I have lived all of my adult life with mental illness. I’ve had bipolar disorder since I was a teenager, and I also live with borderline personality disorder. Though I tend to focus the most on the bipolar illness, both illnesses have caused me many problems over the course of my life.
My mental health issues actually started when I was 10 years old, but the trouble started the day I was born. I was born breech, which put my mother through hell, and it also caused brain damage that ultimately caused a very serious seizure when I was ten years old. Before that seizure happened, I was a normal, happy little guy. After the seizure, I was different. That seizure changed me and it brought my bipolar illness to the forefront. I wouldn’t have full-blown bipolar disorder until I reached my teenage years, but the course of my life was changed forever. What made things even worse is the medication I had to be on. The best anti-seizure medication available in 1976 was phenobarbital. I was on it for six years, and it caused me major behavioral problems. And, of course, that led to problems getting along with the other kids at school. Just like any school aged kid, I wanted to be liked and accepted by my peers. But unfortunately, I went about it in all the wrong ways. I was always trying to get attention because I felt so unsure of myself, but the things I did to get attention backfired. Instead of making me friends, my actions alienated me from others and I was soon one of the “weird kid” outcasts. That lasted throughout high school. I had very few friends and no romantic life at all. I had zero success with the girls, and I went through the entire four years of high school without going on a single date. The only things that made my high school years tolerable were friends like Doug who accepted me and liked me as I was and my involvement in the marching band. I played the tuba and had a lot of fun doing it. 🙂
High school was difficult, but I brought a lot of my troubles on myself. Yes, I mentally ill and we know that now, and we know that that was responsible for my behavioral issues. But at the time I was also obsessed with Star Trek. I think I must have been the world’s most die-hard Trekkie. I loved that show so much, and I wanted so badly for it to be real. I watched the show every time I could when it was on TV. I read Star Trek novels all the time. I daydreamed about being beamed up to a wonderful new life in the Star Trek universe. In my mind, the crew of the Enterprise were my best friends. I didn’t have a sense of belonging at school, but I fit right into the Star Trek universe. I was such a Trekkie that I frequently greeted my classmates with the Vulcan salute, which of course just helped to solidify my status as one of the “weird kid” outcasts. There is no question that Star Trek is one of the greatest science fiction franchises ever created, but for me it was an escape from the unpleasant reality of my high school life.
We all know how cruel kids can be. I put up with a lot of it getting through school. But there is one instance of cruelty that stands out in my memory that I will never forget. This happened over 30 years ago now, but I remember it like it was yesterday. I was so unpopular at school that I was never invited to any of the beach parties or the gatherings at Dunbar Park or any of the other fun stuff that the cool kids got to do. So, when I got a phone call from a couple of girls inviting me to a party, I was thrilled. I got directions to where this awesome party supposedly was, and drove off to find it. I wasn’t able to, so after a while I gave up and went back home. The girls called again. My mother knew that they were not serious and that they were playing a very cruel joke on me. She tried to tell me, but I wouldn’t hear it. I drove off again to try to find this party, and my mom was left at home to hurt for me while I tried to find a nonexistent party. I finally gave up and it finally dawned on me that my mother was correct. I couldn’t believe that anyone could hate me so much or that anyone could be so cruel. It was a hard life lesson that I had to learn the hard way. There are people in this world who take joy in causing others pain, and that’s as true in the teenage world of high school as it is in the adult world we all live in now…
I was severely mentally ill by the time I graduated high school, but at the time we didn’t know it. I had serious substance abuse issues while I was in school. Drinking and smoking pot were the only ways I had to deal with the symptoms of the bipolar disorder I didn’t know I had at the time. There were many nights when I was so manic and so agitated that the only way I could sleep was to drink. I would either wait until my mother went to bed and then hit the liquor cabinet as quietly as I could, or I would sneak out of the house and drive to a couple of convenience stores nearby that I knew would sell me beer. I drank until my mind was calmed down enough that I could sleep. Other times I was so depressed that I cried myself to sleep. Sometimes my mother would hear, and she would do her best to comfort me. We didn’t know what was wrong with me at the time that was causing me so much pain. I didn’t know that the real reason I was in so much pain was that I was mentally ill. So I always managed to find some external reason for why I was crying myself to sleep. Usually that involved a fear of my mother’s death, though at the time she was in her early 40’s and she was healthy. She always assured me that if something did happen to her that she had lived a good life and that I would be okay.
After high school, my struggles continued. I went to the local community college, but because I was so ill and I had such serious substance abuse issues, I never did very well in my classes. But one class I did enjoy was Drama, though the truth is that I had basically zero acting talent. But Mr. Kinney found a small role for me to play in “Candide”, and I remember really enjoying it. I made several friends in that class, including Mike. He was a devout Christian, and he frequently tried to share his faith with me. I had been raised United Methodist and while I was in high school I had some good religious conversations with my Baptist neighbors, but by the time I was in college I had lost all interest in religion. I didn’t want to hear it. But Mike was persistent and he showed me a lot of kindness over the course of the months we were together in drama class, so he finally got me out to his car one day to read some Bible verses. As I was reading Hebrews 4:12, I felt something stir inside of me, and I thought “maybe there is something to this Jesus shit”. 🙂 I prayed to receive Jesus as my Savior in Mike’s car that day. Needless to say, he was thrilled, and not long after that I found myself in Brazoria attending a free showing of the “Jesus Film” that was being put on by the local Baptist church. I was 19 years old, and I didn’t realize at the time that my emotions were being skilfully manipulated by religious propaganda. By the time that movie was over, I was deeply moved, and I knew that I wanted what this Jesus had to offer. Even though I had prayed to receive Christ days before with Mike, I prayed again just to be sure. I wanted to KNOW that I was saved! 🙂 And so began my Christian religious journey, which lasted for 15 years. I threw myself into my new-found faith with all of the energy and enthusiasm that a 19-year old could muster. I quit drinking and I quit using drugs, and with Mike’s help and guidance I was rapidly transformed from a troubled teenage party animal into a very religious Christian fundamentalist. I was so dedicated to my new faith that I ditched the awesome 80’s Rock that was usually blasting from my stereo for much mellower religious music. I discovered Sandi Patti, Twila Paris, Amy Grant, Michael W. Smith, and especially Keith Green. I loved Keith’s music, and I loved his total commitment to his faith. I wanted so badly to see him in concert, and when Mike informed me that Keith had died in a plane crash in 1982, I was devastated.
My mother arranged for me to go to East Texas Baptist University, and I arrived there for the Fall semester of 1985. I was so excited and I was so looking forward to attending school with fellow Christians. But as devout as my faith was at the time, I did have doubts that I was struggling with. When I went to this school, I was expecting a very religious, church-like atmosphere. What I found instead was a college full of average young people who happened to be nominally religious. I had a great time at that school. I made friends, and I enjoyed participating in the clown ministry and attending Christian concerts across the border in Louisiana. I saw many of the Christian stars of the time, including Mylon LeFevre & Broken Heart. I loved their music, and after one of their concerts, I went backstage for prayer. While I was back there, I got to meet Mylon and shake his hand! I said something like, “That was fun!”, and he said, “Yeah, it was!” I got to meet one of my Christian Rock idols, briefly though it was, and it was awesome! 🙂
My initial experience at ETBU was good, but my grades were suffering, which I now know was because I was struggling so much with mental illness. I often look back at those days and wonder why I had such a hard time succeeding. All I had to do was make good grades! I had plenty of spending money coming from my father, and I didn’t have to work. All that was required of me was to make good grades, and I couldn’t even manage that. But it’s because I was so mentally ill at the time, though none of us knew it back then. By the time the Spring semester of 1986 came around, I was in trouble again. My bipolar illness had raised its ugly head, and I started drinking and using drugs again. And I was also smoking cigarettes. All of this at a Christian school! Needless to say, when the school authorities found out, they were not happy. I attended school through the first summer semester of 1986, but after that I found myself suspended for poor academic performance.
I came back home to Lake Jackson, and my mother arranged for me to get treatment for substance abuse at the Alpha Center, which was located at the hospital. It was an inpatient facility, and I was there for a while. I stayed for at least a month. I did well and when I was ready to come home, my mother was very grateful to them for “giving me my son back”. But thanks to the mental illness that hadn’t been diagnosed yet, I didn’t stay sober long. My friend Doug and I went to see Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, which was in theaters at the time. It was my 21st birthday, and after the movie we got plastered drunk. 🙂
In 1987, I moved to Houston, and so began a lifetime of working low-wage, dead-end jobs and trying to survive. And so began 15 years of swinging between periods of devout religious belief when I was manic and periods of severe substance abuse when I was depressed. When I was depressed, I would come home after work and drink until I passed out. When I was manic and religious, I would come home after work and engage in prayer and worship, always pursuing the next religious high. Either way, I realize now, I was just trying to feel good. And something as basic as just feeling good, which so many people just take for granted, is so difficult for those of us who are mentally ill to achieve. We spend our lives fighting for what others just take for granted…
I have always wanted to be famous and I have always wanted to be popular. I know that I’m never going to experience fame the way Hollywood movie stars do, for example. But I spent years wishing that I could get my life together and be successful. When I was religious, I dreamed of being a famous evangelist or a famous worship leader. I loved Charismatic-style praise and worship music, and I wanted so badly to be a worship leader so that I too could record worship music for the Lord. I craved that fame and that recognition. I wanted to be a famous evangelist so that I could win many people to Christ and enjoy having others look up to me for that. When people like Jesse Duplantis visited our church, I wished to be just like him. I wanted to have a similar dynamic and miraculous faith in God, and I wanted to be just as talented and funny as he was. When I went to see Christian artists such as Michael W. Smith and Mylon LeFevre & Broken Heart, I was wishing that it could be me up on that stage enjoying all of that fame and recognition. But it never was to be. I’m just me, and my life isn’t like theirs. While they enjoy success and the adoration of millions of fans, I am a totally unknown guy struggling with mental illness. I happen to have a good singing voice too. I’m just as capable of belting out Christian Rock music as Mylon or Michael. But I had to settle for singing solos at church.
By early 2000, doubts and questions about my faith had built up to the point that I could no longer ignore them or write them off as tricks of the devil. So, I got on the Net as it was back then and went looking for answers. I discovered sites such as www.infidels.org and www.rejectionofpascalswager.net. I spent hours daily reading and thinking and learning. I finally realized that the beliefs I had cherished for 15 years of my life actually had no basis in reality. And I realized that the Bible was deeply flawed in many ways, and that it was not and could not be the “Word of God”. Over a period of months, I lost my faith and I eventually lost my belief in God. I made the journey from devout Christian belief to atheism. And at the time I was extremely angry that I had devoted 15 years of my younger life to a pack of ancient religious myths and lies, and I was devastated to realize that God didn’t actually exist and that the Heaven I had so looked forward to for so many years was just an ancient myth.
In 2002, I chose to make the anger and the rage I was feeling public. I started religionisbullshit.com, and started putting my thoughts online. I believed that the truth about the Bible and the Christian religion needed to be told, and I was determined to do it. My friend Dave soon suggested that I turn my site into a blog. Those were new at the time, and soon after I did that I started enjoying success. Many of my posts back in those days were filled with anger and rage that I think was justified. But even so, I built a significant audience, and my site was active and lots of fun to do. I got so much email from Christians that my responses became a regular part of the content of the site. I loved hearing from Christians and I loved publicly responding to them. I was very good at it, and it was fun to watch my atheist/ex-Christian readers respond to what I had written. But, the way I did my site was not without issues. While I did use my site to vent my emotions, I also used it to belittle and ridicule Christians. I frequently characterized them as the dumbest people on Earth — slack-jawed, knuckle-dragging morons who didn’t possess two functioning brain cells to rub together. I was so angry that I was okay with doing that for a while, but eventually I started to feel really bad about it. I knew that the way I was portraying Christian believers on my site was not right, and I also knew that I was a better person than that. But, instead of choosing to change the way I was representing Christians, I chose to abandon my site altogether. In August of 2004, I shut down my very popular “Religion is Bullshit” website and tried to move on with my life. But it wasn’t long before I was missing it, so I decided to go back online with another similar site. I bought a new domain name and put another site online. I honestly expected to just pick up where I had left off, and I expected to have another large and responsive audience of readers within a short period of time. It didn’t take long for harsh reality to hit! My new site did not enjoy anything close to the popularity of my original site, and nothing I did to try to regain that popularity worked. I chose to remain online, but I was constantly frustrated with how dead the various sites I tried to do were, and I complained about it to anyone who would listen. I still have a site online at www.alaskanatheist.me, and if I may say so myself, I think it’s a great site. I’ve put up a lot of writing that I think is very good and very insightful. But… most of the time the crickets chirp. I simply cannot compete with the much better known atheist bloggers who are online now. So, though it’s 12 years in the past now and in terms of the Internet it is ancient history, I have to live with the fact that I destroyed the one thing I ever did that brought me some measure of fame and recognition. I had a very popular site, and a lot of people loved me respected me, and looked forward to whatever I was going to have to say next. I so wish now that I had just made some changes to my site so that it was something I could be proud of instead of taking the drastic step of taking it down and destroying it.
I have a friend named Kate who is a much more talented writer than I am. She is a fellow ex-Christian, and I have to admit that I envy the online success she is currently enjoying. She is a successful blogger, and she also co-hosts a skeptical podcast. In addition to that, she has authored some religion-based fiction that I think is very good. She and others seem to find success online so effortlessly. I have to wonder why it hasn’t ever happened again for me, despite my best efforts to put something of value out there…
I have considered giving YouTube a shot, but I suck at making videos, and for some reason the videos I have made in the past have never gotten very many views. I think I pissed YouTube off some years ago, and I think they are purposefully suppressing my videos. I have no proof of that at all, but I think it makes sense…
I have been on Facebook since 2009, but I am giving some thought to leaving it behind for a while. The only thing keeping me there now is the fact that it is the only way I have to stay in touch with many people that I really care about. But I do have major frustrations there. Almost everything I post either gets only a few “likes” or comments, or most often, it gets totally ignored. This is true regardless of what I post. Nobody enjoys being ignored, so I’m thinking of moving on to other sites where my thoughts are more welcomed and appreciated. I also find it very frustrating that my Christian friends refuse to engage with me on the subject of religion. It’s true that I used to post angry rants and I have no doubt that I alienated many of my religious friends doing that, but these days I’m much more interested in productive conversations. But it doesn’t matter how nice I am, my posts on religion routinely get ignored, and I’ve grown very tired of that. It is so frustrating to feel so passionate about something and to have your efforts to communicate and discuss go totally ignored!
Well, I suppose this post is getting long enough. 🙂 I’m sure some of my views and my frustrations and my wishes for fame and recognition reflect the mental health issues I struggle with every day. Nothing I can do about that. But I do hope that this post has given you some insight into my life and some understanding of what I have gone through in the past and what I am going through now here in the present. It’s true that I do crave some measure of fame and recognition, but even more important than that is the fact that I always have and I always will want to make a difference in the lives of others. I want to leave this world a better place than I found it. Thanks for reading all of this and thanks for your friendship. 🙂