There is no doubt in my mind that trauma played a part in the development of my bipolar illness. I am not unique in this regard, but families tend to deny that trauma causes and worsens mental illness. And, in our society, we are discouraged from speaking the truth about our families. But, I cannot continue to honestly write about my mental illness without addressing this topic. I have talked about it in therapy for years, and I have come to terms with it, but it will always be something I have to deal with because the unpleasant memories will always be there.

From my earliest memories, I have experienced terror and insecurity in the care of my family. I remember being locked in my room for hours and locked outside "to play" and hosed off before I was allowed inside. My parents always put themselves and their needs first and my sister and I suffered for that. I was never treated with respect although my basic needs were mostly taken care of. If I complained of headaches or cramps, I was told I needed to toughen up. My physical pain was never taken seriously. And I often did not have warm enough clothes for the winter. I was told not to complain.

Because of my father's work, my parents traveled internationally for weeks, and sometimes months, at a time while I was left with relatives I didn't see often or know well, or complete strangers. I did not have many regular caregivers except for my grandparents who I would see several times a year. I was sexually molested by a 16 year-old neighborhood boy who babysat me when I was 6 years old. My family also moved 10 times to different states and Canada before I turned 15. I went to different schools every couple of years and never had time to become part of any community. I went to the same high school for three years.

My father was sexually inappropriate with me. He pinched my nipples and snapped my bra strap starting at age 14. He would "accidentally" walk in on me when I was showering and changing and I found him in my bed at night in his underwear or sitting in a chair across from my bed in his underwear staring at me while masturbating. Once, when on vacation in Hawaii, he demanded that my sister and I change into our swimsuits in front of him while he sat on the bed staring. I refused to do so, but watched in disgust as my sister followed this command. I was 16 and she was 14. I think she was too young to understand how abnormal this was. He also masturbated in bed on all of the vacations we went on as a family. It is hard not to notice such behavior. You can hear the wetness and the yanking. I complained to my mother about all of these things and she said that I was "overreacting and making things up".

Because of all of the discomfort in my home, I could not wait to go to college. I excelled in school as this was promoted as an escape route to a desirable life. It seemed so easy, I just had to do well in school, get a good job, find a good husband, have some children, and have a great life! I knew how I wanted my life to unfold but I didn't realize that I did not learn the skills to make that happen from my family. I didn't realize how much I missed. I was miserable from my earliest memories, but I always had hope that things would get better when I could be in charge of my own life.

I thought I wouldn't have anything to worry about because I excelled in both school and sports, was good-looking, in shape, knew how to eat a healthy diet and cook, and knew how to dress well, be well-groomed, fix my hair, and apply makeup. I enjoyed traveling, going to museums, and I appreciated art, theater, science, photography, reading, and learning. I started working at 14, driving at 16, and felt that I was well-rounded. I was even a National Merit Finalist. I didn't realize how far behind I was socially until I got to college and was surrounded by classmates who had lived in the same communities for their entire lives and had strong and healthy relationships with their friends and families.

When my friends' fathers' hugged me without rubbing their penises in my crotch and pulling me in too closely, I was shocked because that is what I had gotten used to at home--and what I recoiled from. It was also my family's custom for everyone to kiss each other on the lips when greeting and I hated this as I did not know any of my family very well, and they made jokes about how "incest is best", and the men in my family talked about having gone to the same whorehouse together as a family outing.

In college, I observed people who were members of loving and supportive families. They felt comfortable at home and missed living with their parents. It all seemed so foreign to me. I learned how far behind I was because of my upbringing and how much I would need to learn and experience before I could have a normal life. At about the time that all of this was dawning on me, I experienced my first psychotic break at the age of 19. It was a huge disappointment.

My biggest fear had always been "going crazy" but receiving my diagnosis led to years of treatment and therapy and finally to the understanding of mental health recovery and learning how to stay well enough to work full-time and support myself without having a mental breakdown every couple of years. I have had many setbacks in the learning curve of learning to live with my mental illness, but finally, at the age of 48, I feel like I'm where I should be in terms of self-care and independence. Looking back, my delayed growth makes sense because my growth had been stunted by my family circumstances until the age of 18. I am fortunate that I possessed the intelligence and drive to continue to grow even though I missed so much growing up.

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