1993, The Year Of Possibilities

Potential is found through discovery. When I was a Senior in high school, it seemed to me that I was headed in the right direction and my future was bright. The difficulties of my childhood had been overcome and worst days were behind me. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Dan Victor, Age 17

There were many times in my life that were pivotal in the development of my current status. I look back on the times I wish I had made different choices, or acted with more for-thought, and wonder if it could have happened any other way.

I was counting on becoming someone other than I am. I believed I was someone else. I was unable to perceive, but with such great perception, I missed what was right in front of me.

During elementary school, I used to go to the resource room in the middle of the day. The teacher spoke loudly that it was time for me to leave the other students behind to go to a special class by myself. It seemed I would spend so much time alone, but this wasn’t my choice. They said I had perceptual problems. I had a learning disability. The truth was more complicated. I am bipolar, but it was more. My parents were going through a divorce, which impacted me greatly, but it was the constant crisis in my mind that distracted me from making mundane choices.

Dan Victor, Age 10

I still struggle to understand the nature of my existential dilemma, which had been aided by substance abuse in an effort to protect the pain. It has taken time away, I have gotten older and regret the time I lost. I wish I was further along than I am. I have just 10 months clean and very proud of that, but wish I hadn’t had to devastate myself to learn a lesson that seems so obvious to other people.

It comes down to what I wanted and how I saw best to achieve my goal. The goal was to feel no pain, but it seems enduring pain is a part of life. There are some things that can’t be avoided. The rain must be weathered so that nourishment and beauty can bloom. I learned too slowly that some of my beliefs were flawed. The perspective I cultivated didn’t served me, but it kept me distracted from the pain I was enduring without realizing it. I wasn’t doing anything to change the cause of pain. Just subduing it.

Understanding has always been important to me. Lessons and insight are easier for me if they happen over and over again. 1993 was my Senior year of high school and had figured it out only at the end of the journey. It seemed people liked me. I was accepted, in a band, on my way to art school, having a girlfriend, my own car, good looking and appreciated by my teachers. I had overcome only after so many years of torment in school – the fights, the bullying, getting an A on the Physics final exam. Like a movie, those challenges had been met. And most of all, I had time on my side. But a lot of time, I made mistakes, missed out on opportunities, hurt friends and family, been irresponsible with money and health, risked my life with foolish whimsical impulses.

Walking around in Bushwick, 2020

When I think back to the year I turned 18, from age 45, I have regret because I wish my choices had yielded different results. I don’t have a family or a solid job or living situation or love. I have a lifetime of experience, which is what i valued. A romantic view, that with all romance, ends in tragedy. A good story needs ups and downs, otherwise the payoff isn’t as sweet, whatever the outcome. The real value of what I take away from the 27 years since then is wisdom. I wish it had come sooner, but I’m not sure I could appreciate the significance of the knowledge.

Many things escape my understanding, which again, may seem obvious to others. Like who to trust or who it is safe to love, or what does it even mean to love someone. Romance seemed to mean fulfillment at one time, enlightenment seemed to offer freedom. Music was like a dream. Art was a philosophy with an identity attached. But how do you nurture desire, a motivation to motivate, a purpose to the depression that constantly lays in wait?

It is the day after Christmas and has hit me quit hard. This time last year I was addicted to cocaine and spent the day alone with a plate of lines instead of turkey. I need to remain grateful that isn’t where I am today. Writing this with gratitude is a productive place to put the pain. To admit being depressed, but channeling it.

I don’t know where I will be exactly, but I have ideas about where I want to be. I want to perform my music. I want to make movies and documentaries. I want to speak about mental illness. I want to inspire others to do what brings them joy. I want to live in the woods within reach of culture. I want a happy, healthy comfortable life that may still offer a difficult future, but at least I have a firm base with security. I believe it is important for me to know what I want. I wish I wanted to be in love, but I’m not sure I do. I’m not sure how easy it is for me to trust or want to be around other people. Time will tell, so I focus on what I am sure of. I want to be sober and create. Perhaps the echo of 1993 is calling out right now, but I’m still contemplating what I want to say when I pick up the phone.

Mixing new Ductape Halo album ‘Mental Chillness’

The Music of Mental Illness

It was 1999. I was laying in bed drunk, stoned and miserably depressed. I had lost my will to live, exhausted from the extreme effort it took to function. I just wanted to give up, I wanted to die, but didn’t have the courage to commit suicide. In a desperate moment, I asked God to give me a reason to live. I didn’t have any religion, so I didn’t expect a response, but i did get an answer. Music. It just popped in my head. I was a musician, so it made sense, but it gave me some purpose. It became my higher power. That was when I was 24 living in Philadelphia. I took it as a sign to make some changes.

I moved cross-country to San Diego, believing it to be seasonal depression and to pursue a career in music. I was riding high, drove the entire way in 4 days. When I got to the sunny paradise, my troubles followed me. I was arguing with friends and even more isolated and depressed than ever. I couldn’t enjoy the seemingly endless summer. I realized there was something wrong. I went to my first psychiatrist. It was the first step on a long journey to seek a diagnosis that finally came 5 years later. Bipolar Disorder.

During those first 5 years, I struggled with substance abuse that has lasted most of my life, a self-medication when the many medications I was tested with didn’t seem to help. Nothing felt quite right. But I continued to make art and music. Creating had been a constant while I endured what felt like I was being experimented on. I came to understand the stigma of mental illness, the lack of understanding medical professionals possess, the ridicule of family asking why I can’t just snap out of it. I just did my best and it was all I could ask of myself.

Even after my diagnosis and the mood stabilizer, that seemed to work with my lifestyle, it was difficult to stay balanced. I got to enjoy a life I felt I had missed out on in my 20’s, but I kept drinking and using drugs and didn’t want to go to therapy. It would eventually take its toll. But all the while I had been playing in bands, writing music, took part in numerous art scenes in Brooklyn, performing all over the Lower East Side. I was surviving for music, but it wasn’t enough.

I became the Editor in Chief of Popdust, a pop culture website, interviewed artists and musicians on a live stream show I produced and directed, and was a guest on Cheddar News. As my success grew, so did my addiction. I was on a manic wave that lasted over a year. I eventually lost my job, my friends, family and sanity as a result of not taking my illness seriously. Again, I was exhausted. It was twenty years later.

In April 2019, I wanted to commit suicide. The impulse had never been so strong. I was trying to talk myself into doing it after I made an angry post on Facebook about my brother abandoning me. The regret was so intense, I thought I had ruined any chance of a relationship with him after he unfriended me. I had no one to call. I stopped talking to my parents, believing they were all out to get me.

So I dialed 911 and begged them to admit me into a mental ward of Beth Israel, where my bipolar support group met. I had no health insurance and lacked the ability to take care of myself. I waited 17 hours in the psychiatric ER, during which I was punched by another patient. A doctor eventually came over and asked if I was ready to go home and mentioned I didn’t have health insurance. I said loudly, “Are you refusing to treat me because I don’t have health insurance?” They found me a bed soon after that.

April 9th, 2019 – recorded the day before the hospital.

While the story doesn’t end there, and my struggle with addiction would continue after a relapse, I began a new chapter of my journey of healing. While I was in-patient, I realized I needed to advocate for myself. The other patients needed help too, because the doctors and nurses couldn’t understand some of our needs. During my stay, I felt the healing power of music once more. A therapist was able to let me play a guitar, while under supervision. Strings, shoelaces and pens were monitored as closely as razors, considering all to be potential tools of self-harm for those under suicide watch. I cried while I played my song Hideaway, I had written about self-isolation and shared a song with an elderly woman who sang the Blues. It lifted our spirits, feeling hope, like our suffering had meaning. When we have a reason for living, a personal connection to something greater than ourselves, to something that connects us, it makes the struggle worth it.

At the end of 2020, I’m over nine months clean, still making music, and advocate for mental health through my website DanVictorDoes.com, sharing the healing power of art and music to manage mental distress. My story is not over because I decided my struggle gives me more than it takes. I remain grateful for the experience to understand myself better and I’m excited to see what gifts life has yet to offer.

I share my story because there are many misconceptions surrounding mental illness and how debilitating this disease can be. There needs to be more compassion for those of us that suffer. Many don’t know where to turn. Perhaps it seems overwhelming, but there is help within reach. You are not alone. 

If you suspect you have a problem, find a doctor. Get recommendations by those you trust to find a reliable psychiatrist. Build a support network. Pier groups are wonderful, not just for those with mental illness, but loved ones. Find out as much information as you can. NAMI.org helped me discover resources in my area.

Why I Advocate For Those Living With Mental Illness

It is extremely difficult to navigate the world when you have bipolar disorder. I spent my life trying to find a way to live. It can be be very frustrating to find proper treatment. So much is stacked against you. Even after courageously seeking help, getting a diagnosis, finding the right medication, realizing the system is flawed, doctors don’t have all the answers, care can be conditional, and family members may blame you… we continue to persevere.

My career has been in advertising, music and media, but I tried to hide my mental illness from my employers. I lost so many jobs because of my manic episodes. Most recently, I was the editor-in-chief at Popdust.com before my psychotic break. After calling 911 on myself, I was admitted into the psych ward of Beth Israel hospital in April 2019. For over 18 years I fought for my life while trying to appear normal. After this last hospitalization, I told myself, no more. I am officially ‘out’.

Since I can no longer hide, I would like to help those who suffer in silence. I believe there is a therapeutic value in sharing my experience. I want to fight the stigma associated with mental illness. I’m grateful to have an opportunity to use my gifts to help so many who feel alone. Together, there is hope.