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My most successful failures

Guest Author: Gus

This content contains explicit and sensitive information that may not be suitable for all ages.

As a heterosexual, white male (6’8”, 285lbs – give or take 15 lbs. either way), I’ve lived a privileged life.

I’ve thrived professionally for decades. In my 50 short years, I’ve hunted, fished, swam, cycled, played baseball, soccer, volleyball, hockey and basketball. I’ve been S.C.U.B.A. diving, parachuting, bungee jumping, and backpacking. I’ve had wild monkeys steal peanuts from my hand, bribed an immigration official in a foreign country, eaten raw salmon mere minutes after capture in the ocean, eaten the brain of some unidentified animal straight from its boiled skull, graduated from three different universities, and coached multiple sports over the years. I’ve had dogs, cats, birds and fish as pets. I can speak Japanese very poorly but still; when I was in high school, I only imagined speaking French poorly.

My biggest success to date is being alive.

My biggest success to date is being alive. When I was in high school, I tried to kill myself. And seven times since then. They are my eight most successful failures.

I was born unwanted and unnamed. I was moved from hospital to a receiving home to a foster home to my maternal biological home, back to the foster home and on to an adoptive home all by the age of five.

The woman who gave birth to me eventually got married, had other children and asked for me back. Social workers convinced her to give me up permanently while I was in hospital with burns on my skin (from being used as an ashtray) and broken bones. I was three years old.

When I was sent back to my foster home, I didn’t trust my foster mom anymore. I did recover before I got lucky and was shipped 4700 km out of province at the age of 5. I went to a good home with a good life. We had boarders who didn’t stay long but they were almost like brothers.

I was also sexually abused repeatedly over the course of several years by an older sibling. And each time, I was told, “It’s okay. You’re not really one of us.”

When I was 35, I met my biological “father” for about 30 minutes. He declared my biological mother “cracked” and denied my being his paternal offspring. Over the next 15 years, I learned of about eight half-siblings. Some look like me, only shorter. Some insist I am not their brother. Some I have met.

Informally, I have Abandoned Child Syndrome.

When I was 46, I was diagnosed with Major Depressive Disorder and Anxiety (Not Otherwise Specified) (both with a side of Post-Traumatic Stress). I’m a little obsessive-compulsive. Informally, I have Abandoned Child Syndrome. My brain patterns will never go away entirely. I’ve learned to manage them, like others manage asthma or diabetes.
A psychiatrist asked me if I understood how angry I was. I had no clue what he was talking about. He let me know most people with my personal experience are drug addicts, in jail or dead. An occupational therapist was bewildered at how I had functioned so long without help. I hadn’t known I needed help. Work was a distraction. Little did I know I was working myself into the ground so I could feel accepted.

My brain is wired differently than most neuro-normative people. I have trouble trusting people. I’ve always felt awkward and out of place. I’m surprisingly passive as I had no control over where I lived or whom I lived with. I wasn’t aware that at my inner core, I feel unworthy of love. It has something to do with the unpredictable care during my earliest years. I’m impulsive. Sometimes I’m oblivious to the things I do, like arranging cans on grocery store shelves as I try to gain order in my life.

I have several thoughts per day of killing myself. They’re annoying – like a wisp of hair that keeps falling into my face. I mentally brush them aside. Those wispy, annoying thoughts sometimes turn to strong urges. I frequently go into a dissociative trance.

Like a wisp of hair that keeps falling into my face.

Like a rootless tree, I still feel like I don’t belong anywhere. It shapes my unconscious. My doctor told my wife to be patient trying to get me to talk as I’ve learned over a lifetime that no one wants to hear what I have to say. Most of my adoptive family confirmed that by deserting me since I started to speak up. Their reaction was completely predictable. It’s uncomfortable. It’s dramatic. It’s inappropriate. Whatever. They have no comprehension and don’t really want to understand. Other people express their support with “You don’t have to tell me.” What I gather is “I want to support you without having to hear what you’re trying to say.”

Compassion is my motivation for speaking up. If anyone feels sorry for me, I have failed. If I can give one person hope, if one person makes a choice to keep living, if one person starts seeing a psychiatric medical condition just as worthy of discussion as a physical one, free from snide jokes, snickering or awkward, embarrassed silences, I will have succeeded.

Positive mental wellness is not the absence of a medical condition. We can be languishing without a medical diagnosis. We can flourish with a medical condition. We need to stop imprisoning ourselves in stigma.

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