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  • Tom Vachet

Have You Ever Felt You Didn't Fit In - Anywhere?

Updated: Jul 10, 2019

Well, I have, beginning when I was in school, but particularly by the time I was in high school.Within the organizational structure of high school, there were all these cliques, each different from the others. There were the Nerds, who were always studying. In fact they belonged to, of all things "study groups". And they almost always were the teacher's pets. Then there were the Jocks, the athletes who tended to travel in obnoxious packs, exuded confidence, and dated all the prettiest girls. Then, and at the bottom of the food chain, were the Heads. They dressed weird, were always talking about music, and you knew they were getting high at lunchtime. They were the non-conformists.

I honestly didn't feel like I fit in any of these. I was smart, smarter than I realized at the time, because I had no self confidence. I played at athletics, but was always the blue collar, second stringer. The group I felt most secure with were the Heads. There you didn't have to prove anything. You just needed to wear the uniform; bell-bottom jeans (best from a thrift store), Grateful Dead t-shirts, moccasins (fringed knee height were the coolest), and if you had the money, a leather fringed coat like David Crosby wore. Finally, there was the hair. It was supposed to be long. Unfortunately, I attended an all-boys Catholic high school. Hair was to be two fingers above the collar, and two fingers above the eyebrows.

But this is just a funny story of what was a miserable life. Remember, I told you I didn't fit in. Well, that started at home, and extended to just about everywhere I was in any given moment. I thought I was fat, unattractive, and stupid. My dad told me so, so it must have been true. I also felt all alone, even when I was with others. I never felt like I belonged anywhere. In addition, I had this sense of sadness or loss, that was certainly unexplainable as a teenager. It affected my motivation, my ability to stay focused, and definitely it affected my ability to finish whatever it was I started.

All these feelings stayed with me as I became older. In fact in many ways they only got worse. I went to the military following graduation, and then to college after. The military had given me a good dose of confidence, and I put it to use. I worked full time as a deputy sheriff during college, and enjoyed the work. Following graduation I left law enforcement, and struck out to make a career. I was driven to be successful for only a single reason, to prove my father who called me a loser, was wrong.

Truthfully, I had a wonderful career, working as an executive and consultant. I received my MBA following a one year intensive course of study, and had the good fortune to work with remarkable companies, and travel the world in the process. But all that didn't come easy. My confidence in business relationships grew along side my success. But personal relationships were exceedingly challenging. I didn't trust, I didn't share, and I hid who I was. Because despite the trappings of success; diplomas, awards, houses, cars, etc., in my mind I was a failure, a con man who showed you a front.

This all became worse.

The sadness turned into a grey veil that hung over my every day. I had tremendous difficulty staying focused and organized. My every night's sleep was a an exercise in torture; random, racing thoughts that were relentless. I awoke every morning exhausted. I was tremendously unhappy and discontent. I became someone constantly seeking relief. I became a shopaholic, buying things brought me momentary happiness, only to quickly tire of them. I was distracted. If I sat down at my computer to address some work task, within five minutes I was distracted by random thoughts; did I put the milk in the fridge, did I send that email I promised someone, did I bring in my keys from the car. On, and on, and on, and on.

I decided I was definitely depressed ,and sought out a psychiatrist. He prescribed a series of SSRI medication, each one triggering episodes of mania. I gave up on that approach. I began to drink more and more, and then added substances. Anything and everything to numb me, give me respite from the feelings of exhaustion, failure, unhappiness. Every once in a while, for no explainable reason, I had a good day. Not a wildly happy day. But just a good day where I felt content. By the next morning, or that nightfall, I was back in the black pit.

A friend and I were reminiscing recently, and he told me that he stood on the sidelines for years, and repeatedly watched me build something wildly successful, then turn around without explanation, and burn it to the ground, only to rebound and rebuild. Over and over. Businesses, relationships - all were subject to, and victims of, those swings.

In 2013 I had the big one. I had built a hugely successful business. But then, all those insecurities, fears, self-loathing, and self destructiveness came into play. Within just a few short months I had lost it all, every single bit of it. And I became seriously suicidal, locking myself away, drawing the blinds, and planning how to dispatch myself. Because I had come to that dark place, that I think many who commit the act come to, that if life was going to continue to play itself out like this, I no longer wanted any part of it. It was just, simply, too hard.

For the purposes of trying to not write a book, which some have suggested I should, I'll keep the rest of this post brief, and not recount every dirty detail. There was a point at which someone came looking for me. I was lying on my kitchen floor, unconscious, cradling an empty quart bottle of cheap vodka. She found my children's phone numbers, and called them. They made arrangements for a flight to the city where they lived. My friend threw just a few pieces of clothing into a duffle, gave me a pre-paid cell phone, and twenty dollars, and dropped me at the airport. All else I owned was left behind, and eventually lost; furniture, books, artwork, memorabilia, a closet full of expensive clothing. And of course my house and car.

I arrived after a long flight, disheveled, iand not having bathed in a week, in dirty jeans, t-shirt, and flip flops. I met my children and a friend, who took me to a major VA hospital. After a brief hospitalization I agreed to a 30-day treatment program. At the completion of that I requested to be admitted to a two-year inpatient program, where I would be living at a homeless shelter for veterans.

The twenty-one months that followed were life altering, but not at all easy. I had to come to acceptance for all I had lost, and replace my self loathing and sense of failure with gratitude for all I had; a roof over my head, food to eat, and an opportunity to remake and rebuild myself into the best man possible.

Over those months I attended and became involved in hundreds of AA meetings. I also attended hundreds of group and individual counseling sessions, both at the shelter and at the VA. My VA psychologist guided me through structured CBT, CPT, and multiple PTSD treatment programs. But the best of it all came after nearly one year of treatment.

In true nerd style, I had begun to put together pieces of the puzzle that made me who I was. I created timelines and revisited where I was emotionally along each. I looked for common or repetitive feelings, emotions, and behaviors. And finally, in a breakthrough session with my VA psychiatrist, I laid it all out for him, including both my reaction to the SSRIs and my experience of long strings of grey days followed by a good one. Then to simply fall back into the darkness. He remarked that he thought he knew my problem. This one would be additional, in that I already had been diagnosed with childhood PTSD, combat related PTSD, and Borderline, which was also a personality disorder traced to my childhood experiences. He said he thought I had a mild version of Bipolar Disorder, called Bipolar II. The first is marked by rapid swings of mood and temperament. The second involves days of mild to moderate depression, followed by a good day. That was me.

He suggested I try a medication, often used in seizure disorders, which typically worked well with Bipolar II patients. I was desperate to try, and we started it immediately. Within less than two weeks the depression lifted. In now nearly five years, consistently taking the medication, it has never, ever returned.

I successfully completed the program, returned to the workforce, and began to slowly and methodically rebuild my life. The capstone to that effort was meeting a wonderful and understanding woman, a former Air Force Captain and Dentist, who is now my treasured wife.

All those torturous feelings I had as an adolescent, and through adulthood; the racing thoughts at bedtime, the inability to attend, are all gone. As they say in AA, I have become happy, joyous, and free.

The article I posted here was written by a woman who suffered from the same disorder. I saw it, had to read it, then felt compelled to write about my own experience. Hers is a little different. but the madness is the same. she has a new book coming out that I have pre-ordered through Amazon. I look forward to reading more about her journey.

https://www.nytimes.com/2019/07/06/opinion/sunday/bipolar-bassey-ikpi-book.html?register=google

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