Updated: Jun 27, 2020
| This is the 348th story of Our Life Logs |
I was born in September 1993, and raised in a typical German family, in a small town called Bad Münstereifel in the state of North Rhine-Westphalia. I had an eventful and adventure-filled childhood because I was a wild kid. I always found myself in trouble with just about everyone. Growing up in a spa town that was a tourist hotspot, I interacted with people from different parts of the world and learned to speak English and Italian from a tender age.
Unfortunately, when I was 14, my world turned completely upside down. To my friends and schoolmates, I was still a happy-go-lucky kid—the class clown who always kept them entertained. But back home, things were not so rosy. Cracks started emerging in my parents’ marriage after my dad got scammed out of a business deal he had invested a lot of money into. Suddenly, he started drinking heavily and acting erratically. This led to terrible fights with my mom and constant threats that he’d throw us out. One Friday night, he came home dead drunk, put a noose around my head, and threatened to hang me. To this day, that was the scariest moment of my life.
To escape from the reality of our dysfunctional family, I became increasingly withdrawn from everyone around me. In high school, my grades were fine but I had problems socializing because as I grew up, I morphed into this angry kid who always snapped at everyone at the slightest provocation. I thought my home life was to blame.
Eventually, I found solace in a group of older boys who were deemed to be the “cool kids” and welcomed me like a long-lost brother. For the first time, I felt loved and wanted. We referred to ourselves as Die Eichhörnchen (The Squirrels), and yes, we were as mischievous as those small rodents! We liked causing trouble and playing pranks that most of the time were harmless. But sometimes, we took it too far.
A bunch of teenage boys looking to cause distress, we didn’t think of how others would feel when we did stuff. I remember I liked this girl in our class, but she didn’t show any interest—probably because I was deemed one of the weird kids. My boys and I hatched up a cruel plan to get back at the girl for turning me down. She worked at a spa in town and when she wasn’t looking, I snatched her drink and peed in it. It’s so awful when I think back, but I was an immature teen who had harbored a lot of unchecked anger in his heart.
More often than not, a kid who has no way of healthily expressing his anger becomes a broken adult. I miraculously made it through high school, but by the time I finished, I was what you call a social misfit. I just couldn’t get along with anyone. Other kids avoided me because I was always fighting and getting into all kinds of trouble, both at home and in our siedlung (neighborhood). Unlike my peers who were pursuing different hobbies, I didn’t know what I wanted to do with myself. Whenever I tried joining any sports, I found myself thrown out in a matter of days because I always ended up raising my voice at the coach or fighting for no good reason. As a result, I turned into a loner with food as my only escape.
I tried searching for a purpose, so I attended university in October 2011 for my bachelor’s. This gave me the opportunity to fully disconnect myself from my parents and their chaotic household. Yet, it didn’t change my social life. I never made an effort to forge friendships with my classmates because I had convinced myself that I couldn’t relate with others.
Well, somehow, I did manage to find a girlfriend, a loner like me. I can’t recall how we even got together in the first place. We just found ourselves growing closer as we neared the end of university. Our relationship seemed typical at first. We had our differences and argued like any other couple—but it seemed like we argued way too much. With a lot of anger still inside me, I would find myself getting mad at her for silly reasons which led to enormous fights, sometimes ending in her breaking up and getting back together with me—several times.
After graduating, my girlfriend and I moved in together. Being around me constantly, she began to notice how much my mood was fluctuating. One day, I’d be happy and laughing with her. The next, I’d erupt at the slightest thing or become manic. These outbursts happened both at home and in public.
My anger and mania came to a head in 2017. I was arguing with my girlfriend and out of nowhere, on impulse, I struck her. That evening, she packed her stuff and left for a friend’s house. The guilt that I felt that night made me realize that I had completely lost it. The next morning, I went over to apologize, but she had one condition; she would only take me back if I sought professional assistance. I agreed, desperately wanting her back.
At first, it seemed strange sitting in front of a therapist and talking about my life. It got easier over time, though, especially when she was understanding instead of judgmental. After multiple sessions, I was officially diagnosed with bipolar disorder in March 2018. Medication and specialized therapy sessions started immediately. With the diagnosis came an unending desire to understand my condition as much as I could.
One manic scenario, I walked into a bookstore and started singing aloud and dancing enthusiastically while clearing the shelves. I put all the books into several trolleys and told the cashier that I would pay for them all in cash. Fortunately, the cashier noticed that I looked and sounded distressed, so she alerted the bookstore’s security officers who in turn notified my friends who were having Doner and Fanta at a nearby Turkish restaurant. I was supposed to be there with them.
A few weeks later, another incident happened after a friend called to ask me to pick her up at the local airport. I said okay. Yet, mid-journey, I took the opposite turn and drove my rickety Seat Leon deep into a hay plantation via a cattle track. I parked the car in front of the farm gate, left the engine running, and embarked on a brisk walk further into the plantation. It was mid-summer in the blistering heat, but I hardly noticed. I found a comfortable spot under a tree and got out my Kindle to read the Bible. I had already gotten into fervent prayer before I realized that the sun had gone down, and that I was supposed to pick someone up at the airport.
In moments like these, it was like I was disassociated from myself. The sudden whims I felt made sense to me at the time. While I wasn’t concerned, I could tell my girlfriend was, but with the help of my therapist, I found ways to cope with the manic states I got into.
I’ve learned that bipolar disorder is typified by extreme mood swings, characterized by emotive highs (hypomania), and slumps (depression). My psychiatrist (bless her) tells me that I experience more highs than lows. That’s true because I’m in good moods most of the time. The book store and plantation were hypomanic episodes. Nonetheless, when the emotional slumps set in, it normally feels like I’m carrying the weight of the world on my shoulders. I have had to encounter lonesome battles where nearly anyone can reach me.
In a typical Western Europe society like ours, mental illnesses have generally been relegated to the backwaters of public health awareness campaigns. It’s taboo. To most people, the mention of bipolar disorder conjures the image of a shabby and wrathful person who is living in a world of his own, and I can’t blame them. I had a similar impression until I got diagnosed with the disorder myself. I no longer judge the so-called “angry kids” because I now understand that there could be an underlying factor contributing to their outbursts.
Fighting bipolar disorder and the social pressure that comes with it has not been an easy battle for me, but I’ve decided that I will not let it overcome me. Since my diagnosis, I’ve moved on to graduate school to pursue a master’s degree, while working as a freelance writer, a research analyst with a reputable organization, and even a small-time entrepreneur.
My life has been a steep and torturous learning curve, but I believe it has helped me become a better person, reconcile my present and past, and handle situations in a better way. I’m learning to fully embrace and even appreciate my condition. Every day, I make a deliberate effort to check and counter my moods, more so when the low phases sets in. Recently, I have come to learn that battling bipolar disorder is like a game of Blackjack; you must always be a step ahead, anticipating the card that your opponent will use. To prevent my bipolar mood swings from creeping up on me, I must look for the signs and fight it.
Today, I’m more open about my condition. I plan to start a support group for people who are battling other mental conditions, and I hope that in doing so, we will create a community of people who rose above mental illness to live their lives fully. I fight my mental illness every day, but I’m happy I was given a diagnosis so I can work around it and change my life for the better.
This is the story of Paul W. Mueller
Paul currently resides in Gunzenhausen, Germany, with his girlfriend. The turbulent nature of his parents’ marriage deeply affected Paul. As he got into teenage, he became resentful towards them because of the apparent toxic energy that they exuded, which led to angry outbursts and acting up in school. He was later diagnosed with bipolar disorder and is now fighting to maintain a normal life despite his mental illness. Unfortunately, both of Paul’s parents passed away in November 2014 and March 2015, before he got the opportunity to make peace with them. Even so, Paul knows that they are proud wherever they are, knowing too well that they raised a son who is brave enough to face the challenges of life head-on. With the support of his girlfriend, Paul knows he can find a way to regulate his mental illness. Paul sees his therapist as a sincere friend, someone that he looks up to as his source of inspiration. Writing is Paul’s muse. He’s also working on his master’s thesis, besides running a small kaffe haus (coffee house) with his girlfriend, whom he expects to marry soon. Of late, Paul has been spending his days writing excerpts of his life story, hoping to publish a memoir someday.
This story first touched our hearts on May 23, 2019.
| Writer: Paul W. Mueller | Editor: Kristen Petronio |