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?

Journey to a Diagnosis, Part I

“What’s wrong with me?” I often thought years ago, as I was beginning my journey with mental illness.  Only, I didn’t know I was on a journey and I didn’t know I had mental illness.  I just knew I didn’t feel like me, and I thought it was my own fault somehow.  I was only about 19 years old at the time, and just recently married.

My husband and I were both going to school full time and working.  Things were very busy, and stressful.  I was gone for most of the daytime at school and work, but home in the evenings.  My husband also had a full load of school but worked nights–cleaning, emptying the trash and pressuring washing at our city bus stops.  It seemed we had little spare time, which meant that there wasn’t much time to recoup and de-stress.  But I didn’t know anything about doing that at the time.  I always watched my mom go go go and thought that being busy was just how adult life is.

The emotional pain seemed to come on gradually, and then became a constant in my life.  There was a long period of time that I remember “faking it”–to everyone.  I plastered on a fake smile and did my best to feel like I normally would but it never worked.  My poor husband, just as new to this as I was, did his best to help me feel better, but we didn’t know what we were dealing with and so nothing really could change.

The main symptoms of this time were the emotional pain, feeling “off,” downward spirals occurring daily (especially at night), and major paranoia.  I was so clueless at the time–understandably.  I knew absolutely nothing about mental illness.  I just kept thinking that there was something wrong with me.  I kept thinking, If I just pray more or study my scriptures more, try harder, or do something differently that I would be able to feel better.  But no matter what I did, nothing improved.  I would take my scriptures to the university library and study them at lunch–praying that I would feel better.  But nothing changed.  At night, when my husband was gone working and I was home alone, I was consumed with fear that I would be killed while he was gone.  I prayed and sang hymns and did what I could to try and change how I felt, but nothing I did had any effect on what I was feeling.  I remember being afraid to take out the trash in broad daylight, because there might be a killer hiding there, waiting to kill me.  During these times, I would fall asleep in a state of fear every night.  I would be lying in my bed, running different scenarios in my head over and over, of how a killer might enter my room and then I’d plan out how I could possibly get away.  It was absolutely awful.

In my husband’s family, there is a person who has suffered from depression for many years.  I finally remember thinking, that maybe I should ask her what depression felt like, because maybe that is what I was dealing with.  I don’t really remember the conversation but I remember that I still didn’t know what I was dealing with afterward.  So I just kept going on as I was before.

Things changed a little when I became pregnant with my first child.  Postpartum, I found out I had hypothyroidism–severely so.  I thought to myself, “Finally!  Finally, I know what is wrong with me!”  I got on the appropriate medications for this condition and felt improvements, but my mental state didn’t change.  As I worked through the process of getting on the right dose for my thyroid, I was constantly calling my doctor in a state of anxiety that we needed to change the dose because I still didn’t feel right.  After a while of this occurring, my doctor called me in and told me that she thought I had depression and anxiety and gave me some samples of medication to start taking.  Having been raised with the idea that people who have depression or mental issues were “weak” or “crazy”, the whole idea of being thrown in with “that lot” made me freak out.  I remember telling the doctor, that I was stronger than this and that I would beat it.  I was very adamant.  However, I took the samples just in case.

I took the samples for a short while, but felt little difference, and ended up stopping them all together when I found out I was pregnant with my second child.  The pregnancy went well and I felt good, for the most part, until after my daughter was born.  Almost immediately afterward, I started having some very troubling and scary symptoms.  I felt “wrong.”  I can’t describe it but what I felt was so scary and so unlike me that I knew something needed to happen.  Still stuck on the role that my thyroid was playing in my mental health, I went off of my thyroid medication cold turkey.  For some reason that did help for a couple months, but then the worst began.

I began having severe mood swings.  One minute I would feel ok, then the next I would feel on top of the world and would think everything was funny and I was awesome.  I would also struggle through intense waves of anxiety. The scariest part of all was the depression.  It seemed to wipe a dark stain across my mind.  Thoughts and feelings of wanting to do myself harm overcame me.  If I looked in the mirror while depressed, my mind would see, in my reflection, an evil version of myself that wanted to hurt me.  I suppose that is a hallucination of sorts.  I also had these overpowering feelings that there were demons around me, that I couldn’t see, that wanted to do me harm.  It was frightening to put it mildly.

Thankfully, I had a friend who had just gone inpatient for postpartum depression.  She counseled me to go in and get evaluated.  I did.  They told me I was too high functioning for the intensity of their inpatient program and that I would probably be ok going to a doctor.  (I was very good at acting “natural”).  Late that same night, as thoughts of suicide started entering my head again, I knew I needed to go in and get help.  I was afraid that I might get to the point where I couldn’t choose not to act on it.  I was afraid of harming myself or my children.

And so, around midnight, I tearfully kissed my sleeping, 5 month old daughter goodbye and my 2 year old son, packed a bag for myself and headed out for the inpatient facility with my husband, while my wonderful mother in law cared for my children in my absence.

This is the beginning of my journey to a diagnosis.  Look for more in part II, coming soon.