victim interviewee this Wednesday is David Henry Sterry, who has done everything. Really. I thought I lead multiple parallel lives, but he makes me look like an amateur. I met him through a consultation I had with him about my book-in-progress. Among the other million things he does, he is one-half of the Book Doctors, a dynamic duo whose job it is to help you get your book in good shape and hopefully published. I was blown away by David’s story, so I asked him to give us an interview here on Breaking the Silence of Stigma.
BSS: How long have you known that you are living with a mental illness?
DHS: When I was 17 years old I was violently sexually assaulted. The sparkly wide-eyed boy who went into that room with a large predator disappeared and when I escaped with my life, my brain had been more or less torn apart. From that point forward I have suffered (for a long time not knowing it) from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
BSS: When did you find out that’s what was going on?
DHS: I did not tell anyone about this assault for 15 years. I was diagnosed after I revealed the true nature of my condition to my hypnotherapist. By that time I was a professional screenplay writer and actor, as well as being an amateur drug and sex addict. Which is not nearly as much fun as it sounds like it should be.
BSS: How was your PTSD diagnosed?
DHS: My hypnotherapist diagnosed me by asking me lots of questions. This diagnosis was later confirmed when I was studied like a human guinea pig at Vanderbilt University, where I was brought by the television show 20/20. I was also diagnosed officially as a Problematic Hypersexualist. Although I prefer the term Sex Maniac.
BSS: Yes, that’s a much more friendly term. What kind of things were going on for you then, that made you seek treatment?
DHS: For many years I did not know I had any kind of mental illness. I just felt a gigantic gaping yawning black chasm inside me that desperately wanted to be filled. But no matter how much food, drugs or sex I shoved into that black hole it was never enough. Also, when people touched me on certain parts of my body, I would flinch and often have a flashback. My fight/flight reflex was constantly being set off, bells alarms and whistles shrieking shrilly inside me. Also, I found out later that that when I suffered this terrible and violent sexual trauma, the part of my brain responsible for communication atrophied and shrunk, while the part of my brain responsible for emotion was enlarged, engorged, ready to explode. I had a very difficult time looking beyond my own needs. I always feel people hate me and I’m a miserable failure and totally unlovable. Apart from that, nothing too bad.
BSS: Sounds horrible. Did you ever end up in the hospital because of your PTSD?
DHS: No, but I self medicated for years with varying degrees of success. Cocaine really didn’t help. A wee bit of marijuana does wonders. The side effects don’t really affect me too much, luckily I don’t suffer much from the munchies, although I had to give up smoking it and now I drink it in a tea.
BSS: I’ll be right over. What other things do you do to help with your illness?
DHS: I was cured, or rather I should say I learned how to handle my PTSD with the help of an amazing hypnotherapist, mentioned above. She gave me the tools to stop having mental, physical, emotional, spiritual breakdowns. It’s all about catching the symptoms as they first happen. Being in the here and now. Dealing with it early before the negativity sucks me down into the black hole.
BSS: That’s fantastic. How has your illness impacted your life (jobs, education, relationships, children, alcohol, drug abuse…..?)
DHS: With my problem, I was unnaturally drawn to people who were incapable of giving me the love that I wanted and needed. Most of these people were charming charismatic sexy smart underachievers. I had what by most standards would be considered a very successful acting career, I was in thousands of commercials, I acted in cartoons, sitcoms, I have a three picture screenwriting deal with Disney, but I never reached my full potential because I was always sabotaging myself. I was much more concerned with superstar success, so everyone would love me, since I couldn’t love myself, and I ended up not being able to make something great and valuable out of my artistic gifts and my relentless Protestant work ethic. Interestingly enough, I’ve always felt very comfortable around children. They’ve always been, for me anyway, so much more fun than the adults.
BSS: Have you ever felt discriminated against because of your illness, or had to deal with disparaging comments, denied a job or other opportunities?
DHS: Well, I can pass very easily. You would’ve never noted in 1 million years that I had any kind of problem unless we became friends, then at a certain point you would realize and start to hate me.
BSS: If you could give advice to someone else struggling with mental illness, what would it be?
DHS: Ask for help. Tell your story.
BSS: Anything else you’d like to add?
DHS: Writing has been an amazing healing tool for me. For years after I was assaulted and raped, I had terrible nightmares about the incident, and the man who inflicted all this misery on me. I would play out elaborate revenge fantasies in my head. But when I wrote my first memoir, Chicken, and made art out of the sexual assault, I stopped having those nightmares, and I stopped plotting revenge that was never going to happen.
David Henry Sterry is the author of 16 books, a performer, muckraker, educator, activist, editor and book doctor. His anthology was featured on the front cover of the Sunday New York Times Book Review. He co-authored The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published with his current wife, and co-founded The Book Doctors, who have toured the country from Cape Cod to Rural Alaska, Hollywood to Brooklyn, Wichita to Washington helping writers. He is a finalist for the Henry Miller Award. He has written books about the teenaged brain, Leroy Satchel Paige, throwing a pajama party, being the rollerskating emcee at Chippendales Male Strip Club, a patriciding mama’s boy, World Cup soccer, and working at Chippendales’s Male Strip Club. He has appeared on, acted with, written for, been paid to, worked and/or presented at: Will Smith, a marriage counselor, Disney, Stanford University, Hellroller, National Public Radio, Milton Berle, Huffington Post, Sex Museum, George Washington, 92nd St Y, barbershop singing pig, Brooklyn, a sodajerk, Michael Caine, the Taco Bell chihuahua, Smith College, Penthouse, the London Times, Playboy, Edinburgh Fringe Festival, a human guinea pig and Zippy the Chimp. He loves any sport with balls, and his girls. www.davidhenrysterry