little time to compartmentalize these events.
“I experienced in a short period of time my dad’s brief fight with cancer, my sister’s own discovery of her own battle with cancer, the ending of my marriage, which was followed with the birth of a daughter who was born at 1lb 3oz at 25 weeks with bleeding on her brain and a hole in her heart.”
Even the strongest of us in the mental health community can only hold on for so long. It is no surprise given the succession of tragedies in Tony’s life that he had a psychotic break and was hospitalized for twenty-one days. Tony recalls that experience well, “It was frightening, but I felt safe, and I away from all the shit of the world for a short period, and I didn’t have anything to do but get better.” It was in this experience that Tony started writing and doing collage art.
In Tony’s experience, it is often tough to get through a single day with his mental illness. When he is symptomatic he uses routines that help him complete tasks in a ritualistic way. It helps that Tony gets through a day alive, but on the worst days, he only accomplishes a fraction of what he had planned. To combat the bad days, he focuses on his limitations, trying not to get too ahead of himself, and try hard not to take the bad too seriously. These types of behaviors come from years of dealing with the darkness and finding wisdom.
That wisdom showed when Tony was asked about if he ever had suicidal thoughts, “Yes, I have several times. Once I got close enough to downing a bottle of pills that I knew enough to drag myself to the ward. When you can’t trust yourself with your pills, you know you’re in trouble.”
Writing can be the most therapeutic part of the life of someone with a mental illness. I know in my own experiences that is true, and Tony has found his place in his own blog and writing. In talking about his story with me it has helped Tony to process the past and to look to be grounded in the present.
“My blog and being creative in general have meant the world to me. I am not someone who talks about things. I sit on them” he recalls. Tony believes that seeking help is an important part of his recovery, but engaging others through creative expression is an amazing experience that he cherishes.
In Tony’s life, he often finds solace and happiness in the little things in his life that make it easier to deal with his mental illness. Tony has his kids, nature, art, music, friends, and family that are his support system in his darkest times.
Every one of the human beings in the mental illness community wants their story to be one of many that make a difference or end the stigma that surrounds all of us. “At some point in our lives,” he explains, “I am pretty sure we could all meet the requirements for a mental disorder diagnosis. It’s okay. If we are honest and brave enough to be vulnerable and tell people what we are feeling, it’s a start.”
Tony believes that we all have a vulnerability that keeps us from seeking help, but if we are willing to be open-minded and willing to accept that we have a mental illness it could mean getting the right help. Tony believes that it’s not about weakness, laziness, or morals. It is about your health and illness.
Tony wants to tell the world his story, the ups, the downs, his love for his poetry and his art; to be featured on The Bipolar Writer in Tony’s eyes is a vital part of his healing process. Tony’s is one of the many, but there is no doubt that his story has to be told.
Here are some links to written poetry Tony wanted to share:
If you would like to know more about Tony and his journey you can visit him on his blog. “My Hand in the Garden” @ https://handsinthegarden.wordpress.com/
Written by: James Edgar Skye
Interviewee: Anthony “Tony” Gorman
All art pieces on this article are done by Tony
Other Features written by J.E. Skye