Cut from The Noose: Living With A Dual Diagnosis

By Kathleen Gemmell 03/23/17

The pull of substances was stronger than him. He found himself living under a bridge, getting higher and increasingly paranoid.

Kathleen Gemmell

It has been two years since the voices spoke to him. Daniel,* a family friend, was told they were after him, that he would be hurt, that he must remain ever vigilant.

“They” were rogue gangs and mobsters. “They” were neighbors and family. At the age of 21, Dan’s death by the hand of another seemed imminent in his ill psyche.

A familial history of depression, addiction and suicide tells us that Daniel was likely born with a predisposition to mental illness. By fifth grade he was suffering. Severe social anxiety and homosexual ideations left him feeling like an outcast, a loser. Raised in white-class suburbia, Dan’s urges toward perfectionism were in contrast to his lonely reality.

Daniel’s depression cut to his core. Unable to hold his head at eye level, he was taunted by his peers. Being different in a sea of pre-adolescents was nothing short of a nightmare. Adolescence was then a brick wall that he could not see over. He wanted out. Dan fantasized about taking his life.

High school offered Dan a solution, albeit temporary. Alcohol, prescription narcotics and marijuana became the loyal friends he so desperately sought. When high, his world was tolerable. Others liked him and he finally fit in. His pain was linear, however, and his self-medicating only fueled the fire.

“My friends called me ‘the garbage can’ cause I would do any drug and drink any liquor. It was sort of like a badge of honor. I also put on a front of being tough so as to cover my homosexuality,” Dan says.

Cut down from his homemade noose some years later, the regiment of therapeutic intervention began. Dan would see a myriad of psychologists, psychiatrists and counselors, but he had nothing to share.

Daniel was the last to see the obvious. “I just couldn’t seem to commit suicide. My attempts were thought out and hardcore. I guess it just wasn’t my time. And interestingly, even though I knew why I was ill and had these symptoms, I didn’t want to be that kind of person. I couldn’t accept at that point that I was sick. It just didn’t seem to fit the way I saw myself,” he says.

Suicide attempt number three found others amazed at his survival. Slowly, the terms depression, panic, anxiety, bipolar and homosexual became his montage. As he struggled in therapy, he continued to seek the high that relieved his angst. He smoked weed, drank alcohol and would accept any drug offered him. That elusive high, however, seemed harder to attain.

Dan’s addiction compounded his overwhelmingly severe illnesses. He began to have psychotic breaks; he found himself behaving in a criminal manner. Breaking into unlocked cars in search of money and drugs, his family would bail him out as he was the pitied one.

Flying from the east coast to a California rehab, Dan went with good intentions. The pull of substances was stronger than he was at that point, and he found himself living under a bridge, getting higher and increasingly paranoid.

Eventually home again, the family’s lost soul was no longer seen as a victim. They said, “Enough,” and insisted that he find sobriety. “Tough love” was instigated and Dan had no recourse but to attend both 12-step meetings and counseling.

“My poor mom was a mess," Dan admits. "My issues affected her deeply. She went to lectures on mental illness and shared with a few close friends. I was hospitalized a total of four times and my parents and aunt visited me nearly every day even if the hospital wasn’t local. My problems were truly my family’s problems too.

“My second suicide attempt found me in a hospital for 10 months. There was a guy who spit, and most of the patients were criminally insane. I had huge resentments at the staff for their verbal abuse. I was there against my will so I felt trapped.”

Psychotropic medications were given to quell his depression, anxiety and intermittent psychosis. Over a period of six months, this therapeutic cocktail began to show signs of taking the edge off of his struggles and eventually Dan found himself stating, “Hi. I’m Daniel and today I am one year clean and sober.”

Functioning in the workplace and spending time with newly found sober friends, Dan’s family and friends began to see the light at the end of the tunnel.

On this day, Dan explains, “I still struggle with some depression and my social anxiety often rears its ugly head. I am no longer wrestling with psychosis though, nor do I ruminate about suicide on a daily basis. I have goals for the future and generally am feeling positive. I journal and play sports and am teaching myself to play the guitar. My father and I have relocated and are going into business together. It’s like I’ve reinvented myself.”

He continues, “It is difficult to be a young person who can’t join in on the partying and I’ve accepted that I’m gay and can live with that. Also, as I look back on my hospitalizations I now realize that it was a necessary learning experience that I needed to have. Each hospitalization helped get me less depressed even though some depression always came back. My sobriety has made a huge difference in my ability to stay out of institutions.

“Lately I’ve not been going to AA meetings because I feel like they’re hard on my social anxiety. I can’t believe that AA is the only program for everyone. I’m searching for new groups that aren’t 12-step oriented. I’m looking for a group where I can be my myself, not just an addict that must pray and make amends. I understand that AA helps a lot of people, but I prefer a more holistic approach. It has been a long journey and I intend to never go back there. As Robert Frost wrote, ‘The only way out is through.’” 

*For the sake of privacy, this name has been changed.

Kathleen Gemmell loves playing with written words. Currently penning for an eclectic array of publications, Kathleen is also an animal welfare proponent, a storyteller, a psychology buff and a connoisseur of fine pizza.

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Kathleen Gemmell loves playing with written words. Currently penning for an eclectic array of publications, Kathleen is also an animal welfare proponent, a storyteller, a psychology buff and a connoisseur of fine pizza. You can find Kathleen on Linkedin or follow her on Twitter.