This One’s For St. Michael And All The Memories In The Backrow

The Main Street of my little village; February 10, 2007 – Photo by Me.

The first cut is the deepest, Baby I know —
The first cut is the deepest
‘Cause when it comes to being lucky, she’s cursed
When it comes to lovin’ me, she’s worse
But when it comes to being loved, she’s first
That’s how I know.
Cat Stevens

“…I would cry if / I had been taught how. / But I don’t /
Because I wasn’t / Although / To speak a truth /
I wouldn’t even if / I could now / That I can /
Think. / My heart doesn’t / Scream / Any more /
And for that I / Thank / Someone /
I don’t know / Anymore.”
Excerpted From A Poem I Wrote A Few Months After Mary Left (1997)

We are stunted. There are pieces of ourselves, of our minds, that are stunted. Our disease keeps us from dealing rationally with events in our lives, so those events never grow. Those events never change. They don’t evolve. We are who we are, but who we could have been is changed for as long as we remain unmedicated and untreated. I have memories that have haunted me everyday for twenty years. Since I have started treatment for my disease I have started to manage these memories. I have started to deal with my Self. And I have learned that who I am is partially based on lies told to me by my disease. Lies I have told myself for twenty years because I thought they were truths because my disease convinced me I was moving forward when in fact my forward momentum was me falling.

There have been many things missing in my life. Some things I had no control over, some things I could have taken control over but was too sick to realize. When I was a child I lived in a home with ten adults. Sometimes more, sometimes less. When I was a child I called no one mother and no one father. I grew up in a Collective, a political commune based on goodwill, then Lenin, then Stalin, then Mao and finally Insanity. For the first five years of my life my mother was sick and hospitalized more than not. My father placed my care into the Hands of The Collective because he was sick. He was mentally ill. And he was In Charge. And I became a Chore, placed on the corkboard along with grocery lists and Items to be Accomplished. But I didn’t know this. I had a bike. I had some friends. I had school. And I had to pack, often, because every six months The Collective had to move because people were watching.

Who teaches a child about life? “Give me a child when he is seven and I will show you the man.” What happens when a child has been left on his own inside a larger group of adults who are trying to create a revolution for most of his first seven years? What happens when he is eight and, when his mother is healthy enough, she escapes from the Insanity and he is taken along and away from everything he has known? What happens when, from the age of nine that child only sees his father for two hours? What happens when half of his entire biological family stays away, and the child is told horror stories about them by his relatives? What happens when you take a child, who lived in a full-to-bursting, hectic household in a small city and place him, the very next day, into an apartment in a small town 500 miles away?

What happens when none of this is explained to him? No one taught me about life. Everything I learned I learned from observation and trial and error. And that included love. Especially love. I have had people in my head since I was a teenager. Now I have some clarity afforded to me now by medications and therepy, and memories that have never been dealt with are coming back with a ferocity that takes my breath away.

I was never told about love or sex or relationships. And I never asked because those constant childhood moves, and The Final Move away from my family and friends, left me numb and insecure and embarrassed and an introvert and Clinically Depressed and by 16 I was rapidly moving into full blown Manic Depression. And then, in October, 1987, when I was 17 and a year before being diagnosed, the man my mother was going to marry, the man who had become my first substitute father, died. And right at this time, right at this time in my life, I was dating Illona. A beautiful, special, unique, fantastic girl. There are people in our lives who become memories that do not leave us. Illona is one of mine.

We had been dating for a few months and Illona surprised me on a Friday afternoon. Her parents were away and I should spend the weekend with her. So I’m freaked out, but I’m too embarrassed to say no. So I call my mom and tell her I’m leaving school to go hang out with friends for the weekend. With no clothes, no money and I don’t even have a family name for my fictional-friend to give her so I make one up and it just happens to be the name of her boyfriends cousin. So now I am terrified, freaked out, nervous and embarrassed. The bus ride to Illona’s place was an hour long.

Then we’re both naked, in the spare bedroom of her parents home, and I have no idea what’s going on because I still had never actually been in this situation before and all I can feel is my heart banging and I’m touching things I’ve never touched before and I’m wondering what the fuck am I supposed to do now and I’m just so incredibly terrified of what’s happening and I’m so damned embarrassed and I freeze. I shut down. And I roll over and I pick up my clothes, and get dressed and head for the door and I can’t say a fucking word. And the whole time she was begging me to say something to explain to her what she had done wrong and what was wrong with me… and I walked outside and I was 20miles from home in the middle of a field in the middle of the night and I was wearing a light jacket over a light shirt and it was late fall and I walked home. And I yelled at Orion the whole way. But I never said another word to her…

Since I wrote that post about Infected Memories I’ve considered that some of my memories about Illona, Melanie, Mary and a couple of others might have been blown out of proportion. And some of them, I think, have been. Specifically the memories I have about Mary. We dated for close to three years. She broke up with me because I was sick and she wasn’t a nurse, and I have the clarity necessary to respect and understand that now. Even Melanie… I know why we broke up, I know why I broke up with her. I know exactly why I broke up with her. Part of it was the disease, the first time we broke up was because I was going into the hospital because I was suicidal and needed to have my medications monitored. But there was also a lot of pressure from “others”.

Melanie and I were in love and I still believe I’m in love with her. But what’s frustrating is I’m not sure anymore if those feelings are me or remnants of the disease. We broke up because when we started dating I was eighteen and she was fifteen and my mother was sixteen when she met my biological-father, who was then about 25. Every chance my mom had, and I believe she was doing it subconsciously, she was passive aggressively pushing a wedge between Melanie and myself (I watched my mother do the same thing to my youngest brother about eight years later for similar reasons). Until, for completely irrational reasons, I broke down and told Melanie we were through. And, again, that image of Melanie asking me what the fuck she had done wrong has stayed with me for almost eighteen years.

There are other names. Other memories. Other horrors. Julie. Anji. Wendy. Lynne. Debbie. It’s like every relationship I was in before I was… not a virgin I guess… I just bailed out of right when I was either falling into love or we were getting ready to fall into bed. I know the causes of the breaks of those relationships had something to do with Clinical Depression, and possibly they were happening around when the Manic Depression was kicking in, but they had so much more to do with the Nurture role… no father; no parental sex talk; I was an introvert; an overbearing mother trying to cover over eight years of Insanity; confused family roles… but the disease never allowed me to see those reasons. The only reasons I was allowed to see were in the mirror.

When I think about Mary I feel regret at the lost opportunities. When I think about Melanie I think she was my Love. But… when I think about Illona all I see is her holding onto my arm as I tried to put my fucking shirt on. All I can see when my mind holds up Illona to me, every fucking day, is her pain in that moment.

Manic depression stunts our emotional and mental growth. We’re permanently locked in to a certain time and a certain age. It doesn’t allow us to deal with shit so the shit stays fresh for as long as we’re unmedicated. I’ve thought about Illona and Melanie and Mary and Debbie everyday for almost twenty years. And most of those times it feels like my heart wants to stop. I don’t know if I was in love with Illona. I probably should have been. There are reasons for what happened between us. For what I did to her. But there are always reasons. How much do I trivialize her pain if I list my reasons? I’m not even sure it’s a matter of pain anymore… I don’t know what this did to her, how it changed her. If she thinks about it. If she’s haunted. But I know I am. Fuck. All I want to do is beg these people to stop being in my head and that just isn’t possible yet.

While I was writing this post I had an email conversation with a friend about Illona and Debbie and Melanie and Mary. And I told her that I was trying to write this thing but I kept getting this fucking image of Illona in my mind. And if it wasn’t her it was Debbie. My friend told me to remember that I was seventeen, a confused and messed up kid. That I shouldn’t hold this kind of thing as an example of who I am or even who I was. And that’s my point. There is a normal amount of regret. We do horrible things and naturally spend the next ten years fixing them. Maybe what I did was a relatively normal, albeit horrible, part of being a young person. But the disease wouldn’t let me react rationally. This isn’t me. At least not who I think I’ve become anyway.

This is the very first time I’ve written about any of this. Anytime I’d start in the past it would end with torn paper and broken pens. I think what’s happening is this: this post and the past few weeks and months, is the pills and therepy giving me the clarity necessary to start dealing with these twenty year old and thirty year old memories. So, yeah, take the fucking pills and kill some ghosts, and understand that the disease has always lied to you and kept you from knowing who you are.



About Gabriel...

...diagnosed with manic depression when I was nineteen, for the next 14-years I lived without treatment or a recovery plan. I've been homeless, one time I graduated college, I've won awards for reporting on Internet privacy issues, and a weekly humour column. In 2002 I finally hit bottom and found help. It's now 2022, and I have an 8-year old son, and a 12-year old son... I’m usually about six feet tall, and I'm pretty sure I screwed up my book deal. I mostly blog at
This entry was posted in Bipolar, crazy people with no pants, Depression, General Tao's Chicken, Health, Lithium, Living With Depression, Living With Manic Depression, Manic Depression, Memories, Ottawa, Poetry, Poverty, Publishing, Punk, [redacted]. Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to This One’s For St. Michael And All The Memories In The Backrow

  1. Queen Minx says:

    You have great courage, Gabriel.

    One day, you will look in the mirror and see yourself, really ‘see’ yourself, and you will like the man you see, you will love him.

    I don’t think that day is too far away, now. Or, at least, you know it’s coming.


  2. housewife says:

    It sounds like who you are is so much more than how you were.

    I’m fascinated.

  3. thordora says:

    As a girl I always did the opposite-threw myself until people until I realized that’s not what they wanted.

    And I shut down from that as well. I’m lucky to have found my husband though.

    You’ll find yours.

  4. aikaterine says:

    I know that I have said this before, but I do not think you can hear it enough.

    You are brilliant.

  5. Pingback: My Thanks To You On The First Anniversary Of Salted Lithium… YAY YOU. « …salted lithium.

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