Friday, December 7, 2012

Mental Illness & Addiction is Double Trouble

By Andrew Roberts
Dealing with both is a challenge
My name is Andrew and I'm 28 years old. I was born and raised in New Jersey. I have a sister who is slightly younger, and both my parents are still living and are together. I was asked to write my story, because I am living with mental illness. I am sharing my life story in the hopes that it can inform and maybe even prevent someone from unknowingly making a negative decision that will forever change them and their families’ lives.
I had a generally happy childhood. When I was 8 years old or so, I was diagnosed with ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder) and prescribed Ritalin. Though my grades improved, I did not like or accept that I was different. It was at this time that I first began therapy. I grew up participating in the Boy Scouts, and eventually attained the rank of Eagle Scout in 2001. I started playing guitar when I was 12 and I still play to this day. I got decent grades and was accepted early into college. I had an apartment on campus, which was normally filled by older students.
I started college when I was 17. It was also the age I stopped taking my Ritalin. I had always heard stories about how people went to college, partied hard, but still did well. My roommates were older and all friends with each other. They were into drinking and drugs. My first drink was on my first day on campus. It was only about a week afterwards that I tried drugs. Soon after that I would be sitting in class thinking about the party afterwards. I stopped going to class and focused on "mind exploration," as I called it. One day there were none of the usual substances around. A friend had told me about drinking cough syrup. Had I known that this would be the act that would eventually have me sleeping on a park bench, I would not have done it.
My descent into depression was quick. It didn’t take long before I started drinking cough syrup early in the morning and just remaining lying in bed. After a few more weeks I knew I was failing all of my classes. Rather than using substances as a learning experience or recreationally, I began relying on substances as a way to escape my misery.
To properly describe my state of mind, I feel I must go into the effects of Dextromethorphan (DXM, the active ingredient in cough syrup). When I took it, my thoughts went out of my body. I could barely walk and often would fall and hurt myself. My speech would slur and I eventually just stopped talking. It is a substance that while ingesting it, it is not possible to function at all in daily living.
To summarize, I dropped out of college and moved back home. My using escalated, as my depression deepened. While I was at home, my friend from high school killed himself. Aside from my mourning for him, I began to obsess about the idea of doing the same. When I was under the influence, I voiced that I was going to jump off a bridge. This was my first introduction to the mental health unit of the hospital. I began to see a psychiatrist and I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and an anxiety disorder. Again I had issues with self-acceptance and took the news of these diagnoses like it meant that I would no longer be able to do anything in life. I was using DXM everyday and the idea of harming myself brought my drug usage to my parents’ attention. I was asked to leave their house. While the weather was nice, I slept on a bench in the park or in the woods. As time went on, I just “drifted” with various people around New Jersey. After hitting my bottom, I finally decided to seek treatment for my addiction and psychiatric disorders.
It is now 10 years later, and things are very different and much better. My recovery process was and still is gradual, but beneficial to my survival and peace of mind. In the last few years, I’ve gotten involved in volunteer work with people like me, living with psychiatric disorders and in recovery from addiction. I have a steady and very nice place to live. I will be starting school in about a month to become an electronics technician. I still play guitar and on the side I give lessons. My past has made me not only a stronger person, but also a much better person in the areas of patience and understanding. My bipolar disorder still surfaces with mood swings and I still have panic attacks from the anxiety. The education I receive in therapy as well as consistently taking my medication has made the severity and frequency of these symptoms manageable.
Although I have this illness, I do not define myself as ill. The complexity of life, its challenges, and the ability to overcome them are what I believe make me who I am. I am Andrew, I am 28 years old; I live with mental illness and I am happy. Thanks for reading.

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