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Andria EM - Experiences with Mental Health Conditions and NA
I had been going to NA for twenty years. I had worked in drug rehab, helped found HIV programs for people in London/UK, counselled HIV+ drug injectors and their significant others, got myself an MSc from an excellent University but always knew there must have been more wrong with me, but as one of its key manifestations was being able to make people laugh I didn't care too much about it. To be really honest, I actually didn't think it was anything that mattered. It was only when my mood entered the gutter and all I could think about was suicide that I cared about this weird way I thought and felt.
I liked NA. It was one of the best slices of life. After all how many of our fellow citizens get a room where they can go and share their stuff, drink tea and pay very little and walk away feeling better: we are lucky in that sense ...and some of us are really not lucky at all
In early recovery I got myself a psychology BSc and began to think about 'other peoples' mental health. Isn't it incredible how easy is is for some of us to see other peoples problems and struggles but are virtually blind when it comes to our own
I had been abstinent again.... for a year or so when I was admitted to a psych ward for the second time in my life. My life-partner was dying from HIV disease and I had been trying to care for him but in the process exhausted myself. By the time I got round to getting help for myself, I could barely walk any more. The doctors that week did not call it depression. They just said I was suffering from Nervous Exhaustion and that I absolutely had to take some rest..That my life-partner had to be told to get others to care for him while I recovered. It was tough. His SOs were mostly not even in the same country as us and his best friend was a travelling musician so was limited in his availability. But the physicians in this ward were adamant..."You have to tell him that U need time to recover. There is no way around this. You need rest and you need it now!" That was 1994
It wasn't until 2008, when I was nursing a one year old daughter, that there was a sudden extra interest in my mental health and I was diagnosed with Bipolar 2. I went into immediate denial. My experience with others living with Bipolar had scared me when I was in psych wards. I kept telling myself that I really wasn't like them bladibla.. Indeed I remember telling the shrink on the phone, "You should come to NA; we're all crazy in there!" ergo not just me...
Having listened to me for hours, this young woman knew that she couldn't just fob me off with an anti-psychotic. She sent me away with three academic papers to read and suggested I consider taking Lamotrigine as it was the least sedating of all the appropriate medications. I had previously said that the last thing I needed was yet another medication that would drain my energy whilst being the primary care giver - 90% of time, the Only care giver - to my daughter. She noted that this was the least sedating of all the meds and I went away with these papers, with absolutely no intention of taking any thing ! When I next saw this young shrink, I suddenly noticed she was pregnant and as she was such a petite woman, she was very pregnant and I did a 180 degree turn, and told her that I would take any drugs she thought I should! My head was telling me she could give birth any second and I should not put her into any undue stress.... This went on for a while. Eventually I left that sessions and tbh, can't recall what happened next
What I do know is that it took me another nine years to finally settle on Lamotrigine, which I think is beginning to have the desired affect. I had nobody in 12-step meetings telling me what I should or shouldn't be taking. Most of them knew better than to mess with me when I had been working in the (drugs) harm reduction field for a long time and I was really an activista rather than clinician! Some one who knew very little about me became judgemental about my treating chronic pain with Tramadol, but frankly I just walked away. I am not a kid any more and the reality is that 12 step fellowships are exactly as they say, a "society of ... whose lives ..." etc. For the most part we are not shrinks, doctors, counsellors etc. What we get from each other is invaluable in terms of day to day support, when we think shooting dope might just be a good idea again.. But that's it. Th rest is the program, which as I understand it, really must be worked if people want to have a better life
I have often wondered what the actual percentage of us living with Mental Health conditions is. I have listened to thousands of us over the years and I often think, that statistic may be near 50% when you put all the different psychological conditions into the pot.. schizphrenia, depression, bipolar, personality disorders, anorexia and so on. Indeed, what I actually really wonder is whether there really is a "disease" called addiction ... What it looks like to me is that addiction is what happens to many of us who know there is something wrong and some drugs help. Stress, aside from mental illness changes the chemistry in the body right: why wouldn't people try and self medicate suffering away. It does seem kinda rational to me.
That said , even if drug legislation were different, & I would never have had to break the law to medicate myself, I am glad that I had the good fortune of meeting a man called Steve in 1984 - my first ever X-user/injector.. I never knew such entities existed:-)
A light went on and the rest is a long herstory.
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