MORE THAN THE MADNESS
My name is John Kaniecki and I suffer from bipolar disorder. Please allow me to present my credentials. I have been hospitalized nine times three of them being committed. I have spent over a year locked away. I even spent a night in jail. When I first started taking the medicine I needed to get blood tests every week. Now I get them once every month. I had a pretty violent childhood. Not to the extreme as some but I’ve probably been in at least two dozen fights. Sometimes I would walk up to another child and simply punch them. The neighborhood where I grew up in was in the affluent part of town but the children were extremely hostile. I was a victim of bullying and name calling. My parents didn’t get along and my mother was constantly screaming. My father was selfish spending time working on his career or pursuing whatever his pleasures were. He really didn’t play an active part in my upbringing but he was around.
In high school I was very paranoid. I didn’t function well socially. As the shortest male child in my class I felt physically intimidated. It seemed like I didn’t fit in anywhere. Having the nickname “Myron” didn’t help. I did have a small group of friends. I did well academically. I think my dad put a lot of emphasis on education as he had a PhD. But he was a very distant individual. I remember after my grandmother’s funeral he was starting to cry. I went to embrace him and he pushed me away. That was the sum of our relationship cold and sterile. To his credit he always put food on the table and paid the expenses for my psychiatric care.
After high school I went away to engineering school. I studied very hard and did well my first semester. I pledged a fraternity and got involved with drugs and alcohol. In hindsight I may have been self medicating myself. Life was very dark and grim. I was drinking alcohol every day. I got interested in Christianity and it motivated me to stop drinking and drugging. I eventually became a Christian. At this point it seemed like I had everything in life I could want. I was a member of a very popular fraternity. I had of course my new found faith. There was a nice young lady in my life that I had romantic hopes for. I thought I had a host of friends as well.
Enjoying my new found faith I took off on a cross country trip hitchhiking and riding Greyhound buses. I made it from New York City, to Texas all the way to Washington State and back to New York. It was the best thirty days of my life. My horizons opened up immensely. Returning to my junior year I dropped out of engineering school. I wanted to go to Bible College and become an evangelist. I had experienced a period of prolonged depression and now I was to learn about the mania. I nearly got arrested going to the United Nations in Manhattan and telling them I had a message from God. A couple of weeks later I was committed and thrust into a psychiatric hospital. It was a traumatic and frightening experience.
By the grace of God and help of others I got through the first episode. So many whom I thought loved me simply vanished like dust in the wind. My ego had taken a tremendous blow. I had become something dirty and unclean. I was anathema. I had an awful doctor in that first hospital that literally spent no time talking to me at all. So when I got out I refused to see him as an outpatient. I didn’t like the environment at home so I cut out back to the fraternity. There was a lot of drinking and drugging going on there so I didn’t want to be there. I moved into a small room from a fellow from church. I spent most of my time lying on bed thinking about how I could kill myself. There were some books in the room and I started to read which lifted my spirits. I got a job in a pizza place and than one driving cabs. It seemed like I was getting a handle once more on my life.
Unfortunately I got a real stupid notion that God would cure my mental illness. So to prove my faith I stopped taking my medicine. In several weeks I was committed and back to the hospital. I could go on and on and on. My book is a story of hope and inspiration and takes a hefty swipe at fighting the stigma involved with mental illness showing that mental illness does not define my existence but rather is just part of a complex and human whole.
Hospitalizations are a very trying experience if one has never been there personally than it is hard to describe. There are long extensive periods of boredom with rushes of excitement. Group therapy, a meal or some other event becomes a rush activity. Visiting time is always a highlight. Even if you don’t have visitors yourself the influx of new faces is exhilarating. One thing I used to do in the hospital was write poetry. I wrote poems for the patients, staff and visitors. Also I always tried to write song lyrics. This was due to my fear that I would never be able to work in my life. Terrified that I would never be able to support myself I hoped for the miracle of having a hit song.
It has been thirty years later and finally my writing career has begun to take root. It is going painstakingly slow but it is doing well in its infant state. Of course between here and there has been a whole lot of living. I have had about twelve years in the business world working three different jobs. I bring up my writing because I want to show how good things happen from bad. This is the primary testimony I want to make about mental illness. It is a miserable and terrible thing to go through. The downside is immense. But if you allow yourself to be transformed by its harsh lessons there is a bounty to reap. Mental illness will humble a person and that is a good thing. Being psychiatrically sick will make you acutely sensitive of the feelings of other people. Overall if you don’t let the illness take over your life the results will be something wonderful.
Finally my mental illness has prepared me for the greatest task in my life. My wife suffers with dementia. From my experiences I can relate to the hardships she is going through and be more compassionate to her. I have seen so many of my kindred fellows fall into the surrender of suffering. I have seen the goliath of mental illness pulverize the foe to the point where they have abandoned all hope in life. It is my testimony that this does not have to be the case. As long as you can struggle, even if just a tiny bit, you can achieve and win the victory. The trial of a man is not marked alone by the distance he travels rather the road must be examined as well. Mental illness is a journey on a mountainside path slippery and full of obstacles. It will take all that you have on your trek to navigate the pitfalls but it will be worth it just for the view.
I am a full time caregiver for my wife Sylvia from lovely Grenada. I volunteer as a missionary with the Church of Christ at Chancellor Avenue in the South Ward of Newark, New Jersey. I have served in this capacity for about eight years. I am a volunteer at New Jersey Peace Action serving as political action coordinator for the organization. I am a member of Woman’s International League Of Peace And Freedom. As a member of the mentally ill community I am an advocate for those who suffer in like manner.
John Kaniecki in an author and poet. He has four poetry books “Murmurings of a Mad Man” ,”Poet to the Poor, Poems of Hope to the Bottom One Percent,” “A Day’s Weather” and “Sunset Sonnets”. In addition he has a science fiction collection entitled “Words of the Future” and a horror novella “Scarecrow Scarecrow”. John’s poem Tea With Joe Hill won the Joe Hill Labor Poetry Prize. John’s work has been published in over seventy outlets. John resides with his lovely wife Sylvia in Montclair, New Jersey. John hopes one day his writing will have a positive impact on the world.
Also of particular note is John’s memoirs, “More Than The Madness”. This tells his story of dealing with bipolar disorder. It fights against the stigma of mental illness.