Our Stories

Mastering life…if not fate

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by Daniel Senser

Many a time in my youth I wandered the streets
Drunkenly belting my song for all the world to hear.
Usually, I got picked up by the police
And put in the nut house for a week.
I fought hard for my song.
At night I’d sing it so that no one could sleep.
During the day, so no one could think.
Slowly, through much persuasion, my song
Began to quiet down.
Now a man, I stand here at this bus station
Whistling–not softly, as if to myself,
But not so loud that I get dirty looks, either.
Just loud enough to announce my song
To those around me, all the while hoping
That they are enjoying it
As much as I am.

My mother always told me that when I was a child, sometimes I would just start screaming, and there was nothing she or anyone else could do to quiet me. I remember when I was about four, I got sick. Late at night, in our living room, I screamed at my mother, who I had awoken in a panic. I was trying to get her to give me a bottle of warm milk, but for whatever reason, she was resisting. I screamed and looked at my hands. They looked like skeleton hands. “So that’s your plan!” I yelled. “You’re trying to starve me to death!”


It was things like this that should have given away the truth. I was not an average child. There was something essentially abnormal about my psyche.


I went to a psychiatrist when I was twelve because I was having symptoms of OCD—constantly and obsessively adjusting my bed sheets all night, rearranging the couch in the living room, picking lint out of the carpet as if it were a cancerous invader of our home. He put me on an antidepressant and the problem got better. Only, I wasn’t quite the same. It’s hard to determine exactly how I wasn’t the same. I was just entering junior high school, and the change of environment, along with the changes in my body, was a major effecter. I began experimenting with marijuana and alcohol. My schoolwork suffered, and I was having trouble finding my place in the new school. I began to have real feelings towards members of the opposite sex. I chose to express those feelings through cruelty.


To help with my grades, I was put on a stimulant. I found that the drug helped me with my ability to focus on homework, but at school I was either hyperactive or completely detached, almost to the point of catatonia. I managed to get by. My friends were younger than me, mostly, and most of our social interaction revolved around the use of marijuana.My senior year I did well. I was part of the school newspaper. I even had my very own column. I became more popular and more outgoing. By the end of the year, I was convinced I was destined for great things.


I chose to attend the College of Charleston, in South Carolina. I was so certain that I was going to write for the school newspaper, that I would have my own column in which I would form arguments that would change not only the conservative mindsets of my peers, but everyone living in the South. I thought I would become a public figure by the end of my freshman year.
Of course that didn’t happen. I fell into the same habits—smoking marijuana, drinking, skipping classes. I didn’t even bother to look into joining the school newspaper. I averaged a D- my freshman year. But that was not the most significant thing. The most significant thing was that I had a psychotic break and ended up in the hospital. I can still remember the feeling of being handcuffed for the first time. I felt like a criminal, even though I wasn’t. I was diagnosed as bipolar.


For the next decade, I was in and out of the hospital as I tried to finish my education. I didn’t go back to College of Charleston but came home to Cincinnati to finish my degree. The pains I went through during this period are indescribable. I felt myself transforming—like Kafka’s Gregor Samsa—into something monstrous. I hated myself and I hated the world. I wanted to dig myself a grave and sleep forever. When I was twenty-seven, everything changed for me. My parents sent me to Gould Farm, a residential treatment facility in Western Massachusetts, where the “guests,” all of whom are suffering from some sort of psychological problem, work as a team to keep the farm functional. I was there for over two years and it changed my life.


I learned the meaning and importance of community. For so long I felt I had to do everything on my own. I was the master of my fate, and to Hell with anyone who felt they could change it! But I was wrong. We are not all masters of our fate, at least not in the way I initially thought. Everyone helps contribute to our fate. We have to learn from each other, heal each other, love each other. I would not change the last 4 years of my life for anything. Even though I still have this illness (it is now officially bipolar with schizoaffective) I feel that I am able to live as a human being in a world full of human beings, and I can honestly say, I love it.