Self-Care: It’s Not What You Might Think It Is.

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By Darin Barry

 

There is a misconception surrounding the meaning of the words self-care. It is not just about taking time out for ourselves, such as taking a day off, or going to the spa.  Self-care is a multi-faceted necessity conjoining mind, body and spirit that insures we are focusing on our own well-being, so that we can thrive, and be successful, and be the best we can be for others.

The public notion of self-care is widely focused on physical health, over our psychological health. We go to doctors if we break our bones, but we neglect the most important organ our bodies, and that is our brains; our emotional well-being. We let people tell us that our depression, and other diagnosis is all in our heads, that we can shake it off and “get over it.” Sometimes, we aren’t really good friends to ourselves, and we tell ourselves to just get over it, and to shake it off.   Would we tell a friend with a broken leg, or diabetes to shake it off and just get over it?

Psychological well-being should not be on the back burner.  Poor psychological health can lead to physical illness. Depression can create physical symptoms like joint pain, back pain, weight changes, psychomotor activity changes, extreme fatigue, immune deficiencies, and other maladies. [1] Depression, bipolar disorder, and other mental illnesses, of course, can lead people to take their own lives. With bipolar 1, my diagnosis, the suicide rate is around 15%. And a whopping quarter, to half of bipolar individuals will attempt suicide over the course of their lives.[2] I have to be on top of my game. Every person with mental illness needs to pay particular attention to self-care, or as renowned psychologist, and author, Guy Winch refers to it, “psychological hygiene.”

Grief, failure, rejection, fear, loss, rumination, and trauma are all examples of psychological injuries. And the injuries can get worse if we don’t treat them. We must practice good psychological hygiene to heal ourselves of these injuries.

My psychologist, Tom Seibel, LCSW, in Auburn, California educated me on the importance of all elements making up good self-care. At the start of each session Tom will ask me if I’m sleeping well, am I eating well, am I exercising, am I taking my meds as prescribed, am I writing, am I creating music, am I attending twelve step meetings? These questions are basically covering all the elements of my particular self-care prescription. If these things are out of balance, it could lead to bipolar episodes. I do not get the dubious luxury of putting any of my self-care on the back burner.

Self-care should not be confused with indulgence. Sure we all need, and deserve some sort of reward when we are satisfied with ourselves, but reward/indulgence is but a small part of the self-care components.

When I am in public, I observe so many people who could benefit from psychological intervention. Usually pride, vanity, and ego stand in their way of true happiness, and success through good psychological hygiene. Instead, they choose to hold on to their psychological injuries, causing prolonged unhappiness in the individual who is also most likely to be a tornado in the lives of their loved ones. That is trickle down pain.  No one should be ashamed to get help. The stigma of having emotional problems, or mental illness needs to be shut down.  We are meant to be happy, joyous, and free.

 

 

 

 

[1] An international study of the relation between somatic symptoms and depression.

Simon GE, VonKorff M, Piccinelli M, Fullerton C, Ormel J

N Engl J Med. 1999 Oct 28; 341(18):1329-35.

 

[1] Suicide and bipolar disorder.

Jamison KR.

J Clin Psychiatry. 2000;61 Suppl 9:47-51. Review.

PMID:10826661

 

 

 

Emergency Action Plans, and Choosing a “Referee” in the Management of Bipolar Disorder

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By Darin Barry

 

I have had many different combinations of medications to balance my mood over the last eleven years since I had been diagnosed with bipolar 1. Over time, some medications have stopped working, or have had undesirable side effects. My psychiatrist always has another medicinal cocktail to replace the old. Then there’s the Cognitive Behavioral Therapy; weekly, monthly, or quarterly depending on how life is going for me. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (C.B.T.) is talk therapy designed to help me see through delusional thinking that comes along with Bipolar 1 disorder. I’ve had good luck with therapists. I have gained a lot of insight from therapy. A solid psychiatrist, and a therapist who is familiar with bipolar patients are the indispensable foundation of my treatment for managing bipolar disorder.

I’ve become self-aware; I know when I am depressed, that is the easy end to figure out. At the other end is mania, which is a different monster, and one that isn’t always easy to self-diagnose because it can creep up on me.  Sometimes it’s hard for me to tell the difference between feeling really great, or if I am experiencing mania. Every bipolar person, well most, will say that they love their mania. I do. I am over-the-top creative when I am manic. I feel like I can tackle anything. But then it always ends the same –with me in rage mode, and in some sort of trouble. I have been arrested while manic, I have been unbelievably hostile when manic, and I have ended up in psych wards while manic. I can be just as dangerous, if not more so, than depression.

So, I’ve pretty much stated that I am self-aware except when I am not. In the last few years, I would say about ten percent of the time, I have not been self-aware while experiencing a bipolar episode. Luckily, I have a couple people in my life I trust enough to judge whether or not I am experiencing mania. I have found it essential to have these “referees” in my life to appraise my moods, so I can take the best action for my wellbeing when I am not myself. My brother Gordon is one of the referees. We sat down when I was without symptoms to talk about emergency planning.

In choosing my brother as a referee, several criteria points were fulfilled.  He is someone I can trust with no other motivations beside my best interest. He knows me well. He’s seen me in varying states of mind. Having read much about it, he is familiar with bipolar disorder  He is familiar with my emergency action plan.

I have personally been manipulated into agreeing to something I shouldn’t have when I have had people in my life that I had misplaced my trust with. Sometimes we find ourselves in dysfunctional relationships where our illness is the easy go to when others are trying to get their way. “What do you mean no, this is your illness talking”. We really don’t need people like that in our lives, people who have their own interest at heart, and not ours. Living with bipolar is hard enough.

I must agree to trust my brother fully when he uses the words, “Darin, you are not being yourself right now.” I must agree that no argument will come from me when my brother uses those words. Depending on the situation, I agree to take a time out from the situation, or refer to my emergency plan called a Wellness Recovery Action Plan, or W.R.A.P.

A W.R.A.P. plan is a proprietary mental health action plan that, among other valuable attributes,  comes into play when someone with mental illness is in crisis. WRAP is a self-designed action plan that includes a blueprint for getting well, staying well, and clear instruction on what, and who is involved in a crisis plan. My plan includes getting myself out of an environment of conflict, or where I feel ill at ease. Secondary is calling my therapist. Then perhaps my psychiatrist, then maybe the hospital where the instructions are to send me to the Crisis Stabilization Unit nearby. Lastly, a psychiatric hospital. My plan includes who to call, and who I don’t want contacted. It includes a release of information form so that my brother can communicate with behavioral health professionals, including my doctor.  My W.R.A.P. also lists all medications. The plan lists behaviors and traits that go along with feeling well, and what it looks like when I am not well.

My brother is the executor of a lot of responsibilities when I am not well. It’s a big job to ask of someone, but if a W.R.A.P. plan is done well, it also lists actions that keep me well, so hopefully it’s pretty rare that there is an emergency. Gordon has a really good attitude about being one of the trusted ones I consider my referee. But I am considerate about not wanting to load all responsibilities on him. Ideally, I like to have a few people share the burden of helping me out; for instance, I might ask a trusted neighbor to feed my cat while I am in a hospital. I don’t want to burn out my caregivers, or referee’s.

If you are finding a need to create an emergency plan, look towards creating your own W.R.A.P. plan.  Much can be found by a simple google search, but here is one link that is useful:  http://mentalhealthrecovery.com/wrap-is/  There is even a W.R.A.P app for your smartphone.

Bipolar disorder is something I can live with. Management, and vigilance are indispensable, and having someone I trust  to help me call the shots when I am down brings great peace of mind.

Dancing on the Dark Side Of the Moon

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“I don’t like standing near the edge of a platform when an express train is passing through.  I like to stand right back and if possible get a pillar between me and the train.  I don’t like to stand by the side of a ship and look down into the water.  A second’s action would end everything.  A few drops of desperation.”  – Winston Churchill

By Darin Barry

When I am in the labyrinth of bipolar depression, I am always reminded “it gets better” by therapists, psychiatrists, and loved ones. I call it a labyrinth because I am blinded with despair, murky, and unquiet thought, and I have many paths I can go down in trying to find my way back when in the midst of severe depression.  A wrong turn can often mean death to someone like me who suffers from bipolar one. Fifteen-percent of us, and thirty times more than the general population without psychiatric disorders, do end up taking our own lives.  Saying “it gets better” might seem sort of cheap, or at least overly simple, in terms of what to say to in attempting to coax someone out of suicidal thinking, but I can tell you from experience that it is not. Neither are the words “I care about you”, or “I love you.”

Bipolar depression is the biggest, and most dangerous enemy I have in life. It’s cunning, baffling, mysterious, powerful, and tells me lies when I am most vulnerable—lies that tell me I am without hope, without love, and living a life without meaning, or purpose. I have lived with bipolar disorder throughout my life, with symptoms manifesting strongly in my mid-twenties. Suicide attempts happened. The first time, my father saved me after a friend tipped him off that I may be in trouble. Dad burst through my bedroom door after I had not answered his knocking, and he found me weak, and trembling in a pool of blood. There would be other times, but each time I lived through a major depressive episode someone would reinforce the truth that “it gets better.”  It gets better is a truth that it’s extraordinarily hard to believe when my mind and body are betraying me. But Dad said it would, and told me he loved me when he left me with a sheriff deputy guarding my side in the E.R. all those years ago. He also said that God wasn’t finished with me yet. So with his love, and with me borrowing his faith, I carried on.

A lot of my behaviors were chalked up to drinking in my late twenties, and thirties. A lot of my behaviors where chalked up to environmental stressors as well.  After my first alcohol rehab, I lived with a serial killer’s family during his murder trail. One of Cary Stayners’ family members, my good friend Dana, brought me into the family fold working, and living with her in Mariposa, California the early part of the oughts. When Cary was sentenced to death, the Stainer family collapsed and so did I. I started drinking hard, and eventually hopped on my motorcycle heading north towards my hometown in the Lake Tahoe region of California. I did get sober again shortly after moving to Denver, Colorado. It was only by being sober a number of years, that the diagnosis of bipolar 1 was made.

For me, the 2000’s were a decade of concentrated tragedy. I was a mortician in Denver, Colorado when I found myself embroiled in a national funeral parlor scandal that brought news trucks waiting outside my house. I had a friend with H.I.V. related dementia froze to death on his way over to see me one night. I had no clue he had planned on coming over. My dear friend Mary bled out from alcoholism in my apartment. I found my brother dead on the toilet from a heroine overdose. My father succumbed to  Alzheimers, and my Mom died in my arms.

Of course, bipolar disorder has it’s other half of the story called mania. Being manic, quite frankly, although it can be just as dangerous as depression, is fun. Well, until it turns to rage it’s fun. Super creative moments come from it. The oughts were not totally terrible. Me and my little brother Gordon opened up a coffee shop and pub in Portland, Oregon. The Brews Brothers, our shoppe’s name, was a huge success. Gordon, and I did a 700 mile bike ride from San Francisco to Los Angeles. I landed a wonderful job as national field organizer for Rachel Maddow’s favorite activist group from the decade satirically named “Billionaires for Bush.” I had begun a strange hobby of appearing in television and film as a background actor, most often, and notably in Grimm, Portlandia, and The Librarians. I manically wrote and recorded a music C.D. playing everything except guitar. My photographs were published in a coffee table book. And, last but not least, I grew some amazing pot for fun and profit.

A relapse with alcoholism in 2015 didn’t stop until February of 2017, ending with me being jobless, homeless, and facing charges for driving under the influence. My recovery over the last year is another story; a wonderful story.

Through most of those years, I had experienced depressive episodes of various depths. Medication, counseling, education, support, and the beacon of hope that the notion of “it gets better” imparts, I got though most of my depressive episodes relatively unscathed, although, sometimes it took a long while to fully recover. I had learned to stay on top of my mental illness.

But today, at 51, I am picking up the pieces yet again. A few weeks back, I quietly entered my bedroom for the evening, and downed a whole bottle of prescription Lunesta, a sleep aid. It was all smiles that evening, I left people believing I was doing just great. But weeks had gone buy without me experiencing any real joy at all. My synthesizers were dusty, I had not written anything in months, it was absolute torture to socialize with even my closest of friends. The thing I looked forward to most, was when I could go home, close my bedroom door, shut the world out, not answer my phone, and be in the company of my cat, and sleep. I slept a ridiculous amount of time. Whenever I could. That night I decided to sleep permanently. I didn’t warn anyone. I didn’t ask for help. I just downed a bottle of sleeping pills, held Isabella, my cat, close, and closed my eyes for hopefully the last time. It was eerily spontaneous. It took seconds to get the idea, and to down the pills.

It was still dark when I woke up with a great pain in my throat. Barf was all over my chest, and the side of my pillow. I was experiencing a headache like no other I had ever had. Isabella was fully awake and sitting next to me wanting food. I momentarily felt guilty because I had made no provisions for her care after I died. “It gets better”. I knew this. I decided that I would get help when I felt good enough to move my body.

It wouldn’t be until about 48 hours later that I felt good enough to take action. I called my behavioral health case manager Fred. I told him that I needed to see my therapist and that I would also need to see my general practitioner. He picked me up and delivered me to both. At my physical doctors office, she directed staff to take me up to a wing of our local hospital called the Crisis Stabilization Unit. I have been no stranger to the C.S.U. over the years. It was usually comforting, but that day, I was just numb. A nurse there, Casey, is someone I always feel comforted by, but that day I didn’t care to even chat with him. In fact, when it was quiet, I just decided to bolt and just finish the job. Perhaps if I downed pills with alcohol, that would be the trick. I was on my way to do just that, when a police officer pulled onto the sidewalk behind me while I was walking down the street towards a grocery store to get the ingredients for a comfortable suicide. He kept me from going to the store, and gave me a ride back to the hospital. I no longer had my rights, I had been put on what is called a 5150. I wasn’t going anywhere, and I really didn’t want to be chased around. I just surrendered to the whole idea that I was going to be committed to a psychiatric facility for a few days. I was relieved. I was just tired of my own ideas and plans. I felt safe.

Monday rolled around, and an ambulance came to transport me to Telecare Eldorado County Psychiatric Health Facility, some two counties south of my own. It is some strange California State law that dictates an ambulance must transport behavioral health patients to a psychiatric hospital. It feels demeaning, and unnecessary, but I didn’t care. I didn’t care about anything anymore. Chad, the friendly EMT was a baby, probably barely in his twenties. During the course of taking my vitals, somewhere he had stated that he had always wanted to be an EMT. Another nerve was struck.

“I have never known what I was supposed to be doing.” I interrupted.

He asked me to clarify, and I basically said I was envious of people who were in step; those who to follow the classic 1950’s blueprint for living—get awesome grades in high school, marry your sweetheart, go to college, get a job that you are going to stay in for the rest of your working days, have kids, buy a two story house by the time you’re thirty, bank enough doe for retirement, and have grown kids that will hopefully take care of you when you can’t take care of yourself, drive a car, have money, and then leave some to your loved ones.

“I have been an abject failure in life. I change my direction every other year. I’m 51, only been sober for one year. I still don’t know what I am supposed to be doing.”

This would be a common theme during my ten day stay at the psychiatric hospital. I had, and still do have, to a degree,  a plethora of self-deprecating thoughts that include the words like “should have”,” should be”, “supposed to be”, “could be”, “have to be”, and “must”.

The psychiatrist asked, “Do you know why you are in our hospital Mr. Barry?”

“Because I downed a bottle of Lunesta in a failed attempt to end my life.  I am broken, and don’t know if I can be fixed this time. I don’t know if I want to be fixed.” I answer Dr. Singh. Then I add “I don’t know why you folks want to fix people that don’t want to be fixed. When I am out of here, the first thing I want to do is go buy some nighty-night pills, and maybe a bottle of Fireball to down it with. So, yeah, I can go through this time I have to be here— I can go through the motions, I can say all the right things,  I can be very patient. And when I am released, I will follow through.”

“So you still want to hurt yourself?”, Dr. Singh Asks.

“I don’t want it to hurt, I want to die painlessly. I suppose real men jump off bridges, or shoot themselves, but I fear becoming paralyzed, or end up in some vegetive state should those methods fail.”

“Darin, that is why you are here. We don’t want you to die. You live with bipolar disorder. You are deeply depressed, and you have been before, and you have emerged from it to see a new day once your depression has passed. Were you not grateful that you didn’t hurt yourself  when you cycled through depression in the past? You have to know by now that this is your mental illness talking. What is different this time?”

He has me on this one.  Briefly.  Dr. Singh continues; “Who are you closest to in your world?”

“Isabella Rossellini. And my brother, Gordon. Not necessarily in that order if there is one.”

“Isabella Rossellini, the actress?” he asks.

“No, Isabella Rossellini my cat. She’s a Snowshoe Siamese.”

Doc Singh half smiles, and his expressive eyes communicate a message of relief. Perhaps he is relieved I’m not completely delusional. I don’t know.

“So Doc, next you are going to ask me; Wouldn’t your Brother and your cat miss you? To which I would answer; They are both good looking, charismatic beings. Their type will always be ok. No, I am here because I was 5150ed. A cop drove me to the hospital back in Grass Valley, and then I was transferred here, to this psychiatric hospital. I was driven up by an EMT I envied, and admired. He was a twenty-something, new-on-the-job cop. He probably knew what he wanted to do since he was in eighth grade, maybe younger. He probably never got into too much trouble in high school. He got good grades because he could focus. He did everything his parents expected him to do because he knew they knew best. He never missed any starting guns like I had and could finish everything he started.” I said, with resolve. 

I saw the good Dr. Singh daily during my stay, even on weekends; the guy never seemed to take a day off.  Every day I opened up a little more.

I revisited the subjects of feeling like a failure, of having missed the starting guns, of having missed whole races for that matter, of not being like my friends who I view as successful.

He started talking of famous bipolar people who didn’t live in expected norms, of people like author Jack Kerouac.

“What if he were normal?” asked Dr. Singh.

“Well, we wouldn’t have On the Road?” I answered.

“What if Ernest Hemingway, Jack London, Charles Dickens and Edgar Allen Poe were not manic depressive as you are?”

“Ok, I have looked up famous bipolar people in searches, I get it.”

“Do you? Because you give license to all these people who have lived with your illness to be eccentric, and weird, but you won’t give yourself permission to be different.” Dr. Singh looked almost angry.

“Well, normal people don’t find themselves homeless, or rehabs. They enjoy stability. I want that.” I was defiant.

“Darin, most people would rather be certain they’re miserable that to risk being happy. At least you have made the effort to explore being happy, and you know what? If you keep trying, you are going to live a happy man, even if you do think out of the box.”

So those were some underlying demons I had, and still to a degree have now as I recover from a seemingly hopeless state of mind.

My medication of three years, Lamictal, had simply stopped working for me. Dr. Singh said that the slow slip into my depressive episode was the gradual tolerance that my body was beginning to have with the medication. I was switched to Geodon, and in days, I could feel myself climbing back up into some peace and clarity.

I got a new roommate towards the end of my stay. He was a very young guy distraught over the loss of a girlfriend. We became friends, and are chatting on Facebook as I write this. When he told me how he felt for the first time, I said, “It gets better.”

Back in my hometown of Nevada City, California, I was greeted by several people who care deeply for me. I am homeless, but I am fortunate enough to have a couple of friends who are hosting me of a few days, and then it’s on to couch suffering for a while. I just landed a new job as a peer support specialist. I am very grateful.

My brother called last night from New Orleans. I told him I would be starting a new job, and then I when I’ve received a few paychecks, I would put money down on a used van from a local car dealership, and me and Isabella will live in that until as I am through with school. I told him I was going to have flexible solar panels on the top to power a heater, and an air conditioner in summer, and my musical instruments.  He got excited for me, and said there’s a movement of young people doing just that. Then he said, “Thinking out of the box: That’s my big brother, and that’s why I love you so much. I wouldn’t want you to be anyone else.”

I am grateful to be living. It did get better.

“When I grow up, I want to be a monster.” Part I

By Darin Barry

At age five, I wanted to grow up to be a monster, like Dracula, or Frankenstein. So I grew up to be a monster.  I then aspired to be a CIA agent. I was eight. That never happened. At twelve, I wanted to grow up to be in the movies. That happened. At seventeen, I wanted to be a veterinarian. That sorta happened; I became a certified veterinary assistant. When I was eighteen, I remember telling my Mom that by the time I was thirty, I would be a millionaire and drive a Jaguar. But when I actually did turn thirty, I had moved back in with Mom, and all I really accomplished in the span of my twenties was several failed attempts at various careers, and all I was truly professional at was drinking. I also had started to show signs of bipolar disorder in my early twenties, but my behavior, and failures were always chalked up to my alcoholism.

I put the plug in the jug for the first time at 32. That’s when life began to get interesting. I became a bartender, and server at a restaurant in Mariposa, California. I lived with, and worked for the Stayner family, who were known nationally for a couple of tragic reasons; their youngest son was kidnapped, and the eldest was a serial killer. During that time, Cary Stayner’s murder trial was going on a couple of miles from where I lived. As Lloyd Bridges famously said in the movie Airplane, “It looks like I picked a terrible time to quit drinking.” One day, drunk and disheartened, I ran away from it all, and rode my motorcycle up Highway 49 towards home, Nevada City, California. Yet again.

Then I moved to Colorado after I had, once again,  stopped drinking, and became a mortician. I didn’t see that in my future when I was a kid. Colorado was the only state in the nation that had no licensure in the funeral industry. It was a bizarre set of circumstances that pulled me into becoming a funeral director, and mortician. That is a novella in itself, and too lengthy, and irrelevant to the story I tell now. But I will tell you this; I was a Walgreens manager at the time I got hired as a funeral director, and I got the job in a Yahoo chatroom basically because I looked good in a suit. I had no desire at the time, nor the experience to become a mortician. But the starting salary of $60,000 a year, clothing allowance, and expense account, took me away from creating Chia Pet displays to embalming, and cremating people overnight. I even had my name on the door of the Boulder Mortuary: Darin Barry – Funeral Director – Manager.

It didn’t end well. I ended up being a whistle blower, going to the district attorney with serious complaints about egregious practices, and criminal negligence committed by my employers. I ended up on national news. Stunningly, the victims had no recourse as there were no consumer protections in Colorado to protect them from the funeral industry. Years later I would help to write new legislation with a Colorado legislator to regulate the state’s funeral industry. An accomplishment for which I was proud. And I got through it all still sober. I was proud of that too.

I had a brief stint as a counselor for at-risk kids in New Hampshire. I never saw that career for myself either when I was young.

Then, in Portland, Oregon, me and my little brother opened up a coffee shop, The Brews Brothers. I do remember fantasizing about being a business owner when I was a kid. I had arrived. I loved that new career. I loved the culture in Portland. We were hugely successful. Sadly, we had decided to sell when our parents began to fail. We moved back in with them, this time for unselfish reasons: to take care of them until they passed.

Shortly after my Mom died in my arms, my bipolar disorder threw me into the lowest of the lows, and I ended up hospitalized for depression. Manic highs would also send me off to mental wards. I had been struggling for five years to overcome my mental illness, trying different cocktails of medications with the goal of stability.

I had alienated, and distanced myself from all my siblings. My mania always ended in periods of rage – I was an insufferable monster during those times. My childhood dream came true. I was a monster wreaking havoc in other people’s lives.

  

I moved back to Portland where I got into the television industry. I started from the bottom again, getting principal background actor gigs in Grimm, Portlandia, The Librarians, and a Jeep commercial. One happy afternoon, I walked into a hipster bar in the Alberta Arts District and ordered a scotch. And then another. Grandiosity set in, and I had convinced a production company over the phone that I had the skills, and experience to become an assistant director; a profession that isn’t nearly as glamorous as it sounds. It was a huge opportunity. I slept in the next day missing my chance completely, and I had a terrific hangover. A month later,  I got kicked out of my apartment too.

I moved back to Nevada City, broke. I lived with a friend for few years growing pot for medical marijuana dispensaries.

Then, something happened that I never possibly could have imagined as a kid. I became a hopeless alcoholic. My mental illness was also off the hook. I don’t know how I got a job at a local natural foods Co-Op, but I did. Then of course, I lost that.

Then, yet another career of sorts I never saw coming as a kid developed quite naturally. I became a homeless.

After several nights staying in my car, I answered a friends message on Facebook inviting me to come stay at her restaurant in nearby Camptonville, California. I lived above a bar; a fantastic place for a practicing alkie. Soon after, I moved out to their fifth-wheel trailer on the property, where I could drink with impunity. Nobody would bother me with seemingly self-righteous warnings, and concern. I drank the winter away in that cold-as-ice trailer. The bar had become lowered; it was ok for me to be homeless, drinking away in a trailer in the boonies. Once a week, I would drive drunk into nearby Grass Valley to attend class. I had hopes to become a peer support specialist; something my psychiatrist, and my therapist had set up.

One icy night in November of 2016, I fell off a porch while drunk off my ass, and broke both my wrists, and damaged my shoulder so badly that months later, surgery would be required to correct it. Another lowering of the bar occurred that night. It was ok to be a homeless drunk, and to severely injure myself while drunk. I was ok with that.

I was a shaky, sweaty, anxiety ridden mess without my booze at this point in my life. I had graduated to 1.75 liters a day of cheap vodka that I would run to the store to purchase, every morning, as soon as it opened. I never let myself become a shaky, sweaty, anxiety ridden mess. I needed to drink to keep that at bay. When you are an alcoholic of my variety, you know, or have known, what it like to NEED a drink. And at that point, it becomes vital: to withdraw without professional help is deadly. This was another lowering of the bar. I was ok drinking the party size bottle of vodka every day, over a twenty-four hour period.

Then yet another lowering of the bar occurred. On another icy night, this time in February of 2017, I slid my car into a ditch on my way to get vodka. I got a D.U.I, and was arrested. I spent the night in jail in Yuba County. When I was released early the next morning, I promptly found myself ordering long island ice teas at the closest bar I could find, a dive called The Silver Dollar Saloon. So I totaled my car, I got arrested and charged, and I was ok with that.

I moved into town, leaving my belongings behind to pick up on another day. I couched surfed at friend’s homes until I was asked to leave, one by one. I still managed to attend class once a week, although I was stinking drunk. My instructor took pity on me, and even thought it was charming when I broke into song during class singing Depeche Mode songs.

I was taken in by my friend Jen, who was the crisis worker answering phone calls for those who were suicidal, days after my arrest. During the last few days in February, I walked into a convenience store near Jens’ home, and collapsed. I was taken to the hospital by ambulance. I stayed for seven days, being treated for alcohol poisoning, alcohol withdrawal, heart monitoring, and severe chemical imbalances.

On day four, while connected to and I.V, and machines that go “ping,” my first moments of clarity began to shine through. Everything changed. A stranger who had been following my journaling on Facebook came to visit me in my hospital room, telling his own tale of drug and alcohol use, his own experiences with mental illness, and his eventual recovery. He offered something I didn’t have, and something I desperately wanted: hope.

I had lowered the bar, digging to the lowest depths of the earth, almost to the molten core of the Earth, before my rock bottom was reached. I was in a seemingly hopeless state of mind and body, and hope come from a total stranger. I was an atheist. I had long tossed off what I viewed as the constraints, and judgements of organized religion. But in retrospect, I believe this was divine intervention. It was a spiritual experience, not from any deity of a religion I knew, but of something undefinable. And I’m not holding the man who brought me hope up to the pedestal of divinity, but I did dub him my guardian angel.

Months went by. I had been through a 28 day drug and alcohol program, where I discovered a promise of recovery from a seemingly hopeless state of mind and body through the beginnings of work in a twelve step program. I had been given a place to live. I was given employment. I was given continued support. All from my “guardian angel.”

I had shoulder surgery in Spring of 2017. The recovery time allowed me to focus on doing my work in completing the twelve steps that I had dove head first into working. More clarity came to me as the time passed. I began to develop renewed interest in talents I had laid down for years: music, art, photography, and writing. I had begun to volunteer for homeless organizations, and spoke about my experience, strength and hope at institutions. I had graduated from my peer support specialist class, earning my certification. I earned my 90 day sobriety chip in June. I became the secretary (host) of the Young People’s Meeting within the twelve step program that kept me sober.  I had regained the trust of friends I thought I had lost, and made a host of new friends.

July came with the sunflowers I helped plant reaching 15 feet tall. It was then suggested that I was a good fit to become manager of clean and sober house in downtown Nevada City. I felt it was time to move on from beneath the wings of my guardian angel.

I hung my peer support specialist diploma on the wall of the house I began managing. Yet, another position that I never could have seen coming. Just a half a year earlier,  there could be not be a way I could see myself in the future as being a peer support specialist, and manager of a home supporting those who were formerly homeless, with co-occurring disorders. I would have been extremely focused on getting my next bottle of vodka, and that is all there was to my life back then. Now I am service to others in one of the most unselfish ways I have ever had to pleasure to know. Who would have thought?

I have recovered from a seemingly hopeless state of mind and body. Although, I will never be cured, I get to remain recovered from that state, so long as I seek to stay spiritually fit. This is something I have gained from the Big Book of the twelve step program that saved my life. I haven’t found God. I seek him. Daily. I do not believe for a second I could have got sober, and remained sober without the intervention of the God of my own understanding.

When the sun rises in the mornings, and if  I am awake to see it, I see something new. I see the sunlight of the Spirit. But with or without seeing the sunrise, I am constantly bathed in the sunlight of the Spirit. I feel eternally grateful to be able to pass what I have been given, to those who still suffer. I feel grateful to be able to bare hope to those who feel they have none; to those lost, and alone, and afraid.

When I think back to what I wanted to be when I grew up, none of it seems silly in retrospect. I thought those silly career choices would make me happy, and after all, that was the ultimate goal. It took exploration, and fruition of many of those fantasies I had as a kid to discover that, ultimately, those particular paths wouldn’t bring me happiness. Self-seeking has wrought for me grief like only other alcoholics know. This may seem crazy to those who are non-alcoholics, but I am grateful to every drop of alcohol that got me to this point where I am today. To work with others who suffer, to see the light come back in their eyes, is like having a front row seat to watch God work – it’s a joy I’ve never known until now.

Setting Boundaries With Those Living With Mental Illness.

 

 

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When I was first diagnosed with my mental illness, bipolar 1, over ten years ago, my friends and family stopped treating me like I was on an even playing field with them. They treated me like a victim, with all the care, sympathy, empathy, and patience that moral, loving folks give freely to a victim. In response, I acted like a victim. I was given carte blanche to act out impulsively, and permission to treat others with disrespect, or in an unkind manner. It was quickly dismissed or forgiven when I pulled an act of great irresponsibility. The seed for self-centeredness was already planted with my co-occurring illness of addiction early in my life. Being without boundaries that my loved ones could have drawn for themselves in helping me cope with my mental illness, my self-centeredness grew to be a tornado in their lives, and often to those who were simply in striking distance to me.

The first few years after my diagnoses in particular were some of the hardest times for my friends and loved ones. During, or more often towards the peak of my manic episodes, extraordinary rage would set in. Dangerous rage. It was rage during a manic episode that led me to pull a man out of his car in the parking lot of a strip mall and beat the crap out of him in broad daylight. My parents had to come bail their 39 year old man-baby out of jail. My Mother and Father were the kindest, most loving as parents come. But, their mentality ill son didn’t come with an owners manual.

My Mother waiting outside the jail where I was being held in Placer County, California, had these questions for me when I was released, “Are you taking your medications properly? Are you hungry? Did you get hurt? Do you need to see your psychiatrist again?”  She didn’t ask if I had hurt anyone, nor if I owned my own actions, or what was my plan to change my behavior so I wouldn’t be harming anyone with violence in the future. I was her baby, her victim. And that’s all there was to that.

My alcoholism had masked the symptoms of my mental illness for the first couple of decades of typical onset. I was guilty of many a debacle. I drank in my teens, and twenties to the extent that drinking became my identity. To my friends, I was funny, often outrageous, a crusader vigilante who punched those in the face who deserved it. My parents had viewed my drinking as just being a party drinker, or a heavy drinker – there was no way their son could be an alcoholic, after all, in no way did I resemble the unkempt, “long haired”, drug using offspring of some of their friends. My loving folks were in denial. They loved me nearly to death. At the end of the Nineties, I found myself living under their roof again being weened off alcohol by my Father who didn’t drink himself, to keep me from extremely dangerous withdrawal symptoms.

Then I got sober. My parents once again provided me with financial assistance, a new car, and a renewed optimism that my life would get back on track. I don’t know how many times they had given me that same opportunity before. They never even asked what would be different that time. They had been walked all over. They had been taken advantage of. They had been lied to so many times that they didn’t even care about wether I was telling them the truth anymore or not.  My happiness was more important than themselves to them. My self centeredness was rewarded lavishly. 

I moved all over the country. Mental illness started to come into question, and actually, in retrospect, to become obvious with alcohol being out of the picture. I suffered from delusions both at work, and with my relationships with friends, often leading to the severance of both.  I had many unhealthy, hurtful-to-others coping mechanisms when I didn’t get my way. In my playbook was the game of “I’m not talking to you anymore”, the game of “How far will micro aggressions work to get people persuaded to do my will”, the game of “It’s all your fault”, and “let’s play passive aggressive until it no longer works for me.” If all else failed, I’d just write my friends and loved ones off. All of these sorts of behaviors stopped working for most people when they were four, maybe five years old. But because so many people in my life failed to set their own boundaries, I got away with those behaviors well into adulthood. So many people who greatly cared for me had no idea what a master manipulator I was. Some did. I have no idea why they stood by me.

The person I was, and still am closest to in my world, my brother Gordon, was the first person to strongly set clear and definitive boundaries with consequences for my behavior that was the impetus of change, personal growth, healing and progress for me. That was over eight years ago. It was hard for him. I just finished yelling at him at that time. I was shaking in rage. He tearfully said, “You make it really hard for me to love you, but I do. If you don’t comply with taking your meds, or refuse to see your therapist and apply what you get from him to your life, if you continue to blame your behaviors on your illness, I will have to withdraw from your life. These are things I will not negotiate with you.” The thought of losing him hit me like a ton of bricks. Someone I loved more than anything, or anyone had just stood up to me and called me on my behavior. I had even agreed to go to family counseling with him.

Gordon wasn’t always so strong. In his teens, he idolized me. I was his big brother who did big things, exciting things like work in the motion picture and television industry, a musician and recording artist, and strangely became a mortician; someone he never wanted to be in bad standing with. He was always wanting to go with me wherever I went. If he did ANYTHING that didn’t meet my wants and needs, my disapproval and manipulations would cause him to hang his head low. He began to suffer deep depression in his early twenties. He began seeing a therapist. It was then he learned that he was a caregiver whose self imposed job of keeping me happy had been taking a terrible tole on him. It was there, in therapy, and by going to Al-Anon meetings to better understand me, that he was educated and helped to implement boundary setting. Thank God for that.

People like Gordon, people who have dedicated so much to those they care about who suffer from mental illness, often surpass their limits before they realize it sometimes. Caregivers who have surpassed their limits will notice that their patience and energy has diminished. Once this sets in, and they continue to surpass their limits, anxiety, fragility, anger, anxiety, and depression can take over a caregiver’s life.

If you are a caregiver, or support provider to a loved one, or a friend living with mental illness, you have got to take some time to do some personal inventory, to look inside yourself and assess just how much peace you have with yourself. You have the right to be happy. You have the right to take care of yourself and exercise responsibility for your own well being. Setting boundaries will feel counterintuitive to you. But, it must be done, both for the person you support, and for yourself. It is not a single event, drawing boundaries is a process.

As a person living with mental illness, and someone who has become stable, self-aware, reunited with sobriety, and a contributor to his community instead of a detriment to it, I can say that my healing wouldn’t have been possible without my primary caregiver, in my case my brother, taking the initiative to help himself by setting limits.

Where would my brother be today if he didn’t established boundaries with me? Instead of going to college, instead of having a fulfilling career as a cruise ship musician while enjoying exotic ports of call, instead of making new friends, instead of maturing naturally from his own trial and error experiences, he would have been hovering around me, taking abuse, verbally and mentally, while slowly dying inside. Where would I be if my caregiver, my brother, had not have drawn the line? I would probably be wallowing in victim mode, never taking responsibility for my mental health, or owning my bad behaviors. I would have never pursued healing, and becoming self aware, and I certainly wouldn’t be of service to others. I would never have recovered from a seemingly hopeless state of mind and body. Today we both have value. We both know happiness. We both have hope for the future. We have a better relationship than ever.

It is helpful to remember the acronym F.O.G. That is something you want to rid your life of when you are about to set healthy limits – fear, obligation, and guilt – F.O.G.  Again, you have the right to be happy and not be constrained by the expectations of the mentally ill person in your life. You have the right to be free of F.OG. For your sake, and the one you are caring for sake, do not tolerate the relationship if it is abusive. Trust your own opinions, feelings, and intuitions and do not excuse your loved one’s bad behaviors otherwise your will set your boundaries further, and further back, probably to square one.

Do not let yourself be convinced by the person you are setting limits with that your feelings don’t matter. Your feelings are yours, and you need them. Mentally ill people can have great powers of persuasion. They can make you feel self doubt, and lead you to not even trust your own perceptions or yourself.

Explain your feelings with him or her. Do not excuse them from your limits you set, or be led to change your mind. By explaining what you have to do, you have set the first stepping stone to a better relationship for both of you.

Do not let them make you feel guilty for the boundaries, and consequences you have outlined. You will lose respect if you back down, and you don’t want to do this. The limits you set are as important to you loved one as it is to you, even if it doesn’t feel like it at first. Like I stated, it will feel counterintuitive. Be strong. If they break your boundaries, that person has made a choice. It is up to you to enforce the consequences of that choice.

Professional support. Get it. It’s something that is well worth the time and investment to both of you. Learn what you need from it, then learn how to be your own professional – your own best advocate. Sooner or later the reward will be that your loved one learns from your boundaries freeing up the possibility of working together towards growing and healing. It is then a real relationship can begin to develop.

Do continue to have compassion for your mentally ill loved one. Do continue to seek professional help, and demand compliance of your loved one towards it. Do continue to be an advocate for him or her, but not at the expense of your own needs, health, and inner peace.

Setting boundaries is crucial, if not vital, for both of you.

I am eternally grateful that someone I care deeply for set boundaries with me.

A Front Row Seat to Watch God Work; My Path from Hopeless Alcoholic to Recovery and Happiness.

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I used to be homeless. Now I’m not. 

I used to be a practicing alcoholic. Now I’m not.

I have recovered from a seemingly hopeless state of mind and body. That doesn’t mean I am cured of my alcoholism. It means exactly as I have declared; that I have recovered from a seemingly hopeless state of mind and body. I have hope, clarity, and a body on the mend. I stay sober by helping other alcoholics to find hope – showing them the way out of misery, insanity, and some from the brink of jails, institutions, and death. I give away what has been so freely given to me. This is how I stay sober.

Five months ago, I was hopeless. I was absolutely shipwrecked on the island of despair. I was in a deep depression, drinking around the clock, and had lost everything. The tattered remains of my life, my soul, and dignity had landed on the bed in a hospital room, with nowhere for me to go. What remained of my life had nearly fizzled out on the floor of a convenience store where I had collapsed unconscious on the floor, bringing frenzied paramedics, and an ambulance days before. For seven days I was treated for extremely high blood pressure, alcohol poisoning and withdrawal, severe dehydration, and monitored for what physicians thought might be an eminent cardiac event. My once shapely, extremely fit body, had deteriorated to a sucked up mess.

After delusion brought about by alcohol withdrawal, and a body loaded with sedatives, had subsided, I had no longer believed I staying at a hotel. I had rising clarity, and clarity had been one of the things that eluded me for several months. The reality that I was hooked up to machines, and an I.V., laying ill at Sierra Nevada Memorial Hospital in Grass Valley, California hit me like a ton of bricks.

About a month earlier, I had decided I wanted to die. I had reached out on social media, FaceBook, and specifically a group within the site dedicated to serving the locals of the county I live in Northern California, asking for someone to care for my cat, Isabella, should I spontaneously go through with carrying out the act of suicide.

Laying in the hospital bed, I decided to reach out to loved ones, on the same site I had posted that grim plea, that call for help, to let them know where I was. I had become such a tornado in my loved ones lives, and all who were around me during the last year of my drinking, I wasn’t sure if I was still loved by anyone.

A day later, still mentally cloudy, but experiencing more clarity than I had for a long time, a man walked into my hospital room who would become to be known as my guardian angel. He was a complete stranger. He only knew me through my posts on Facebook, in a group called Nevada County Peeps which has a membership great in numbers. He was warm and friendly. He offered up his own story of struggling with alcohol and drug addiction. He said there was hope if I had the desire to stop drinking, and wanted a new life. I did. And I once again felt hope. He became active at once, hooking me up with aid provided by the county’s behavioral health programs, and a drug and alcohol treatment program, and provided me with guidance with the skills he gained through his education in peer support counseling; ironically a certification I had been in school with, and graduated from. I just didn’t know how to help myself with those same skills. Clearly he knew how to help me.

After spending a few days in a mental health facility for evaluation and treatment, and a medication adjustment to treat my bipolar 1 disorder, I found myself in a drug and alcohol program in Marysville, California called Pathways. There, I learned about addiction, and was supported by caring counselors and peers. It was then, through outside meetings, I was introduced to a twelve step program, and it’s accompanying text that outlined the steps I needed to follow in order to achieve continued sobriety. The book mirrored every aspect of my experience that I knew as an alcoholic. It spoke to me – I could relate. It was a blue print for a new way of life I was about to be rocketed into. It outlined a solution that had eluded me.

My guardian angel, the man who came to visit me during my hospital stay, had remained in contact during my 30 day treatment in Pathways. When I had successfully completed the program, he found me at a temporary shelter for those going through mental illness crises, or those suddenly homeless, called the Insight Respite House in Grass Valley. There another miracle, the first being getting sober, occurred. He offered me housing in a clean and sober house, and a job. I couldn’t believe the kindness of this man who showed me that there was hope in a new life.

While at that house, I was able to undergo surgery to repair a shoulder injury I sustained while drinking months before I got sober. I was laid up for ten weeks, and in a device that kept my arm stationary. I also had to sleep upright. I was cared for by members of the house I lived in as well as good friends in the community. Weeks later I would move.

I became a manager for a new clean and sober house in Nevada City, California, owned by the same organization of the house I had lived in after my treatment, The Co-Living Network. Today, I help others who are homeless, addicted, and going through mental health issues. I am a peer counselor, coach, and mentor in the house, and I love every minute of it. Helping others provides me some of the greatest joy I have ever known.

I have also worked the steps in the twelve step program that brings me continued sobriety, and secretary a young people meeting of that program in Grass Valley. I speak often about what keeps me sober as the chair person in meetings outside my homegrown, and at institutions. I have been interviewed on radios shows, and soon to be interviewed by a television news station where I will talk about the model for living I am a part of forming with the Co-Living Network.

A lot of people in the midst of their addictions express a yearning for their life back. For me, that notion is crazy. Who would want to return to a life that brought them to the very misery they seek to escape from? I enjoy a new, bigger, better way of living today. I get to bring my experience, strength and hope to those who are suffering, and want to achieve sobriety and continued sobriety. I get to work with those seemingly hopeless individuals and watch the light return to their eyes. I get to have a front row seat to watch God work.

The Happiest I’ve Ever Been and the Joys to Come

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“I am the son

And the heir

Of a shyness that is criminally vulgar

I am the son and heir

Of nothing in particular

You shut your mouth

How can you say

I go about things the wrong way?

I am human and I need to be loved

Just like everybody else does” – The Smiths

Nothing in this world could change the misery that I knew, when I woke up this morning. A small joy in my life wasn’t having it as she purred on my chest, rubbing her head against my face during her daily prelude to being fed. Her large innocent eyes know only peace. If only my cat, Isabella knew how I was feeling. Maybe she did. I knew and know this day has to be all about taking steps towards healing; my psychiatrists doors can’t open soon enough. I keep telling myself all those things I hate hearing from other people when I am in deep depression; be happy, you’ll snap out of it, and just get over it. I didn’t turn on the radio because some d.j. might say it’s going to be a nice day reminding me on how it’s not. I sat in my big comfy chair in my room at 3:00 A.M. staring at nothing in particular thinking about what steps I can take today to help lift me out of profound sadness. The warrior in me is still kicking through the walls of depression.

I began thinking about what in my past has brought about happiness.  I  had a breakthrough moment about a mistake I had been making – that is I was comparing moments and elements that made up that happiness to what’s going on now. I realized those were futile thoughts bringing me down further.

You can’t bring people back from the dead, those who were the bright spot in my life. Nor can I ask others who are on their chosen paths to stop what they’re doing and come back to me. I can’t recreate the circumstances that brought about euphoric times, not with any authenticity. But I can look back at those moments and smile. I can think about when my mom, my brother, my dad, close friends Mary and Saint when they were still alive. I can think about times in the sun with my living brother never being an arms length apart from each other. I can reflect on them and the times in life we shared, but I can’t bring them back.

My brother Gordon in his teens and early twenties was and is the bright spot in my life. I do miss the times  we spent coloring with crayons as adults, stoned, out in the middle of the woods. I miss the epic bicycle trips we took together in the warm months of summer. I miss being in business with him, owning a coffee shop in Portland, Oregon. I miss the moments in the sunshine, skinny-dipping at our favorite swimming hole at the South Fork of the Yuba River in California. Most of all, I miss having him go with me everywhere, even grocery shopping. He’d automatically jump in the car no matter where I was going. I loved that. We did most everything together. Then, after my Dad died, Gordon went off to college, and to pursue a career as a musician aboard a cruise ship – a profession that takes him away from me for long periods of time.

Mary was always laughing. We got along so well that we moved in together as close friends. She was always up for adventure, especially off-the-wall crazy ones. Concerts, morning coffee rituals at our favorite haunts, midnight movies, underground plays and performances; she was up for it all. I lost her to alcoholism. She bleed out in our apartment in 2006.

I thought of them all this morning; those who brought me great happiness. I tried not to let the overshadow of them passing tragically or going away.

The breakthrough I had this morning is that I need not replace those I’ve lost with exact duplicates. That’s what keeps me pushing quality newcomers in my life away. I need to be open to new experiences and pastimes that might unfold a great new triumph of happiness. I need to think of the joys that will come if I let them.

In the big book of a twelve step program I am in, there is a passage, a promise that reads, “ We are going to know a new freedom, and a new happiness.” It is the newness of things I feel I need to embrace. For too long I’ve looked to re-create history and to replace others. I need to stop looking for qualities that those in my past have possessed and realize and explore the inward beauty of newcomers to my life. I need to embrace new experiences and not shun them.

I am sad and know a great tiredness that is enveloping me today, but I know this is a temporary predicament. There is great joy ahead if I let it be, if I let it unfold.

Down the Rabbit Hole

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I cannot move. I don’t want to move. I certainly don’t have the energy to move. This crazy guy, crazier than me, just introduced himself then started moving furniture around. I’m just sitting here looking at him with stoic indifference probably resembling a carved, stone face on Mount Rushmore. I open up my laptop and start pounding out these few sentences. I’ve checked myself into the Crisis Stabilization Unit, a mental health facility next to Sierra Nevada Memorial Hospital in California, knowing I need help. I know the faces behind the desk. They know me. I feel safe here. There won’t be any wrist cutting, or window ledges to jump from. Not that I’m considering those possibilities because, for one, it would take too much effort. I just want to sleep.

Crazy guy has gotten on my nerves. I didn’t think that was possible because I don’t care about anything. I go smoke outside. Cigarettes are wonderful when I’m down and I’m grateful to have the privilege to smoke at this facility. Halfway finished with a cigarette, crazy guy runs past me. Back inside, they are calling the cops. Later I would watch the poor chap being handcuffed from my hospital window, and taken somewhere out of my view. He’s completely oblivious of his butt showing through the open back of his blue hospital gown. If I could feel anything right now, I would be sad for him.

I laid down on my bed and slept for hours.

There came a knock on my door, and through it’s glass panels I could see the smiling face of a strange woman holding a clipboard.

“Darin, your friend Sara is here” she announced. Then, “I told her I could neither confirm or deny you are here so its up to you if you want to talk to her or not.”

“I’d be happy to.”

Sara is an older classmate who I love dearly. We are training to be peer support specialists, ironically, in the behavioral health field. I am lead to a room off to the side. She has to be buzzed in. When the door unlocks, she enters and gives me a big, warm hug.

“Honey, you look tired. Are you sleeping?”

“It’s all I’ve been doing. After class on Thursday, I came home and went right to sleep. I slept for nearly 24 hours. I have bouts of time where I’m not asleep.” I half smile, not entirely comfortable looking her in the eyes.

We sit down on the leather sofa.

“Are you taking your meds?”

“No”.

“Darin, you’re bipolar. You have an illness. You know better. Why aren’t you talking your medications?”

“Well, I’m still taking Lamictal, but Ability is making my face do weird things, like causing my jaw to lock, and draw back causing a weird underbite and..”

“Tardive dyskinesia.” Sara interrupts. “You were wise to stop taking it immediately.” I could see that she was thinking as she looked off to the side, then says “and it’s a weekend so there’s no-one to prescribe for you until Monday…”

“And so I’m here.” I say.

“You haven’t thought about hurting yourself? You’re just being pro-active or what? How are you feeling?”

“I feel like I’m walking through three feet of sand. I’ve lost interest in everything I do. I haven’t written any music in like two weeks. Every movement is an effort. I’m not interested in socializing or hanging out with any of my friends for any reason.” I let it flow out of me with little effort. I trust Sara.

I shifted in my seat then added more to enlighten her. She was listening.

“Sara, I AM my illness right now. I am depression. It’s taken me over. I’m here because I don’t trust myself. I’m here because I need a safe place to be alone.”

“Let me see your arms.” She says as she reaches out to grab my hands. I roll my arms around exposing the underbellies of them.

“I told you I”m not hurting myself, I’m way beyond that now. The physical part, and so many people don’t get that depression is also physical, is really kicking my ass. Every movement is an effort, everything is hard. I can’t even yield a mop.”

“Well, Darin, you’re having shoulder surgery next week. You’re in pain in many ways. What’s going on in your head? You know, my husband couldn’t get out of bed for a week at a time – he’d call into work sick a lot.  My son did the same.” She gets sidetracked and smiles. “You remind me a lot of my son, that’s why I think I love you so much.”

“What’s going on in my head…you’re asking maybe what I might be making a big deal of that isn’t so big in reality because I’m a messed up bipolar guy, right?” I nudge her, referring to our professional training.

“Yeah, what’s going on? Things ok at home?”

“Yes and no. It’s a clean and sober living environment, and I feel supported in that way, but the head of our household has told me he doesn’t believe in diagnoses and buys into this airy-faerie belief system that we can pull ourselves out of mental illness by shear will power or some shit.”

“Not good. I’m glad you’re here. But you know, that just doesn’t sound like William. Do you think that maybe your disease is talking and not William? Everything can be greatly exaggerated when you’re going through these mood swings Darin. You know this. Things aren’t as big as they seem, and sometimes things aren’t even what you think they are at all.”

We talked off topic for quite some time. She told me she lived close and would be there for anything I needed. But then she could tell I was fading and let me be. I knocked on the door and was buzzed back into the facility. I found myself barely picking up my feet as I walked to the couch were I collapsed and just sort of stared at nothing for a bit. Kitty-corner to me was this kid, probably early twenties, half naked holding his legs, shivering. I watched the hands of a clock move and didn’t say anything to the guy. His head was buried in his legs anyway. I pressured myself to speak to him, after all I was in training to be a peer support specialist, I SHOULD talk to this guy. I took off my hoodie and offered it to him.

“Dude, you are making me cold. Go ahead, put this on.” I said.

He looked up, then stood up, eyeballing the wadded up hoodie in my hands. He didn’t say anything and couldn’t look at me.

“Really, go ahead. I’m just going to crawl back into bed anyway.”

From the front desk; “Darin, he’s got some issue with wearing a shirt, it’s been going on all day. Nice of you though”

The still silent kid walked up to the front desk.

“Can I help you with anything Sam?” the therapist asked.

He remained silent. Then pressed against the door leading to the hallway. He found it unlocked, and then he bolted. The therapist called the police. I went to my window were I could see him running down the road and make a left on the intersecting road. “He’s running towards Presley!” I shouted. From my window I could see a smattering of hapless people on their way into the emergency room. An arriving ambulance filled my crazy-room with dancing blue and red lights. In moments, the Grass Valley police department had arrived in several cars. Soon an officer would be asking me where I saw Sam last.

No drama was elevating me, in fact, I was sleeper than ever. Then another strange woman walked up to me and said; “I told him I could neither confirm or deny you were here, but there’s a man here who said you would know him as  “the guardian angel”. If you want to talk to him, I’ll let him in the side room over here.” She pointed.

“Yeah, sure.” I answered. Oh God, it’s William. I was thankful that he saved my life easier this year, but now I thought it was all different and just maybe he might be asking me to live somewhere else. That was the worst case scenario I had in my head. The door buzzer sounded, and with a click it unlocked, and William walked into the room.

“Buddy, what’s going on?” He asked softly and with kindness. He took a seat and I did too.

“It’s just that super dangerous bipolar depression. I am my illness right now. I am just really down, lower than low, and I needed some professional help.” I laid it out.

“You haven’t been yourself for a week now. You haven’t spoken much to me, I thought you might be avoiding me in fact.” His big blues looked desperate, and kind of sad, much like his old yellow Labrador Retrievers’.

I met his eyes, “Frankly I have.”

“Why?”

“Because why would I talk to someone who doesn’t believe what I’m going through?”

“Wait, are you talking about the conversation we had about labeling? By that I meant that you shouldn’t let yourself be defined by the label of mental illness, or alcoholic. I certainly believe in diagnosis. You’re living proof, I’m living proof. I meant I didn’t believe in labeling, not that I didn’t believe in mental illnesses – you get me?”

I took some time without responding. Then he said, “I apologize up and down if it wasn’t clear, and that I had inadvertently created an unsafe living environment for you by my anti-labeling words, that wasn’t my intention. You can talk to me anytime. You are a dear friend. I’m glad you are here, and had the spirit to get here. You are smart and way ahead of the game. I do think you need a break from some of the volunteerism, and some of the other things you have taken on. You are only 65 days sober, and you have dove head first into all this activity. Slow down.”

“I don’t have much of a choice, my body won’t let me be anything but slow. And apparently my mind is thinking things are much worse, and bigger than the problem, if any,  are. That’s bipolar delusion right there.” I said, voice quivering a bit.

Hugs were exchanged, and see ya later’s were said, and I was buzzed back into the crazy ward.

I sat down on the chair were Sam had been before he went awol. I reflected on real and unreal things that were causing me anxiety and bringing me down further. I was still left with the feeling of dread. My body still ached. I still feel like I just ran a marathon when I had not. I was still feeling like I was walking through three feet of sand and anxious over nothing. A change of meds was in store for me first thing Monday morning, but for now, a mild tranquilizer had calmed my nerves.

The kindly therapist who had talked to me on arrival sat on the sofa next to it. She laid her hand on me knee and said, “You look better.”

“I feel a hundred pounds lighter. That was hugely constructive. It’s like you said, my head is just making things up, or at the very least exponentially exaggerating.”

“You know this will pass, you have been through it before. Your strength in all this is your insight.” She smiled.

“They find Sam?”

“He’s over at the ER receiving some care.”

“I was like that once. I’d get off my rocker manic, thinking I didn’t need a place like this; a walking danger.”

“Experience gives you empathy, but in you, I think it’s also innate.” She looks at me with kind eyes.

“That’s two that went awol since I’ve been here.”

“Three total today. There was one that blew out of here before you got here.”

“It’s been a long day for everyone here. I have the luxury of going to sleep. I hope you are off soon. Goodnight.” And with that I laid down for the night.

Morning came. At some point Sam was brought back in, and now he’s sleeping in his room, still shirtless. I wonder if I will get to talk with him today. I’m glad I’m curious because I have been lackluster in that department lately. I just haven’t cared enough to be curious about anything or anyone. Nothing interests me. I could very well just go home, lock myself in my room and listen to songs by The Smiths. I’m living in shear despair about nothing, maybe Morrissey would give me something to cry about.

The nurse will be in soon, and I will know what they recommend I do, and I will follow it. A young friend texted me this morning suggesting I go play with kittens with him at a local animal shelter called Sammies Friends as a way to cheer me up. Really. He means well.

As this day unfolds, I find I have no expectations, wants, or needs. I am just riding on a tide of willingness, and for now that will have to do.

Me and the Ex-Con are Sober

4685438101_152585e460_b (2)Today, I have 30 days of sobriety. I just returned from alcohol rehab at Pathways in Marysville, California. I have a shiny new coin with Pathways logo on it, and the serenity prayer on the reverse. Pathways give these coins to clients on successful completion of the program. It’s a little thing, but it means a lot to me. I met some of the finest people I have ever met in my life down there – people who ordinarily would not mix but share one thing in common; we are all alcoholics. I lived with my peers in alcoholism for 24 hours a day over 21 days. All of them, ten in all, have become some of the finest friends I’ve ever had. It was hard to fight back tears for everyone involved in my exit ceremony. It was a hug fest.

One of my peers who was of the greatest inspiration for me was an ex-con, who, for purposes of anonymity, I will call James. Under the three strikes law years ago, James was sentenced to life for stealing two cartons of cigarettes. Then California passed a proposition overturning three strikes and James was set free. Meanwhile 22 years went by. Yeah, this guy spent 22 years in upper levels prisons for stealing two cartons of cigarettes. James had racked up over ten years of sobriety being in Jail where one can still get homemade liquor and drugs from the outside. When he was released, he went immediately to rehab to reinforce his abstinence so he would never be sent back to prison for parole violation for drinking or drugging. Today he is 56.

I was afraid of him at first, he’s full of muscles, and covered with prison tattoos. But he quickly showed his vulnerable side and was always smiling and joking with me. He is not an angry person, but a grateful person. We would go outside under the sun and lift weights in our spare time. He was determined to make a muscle man out of me. He was determined to stay sober. He didn’t read all that well, so I helped him study the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous. We picked each other up often.

But it wasn’t just the love of my peers at Pathways that kept me going. It takes a village sometimes, and man do we have a village. I was informed that throngs of support came my way via Facebook while I was in Rehab. When I opened my account up, it was filled with hundreds of kind hearted messages from the Nevada County Peeps page serving Nevada County, California residents, most I didn’t know. Some amazing strangers showed up to support and encourage while I was in the hospital detoxing at Sierra Nevada Memorial Hospital. They knew me only from my posts on Facebook. This speaks volumes for our spirit in the Gold Country.

We’re No Longer Homeless

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Yesterday, Isabella and I got a home. We are no longer homeless. I started a new job yesterday too. I have so much to be grateful for receiving. I have the bottomless support of the community I live in. I have people in my life who love me; people who have given of themselves through kind actions. For this, I’m grateful.

Today is day 35 of continued sobriety. I am grateful. I grow stronger in both mind and body every day.

When I was detoxing from alcohol poisoning at Sierra Nevada Memorial Hospital for five days, a man came to see me. I was a shaking, vomiting, unlovely creature. He was completely unknown to me. When I asked him who he was, he answered he found me through my Facebook posts. He said he felt that faith without works is dead, and he wanted to go beyond thoughts and prayers by helping me anyway he could. I called him my guardian angel. His name is William W.

William quickly got to work for me, making phone calls setting me up with drug and alcohol program. He tidied up loose ends that were impossible for me to accomplish in my state, things that were causing me great worry. He plugged me into county resources. He ran around town, and took the time to do things I couldn’t do myself, nor even knew I needed. He is the most giving, selfless man I’ve ever met in my life. For him, I am grateful.

When I was in rehab, William was still acting behind the scenes taking care of my needs. He called my counselors and case worker, Fred, to both see how I was doing, and to arrange aftercare for my 21 day program. When I graduated from Pathways, a drug and alcohol residential treatment facility, William came to my aid once again, coming to see me at Insight Respite home, a temporary shelter for people in crisis, with an offer of a place to live, employment, and even offered to help me replace the vehicle I had totaled, and accident that landed me a D.U.I.

I had turned my will and my life over to the Great Spirit weeks ago. It is He, who is in everyone, and everything, that brought me to the happy, joyous, freedom I am enjoying today. I had found my Higher Power during a desperate time. For this, I am grateful.