I recently embraced a new way of living. My life depended on it.
Years ago I was diagnosed with bipolar I disorder. Back then recovery wasn’t well defined. While I knew my condition was real and needed to be managed, I didn’t have the right tools to maintain good mental health. I took my medication, and the trippy hallucinations and racing thoughts ebbed. I figured if I wasn’t seeing or hearing things, all was well.
And to some extent, it was. I ventured out on my own again, worked a good job, fell in love, got married, and started a family. But despite the support of my medical team, I fell into a 10-year haze. Addiction is a key aspect of my mental illness. I was self-medicating with marijuana and daily doses of Klonopin, a benzodiazepine that was prescribed to manage my anxiety. I started abusing the prescribed medication soon after our son was born, at a time when I was fearful of reorganization at my company and other changes.
While I appeared from the outside to be functioning, inside I was falling apart. Basic tasks such as dishes and laundry were beyond me. My husband did the heavy lifting. I was adrift in my delusional mind, losing four significant jobs in five years. My failures couldn’t be my fault, I thought. My mania persuaded me I was invincible and didn’t need to manage my stress.
Finally, after I lost yet another job, my therapist made it clear that I needed to detox from Klonopin and find a new baseline. While I was at it, I had to stop smoking weed. Any chance of living normally would entail drastic change.
Thankfully, I followed my therapist’s orders. I stopped. Tapering off Klonopin under medical supervision was horrifying – like a bad acid trip at the eighth-grade social. But the process convinced me that my addiction was real.
Through a 12-step program, I tried coping with my new, clean life. But I was still consumed with self-loathing, insecurities, imaginary judgments, and panic attacks. At the same time, I had lofty thoughts and philosophies, grand plans and delusions. I was right back in the kind of spiraling bipolar episode I’d been bandaging for more than seven years.
I figured rapidly swinging moods must be my reality. My 12-step program and peer support kept me clean, yet my busy mind could not grasp the coping techniques being offered.
Five months into this dark, painful, and confusing journey, I was unsure which thoughts were mine and which were products of the blasting synapses in my chaotic head. I started to believe death was my only option. That’s when I reached out for help.
My sponsor helped pack my hospital bag and my husband drove me to the ER, where he sat with me through intake. For a little over two weeks, my medication was tweaked and I spent days learning how to recover. I was finally learning how to live.
My toolbox is now fully stocked with coping techniques. Today I walk, journal, visit my therapist, attend meetings and am conscious of my mood. Stress-filled thoughts pass by while I deal with the moment. Life feels peaceful and calm. I’m living in a way that can lead to a fulfilling next chapter of my story.
Being alive is a gift that I am hanging onto. But if I lose my grip, at least now I better understand what I need to do in recovery. I know how to address my symptoms – addictive, manic, and depressive. It seems like a good first step.