Beating the Beast


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I started showing warning signs for depression in my early teens.  Where once I had been a happy, creative, engaged and normally well-behaved child, over the course of a few years I was to become quite the opposite.  By the time I got to high school, I was beginning to feel a strong need to escape from the pressures of school, my parents and even from my own identity as a gifted and promising young man.  I started ignoring my studies, skipping classes often, hanging around with questionable characters, drinking alcohol and experimenting with drugs, doing all kinds of things I knew I should not be doing.  I did know on some level that the path I was taking was likely to wind up sabotaging my own future, but at the same time I was becoming more and more skilled at not caring.

My parents were deeply concerned for me, and they sought help from a variety of different psychologists and psychiatrists.  I, of course, was convinced it was the world that was messed up, not me, and I did not take my treatment seriously at all... and all the while my state of mental health kept getting worse.  Although I did manage to maintain a variety of interests and a passion for creating art up until my second year out of high school, I also began turning inward at that time, withdrawing from society in general and even avoiding my closest friends and family.  Then, suddenly and seemingly out of nowhere, in the summer of 1994 my life on earth ended and my time in hell began.  It was then that I experienced my first manic episode, which quickly landed me in the hospital and labeled me officially: "Bipolar type 1".  Now, for those of you who do not exhibit bipolar symptoms, please before you stop reading my story, understand that my experience since being diagnosed has been primarily one of perpetual depression, and before I was able to begin "beating the beast", only on occasion did I even feel "normal", much less lifted into a state of hypomania or mania, and I will save my personal accounts of these two afflictions for the Bipolar forum on this web site.

With the onset of severe depression in 1994, I quickly lost interest in anything I had been "into" previously, and my lifelong passion for making art and music simply died.  I promptly dropped out of college (okay, so it was just a local community college, but still I had plans to get an associate's degree in graphic design and transfer to a real art school in a year or so), and any dreams I had of becoming a successful artist, or even a success at all, were instantly dashed.  I somehow managed to get a job working at a picture framing shop nearby my home, and over the next several years I would frequently get fired from that job or whatever job I happened to land three months prior (I have been lucky that the owner of that frame shop is very kind and understanding, always hiring me back several months after firing me once I promised to get my act together for good).

Although I was at times quite incapable of handling any kind of responsibility at work, the thing that always got me fired from jobs was tardiness.  This was caused by the fact that I found it tremendously difficult to pull myself out of bed in the morning (even if "morning" was at 1:00 PM).  I still to this day have trouble with this, but not quite for the same reasons. Back before I started getting better, all I wanted to do was lie in bed, and NOTHING could get me out when I didn't want to be out.  I would frequently show up to work anywhere between 5 minutes and 4 hours late, and a little too often I would not show up at all.  Not showing up was also something I would do with 9 out of every 10 appointments I had scheduled as well.  Part of the reason for that was due to the fact that my memory for such things is horrible, and back then I rarely ever tried to implement any kind of "reminder strategy".  In fact my brain functioning as a whole was quite impaired, though a lot of it was likely due to my marijuana addiction (yes, I did say "addiction" while referring to pot, and I do believe it was because I could not bring myself to stop for even a day despite the fact that it did nothing but make me paranoid and aggravate my already-aggravated mental state), some of my mental challenges were a direct result of my depression.

The whole time, pretty much all the time, I hated life and I hated myself.  Certainly most of the time I was preoccupied with thoughts of how much things sucked, how incapable and inhuman I felt, and how I so desperately wanted to not be alive.  Sometimes those thoughts would become urgent enough that I would actively pursue suicidal ideas, but luckily never was the urge strong enough that I ever acted on any of those ideas.  My family never stopped caring for me, and I did have a small circle of friends that I had known from my school days, but I always felt like I was "out of the loop" with them, and I often went through phases where I would distance myself from them completely.  In one particularly long "withdraw phase", I hardly spoke a word to anyone outside of what I had to say for practical purposes... this lasted for over a year.  From 1994 until just a couple of years ago, I felt like I was not and could not get close to anyone at all.  I was far too down on myself to even try to find a nice woman with whom I might be able to form a loving relationship with, and not to suggest that it is the primary reason for me wanting to do so, but I also had very little interest in sex anyways.  I didn't think anybody could possibly have any kind of attraction to me because I was so repulsive and so obviously troubled.  That assumption may have actually had some merit, if only because of the negative way in which I presented myself to the world.  Besides the fact that I acted like a zombie most of the time, I also didn't take care of myself very well in even the simplest of ways... rarely eating on a regular basis and consequently being painfully thin, letting my hair grow into a long tangled mess, wearing clothes that should've gone in the hamper days ago, shaving only when the mood struck me, even bathing and brushing my teeth somewhat infrequently.  I was a perfectly non-functioning adult for most of my 20's.  Lucky for me I had a caring, nonjudgmental family to depend on for food and shelter... or perhaps I was not so lucky, for maybe if I had gotten a good dose of reality early on, it might have helped to stir my active and capable side out of its slumber before I really messed my life up.

That awakening was not to start happening until sometime after the turn of the millennium.  Somehow, some way, for reasons I still to this day cannot quite explain, I began at last to realize that I could indeed transition out of the darkness and that there were things that I, myself, could personally do to make it happen.  On one random day, I made the determination to quit smoking pot, and I soon found that it was one of the easiest things I'd ever tried to do.  On another random day, I decided to get serious about my treatment plan, take my medications as prescribed and really work with my psychiatrist to find the right combinations and dosages of pills that work best for me.  Then on another random day, I found that technology can be a wonderful tool for helping me organize and stay organized, and my experience with computers and other forms of technology can be a great asset.  Still another random day led me to discover that I had long been ignoring the good, positive and downright wonderful things about life (specifically mine) and instead focusing (indeed dwelling) on the bad, negative and downright horrible... and wouldn't you know it, I found it is just as easy to ignore the bad things and focus (even dwell) on the good things once you start practicing.

Once I learned to identify the warning signs in me that can lead to hypomania and mania, I became able to keep these states of mind in check, even eliminating the mania altogether for over 4 years now.  Gradually, over a period of about 2 years, my symptoms of depression began to lessen in severity, and eventually they would disappear altogether.  Today, I am still dealing with some issues that exist because of the sheer length of time I was ill and out-of-commission, however I no longer feel depressed like I used to, even for a little while.  There have been times when I have felt sad, tired, confused, etc, but always all of these symptoms have been caused by specific situations and events... no longer do I feel bad "just because", and I can always pull myself out of a bad feeling just by focusing my mind on something else, like a task or even just a pleasant thought.  I still take an antidepressant to make sure the serotonin keeps flowing like it should, and I take another pill to guard against mania, but the dosages are low.  I have been out of talk therapy for many years now, but as I said before, there are still some lingering issues that I am dealing with (and also a few new onesÖ life goes on) so I have been visiting the Beating the Beast forums to discuss a few things with people whom I know understand, and I have been thinking about starting to see a psychologist again to try and help tackle some things that Iím still having a hard time with, such as eating healthy and forming more normal sleeping habits.

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Revised: 04/02/05.

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