Know Your Why Recovery welcomes author and Dadmented founder Craig Lucas. Craig has been generous enough to share his story of trauma, music, mental illness, fatherhood, and redemption. Read below for more.
“A Long Road, My Story With Mental Illness, and the Climb Out of The Hole” by Craig Lucas
If you were to ask me where my struggle with mental Illness started, I wouldn’t be able to tell you. I have always been the sad kid, or the “shy” kid. I grew up in a time and place where emotions were not allowed. Somehow I always got into trouble because I was always over-emotional. I never understood it back then. I had a lot going for me. I was a happy kid with a close family. I was still always listening to the sad songs on the radio. I always embraced ballads even at five years old.
I can tell you, however, when I started to notice reasons for why I felt the way I did. Five years old was a defining year for me. I saw my favorite band at the time, Poison, and my innocence was stolen by a family friend. I went through the confusing time of not being able to tell anyone what was going on. The pain of speaking out and having people not believe you is unbearable, but it happened to me for months. I had become a different person already. It sent me down a long road of healing from just that single trauma. Finally, one day, he admitted it. My Grandma, the one person who believed me almost hurt him very badly. She had to be restrained and it took four people to do so.
I faced a lot of loss early on in life with the people closest to me. In three years time I lost both of my Mom’s parents, who I was attached to, and a cousin who was basically my twin. I watched them all die slowly. I felt the sting when my Grandpa didn’t even know who I was. I was made to share a room with my dying Cousin and then my Grandma as a child, left to watch them slowly decline into twisted faces of death. These were the people I loved and it ripped me to shreds. I started to find a reason to embrace all those sad feelings I felt.
I became reclusive, even as a child. All of the things I loved doing were left in the dust. I sat with the one thing that hadn’t let me down, TV. I became enveloped in pop culture because these people made me feel safe. I had good music to turn to when those feelings overcame me and I sat in the memories of old cartoons and movies my Cousin and I would obsess over. I started feeling more anxious. By the time I lost these people, I was a target for bullies. By bullies, I meant the entire school. They made my life a living hell, and eventually, I stayed home sick almost everyday and my Mom started to enable it. I stopped leaving the house all together.
By the time I was 12 I had figured out I didn’t want to be here anymore. It didn’t matter too much though, as I said before, I grew up in a weird time. Mental health was a hushed topic. Parents subtly told their children there was nothing wrong. I was lucky enough to have a therapist appointment scheduled because, lets face it, I was kind of a borderline bad kid. I smoked, I stole from family, I also started dabbling in illegal substances, nothing hardcore, but still bad enough. It’s not like my parents didn’t notice, they just referred to me as bad. I was lucky when my Mom told me she halfway understood. So we scheduled my first therapist appointment, and in typical nervous child fashion, I insisted everything was fine. I never went to therapy there after that again. It was considered a waste of time because I wasn’t at ease my first day. I was left to the wild to embrace my sadness and vices.
I will never be one to blame music for peoples problems, but I will say this, angry music does not help an unhealthy, sad mind in my experience. I started to listen to artists like Marilyn Manson and all that hip mall metal stuff. Then I started cutting myself. Nothing too extreme as to not get noticed, just enough to feel pain. I cried myself to sleep listening to music. I had given up on all the fun punk rock I had found as a youth and my skateboard collected dust. I was solely here to be troubled. I kind of loved the idea because I felt different and had a reason. I started to express how I felt everywhere. One day, I wrote a future suicide note in class. Nature called and I ran to do my business. By the time I had come back, the note was gone. I was called into the office 10 minutes later, and suspended from school until I got professional help. That’s the first time I got locked behind a door and couldn’t leave the unit until I was healthy.
The problem was, once again, I got treated in a different time. I was given a label of Bipolar, and it stuck. There was no way of getting out of it. I now had an illness and felt defeated. There was officially something wrong with me. So they gave me a bunch of high dose meds to sedate me all the time. I became a zombie. I was attentive but couldn’t move and I hated the feeling. I threw away the meds and convinced myself I was healthy. I fell right back into my hole almost instantly. All the hard work I put in the last few months just went right down the drain. I let myself down, and everyone I knew at the time supported my choices. If they would have put their foot down this story would be much different.
I was left alone again to my vices, but in the midst of all my struggles, I once again fell in love with punk rock. It gave me hope! These bands told the real stories of how I felt in speeds that made my blood flow 10 times faster. It only helped a little, but I found a home in it. I was entranced by the idea that they weren’t telling me to off myself through subliminal messages only I understood, or filling me with hate for the world. That last sentence should have been a major warning sign. Instead it taught me to ignore society and reject peoples thoughts. There was a revolution going on inside of me, and its still there to this day. It’s my home forever.
What these bands did was encourage me to once again fight for my health. I wanted out of the hole. I was living in a gray area, I wanted to die but I was too scared to do anything to myself. In the end I thought I was fine. I wasn’t going to hurt myself even though I constantly thought about it. I had conquered self mutilation by simply having someone show me compassion at school and tell me it was OK. I had a lot going for me, I had my first girlfriend, my family life was bearable and I didn’t want to lose that. Instead of giving in to living with these thoughts, I once again ended up in the hospital. This time by my own hand. My Mom told me how let down she was and that I was lying for a vacation away from everyone. It killed me inside. She broke a trust there I will never forget. She did that a lot, guilt is still her best weapon
Once again, however, after getting myself back on track I fell right off again as soon as I thought I was getting better. I already knew what meds did and ran from the nurses who distributed them, even though I still took them, the idea terrified me. I was truly a mess, and I thought that maybe the military would straighten my head out. I hated being at home. I had also grown to hold disdain towards anyone there. So at 17 I joined the DEP program for the Navy, and left two days after I graduated for basic training. Man, I was wrong. See, I didn’t think things would affect me that much, but the situation scared me into even more compliance. I was used to being told what to do and responding quick and easy, but this was different. I started to miss home, and my mental health just deteriorated more. I graduated basic and about a year later, had an extreme nervous breakdown. I cried in front of officers, and they belittled and tortured me to no end. I was glad when they sent me to the psych to be honest.
After just a few short moments they decided it would be best if I went home. To hide their screw up of not checking my mental health background they still discharged me without it being dishonorable. I can safely say to this day that I am proud I tried, and I am beyond happy it didn’t work out so well. Home life was becoming a drag all over again, so at 19 I left to chase love across the country. The next few years were a whirlwind of traveling and chasing love when things didn’t work out. I spent 8 years traveling America, stopping from place to place to live a while until I made my next destination. I came home sometimes, and would leave again within a few months. I couldn’t settle, I was constantly hearing voices telling me to “go”. My mental health got me into toxic relationships thinking they were fine.
I let myself fall into a black hole, a very deep one. I always knew something was different with me, more than what I was diagnosed with. It eventually got to the point where I would get hallucinations that made me think the TV was talking to me. I still refused help. I slept in cars, and got into verbally abusive relationships because I thought that’s what I deserved. I constantly referred to myself as a bad person because I didn’t understand what was going on with me. I was on a tightrope. I had lost the will to live in the gray area. I just wanted to die.
Eventually it ended with a long hospital stay. I had let myself fall into the trap of begging my then girlfriend to take my life. I was living with my Aunt and Uncle, they gave me a lot of shit. There were times they scared the crap out of me. They always let me know how bad I was doing and how much they were trying to “help”. The day they threw me out I thanked whatever higher power there was. I got into a place that focused on helping me and spent quite a bit of time there learning about myself. I decided it was time to let go of a lot and stopped running. I rebuilt my relationship with my Mom and eventually after this time met my Wife. I was finally taking care of me.
One day, I was slapped with the true reality. I was going to be a Dad. This is where I started to show absolute signs of change. I wanted to do better, no matter how hard it was. It was decided, that as a parent, my best bet was to live on our family property with my wife and new children. It was a long test, but in a grueling three years raising Children I saw all the ups and downs. I counted the flaws in myself. I wanted to be better than my own parents. The word Dad struck me to the core. It was decided that while I was safe and had a good support, it was time to really start working on myself.
I went through several programs to work on myself, some were outpatient, some were partial inpatient. The important thing for me was that I got to go home at the end of the day, I happily volunteered to go there instead of a behavioral unit. There’s something that’s still scares me about seeing hospitals. I don’t trust them, there’s too many bad memories involved with them. 5 years ago I faced those fears and got myself into one of the best programs I could. It came with a lot of realization and learning. I had intense therapy, the term Schizoaffective disorder got thrown around, so did the term Aspergers. The idea once again terrified me. I always knew I was different but didn’t know how severe it was. I wanted to cry, but the reality set in. I was just different, I always knew it, so why stress now? I had made it this long and had no more plans of wanting to leave.
I still had to be Dad, and I wasn’t being a very good influence on my Children by letting my illnesses run wild. There was no turning back. I stepped into intensive weekly therapy where I learned about myself. I got into a Doctor and was put on low dose meds that helped more than anyone will ever know. I became a new person, I became me. I was proud to be a parent, and a human. I embraced my illnesses with a smile. I became a true weirdo and loved that fact about myself. I started to express the fun side of myself without shame or embarrassment. I took control of my life and worked alongside my illnesses to function. But most of all I learned they didn’t define who I was.
In 2020, years of stress and worry with the weight of the world on my shoulders actually showed. I lost 7 discs in my back and neck and now work is minimal. Instead of falling into a slump, I reached out to some people. I knew I was going downhill, and I spent a lot of time of Facebook. One day I reached out in one of the groups after seeing several people do the same. The people that responded, are my very very good friends today even if we haven’t met. I got my butt out of my recliner, and started making moves. I started blogging, which turned into writing short stories. Today I am a somewhat established writer. Gone are the days when I would beat myself up over failure. I just keep making jumps in life. If I fall a hundred times, it means I got back up 99 times and can keep going.
The thing that keeps me going is that word, Dad. It means the world to me, it means I am open about personal struggles they have already seen. It means I have someone to be proud of, and who could be proud of me. A Child’s love is a light in the darkness. Their hands are always waiting to help pull us through no matter how ugly it gets. It is an innocent love that keeps a fire in hearts of the wounded. Parenting is hard, but it keeps me motivated both in writing, and the idea to keep living. I am still working on myself everyday and NOTHING is ever perfect. I still have a lot of bad days, I just approach those days, or moments differently. I ground myself to stay in reality and move through the moment. Its like riding a wave to shore, its kind of scary but eventually you get to walk in the safe sand.
EVERYDAY, no matter how I feel in the morning, I take a deep breath when I wake up just to exhale the fire inside that grew overnight. I am a mess, but I now happily clean up after myself. It took many years of dodging bullets, many inpatient stays, and lots of learning through groups and handouts. I learned and collected so much of them that I have written two books on coping skills, and learning about yourself as I did. I even included parenting stuff because if I were to be honest, the reason I take that deep breath in the morning is because I am lucky enough to be a parent. It consumes my time when I am not writing or in my day program. That’s right, I go to a day program 5 days a week to keep track of my health. I took all the right steps to be where I am today, I didn’t try and cheat myself out of the life I currently live. I would have missed out on this person today, the motivated person with a hunger for taking on the world. We all got this together, but we have to put the work in.
Craig Lucas is the founder of Dadmented. He is on the spectrum, self published and dealing head on with mental illness. Craig has written four books in total which includes two that focus on parenting and self care. You can find his books on Amazon.com and he also has a Patreon that includes lots of bonus content. For all types of memes you can also check out the Facebook page and laugh a few times a day.