The Serial Killer Phase

I think most writers (especially those of horror) go through at least one major phase where they become complete and utterly fascinated by serial killers. Where it stems from can be debated. For some, we see something on TV. This usually occurs when we’re young (the True Crime network or Cold Case Files.) We’re horrified, fascinated, intrigued, disturbed. We have nightmares, doubts. We think, How is something like that possible? How can someone commit such violent acts? Normally the killer’s motives don’t matter. How gruesome their crimes or the psychology behind them aren’t necessarily considered. We, at such a young age, can only think: Why?

Eventually, evolution takes place. Old habits die hard. We almost always return to our roots. Though I grew up on True Crime TV and Cold Case Files, it wasn’t until after I watched the made-for-TV miniseries The Deliberate Stranger (which dramatizes in chilling detail the murders committed by Ted Bundy) that this surge of macabre fascination returned.

Some joke that ‘every writer has their serial killer.’

Mine was (and, up to this writing, still is) Jeffrey Dahmer.

I was inspired to write this post after concluding a condensed hour-and-a-half viewing of Dahmer’s trial. This montage — which contains the actual recording — isn’t glamorized, as many documentaries are privy toward. It’s edited, sure — mostly for length, as the trial went on for weeks — but goes into detail about the psychology behind Dahmer’s actions and history. Testimony by his victims (and I say ‘victims’ to include those he did not kill) is also included. This was perhaps the most disturbing information I’ve ever encountered upon researching Jeffrey Dahmer. His last victim (who thankfully escaped without severe injury) described in chilling detail the paradox of the man, the machine, and monster that was Jeffrey Dahmer — and how, like flashes in the dark, he would appear as one thing, then another.

I decided to forego including pictures in this post because of the nature surrounding Dahmer’s crimes. Primarily a necrophiliac, he is confirmed to have participated in sexual acts and to have consumed pieces of his victims. This information is documented — not only in text, but photograph. One of the most disturbing things I’ve ever seen was a crime scene photo taken in Dahmer’s home the night he was arrested. This was found via a Google Image search under the man’s name. I do not, under any circumstance, recommend you search for it. Reading about it is bad enough, but actually seeing the photograph is haunting beyond comprehension. It was something I could never be prepared for, and something I will ever be able to remove from my mind.

This segues into my continued fascination. Morbid as it may be, my interest in Dahmer increased after I became aware of his psychiatric diagnoses. He was, by grand jury, considered of sound mind, but psychiatrists were in full agreement that he had much wrong with him — including not only sexual paraphilias and borderline personality disorder, but also GAD.

Generalized Anxiety Disorder.

A condition I myself am diagnosed with and am in medical treatment for.

His ghost (and legacy) was only brought closer to home after discovering this fact. Dahmer’s struggle with his sexuality and then resounding coming-of-age is not unlike what a lot of young gay men experience, and is, in part, easy to relate to. I was fortunate enough to have been born on the cusp of the new millennium. But Dahmer? He was a child of the 60s. To see what he must have seen — to experience what he must have experienced — as the monster inside was festering? That is something too monstrous to imagine. Somehow, though, I am always drawn back to this — to this paradox of a person: of man, machine and monster.

I am always left to wonder: Why? When? How? Was illness his trumping demon? Did society play a role? Could something — anything have been done to prevent the seventeen deaths and the countless terror this man has wrought? Was it the result of genetics? A freak accident of the psyche? Something he saw? The psychology here is stupendous. It is the fodder of nightmares and the stuff writers can only dream of orchestrating.  In the end, this is what fascinates me the most — and what continues to draw me back to his story even when I am inclined to pull away.

Have you tried not taking medication?

More often than not, people view mental illness as something that is attributed to the individual rather than an actual fault of their body. Unlike cancer, HIV, MS or any other debilitating illness—which people would automatically expect treatment to be administered—mental illness is brushed aside as something people can control.

You see things? someone may ask. They’re not real.

You’re having mood swings? another may inquire. Control them.

Or what about the most common, which is often ignored or cast aside as trivial because of the refusal to acknowledge its chemical realities?

What about when people ask if you’re depressed, then matter-of-factly tell you to to look on the bright side of life?

What about when people—who may or may not understand your situation, who may or may not be aware of your diagnosis and who may or may not know you are being treated by practiced, licensed professionals—ask the one thing anyone treated within the mental health system hears at least once?

It’s the one thing you never expect to hear when you’re sick, even if others can’t see it.

Have you tried going without medication?

I’ve heard it countless times over the four years I’ve been treated for PTSD, GAD and Bipolar Disorder. From friends, to family, to passing acquaintances, from people who aren’t even addressing me but who are speaking on the matter in general—to them, it’s something I’m able to control. Mind over matter, they might say. It’s something I’m able to just get over.

Except there’s a problem—a fault in their logic that crumbles the foundation:

No one wants to be sick.

Over the years I’ve been treated, I’ve undergone countless evaluations, rigorous therapy, multiple interviews with psychiatric and pharmaceutical professionals, and had more blood drawn than I can even bear to remember. I’ve been on ten different medications and suffered through each of their individual side effects (and withdrawals when I’ve gone off them.) I’ve laid in bed trembling, unable to move because the room shakes, because it feels like I’ll throw up. I’ve hallucinated. I’ve undergone complete personality changes. I’ve had allergic reactions that scared me to the point where I believed I was having a life-threatening side-effect. I’ve even had the government, and some medical professionals, believe that my problem was obsolete and that I am capable of ‘less demanding things.’

But most of all, I’ve cried.

I’ve felt sorry for myself. I wished there was something, some way, I could just make it all go away. I’ve rationalized behaviors to the point of idiocy and even wondered sometimes if my situation was real—if, perhaps, I’ve just created the delusion in my mind and, for some reason, have subconsciously continued the ruse without due cause.

There’s only one problem.

With all that going on—with all that acknowledgement, understanding, education and self-awareness—you would think that, if it was all in my head, I could just make it go away.

And that’s where it ultimately leads to.

I can’t make it go away.

Medication helps me feel better. It stabilizes the mood swings, keeps me from panicking over every little thing, allows me to venture beyond the scope of four walls to explore the world as I deem fit. It lets me feel the one thing I don’t without it.

Normal.

It doesn’t get rid of it. Sure. Like all ailments, there are bound to be aches and pains. Some things never go away. But the one thing it does do is help.

It’s hard to understand for some people. You can’t see it. It isn’t a mark on my skin, a flaw you can identify through voice. But when I hear things like that—Have you tried not taking medication?—I can’t help but wonder:

If it were that easy, would there be any point?

Why I’m Open

There’s a common thought when it comes to allowing people to know you’re sick. Most of the time, it’s to prevent the spread of contamination, or to allow the information necessary for others to know you might not be capable of handling certain circumstances. More often than not, these ailments manifest themselves into physical representations, and thus need no explanation. Someone with an upset stomach may be running to the restroom more often than usual, or struggling not to vomit; someone suffering a lung infection may sound hoarse or might not be able to stop coughing; and someone with cancer might appear more gaunt than usual, depending on the recommended treatment for their illness, or may be losing their hair or natural skin color. But with some conditions, symptoms might not present themselves in ways people are used to seeing.

For people like me, those symptoms are invisible.

They’re what many consider ‘the silent killers.’

My name is Kody Boye. Since the age of seventeen, I have been in treatment (sometimes successfully, others not) for a variety of symptoms related to my mental health. Initially diagnosed with a blanket-term ‘anxiety disorder’ when I was seventeen, I suffered debilitating panic attacks or crippling states of apathetic immobilization as a result of the proffered treatment until I removed myself from the medication. Almost two years later, and after a cross-country move, I was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder 1 by a primary care doctor. Three years later, I was rediagnosed by a psychiatrist: with Bipolar Disorder 2, PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder) and GAD (Generalized Anxiety Disorder.) To date, I have been on ten different medications. I have been in therapy on and off for four years. And at this very moment, I am adapting to that tenth aforementioned medication in the hopes that the brutal side effects that often come with mental health treatments with not afflict me.

I am, in essence, a child of the mental health care system—a stunning exposé of what happens when the body is predisposed to illness and life’s cruelty decides to make it worse.

The whole way through, I’ve been encouraged to keep quiet.

As someone who grew up without a positive example, it was impossible to think that I could ever close myself off when I could be that voice for someone else.

So, I made a promise: To be open. Because more often than not, people like me are called crazy—simply for being honest about the things they go through.

What people don’t tell you?

Crazy is a word orchestrated to disregard a problem that could easily be treated.

I’ve had countless people tell me that I was being too open, too personal, too honest; that I would kill my career and that it would make me appear off-putting if I were to be so blatantly open about my medical history. It’s not going to do anyone any good, one person once said. Especially not for you.

I would like to differ.

An advocate is someone who opens their mouth—who speaks the truth even when it’s ugly and no one wants to hear it: who believes in something so strongly that, no matter what, they will speak, even in the face of silence. You may fillet my flesh and break my bones, pin me to your cross and call me pariah, but I do not speak for me. My suffering is trivial compared to what others go through. I am loved. I have phenomenal health insurance. I have amazing doctors who help me regardless of predisposed notions of insanity. I, unlike many others, have had opportunity.

Sadly, there are so many who never get that opportunity. They die. They hurt themselves. Theyk ill themselves. They hurt others. They kill others. Families are destroyed, relationships torn apart. If I can help at least one person in their fight for survival—in their ever-desperate battle for mental wellness—then I will not be responsible for another skeleton slipped into that closet.

This is why I’m open.

This is why I speak.

Food for Thought

If you were to stop a random person walking down the street and ask them to access my perceived awareness of my body (based on behavior, dress, interactions with others and responses triggered by commercialized definitions of beauty,) they would never suspect that I had issues with my appearance. I am, what most people would consider to be, ‘the average person.’ I’ve been defined as many things—regular, normal, husky, ‘like everyone else,’ well-rounded, with a little extra, big-boned. I personally know that I am not: slim, muscular, thin, fit, toned, in-shape or am anywhere near possessing a body which could be defined by an athletic association (such as ‘dancer’ or ‘swimmers.’) A contemporary lifestyle based around an office job, with a diet consisting of everything from store-bought to fast food, and an as-of-now nonexistent exercise routine due to an ankle injury and depression (because let’s face it: who wants to work out when you’re depressed?) leads to the typical body shape you can find in the nearest metropolitan area.

This is, in all respects, normal.

Because of that, some are surprised when I admit that I have struggled with body dysmorphia since my teens.

Body Dysmorphia (defined by The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) is a chronic mental illness in which the affected individual is possessed by excessive concern over their appearance. This can range from everything to weight, to perceived flaws on their person, to the way they believe others perceive them due to their appearance. It causes those affected to experience symptoms such as depression, anxiety, social withdrawal and social isolation. It is believed that 1% of adults meet the diagnostic criteria for body dysmorphic disorder.

While everyone’s experience with the condition varies, my battle with dysmorphia began as a teenager—when, on a Thanksgiving close to my sixteenth birthday, I posted a video on YouTube and was almost instantly attacked based on my weight.

I was floored.

Until that moment, I thought those kind of opinions were limited to high school and the peer pressures surrounding it. I’d never imagined that a complete stranger (whom, to my ignorant conscience, believed wouldn’t care) would say something like that to me. I’d never even considered myself fat. I just considered myself ‘me.’

Whether it was due to the onset of various mental disorders or a creation born from the societal concept that being fat is bad, that single comment began (and still continues to be) my battle with dysmorphia.

I won’t go into detail over the events that took place between the incident and the age of seventeen-and-a-half. Naturally, I wanted to do whatever possible to lose the weight, and the faster the better. I immediately took action by cutting out things that were deemed to have adverse affects on your weight (junk food, non-diet soda, fast food, etc.) I lost ten pounds after quitting soda the hard way (and experiencing the withdrawal symptoms en force) and then switched to diet, and over the course of several months continued to practice what I thought was ‘safe dieting.’

What did ‘safe dieting’ include?

Ignoring hunger. Drinking water to ignore hunger. Sleeping to ignore hunger. Eating only 1000 calories a day.

This morbid fascination with losing weight consumed me to the point where I was counting calories via Excel—and not only counting them, counting them by labeled number, if I were to eat a chip or chocolate bar. I began to experience headaches, irritability, extreme anxiety, and suffered sugar crashes which I now wholeheartedly believe affect my ability to tolerate them as an adult. Doctors pale when I mention the atrocities I committed on myself. How do you not have diabetes? they ask. Honestly, I don’t know. It’s especially disconcerting given the fact that diabetes runs throughout one side of my family in a really agressive manner. At the time, I was only concerned with losing the weight. And let me tell you:

I lost that weight.

Eighty pounds of it.

The following is a diagram of my appearance, starting from that period when I first began to exhibit the severe eating issues (in 2007) until 2013, when this chart was last updated.

This is what I look like as of this posting:

Regardless of the affects that puberty have on the body, the physical change is astounding.

Over the past few years, my body has shifted in terms of structure and fat due to growth, hormones, and the varying application and adjustments of prescription medications to diagnose my varying disorders. I won’t lie when I say the medication’s made me gain weight. That can be seen from 2010 (when I first began taking medication) and on. And while I do have the occasional spell in which my weight becomes a pressing concern, it is current not a matter of which I obsess over. The mind runs the body, the body carries the mind: to allow the body to move, the mind must be nourished, and thus for me the mind comes first.

Which leads me to my reason for writing this entry:

As of the past few months, I have begun developing what many consider to be symptoms of anorexia—not wanting to eat, refusing to eat, ignoring hunger pains, substituting them with water. I even have developed food aversions which leave me incapable of eating (or even thinking about eating) certain foods without becoming ill. Please note that doctors (primary and specialists) I have seen have not diagnosed me with an eating disorder, nor am I of the mind that I can label myself in such a manner when my situation is far different than any I’ve seen associated with such labels.

Food is necessary for my wellbeing. Besides for the personal nutrition that each and every one of us need, I must actively manage when and how much I am eating in order to take medication that, taken improperly, would leave me with uncomfortable stomach pains. Prescription changes have fixed the abhorrent starvation I’ve imposed upon myself at times (and have, to a degree, helped settle my food aversions,) but they’ve not been able to stop one underlying and subconscious effort I’ve only recently identified.

I concern myself with food over its cost, its longevity, and how long I can eat it before I get sick of it.

This in itself is a quagmire of uncertain resolve—mainly because I have such a solid support structure around me that I have no need to worry about going hungry. I’ve been told Eat. Threatened to eat (who’d’ve thought that?) Told explicitly that if I didn’t eat and ended up in the hospital for lithium poisoning/malnutrition/anything else associated with it, that they would be so mad they wouldn’t know what to do with me. In this regard, I’m perfectly content. Yet every time I go to the store, I have a little voice in my head counting the dollars, waving them over a pit in which they will never come back out. Can the food crawl back? it seems to ask. Will just some be enough to satisfy your gluttonous desires?

I can only contribute this to childhood insecurities regarding money.

I came from the average family, average income, beautiful living, a childhood in which I did not have to worry about where food came from, how it got there, or what exactly it cost. Until financial difficulties hit my family around the age of seven, we lived very well—modest, though well. But when various factors came forth and began to affect the flow of income and the cost of modern essentials, it wasn’t uncommon to hear talk about money, even in my extended family (who also suffered what appeared to be a chain reaction.) Can’t buy that. Gotta watch our money. Can’t buy that. We can’t afford it. I sometimes see parents say this to their children while I’m out in public and I cringe—because in the back of my mind, I’m wondering if down the line they will be plagued by commercial specters such as mine. While I imagine my GAD is likely a heavy contributor to said anxiety, I can’t help but wonder if such intonations are spoken in passing if only because the speaker doesn’t believe it will extent beyond the present mindset.

As of now, this complex has become so apparent that I am forced to consider changing medication (a terrifying aspect unto itself, if you know of, are in relation with, or have even seen my own struggles regarding medication.) Lately I’ve been bouncing between fast food chains (because my subconscious impresses a toll upon assembling food, and that foods easily made like corndogs and sandwiches are disgusting because I’ve eaten them to the point of lunacy.) Even frozen meals (Stouffers Baked Cheesy Potato, Drive-Thru Cheeseburgers, Hot Pockets) have become so undesirable that I’m resorting to whatever I can stomach in order to take my medication, which more often than not come at the point where I am forced to eat because my body demands it.

The last time this happened (in a far worse degree, around November and December of last year,) I was literally eating only protein bars and shakes, with only the casual henpecking of regular food on the side.

Sadly, I realize that necessary medical change can’t reasonably come until after my disability hearing with a judge. Mental health medications are brutal on the mind and body. From stomach pains, to vertigo symptoms, to manic highs that keep me awake for three days to depressive lows that make me sleep for two—it’s no wonder people don’t admit themselves for adequate treatment, and even the consideration of the projected detox, introduction of new medication and then the recovery and stabilizing lengths are enough to make even the most stone-hearted veteran shy away.

While my situation and healthcare through the city of Austin allows me a far greater financial luxury than most could even dream of, the physical and mental strain is nightmarish.

Sometimes, when people ask me what it must feel like to even consider admitting oneself to antipsychotic and antidepressive treatments, I can’t help but describe it in the following:

You know how people complain about being stuck in tight places—somewhere they fear they can never get out?

I tell them they’re lucky.

In most instances, claustrophobia is temporary.

They can get out.

In my case, it’s completely different.

I can’t get out of my own head.

For the most sensitive, noise can be too much

Jim Carrey once tweeted that, for the most sensitive among us, the noise can be too much.

Sadly, for some, that sentiment is far too true.

Yes, this post is going to be about suicide. While as of now it has not been confirmed that Charolette Dawson’s death was a suicide, her struggle with mental illness and the ongoing public battle that resulted because of it is one I feel many who struggle with feelings of depression can identify with. I can’t claim to have known Dawson. I wasn’t even aware of who she was or her position within the entertainment world until after her death. Reflection upon her story, however, reveal that the end of her life was filled with pain — with mental hospitalizations, severe cyberbullying, and frustrations over inadequate health care for the mentally ill.

For many, her story (or at least aspects of it) don’t hit far from home. For me personally, there have been several points in my life where I’ve hit that ‘rock-bottom low’–where, after being weighed down by the anchors of fatigue, you are dragged to the deepest depths of the ocean, then snared by the tubeworms who so perfectly symbolize the lost and tormented souls pictured in the River Styx. It’s an agonizing and humiliating position to be in–needing to ask for help, but not wanting to feel weak, or as though you’re burdening someone else, or as if you’re simply ‘just overreacting’ to the common cause and nature that is our urban lanscape. You’re marooned on the most insufferable shore known to man–one that, thankfully, a good many never happen to reach.

During the time I’ve been in Austin, I’ve admitted myself to an emergency psychiatric three times.

Two of those times, it was because I was having suicidal thoughts.

I can’t claim to speak for everyone when writing about the alienating aspects that are depression. Everyone’s story is different. There are different scenarios, lead-ups, defining moments, visceral ideals that are either broken into your conscience through imposed circumstance or those which you are free of but are still effected by. From this point, I’m going to speak candidly about my own experiences. I want them not to reflect on or be a reflection of anyone else’s ordeal. I simply want to share the trials and tribulations experienced throughout my battles with mental illness.

I began to experience symptoms at the age of seventeen and, after taking myself off the medication initially prescribed some six months later due to discomforting side effects, went for almost two years without going back to the doctor. I was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder at the age of eighteen. Three years later, I was rediagnosed with Bipolar Disorder 2. And PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.) Another doctor diagnosed me with GAD (Generalized Anxiety Disorder) shortly thereafter. During those three years, and the many medication changes that are often required in order to get the ‘magic cocktail,’ I experienced a plethora of moods which oftentimes caused severe and adverse reactions. (Go to WebMD and read some of the listed side effects from anything from Lexapro to Lithium to Benzotropine to Prozac and you’ll see what I’m talking about.) One of those experienced, as you probably imagine, were suicidal thoughts.

I previously stated that ‘rock bottom’ feels like you’re marooned on an island. What I neglected to add was that you feel marooned on an island… on an alien planet… where absolutely no one has any way to reach you. There’s a progressional factor that ultimately entraps you within that form of self-thinking. This is my fault. I did something to get here. This is the result of my decisions. I have to dig my way out.

Of course, when at such low points in your life, you undergo what I’ve referred to doctors as ‘the stacking effect.’ The easiest way to visualize it is to picture a game of Jenga, where blocks are added and subtracted as experiences occur.

The stacking effect occurs in varying ways with different people. For me, it normally begins with a base method: a ‘core,’ as you would call it (which, for demonstration, we’ll say is the bottom of the Jenga tower.) As things begins to stack atop it, the brain’s ability to interpret stress is measured by the overall wellbeing of the individual. Someone unaffected by mental illness would likely be able to fill in a section where a block should be. Those that are affected with mental illness are far more prone to having gaps in logic take precedence, so sometimes, blocks are removed, bumped out of alignment, swayed too far in one direction over the other. That’s when we get to points like the one pictures above, where only one block is holding up the upper half of the structure. And if someone pulls that block out…

All hell breaks lose.

This is usually what’s referred to as the ‘psychotic break,’ wherein the person affected by depression (or any situation in which a scenario is building to a screaming pitch) succumbs to whatever determined notion their brain feels is applicable to the situation. Some completely lose their minds (I’ve done this.) Others simply lay in bed and have spiraling thoughts about how everything in their existence is horrible and that it will never get better (I have also done this.)

Sadly, there are those individuals whose tipping points escalate beyond the point of no return.

Then they’re gone.

My experiences within the mental health field have been tumultuous. There have been incredible highs and infuriating lows, nurses and doctors with whom I credit the preservation of my sanity and life and those who with snarling eyes have believed me to be nothing more than leech. I have suffered horrendous symptoms in which every time I moved I felt as though I was going to throw up, or when I could not sleep for three days in a row. I have lived life perfectly and with nearly no complications when my medication has been stable, and yet… I realize I’m a special case. As a below-income individual, I am elligible for services through the city of Austin that allow me to receive treatment starting anywhere from $5 and then going up to $15, then purchase medication as a result of these illnesses from $7 and up. That luxury is unaffordable to some whose income threshold knocks them from that predetermination bracket, or whose locale does not have those kinds of services. It was just yesterday that I discovered someone who posted a suicide note on their Facebook, then watched as their friends talked them down, and it was only six months ago when a friend of mine I’ve known for seven-plus years posted something so cryptic that I desperately worked through international emergency methods and friends in order to try and get him help (which, thankfully, I did, and their life is all the better because of it.) Rock bottom, as I said, is the most insufferable shore known to man, and hitting that point is one of the most humiliating and mentally-debillitating things anyone can ever experience.

In closing, I just want you all to know:

There is help out there.

Don’t think your plight isn’t worth it.

You are important.