In my first blog post, before beginning a rant about how I came to love writing, I mentioned that I was clinically diagnosed with Pyromania; this is not a fabrication. It really happened and I really did spend a fair amount of my childhood in therapy.
I’m not writing about this to “boast” a rare condition. It’s nothing that I pride myself on but it is something I had to overcome, and it’s something I still learn to live with every day.
Pyromania is an incredibly rare condition that has strict diagnostic criteria that must be met. This is even rarer in young children and even MORE rare in cognitively adept children. It’s estimated that well under 1% of the general population can be diagnosed with Pyromania; meaning that I fit somewhere in the range of 0.0XX%.
Pyromania is in the class of disorders known as “Impulse Control Disorders.” These include others such as gambling addiction, kleptomania, and Intermittent Explosive Disorder (which sounds far more dangerous than it actually is. It’s nothing to do with actual explosives; it refers to tantrums.)
The earliest I can recall needing to set fires is somewhere around the time I learned to speak eloquent sentences; maybe four. It’s common to exhibit fire-starting actions in those early years; especially for young white boys. Still, after the first few instances, I guess they started to take note of the prevalence and consistency.
It wasn’t until I used a Zippo lighter to incinerate my grandma’s Dodge Shadow, that they (“they” being my grandma and local authorities) thought it best for me to undergo fire education classes. That instance could have taken lives; the car was so close to our apartment building that it melted the siding off of the building. Also, my grandma was helping my aunt move at the time and she had almost everything she owned in the car…
It sounds like a joke, but my aunt was unfortunately a huge fan of collecting wicker baskets and things of that sort; making the car burn that much faster. What terrified my grandma was that she thought I was in the car. However, it went something like this:
I was waiting in the car for my aunt and grandma to grab the last of what they were putting in the car to move. I had found a Zippo in the center console that belonged to my uncle. As you may know, Zippo’s aren’t exactly child-safe. I opened it, and lit it and clumsy as I was in those days, I dropped it between the front seat and center console.
As any child would, I panicked. I opened the passenger door and moseyed my way out and into the backdoor of the apartment, where I would hide under something that I can’t recall what it was; a table or bed. It wasn’t until after the sirens were blaring and I heard my grandma screaming my name so fearfully that you would think I had died, that I decided to come out.
I found grandma in the cloud of onlookers and she grabbed me and held me so tightly, I’ll never forget that moment. All I kept saying was “I didn’t mean to do it, I didn’t mean to do it!” That day is forever seared into my brain for many reasons. One is that I saw the look of true terror on my grandma and aunt’s faces that can only be felt from being truly horrified. I’ll never forgive myself for that.
Another reason is that it was the tipping point facilitating the landslide of fire education classes, therapy sessions, and aversion tactics that I would undergo. It would also be the start of a self-loathing that I still can’t shake to this day. Which of course trickles down, creating other problems.
After a few times of being through fire education courses it was apparent that I needed more than just education on the subject. So I became the youngest person in the states history to undergo fire aversion therapy, which mostly entailed holding my breath while looking at flames. I never did get to enjoy the little shock nodes lol However…
The local fire chief had an idea that would definitely leave an impact on me to this day. I was taken to the burn unit of the local metropolitan hospital and was made to watch a severely burned patient receive skin grafts. It was one of the most macabre things I’ve ever witnessed in person. I’ll leave you to imagine the details.
What It Feels Like
It begins as an itch. One that I can’t scratch no matter how hard I try because it’s not on my skin, it’s in my brain. It just builds and builds until it becomes a nervous twitch, then an anxiety attack, then eventually it becomes so strong that I would rather end my life than go another moment without feeling that infernal release.
It is worth noting that a person with substance or alcohol abuse cannot be diagnosed as pyromaniac. However, it’s common for a person previously diagnosed to become dependent on drugs or alcohol later on. If you are an addict or know someone who is, then you have some sort of an idea as to what it feels like to be what I am.
Personally, I have struggled with drugs and alcohol since I was merely a teen. I started smoking cigarettes around the time I started therapy; six or seven years old. It wasn’t until recently (maybe within the last two years) that I started to notice other impulses spilling through the cracks. These were behaviors that I didn’t see as abnormal, until realizing that they weren’t common.
Some of this incudes: impulses to cause myself discomfort, to apply pain to certain receptors depending on the situation, to tense up my muscles in certain situations, fidget, among others.
When I say “cause discomfort” or “apply pain” what I mean is… take your hand and outstretch your fingers. Now begin to make a fist, but stop halfway; take that second knuckle and place it between two of your upper ribs, then apply pressure. It hurts but almost tickles in a way, right? I have the insatiable urge to do this sort of thing many times throughout my day, usually without realizing it. I’ll hold that painful pressure point for as long as I can, pressing harder and harder until the anxiety leaves my body, and I can breathe normally again.
Oddly enough, this carries over into my sleep. I pinch myself and my girl; hard as hell too… I’ll wake up to a punch like “what?..” and she’ll be pissed saying I pinched her hard enough to wake her up. I feel terrible, but I’m entirely unaware of this occurrence when it happens.
Are You Nuts?
I had therapy sessions until they relieved me of the diagnosis, stating that I was “in remission” as if I were a cancer patient. From then, I simply learned to deal with it on my own. Self-medicating and working with mindfulness meditation, I think I’ve come quite a long way!
Time will tell, but for now at least I’m old enough and capable of starting some badass bonfires; one benefit of this whole thing… I can start a fire during a blizzard in the freezing rain faster than most people can get a bonfire going in the summer with a bunch of cardboard. Silver lining, I suppose.