Friday, December 7, 2012

Wrestling with Myself, Alcohol and Mental Illness

By Tom Palmer
My parents were always there to support me
There have been a few strong influences on my life: alcohol, mental illness, and the sport of wrestling. For a while, the sport of wrestling was good to me. Several times I got to pin a guy in front of the whole school. Many of my matches were executions. However, when I was fifteen I started feeling an intense, paralyzing fear in all social situations. It was agoraphobia with a vengeance. My sophomore year in high school was my last winning season.
I started to crave alcohol because it stilled the intense fear I felt around people. Alcohol allowed me to have fun at parties. It made me feel good. Before I got put on anti-psychotic medication, drinking a few beers had an almost narcotic effect on me. Alcohol is still a problem for me many decades later.
When I was eighteen, I shocked and dismayed my family by joining the army. I was a national Merit Scholarship finalist, and thus my family had a different vision for my future. Most of my friends were surprised when I joined the army, too.
Lately, I have realized how fear-based most of my life has been. When I was young, I had the same fear of monsters and the dark that most children have. I never really outgrew it. Even during my best years, I was very scared at night. I was afraid the devil was outside my window ready to come in and possess me. The movie "The Exorcist" had a strong negative effect on me.
I can’t tell an exact time to pinpoint as the beginning of my mental illness. The intense agoraphobia that started when I was fifteen was pretty pathological. Then, when I was at the University of Oklahoma, I started to think people could see through the door to my room. I would listen to them talk outside of my door, certain that they were talking about me. At the age of twenty-eight my parents decided that I needed to be admitted to the Timberlawn Mental Health System, in Dallas, Texas.
I've never been an autonomous, functioning adult. I've always been overwhelmed by the ordinary demands of life. I got out of the army with an honorable discharge, but just barely. After serving four years in the army, I got out with the rank of private E-1. I got a Bachelor’s degree at the University of Oklahoma, but it was only made possible because of extensive emotional and financial support by my parents.
All told, I would guess that I have been hospitalized for mental illness about twenty-five times. For the past ten years, I have lived in an assisted living center for the mentally ill. I have been living about as comfortably as I can with my mental illness. I don’t know what would happen if I didn't have the support I have. I guess I might be living on the streets and eating out of garbage cans.
I can remember sitting in my pathological psychology class at University of Oklahoma listening to the professor talk about the symptoms of various mental illnesses. I would think, "This applies to me...that applies to me...etc." I believe that I have three or four personality disorders along with my schizoaffective disorder.
However, I am grateful for the support I have. Of course, some things could be better, but that has always been the case, no matter what.

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