For God’s Sake, Cover Yourself

I posses a very unique skill set.  I can eradicate all evidence of a Burger King meal.  I’m so meticulous I think I missed my calling as a serial killer or “body disposer” for the mob.  You’ll find no trace of Whopper, fry, or ketchup pack in my home or car.  You won’t even find a rogue grain of salt.  I scrub my nails with rubbing alcohol.  I triple-bag each wrapper and dump everything a block from my home. 

I don’t have OCD.  I just don’t want to have to explain to my wife that I broke my diet.  She wouldn’t yell or get angry.  I just like how proud she’s been of me.  I don’t want her to be disappointed.  I like seeing her happy, knowing I’m getting healthy.  So I cover the truth.  

How often we do that?  How many times do we lie so others won’t be disappointed?  We erase our search history so no one will know what we’re jerking off to.  We clam up when someone asks us if we believe in God.  It’s why we wax our eyebrows and suck in our gut.   We just want to be liked. 

But does anyone really know us?  

My mother hid her truth until she was forty-five.  She played the role of dutiful, heterosexual housewife.  She focused on her children.  She didn’t want us to be punished for her secret.  Kansas City wasn’t exactly progressive.  She knew people wouldn’t just judge her; they’d judge us.  She feared folks like my aunt might try to damage her reputation in order to rip us from her care.

I know this fear.  When I was diagnosed with bipolar II, I didn’t want anyone to find out.  I was terrified of being institutionalized. 

I kept quiet about my thoughts of suicide.  I told the doctors I wasn’t a danger to myself.  I didn’t want people to stop trusting me.  I didn’t want to limit my options, so I buried the darkness.  I told people I had the flu, that I had bad diarrhea so they’d stay away.  I needed to keep up the lie.  

But it’s exhausting.  Maintaining a fake identity chips away at your sanity until finally one day you just say, “Fuck it!  I don’t care.  This is me.  I’m a weirdo.”

That’s what happened to my mom.  After years of lying, she finally came clean.  It was good and terrifying.  She was out, and there was no going back in.

She’s an amazing woman, and her courage inspired me to start this blog.

 

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Bipolar II: Electric Boogaloo

I struggled when my mom came out of the closet.  It had nothing to do with her being gay; it was the fact she’d been keeping this secret.  She’d been married to my dad for 25 years, and she was still married to him when she told me the truth.  I started to wonder if I knew this woman at all.  What else was she hiding?

What if she’s a terrorist?

I saw deception everywhere. I was back in L.A. having what I’d later learn was my first hypomanic episode.  It was like free cocaine, without the nosebleeds.  I wrote nonstop, about my mom, my family.  I’d never kept a diary, and this wasn’t really a diary, more like the pages you’d find at a serial killer’s apartment.  Notebooks stacked into teetering towers, piles of napkins covered with my asexual chicken-scratch handwriting.

I stopped sleeping.

I saw connections in everything.

Sycronicity.  Fate.  Predestination.

I became obsessed with conspiracy theories, everything from the ancient Sumerians to JFK.  I was like a manic Mulder, searching for the Truth, attempting to peel back the curtain of lies disseminated by the government, both shadow and real.  I spent days in bookstores pouring over everything from Pearl Harbor to the Dead Sea Scrolls.  I scoured illiterate websites and rented documentaries on Waco and the Gnostics.  I read Holy Blood; Holy Grail and began questioning my years of Jesuit education.

Then I wrote a novel in three weeks.  It was about two teenagers working at Blockbuster who decide to start a cult, and one of the guys learns he’s a direct descendent of Jesus.  It was one of the worst books ever written, but I had to keep typing.  I wrote crackpot philosophical manifestos about how people need to pick the exact date they are going to die, then believe in that date wholeheartedly.  “Only with a deadline does anything happen.”  I wrote treaties on threesomes, how it’s not really cheating when your partner is in the bed.

I badgered my girlfriend at the time to make out with other girls.  We’d bring them back to my place and I’d watch them strip and finger each other.

I became consumed by the idea of being with two girls.

I didn’t know it was hypomania at the time. I thought I was just really awake.

It would take me another seven years to find out I’m manic-depressive, more specifically, bipolar II.  When the psychiatrist read me the criteria, I started crying.  I wasn’t upset.  I just wanted to give him a hug.  For the first time, I had an answer to what was going on in my head.  It explained why I could go days without sleeping and write until my fingers bled.  It also explained the thoughts of suicide.

A lot of people more talented than I’ll ever be have written about their depression, so I’m not going to offer anything groundbreaking here.  All I can say is that when you’re living in that awful space, you’re not just sad.  You’re ashamed.  You make up excuses why you can’t meet for lunch.  You don’t leave the house, afraid if anyone saw the real you they’d puke.  It’s that shame that keeps you in the darkness.  You lock the door and stay under the blankets.  Later, you tell people you had the flu.  You bury your secrets.  You pray no one will ever find out, because you don’t want to be judged or hated.  You do that enough to yourself.

My mom knew that feeling all too well.  She didn’t want to break up the family or hurt her children.  She didn’t want to be despised or hear the bigots.  She wanted to keep her friends and her life and the home she’d built.  There were moments she probably wished she were straight.   Wouldn’t life be easier?

But eventually, it became too painful to keep pretending.  It was too much work.  So she gathered the courage and told me the truth.  She knew our relationship might be damaged, but she took the chance and trusted me.  It wasn’t easy for me at first, but over time, I realized nothing about her had really changed.  She was still the same caring, supportive, hilarious, inappropriate woman I’ve always known. She was still my mom.

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