I was recently diagnosed with bipolar disorder. While it’s comforting to know there’s a reason for everything that has been going on with me for the past six or so years, I can’t help but feel like there’s now something inherently “wrong” with me. Which I guess just goes to show how much of a stigma there is surrounding mental health issues today. However, I’ve decided to use this new diagnosis as a way to change my life for the better. I’ve started taking medication and I’ve been doing a lot of research on this illness. When I want to learn more about a subject, I won’t stop until I feel like I’m an expert. I’ve read countless books, scholarly articles, blog posts — anything I can get my hands on to help me better understand this disorder and, more importantly, myself.
One thing almost every single piece of literature I’ve read has in common is the views on bipolar disorder and substance abuse. It’s a dangerous combination. Ever since I can remember, I’ve used drugs and alcohol to ease into social situations or as self-medication when I’m feeling really down. You name it, I’ve probably done it. As I sit here writing this, I can’t help but think some major change in my life needs to happen for me to truly get a handle on this illness. That’s why I’m deciding right here and now to put my party girl days behind me and stop using substances as a crutch. I need to face my demons head on if there’s any hope for me to lead a relatively happy and healthy life with bipolar disorder. The list of reasons why this is a good idea for me are probably endless, but I’ve come up with a few I can look back on for when things get particularly difficult, which I know they will. Who knows, maybe they might help someone else who, like me, is struggling to get a handle on things.
1. Alcohol and drugs can make mania and depression worse.
For me, it’s the mania. My mood is already unstable enough as it is, and I’ve learned drinking and drugs only further escalate things. I’ve written before about how sometimes I miss being manic because it makes life seem more exciting. I go searching for ways to try and feel that high again, but it just ends up making it that much harder to come down. When I finally do — and oh boy, I do come down — the depression is even more debilitating. Then I’ll end up using when I’m depressed to try and make myself feel better, but it’s always a temporary fix and usually just ends up making me feel worse. Bipolar is cyclical and the substance abuse makes that cycle a vicious one.
2. I have an extremely addictive personality.
Sure, most people can kick back with friends and have a few drinks, but I am not one of them. I think a lot of those with bipolar disorder struggle with this issue. Once I start, I just don’t seem to know when to stop. Throw in the fact I also have borderline personality disorder (you know, that whole “all-or-nothing” mentality) then mix in my impulse control issues and suddenly, what was supposed to be a few drinks with friends has turned into a two-week-long bender. I don’t know when to admit the party’s over and it’s a recipe for disaster that always leaves me mentally, emotionally and (usually) monetarily drained.
3. I’m not supposed to be drinking with the medication I’m taking.
In addition to the research I’ve done on bipolar disorder, I’ve also dug into all the information available on the different prescribed psychiatric drugs I’m currently on. I was only diagnosed in December, so I’m still working with my psychiatrist on finding the right balance of medication for me. It’s been a process of trial and error, as I’ve learned it is for most people. I mean, one girl I’ve talked to said it took years for her to find a combination of meds that worked for her. There’s so many different mood stabilizers, antipsychotics and antidepressants out there and they all have a whole mess of potential side effects. What’s one thing most have in common, though? “Patients should avoid the use of alcohol while taking this drug.” I copy and pasted that straight from Google. That right there should be reason enough for me. I know my medicine won’t be able to help me if I don’t give it the chance to.
I could go on forever about why getting clean is the best decision for me right now. I haven’t even touched on how it affects my personal relationships. That’s a story for another time and place. One thing I am grateful for as a result of this diagnosis is it’s forced me to become more introspective. I’m finally dealing with my problems and I think only good things can come from this. I’m looking forward to leading a healthier life both mentally and now, psychically. I’m also really curious to see if there are other people out there who struggle with bipolar and substance abuse the way I do.
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Thinkstock photo via ARTQU.