Tuesday, 14 May 2013

Addiction & Mental Illness: Part One

As if being crazy isn't enough, people who have mental illness often find themselves abusing drugs. In fact, mental illness and drug abuse tend to go hand in hand. The crazies use drugs to escape their heads and drug addicts will alter their reality so much they start to go crazy. It's a vicious cycle that once embarked upon in either direction, becomes exponentially harder to control than either problem is individually. I'm stating this as fact based on my personal experience. When I had a complete mental breakdown in my early thirties, I delved into an unseemly world I didn't know existed.

Let me back up a bit first. The cracks in my psyche started at a very young age. I had bouts with anxiety and depression as far back as childhood, though I didn't know what was going on, I just knew something wasn't right. In my mid teens, the stress of peer pressure and wanting to fit in caused me to spiral into a couple years of quickly cycling hyper manic episodes and severe depression. At the age of sixteen, I snapped one night and next thing I knew I was waking up in an institution under heavy sedation. I had no memory of how I got there or how much time had passed. It was horrifying. I ended up spending six months at an inpatient psychiatric facility. But it wasn't enough.

The next school year, I was greeted with whispers and rumours and gossip about what had happened to me. The shame was too much and knowing I didn't want to go back to the psych hospital, I started self medicating to kill the increasing pain inside me. I would sneak liquor from my parents stash and cigarettes. I would stay up all night drinking and smoking. Eventually I started getting to know the potheads at school. Marijuana was a great escape. It numbed me, but it made me feel stupid which I didn't like. I started dating a guy in his twenties and he introduced me to cocaine. Now that was exactly what I was looking for. It numbed the pain and at the same time made me feel energetic and confident. I suddenly felt powerful. It was an incredible aphrodisiac for my warped brain. I could be everything I wanted to be when high on coke.

The problem with drugs, especially if you are already mentally ill, is that it makes your "highs" even higher than normal and your "lows" unbearable. To fight the lows, you do everything you can to stay high. So you do more drugs, harder drugs. You'll do anything to keep from feeling low. And many of these drugs not only leave you mentally drained when you come down, but you develop physical withdrawals that can leave you violently ill if the growing addiction isn't fed. Like I said, vicious cycle.

Surprisingly, after only a year, I actually managed to break away from the guy who got me into the drugs and bounced back a little mentally. However, to do it I basically just stopped having feelings at all. If I didn't have ups I couldn't have downs. So I just stayed in the middle, numb. I created a facade so I could function in society. Meanwhile, my emptiness grew and grew.

In my early twenties, I started to do the bar scene. I eventually started doing coke again on occasion with the crowd I hung out with. Now none of these people would I ever consider friends. We did drugs together and partied. That's it. I could let my flamboyant wild facade run wild with these people, because I didn't care what they really thought. I let this fragmented part of my personality take over. And I took great care to keep it hidden away from my real friends and family. I never was high around them, but as I more and more needed to be high, the less and less time I spent with people who actually cared about me. I didn't want them to see this character I created that I secretly hated.

At some point I completely lost all that was me. I had been faking who I was, creating different personalities to show different segments of my world, for so long I no longer knew what was real. I didn't know who I was and I had no idea how to find me. I was tired. Very very tired. Then I met a man. A good man. A man worth attempting to find myself again for. We fell in love and got married. I had quit all my bad habits and replaced them with him and his boys. They were my world. But that was a problem. I basically traded one addiction for another. They were my new drug, my high. And as with all drugs, the high is only great for a while, but then you need more. I needed me. But I didn't know who I was and I had no idea where to find me. The void that was in me once again took over and depression set in...