It was in rehab in 2012 that I decided to carry the flag for the mentally ill. I’d received my diagnosis of bipolar four years earlier and ended up in treatment because I was drinking two six-packs of beer or two bottles of wine — or more — every night. I was also smoking crack with homeless people a couple times a week and, for good measure, snorting heroin on occasion.
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I used to be ashamed of my bipolar status. I was ashamed of all of the screwball things I did when I was manic.
That was back in 2008, when I tipped the shoe-shine guy $60 because that’s how much I had in my wallet and it seemed like the nice thing to do. I stopped strangers on the street, asking them what they were listening to on their iPods and talking their ears off about music. I bought a $1,600 designer tailored suit. I thought I was on a reality TV show. And that’s just a drop in the ocean. My addiction saw intense, greater lows, like befriending homeless people.
I still make mixtapes. They may be on CD, but, to me, they will always be mixtapes. Music is my higher power in AA and even though I don’t go to very many meetings anymore, music still plays a pivotal, necessary role in my recovery — for my dual diagnosis of bipolar and addiction.
My recovery is emboldened by music. Every day, I listen intently to music for two hours or more, kind of like a means of meditation. I do nothing else but sit and listen, focusing on the music.
You are dually diagnosed. You have bipolar and addiction. It’s a nightmare. Naturally.
Alcohol makes you feel warm and fuzzy all over, especially in the winter, when all you feel like doing is cozying up to the fire and enjoying a glass of wine or a fine Scotch or bourbon. But you’re not drinking anymore — and don’t forget that you feel better as a result. Your medication is working again. And though it may be tough, you must resist the temptation to drink or do drugs. Your mental health is significantly more important.
It’s holiday madness. Everyone around you is getting smashed. You want a drink too. But you can’t have one. Why? Because you are an alcoholic. And you are bipolar. What should you do? I’ve survived five Thanksgivings and four Christmases sober and come out on the other end unscathed. In fact, they were some of the best holidays in memory, mainly because I can remember them because I was sober.
Artificial happiness. That’s what I thought I’d be getting into if I went on antidepressants. I have to admit I was scared to even go there. Would I become a zombie? Would my emotions be flattened? What about apathy? Turns out these fears were, for me, irrational.
But the circumstances were terrifying. My initial diagnosis of depression occurred in December 2007, after I was coming off a stressful situation in which I worked on a live television show, MTV’s Presidential Dialogue with John McCain.
There are 5.7 million bipolar people in the US, and 60 percent of them are addicts, according to the Epidemiologic Catchment Area study. Co-occurring addiction is more common in bipolar people than in any other psychiatric group. We drink and use drugs to stabilize our moods or to replicate the feelings of mania.
Conor Bezane is a music-meister who has written for MTV News, AOL, and VICE. A champion of the dually diagnosed, Conor has developed a flourishing support community on TheBipolarAddict.com and Facebook and has chronicled his own mental-health battles in his book The Bipolar Addict: Drinks, Drugs, Delirium, and Why Sober is the New Cool.