The Bipolar Bum

Backpacking and Bipolar II. Taking Manic Depression on tour.

About Me – The long version Pt.1

Picture a short, chubby faced, happy little soul with hair bordering on ginger. He’s got a bit of a fat tongue and is quite eager to please adults, with whom he will readily converse. There is an absence of the usual childish shyness and intimidation around the big-folk as well as a certain knowing confidence in his language. This child is loved, protected, indulged and taught well. He’s quite bright, this one. He is all set to lead an impressive life. This is who I was. The reader not the rugby player. I remember the pride when I was sent to a grammar school rather than the local comprehensive high school. I can vividly recall the day things changed. I can pinpoint the crushing, ear-ringing moments when I believe the seed of my illness was planted and the trajectory of my life was irrevocably altered.

I was sat at home next to my dad. He rolled his chair over my trouser leg, pinning me in place as I stood up to leave the room obviously exerting some jovial, male dominance as playful teasing. When I looked at his face though – his eyes were bulging and bloodshot, his face was purple, his lips were blue. I had just enough time to process this before he fell forward and slammed his head into the corner of the room. I screamed for help; I couldn’t lift him out of the corner by myself.

One of my many uncles took my brother and I under an arm each in the morning. His words quivered like taut cables as he told us: “I think you know why we’re all here and what I have to tell you. Your dad’s not coming home, he died last night.”. The house was full of moth-like family, flapping around my mother and baby sister but never settling nearby for long, avoiding eye contact with me.

My brother immediately wept. I can remember the clamor of it being in stark contrast to my own silence. This was all too much to process. This was so REAL an event it seemed surreal. The only thing I felt like I now knew was that I didn’t know ANYTHING about life anymore. The significance of what has just happened radiated out into my world view like an earthquake. I just remember the adrenaline and the unusual feeling that things were never going to feel the same way again. Over the coming months, my mother withdrew into an impenetrable cloud of silent despair and alcoholism. I’ve never begrudged her that. This left my siblings and I to our own devices.

In the History chapter of A.Solomon’s excellent book on depression “The Noonday Demon” he explains that melancholic behaviour (read: depression) and voluntary submission for psychotherapy was seen by the working classes as a middle class self-indulgence and a sign of bourgeois weakness. My experience supports this assertion. My extended family consisted of miners, electricians, bricklayers, engineers and labourers. None of these vocational ecosystems left a man particularly well equipped or prepared to speak about emotions. Grit your teeth, man-up and crack on. – words never said but nonetheless absolutely implicit as maxims for dealing with day to day life. The majority of my extended family were single men.

It is crucially important to also explain that there was never a mention of bereavement counseling. It didn’t exist in our world. So heavily indoctrinated are the people where I was born that this didn’t ever seem unusual or unacceptable until I started work on this article. Where I lived no one knew what to do with grief and therefore it became everyone’s own, private emotional straight jacket. Every man for himself. It felt as though everyone gave up on us and it seemed that the assumption was that we were now a broken and irreparable family. Our lives were, apparently and understandably, ruined. This hard-line, determinist, anti-psychiatric point of view was so strongly held that my dad’s side of the family disowned us, as they couldn’t bare to see us for the pain of being reminded of their dead brother. At the time this led to further confusion, frustration and isolation on my part. I internalised the notion that I had no chance of a ‘normal’ life like everyone else.

I behaved how most angry, hurt, thirteen year old kids would. I was frightfully unoriginal. I discovered alcohol very quickly (love at first taste), I entered into an immediately sexual relationship with an older girl and I developed a nihilistic streak which, when activated, can still leave me exposed to ABSURD levels of danger. Mixing parents’ prescription drugs and painkillers with alcohol to get ‘more f**ked up’ and regularly drinking until passing out before awakening and continuing to drink until blacking out again. I had been in the front row for a presentation showing that working your entire life only to drop dead when it finally starts paying a dividend was ridiculous. I took on the attitude of DARING the world to come for me like it had done my dad. I didn’t care.

Carpe Diem for me was a limitation, not an empowering prompt; Seize ONLY today. The party animal persona suited me and I leapt into the role with reckless abandon. In retrospect I was extremely confused about life and if someone had sat me down and worked through this confusion with me, things might have been completely different. Unfortunately, I was left to guide myself through a paradigm shift and my capacity to do this well was severely lacking. If existential terror is an issue, existential bewilderment was just as bad. What was the purpose in working for a future you won’t have? Is my dad still aware of my behaviour somewhere? What was the point in caring about anything other than the next few days? Why were people worrying about all this irrelevant crap like education, career and future. None of it could protect you from life. The world of futures and plans had stopped making sense to me so I withdrew from it completely.

I was told that my paternal grandfather and his dad had also died young. My dad was forty two years old when he died. I became superstitiously convinced that we were paying a debt for some crime a distant ancestor had committed. This is my first evidence of what I would consider now to be psychosis. I didn’t believe in karma. I didn’t believe in gods or devils or fate. I did however take on the automatic assumption that my belief in this particular instance was absolutely true. I didn’t question it for another thirteen years. It affected my relationships (particularly with alcohol) and every other facet of my chaotic life. When other’s were talking about “the rest of your life” – what that meant to me in very literal terms was, at best, twenty six years of belligerent alcohol abuse and just scraping by.

Thus begins what I see now as evidence of my illness. I got away with the most extreme behaviour imaginable at both ends of the emotional spectrum. Why? “Oh his dad died, leave him alone, he’s bound to act up a bit”. I remember being depressed and silently weepy and talking to the ghost of my dad at the rugby field where he used to spend time with my brother rather than me. I remember partying HARD with the much older friends I made outside of school. I remember disliking beer and cider, so I took to drinking pints of spirits and occasionally mixers. My liver took a beating and I developed a mighty tolerance for hard alcohol abuse. My weapon of choice was red Aftershock, an aniseed flavoured spirit and I would arrive to parties with a bottle to myself of the 40% libation. Truancy went hand in hand with my drink-till-destruction lifestyle. When I did attend school I felt like a heretic to the faith of education. Sat in the sex-education assemblies and careers lessons I can remember thinking : “You don’t live in the same world as me.”. In stark contrast to this I would regularly feel crippling guilt for behaving in a way that my dad would not have approved of. I felt ashamed that I was wasting the education which he had worked himself to death to provide me with. My mental self-talk became an internal war waged by armies of incongruent thoughts. Cognitive dissonance and the stress it results in became day to day facts of life. My self worth plummeted. Half of my family didn’t want to know me, I spent friends like matches and I had no prospects. A lot of my teachers had understandably abandoned me in favor of students who wanted to learn.

I was also in love. The flames of first love burn the brightest, people say. I became convinced to a moral-certainty that my girlfriend and I would be together until we died. Being in love was the sweet nectar of life and I drank deeply. Waking up next to her I was often moved to tears as I watched her sleep. I remember moments of singularly powerful elation resulting from the fact that I had found this wonderful, soft creature and that she loved me. In these moments of euphoria, nothing else in life really mattered. Her happiness quickly became one of my life’s chief priorities and a most useful shortcut to feelings of joy. I might have been on a self destructive path but I had beautiful company and when I was with my girlfriend, very little of the misery of the rest of my life could penetrate deeply. When someone heard me grandiosely say that I needed nothing other than the love of my partner, it was written off as puppy love. We were together for thirteen years.

I did the bare minimum at school to avoid getting kicked out. “What would your dad think?!” was the stick that proved just as ineffective as the carrot of ‘future’, ‘career’ and ‘wealth’. I was lucky in that I rarely slept more than four hours, if at all, and that I could summon essays like a magician pulls rabbits from a hat. When I did school work, I did it all last-minute and I was very highly functioning for a teenager wracked by alcohol abuse. Wednesdays were ‘games’ days and rather than go to the field to run around and get muddy, I went to a pub called “The York Street” and spent my E.M.A (Educational maintenance allowance) on booze, usually alone.

No one knows what to do with a grieving teenager. No one knows what to do with a teenager, full stop, I suppose. I’m sure in years to come it will be absurd that my brother and I weren’t forced into bereavement counseling but at the time it just didn’t occur to anyone, least of all me. I had grown my hair long, started listening to more and more extreme music and wearing more and more outlandish clothing and adornments. “He’s one of those devil-worshipping moshers. They’re all egomaniacs who need to show off and behave wildly. It’s a phase – it will pass.”

I was the nail that stuck up tallest at school, and so they tried to hammer me. Attempts to discipline me only meant that I resisted harder and I became known as a ‘rebel’. These labels and stereotypes meant all the while – no one ever suggested that I be examined for any kind of mental illness. I was the teenager, the headbanger, the boozehound, the party animal and the bereaved. This cocktail of associations meant that depression was understandable as was fury. A disdain for authority was completely understandable given that I had had all authority figures removed for half a year after my dad had died. Everything fell into place to give my Bipolarity a clear run and permanent camouflage.

Eventually – school came to an end. I hadn’t applied to any colleges or universities, nor had I looked for a job. I had pissed away my education in fine style, passed all of the exams I bothered to turn up for and got half decent results. A fatherly teacher, who I still revere to this day, applied on my behalf to an art college nearby and got me a place. In the absence of any better ideas, I was off to art college where I would have my first years of blatantly obvious mood cycling.

I had been shown the basics of draftsmanship but I quickly learned at art college that I was one of the only ones. Throughout my college life I alternated between lofty heights of arrogance, believing that I and a few close friends were the future of British Landscape drawing and painting – and plumbing the depths of deepest, darkest depression when I would become convinced that everything I had done was terrible and that I was wasting time and money. I felt like I was indulging the fantasy that I could ever exist in the sphere of art and design. My swinging behaviour left me bereft of friends from college. I still had the party-animal persona but my wildly changeable moods and arrogant denouncements of everyone else’s work meant that when I dropped out there were very few mourning my absence. Feelings of intense isolation only grew stronger throughout college.

The OBVIOUSLY bipolar behaviour I have described here is only obvious in retrospect. In Yorkshire mental illness was a distant, far-off malady that didn’t impinge on the lives of we ‘normal’ people. The normal people with one parent, who had indulged in alcohol abuse, violent sexuality and a complete absence of interest in the consequences of our rapidly cycling behaviour. Those kinds of ‘normal’ people. I had been through a tragedy, I liked extreme music, I had long hair and rode a motorcycle, I was happy in my greasy jeans, jackboots and leather jacket in all weathers. I was the party animal who could pack away enough spirits to drown most people. My behaviour was underwritten into a kind of respectability by the pock-marked, lunar surface of my life that everyone else saw. Everything unusual about me could be taken as evidence of previous collisions and catastrophes. Everything I did fit the model and therefore didn’t suggest any imbalance or psychosis. My own lack of self-awareness is what I now see as having been the largest obstacle between me and the help I so clearly and desperately needed. Without a moment of self consciousness I allowed the social construct of ‘Just an extreme sort of guy’ become a determining factor in my behaviour, as well as an excuse for it.

In a fit of depression I dropped out of college and spent two or three months in my bedroom, eating what I was brought, watching TV shows on my computer and trying to sleep. I was convinced (probably correctly) that there was no future for me in the arts and that I ran the risk of making my girlfriend poor as well as myself for a pipe-dream. I felt guilty and obligated to drop out. Again – my ‘sadness’ was pretty understandable for a ‘normal’ person who had committed educational suicide by dropping out of college. I was now also a ‘Drop out’, a loser. I had every reason to be depressed.

I had no obvious talents or paths open to me and had to come face to face with my lack of options. I worked for a joiner, cash-in-hand, gutting a flat in which two chain-smoking alcoholics had died one after the other in their bed. I remember steaming the woodchip ceiling to scrape them bare and black, sticky cigarette tar drooped onto my face and into my eyes. This was not an adequate cure for depression. Next I worked at a carwash with two or three young men who had so little going on between their ears that I remember ranking them beneath the sponges for conversation, again – cash in hand for very little financial remuneration or job satisfaction. I lasted one day at the carwash and felt an even bigger failure for not being able to keep up to this, the most simple of applications for a human being.

What I remember feeling most of all at this time was a lack of power and room for self-determination. I lived at my mother’s house still, I was in my early twenties and while friends were beginning to graduate from university and get their first jobs, or other friends had been in work since they were sixteen – I knew very little that was relevant to the world of work or life past my alcohol fueled teenage years. Life still felt like a rigged game to me. The general, day to day stuff of life seemed utterly impossible. ‘Just’ getting a job or ‘just’ deciding on a direction to take your life were, for me, impossibilities. I was mystified as to how everyone else did it all just as they were mystified as to why a bright lad could exhibit such comprehensive failure at the simple act of moving on in life. I marveled at and envied the seemingly automatic process by which other people moved from one phase of life to another. My derisive internal voices very kindly informed me it is because I was not cut out for life. That it was better that my dad wasn’t around to see his weakling eldest unable to cope with life.

 

 

Things were about to change. A new job, motorcycling, a mountain of secret debt, mania and a misscarriage. This will be in the second part of this feature.

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14 comments on “About Me – The long version Pt.1

  1. Exploring Alura
    01/06/2014

    To say I am glad you stumbled across my blog is a huge understatement. I strongly believe people are brought across my path for a reason, and your reason is no different. We are living in some terrible times, times where emotions are expected to be boxed up, packed away, never to be thought of again. And in those instances where emotions are too strong to handle, society would choose to belittle, condemn, or medicate (whether self or clinically).

    How interesting that the very people I am most connected to are the ones society deems crazy. We ARE crazy to them and I can see why. They’ve learned how to properly cut themselves of from real heartfelt emotions while our lives are constantly in the throws of emotional tidal waves. We scare the living daylight out of the world because the world doesn’t no longer attempts to feel or process anything.

    Your feelings of grandeur are for a reason. You are meant to do big things – we just need to figure out what that is. Every part of my being believes the world is starting to going through a cataclysmic change and certain people are the catalysts. Angel, I believe those catalysts would be those deemed crazy by society. Who better to bring emotions back to the world than the very people whose very essence centers on extreme emotions?

    Your road has been a rough one. Those born into tragedy and trials are tested for a reason. Your life to this point has been a training ground for what is to come. You went through extreme situations so you would be prepared for the task ahead. Arm yourself with love, acceptance, and understanding. Understand yourself fully because the world we are going to change cannot begin to fathom the wonder that is you.

    Liked by 2 people

    • drheckleandmrjibe
      02/06/2014

      Hey Alura 🙂

      Firstly, thanks for taking the time to write this. I really, REALLY appreciate the contributions, especially when they come from the heart like this.

      I think its entirely understandable that you’re connected to more of us who are ill. Right now, immediately post diagnosis, I feel more connected to ill people than I’ve felt with most other human beings. I feel like I’ve found ‘My people’ in some ways and I love to talk to people who GET IT.

      I disagree that the healthy people out there have stopped feeling though. I think the people who will put themselves on the line and allow empathy to really shine through are few and far between at a first meeting, but when you take the time to get to know REAL PEOPLE, and the defences come down, there are lots of really beautiful human beings out there.

      My feelings of grandeur do exist for a clearly defined reason, you’re right 🙂 That reason I’m afraid is a chemical imbalance that we call Bipolarity! It is true that some people manage to channel this into their passions and become EXTREMELY productive (if not periodically tortured) and senior in their respective fields. For me, my hypomania was an amazing source of energy and productivity, but the depression and confusing that came after it meant that if someone had been less productive than me, BUT CONSISTENT, they would have outperformed me easily.

      I’m not sold on the emotional bankruptcy of the world just yet. I have too much evidence to the contrary. EVERYWHERE I go, I meet people who I very often come to think of as my chosen family. I holidayed in Finland a few years ago, and now I have relationships with some of the people there that leaves me confident, should the worst happen – I could ALWAYS depend on them to shelter and help me. I came out to Australia this year, and again I have made friends that I would do anything for and I feel that this commitment is reciprocated entirely. In the UK where I lived, I have left a huge number of people who I love as much as the human heart is capable of doing.

      Since I don’t believe in fate and I’m becoming acutely aware of the kind of thoughts that are conspicuous by their absence now that I’m medicated – I feel like I CANNOT reply to your message without feeding back to you that it reads like you’re in the grip of hypomania (at least). The feelings of grandeur, the special significance assigned to things and the certainty with which you feel destined to do a specific thing are all facets of MY old, hypomanic thoughts. Please don’t feel as though this is an attack, I have written this much to you in the hope that it perhaps gives you pause for a moment so that you can assess the situation with fresh eyes. I say to you honestly – when I used to say the things you’re saying now, it was because I was manic.

      $0.02 there. 🙂 I hope this message finds you well and I hope you don’t feel offended. I risk offending you to say this, regardless, because I feel that it is ABSOLUTELY the right thing to do.

      All the best,
      H&J

      Liked by 1 person

      • drheckleandmrjibe
        02/06/2014

        “Wall of text crits you for 99999999999999 damage” 😛

        Like

      • Exploring Alura
        03/06/2014

        Thank you so much for recognizing this comes from my heart and for being concerned enough to let me know what you feel is right, even at the risk of offending me. You haven’t offended me in the slightest. In fact, I actually agree with you on most of your points. I am currently operating in a hypomanic state and find myself that way five out of seven days a week. I don’t feel attacked in the slightest because you are merely commenting on fact based on your own personal experiences with bipolarity. Oh and then there’s the fact you are absolutely right! 🙂 How could I possibly be upset over that?

        I have the tendency to speak in broad generalizations. I believe the ‘devil is in the details’ and so I choose to look at the world from a sky high perspective. I truly do understand that the entire world isn’t cut off from emotions. My life is full of so many people who are not “mentally ill” that use their full spectrum of emotions daily in their lives.

        I do however believe the world should wear their heart on their sleeves. We shouldn’t have to dig down and get past people’s defenses to find their true emotions. Those defenses are precisely what I am referring to when I say we are cut off from our emotions. Why should we have to wait to get to really know a person before we can see what a beautiful person they are?

        In my mind, however delusional or grandeur that might seem, our beauty should be on display at all times, no effort needed. Our emotions are natural, we have to work to hide them from others. We have to work to build up defenses to keep others from finding how we truly feel. I am a pretty lazy person and really hate the idea of doing unnecessary work so I just choose to wear my emotions on my sleeve for all to see.

        I also agree that our extreme emotions are from the chemical imbalance you and I share, bipolarity, which happens to provide some pretty interesting things to cope with. Feelings of grandeur and extreme motivation and on the other end of the spectrum extreme deflation and depression. Where I disagree with you is that this chemical imbalance isn’t something special to work with. Our feelings of grandiosity are there for a reason, to motivate us to do big things when our body is actually capable of doing it. What we choose to do with those feelings is entirely up to the individual. Some people feel like they are Gods. I personally am not claiming the ability to do magical things with my imbalance but rather recognizing I am capable of more than usual when in the throws of one of my hypomanic states.

        I see now that I have been bipolar for years and years though I have yet to pinpoint precisely when it started. I self diagnosed myself with online reading and confirmed the diagnosis with a psychiatrist just last week. However, coming to terms with the diagnosis on my own has given me some level of control over my condition. I am currently operating in an almost constant hypomanic state, however I have learned how to manage it to give myself maximum productivity without the feelings of being unstoppable.

        I still have my down moments where the world feels as though everything is against me. When I am unable to pull myself out of the mood on my own, I have a core group of friends that are able to help me recognize the down swing. And just as soon I recognize I’ve swung down again, I try to give my body what it needs. Rest and recuperation. Being hypomanic is exhausting to the body. Being so “on the ball” takes every iota of my being to perform at my best. I recognize that now and that knowledge makes it easier to handle the low points when they come on. My down swing depression is minimal, lasting only a few hours, provided I immediately get into my rest and recuperation mode. When I avoid giving my body what it needs, my depression has the potential to swing into epic proportions of sadness and failing.

        I also am not sold on the emotional bankruptcy of the world. But I do believe there are some very serious problems that needs addressed. I feel motivated to address those issues in a grand scheme and when I’m in a hypomanic state I’m going to give it every part of who I am to make some changes. I don’t for a second believe I can do it on my own, nor that I have some super power to change the world. But I do believe that Ghandi said it best, “Be the change you wish to see in the world”. I want to see the world wearing their heart on their sleeves just as I do: the only way I have ever known to be. And so I wear my heart on my sleeves and attempt to help others get past their own barriers and blockades so they are able to do the same. It isn’t much but then again I don’t believe it takes much to make a difference.

        I appreciate having someone to call me out when my hypomanic state gets too ambitious. I have a lot of self doubt that tempers my feelings of grandeur but I recognize I am not perfect. I have been concentrating on surrounding myself with people who can recognize when I am getting carried away. Because every part of who I am dreams big and has high expectations. I can’t stop that part of myself anymore than I can stop being bipolar. But I can learn how to temper those feelings myself. When I find myself unable to get grounded, I have developed a solid support system that can keep me from flying too close to the sun.

        Hypomania is a powerful condition. But with great power comes great responsibility. It is my responsibility to recognize what is reality and what I am actually capable of. The very same responsibility that is put on each and every person on this planet, bipolar or not.

        I’m sorry if I have over-responded. I was so excited to see such a concerned and considerate response despite that you felt you were disagreeing with my beliefs or that you might offend me. Thank you for that. The world could do with more people such as yourself. People that are willing to recognize someone getting out of control and able to intelligently articulate a response that would back them down off the ledge.

        I so look forward to our future interactions because your two cents will always be appreciated. If you’ll have me. 🙂

        Nothing but love,
        Kristan

        Like

  2. drheckleandmrjibe
    03/06/2014

    “Wall of text crits ME for 99999999999 damage!” 🙂 Thanks a lot for the generous reply. I’ll never knock anyone back for getting into a discussion with me on here, it is my primary purpose for running the blog these days.

    I have to admit to a little envy that you can maintain hypomania for the durations you describe. In my case – it ALWAYS guaranteed a crash, and the crashes lasted longer than the hypomania. It was an easy decision to deal with my illness when I finally accepted it, because it made me incapable of maintaining a consistent workload AND it make me FEEL worthless when I lost that hypomanic edge.

    I’m glad you’re not upset and that you didn’t take my observation personally. The last thing I want to do is to be on here arguing with people.

    I think when it comes to emotional barriers/defences – they make perfect sense after being hurt and it is something that everyone has to work through at their own pace. I had a HORRENDOUS break up with my partner of 13 years last year and it has left me very hesitant to make any romantic commitments outside of the short term. The guilt that came with my previous break-up almost came to define me and working through it is taking a long time.

    I think for the people who aren’t ill and don’t have the luxury of hypomania – they need to guard their emotions a little. If they’re emotionally crushed then reactive depression is a real risk, and I would imagine someone inexperienced in depression would feel as though the world had come to an end when first attacked by it. It’s bad enough for those of us who are veteran depressives.

    Believe me when I say – I DO believe Hypomania is special and that working with it is a joy. For myself, however, it comes with too high a price. I really WISH that I could keep the hypomania and jettison the depression, but I couldn’t. The main reason I replied in the way I did is your description of the special significance and raison d’etre for the hypomania. That recognition of Kismet was a great indicator of hypomania in hindsight. I couldn’t in good conscience ignore it when replying.

    You didn’t over respond, I’m glad you took the time to write out your reply in full and I too look forward to future interactions. 🙂 I can make a promise as to remaining honest, now I know that you won’t take it personally. If you ever want to bounce an idea off of someone (privately if you like) post up here or use the contact form and e-mail me. I’ll try and be a neutral, anonymous voice of reason.

    All the best,
    H&J

    Like

  3. Thank you for your visit and follow my blog. Hope you enjoy my other artworks 🙂 And I understand of feelings being boxed.

    Like

  4. obsessivelady
    18/06/2014

    Thank you for finding my blog and choosing to follow it. OCD is also a crippling mental illness that is not fully understood and I want to raise awareness of it. Thank you, also for your incredibly honest account of your sufferings. It takes a great deal of courage to share to that degree.

    Like

    • drheckleandmrjibe
      18/06/2014

      A dear friend of mine has OCD and clinical depression. Through ERP, self-awareness and medication he has a handle on his life. These things are crippling, but also treatable when the conversation around them remains steady and the therapy is rigorous. Best of luck!

      All the best,
      H&J

      Like

  5. theredeemerlives
    22/06/2014

    Thanks for the follow! What an eloquent and fascinating story, thanks for raising awareness

    Liked by 1 person

    • drheckleandmrjibe
      22/06/2014

      Thanks very much for taking the time to comment, and for commenting so kindly 🙂

      All the best,
      H&J

      Like

  6. Pingback: Very Inspiring Blogger Award! | A Victims Journal

  7. Sunshine
    10/08/2014

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