A Journey to Health and Connection
It’s funny that my co-workers tell me that I’m the most sane person in our workplace, especially since they know about my journey. I’ve walked through type I bipolar disorder, addiction, and a drug-induced manic episode, but that just speaks to the growth and healing I’ve been so blessed to experience. Here I am: I have a wife with whom I am deeply in love, two beautiful kids who make me smile every time I come home, and fourteen years at a stable job with a local municipality where I get to drive big trucks (while earning a pension). The recovery process enabled me to get in touch with aspects of my heart and creativity that I hadn’t explored before, and there’s a level of purpose, fulfillment, and joy I’ve experienced that I never knew was possible.
Experiencing Bipolar Disorder and Addiction
I’ve had the symptoms of bipolar disorder my entire life. Tough situations that I experienced as a teenager propelled me into drinking and recreational drug use to cope with the pain. Initially, I liked how it would slow my brain down, due to the symptoms of bipolar disorder. However, when I was 19, I started getting more into the rave culture and attended parties at clubs where there was a ton of hard drug use. At one of these events, I took more than I had ever before, and it induced a manic episode. Things got serious, but I couldn’t remember what happened over most of the next couple of weeks.
By the third week, I was hospitalized. I had to go to rehabilitation and a psych ward, and it began the journey of recovery. This included multiple hospitalizations over a series of years, largely when there was a change in my medication. It was not an easy process, because no one had all the answers. My mother and sister were incredibly helpful, as were other forms of community or support, but at the end of the day, they could only suggest things. I had to walk through it.
Growth When the Answer Wasn’t Clear
Having both mental health — bipolar disorder — and addiction issues created extra challenges. I threw myself immediately into support groups like AA (Alcoholics Anonymous) and NA (Narcotics Anonymous), which were really helpful. But I didn’t really focus as much on the mental health aspect — the bipolar disorder — because it felt like it had a red badge, meaning that it was less accepted. That’s why I could do well in recovery for a while, and then suddenly swing into a bipolar episode. Things changed when I began to actively seek help for bipolar disorder. I began to be more open and honest with my psychologist and psychiatrist instead of trying to hide.
I learned a lot about myself through the process. At first, it was overwhelming because there was no simple answer. Eventually, I realized I just had to go through life and try to make the best decision. I began to just choose from the best choice I had, instead of trying to be perfect. Sometimes I made a mistake, but every time, I learned from it. I stood on the phrase, “don’t give up,” and I didn’t. There were times that I didn’t know if I was going to make it when I was searching for an answer. In those moments, it was as if life would give me an answer that many times I was unsure of. But, it would often be the answer that I needed. It gave me a better understanding of myself and what I was going through, even though it wasn’t what I thought I was looking for.
One of the most amazing gifts that came through recovery was my now wife, Tracy. Five or six years into the process, I went to a concert with a group of friends. I did what I normally did, as someone clean and sober going to shows, and went to buy a bottle of water so I could have something in my hand. On the way back, I walked by a girl, and — I can’t even explain it — there was something magical that happened. We both immediately knew it, too. She happened to be a friend of a friend, and we started hanging out shortly after, and have been connected ever since. And sixteen years later, she has been the most amazing partner in life, in so many ways. Her presence fundamentally changed how the recurrence of the manic episodes affected me. In a moment when I started having symptoms, it was her gracious handling of the situation that nipped the issue in the bud. I haven’t had an episode since. She’s my best friend, and I’m still in love with her, years later.
Rediscovering Creativity and the Gift of My Story
My recovery process led to the rediscovery of so much creativity, and joy from it. Music has always been a passion for me. Metal, then punk/hardcore, hip hop, Dave Matthews Band, and EDM: I like a broad range. I’m now able to appreciate it even more. I’ve started helping a friend with editing on his music and doing other types of video work and projects. A few years back, I started a website called Instinctive Bird that enabled me to explore aspects of my creativity, including writing and sharing my story. This aligns with my passion to share encouragement and hope around mental health and mental illness.
I’ve been clean and sober for 24 years. I feel like my story is a gift I get to share with others. If you’re out there and facing a mental health challenge, there’s hope. Be honest with yourself. Involve others that you trust. Wherever you are in the process, don’t be afraid to reach out for help when things become unbalanced.