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Mental Health

My Double Life

Ian Ross

Reprinted from "Men" issue of Visions Journal, 2005, 2(5), pp. 27-28

stock photoRock 'n' Roll Rebel

I did well at school and in sports until rock 'n' roll took over my life in 1974. I was 14 and it was the great escape into a glamorous and magical world. I got into drugs, drinking and partying. I could at least talk to girls when I was drunk. To them I looked pretty confident and outgoing.

Some guys were even envious of me. I was the leader of a gigging rock band and looked the part-and I went out with beautiful girls. I could outdrink most people and was always the last person to stop partying. Sure, I got into fights and had some car accidents, chalked up a criminal record and so on, but hey, I knew how to have a good time!

Behind the mask, however, the reality was quite different.

Ultra-shy and a late bloomer

I was a very shy child, afraid of meeting new people and unable to even speak to many adults. I spent the first week of nursery school hiding under a coffee table in the lady's living room while the other kids played in the basement.

I wet my bed almost every night. I developed asthma and an allergy to dogs. In those days, many people didn't take such things seriously, and I had no inhaler to get me out of trouble.

My depression, as far as I can remember, started at age seven when my parents split up. That hurt me deeply. After, when my mother went out with men, I would stay up crying and unable to breathe. I took out my anger on my little brother, beating and bullying him.

In my teens, I was still wetting the bed. This was really embarrassing when I stayed over at other people's places. I'd cover up the evidence as best I could.

I took a lot of time off school, often with the flu, which led to anxiety about returning. I'd put it off, staying in bed.

At 17, I still hadn't gone through puberty. All the other guys at school were bigger and hairier than me. I tried to hide my nakedness in the gym changing rooms. I made my voice as deep as I could. When the hell was I going to become a man?

During the next year, I finally matured physically. But there was still something missing.

Sexually inferior

I wasn't able to ejaculate. No matter how much I tried, with or without a partner, after becoming erect, nothing more would happen. I felt too embarrassed to tell anyone, so I continued to pretend that I was 'alright Jack.'

I only made out with girls when I was really drunk and had enough nerve. I could also use the alcohol as an excuse for not being able to perform properly in bed. When the girls got too close, I would break off from them so they wouldn't find out about my embarrassing condition.

I wished I could be someone else. I just wanted to be able to have sex like a normal person. And I was too afraid to tell anyone my big secret, which was eating me up inside. I was afraid of ridicule and being seen as 'less.' I swore that if my problem was ever cured, I would be the happiest man alive.

At 21 I finally worked up the courage to tell a doctor. I had an operation, and was told afterwards that they didn't find anything wrong. As you can imagine, I wasn't glad to hear that at all. I had been hoping they would find something they could fix, so I'd be better. But nothing had changed. It felt like the doctor had dealt me a life sentence.

A little release!

Then, when I was 22, I fell in love. After seeing Elena* awhile, things came to a point where I felt I had to let her in on my secret. I was scared out of my wits that she would leave me—and was most surprised when she didn't. It was an incredible relief to have someone I could share my secret with.

Elena and I started having sex on a regular basis. She knew her body really well and loved sex. My problem was a plus from her point of view: I could go on forever, given that I couldn't climax.

One day, after we'd been together for over a year, something happened. We were in bed working up a real sweat. I was at the edge of my strength and holding my breath, when I felt a little release. I looked down into her wide-open eyes.

"What was that?" I asked. "You just came," she answered. We crumpled up with laughter. So there it was. At 23 years old, I finally managed to 'come' inside a woman. With practice, I learned how to make love. I was 'fixed!'

The breakthrough with Elena was major: the sexual problem had been psychological and related to my fear of intimacy dating from early childhood. I don’t remember receiving any close affection as a child. According to my mother, I pushed her away—perhaps because I could sense her awkwardness; I was her first child and she wasn’t a confident mother.

I had sworn that if my problem was cured, I would be the happiest man alive. But my relationship with Elena didn’t last, and I started finding other things to get depressed about.

Still a rough ride

I carried on with the crazy lifestyle. I still played in bands—rock through punk, new wave, goth and grunge - though I found it hard to keep a group together. I moved to London(UK), hoping for success in a bigger pond.

My public persona was strong, successful, confident, virile and free. To others I appeared gregarious and even outgoing—especially when drinking.

I never felt comfortable in my own skin, however, and was envious of others who seemed so relaxed. The problem got worse as time went on. I was angry and depressed about the state of the world—wars, environment, materialism and so on—and felt overwhelmed, particularly when things were not going well in my personal life. I was emotionally detached and unable to communicate my real needs or show weakness and ask for help. I yearned for touch when I was drunk, and so would be on the chase constantly.

Deep down I needed help. I was still the hurt, lonely child scared of human contact, but desperately in need of affection and acceptance. There was a constant turbulence in my gut. I would forget to breathe. I had nightmares; would stay in bed, unable to face anyone, sweating and shaking for days at a time—from fear, and also from alcohol withdrawal. Hiding. Heaviness and thoughts of suicide.

At 30, I finally admitted that I had a problem.

Therapy: scary but necessary

After trying antidepressants without any joy, I asked my doctor what I could do. With his recommendation, I was able to get a place with a psychotherapy group at a local hospital. I got something from these once-a-week sessions, but it was only later on, in an all-male therapeutic community, that I gradually opened up and started sharing deeper, more personal stuff and then getting in touch with my emotions.

Amongst other men it was particularly difficult to show weakness or vulnerability. The therapy was terrifying, and I had nightmares during that time. But the more I went to those scary places, the more I gained. The scarier the place, the more important it is to go there. I eventually began to lose that constant churning in my gut and started to come to terms with myself.

Finding peace

If I don’t share problems, or at least work them out, I know they will fester beneath the surface and come back and bite me (and/or somebody else) at a later date. The first and most difficult step was to admit that I needed help.

I am still somewhat emotionally detached, and I have to keep working on that. I still get stressed and have bad days, but I don’t drink to excess any more. I’m more at ease and feel a lightness. And now, what I present outwardly has much more to do with what’s going on inside. If I’m happy on the surface, you can be sure I’m happy the whole way through.

About the author

After 20 years of living on the edge in London, England, Ian recently moved back to his native land. He is currently finding his feet in Victoria, BC


* pseudonym

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