Category Archives: Health

Failure

Funny thing, failure. It’s an unavoidable feature of life. I have tried my best to avoid failure and yet failure seemed to always find me. In the somewhat recent past I avoided failure by not trying. I avoided failure by avoiding making decisions. I mistakenly thought that this approach kept me safe, because if you don’t risk anything, you can’t fail. This approach was in response to repeated personal disasters in my life. These disasters included dropping out of school twice, as well as multiple hospitalizations and arrests due to mental health crises, related to untreated bipolar disorder and substance abuse. On top of that, my 20’s were marked by a general inability to get a career, friendships or relationships on track during that time. The weight of all this failure was felt deeply in 2010, a year in which I was arrested twice, went to jail, and was in 3 different mental hospitals and a rehab. This insane 4 month span of my life conspired to make me extremely risk averse and cautious. Once I managed to gain some mental health and life stability, I was determined to hang on to it at all costs. I was terrified of losing my freedom again. Hence the strategy of not trying, and extreme avoidance of any potential risk. One positive of this strategy is that I did manage to quit drinking alcohol completely. Quitting this one substance has turned out to have a huge positive impact on my life. On the whole though, this strategy of doing nothing as a way to avoid disaster, well, it quite ironically failed miserably.

This four year period of complete risk aversion, from 2010 to 2014, was in some ways much worse than the instability and chaos of my life before. Suicidal depression became the constant issue, and even though I had quit drinking and was taking medication, my mental health was not close to an ideal state. I basically retreated from the world for four years and took no risks. I was for the most part extremely miserable. I couldn’t hide that fact. I wasn’t trying to do anything with my life. At one point I was literally only smoking a large amount of weed, playing video games and eating and sleeping. I couldn’t shake the depression or the suicidal ideation. I suppose part of me knew there was more to life than that, and also knew I could do something interesting with my life, potentially. That knowledge just added to my despair because I believed I couldn’t achieve or accomplish anything. The difficulty was that in order to change my situation and get out of the spot I was stuck in, I would need to take risks and step into the unknown. By August of 2014, the depression and suicidal ideation I was experiencing during this period had finally become completely untenable. I found myself in a do or die moment.

I came to a place where I had to risk failure, or just continue to suffer in the pathetic misery of doing nothing with my life. I wrote a private essay on this website about how I felt no hope and wanted to die. I shared it with a trusted friend, who expressed to me serious concern. Through this process, it had finally become painfully apparent to me that my strategy of doing nothing, and taking no risks, wasn’t working. Someone in my life at that time suggested I check out addiction recovery, so on the couch that night some time in September, of 2014, I resolved to sober up and start making changes. It’s been mostly uphill since then. I’ve been hit with setbacks, and had some failures, but a lot more success than not. Part of learning to be successful has been coming to grips with the fact that failure and struggle are inevitable, especially for someone with my set of diagnoses (Bipolar Type 1, Anxiety, PTSD, Substance Abuse). My failures since September of 2014 need to be framed in the context of successful stability and sobriety. I haven’t used substances, I haven’t had a manic/psychotic episode, I’ve been able to successfully attend school and work. I completed a bachelor’s degree in Political Science. I’ve been active in volunteering communities, leading support groups and giving talks to audiences of peers, family members of the ill, and first responders. At times my stability has taken a hit, and I had to readjust. I even had to go back to the hospital at one point. I’m more able to accept setbacks not as failures but as opportunities for change and growth. It hasn’t always been fun, it hasn’t always been non-stop success. Sometimes it just existing has been pretty tough, especially when depression has me in its grips. At times I’ve contemplated getting drunk or high or just killing myself as a way out. I guess my brain just goes there organically. But I want to live. I want to fight. I want to matter. I have a choice: sit back, do nothing and decay, or get on with living and keep moving forward no matter what. I’m going forward.

waking up from bipolar disorder

O soft embalmer of the still midnight,
Shutting, with careful fingers and benign,
Our gloom-pleas’d eyes, embower’d from the light,
Enshaded in forgetfulness divine:
O soothest Sleep! if so it please thee, close
In midst of this thine hymn my willing eyes,
Or wait the “Amen,” ere thy poppy throws
Around my bed its lulling charities.
Then save me, or the passed day will shine
Upon my pillow, breeding many woes,—
Save me from curious Conscience, that still lords
Its strength for darkness, burrowing like a mole;
Turn the key deftly in the oiled wards,
And seal the hushed Casket of my Soul.

– To Sleep by John Keats

My bipolar disorder first truly manifested itself at the age of 19. Like most people with this disorder, it is punctuated with alternating moods of extreme depression or extreme mania (energy, euphoria, elation). At 19 I experienced a full blown manic psychotic episode, highlighted by total mental incoherence and borderline insanity. In the 13 intervening years it has been a struggle to manage this illness. One of the hallmarks of my descent into madness is a total inability to sleep. Typically, after abusing substances and not sleeping for a few days, I would begin a severe manic cycle. As I have painfully learned to treat this disorder, I have learned about the importance of sleep for my brain. Lack of sleep is my number one trigger for problems. I have always had some form of insomnia, from a young age, but as I got older it became worse. Once I finally got to the point of understanding the consequences of not sleeping and abusing alcohol in particular, I have been able to ward off any further disastrous episodes and resultant consequences. It has been five years since my last hospitalization as a result of this illness. I have been hospitalized four times, arrested twice, and should have been hospitalized on at least two other occasions. This is why, at 2 in the morning when I can’t sleep, my desire to shut off my brain verges on total desperation. A hallmark of bipolar disorder is racing thoughts, and when I close my eyes and lie down, sometimes my mind fails to shut up and drift off. I call it “the clown car going in a circle in my brain.” The internal monologue intensifies. No matter how tired I may have been during the day, when I close my eyes for some reason I feel wired and wide awake.

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