How Crazy Am I? (Originally published 11/2/12)

My official diagnosis was originally given to me in March of 2012, seven months before I checked into Four Winds. I was diagnosed with Bipolar II Disorder. In plain English, my mood would shift from extreme suicidal depression to periods of hypomania, which were characterized by high energy, impulsiveness, extreme anger and irritability, and even delusions of grandeur. It wasn’t until recently that I could see these patterns and how they presented themselves over the course of my life. It took quite a while before I understood the delusions of grandeur. One of my favorite lines was that it was my world and everyone else just lived in it. After my wife and I separated, she pointed out that I wasn’t really joking. The world and everything in it were mine, and anyone who tried to stop me from doing whatever the hell I wanted would be subjected to the foulest verbal abuse I could muster. Yelling, screaming, debasing language, throwing things, these were all part of my horrendous anger issues. Too often my rage was directed at my wife; not that she had done anything to deserve any of it, she was just the nearest target. The guilt and regret of treating the woman I truly loved and respected in such a deplorable manner helped fuel the inevitable depression that followed the mania.
As I said, the depression was often fueled by the behavior of my mania. The episodes of extreme anger, nights of drinking until 4 am, visits to strip clubs, using cocaine, and most of all, spending obscene amounts of money. I did all of these in my manic moods and it was all well and good and made me very happy until the depression would inevitable follow. Then, I began to regret all of it. The worst of it was that I had created such intricate lies to cover it all up, that I had no one I could talk to. Besides, who would believe that I, a catholic school teacher, was going to strip clubs, snorting cocaine, and spending $10,000 a night? Really, what kind of jackass is that irresponsible? Oh wait, that was me.
The actual bouts of depression that followed my manic episodes were soul crushing. I was unable to get out of bed for days at a time. I would call in sick and blame one of my chronic illnesses, either Type II Diabetes, or ulcerative colitis for my inability to go to work. Of course, people believed me. In the months leading up to my partial hospitalization, I finally disclosed to my principal my depression and another symptom, panic attacks. I would wake up shaking, crying, and my heart pounding. He thought my depression was because of the recent separation from my wife and son. At that stage, so did I. Over the next few months though, I wound up taking a leave of absence from work. When I returned the following September, however, the same pattern began and I wound up having to resign from my job so I could get a severance package and continued health insurance.
Before I went on medication to treat my bipolar disorder, and later, when I went off my meds, I did my best to self-medicate. When I was in the middle of a manic period, cocaine was the drug of choice. It kept me spending money and also kept me awake so I could continue with my insanity. It also did actually calm me down a bit. Actor and comedian Stephen Fry, who is also bipolar, described very similar effects. It seems counter-intuitive, but that was my reaction. My thoughts stopped racing and were more focused.
While in the throes of depression I preferred alcohol. Scotch, vodka, or beer would do. These kept me physically calm and reduced the severity of the anxiety attacks. I also was prescribed Xanax for the anxiety, but I kept my use of it to a minimum and never took it other than as prescribed. I knew Xanax was physically addictive and if I abused it I would have to detox to get off it. The thought of that frightened me. Xanax scared me, but the idea of having a cocaine-induced heart attack didn’t even register on my mental radar. Now that’s just plain crazy.

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