Booze and Bipolar
By PJ Stephens, Founder Angels Rise U.P.
November 23, 2020
I thought this topic would be fitting given the quickly approaching Thanksgiving holiday. I’ve been thinking about writing this topic for a while. But every time I got ready to write about it, it just seemed incredibly overwhelming. In part because I’ve battled with the idea if I should be slightly dishonest. Kind of out of shame but from the feeling of utter failure. So, before I even begin, I should get it out. I have relapsed a couple of times during this pandemic we see ourselves facing. In the very beginning, I broke down crying in the bathroom of my workplace. Thankfully I had a good friend there to comfort me. And the surprising thing even to me, I knew she wouldn’t judge me for this breakdown. I pretty much trusted her from the start. Its good to have people like that in my life. I have a few, but each and every person has a different quality to them that helps me through dark days. That may seem a little codependent, but its not. Believe me I know what it feels like to be codependent. I was with my mom, pretty much my entire life. As I write this I want to add, that I am going through a slightly manic state. It was triggered from a mess up in my meds.
So this past summer, I had already missed a couple months of work because of Covid-19 (I didn’t have it but thankfully my employer was great at giving us time off for self-care) So I definitely took that time. I also must stress, yes, I was scared and still scared of something that I can’t see but is killing many. I’m not ashamed of my fear. Fear is not a bad thing it is a normal human response in the whole fight or flight scheme of things. Its healthy that I can admit my own fear.
I have not been able to go too long without relapsing. It started while I was in the military stationed in Germany. Hate to say it, but the military causes more alcoholism than it helps to prevent. Ok, maybe I need to say that differently. Its our own responsibility if we decide to drink or not. But the military does not help when it has beer always stocked in vending machines in the barracks. A lot of us numbed ourselves at least every weekend. Being a medic we would even steal bags of normal saline to give ourselves i.v.’s for our excruciating hangovers. If that doesn’t scream, “I’m an alcoholic!” I don’t know what does.
After years of living as an alcoholic I have been able to discern when I’m most likely to drink and when I’m not. I have found that I usually drink to bring down a manic spell. So far, I’ve been doing well. I haven’t grabbed for any alcohol for the past two days even being manic. But I pretty much peaked yesterday. I am coming down, but my hands can’t keep up with my mind still. Many times, I compare my mania as having butterflies in my head. I try catching them, but simply can’t. I go through hypomanic spells. I am diagnosed as bipolar 2. This basically means that I have bouts of severe depression with moments of a “mild” form of mania. There are still many doctors who think that 1 is so much worse than 2. That’s not true. I’m a three time suicide survivor.
When drinking I have found that I am usually on that manic high. So, while it helps alleviate some things, it ultimately creates a cascading effect which I then go into extreme bouts of depression. And suicidal ideation is not too far behind. Again, I’ve survived this past couple of days not wanting to even drink. But the danger really comes when the mania lasts more than a few days and I just can’t come down no matter what. I’ve tried taking more of this pill or that, which just creates another problem. I still like to be my own doctor occasionally. And of course that’s not healthy for me at all. Again, that cascading effect. Unlike what so many think, mania isn’t always fun, at least not for me. At first, I love it. But then as it drags on, not so much. Cause then I know I’m going into a place that may end up with me in the hospital yet again. About 10 years ago I called a nurse telling her that the meds they had just put me on caused me to go manic. I told her I did not like what it was doing to me and that it swung me up. She said, “Oh really? Most people like being manic.” I advise all never doing that. It was very dismissive.
All of this is a reason I also don’t date. There was a point when I was married that I became so manic that I locked myself in my office, slept on the couch in there and went on a 3-day bender. My wife felt hopeless. I still feel guilty about putting her through that. Most of us with this brain disease have many failed relationships. But that is a topic for another day. Talking about my experiences being married while living with bipolar is hard for me.
As I stated, so far, I’m doing ok. I feel myself coming down. I just need to remember that I have tools in the shed, for lack of a better phrase, that I can use to help me through this. I have another friend I can call. She doesn’t care that I could be manic or whatever. Her day job is being a counselor, so I’m sure she’s seen it all. I believe she’s been doing the job for quite some time. I also really need to use the coping skills I have found that work. Exercising is one of them. I have put that off for a while, because I have been injured on and off for the past 2 years. But even as I write this, I’m taking breaks to lift some weights. It’s not as much as I usually do, but its something. And no, exercise is not a cure, but it is a coping mechanism that works for me. But believe me, there are times I’ll spend days in bed and just roll over and open my eyes. And you know what? That’s ok. I have a notebook on me or next to me all the time. I’ll write one or two things down that I did for the day that are for me, huge accomplishments. If I write, “I breathed today.” that’s a big deal. As mentioned, I’ve almost died. “Its ok to not be ok.” philosophy works for me.
Long story short. Alcoholism is as much a part of me as my bipolar will always be. I cant guarantee that next week I wont drink, but that’s why I take it day by day. Hell, some days I have to take it minute by minute. I’ll count every single minute I don’t drink, as being my own master of the universe. And that also works for me.
If you are in need of help please go online to:
SAMSHA Substance Abuse and Mental Health Service Administration
Copyright © 2020, Angels Rise U.P. All Rights Reserved
I Cant Own a Gun
By PJ Stephens, Founder Angels Rise U.P.
September 7th, 2020
Trigger Warning, the below article discusses issues regarding suicide
The other day I found myself thinking about purchasing a gun. More and more each day things get scarier in this world and country, and I progressively get more paranoid. I now carry a bat in my truck. I carry mace and a knife on my person or in a bag. I already live with a severe panic disorder with agoraphobia, and as well, an all encompassing bipolar disorder that as of late is hitting highs and lows so rapidly, waking up in the morning has me playing the guessing game of who I’ll be that day, “Will it be Sad Sally, Manic Mark, or Jumpy Janice.” I only use those names to punctuate the feelings that us with bipolar may feel in having to give our own insanity names because they are all so organic to us and not just emotions. They live and breathe just as we do. They have a face. When you walk past us, you see it.
After the thought came to me I posted a little snippet of it on Facebook for others to see. But then that had me thinking deeper about having to share that feeling, that fear of owning a gun for myself. The mere thought of even considering purchasing a gun is also scary. I had started thinking about what kind of gun. But in all the thoughts about it, it didn’t take long for me to realize that I wouldn’t even be here if I had owned a gun before. There are plenty of times during rapid cycling highs and lows, that things can become spontaneous, never really thought out. I can remember several instances of such where if I had owned a gun I would have tried to end my life.
I am a three time suicide survivor. I have come so close to death during one of the times that I’m surprised I survived. On December 31st 1999. I was living and struggling with a debilitating depression that had gone on for several weeks. It was this drooling morbid depression that leaves you with tunnel vision. Everything in your peripheral vision is dark and menacing. You have to look straight ahead just to keep up and keep going, but with that you’re forced to face your own reality. That reality is also drenched in darkness. It has a pin point that constantly screams “End it.” And of all things don’t close your eyes cause then the darkness surrounds you like oil, and nightmares become the norm each and every night. You can’t escape yourself. Like a shadow, the depression follows you in waking and sleeping. It had become too exhausting. For a few days prior I started planning my death. I considered hanging myself. But I didn’t like the thought of people finding me hanging there. I had tried pills before and that didn’t work. At this time though I also remember this blinding hate for myself. Why the hell could I not just think like others? Be normal? Be sane? Why can’t I live like those other people? I was so damn tired of trying to merely exist.
On that day, I knew it would be my last. I figured if I was gonna kill myself I better get drunk just so I could get up the courage, killing yourself is scary. I went out with some friends and we went to this bistro we liked in downtown Bad Kreuznach Germany. As soon as we got there I fully committed to slamming shots and beers like there was no tomorrow. And for me, there wasn’t going to be. At some point it hit me. I hated myself more than anything. God, it was this seething and blinding hatred. I was nothing, I was a damn reject, I was broke. Well that hate made me think the best way to go out would need to be in the most barbaric way. I would stab myself. And I did. I went and hid in the back of the bistro nearing closing time in hopes that it would be quick, but also that I would be found in enough time, not to be saved, but not have to lie there rotting and only be found after my body started to stink. With this suicide attempt I came within half inch of nicking a major artery that runs to my heart. I still have the huge scar on my stomach today. Some have suggested I get plastic surgery to fix it. No. I need to remember this time.
And this suicide attempt is what came to mind when I started to think about purchasing a weapon. If I had had a gun back then, I would not be here today. If I were to buy a gun now, I would not be here tomorrow or sometime in the near future. I can’t even say maybe. Cause I know for a fact I would eventually kill myself with a gun if it was available during a very low time. That is my truth and my bipolar reality. I wouldn’t even bother calling anyone, I would just do it. So with all this fear that I feel, the biggest part of it is the fear I have about my own actions. I can hide away from the world but I can never hide from myself and my mind, I live with a chronic brain disease. I used to have moments of happiness in which I would think I was cured. “Yes, I’m happy! I’m cured I’m never gonna be depressed again. Thank God its over!” Its never over for me. It wasn’t until I finally acknowledged that my disease is chronic that I really tried to find tools that worked and one of those tools was making sure I took all my meds. I used to stop taking them in those happy moments cause like I said, I was cured right?
So I know I can never buy a gun. So what can I do? Well, like finding tools to manage my bipolar and panic disorder I also need to find tools that alleviate my fears in other ways. I have that bat and the mace. But that’s really a physical security. Inside I’ll still be fearful, but how can I ease that fear? I’m still working on that part. I do know that I have control over the gun issue. Thats one thing I can do to make sure I am safe. Another thing I have control over is greatly limiting my social media presence and trying to only participate in it when I am in a good mind set. That doesn’t always work out though. So my back up for that is then making sure to mute certain words/phrases and block any and all pages and people I know that could be harmful to my mind. Being bipolar, this is my truth. I have to think through so many things that may just be a lot more simple and automatic for others. And that’s ok. I must say it helps me to find creative ways to work through life.
One of the most important things I can do for myself in this world that is so scary, is to do for others. And that one thing is writing and speaking openly like this about my bipolar and what its like to live as I do. And this is why I created Angels Rise U.P. The article and things I write all come from a bipolar perspective so that hopefully others can understand more about mental health and at the same to break the stigma that we shouldn’t be talking about these things at all.
Copyright © 2021, Angels Rise U.P. All Rights Reserved