To Be(er), Or Not To Be(er)

“Please Drink Responsibly” is the phrase slapped across every product you must be twenty-one years of age to purchase in the United States. Alcohol has been, is, and always will be one of the most controversial matters in history for many reasons. Our grandfathers’ fathers made it hidden in the south eastern mountains to provide for their families in the most lucrative way they could. A tradition has been made out of its’ recipes and stories of bootlegging and prohibition. It’s the one thing that even the United States government couldn’t stop.

As with anything however, where there are pros, there are cons. As with anything, if enjoyed in excess there are many debilitating effects it can cause on your health and the health of others. Poor judgements and decisions are made which can impact many people for the rest of their lives. If you live just below the Bible belt as I do, don’t be surprised if some mega church preacher attempts to release you from the grasp of the Devils’ nectar as he lovingly embraces you while reaching for your wallet and groping every square inch of your wife with his eyes.

The point I am trying to make is that we live in a society that welcomes the use of alcohol like an old family friend. It’s as American as apple pie, baseball, McDonald’s, and this messed up obsession we all have over reality television. So if no one else seems to have a problem, and it all just is a natural part of life, do I really have as big of a problem as I think I do?

If you have followed me or my blog for any amount of time, you may have stumbled across my introduction or several works about alcohol and my battle with the bottle. Today I want to give you a little background about it, as the subject weighs heavily on my mind lately. I have been drinking since I was fourteen years old. It started out as simply as it typically would. Tall bottles of Smirnoff Ice which eventually led my curious tongue to tall cans of malt liquor. I drank A LOT of gut rot, gas station specials as an early teenager such as Steel Reserve 211 and the likes, until I finally calmed down into normal domestic beers.

At around the age of eighteen I began to indulge in liquor. Trying a little bit of anything I could get my hands on, I quickly discovered that vodka and gin were two of my least favorite liquors. As stereotypical as it will sound, I was a bourbon guy through and through just like my father. The smoky taste, the warm burn of eighty proof tingling down your throat, and that decadent smell of oak as it swirled around in my glass could make my mouth water with every sip. I had made it my mission to become a connoisseur of bottom shelf bourbon. Even when I moved out on my own, the only things I had to my name were a few pots and pans, a record player, a futon mattress, and most importantly… a bottle of rye whisky.

It wasn’t until last year in September that a panic attack made me really look at myself and question my life. Once I began my journey for better mental health, I realized I was using the alcohol to self medicate my anxieties and possibly even some of my bipolar tendencies when I look back in retrospect. I made a lot of changes to my lifestyle with help from my wife. I decided to not keep beer in the apartment we share and she agrees because she feels it’s a waste of money. We agree to only drink when we go to restaurants or concerts and I stopped buying liquor all together because if it’s in my reach, I will drink it.

It’s not uncommon for me to become my own worst enemy. I am my worst critic, my worst judge of character, and the last person I ever want to have to confront. Lately if I’m out somewhere and decide to have a beer, I look at myself in shame and feel regret over my decision. I feel as though I’m letting myself down and even you down. Even though I don’t drink for the same reason anymore, enjoying one beer throws so many questions into my mind, it almost makes me wonder if it’s worth it. On the other hand, I’m not drinking for the same reason anymore. I enjoy beer as a craft and a beverage. Taking barley and hops and creating a flavorful masterpiece is a skill I am honestly envious of. There are so many good things about beer that go far beyond alcohol content.

Everyone has a story. Everyone has a situation that is different. I am not writing this to sway someone who is struggling with addiction to drink. If you are someone who is on the fence, I encourage you to please take the plunge and reach out to your local alcoholics anonymous program or outpatient rehabilitation center. What I am writing this for is to tell my story and to pose a question to my friends, the readers.

With the habits I continue to follow, I find myself wondering if I really have as big of a problem as I think I do. Am I more in control than I realize? Am I blowing this entirely out of proportion? If no one else seems to have an issue, then what is my problem? I am fine with not buying liquor, but am I wrong if I buy beer from time to time? What are your thoughts, and do you struggle this as well?

Stabilize

I sat in the waiting room clutching papers in my hand. For two weeks I had prepared to tell my doctor that I finally began seeing a therapist and that the diagnosis from her standpoint was leaning towards bipolar disorder. Awkwardly I gathered my things together once my name was called and followed the nurse for blood pressure and weight checks. Weighing in at 210 pounds threw me off guard at first, but I suppose that’s what happens when you stop drinking every day.

The nurse handed me the same GAD checklist that gets filled out each visit. I hadn’t seen my doctor in a little over a month so my numbers were up higher than in previous visits. As I would fill out “More than half the days”, I could feel that I was getting beside myself again. I should’ve been better than this. I should’ve been normal.

The doctor came in the room almost as quickly as the nurse left it. Before I could even allow the “hello” to escape her lips, the paperwork was extended in her direction and I told her I had gone to a therapist. “We think I may have bipolar disorder. I’m not throwing chairs or anything like that but after reading off the symptoms, a lot of things make a lot of sense. The high sex drive, the huge interest in hobbies only to drop them within a week or so, the days of not being able to make myself get off of the couch, my lack of focus and excess of indecision, it’s all here and then some.”, I said while pointing at the bipolar information sheet.

“Well I had my suspicions, but getting a second opinion from a therapist definitely solidifies a treatment option. Let’s try weaning off of one of your antidepressants and adding a mood stabilizer.”, she said.

I want to be clear by saying that I’m not glad that I am on another medication, but I am glad that I may be one step closer to finding a way to live life without my life getting in the way of… Well… My life. The problem I have with my mental health is that I wake up with either no motivation to get anything done, or so much motivation that I run errands and still not get anything done. I can have a great day until a derogatory comment is made to either me or a friend, and it sends my mood into a sullen, sarcastic, and depressing cloud for either hours or the rest of the day. I feel as though I have never had any control over my sensitivity or emotions, even as a child.

It has been four days since I have begun the process to stabilize. The new medicine I am trying is called Topiramate and if it’s anything like my Lexapro, it probably is something that will take time for my body to chemically register before a difference is noticed. Honestly, the biggest side effects I feel today are lethargy and extreme dizziness. It is as if I have hit the bottle hard enough to have woken up drunk and held onto it. This medicine is also used to treat seizures as well as migraines, so I feel that it plays with a different part of the mind than I am used to, so hopefully a change will come soon. According to other articles, it takes around five to six days for the side effects to dissipate.

This is only the beginning of this journey, and I write to keep you in the loop about this process in case any of you ever go through the same thing. If you feel as though you need help with mental health please reach out to someone. You are never alone. I am available for contact via social media if anyone ever needs an ear to listen. You can find my contact information as well as my other blog posts at www.outtodry.blog.

Take care everyone!

My Manic Life – The Other Side of my Diagnosis

I sometimes imagine I am three people. The depressed James, the manic James, and just J.E. Skye The Bipolar Writer.

I am driving, and the darkness is behind me for a time.

I knew the day would come where it was the time to write about the other side of my diagnosis, my manic side. I have focused so much on depression, suicide, insomnia, and social anxiety that it was time to explore the other important aspect of my diagnosis. Being a manic-depressant has always been difficult for me to reconcile, and while I am always at my worst when I am deep into the darkness of my depression when I look at the manic side of me, it is equally as bad or perhaps worse depending on the point of view.

It was always easier to justify bad behaviors when I am manic. In the early years before my diagnosis, most of my manic behaviors happened after long periods of depression. Where my manic episodes started was usually was good with four or five days straight with no sleep. For me, the lack of sleep was always the clue that my mania was taking control. My energy levels would go through the roof and I would have issues with concentrating on one thing or another during these episodes.

My energy levels would go through the roof and I would feel on top of the world. I could stay out until 4-5 in the morning then go to work at six that morning, no sleep. The less that I slept the more energy I had throughout the day. I always thought it was because I was young, and I didn’t need sleep. So I would never worry about not sleeping, and focused on what to do with the extra time.

I would go for long drives “just because” and it always helped me get through the not sleeping part of my mania. I once drove six hours north (I live in Central California) because I couldn’t sleep and then drive back only stopping for gas and coffee/energy drinks. I would take stupid risks like driving 100 miles an hour down the highway at three in the morning just so I could feel something. The manic side of me was always better to be around because he was “fun.” At the same time, my manic side had a very dark and destructive side.

Eventually, my manic side would crash and it would take me days to recover. Often I’d slip between depression and manic almost seamlessly, and when the mixed episodes happened, it would set me back finically.

One of the worst parts of my manic episodes in my life was the excessive spending sprees that I would go on. Some of my worst manic episodes featured me spending hundreds of dollars in one store on electronics and DVD’s, only to spend just as much in a different store in the same day. I ran up every single one of my credit cards when I was manic because it helped me “get through” not sleeping. I had no idea that these behaviors were bad for me, and in the moment can you blame me? I never saw consequences or how this destructive behavior affected me down the road. I never thought past today especially when I was manic. Even now, I don’t fully understand my mania because I never really took the time to fully understand the “why.”

I could always figure out the triggers of my depression because I got lost in it for years at a time. It was familiar and depression always seems to be there like a friend I can never get rid of in my life. My mania would come and go quickly, even it was four or five days at time. My depression brought me to my lowest and darkest. I could be more a person that would seem normal when I was manic. People pick up when I am depressed than when I am manic.

There were so many signs there as look back on my early mania that could have helped me in my manic periods. I would have trouble keeping a job, not because I wasn’t a hard worker, far from it. I took jobs that were temporary. Like my summer job as a painter. It was never going to be a long-term job, even though I was the last of the summer crew let go that year. I drove a delivery truck but I quit that job when my depression could barely get me through the winter months and into the New Year. I just quit one day. These temporary departures from work would only curb my spending but I always went back to it when I was manic.

After my diagnosis, my mania was more defined than ever but in different ways. I still had issues with money but not working kept me from spending money. Instead of being able to satisfy my manic side with spending sprees I turned the increase of energy into rage and anger. I would be happy one second and go off the deep end with my anger the next. It was like a switch that went off at random times. I was never an angry person but when my mania spiraled anger was the only way that I could get through it.

Most of the episodes early on in diagnosis were mixed, and these always brought the worst side of me. I would pick fights with family and then get hospitalized because they couldn’t control me. Early in my diagnosis I barely left my house and I lost the ways to channel my mania. My mania didn’t pop up all the time. I was usually too lost in my darkness, but it would let itself be known from time to time. 

I have never been great with money, but have gotten better over the years especially when I started school and started to get my life back together. It helped to not have money when I stopped working at my last job. I walked into my job one day and quit. It was sudden and it made no sense. I just woke one day and decided this was the day I quit. Looking back this last job I quit I was in the middle of a manic episode.

My manic episodes don’t happen as much anymore, but it is always there and it will always be a part of who I am. I am both manic and depressed at some point in my life and it will always be that way. I manage with medicine, meditation, CBT, and mindfulness.

My journey has been a long one. There is no doubt in my mind anymore that my diagnosis of Bipolar One is correct. One thing is for sure, I will fight to get better in my mental health. It will take work. Dedication. What I can do is learn from my past and continue to grow.

What are some of your behaviors associated with your mania? I know every person experiences mania and depression in their Bipolar diagnosis differently.

Always keep fighting.

J.E. Skye

Photo Credit: Tim Trad