My Journey of Self-Medicating Mental Illness
I was in middle school the first time I drank. I wanted the feeling of being intoxicated. At that young age, I fell in love with alcohol.
I got alcohol poisoning my freshman year of high school and wound up in the ER. A tube in each arm and my mother crying as I woke. That was the first time I saw a counselor.
In college, I began to self-medicate more. Depression and anxiety. More trips to the ER. I was introduced to new substances to abuse as well.
I met with a psychiatrist and tried an antidepressant for the first time, but I continued to try to control my feelings with drugs that weren’t prescribed. If I was feeling anxious, socially or otherwise, if I was feeling depressed, if I wanted an escape from reality or if I didn’t want to feel anything—I would self-medicate my symptoms with substances.
Self-Medicating Through College
While this was rational to me at the time, it was making my life completely unmanageable. After one late night and early morning of partying, I called my father to come pick me up. I couldn’t handle the pain anymore and had to leave school.
I remember a distinct feeling on that ride home with my father. It felt like a moment of clarity. I felt like myself again. I remember gripping the door handle as we drove home because I didn’t want to lose that feeling. It was almost a physical sensation of being me again. That was the last time I ever felt it. I wish I knew what brought on this feeling.
Feeling lost and back home in the small town I grew up in, I began self-medicating more often. I ended up getting arrested and entered an alternative sentencing program. Facing the possibility of jail time, I went to an inpatient rehab center. I did the mandatory 28 days and followed the advice of the counselors to stay longer. I was meeting with a new psychiatrist and trying medications attempting to treat my depression and anxiety. None of them seemed to help.
I ended up going back to college after finishing rehab. The structure of school helped me stay on track for the most part. But I still got into trouble for drinking. The school imposed more counseling sessions. I ended up working in the substance abuse office there. I graduated with honors and was ready to begin my career.
Starting My Career
After a few years of working, I just stopped going. I sat around using substances instead. Luckily, my family and some coworkers intervened, and I was able to get back on my feet. I did a six-month outpatient program and started seeing another doctor. And a different doctor. One doctor noted that I might have a schizoid-like personality. The medications still weren’t helping. I couldn’t find myself.
After that, I managed to string together three long years of sobriety. I started working for a different company. Everyone around me looked happy. But I felt numb, depressed and sad. I began meeting with another doctor and was prescribed a stimulant to help with my depression and focus. Well it worked. But I soon began to abuse it.
I seemingly was doing well—I had perfect performance reviews, was halfway through my MBA and bought a house—but things were unraveling around me. I got passed over for a promotion I thought I deserved. I was dealing with harassment issues at work. I was having relationship difficulties.
Then, I quit my job and dropped out of my graduate program. I wasn’t eating. I wasn’t sleeping. These factors led to a severe mental breakdown. Psychosis. I barricaded myself in my house, I was throwing furniture and my belongings out of the windows, I was screaming at the police, and I was out of control.
The police sent four or five officers with assault rifles and riot gear into my house to get me. I was involuntarily committed to the hospital. I was not happy about the situation and tried to leave the emergency room, where I was being held, multiple times. I was handcuffed to the bed for most of a week. Trying to leave again, I pushed a security officer to the side. I was then arrested for assault and sent to county jail.
I spent 10 long days in jail, locked in a cell for 23 hours a day, sleeping with a suicide blanket. I was constantly medicated, as I was in the hospital. Thankfully, a bed finally opened at the state hospital, and I was transferred there. It was there that I was first diagnosed with bipolar disorder and started taking lithium.
Finally Receiving the Right Diagnoses
My parents were quite concerned with my well-being throughout this time. After leaving the state hospital, I went to another hospital in Massachusetts. I was skeptical but it was a lot better than where I was before. After a lot of diagnostic testing, the doctors confirmed I had bipolar, depression, anxiety, obsessive-compulsive personality disorder (OCPD), and PTSD. After completing that program, I enrolled in a partial-hospitalization program.
Through the course of my treatment I have been on multiple medications to address all of my diagnoses, which has helped to stabilize me. I feel a lot more relaxed. I’m sleeping better. I’ve gained back a lot of the weight I lost. I’m not yelling or crying all the time. I wouldn’t say I’m recovered yet, but I’m okay.
I have four treatment sessions remaining. I am jobless. No longer in school. I’m being supported financially by my parents. I have no idea what to do next. I still haven’t fully found myself again, but I realized that thinking about just myself hasn’t gotten me anywhere. From now on, I’m letting the question, “how can I help someone else?” guide me as I continue this journey.
Nathaniel lives in New Hampshire with his wonderful dog Penny. He loves art, reading, hiking, traveling, playing hockey, and spending time with family and friends. Nathaniel is a writer, a survivor, a mental health advocate, and is driven to help people around the world. Find him on LinkedIn, Twitter or Instagram.
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