In Addition to My Writing Goals, Or: Building a Better Person

A few weeks back, I wrote about my writing goals for 2013. Ambitious goals, all, and I intend to accomplish all those goals by years’ end.

But writing is really a secondary goal for 2013. My biggest goal for 2013 is to be a better person.

I say with no exaggeration that 2012 was the worst year of my life. I went through an extended hypomanic stage, in which I was rapid-cycling from pure ecstasy to deep depression, and every divisive and toxic emotion in between. I’m still not comfortable talking about all the details over what took place, but the bottom line was, if you look at what happened from a 30,000 foot view, I was hell-bent on self-destruction, and destroying everything I loved around me. My hypomanic episodes, and the lies and deception and the insanity surrounding it all, nearly cost me my marriage. My wife had enough, and she threw me out.

I had a decision to make: continue on this path of self-destruction, and reach bottom, or beg for forgiveness, climb out however possible, face the ugly truth, make amends, own up to the emotional pain and turmoil I’d inflicted, and get help.

In the past, I would have chosen the former. It’s what my family would have done. I come from a long line of manic depressives, cheaters, liars, abusers. Why own up to the truth when you can bury all of it in more lies and more self-delusion? Clearly, for me at least, my mental breakdown was being caused by my inability to cope with the demands of life, so I chose to drown those inabilities with self-destructive tendencies. It’s what my father did. It’s what my mother did. The circle of life, huh?

Making the latter choice was the most difficult choice I’ve ever made. It meant having to face up to my wife’s pain and anguish and anger. It meant having to rebuild our marriage. What I put us through would have destroyed any other marriage, but I chose, we chose, commitment. We’re still committed, day-by-day. It hasn’t been easy, but what I’ve learned, through the assistance of an extremely compassionate marriage counselor, is that in order to heal, we must deal directly with those traumas. If my wife was hurt, it was my tendency to withdraw, which in turn hurt her more. Well, no more. If I was hurt, it was my wife’s tendency to overreact. Well, no more. We’ve become mindful of understanding that we both harbor tremendous amounts of pain, but how each of us deals with that pain is different. I know now that when my wife is hurting, all she wants is compassion, for me to tell her it’ll be alright. The same goes for me.

In choosing the latter, I chose to break that toxic circle of life.

I chose a commitment to myself. To be a better person. A better husband. A better father. The things I know I can be.

All of those things, I know, will help me be a better writer. Writing has been the best form of therapy for me. I’m not fooling myself into thinking that my work-in-progress doesn’t have anything to do with me or my life. Part of what prompted me to write the novel was a plea from my wife, during a low time for me: “I need you to be my superhero.”

I can never be a superhero, because superheroes aren’t supposed to be flawed. But the best fiction is made up of flawed heroes. Hence me pouring my fears and hopes and traumas and joys into this neurotic mess of a novel.

 

When I finally reached out for professional mental health, I learned two things: one, I am bipolar. Two, being bipolar isn’t a death sentence or anything like that. My psychiatrist, after reading my 12-page evaluation form, pretty much called me a “textbook case.” I’m inclined to agree with his opinion, and not only because he’s really one of the few certified psychiatrists in the area that specializes in mood disorders. I was always a moody fucker. Elated one moment, angry the next. Like living with Dr. Jeckyll and Mr. Hyde. Being under the right medication – and having that medication managed properly – has helped stabilized those moods. My wife tells me that often. Mind you, I can still get pretty angry about things, but my mood flip-flopping is pretty rare nowadays.

Funny, for me, being bipolar helps explain a lot about me. For some, it would be a source of shame, but for me, it’s a badge of honor. Yes, I have a mood disorder. No, it doesn’t mean I’m going to fly off the handle and stab you in the chest. In the same fashion that one learns to live with diabetes, I’m learning to live with bipolar disorder. It’s knowing what triggers you, and how to help calm yourself down.

Calming myself has been the work of my therapist, who has been even more instrumental in my recovery. During our first session, she explained my manic behavior as being the result of a breakdown of the self. My “managers,” meaning my coping mechanisms, have been non-existent in the past. I was all about drowning my triggers and traumas and pains through self-destructive means: drugs, alcohol, sex, porn, affairs. These drowning mechanisms are known as “firefighters,” putting out fires but leaving a path of destruction in their wake. She’s helped me rebuild those managers, and understand that seeking out “firefighters” for a temporary fix isn’t a solution.

In short, she’s helped me to understand that, yes, I’ve made mistakes, and I’ve fucked up, but I’m not a fuck-up. I should stop beating myself up. I can be a better person. I should stop short-changing myself and take the easy way out. I wanted to be a writer. Well, then, here’s your opportunity. Here are the tools. You now have the coping mechanisms, and the confidence to do this, and succeed, in any way, shape, or form. Go.

It’s my intention to make 2013 the best year of my life, one way or another. To be a better person. And a better writer.

And it’s my hope that you’ll tag along for the ride too.

Thanks for reading.

 

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16 thoughts on “In Addition to My Writing Goals, Or: Building a Better Person

  1. Damn, Gus. That was one of the most honest blog posts I’ve read in a long time.

    And I’m 2012 sucked so bad for you, but it sounds like you’ve made the right decision and are getting back on track! And the exciting thing is this: First, you’re addressing your shortcomings, something we must ALL do. Second, I think of the word “forge” often. My life beat the hell out of me, and it sounds like yours has done likewise, and it’s from these setbacks that greatness comes forth.

    In story after story, in example after example — think of a broken part welded together; that becomes the strongest part, which still defies logic for me…

    Here’s to an awesome 2013 for you and you actually achieving superhero status. Because, bro, you conquer your past? You save your marriage? You take the fiction world by storm? You really are a superhero, and I’m certain you’ll do all, including for sure the last part — or frankly I wouldn’t be hanging around. I network UP, man. Not down. (And no, for the haters out there, I’m not a selfish, uncaring bastard. You inspire and help those below you, but you cannot spend all your time with them or pessimism could overtake you…)

    • Being honest doesn’t mean much if you’re not honest with yourself, and that’s something I’ve had to force myself to do.

      I used an interesting boxing analogy with my therapist yesterday. I told her I used to be one of those punch-avoidance boxers, the kind of fighters you’d call “soft.” Avoid the punches of life, you know. I’ve learned recently that not only can I (and I have to) take a punch, but I’ve learned to counter-punch. And damn that feels good.

  2. Gus, that was a lot of personal information. I wasn’t sure how I felt about reading all that at first. I needed to see why it was important to you that we (the readers) know all those intimate details. Then I realized it isn’t my place to “judge,” only to read. And absorb. As a reader, I will offer you, the anti-hero, applause and my wish for your success. As a writer, I hope your personal demons are harnessed into an amazing superpower. As a man, I pray for you and your family. And on a personal note, I think you are very brave to open your soul and I can only admire your openness and honesty. Here is to the good that must follow. Salute.

    • Hi Sherry,

      First off, thanks for reading. I do realize this is a lot of personal information, and I’m perfectly fine with sharing that. Some people choose to share what they want to share. I’m choosing to share much for my own sake. I thank you for not judging, and for offering me your well-wishes.

      Thanks!

  3. Gus,

    I knew there was a reason I was drawn to you. Perhaps it was the subliminal nuances that I’d read between the lines when visiting. Birds of a feather.

    I was diagnosed with BPD in 2003 and in 2004, had a manic episode that resulted in what I call my “seven days of sleeplessness.” Not a wink of sleep in seven days. Unlike God, it was on the eighth day that I finally rested. I was totally out of my head and hallucinating by the time all was said and done. Not fun. I’ll have to tell you about privately, one day.

    I embrace all the chaotic experiences that came from standing in the threshold between sanity and madness, and think, in the process of surviving them, they have made me a better man and writer. And Lord, the stories that came from them!

    I’m with you on this journey, and know, from the man I’ve seen on these pages, that you will triumph.

    • I knew you were crazy!

      Yeah, all kidding aside, just knowing that mania existed is exhausting enough, which is why I’m building every defense I have, and securing much more, to keep that mania away. It’s an ugly, harrowing, frightening, confusing and destructive feeling that showed me I was searching for something to fill a void in my life, albeit in an extremely harmful way.

  4. Guts. You’ve got ’em. To me, making the choice you did and getting where you are. . . Sounds like super hero stuff for sure. I’m cheering for you the whole way.

  5. This was beautiful, plain and simple. I echo all the sentiments about your courage in being so honest. I, too, understand the power and healing that comes of learning just how much a disorder contributed to the details. BPD is a rough road, but you have all the right skills and support to manage it.

  6. Sweet post, man. I don’t know you all that well, but what I do know about you I like – and respect – a lot more after reading this. I admire your courage and my thoughts are with you for making this the best year of your life.

    “Why own up to the truth when you can bury all of it…” Lots of food for thought there!

  7. Pingback: A Look Back at My Writing and Personal Goals for 2013 | Out Where the Buses Don't Run

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