Category Archives: mental health

That Thing Called Hope

40491_galThe first time I attempted suicide I was eleven years old.

I took a swig from a bottle of Mr. Clean, scrambled under my bed with my mother in pursuit, and refused to come out despite the intense burning in my throat.  My uncle, who lived next door, was called over and forcibly pulled me out, kicking and screaming. Obviously, I did not die, only scorched my esophagus a bit.

The last time I attempted suicide was in 2009. I swallowed every pill in our house, ate a large quantity of crystal meth, and washed it down with a bottle of some kind of alcohol. My husband returned home, found me in our bed covered in blood and vomit, and called the paramedics who arrived in time to get me to a hospital, where I awakened hours later with a tube down my throat and my thighs coated with shit and the charcoal that had been pumped into my stomach to absorb the poisons.

There were, between these two attempts, quite a few others…some closer to successful than others. Bags over my head, GHB or crystal meth ingested in mass quantities, and one lame attempt involving a wooden gazebo beam and a cheap extension cord completely ill-suited to the task.

The truth, however, is that I never really wanted to die, exactly. I just didn’t want to go on living. 

“Suicide is such a selfish act,” say callous cunts all over the internet, completely unaware of the pain living in such unrelenting darkness engenders.  What they  don’t understand is that often, suicide feels more like a selfless act to those who are contemplating it. We who have witnessed the constant stress and anguish our depression has foisted onto the lives of our loved ones often believe, whilst in the deepest of our despair, that removing ourselves from this thing called life could only benefit those who suffer because of us.  A couple of years of grief, I would think, and then my loved ones could move on with life without the constant worry, anxiety and grief I was causing them. They’d be sad for a while, of course, but could then finally begin to get on with their own lives. Suicide often felt like the kindest thing I could do for them.

During most of my 13 year battle with addiction, I felt hopeless far more than I ever felt hopeful. I would do what was suggested in my program of recovery, following direction to the letter: being of service, going to meetings, working the program that was prescribed and that was said to set me on what was referred to as a road to happy destiny. It would work, for a while. I’d feel something like hope, if not hope exactly. Perhaps it was hope that I might eventually feel hope. No matter how hard I threw myself into recovery, no matter how hard I worked (particularly during the last two years, when I attacked my program with a fierce determination), I could not sustain any kind of joy.  One day, I’d be feeling that thing close to hope, I’d be working with other addicts, I’d be praying my ass off, and I’d go to bed thinking that tomorrow would be even better if I continued doing what I was doing.

Then, out of the blue, I’d wake up with those feelings of despair washing over me, almost unable to get out of bed. I’d lie there, trying to figure out what had changed during the brief eight hours i’d been sleeping, and couldn’t find anything that could account for this sudden re-immersion in misery. And the suicidal ideation would return, stronger than ever. I’d plan out my demise, carefully: a trip to Target to purchase a helium container in their party section, then a trip to Home Depot for plastic bags, zip ties and rubber tubing.   Then, thoughts of my mother, of my husband, and the pain my death would cause them would force me to push those feelings aside, at least temporarily. I’d get a better idea: crystal meth. And it almost always worked, at least in the short term, before the insanity of that drug would send me spinning into the abyss of paranoia and delusion. So, as ludicrous as this statement might sound, I honestly believed crystal meth saved my life countless times. Of course, it progressively diminished the quality of my life in the process, but it did short-circuit the “kill myself now ” impulse rather effectively.

Six months ago, I finally found a therapist and a psychiatrist who actually listened to me, which can be a rare thing in this age of candy-dispensing, throw-everything-at-the-wall-and-see-what-sticks brain pharmacology.  After a full hour of listening to my personal history, my psychiatrist announced, “you are clearly bi-polar, type one. Sometimes it’s difficult to diagnose, but in your case, it’s pretty obvious.”  I suppose that non-bipolar people don’t attempt suicide at age 11, and at least once every five years for the next 39 years.  Non-bipolar people don’t, i’ve learned, hallucinate even without the assistance of drugs. Non-bipolar folk don’t necessarily work for three days straight without sleeping (I just thought I had an amazing work ethic.)

Lamictal200mgTabletI was put on a medication called Lamictal, a mood stabilizer, and within a week my life began to change. I could think clearly. I slept deeply, my brain’s chronic mania reduced to a tolerable level. I no longer flew into rages over perceived slights or minor inconveniences. Best of all, I no longer saw the shadow people who had been a part of my life since childhood, and became omnipresent and terrifying when crystal meth entered my bloodstream. Calm. I have moments of pure calm, and I have not woken up to debilitating despair once in the past six months. I still feel sadness, when appropriate, and great joy when also appropriate. But the constant back-and-forth, up-and-down patterns i’d been dealing with for as long as I can remember seem to be a thing of the past, and for the first time in my entire life I know what hope feels like.

Because I’m not constantly battling mania or depression, I’ve been able to work a consistent program of recovery. And it’s been stunningly easy. I used to look at other alcoholics and addicts who had acquired significant sober time and think, “how the fuck do you do that?”  Now I understand how. “When someone is happy ” says my therapist Larry, “they don’t feel the need to use drugs.”  Yes, it was that simple.

Today, I read that Robin Williams committed suicide by asphyxiation, the method I held in reserve for my next attempt should it become necessary. I am heartbroken.

A man who has brought so much light, love and laughter into the world is gone, a victim of mental illness. That he was also in recovery, and that I have frequently been mistaken for this comedy legend (I don’t see a resemblance, personally) only makes this news so much harder to bear.

It also resurrects a feeling of anger I’ve been harboring regarding the rooms of recovery.

For years, I’ve heard recovered addicts and alcoholics (primarily old-timers, or members of more regimented groups), state from podiums that psychiatric medications should be considered a relapse. “I don’t take ANYTHING that affects me from the neck up,” they pontificate with cocksure pride in their ability to live a perfectly happy life, any psychological problems they may be facing cured miraculously by the wonders of their program.

Fuck you, I say. Fuck you hard, you fucking fucker.

This kind of talk is not only dangerous, it can be construed as attempted murder in my book.  Too many people…in recovery and out….already fear the stigma of mental illness, and resist diagnosis.

Magnifying that stigma by advising impressionable newcomers not to take psychiatric medication is deadly hubris, and I don’t doubt that these arrogant – if well-meaning – program purists have been the cause of innumerable suicides during the course of the many years the recovery program I use has existed.

Anyone who advocates against psychiatric medication in recovery has clearly never experienced the utter black hopelessness of real depression. I’m sure they’ve felt deep sadness at times, but that is a very different experience.

I don’t know if Robin Williams relapsed before deciding to end his life, I don’t know if it was depression alone that caused him to act, and I don’t know if….as a long-time member of the recovery community – he subscribed to the “no psych meds” bullshit edict.

But if this hilarious, troubled, talented human being WAS told that psych meds constituted a relapse, someone, somewhere…perhaps multiple someones…have blood on their hands.

My program is one that emphasizes compassion, love and tolerance of others.  I try to be kind to everyone, I see myself in every other struggling alcoholic and addict, and I help to the best of my ability.  However, the next time I hear someone share the anti-psych med position from a podium, I will not remain silent. My  share that will follow will be direct, it will be blistering, and it will contain the phrase “attempted murder.” I’ve lost too many friends to suicide in the last few years to tolerate this bullshit anymore.  If you’re reading this, and you disagree with me, at least consider yourself warned. Unless you’ve been diagnosed with a mental illness, you have no right to tell others to avoid life-saving medications, just as anyone without a uterus has no right to an opinion on the use of birth control pills.

My psychiatric medications do not supplant my program of recovery, they simply make it possible for me to work that program that also saves my life on a daily basis. It levels the playing field for me.

Because I still see so much shame regarding mental illness of any kind, I wear my dual-diagnosis (addiction and mental illness) status with pride in the rooms of recovery. Stigma kills. Psychiatric medication saves lives.

Happier than I’ve ever been in my entire life, I’m living proof of that.

 

Sometimes it’s a Bitch

600px-US_83.svgHello, all.

It’s been a while since I’ve posted a blog entry, and because of that I’ve received quite a few messages of concern from readers wondering how I’m doing .

The answer is “I’m doing as well as can be expected.”

I have 83 days of recovery under my belt this (and God willing, my last) go-round.

It’s not been easy this time: I did so much damage to my mental health that it’s been a long, slow slog back to sanity. I have some great days, I have some good days, I have some bad days, and I have some truly awful and terrifying days.  Fortunately, the great and good days are growing in number as I slowly regain my traction in the world of the living, in the sunlight of the spirit.

I’m still on a strong dose of anti-psychotic medication, which is working…though not as quickly as I’d hoped.  This medication has helped alleviate much of the paranoia, though not all of it. The downside is that it makes me feel a little slow, a little mind-muddled. Writing, one of the things I do to maintain sobriety and process my thoughts, is supremely difficult.

The good news is that I’ve been rigorously honest with myself these past 83 days, laying the foundation for a new kind of sobriety, one that will hopefully withstand the seismic force of my newly admitted triggers and compulsions.

1461017_10202722942701199_386473286_n

photo by Rob M.

Also promising: my newfound reliance on prayer, and the keen awareness that I am surrounded by love and support. There have been many days when I’ve been so tightly gripped by fear that it was difficult to walk through my front door and out into the world.  Even this, it seems, has provided a benefit for me: I’ve learned that I am a man of courage.  There have been so many days when I’ve wanted nothing more than to just curl up in bed and pull the covers over my head, yet for these past 83 days I’ve forced myself to attend recovery meetings almost every day, sometimes more than once.  The drive to and from them has frequently been filled with paranoid terror, yet I’ve gripped that steering wheel and prayed my way to the safety of the meeting and then home again.  That may not seem like much to anyone who hasn’t experienced post-meth paranoia, but for me it has been like climbing Everest every single day. Yet, I’ve done it…and on the bad days, I continue to do it.

Today, I am grateful for the hard lessons learned from the consequences of my relapse, and grateful for everyone who has made me feel safe with their love and their friendship.

Today, unlike a month ago, I no longer feel suicidal. Today, I have hope that my mental health will return.

Today, I feel confident that I can maintain my sobriety…a stronger, deeper sobriety than my previous attempts: one forged in the crucible of honesty and sheer terror.

Today, I feel worthy of love. Today, I have put aside my shame. Today, I feel brave even when I feel scared.

Today, I feel God working in my life.

Eighty-three days and counting.

Sometimes it’s a bitch, sometimes it’s a breeze.

Well I’ve run through rainbows and castles of candy
I cried a river of tears from the pain
I try to dance with what life has to hand me
My partner’s been pleasure…my partner’s been pain

There are days when I swear I could fly like an eagle
And dark desperate hours that nobody sees
My arms stretched triumphant on top of the mountain
My head in my hands…down on my knees

Sometimes it’s a bitch…sometimes it’s a breeze
Sometimes love’s blind…and sometimes it sees
Sometimes it’s roses…and, sometimes it’s weeds
Sometimes it’s a bitch…sometimes it’s a breeze

I’ve reached in darkness and come out with treasure
I’ve laid down with love and I woke up with lies
What’s it all worth only the heart can measure
It’s not what’s in the mirror…but what’s left inside

God’s Perfect Love

love-fear-1-john-4-18-red-bible-lock-screens-christian-iphone-wallpaper-background-home-screen-158753_260x315So…here I am again.

Twenty-five days clean and sober, yet still neck-deep in paranoia, shame and remorse.

I’ve been avoiding writing about this, praying it will begin to fade as it has in the past. However, there seems to be no end in sight to the consequences of this past relapse and the drug-fueled plummet into the darkness of mind and spirit it entailed.

I am writing about it, in case God answers my prayers and begins to filter out the insanity from my obviously damaged brain. I don’t ever want to forget these past weeks…though every fiber of my being would prefer doing just that.

I need to remember it all: the sense of being followed by vehicles everywhere I go, the blackened feeling of my soul when I first emerged from the deep pit of meth use, the pain i’ve caused my husband and those around me. I need to remember how, once again, I felt that God could never love me…this sick, fucked up human being who chose to convert my output of positive energy into an intake fan that pulled in only the choking fumes of the negative.

I need to remember this so it doesn’t happen again, should God see fit to make the fear go away.

A few days ago, I was in suicidal despair, and pocketed a handful of my psych meds and sleeping pills and prepared to walk to West Hollywood Park and end it all, just make the fear and the shame and the despair go away once and for all.

And that is when God intervened, by way of a phone call from my friend Le Maire.

Lovely Le Maire, along with my equally lovely friends Maria and Phillip, have been telling me for over a year now that God loves me no matter what I’ve done, that he loves me even though I turned my back on him for over thirty years, refusing to acknowledge gifts and blessings that were so obviously given to me: Love. Shelter. Food. Friends.

My friend picked me up and drove me to Plummer Park…also in West Hollywood…and in a quiet-ish corner of the park she reassured me…once again…that everything would be okay, that God does love me. We read from the Bible, and it was the first comfort I’d felt in weeks.  We then attended a prayer seminar at a church in the Korea Town section of our city,  where I once again cried like a baby…not from shame, but from the sensation of much of the shame I’ve been carrying being flushed from my body.  It was a surreal experience, to say the least, for someone who was so anti-church, anti-religion, and for a long, long time, also anti-God.

Yet, it helped.

It didn’t fix the paranoia, it didn’t completely wash away the shame and guilt. But it helped because for the first time in ages I felt like God was listening to me. I felt a connection, and it was beautiful.

As much as I’m still suffering, I’ve come to appreciate that without this suffering I might never have found firm footing in my relationship with Him again. Yes, I am prone to doubt His existence….thirty-something years of the self-programming of an ex-Catholic turned semi-atheist do not make for a wrinkle-free transition to Believer…but something has changed. I can feel God with me, and the solace is comforting. That connection waxes and wanes, but when I feel that I’m losing touch with Him, I pray, and I feel renewed. The shame and self-hatred rise up in giant waves still with alarming regularity, but I can pray and push them back before they inundate me completely.

12354_10201789142865376_999522833_nI still loathe myself frequently and deeply, but I no longer feel God is disgusted by me. I know now that I’m his Child, not just the sick, sad person I feel like when I’m out of touch with Him.  He loves me as much now as he did when I was a young boy, before I was introduced to darkness via hardcore porn and ill-intentioned hands.

I’m still battling fear and paranoia, but I’m not doing it alone.

I have my family, who never give up on me.

I have my friends in recovery supporting me, checking in on me, letting me know that I am loved.

I have my amazing husband, who despite my checkered history of incomprehensible and demoralizing relapsing, still loves me fiercely.

I have my friends Le Maire, Phillip and Maria, who continue to help me strengthen my connection to God.

And, most of all, I have God himself, who may not be working as quickly as I’d like Him to, but has kept me safe from harm thus far.

Even in my diminished state, my God wants me to help others, and I’m doing so wherever I can with my limited resources.  I’m also reaching out for help…asking for rides to meetings, prayer requests…which for me is among the most difficult things to do.

I have little idea of who the 1,500 people are who read this blog, but if any one of you is considering using crystal meth…or using it again if you have already…hear my plea: do not do it. Not even once. The repercussions, the damage, the despair and the soul-sickness it causes can never be justified, not even once.  Once is all it takes to get hooked on that insidious bitch of a chemical.

You trust me on this, just as I’m trusting God with my continued recovery.

(God’s) Perfect love casts out fear.

Please keep me in your prayers.

Die Another Day

I think I’ll find another way
There’s so much more to know
I guess I’ll die another day
It’s not my time to go

paranoia, 2007.

paranoia, 2007.

Reading of the NSA domestic spying scandal, and of the fiery Highland Avenue 4 AM car-crash death of investigative journalist Michael Hastings – who was reportedly writing an expose on the FBI and NSA – that old, familiar shiver of fear riffled its way down my spine.

Oh shit,  I thought. Is it back?

By it, I meant paranoid psychosis, with which I was diagnosed in 2007, after nearly six months of living in constant fear, feeling like I was being constantly surveilled, and trying to rationalize multiple strings of coincidences that would have probably gone unnoticed by anyone who wasn’t entrenched in a years-long crystal meth addiction.

It subsided quickly, but it did leave behind some residual feelings that I associate with those long-ago days: anxiety, paranoia, and the biggest of all, plain old fear.  I truly believe that a large number of meth-related suicides are instigated not primarily by the overwhelming hopeless feelings of addiction, but by fear.

I remembered my  attempts at suicide…most fairly half-hearted, since I never truly wanted to die. I only knew I was too scared to keep living.  I remember the time in our pool shed, where voices from unseen people directed me to swallow a bottle of sleeping pills, place a large plastic bag over my head, and to then bind my own hands together with plastic cable-ties.

Obviously, it didn’t work. I vomited into the plastic bag and somehow, in my drugged stupor, managed to break out of the ties and rip the bag from my head…though I remember nothing except waking up on the floor of the pool shed, woozy and sticky in my own mess.

My last attempt was slightly more effective: downing every pill in the house (and after years of psychotherapy and addiction, there were quite a few of them lying around), writing a paranoid and ridiculous  “they forced me to do this!” suicide note, and then collapsing on our bed. Patrick had been working, taping an episode of the cable comedy show (wait for it…) Head Case, and returned home from work to find me unconscious, barely breathing, covered in blood and (yes, again), vomit.  Paramedics pulled me back, and a weeklong stay at the House of Horrors that is the County USC Psych Ward (6 crazy men to a room and wet, stained bandages covering the shower floor tiles, anyone?) ensued.

I’ve been sharing about these feelings of residual fear with sober friends, and it helps, though it’s difficult at times. Anyone who hasn’t experienced extreme paranoid psychosis finds it hard to understand the depth of the sheer terror of being in that state of mind, and most people who have experienced it are extremely reluctant to revisit it…understandably.  Even though it was years ago, the feelings that my brain registered at the time were real, even if the situations that inspired those feelings were not.

It certainly doesn’t help matters much right now that my paranoia involved being targeted for surveillance by some shadowy civilian security entity…I was under the delusion that my large number of anti-Bush-era policy emails and postings on internet bulletin boards had made me a target. I also thought that…wait for it, this part’s funny…because I’d had an article published in a national magazine, and because my husband was a fairly prominent television character actor, I had somehow made the list of those who needed to be “monitored.”   Funny, I know, but at the time…in the throes of post-meth-psychosis, it all seemed completely rational.  Of course, there were some things I simply couldn’t explain: cars that seemed to constantly swarm me, headlights on bright even in the middle of the day, strange hang-ups on my cellphone, just a whole host of things that terrified me beyond belief but might have seemed perfectly  normal if I hadn’t been operating from a place of drug-compromised intelligence.

So, reading about secret domestic surveillance and wiretapping programs, and the death of a reporter who was reportedly working on a story to expose government secrets, there was a  weird sense of deja vu.

Fortunately, today I’m clean and sober, almost a year now.  I’m sane.  The paranoid psychosis has been gone for years.  My head is on straight. Though I remember those thoughts and feelings I no longer believe an y of them.  I can fully appreciate the fact that there is nothing about me that would warrant surveillance by anyone. Delusions of grandeur, my therapist had referred to it. Grandiosity. 

Today, I still suffer from feelings of grandiosity, but in a different way: today, I love myself, I love God. I take care of my mind and my body. I no longer live crippled by fear of things real or imagined.

Today, I not only don’t want to die, I want to live.

And as my friend Maria told me the other day when I shared these feelings with her, “it’s different now, honey. You have  people who love you, you have a support group.”

So, if you’re one of the unlucky ones who is dealing with paranoid psychosis, and you’re feeling like it’s never, ever going to end…trust me, it does. Find recovery, find the right meds, find a safe place among friends who are also recovering. It will end. The wait will be hard, but it will go away.

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