Now I See

Yesterday, I received my very first pair of glasses. I didn’t realize how blind I was. I now see everything so differently. So crisp. So clear. It’s insane. I had no idea that I wasn’t seeing things clearly. And it reminded me of myself when I realized something was wrong with my brain.

I have struggled with crippling depressions ever since I can remember. And these depressions are a lot longer than a week or a day. They last from 6 months to 3 years. My most recent depression lasted 3 years and included 6 months of not eating, which resulted in my body nearly shutting down. It included many, many nights of self-harm. And when I finally came out of it, I dove straight into my very first manic episode.

My manic episode lasted for a little over a year. And it took 9 months to figure out that something was wrong with me. During the first 9 months, I was extremely reckless, hyper-sexual, and felt indestructible, all-knowing, and ecstatic. I didn’t need sleep because I was fueled up on manic energy. I was creating art, music, books, and I wasn’t going to stop just to sleep. In order to stay awake when I did get tired, I turned to drugs, which is COMPLETELY out of character for me. The mania caused me to lose my appetite, so I lost a lot of weight again, and the drug use just made it worse. I overdosed 6 months into my mania (didn’t tell anybody, though). During the next 3 months, I was desperate for money and I was still hyper-sexual, so I began taking money for sex. This is also COMPLETELY out of character for me. It was after I got roofied that I realized something had to be terribly wrong with me.

I went to my PCP, who said it sounded like I had bipolar disorder. However, they weren’t equipped to handle mental illnesses, and asked me repeatedly to go to a psychiatrist. I put it off because I was feeling great (still manic). I also didn’t want to admit I had a mental illness. It didn’t take long before I tripped and fell face-first into another depression. This one was intense, and lasted 3 months. By the end of the 3 months, I was experiencing depression and mania at the same time.

I became extremely reckless with men again, and I was hallucinating a terrifying black demon. I couldn’t sleep anymore. I couldn’t even go into my bedroom; I was so afraid. The only way to get the demon to go away was to cut myself. So I started etching little red ditches in my thighs every time it happened. I begged for help. I went to the hospital and begged to be admitted to the psych ward. They even saw my thighs. They wouldn’t take me because they said I wasn’t a danger to myself or others. I never felt more invisible and helpless in my life.

A week later, I called my boss and told them what was happening to me. She has bipolar disorder, too, so she immediately called 911 and asked them to do a wellness check on me. Instead of coming to my house, they called me and asked if I was okay. I wasn’t ready to go to the hospital yet. I wanted to say good-bye to my daughter (who I sent to my mom’s because I knew I wasn’t safe). So I told them I was fine. Thankfully, my cousin decided to call them again, so then they actually came to my door. It was just in time, because I was just trying to cut a path in my arm that was deep enough to bleed out. They saw my arm and said if I didn’t come with them, they would 302 me (give me no choice). I said PLEASE take me, I’ve only been trying to go for a month. So, I finally got the help I needed, and it was 2.5 years ago. I’ll write about my stay in the psych ward another time.

My whole point is that sometimes you don’t realize how blind you are to your situation, actions, behaviors, etc until something is put in front of your eyes to make you see it. For me, being raped opened my eyes. And then my brand new glasses made my vision clear, for real. 😉 The important thing is to make sure that once you see your issues, you get the right help for them. And then do the research so that you can be self-aware and catch episodes before they have a chance to spin out of control, which we all know happens very quickly.

Mental Illness, Escapism, and Addiction

I have been on medication for my bipolar disorder – and depression before it – for a great number of years. The most recent cocktail of drugs has been the same since late 2015, when I nearly ended my own life, and it’s been keeping me pretty steady, as these things go. I’m not perfect, but the extremes of mood, the violent anger, and the crushing depressions are lessened, if not gone entirely.

I also drink. Not a lot – not every day – but when I drink, I usually drink too much. It’s contraindicated with my medications, but that doesn’t really mean much to me. I drink anyway. I drink, very specifically, to get drunk. I drink beer, I drink wine, I drink rum and scotch, and I drink quite deliberately, pacing myself over minutes and hours until I fall into a stupor in bed and sleep it off through the night.

I think, deep down, I’m somewhat of a hedonist. I don’t know if this comes from the depression or some other innate personality trait, but I am, for lack of a better phrase, a pleasure-seeker. I very much enjoy physical pleasure, and the sensation of drunkenness falls into this category for me. It’s a form of escapism that requires very little concentration or effort, and when it hits, I can just lie back and let it wash over me.

With medications keeping me level, why do I need escapism, you might ask. Why do I need a vehicle for altering my state of mind, when the whole point of the ‘official’ drugs is to keep my mind from entering that altered state in the first place?

I think a part of it is that I have conditioned myself over decades to avoid misery. I have been so miserable for so long that I instinctively gravitate to anything that feels good, happy or pleasurable. I have very little self-control in this regard; I don’t set rules for myself, like ‘you can have a drink after you do the dishes’; I just drink, and fuck the dishes.

Another part is, almost certainly, a dangerous level of chemical dependency. As I mentioned above, I don’t drink every day – but I do go through phases where I might drink daily for several weeks straight. I usually drink until I’m out of alcohol. It rapidly becomes habit. The same is true of other vices; I recently acquired a small amount of pot from a friend, and against my original intention of maybe once a weekend, I’ve been smoking three or four times a week.

This all leads me to question my behaviors, and the more fundamental motivations behind them. Do I smoke and drink because I’m miserable, because I’m addicted, or because I really kind of just … like it? Like all behavior affected by mental illness, it’s a difficult question to answer, because the very nature of mental illness is changed behaviors … but there comes a point where illness ends and addiction takes over.

I’m not an alcoholic; I know people who are, and I don’t ‘need’ booze to function. I’m not a drug addict; I don’t blow hundreds on weed, and I don’t smoke before, during and after work (for example). But I am dangerously close to this level of functional need, and I recognize it when the thing I look forward to at the end of the day is getting high and watching Family Guy reruns.

That’s usually when I stop – when I see the signs of tipping into the abyss, and take steps to right myself. So far I’ve always been able to come back from the brink, but I worry about one day …

Yet I continue anyway. I refuse to stop permanently. I refuse to relinquish the physical pleasures of drink and drugs. I don’t ‘need’ them, but I want them. Like, a lot.

And sometimes, I wonder if it’s really so bad. I’m aware of the long-term physical and mental changes and harm caused by alcohol and drug use, but I still can’t help believing that the immediate reward is worth it. Intellectually I know that liver damage, lung cancer and mental deterioration are some of the absolute worst ways to die, but emotionally … I kind of just don’t care. I’ve had people tell me that my health is all I have; I’ve heard the arguments before. But when your mental health fails you, you couldn’t care less about your physical health. And whilst the two are most definitely related, it’s difficult to have the second without the first.

That’s when I wonder if the escapism of physical pleasure isn’t worth it after all. The mental toll each day takes, whilst variable, is still a harsh one, and the ability to use a substance – of one kind or another – to forget it is dreadfully tempting. And I recognize this as a controversial perspective – why, you ask, don’t I deal with my problems instead of avoiding them – but I truly believe life is for living, and should be enjoyed daily, if at all possible.

What do you do, when your brain refuses to let you do just that? What do you do, when your own mind is a battleground of misery and despair? What happens when you wake up and simply can’t get out of bed? What is there to look forward to?

And in those trying times, is self-medication justifiable? Is it even self-medication at all – or just an excuse to escape from reality?

And is such escapism really so wrong?

Asking: Is Medication the Answer?

Anxiety creeps in and doesn’t whisper sweet nothings into my ear. It screams at me, “You are weak! No way in hell can you do this! Quit! Go hide!” I shake my head, trying to relieve my brain from this damaging downward spiral. It’s no use, it won’t stop.

While I have made a lot of progress, I still feel as though there are things I should have overcome at this point in therapy. For years I have avoided medication. There are a lot of reasons for this, but mainly I think it’s because I’m scared. Sometimes I wonder if taking a pill would really calm the angry voices inside, the self-doubts, the mountain of fears. Is it really that simple? A daily regimen of drugs, foreign toxins introduced to our blood, recreating and shifting our brain chemistry. Would it leave me the same person I am, but a better version of myself? It’s so hard to believe it’s that simple.

Also, weight gain terrifies me. That is probably a stupid reason to avoid helpful medication, but it is the truth, please don’t shame me for speaking my truth.

With several friends openly taking medication I wonder if they are better off than I am. I want to break free from the cycles of self-doubt and fear. I feel like I’m on this plateau, stuck on progress. I had one goal, to be able to go into a store and walk through the check outline by myself. I have done this here and there. Though the anxiety that creeps in every time I consider doing this is haunting. So much so that I still avoid doing this whenever I can.

This is classic avoidance, I know this. I should care more, create a goal, but I don’t want to. The motivation to face my fears is strongly lacking. Would medication change this also? Maybe I would suddenly feel like joining a running team and volunteering at my son’s school. Hmmm, probably not. I have to fly out of state twice in the upcoming months. While flying has never been a trigger for me, there are a lot of triggers in an airport. All the LINES that don’t move!!! No way out!!! Oh my god, I am sweating just by typing that!

I have a prescription of Lexapro in my nightstand drawer, from over a year ago, that I never took.

This post is more of a question to followers of The Bipolar Writer. If you can share your story with medication, I am all ears and very grateful. I will never pass judgement on those taking or not taking medication. Shame free zone here!

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