It’s generally believed that the onset of bipolar typically occurs in the teenage years. There is some evidence that the onset can begin earlier in men, but it’s rare that symptoms develop before puberty. Technically, I suppose that’s true for me as my first major depression wasn’t identified until I was 16. But there were definite signs of the impending illness much earlier.
Mostly what stood out in my childhood were the negatives. I can’t really recall a time that was happy and carefree. My very earliest memory was when John F. Kennedy was killed. I have a very vivid image of my mother as she ironed, collapsing on the floor crying when Walter Cronkite broke into the afternoon shows with the news. I also remember going to my Grandparents house for his funeral so we could watch it on their color TV. My Mother went back to work during my preschool years; first leaving me at home with a housekeeper, and then dropping me off at a daycare. This was back in the early 60’s and it was unheard of to have a working mother, and I already started feeling different from the others. My Father was depressed my entire life, and we never did anything fun together. He once tried tossing a baseball with me, but he was not much of an athlete and managed to hit me in the face on the very first throw. That was the end of that, and we never played again. My five year old birthday party was a preview into how my whole childhood would develop. All that I remember is that it wasn’t much of a party. There were only three people invited and there were no games or anything fun, just an awkward cake and ice cream.
As I started school I was becoming very aware of being different from the others. I was hyperactive, and acted out to be the center of attention. I generally succeeded, but usually by getting in trouble. I also felt like nobody really liked me and I had a very hard time making friends. I guess I did okay with school work, but from the very beginning my parents had no involvement in helping with homework or being a part of my class. Mom was working and unavailable for field trips or classroom projects and my Father was never involved with anything. It was around this time I the addictive personality traits begin to develop. My Mother and Father were both heavy smokers even during Mom’s pregnancy and I believe to this day I was born addicted to cigarettes. By the time I was seven years old I was sneaking packs of cigarettes from my parents.
By the third grade I had become all but outcast from my classmates. I was so uncomfortable in class I started pretending to be sick so I could spend the day with the school nurse. I don’t think it was an active plan; I just knew that I didn’t want to be in class and kept finding ways to work myself up into feeling bad. I suppose I was either good at the act, or my teachers found it easier to let me go than trying to deal with me and I spent at least a couple of days a week out of class. Of course not being in class every day meant that I was constantly behind on my schoolwork, and my grades just continued to slide downhill. Somehow my parents didn’t have a clue (Or just didn’t acknowledge) that I was missing so much class, and just put me down for my poor grades. Well, my Mother did anyway. My Father never really had much to say either way.
It was in the sixth grade that I knew I was miserable. It was during this time that attraction to the opposite sex begin develop, but I couldn’t get a girlfriend as I was looked on as being weird and different and no one would have anything to do with me. I could really relate to a popular song of the day; Janis Ians’ “At Seventeen”,
“And those of us who knew the pain, of valentines that never came. And those whos’ names were never called, when choosing sides at basket ball…”
Music had always been significant, but as I grew older it helped described my feelings more and more. Songs like The Captain and Tennille “Love will keep us together” would actually make me cry. Popular songs either emphasized what I was missing, or helped me identify with my pain. The Beatles “Nowhere Man” became my anthem.
“He’s a real Nowhere man, Living in a nowhere land. Making all his nowhere plans for nobody.”
The stage was set and the damage begins to take control.
Tomorrow… the disease progresses.