from “Tristimania: A Diary of Manic Depression” by Jay Griffiths
Pilgrimage: its etymological roots ‘travail’ – it is a suffering cure. It is an ordeal to be endured. Perhaps this seems counterintuitive, for illness craves comfort, ease, tranquillity and gentleness, while pilgrimage shoves you into hardship and struggle. Yet to have survived an ordeal makes one feel strong.
The relief which comes when the journey is over is more precious for the difficulties of the road, as drinking saltwater makes sweetwater more craved.
I do feel so much stronger after enduring my years in active addiction. And surviving the subdural hematomas, or strokes, that landed me in the hospital for 40 days 2 years ago. Then came eight months of physical therapy to improve my mobility, along with weekly writing exercises, reading tasks and cognitive testing to improve my brain functionality.
It was most definitely ALL an ordeal. Many times in the hospital I just wished I had died after the first hematoma when I had been driving, totaled my car, and was life-flighted to begin my recovery. But then I wouldn’t have this story to tell; it would have ended abruptly.
A survivor. Now what?
I am certainly a survivor. And staying clean, 25 months this past week, I still believe to be fucking amazing after being in active addiction, off and on (but mostly on), for 20+ years. I now make it my mantra to steer clear of street drugs and addictive prescription pills.
The feel-good times greatly decreased even when I was using, so it was always more drugs and more substances and then, well, some more. Drugs mightily contributed to my mood downfalls, false beliefs in myself and other bipolar raptures I induced.
I’ve also been off antidepressants for several months now. I haven’t been prescribed any antipsychotic meds for more than a year, either. The changes have been startling at times, both to me and to those close to me. But this pilgrimage I’ve found myself on still plunges me into “hardship and struggle” like Jay Griffiths writes about with her own bipolar journey. In so many ways it has been a “suffering cure” for me; but the operative word is “cure.”
The shackles of substances
Being free from the shackles of drugs has most assuredly made my life easier: to make positive plans, be a much better father, have true friendships, have real, meaningful conversations. But in no way has my life become easy because I’m in recovery. I’ve quickly been forced to live like a semi-normal, un-heavily-medicated recovering addict. Who is still bipolar.
And those pills make me dizzy/forgetting my body/I watch as it/walks awayI just keep drinking the poison/and smoking the cartons/a pack and half/a day– The Trees Get Wheeled Away, Bright Eyes
Forgot my body. And my brain.
For so many years I forgot my body and lived entirely in my head and my conjured misdeeds. The pills made me more than dizzy (when I would take them): they made me into a false self. It wasn’t really me when I was taking all those psych meds, when I was using all those drugs on a daily basis. Was it? For my sanity today and moving forward, I have to believe the answer to that question is no.
In addition to quitting the drugs, I’ve also (unlike Conor sings about in the song above) quit smoking cigarettes. Wow! I was a smoker for 27 years, so if I can do it so can you (if you want to or are trying). That sure is a lot of quitting, right? I haven’t totally kicked tobacco yet, though. I buy a tin of “winterchill” Camel Snus every 3 or 4 days, and sometimes have a drag from my girlfriend’s smoke. I’m not only saving my lugs from certain damnation but I’m saving a lot money, which always helps when you have two daughters in college :)
Take your lithium, every damn day!
It’s taken 20+ years since I was diagnosed with bipolar illness to finally accept and believe that my daily lithium dose is absolutely necessary for me to function at a normal level. My moods stay within a high-low range that is manageable. Antidepressants and antipsychotic meds, no thanks. For me, at least, I’ve found that the side effects of those pills far outweigh any benefits I was receiving.
Why did it take so long for me to come to this medical conclusion? I’ve seen close to 10 psychiatrists who regularly prescribed me pills. More than 10 therapists. What never changed over all those years, until recently, was my active addiction. Now that I’m not using any psychosis-inducing substances any more, life has gotten good. Better than I ever had hoped over the time period when I was using.
The world feels much more like a real place these days, both the good and bad in it. But I still have a lot of work to do to reach the goals I’ve recently set for myself. One day at a time. It can happen. I believe.