My Bipolar Life

I love when mental health issues are trending in the media.

The flavor of the week? Bipolar disorder.

Catherine Zeta-Jones spent a few days in a mental health facility to treat her bipolar 2 disorder. The media had a field day with speculation about her chain smoking and increased (apparently) drinking patterns. The stress of her life had gotten to her and she needed a few days off. This stress was dealing with her hubby’s battle with cancer, her stepson’s legal issues with drugs along with other factors. I wish the availability of help for those that have bipolar disorder were so easy to find.

My Bipolar Life

I have displayed symptoms of bipolar (only I’m a type 1 gal) since I was a toddler. For skeptics that believe that mental illness can’t be seen in the behavior of a child, guess again. It was the late70’s so the option of taking your kid to a psychologist wasn’t a popular choice. My parents didn’t find anything “odd” about my behavior. I acted out, had tantrums, existed on manic’s and was an all around terror. These are not all typical symptoms of a child that has a mental health disorder. My bipolar childhood continued into adolescence. My self-medicating began around the age of 13. I was formally diagnosed in my late 20’s. I finally found the right professional, the right combination of medication and a sense of balance in my early 30’s. Keep in mind, I am not a doctor, nor do I claim to have a butt-load of medical information. I do have some life experience.

Dual Disorders

Since I fall into a “dual-diagnosed” category of addiction and mental illness, I want to throw my two cents in on this issue. It is not uncommon for the two conditions to go hand in hand. Substance abuse is a common method to “self-medicate” a mental health condition. When my meds started working (which is when I took them on a continued basis with the help of a qualified uber-awesome psychiatrist who understood addiction), I was able to deal with my addiction to alcohol head on. While the conditions may co-exist, you have to make sure to treat them both equally. The combination of a solid 12-step program with proper medication made my life a whole hell of a lot better. Does this mean that it’s happy swell meadows 24/7? Not hardly.

The most difficult thing for an addict and someone who suffers from mental illness to deal with is being “comfortable with the uncomfortable”. You have to realize that you are going to be experiencing emotions that have been underdeveloped of stuffed down so deep that you didn’t even know they existed. This journey is not always pleasant. When the “fog” is lifted you have to learn how to be a fully functioning adult that is a part of mainstream society. Only a small percentage can escape the trials and tribulations that occur in day-to-day life. The majority of us do not have that luxury.

Keys To Balance

Having a mental health condition does not mean that you are never going to lead a “normal” life. The key is being able to deal with “normal” things. As you plug along, working, paying bills, doing household duties and taking care of business you will realize, in time, that “normal” is actually kind of nice. Gone are the days where chaos and drama filled every moment. Gone is the chronic obsession of your drug of choice. When you live a “normal” life and participate with the world (and yes that does include other people) you will find that you simply do not have the time to use.

How To Cope

Do I ever thing about having a drink? Of course I do. What keeps me sane is the fact that I have so many “normal” things on my plate that I cannot fathom having the time to drink. I can’t imagine the consequences of taking time to get drunk to escape the day. If I were to indulge, how would I get what needs to be taken care of done? I am blessed with every 24 hours I have. While life isn’t spent smelling the roses all day long, it isn’t spent preoccupied with having a drink, buying a bottle, hiding the empty bottles, wondering if people can smell the booze on me or wondering where the money is going to come from so that I don’t run out of vodka. It is a huge relief to know that the things I do have to worry about, groceries, taking care of the pets, making those hard deadlines and spending quality time relaxing.

Choices

I am happy with this evolution of my life. Being bipolar is not a life-sentence that will destroy you. Being an addict isn’t a life-sentence that will kill you. Both of these conditions simply mean that you have to be vigilant (not obsessed) with your mind, body and spirit. The life that you intend to live has always been, and will always be, your choice. I hope that you choose wisely.

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