Thirteen years ago, at the age of 24, I was diagnosed with manic-depression. Learning to live with this mental illness has been extremely difficult especially during the last 6 years. In 1989 I had my second manic episode and I was treated at the Clarke Institute in Toronto. Since then and up to August 1994 I have been in hospitals in many different cities: Toronto, Montreal, Calgary, White Rock, Vancouver (UBC and St. Paul's). After suffering an episode and a lengthy stay of up to two months in hospital, I would attempt to recover but within 3-6 months I wound up in hospital once again.
I never really had a fair chance of recovering from my mood disorder because I suffer from another mental illness called alcoholism. It wasn't being treated. After being discharged from hospital I would resume drinking and then within a matter of months I would be back in hospital having suffered another manic episode.
It was strongly suggested to me in 1984 when I was first diagnosed as manic depressive that I should stop drinking. My only response was to say, "surely they can't mean beer". My drinking escalated from 1989 until August 1993 when I first joined the program of Alcoholics Anonymous. During those years I was in complete denial of what alcohol was doing to the chemical make up of my body. I drank in order to suppress the negative feelings of mania and depression. The more I drank the sicker I became, yet I would not address my alcohol problem because alcohol had become my best friend. Denial runs deep! It took a family crisis where my parents told me that they would no longer Support me emotionally or financially if I ended up in the hospital and alcohol was involved. This scared me to the point where I called Alcoholics Anonymous and began attending AA meetings. It takes time but AA seems to be working for me. I have arrested my drinking problem through total abstinence. Now the medication that I take has a chance to work the way it is intended.
Stopping drinking is only part of the solution. For me, working with doctors who understand mood disorders and getting the proper medication is the key to a successful recovery. Now that I don't drink I am in touch with my true feelings and this has helped me to identify which medications work for me. When I was drinking it was next to impossible to tell if a medication was working or not.
Since August 1994 I have not had to enter a hospital for treatment of manic behavior. Not drinking, one day at a time, is having a tremendously positive impact on my mental health. If you think that you may have a drinking problem, and can't seem to stop, seek help. Total abstinence and the right medications is improving my chance of living a normal life style away from major mood swings.
Reprinted with permission.
Internet Mental Health (www.mentalhealth.com) copyright © 1995-2011 by Phillip W. Long, M.D.