About 15 months ago, I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. When I look back at my life, the diagnosis explains a lot. I've been a manic-depressive person for as long as I can remembereven as young as age 6. I just didnt know that it had a name.
When I was growing up, I was more likely to be manic than depressed. I had this super-high energy and the episodes could last for months. My speech was rapid and my thoughts raced.
I was a creative kid. I read everything I could get my hands on, and at 7 years old I knew I wanted to be a writer. I also thought I could be a songwriterI loved the whole idea of a rock-star life. Who doesn't?
I was outgoing, with a ton of friends and, as I got older, usually a girlfriendor two. Even today, my friends would describe me as the life of the party.
Only now do I realize that some of those qualities are classic symptoms of bipolar disorder.
When I was 13 or 14 years old, I met a guy named Brian* while I was doing my paper route. A 26-year-old ex-convict, Brian introduced me to alcohol. After I got drunk the first time, I wanted to do it every day. So I started getting drunk three to five times a week.
About three months later, Brian introduced me to cocaine and crack. I didn't do drugs every day, but I wanted to. It was just the beginning of my problems with substance abuse.
*Not his real name
I felt like a god, but when I was sober the depression hit
I made it through high school, and in 1998 I moved to Los Angeles to pursue a career in writing. I was 22 and just starting an internship with a movie producer.
My apartment in Beverly Hills became party central. Any night of the week, there'd be a knock on the door and 20 people could be outside. I always let them in. At first I never wanted to drink or do drugs alone, because I didn't want to believe that I was depressed, or that I was doing drugs because I hated life.
But before I left L.A., it definitely got to that point.
The last seven months were the worst. I was depressed about my job, my boss was giving me serious anxiety problems, and I was trying to write but felt like my creativity was frozen.
I started to ignore my friends and relatives. I only hung out with a couple of people, and we would spend nights or whole weekends getting trashed. The cocaine and the crack took away the depression and made me feel like I was the life of the party again.
No matter how down and depressed I was feeling, I would immediately feel better as soon as I did that first line or two. I felt like a god. But then I would black out and not know where I was when I woke up, or whether I'd spent the night with a stranger. I'd sober up, and the depression would hit.
My life began to spiral out of control
Even my friends who dont have any problems with mental illness say coming down from cocaine can cause depression. I know it intensified my bipolar symptoms. My life began to spiral out of control.
One time I drove on the L.A. freeway after I had been drinking and doing drugs. I had been with a girl who lived about 50 minutes from my apartment, but we had a stupid fight.
I left her place at 2 in the morning, passed out at the wheel, and woke up to a loud bang. I still don't know what I hit, but both tires were blown out on the driver's side.
Around this time I also became addicted to Vicodin, a prescription painkiller. I had injured my back, and a doctor initially prescribed it for back pain. But I never used it properly or strictly for the pain. Eventually I had three different doctors giving me prescriptions, plus two dealers. I also had doctors prescribing me Xanax and Klonopin, which are benzodiazepines, medications used to relieve anxiety, induce sleep, and relax muscles. I felt like I was addicted to those too.
I got in another car accident after I had spent an evening barhopping with a friend. For some reason, I thought it was a good idea to speed up Beverly Glen Boulevard, a narrow, winding canyon road. I don't remember if I passed out or just lost control, but I smashed into a parked car.
Both air bags deployed and the front passenger's side tire blew out. But I kept driving. It took me a while to realize I needed to stop. I didn't get in trouble with the police that time, but before I left L.A. I did end up with two convictions for driving under the influence as well as one for cocaine possession.
I was finally diagnosed with bipolar disorder
Something needed to change. I was afraid I'd lose my license if I didnt stop drinking. Some of the producers I had worked for introduced me to their celebrity friends who were going to Alcoholics Anonymous meetings. I went to a few, but I just didn't believe in the program. I did start seeing a therapist, but that wasn't the reason I finally quit. I just decided to stop drinking. I don't go to AA meetings, I don't even know the date of my last drinkI just don't do it.
I finally left L.A. in 2006, in part because my mother was sick and needed a lot of help. I stopped briefly at a friends in Portland to detox from drugs and alcohol. When I left to move in with my parents in New Jersey, I was pretty much clean except for some pain medication for my back.
Shortly after I got to New Jersey, I went to see a doctor so I would have a physician in the area. After talking with me, he asked if I had ever been diagnosed as bipolar. When he told me about the symptoms and the personality traits, I started to think I could be.
He suggested going to see a psychiatrist for a full diagnosis. Because the situation at my parents' house was so crazy and causing me so much anxiety, I thought it would be a good idea. It was an eye-opening experience to be diagnosed as bipolar. I immediately felt like the diagnosis explained my past.
My psychiatrist tried a couple of different medications that are used to treat bipolar disorder. One was Abilify, which did nothing for me, and another, Seroquel, just made me fall right to sleep. I decided that bipolar medications don't work for me.
Then my back started bothering me again, to the point where I was in unbearable pain. I went to a doctor and got OxyContin, a prescription painkiller. Now I feel like I'm addicted to that. I'm not cooking it or shooting it or snorting it; I just take it regularly for my pain. It also seems to help my anxiety and depression. I don't want or plan to stop. And as long as I have the OxyContin, I don't see any reason to go and get cocaine. I know that it's very dangerous to mix cocaine and OxyContin, but I always wonder, if I wasn't on it, would I want to do cocaine?
Hope for the future
Now Im 32. I recently moved out of my parents' house, and I'm staying with my brother. I'm planning to rent a room in New York City. Im focusing on my writing, and I hope to move back to L.A. around the spring of next year.
My doctor wants me to cut back on the OxyContin, but I don't want to do that until I can afford to have a procedure done that will fix my back pain. Im dependent on the OxyContin for the pain, but I don't think I'm abusing it. Now that I have a plan and goals for myself that I want to achieve, my anxiety isn't as bad. I'm hoping to quit drugs entirely.
But I'm afraid the addiction gene is in me. My mother was an alcoholic, and she ended up in the hospital once for depression. She always drank to deal with her depression. But the way I remember her before she got sick, there's nothing that points to her being bipolar.
I've been thinking of trying Narcotics Anonymous when I get back to L.A. I think NA could help me where AA couldnt because Ive always looked at drugs differently than alcohol. Im afraid that when I move back to L.A, I'll be tempted to do cocaine again. It's so easy to find someone doing it at a bar or a party. I'm afraid that when I get off OxyContin, I'll just go from one drug to the next. But Im going to try my best not to.