Friday Conversations With My Psychiatrist | April 3, 2009

My doctor and I rarely start with the heavy stuff straight away. Actually, after I walk into his office and we shake hands, our routine consists of my weighing myself on his gravity scale, then I sit down and straighten the second chair, I place my water bottle and Diet Pepsi on his desk and we do a quick catch-up. Then I usually start with something relatively minor and recent.

Like the mini-media event that was the Conficker Virus, which blew up a few days before this appointment.

On Monday I flipped the channel to the CBC national news broadcast and watched as a friend of mine — the editor of an online tech magazine — was interviewed about Conficker. Then, a few minutes later, I flipped to the early edition of the CTV national news broadcast and got to watch another friend — an editor with a national tech magazine — also get interviewed about Conficker.

I haven’t seen either of them for almost six years… maybe seven, but we were pretty tight when we were together. They both looked older… and puffier, but seeing them reminded me I’m at a point in my recovery where I want to be doing something relevant, but I don’t know what or even how I’m supposed to find the opportunity.

There’s a five-year gap in my resume; I can’t afford to move; draw a circle with my village at the centre and there are no jobs for an Anglophone writer anywhere; the type of retraining the Ontario Disability Support Plan offers mostly involves learning how to type, or upgrading your truck driving licence; I owe roughly $12,000 in student loans, so there’s no chance for a real school…

And, of course, very few newspapers are hiring because, for the most part, they’re all going out of business.

Seems like the perfect time to be waking up from a mental illness.

My girlfriend has been making sure I spend more time with her three-year old son recently. And he seems to be getting more comfortable with my presence, and this is freaking me out… mostly because it’s making me reexamine my own failure for a father. Again.

With him around I see the things his father has failed to do, like pay child support, or provide a decent home environment, and I can see my own father neglecting his sons.

So I took him and my girlfriend to the Museum of Science and Technology in Ottawa. During the car ride he and I played together, mostly with cheese. He has been saying my name for a couple of weeks now (Abe-riel), but now he’s also smiling and laughing with me. I took some photos of him and my girlfriend on the trains, and he insisted on taking one of me… not like he wanted to hold the camera, but like he wanted to include me in the fun.

But at this stage it’s still an experiment. I was raised with very little adult supervision or involvement. My mother was sick for the first five years of my life, and my father may have lived in the same house I did, but he never had an interest in being a father.

So I’ve always wondered what kind of a father I’d be… or even if I would, or should, have kids of my own. I feel like there’s a part of me which wants to help this kid, but there’s another part which comes out when he starts screaming that just wants to get the fuck out of the room.

When he does start screaming like he’s been shot I’ve looked at him turning red and wondered if I was thinking what my father might have thought… except I was a quiet kid.

Between this appointment and the previous one my girlfriend had a really horrible day. She had told her soon-to-be-ex-husband (STBEH) not to enter the convenience store where she works during her shift because he had been acting like an asshole. But he did. And again. So she told her boss she was being harassed, and he banned STBEH.

So, of course, STBEH confronted the store owner in the store. She told me all about it while I was walking her home after work… and then she said “someone should hurt him, I don’t care anymore, someone should just hurt him.”

The way she said it made me think she was asking me to do something. I pretty much just stayed quiet, but I was definitely disturbed. So was my doctor… I think he was worried I was going to hurt someone. He told me that civilized people live in a world where alternatives to violence can be found.

I told him “civilized people” are the minority… which was a little glib. But, really, I once saw a guy get his head caved in for using someone else’s pan. My girlfriend and her STBEH have been living in a world where legal agreements don’t exist, where the only thing enforcing the rules they’ve made up is the threat of force. Until I showed my girlfriend how to apply for legal aid she had no plans to file for divorce beyond a vague “I’ll talk to a lawyer”… and they broke up a year ago. There’s not even a separation agreement, or anything on paper regarding custody of their child or child support.

She’s mostly been in charge of making up the rules since leaving because she’s strong and STBEH is mostly a simple, lazy idiot. So they’ve been making it up as they slide downwards, and then they wonder why they’re so frustrated every few weeks. My doctor suggested I look into helping her get a restraining order, or some kind of order of protection. She has been keeping track of the incidents with her STBEH, so that’s good.

My younger sister has been physically attacking her boyfriend, and hiding his medications. It started last fall, they live together in Ottawa and both have mental health issues. She was diagnosed with “borderline personality disorder” several years ago, but last summer she was supersized to schizophrenia.

Her boyfriend has been treated for a few different things… ADHD with BPD, I think — the absolute worst thing someone trying to recover from a mental illness can do is start dating someone else with a mental health issue. Addicts should never date addicts, and people who are insane in the membrane should always stay away from people who think stabbing other people with forks is a means to saving the universe.

So last fall she started to attack him with forks. She was also getting hospitalized almost weekly for suicide attempts. But she wasn’t telling her parents, or me. She was dealing almost exclusively with her boyfriends mom and step-father.

But around Christmas, during a moment of lucidity, my sister managed to get enrolled into a CBT program at the Ottawa General Hospital. She started in February or March and she has stopped attacking her boyfriend, and hasn’t been suicidal or otherwise self-destructive.

When I described the program to my doctor he said it sounded more like “DBT”, or dialectical behaviour therapy. Personally I’m a big fan of medications first and talking later, but my sister has never responded well to medications and has rarely been capable of putting together enough lucid days to stick with therapy or, really, any treatment.

So the past couple of months have been a good sign.

The way my family treated my sister when she first started exhibiting signs of clinical depressions and a broken mind several years ago was very reminiscent of how I was treated. Basically we were both treated as though we should just get over ourselves and join the family in a round of “row, row, row your boat.”

The worse she gets the more contempt she gets from my mother, and the more crippled her father gets when he’s around her.

Whereas the better I get the more it seems like they believe the fourteen plus years of untreated manic depression, including several where I was near-homeless or homeless, never happened. Or maybe they happened, but only because I wasn’t trying hard enough to get better.

When I moved back here five or six years ago to start treatment for the manic depression, I handed a short list to my mother. It was a list of things I felt I needed to have done so I could get better… so I could clear out some of my clinical depression stuff.

Stuff like: rides to psychiatrists office; help changing my name; getting new identification… blah, blah blah. Nothing got done.

When I see the negative support being offered to my little sister by my family it reminds me of the negative support I’ve been offered for so long and continue to receive, and it frustrates me to the Nth degree that no one in my family learned anything from my recovery.

In the meantime my sister is trying so hard to get better, all by herself and despite being trapped inside a broken head.

And in two weeks, when I receive my new Health Card with my new name on it, I’ll have my very first piece of photo ID. This week I’ll have my new SIN card, which will have my new name on it… then I’ll have the proper ID to apply for a passport and get my learners permit.

And I’ll have nearly completed checking everything off the list I gave my family.




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 Appointment Day, Bipolar, Bipolar Disease, Bipolar Disorder, Clinical Depression, crazy people with no pants, CSG, Health, Living With Depression, Living With Manic Depression, Manic Depression, Psychiatry. Bookmark the permalink.

12 Responses to Friday Conversations With My Psychiatrist | April 3, 2009

  1. thordora says:

    Have you thought about freelancing online with the writing? You don’t need to move, and you can write for a lot of different publications.

    I know that feeling of wanting to do something. But I get it every year starting when the weather changes, so this year I want to try and ignore it and just stay on the level. Maybe that something for you is learning about what type of father YOU would want to be-to that little dude, or any possible future spawn. I thought I’d be a horrible mother since I had NO idea what I was doing, but it worked itself out.

    I’m so sorry about your sister. You and her deserve some no strings support that works. I hope she’s found that.

    Happy Easter. I hope someone got you a bunny. 🙂

  2. Anonymous if you please says:

    There’s no point

  3. Anonymous if you please says:

    That is, in trying to talk with you, if you’re going to call names etc. Forget it. Good on ya, good luck.

  4. auralay says:

    Sounds like things are going for a whirl with you. Some good, some not, but overall, it sounds balanced (which, for me, is a good thing).
    Glad things seem to be progressing with the lady, though I hope this STBEH bullshit ends soon… not something you need to deal with or get involved in.
    Happy Easter 🙂

  5. Gabriel... says:

    Hi Thordora… I’ve tried freelancing in the past, and basically I was just good enough so I wasn’t starving. I think, if I could get back into reporting about technology I’d still have enough contacts left where it would make sense. I think the only way I could get back into reporting would be the freelancing route… I’d like to maybe find a way to write about mental health issues. I have to decide on something soon though, I’m starting to go a little crazy from my recovery from being crazy.

    I think what is happening to my sister, and to some extent to me way-back-when, is what happens to most of us… minimal involvement from the parents, minimal funding from the health systems and we’re mostly on our own to find a recovery option which works for us, and then to find the mental stamina and understanding to stick with it… when I read blogs written by kids in the UK, Australia and the States I see the same things, only magnified.

    The average mental health system seems to revolve around fifteen-minute appointments followed by three weeks of absolute neglect. And their parents basically spend their days too paralysed by their dread of their kids possibly killing themselves to get their kids proper help, then wonder why their kid is cutting themselves or having weekly suicide attempts.

    I spent Easter morning with my girlfriend and her son and her parents place… I’ll write about it later, but he and I got along pretty well all morning. I got a few really cool photos of the two of them as well.

    Hi auralay… happy Easter to you as well, I hope your chocolate covered bunnies didn’t scream before you ate them. “Balanced” is a good word… it’s like I’ve stepped from one beam to another one… or maybe I’m straddling two beams. I feel like I’ve modified my schedule to include her fairly seamlessly, I wasn’t sure I’d be able to do that. But there are parts of my pre-her schedule that I miss… like being able to write whenever I want to.

    Thankfully STBEH has backed down a little over the past week. My girlfriend says he’s being reasonable about her requests…

    And hello person who insists they’re anonymous… you left four short comments, two of which were vaguely insulting and mildly annoying. You acted as though you knew me, and even insinuated you knew my girlfriend, then got upset when I called you “passive aggressive” and now you’re leaving. Man… we did have some laughs, didn’t we?

  6. bromac says:

    What about a memoir-type book about your disease, compiled of all the posts here?

  7. dame says:

    keep your eye on the prize, gabe. =)

  8. Laura Mae says:

    Hey Gabriel, I think if you’ve got a good doctor that you can talk to and you think is helping you, then that’s, like, 50% of the battle right there. I really want to move away, even though I know that means I will have to come home at least once every 3 months to see my doctor. Because he is just that good. And also, on checking those things off your list: Just keep going, man. Sometimes things take longer to accomplish if you have mental cooties. That’s ok! I hope the situation with your GF gets settled without violence. Though in this case I would be kind of a hypocrite, but I’ll say it anyway: try not to act hasty in an emotionally charged situation.

  9. raino says:

    happy for you g but wow, i was exhausted reading it. a little overwhelming?

  10. thordora says:

    I sent an email to my MPP bitching about the fact that there’s NO pdoc’s working past 4pm, and how asking people who are functional in the community (i.e. normal jobs) to adhere to this is productive since it will cause them to lose said jobs….

    shockingly enough, I received NO response. Thankfully my scheduale changed, so I’ll finally get to see my first doctor since October, after losing my job of almost 9 years. Good times.

  11. Gabriel... says:

    Taiguey bromac, thanks for coming back. I’ve missed having you here. I’ve thought about using some of Salted in the book I’m already under contract for… if I’m still under contract, no one has asked for the advances back yet and they’re still in business, so I should be okay. I’ve gone back a few times trying to find a book in Salted, but what I find are paragraphs and ideas for what could become something later on… I think there’s something in here, but I think it’d definitely be a lot of work.

    You’re right though, getting my book published has always been my plan as a first step back into reporting, or maybe teaching. It’s a huge ‘IF’ though, and it definitely couldn’t be much more than a step… when I signed my book deal my potential “profit” came out to: for every 100 books I sold I could take three friends out for Happy Meals. In Canada a “bestseller” that would get you interviewed and on the talk shows would be in the 8,000 – 12,000 copies range… so, I think I’d be able to take three friends out and SuperSize them.

    Onkwáho dame… I tried to turn “CSG” into some other acronym, but it just didn’t feel right. It almost felt like I was writing about someone else. I liked the song, and the slideshow… I’m not sure if I’ve given you this one yet, but I think it describes my situation with CSG just a bit better. heh. I’d be the dude with the weird arms…

    Se’kon Laura Mae, and welcome to my little blog. Finding a doctor who can help in our recovery is vital, and once we’ve found one keeping the relationship should definitely be a priority for as long as it remains healthy. Good doctors have a tendency to know other good doctors, so if you move getting a referral from the one you have now would be a good idea.

    Thanks for the encouragement about the list stuff… I get the new pieces of ID this coming week and I’m thinking about having a burning party for the old ones. I haven’t spoken with my girlfriend directly about that specific incident — about her hinting at asking me to hurt her STBEH, but I do try to stay out of situations which might require a physical response. I can’t, however, speak for him.

    Skênö raino… overwhelmed… not quite. I feel raw. Especially after today’s appointment, which I’ll write about soon. But when I have an appointment like this I always feel better… unblocked. Massaged, maybe. Like I’ve accomplished something — even when what I’m discussing is extremely negative. After an appointment like this I generally try to do as little as possible for a few days, just so I can connect to what we were saying… because sometimes it feels like it’s all being said so fast, or so much in such a short time.

    Ciká’nó Clare… I miss you. I don’t know exactly why it’s hard to stay connected… but after today’s appointment I think I’ve got an idea.

    Hi again Thor… as much as we “celebrate” health care in this country it’s definitely limited. And when it comes to finding a decent psychiatrist, or being able to afford one once we have, we’re pretty much as screwed up as anyone else. I hope your new job, your new employer, gives you the time you need to keep your mental health… well, healthy.

    …I think I should start writing some letters as well.

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