Teenage Runaways and Bipolar Illness: Related?

By now most of you know that I split from home when I was sixteen.  I shall not go into the “why” of it here.  That is treated on my “secret blog.”   Anyone who wishes to have access to that blog is welcome to write to me at moxadox@gmail.com, and I will send you the link.

My question for today is: what proportion of teenagers who really run away from home, and by that I mean not just for a day or a few days, but more or less permanently, have Bipolar Illness that is undiagnosed or untreated?  And not only Bipolar, but PTSD from childhood abuse, especially sexual abuse, or schizophrenia, Borderline, Major Depression…mental illness in general.  

My own experience on the streets put me in contact with many fellow runaways.  Most of them had some kind of what I would now categorize as psychopathology that predated their running away.  Certainly running away and the sometimes horrific experiences and conditions that one encounters can do nothing but aggravate any underlying condition.

Runaways are often witnesses to violence, victims of violence and predation, subjected to homelessness and various forms of degradation.  All of these set them up for PTSD, whether this was a precondition of their running away or not.

I have seen kids bullied, either at home or at school, who found the predictable privation of life on the street preferable to life at home or in shelters, where the bullying continues.  Aspergerian kids fall into this category because of their odd appearance and often stereotyped behaviors.  So do overweight kids, or even dyslexic kids because of their difficulties with reading and writing.  Life on the streets does not depend on one’s aptitude for written language, but only on the ability to survive in an environment that uniquely combines routine with chaos.

I myself fell into a number of these categories.  I was terribly depressed, when I wasn’t having bouts of extreme clarity where I found myself deeply engaged in the study of physics; and sometimes, ever since childhood, I emerged from my depressive state into a wild grandiosity, which was sometimes satisfying but mostly disturbing and dysphoric.

I was thoroughly bullied at school for being “weird,” and avoided human contact, interacting with dogs, cats, horses, rodents, birds, reptiles, and amphibians, but not fish, because they always died on me.  I wore sandals and clothes from the Indian store in the nearby city, fragrant with incense.  They rooted for the football team;  I dug roots and made medicines from them.

To these high class bumpkins from rural coastal Massachusetts, who went with their mothers to Daughters of the American Revolution meetings and Order of the Eastern Star while their fathers and sons went to whatever meetings they went to, I was a witch and an outcast.  Their children were not permitted to play with me, and they teased me relentlessly about my differences.

Worse yet, the teachers considered me a distraction in their classes since I dressed differently and even wore my hair differently.  They lobbied to get me out, and finally figured out a way to do it.

Being different in a homogeneous society is considered unacceptable.  Anthropologists have written books about this.  We the bipolar, the borderline, the ADD, the PTSD, the schizophrenic:  where do we fit in?  We don’t.

Many good studies are now looking at the creative and innovative advantage of the “different” brain.  We who have them have always known that; yet we have historically been anathema to society.  I cringe every time there is some kind of random killing or other act of violence and the first thing the press asks is: does the person have a history of mental illness?  This, when there is solid research that shows that the mentally ill have no greater incidence of performing violent crimes than the general population; but we do have a greater tendency to be victims of violent crimes: no surprise there.

I hope the generation of children who are coming up now will find a more welcoming, better informed public in general, and a constructive school environment in particular, so that we don’t have to run away in order to not be abused, and to have to seek a kindred society of “misfits” on the streets.

Barter sex

My sex life began with a bang (no pun intended) on April 22,1970.  I was a sixteen year old virgin.  I will tell the story of that rape on my new blog, the one I keep threatening to start, any time now.  I’m working the kinks out of it.

After that, I ran away from my artsy-fartsy home on the east coast, ran all the way to California to be a hippie, and promptly got raped again, in a big white metal bed at the home of a friend and her family. Guy walked right through the door, climbed on top of me: “Don’t make any noise and you won’t get hurt.” Where DO they learn that pick-up line?  I left the next day, thingy chances on Highway One heading south to Santa Monica, where my friend had a friend who said she knew of a place I could crash. Only that didn’t work out the way it was supposed to.

After a few days of abject homelessness, too scared to sit down anywhere, too scared to go to sleep on the side of the road for fear I’d get raped again, I was offered a great deal: I could sleep on a cot in a crowded garage where a rock band practised, provided that I would sleep with the band members.

At that point it seemed like the best possible arrangement, since I would have a guaranteed place to sleep, and the people I would be having sex with were a known quantity and not just random people grabbing me off the street or coming in my window when I was asleep.

One kind of sweet thing was that the bass player took a shine to me and asked all the others to stay away, after they had each had a turn or two.  So I “belonged” to Spacey Tracey.

There wasn’t a bathroom in the garage so I used the yard.  The lady who lived in the house left her back door open for a while, so I would sneak in there when she was at work and use the bathroom, take a quick shower (I got to stinking pretty bad with all that sex and no shower).  Also I had no food and no money.  The cot in the garage was the barter deal. Tracey didn’t seem to notice or care that I was getting pretty gaunt.

On one trip through the dark kitchen of the lady’s house on my way to the bathroom I noticed that there was a bowl of those pastel poufy after dinner mints on the kitchen counter.  I grabbed a handful and stuffed them in my pocket.  That whole day I sucked on them very slowly, feeling them dissolve on my tongue, feeling the surge of sugar into my blood, a tiny flicker of energy enlivening my flesh.  My mind was dead, though.  Gone.

Once I discovered the mints I made sure to grab a handful every day.  That was all  I had to eat.  The band tried to get me to drink some Boone’s Farm Apple Wine one night.  It barely hit my stomach before coming up again.  Didn’t make much mess, though:  nothing in there.

Well, the lady finally wised up that I was helping myself to her bathroom and mints.  One day the back door was locked.  I told Tracey, sadly, that I would have to move on, or starve to death.  I was terrified at the prospect of leaving, because every night for a couple of hours I had Tracey’s body to cling to, and that was my whole world.  Yet I was truly starving, and had to find a saner situation where there might be both shelter AND food in the offing.

What’s interesting to me in retrospect is that I never asked Tracey for food.  I felt too ashamed and worthless to ask for anything more than what was offered: a place out of the rain, reefer when offered, the companionship, such as it was, of the band, and the barter arrangement with Tracey.

Later, when Tracey found out I was pregnant, he offered me money to help with the abortion.  I tried to reassure him by telling him it wasn’t his, but his face fell apart and I realized that maybe he had loved me, a little.

Copyright 2012 Laura P. Schulman all rights reserved