The Wounds that Made Me


This week, my doctor increased my anti-depressants and lowered my anti-anxiety medications but she didn’t dare touch my mood stabilizers. She’s constantly adjusting the dosage of my pills according to what life throws at me. Without just the right balance, I’d probably spend my days hiding under my blanket or I’d stop sleeping altogether. I certainly would not be in the office working forty hours a week while revising my memoir in the evenings.

My sister, an attorney who has been spared bipolar disorder, boasts that she makes three times more money than I do. She wouldn’t give me an old iPhone that she couldn’t turn in for an upgrade because I “need to learn how to survive.” She knows I make a good salary but need to save some money to pay the editor who’s polishing my memoir. “You’re a narcissist,” she says, about me writing a book about the trauma that has left me permanently disabled. I’m neither surprised nor rattled by her attempts to hurt me. The medication keeps me steady.

Scientists are only now vocally dispelling the notion that mental illness is primarily dictated by genetics. Certainly, no one denies that people with perfectly normal lives can still suffer from depression or bipolar disorder, but it’s empowering to hear the medical community speak out about the direct link between trauma and mental illness.

I have two other sisters who are also bipolar. It’s taken me a lifetime to see how my self-righteous sister and my brother were spared the affliction of madness. While writing my book, I finally saw the truth: My “sane” siblings were abusive as children and continue to be so as adults. As is typical in families in which there is domestic violence, the children identify as either abusers or the abused early on. I always sided with my meek father because my mother blamed him and her daughters for all she was entitled to but didn’t have. It was always she who made him dole out lashings as punishment.

I didn’t pair my mother’s hardness and sense of entitlement with her whiteness when I was a child, even though she always made it a point to remind me that I’m dark like my father.

My self-righteous sister looks just as European as my mother. “Why do you always have problems with everyone?” she asked me, after the first editor I hired to edit my memoir took my five thousand dollars, kept my manuscript for six weeks and returned it with no edits whatsoever. After I reported the editor to the Better Business Bureau, she told the organization that my story was anti-Semitic. If it’s anti-Semitic to write about my ex’s family rejecting me for not being white, we really need to redefine the term.

When I tell my sister that I have it harder than she does because I am not only Iranian-American but also a disabled woman of color, she laughs at me. She insists that because she doesn’t have the same problems, I’m just making excuses for being a loser. Like most abusers and racists, she’s terribly insecure and needs to believe that she’s somehow more gifted, more resilient and more successful. She needs to believe that she’s superior.

My brother, who is actually quite swarthy, always sought out white women, probably because my mother worships him. He especially preferred Jewish women and finally married a very fair one of German descent. When I was unemployed, he’d insist that I bring her flowers whenever I visited, even though I barely had enough change to buy myself a cup of coffee.

My brother would never dare tell his wife to shut up. He would never strike her or drag her around the room by her feet. He certainly wouldn’t tell her how to speak, dress or behave. But that’s precisely what he did with me for most of my life. I didn’t ascribe his behavior to racism until very recently and so I dated mostly white men who similarly controlled me, mistreated me and showed absolutely no respect at all.

When I had my first nervous breakdown in my thirties, I began to see that I’d allowed far too many people treat me despicably my whole life. But the damage was already done: I was very sick. I aggressed everyone who’s ever hurt me – even in the slightest – with a non-stop stream of verbal assaults, mainly in writing. This was during a very volatile manic episode, before I was hospitalized and properly diagnosed. I was deemed so dangerous that Homeland Security came to my home with the local police to make sure I did not own any guns. I never threatened to kill or shoot anyone, and I highly doubt that most white bipolar people with a penchant for nasty emails get these sorts of visits.

I don’t tell most of the people I know that I’m bipolar. I fear they won’t believe me if I explain that I’m just like everyone else when I take my medication. I also fear that they won’t understand that my illness is a result of trauma, not some sinister pathology rooted in Islam.

Is it a copout to hide the truth? It’s hard enough being labeled as a potential terrorist by society at large. Imagine what it’s like being labeled as a crazy one.