A Survivor, Just Barely

Stephen P. Conrad
5 min readJun 8, 2022
Photo on Unsplash

I don’t know how I will get through this. I know only that somehow, someway, I will get through this. I have been here before and here by the grace of God go I. A survivor for certain, though just barely. But really who survives the ravages of mental illness unscathed?

Mental illness hurts, in ways one cannot imagine. It hurts everyone around it, and too often it never stops hurting. Unchecked it will almost surely be a continuous, vicious cycle sparing no one within its reach. I’m all too familiar with it. I’ve been going through it all my life.

I thought I got away from it, escaped its dark all-consuming clutches, but it stalked me, eventually finding me again. It didn’t knock on my door, it kicked it in.

I used to believe that I was at least not the direct victim of mental illness, how wrong I was. I am, always have been and continue to be counted amongst its victims. I am the recipient of its terror, destructive path, and the wreckage it leaves in its wake, coherent enough to see and feel it’s terrible effects.

It took many years to accept that I too am its victim. Did I get the easier, softer way? That remains to be seen and the jury is still out on that. Several I know will never make it in front of the jury. Mental illness took them too violently and too soon.

I have fought to survive it, the violence of it, though I am permanently scarred from it. Those scars make me who me am, both a blessing and a curse. Yes, I am a survivor. Yet mental illness stunted my emotions robbing me of the joy of even the simple pleasures in life. In a very real way mental illness has stolen a lot of living from me.

The scars of mental illness make it difficult to penetrate my psyche. I have learned to shut down. I have learned the tricks to being emotionally unavailable and vacant. That is not a good thing. I am hardened, I am stoic and the have never fully opened my soul to the world.

I am a product of a family rife with mental illness. My father was a true violent, completely unempathetic sociopath, with a bent for booze, pill addiction, madness and mayhem. He was an abusive man who I both loved and despised.

Long ago I realized I loved my father mainly because of blood bonds. That’s what you’re supposed to do right? Blood bonds aside, I lived a lifetime emotionally and mentally disconnected from him. In his old age, I felt no empathy for him. That part of him lives in me.

My mother a manic schizophrenic and alcoholic. A woman who cared as much as she knew how to and undoubtably loved her children yet was only able to at best accept us as her ‘friends’. Unlike my father her life was largely cast upon her, forced circumstance not choice ruled her life.

Alone with her at her near her end, her painful life was all too apparent.

Theirs was a marriage of disease. Neither possessed the life skills to take care of themselves let alone raise children. They would pass the curse of the disease of mental illness on to my younger brother, he a severe schizophrenic.

Upon her passing, he her closest friend, offered a rare response to my comment that how she did all she could for us; “no, she did what she wanted to, not what she could have.” He a severe schizophrenic and me the supposed ‘normal’ one made me question the absurdity of my belief I was normal.

Mental illness is deeply prevalent within my very large extended biological family, coursing through in my blood, imbedded deep with my DNA and it all seemed so normal because everyone was quite literally, crazy.

I myself am a recovering alcoholic and addict who on multiple occasions has been clinically diagnosed with PTSD. I lived a life of violence in a dark world and both, craved and invited it. Even today I fight my way out of the dark corners to remain in the light.

Anger and violence have precipitated every major event in my life. In most every instance caused by mental illness. The rage and hatred I once possessed, with age and maturity has subsided considerably yet lies dormant in my psyche.

At present I find myself once again struggling with it within my daughter, like myself a tried-and-true alcoholic and addict whose diagnoses with mental illness still goes untreated by her own choice. We live in a society that nothing can be done until it’s too extreme or too late. I have serious doubts she will survive it.

I do my best provide the real help I can. I am very present but must force myself not to enable her. The outcome? I hope and pray for the best and fear and steel myself for the worst. No matter the outcome I must accept it, again survive, and go on living.

Still, the realization and acceptance does not suppress the pain, sadness, and angst. What it does do is make me realized just how stunted my feelings to trauma remain. I also realize that my own need for therapy and continued healing is both real and necessary. For me, survival is only worth it if I can grow from adversity and feel who I am.

My own life experiences have taught me I enjoy and need to continue to learn how to love and forgive myself and be of service to others.

What is worse, being the victim suffering with the mental illness or the one who bear witness to the hurt and slow torturous deterioration of a loved one?

I know it’s affected me, so much so I find it extremely difficult to sit down and put those feelings to words out of fear I may have to relive a lifetime of dark memories that will inevitably open the closed door to long buried demons of my past.

I write to breath and share this in order to live. Just surviving is no longer enough. The written word is my savoir and crutch. This writing is simultaneously extremely painful and cathartic.

I thought it was all gone and those days were over yet here they are again. The vicious cycle of mental illness. I will survive, because I am a survivor. Just barely.

This is a beginning. You have not heard the last of me.



Stephen P. Conrad

A nomad, a gypsy at heart, writer, actor, artist, anti-sycophant, socially maladjusted and comfortably near complete insanity.