Bipolar Disorder Described in a Word: Addicting

For me, bipolar disorder is addicting as hell!  I’m not just talking about alcohol, drugs, gambling, buying 50 pairs of shoes (a week) or whatever other destructive habits you can think of; I’m talking about becoming addicted to virtually anything I’ve ever cared to do in my life.  I don’t know how to half-ass anything.  I either whole-ass it, or zero-ass it; no partial-assing for me!

I’ve also been told this once or twice, but I’ll save the assholiness for another post.

Really, this is just an extension of another post I wrote about bipolar disorder being engrossing, but it’s definitely worth expanding on.  Also, I’m currently addicted to Reese’s Peanut Butter cups, and if I stop writing this article I’m literally going to eat my face off (OK, figuratively eat my face off; whatever, I know).

Why is Bipolar Disorder addicting?

Imagine you’re white water rafting.  Everything around you is tumultuous, and you’re doing everything you can just to get down the river, and stay in the boat.  Maybe that’s holding on as tight as you can.  Maybe it’s paddling like hell.  Or maybe it’s something else entirely because I don’t know the first thing about white water rafting and this is just the first metaphor that popped into my head.

This is sort of what mania feels like.  You’re on this precarious little boat and your thoughts are racing around you like a raging river.  So you work like hell to stay in the boat.  Often this involves throwing yourself into something completely to keep your mind busy;  maybe you’re brewing beer, writing a blog, buying 5,000 pairs of shoes, or my personal favorite, becoming an (almost) YouTube star.  Whatever it is, you become addicted to it – at least for a time.

Conversely, maybe you’re depressed, and life is starting to feel a little overwhelming.  So you check out for a while – you start drinking, smoke some weed, eat 4 lbs of Reese’s peanut butter cups; really, just pick your poison!

They sell these fucking everywhere.  I shipped a package the other day and the UPS store had them.  So of course I bought one, goddammit!

I guess chocolate-peanut buttery goodness isn’t as bad as the war I’ve been waging on my liver for the past 10 years with booze, but still, it’s a little destructive.  I was hoping the first time I was on TV wouldn’t be on My 600lb Life.  My minimum goal is making the news getting perp-walked for something cool; like stealing a truck filled with Reese’s Cups.

It Ain’t All Bad

Addiction definitely has a negative connotation.  It should, since usually when you’re talking about addiction you’re talking about it in the medical sense – as in “Matt drinks so much he jumped into the resevoir, then came home and ate an extra large chicken bacon ranch pizza; he did that 3 separate times last week.  I think that meets section 12 of the DSM critera for Alcohol Use Disorder – do you do stupid shit at least once weekly?”.

But really, it can be a good thing if you channel it into something productive.

Here are some examples of the good and the bad in my own life:

The good: Got addicted to exercise and dieting and lost 40lbs (which is good since I was about 40lbs overweight).

The bad: Gained 40 lbs in two months after becoming addicted to Reese’s Cups.

The good: Created a successful YouTube channel after becoming addicted to Minecraft and video editing.

The bad: Became addicted to Minecraft and video editing and stopped hanging out with friends.

The good: Became addicted to work, got promoted several times.

The bad: Got addicted to work, got promoted into role that I hate.

The good: Got addicted to brewing beer, and had fun learning about one of my favorite things!

The bad: Got addicted to brewing beer, a habit which complimented my alcoholism nicely, and temporarily turned me into the most vanilla version of Walter White you’ve ever seen (I even have a chemistry degree).

The good: Got addicted to writing, and created a blog.

The bad: Got addicted to writing, and inflicted several made up ass-related words like “assholiness” and “partial-assing” to the general public.

Bonus Bad: Got addicted to diet Mountain Dew in an ill-advised attempt at a beer replacement and now my pee glows in the dark.

Weeeeeeeeee!

There’s many more examples, but it’s been 10 minutes since I last shoved Reese’s cups and Mountain Dew into my face so I’m going to have to wrap this post up.

Check out my other posts from my Bipolar Disorder Described in a Word series:

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No Quarter – An Alcoholic’s Recovery: Week 7 – No Finish Line

Alcohol always felt like the finish line for me – like my life was a race but there was a place I’d get to stop running and take a breather just around the corner.

I haven’t been able to replace that finish line feeling yet.  Getting home from work, getting the kids to bed, and finally sitting for a minute with a glass of whiskey (and then another, and then another, and then another… on a Tuesday) was one of the greatest pleasures in my life.  I could physically feel the tension release in my body, and the various worries of my day wasted away.  Now I have nothing.

I’m struggling to find that replacement.  I’m blessed to have a wonderful family, and being with them is also a great pleasure, but it doesn’t have the same ability to make me forget about the stresses of my day the way alcohol did.  Being with my family, playing with my children, introduces good feelings, but it does not replace or eliminate the bad ones; alcohol did.

I thought I was over the cravings for alcohol.  I haven’t been going to group therapy because, frankly, I’ve told myself I don’t need it.  I saw a psychiatrist this week who told me would relapse if I didn’t go to group.  I thought that was a pretty bold statement.  Not I might relapse, or I was at increased risk to relapse.  She said I would – definitely.

I thought she was full of it, but the next day I had a terrible day at work, and I won’t lie: all I wanted to do was get hammered.  If there had been any alcohol in the house I absolutely would have.  There was nobody to stop me, my wife was at work, and the kids were in bed.  The cravings returned as strong as they had when I was in the thick of my alcoholism.

I needed my finish line; I needed my relief from the stress of the day.  I realize now that my cravings haven’t gone away, it’s just that the stress in my life has diminished.  Weeks 3 and 4 of sobriety I was on vacation, and during weeks 5 and 6 work has been quiet and my in-laws have been available to help with the children.  This past week has presented me with my first real challenge in a while and my mind immediately went to getting hammered for relief.

It’s clear I need to find a replacement to deal with stress.  I’m not too good for group therapy, and my psychiatrist is absolutely right – if I don’t figure this out, I will relapse.

One good thing to close out the week: I mentioned that alcohol was my way of killing the bad feelings and stress that accompanied my days; while it was extremely effective at this, it also was extremely effective at killing the good feelings that I should have been getting.  Being with my family fills me with way more joy than it did before, and even simple things like writing this post give me a greater sense of accomplishment than it did when I was hammered.

So sobriety doesn’t suck as hard as it did when I started; but I still have a long ways to go.

On to week 8…  Continue reading “No Quarter – An Alcoholic’s Recovery: Week 7 – No Finish Line”

5 Tips to Stay Productive With Bipolar Disorder

Do you have bipolar disorder and struggle to consistently maintain a high level of productivity?  This is a common problem for people like you and I who suffer from bipolar disorder.

While manic or hypomanic, your mind is racing, and you struggle to focus on just one damn thing!  Or you can focus on one thing, but you can only focus on the one thing; you become obsessed with YouTube stardom, or baking cakes, or brewing beer… whatever!  But this obsession comes at the expense of everything else.

Then depression returns and kills whatever drive you had to do anything.  It’s hard enough just getting out of bed, you want me to go to work too?

Thankfully, over the past 15 years or so, I’ve discovered a few tricks to keep my productivity up while experiencing the waxing and waning moods of bipolar disorder.

1) Plan the Work.  Work the Plan.

This is about as simple as it gets.  Take a minute and evaluate what really needs to be done that day.  Don’t spend more than a couple minutes doing this.  Try to limit yourself to a few items that you can reasonably get done that will have the most value-added contribution to your day; Then focus on those things!

Making a list might not seem like the world’s biggest breakthrough in productivity, but I’ve found this is critical when experiencing a hypomanic episode.  Too often I set out to complete some task and then before I know it I’ve got 15 internet tabs open and I’m trying to write 5 emails simultaneously.  Next thing I know I’ve completely forgotten what the hell I was trying to do in the first place!

 

Why can’t I get anything done?!

I write a list for what I want to accomplish the next day before I leave work.  Then when I come in, I see the list and I start hitting those items.  Yes, life is crazy, and the circumstances of your job often make you have to change the list or throw it out entirely, but at least it’s a place to start.

The list helps you keep it simple, and boil things down to what really needs to get done that day.  It’s a good tool for holding yourself accountable too.  I need to get these things done before I can go home today.  You’ll also feel a wonderful sense of accomplishment as you cross things off.

2) Depressed? Slow Down but Don’t Stop.

Depression can make even the simplest things difficult.  It’s hard to be successful at work when you can’t even make yourself a sandwich.

If you can, it’s OK to slow down while you work through your depression symptoms; but don’t stop completely!  You’ll regret stopping.

One of my favorite non-work related projects I’ve ever done is make a YouTube channel.  I had fun doing it, I learned a lot of great things, and I even made a little bit of money.  Then my depression returned and I let it die.  I deeply regret that now.

I could have made 1 or 2 videos a week instead of 3 or 4.  Or even just made a video every other week.  Anything would have been better than letting it die completely.  Eventually the depression will pass, and you can kick it back into high gear.

Here’s another example: say you’re on a diet.  You go to a birthday party and allow yourself to eat a piece of cake.  You think, well I already blew it, so who cares if I eat a little bit more.  Then you eat the whole cake.  Then you eat like crap again tomorrow, and the next day, and the next day.  Next thing you know you’ve gained 20 lbs and you’re filled with regret; eating cake is fine, slowing down is fine – just don’t quit!  Put the cake away tomorrow!

3) Keep Learning.

I’ve said before that mania or hypomania can be a kind of superpower.  Take your increased energy and invest in yourself.  Learn something!

It’s the 21st century.  You have YouTube.  You have sites like Lynda.com and Wikipedia.  You can learn anything.  Challenge yourself to take 1 hour every day and teach yourself something you’re interested in.  It might not be immediately clear that it could be useful, but you never know.

I taught myself how to do basic computer programming in a couple languages; years later I distinguished myself by making a simple software solution that’s been implemented throughout the company I work for.  I taught myself about business management principles, and rose into a management position well before I “should” have.  By teaching myself at least an hour a day I’ve essentially given myself the experience of someone at least 10 years my senior.

This also has the benefit of making your work and life more interesting.  Hypomania or mania has the tendency to make people feel bored with just doing the status quo.  So learn something and switch things up a bit!

4) Set Meaningful Goals for Yourself.

If tip 1 on this list is about making a list to accomplish things short-term, than this tip is about making a list to accomplish things long-term.

I’m not going to go into the specifics of how to set meaningful goals since many other people have already done it better than I could.  I personally like this article.  Instead I want to talk about the specifics of how setting meaningful goals is important to people with bipolar disorder.

It’s easy to lose sight of the bigger picture when you have bipolar disorder.  Your priorities change drastically when moving from manic or hypomanic states to depression and then back again.

Goals while manic.
Goals while depressed.

If you want to maintain some stability and forward momentum in your life, it’s critical to define what’s important to you, define where you want to go, and then set goals to get you there.  This will help keep your life on the rails and moving in the right direction when your mood fluctuates.

Oh, and about that list from tip 1: You should have at least one item on that list that helps you get to your goal(s).  “Becoming a computer programmer” is a big goal, and it can seem impossible to ever get there.  Break it down; put “Take one online course on programming – watch for one hour today” on your list and get it done today.  Complete goals like that 100 times and you’ll be shocked to discover that you’re on your way to becoming a programmer!  Big transformations are hard but they happen through that 1 hour you spend today, and tomorrow, and the next day hitting that list that supports your goal.

Lebron James does not have be the best basketball player alive on his to-do list.  He has “Wake up at 3am, go to the gym, eat, practice, eat, practice, go to the gym, eat, play game, workout, sleep” on his list.  Do that enough times and you might become the world’s best basket player.

Start young and practice on your brother.
Had to shoehorn in this classic; if you can name this movie you’re awesome.

5) Forgive Yourself. 

Lastly, know that sometimes you will fail.  Sometimes the depression is too much.  Sometimes the list, the slowing down, the goal making… sometimes it’s just not enough.  You will fail, but when you do, I hope you will forgive yourself.

I hated myself for letting the YouTube channel go.  It contributed to my alcoholism at the time.  It made the depression worse, it made everything worse.  My productivity went straight to hell.  I didn’t fail with grace.

It’s OK to fail.  Your life is difficult – it’s harder than most if you suffer from bipolar disorder.  But you know what?  You’re a badass!  You’re going to battle with your own mind each and every day.  I think you’re awesome and I hope you do too!  Take it easy on yourself, dust yourself off, tomorrow’s another day.

I hope these tips help you.  Let me know if you’d like to see more posts like this!

Like this post for more, it really helps!  If you haven’t already, go ahead and follow me – it’s as easy as putting your email address in the box on the top right of this page 🙂  I won’t spam you; I promise you’ll only get notifications about good content like this a couple times a week!

No Quarter – An Alcoholic’s Recovery: Week 5 – Group Therapy, Me and the Pathetic Ones

I always thought people who went to group therapy were pathetic – right up until the day I found myself there.

I’ve become amazed at how far my delusions of grandeur have gone.  The first pillar of my religion created by me, for me – that I must be better than everyone has led to the delusion that I actually am.  Especially those people.  You know, people who can’t keep their shit together; people who let addiction cause their lives to devolve to the point that they’re no longer able to take care of themselves or their families.  Pathetic people.

My first impressions of the people in my group only served to confirm my superiority.  I walked into the clinic to see a group of perhaps 15 standing in the lobby, waiting for an elevator to take them to the second floor.  Idiots, I thought as I took the stairs.  They aren’t even smart enough to figure out they don’t have to wait.  Or, they’re so lazy they can’t even walk up a flight of stairs. 

I was first into the waiting room of course.  I snuck a glance at the others as they shuffled in minutes later.  What stuck out the most were the ankle bracelets.  Felons… I’m surrounded by felons.  I started to doubt this whole group thing – I can’t believe I let my therapist send me here.

Eventually we were called back into the room – a tiny, cramped space with a single window and one dim light that barely allowed us to see one another (perhaps intentionally?).  There was an old TV-on-a-cart that wouldn’t look out of place from my old middle school classrooms.  A whiteboard had one of those immediately forgettable phrases that’s supposed to uplift the soul or some other nonsense.  All pathetic.

We started with check-in.  What’s your name?  What’s your drug?  When did you last use?  How has sobriety been lately?

“Matt.  Alcohol.  July 16th.  Fine.”

Most of the others were similarly unenthusiastic; the ankle bracelets were no doubt court-mandated to be in the group against their will.

The therapist handed out packets to each of us once we were seated.  The topic of the day was “Basic Problem Solving.”  Really – what are we 3?  The condescension was completed by the childlike pictures that were peppered throughout the material.

She began reading through the packet but was constantly interrupted by interjections from group members.  Occasionally a discussion would spring forth from one of these interruptions.  I checked the clock; the session was scheduled for an hour and a half, but if we booked it through the packet I wagered we’d be out in 45 minutes.  The interruptions pissed me off; why do these people keep interrupting her? – let’s get out of here!  And even worse, Why is she letting them interrupt her?

Eventually, I actually started listening to the side conversations.  Out of respect for the individuals in the group I won’t share any of the specifics.  But I started to realize that shit!  I’m exactly like these people – a revelation that shook me to my core.

Like me, many of them lived perfectly “normal” lives.  Even the ankle-bracelets were mostly guilty of crimes that I myself had committed at some point or another; drunk driving, vandalism, perhaps a physical altercation.  What separated us was luck – I hadn’t been caught; they had.  Had the circumstances been different, I could be wearing the same bracelet.

It’s hard to articulate how humbling the experience was.  My ego returned to Earth with all the subtlety of the Hindenburg.  A crack has started to form in the pillars of my religion.

When we left, the group again paused and waited for the elevator; I immediately continued to the stairs.  At least I still have that on them.  It wasn’t until the next meeting that I discovered the true purpose for the waiting – It was an excuse for members of the group to converse with one another without the social pressures imposed by the larger group.  In truth, I think the real therapy happened in the 3 minutes people stood waiting for the elevator.  Maybe I’m the idiot.

On to week 6...

Continue reading “No Quarter – An Alcoholic’s Recovery: Week 5 – Group Therapy, Me and the Pathetic Ones”

Bipolar Disorder Described in a Word: Frustrating

I wrote a post on The Bipolar Writer Blog wherein I described Bipolar Disorder as engrossing.  I encourage you all to read that post, but the short version is this: One effect of hypomania or mania experienced by many people suffering from bipolar disorder is an intense desire and focus to do one thing – in short, they become completely engrossed in that one thing, sometimes to the point of having no desire or ability to do anything else.

Basically, this.

Engrossing isn’t always a terrible thing – you can get a lot done in a short amount of time if you have the time to work on that thing.  In fact, I think this is one of the best parts of bipolar disorder.  I’ve learned a lot by becoming engrossed in different things throughout my life.  The problem is that things like work, children, and… you know… eating, sleeping, and having actual relationships sort of get in the way.

And this leads us to frustration.  Ah, frustration – that thing you feel when you’re unable to achieve something you want… or what you experience when trying to open one of these:

clamshell.png
Fort Knox.

To me, frustration is one of the defining emotions of bipolar disorder.  I get so wrapped up in one single thing, and it becomes all I want to do; but life keeps getting in the way!  I still have a family.  I still have a job.  And my 4 month old doesn’t care that I have to finish this blog post or I’ll lose my mind!

This leads to anger, and the occasional shameful parenting moment; and over time it can lead to resentment.  Unfortunately these emotions are usually directed (unfairly) at the so-called “obstacles” to fulfilling the object of your manic engrossment.  This leads to some very odd, very unhealthy thoughts like: man, can’t my 3 year old just walk to preschool so I can work on this masterpiece tongue depressor bridge model that I have to finish. (side note here: It turns out tongue depressor bridge building is a thing because of course it is.  While googling it to find an image for this post I found a rich online community dedicated to it.  I love the internet…)

Frustration is a normal part of parenting, and life in general.  But it can be elevated to irrational levels for someone suffering from bipolar disorder.  Denying access to the object of a manic or hypomanic person’s engrossment is like denying an alcoholic their precious whiskey… something I also know nothing about.

In turn, the person or people who are seen as denying access can come to be seen as “enemies” – which to me is one of the most difficult and tragic parts of bipolar disorder.  Anything that has the ability to make you view your family as an “enemy” – even temporarily – is truly terrible.

And finally, bipolar disorder is frustrating when the depression returns and robs you of your will to continue pursuing your engrossment.  It’s like when you have to sneeze, and at the last moment you can’t.  Except the sneeze is your entire life’s work, and the sneeze going away is soul-crushing depression returning.

Here’s another helpful image:

Science’s best depiction of bipolar disorder.

It’s around the time the depression returns that you begin to realize you’ve probably been neglecting a lot of things you shouldn’t have – and maybe you’ve been a bit of a jerk too.  These realizations make the depression even worse, and feed into self-loathing… but that’s a topic for another post.

So that’s how I find bipolar disorder to be frustrating.  This is the second part of a series I am writing that explores various aspects of bipolar disorder, and how I experience them as someone suffering from type 2 bipolar disorder.

Follow for more!

 

No Quarter – An Alcoholic’s Recovery: Week 3 – Who Am I?

I once wrote that if you asked me to describe myself, the word Bipolar wouldn’t show up in the first 10 adjectives I used.

If you had asked me before I quit drinking I wouldn’t have used the word alcoholic either.

Now, I’m pretty sure it belongs in the top 3.

You may have heard the expression, you are what you eat (Hopefully that’s not true, because then I’ll have to start introducing myself as Reese’s Cup).  Well I’ve always thought it more accurate to say, you are what you do.

The English language seems to agree with me on this point.  Let’s say you’re an accountant.  If someone asks you what you do for a living, you don’t respond with “I do accounting.”  No, you are an accountant.

Even many family identities have their roots in what people did for work:  Smith, Carpenter, Cooper, Potter, Mason, Taylor, Miller, Baker, Spicer, Cook, Fisher, Shepherd, and on and on.  Incidentally, I’m glad this tradition has fallen away.  It’d be unseemly for my daughters to possess the not-so-proud surname of Drinker.

Sobriety has made me realize that I have no idea what I do, and therefore, I have no idea who I am.  For my entire adult life, drinking is what I did, and an alcoholic is who I was – even if I wasn’t willing to admit it.

I’d even find ways to incorporate drinking into non-drinking things.  I’m currently vacationing in Maine.  My wife’s family has a beautiful cottage on a secluded lake in a rural area of the state.  There are tons of activities available from canoeing, row boating, sailing, boccie ball, and mountain biking just to name a few.

So those all sound like healthy things to do… but a boat’s a great place to keep a six pack.  And a glass of whiskey is a really good counter balance to a smooth boccie ball roll.  And a can of beer is a great motivator to get you over that last hill on the bike.

Week three of sobriety has led me to a startling realization:

I don’t really like any of the things I thought I did.  I only like drinking.

It makes sense really.  Why did I use to get irritated doing fun things like going to a concert, or going to the state fair?  It’s because these things made drinking harder to do.

You might be irritated that it costs 10 dollars to get a crappy beer at the concert, but it really pisses me off.  How dare they?  That’s just ridiculous!  And then… I wish I had stayed home.

I bought a fancy cooler because it has what I refer to as a “smuggler’s pocket.”  It’s one of those coolers on wheels that has 15 pockets, and one extra special, extra hard to find one – perfect for sneaking beer through security checks.

10 bucks for a beer?  Ha!  I’m much smarter than that!

So now that I’m sober I’ve discovered a great emptiness where my “interests” used to be.  It’s terrifying – but if I may risk some optimism – it’s actually sort of exciting.  I might actually discover what I like doing.

And so I’ll conclude this week 3 sobriety update with my first positive update – This past weekend my wife, two daughters and I did something that I hate.  We went to the state fair.  I’ve always hated the crowds, and there’s only one goddamned beer tent!

Here’s the thing though – I LOVED IT!

My 3 year old frolicked through the pens of cows, sheep, pigs, horses – filled with the wonderment and joy of childhood.  But there I was with her, experiencing the same – filled with a joy of discovery I’ve been denying myself for an age.  As she experienced happiness, I felt it too – and I can’t remember the last time I really felt the experiences or emotions of another person.  I can’t remember the last time I was actually happy for someone, and the last time that happiness affected me.

I’ve written before about how sobriety has reduced me to the level of a child; how I lack even basic coping skills, and how my reactions to stress are not much more advanced than the reactions of my children.  But maybe I’ve been thinking about it wrong – maybe I’ve been elevated to the level of a child; capable of experiencing joy and discovery again.

So week three is in the books – maybe, just maybe, it doesn’t suck as much as I thought.

This is part 3 of a series.  The previous part can be found here.

On to week 4

 

 

No Quarter – An Alcoholic’s Recovery: Week 2 – Why Am I Quitting?

Week two of sobriety is in the books.

I still hate it.

I got very close to a relapse this week.  I was blindsided by members of my family who discovered this blog and then told the rest of my family about it.  I was not ready for anybody to know about this part of my life, and that disclosure sent me into a three day tailspin that caused me to miss work, and compromised my ability to continue on this path.  It is clear to me that my family does not think of me as an adult worthy of respect and privacy, but rather as the child they remember from years past.

My family’s lack of discretion has caused me to question whether or not I should continue posting on this blog.  How can I possibly speak honestly and openly when this is a source of gossip for them?  Could you do that?  Could anyone?

But I need to keep going.  Writing here has been one of the precious few countermeasures against my urge to drink.  To stop now would jeopardize my ability to keep walking this path.  And I must walk this path.

Why Do I Have To Quit?

Drinking is an important part of my culture.  Alcohol is present at nearly every gathering of family or friends.  It would be more unusual if there wasn’t alcohol present.  Very rarely is drinking perceived as being an issue.  Sure we drink a lot, but we can keep it on the rails; well, except for me.

Drinking is not an obvious problem.  If you go to a party, chances are pretty good that everybody’s drinking.  It’s perfectly legal and accepted.  In fact, it’s usually considered weird if you aren’t drinking.  But if I went to a party and started snorting lines of cocaine, it’d be pretty obvious that I had an issue.

So what distinguishes my drinking from normal drinking?  Why do I call myself an alcoholic?  Where’s that line and how did I cross it?

This will take a little while to explain so bear with me:

During this second week of sobriety I’ve uncovered a truly crippling weakness: My ability to naturally handle stress has been completely blunted as a result of abusing alcohol for over a decade.

For years I’ve taken the easy way out.  If I was ever pushed to feel something I didn’t want to, I simply drank until the feeling went away.  If I had a stressful day at work, or a stressful day of parenting, I’d just get hammered.  Easy!

INADGraph
Repeat nearly every day for 10 years.

The crazy thing is that this actually worked for a very long time.  I’ve been able to maintain a high level of functionality by balancing my mental health and stress issues with alcoholism.  So what’s the problem?

The problem is that this balance is destined to break down at some point.  Life’s stresses have a tendency to grow as work and family responsibilities increase, and your body becomes increasingly efficient at processing alcohol.  As a result you need to drink larger quantities with increasing frequency just to achieve the same effect.  Eventually you cannot possibly drink enough, frequently enough, to manage your stress level.  This is when the scheme of the alcoholic collapses, and life begins to fall apart.

In the past three years I have been promoted three times, had two children, and moved to another state.  My responsibility has increased 10-fold, but my ability to handle it has lagged behind.  My alcoholism has intensified in the past couple years to bridge the gap, but despite my best efforts the gap keeps widening.

In the past month or two I began joking with my wife that I needed better drugs.  Maybe I needed to score some cocaine to maintain the false sense of superiority and confidence that has helped fuel my professional rise.  Maybe I could supplement alcohol’s stress relief benefits with some narcotic pain killers.

The thing is, I wasn’t joking.  I was realizing that I was at the point of collapse and I was desperate for relief.  I was no longer able to maintain all my responsibilities, my mental health, and my stress level with alcohol alone.  Either something would have to give, or I’d simply have to find more and better drugs.

For me, giving anything up was simply not an option.  The most realistic move would have been quitting my job, and finding one with lighter duties that more closely match the particular strengths and weaknesses of someone struggling with bipolar disorder.  But my pride couldn’t handle this, and I couldn’t bring myself to tell my wife that I was no longer capable of providing our family with the standard of living we had come to enjoy.

So that left better drugs as the only option.

I couldn’t really ask anybody in my personal life how to acquire these drugs – that would be a pretty obvious crack in the facade of greatness I’ve crafted.  Perhaps I could buy drugs online.  I mean, why not?  You can buy anything online, can’t you?

I began researching how to access the dark web, and how to conceal your internet activities and purchases from authorities.  I had the money, and I certainly had the motivation, I just needed to acquire the means, and I was getting closer.  Soon I’d have my relief.

Thankfully, I realized the ridiculousness of this scheme well before I acted.  I was already married to alcoholism, and I would be embarking on a path that would almost certainly lead to the destruction of my family, and probably end with me in prison.

I abandoned my ill-advised quest to get a better high and quickly fell into despair.  I couldn’t handle my job and the responsibilities of my family.  I wasn’t getting the relief I needed anymore.  The ultimate solution started creeping into my mind.

During the performance of my normal work duties there is cause for me to go up to the roof from time to time.  When I’d go up there I’d start feeling that familiar, eerie pull into oblivion.  The feeling came more and more often, eventually striking me when I wasn’t even on the roof.  Then I’d start finding reasons to go up there when really there were none.  I couldn’t stop the thoughts – I didn’t want to.  They became a strange source of comfort for me.  If all else failed I always had that one, ultimate, source of relief.

A lot of things prevented me from jumping off that building: my wife, my mom, my dad, my brother – but ultimately nothing was more compelling than the image of my 3 year old daughter asking her mom, “Where’d Dada go?”

That’s why I have to quit drinking.  I need to discover a sustainable way to cope because my life is on the line.

What’s Sobriety Like So Far?

Well, if there is one positive thing that’s come from these first two weeks of sobriety it’s the disappearance of the suicide imagery.  Mercifully, that seems to be gone.

But the rest has been very negative.  In fact, it’s been so negative that I often find myself asking why I’m even doing this.  Surely, it can’t be worth all this.

There needs to be at least one joke in here.

I find myself in an extremely precarious position.  I hold a job that I don’t think I’m capable of doing anymore now that I can’t go home and get hammered afterwards.  I have no idea what I’m going to do with all this stress, and I can barely get myself out of bed to go to work anymore.

I’m struggling at home with the kids.  When I have support, I don’t have an issue.  But when my wife is working and I’m alone with the two kids I go to pieces.

Just before finishing this post, I couldn’t get the baby to stop crying for almost 2 hours.  I’m ashamed to admit it, but two weeks ago I would have gone downstairs, drank a glass of whiskey, then returned upstairs to take care of my child; no problem!  Now, deprived of that source of relief, I simply break down.

I had to put the baby down and go downstairs to have what I can only characterize as an adult temper tantrum – throwing things, screaming into a pillow, crying, ripping my hair.  This is pathetic, weak behavior that is not unlike the reactions of my three year old when deprived of some toy.  But this is what I’ve become.

Alcohol has left me stunted in an infantile state wherein I’m incapable of processing the frustration and helplessness that comes from being unable to soothe an infant.  My ability to father our children has been compromised, and I am deeply ashamed of that.

Logically,  I know I need to push through this.  I need to develop the ability to cope with life’s stresses without resorting to alcohol; but I can’t help but think, maybe I should just keep drinking until the baby has grown up a little bit.  Maybe I should keep drinking until things are a little less stressful.  But is that really for the best?  Is there ever going to be a good time to quit?  What better time than now?

Alcohol allowed me to run away from my emotions, while maintaining a “normal” life.  Now, bereft of that relief, I find myself daydreaming about literally running away.  I catch myself thinking about quitting my job, and driving to Arizona to just disappear for a while… or maybe forever.

But my children deserve a father.  My wife deserves a husband.  My parents deserve a son.  And I deserve peace.  So really, all that’s left is to become stronger.  Become stronger, or become consumed by frustration, anger, and regret.  There is no other choice.

On to week 3

This is Part 2 of a series describing my efforts to quit drinking.  The previous post can be found here.

5 Things Your Loved One With Mental Illness Wants You To Know

You just learned that your friend, spouse, boyfriend, or whoever, is suffering from a mental illness like depression or bipolar disorder.  Now what?

Maybe you don’t know how to talk to them – so you don’t.  Or you do… but it’s really awkward.  You have no idea how to address it; do you address it?  Will you hurt their feelings if you do?   Will you hurt their feelings if you don’t?

This article hopes to give you some advice on how to proceed by sharing with you the things I, as a person with a mental illness, would like my friends and loved ones to know.  If you’re suffering from mental illness and you like what I have to say here, share this.

Now please note, I am not a mental health professional.  I am a person who suffers from Bipolar II Disorder.  My insight comes from someone experiencing an illness, and my own personal interactions with that illness.  Everybody is different.  Every illness is different.  In short, your mileage may vary depending on the individual person and the circumstances of their individual illness.  Use judgement.

With that caveat aside, here are 5 things I want people to know about me after learning I have a mental illness:

#1 – I Have Boundaries

Believe it or not, not everybody is cool with talking about themselves.  Some people have a really hard time with it actually.

Mental illness is still very taboo.  Mental health stigma is a very real thing.  Many people are not comfortable admitting they even have a mental illness.  Hell, most people probably aren’t comfortable admitting it.

Please respect the fact that people may not want to talk about it.  Take me for instance; I don’t really want to talk about it right now – at least not in person.  I’ve spent a long time building a pretty serious wall to talking about my problems and it’s going to take some time to dismantle.  So if you try to surprise me with a heart to heart about my mental illness… well… it feels sort of like this:

Nope.

I’m just going to run as fast as I possibly can away from you.  And then I won’t want to talk to you at all.  Because I’m afraid you’re going to eat me.  See?  That hasn’t really accomplished anything, has it?

Now some people will want to talk about it.  And that’s great!  People should feel like they can talk about mental illness.  If I just told you that I was diagnosed with depression, then I’ve sort of opened the door to talk about it.  But if you just heard that I have depression, and you bring that up, I’m going to feel attacked, and I’m going to put my shields up.

Now you don’t necessarily want to totally ignore it either.  This might lead someone to believe you don’t care.  So what do you do then?

Try this:

“Hi so-and-so.  I love you, and I want you to know I’m here for you if you ever want to talk about things.”  Boom!  That was great.  You obviously care, but you also respect boundaries.  Good for you!

Now there is one very important caveat to all of this.  If you think someone is about to hurt themselves or others, or is otherwise in crisis – then you should talk to that person, or hell, call the police if you think something bad is going to happen imminently.  But it has to be pretty extreme.

And lastly, for God’s sake, whatever you do, don’t go telling a bunch of people you heard so-and-so has a mental illness behind their back.  Whatever your intention is, it’s likely to be perceived by the person actually suffering as malicious and cruel, and you’re probably going to jeopardize the very existence of a relationship with that person.  This can be very traumatizing for the person suffering from mental illness, and can be detrimental to their treatment and recovery.

#2 – I’m Still Me

Ask me to describe myself and “Bipolar” does not make the top 10 list of adjectives.  I am not my mental illness.

This one is a little tricky, since you’ll often hear someone say I am depressed, or I am bipolar.  The language usage suggests that that person is that mental illness.  But really, they’re not.

And really, this is laughable on the face of it.  Think about it:

Someone has cancer.  Are they cancer?

You have the flu.  Are you the flu?

You have a rash.  Are you a rash?

No.  That all sounds ridiculous.  So yes, you’ll see me write things like I am bipolar but really, that’s just lazy English.

The point is, I’m still the same me I was before you knew I had a mental illness.  You just know a little bit more about me now.  But don’t worry, I’m still here!

Confused?  Don’t over think it.  Just look at this definitely-not-altered GIF, smile, and move on.

Feel better?

#3 – I’m Still Capable

A big reason why the mental health stigma is so real is that people fear that they’ll be perceived as less competent if it’s known they have a mental illness.  But if you’ve known someone to be competent and capable of sound decision making, then the knowledge that they have a mental illness shouldn’t change that.

I have bipolar 2 disorder.  I make decisions every day.  I have a family that I care for.  I take myself to work every day; in other words, I am completely capable of taking care of myself and living a normal life.

Do you want to know the biggest reason I don’t share my mental illness with people in my personal life?  I’m afraid I’ll lose my job – and if I don’t lose my job I’m afraid I’ll never be considered for another promotion again.  I’m afraid some jerk will think I have a defect that compromises my ability to make sound decisions.  This isn’t true, but I know a lot of people think that way.

Now I am not trying to trivialize mental illness in any way.  Many people do struggle with very real mental health issues that diminish their functionality in different ways, and these people do require help.

But if you’ve known so-and-so forever, they’ve always been highly capable, and they confide in you that they have major depressive disorder, I hope your opinion of that person does not diminish.  They’re still as intelligent as they were before.  Actually, there’s some evidence to suggest intelligent people are more at risk for mental illness.

My opinion of you wouldn’t be diminished if I learned you have cancer.  I’d want to help you in any way I could, and I hope that’s your reaction upon hearing a friend or loved one is suffering from a mental illness.

#4 – Help Helps

You may have just learned that someone you love has a mental illness.  You may be filled with an overwhelming desire to help, and that’s good!  But what do you do?  Do you smother them with kindness?  Or do you stay aloof and distant?  You’re just doing what the nice guy on the internet told you to, and respecting boundaries.

How about you listen to them, and ask what you can do to help?  If the answer is nothing, then do nothing.  If the answer is listen to them complain about their day, then do that.  If the answer is get a supersized order of fries from McDonald’s then…

The ketchup is dispensed from a fire hose.

Now sometimes you shouldn’t just wait around and wait for someone to ask for help.  Unfortunately, people who are suffering with depression often can’t see what will help them… even if it’s really obvious.  And sometimes someone will say they don’t need anything when really it’s obvious that they do.  This requires some judgement on your part, and has to be supported by your knowledge of, and relationship with that particular person.

So if there’s something really obvious that would help, like stepping on the gas when you’re being chased by a gigantic dinosaur, then go ahead and do that thing:

You don’t have to wait for an invite to hit the gas.

Just remember that a little bit of kindness can go a really long way with someone suffering from depression or bipolar disorder.

#5 – I Want You To Take Care of Yourself

So I’ve been talking about all the things you can do to help that person in your life who is suffering from a mental illness, but please don’t forget to take care of yourself too.

The person suffering wants you to be well too.  They don’t want to see you suffer, or even develop a mental illness of your own due to the stress of care giving.

Make time for yourself as well.  Make sure you set your own boundaries.  Don’t forget to help yourself too.  Don’t be a hero.

You’re no use to anybody if you get eaten.

So that’s all for now.  That should be enough to get you started at least.  There’s a lot more than just that which I’ll share in later articles, but my mania-brain has lost interest in writing, and suddenly I have an uncontrollable urge to watch Jurassic Park.

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