The Endless Dream: on Addiction and My Mental Health

I would not call myself a happy or joyful person…I’m cynical, eternally depressed, and generally unhappy. Visually impaired, somewhere on the autism spectrum, transgender, and somewhere between bipolar II and similar mental health problems. Not a good mix for producing someone that can manage to avoid addiction. Doesn’t help that it runs in the family to some extent, either.

Can you get addicted to or become dependent on being miserable? That’s where it all started…I became so familiar with being sad and miserable that it became easier to fall in to that as a default and became very hard to push back against the feeling. However that wasn’t the only mental health disorder that started when I was in school: anxiety began to crop up along with the depression.

Back in high school I started experiencing panic attacks along with the severe depression. It eventually got to the point I was convinced I was dead and was living in hell. I even began to further lose a connection to reality too. I would look at the world and it wouldn’t feel real and being aware that I was alive became utterly terrifying. I could look at an object and it would feel smaller or larger than I remembered, which was terrifying. My mental health was in a tail spin, so I sought help….I went to a psychiatrist. I wrote up a “list of problems” to bring up with them with the assistance of a friend. I eventually was prescribed SSRIs and something more dangerous: benzodiazepines, a small amount for use to quell panic attacks before the antidepressants could have enough time to start helping. They could end a panic attack in half an hour. I finally had a tool for use against my severe anxiety that wasn’t ducking out of class for an hour and listening to music while pacing around. My friends started to get a bit concerned, as did I as they made me just feel too good. I had a powerful but dangerous tool I could use whenever I needed to help with something unpredictable that made attending classes hard. I told my parents to hide the meds and only give them to me when absolutely critical, I narrowly avoided starting down the path of an addiction before even leaving high school but eventually the antidepressants started helping with the anxiety. Ultimately they would turn out to make things worse as time went on, though but that’s a story for later.

I fled my home town in 2015 to make a clean break with everyone and everything I knew, and my mental health was manageable for a short time. I dabbled a bit with alcohol but never picked it up as a serious habit yet. Occasionally I would have the sensation of a rapid heart rate, a sensation of a difficulty breathing, an inability to sit still, and a sense of severe panic: the panic attacks were back. As a result I connected with a local psychiatrist and decided to change up my meds to see if that’d help after a couple ER visits and ambulance rides. Again, I was prescribed a small dose of anti-anxiety meds which helped until the prescription ran out.

A new anxiety was developing, though: a panic over my heart. I would have small episodes of more skipped heartbeats than normal and it would terrify me. One day due to anxiety, poor decision-making and hypomania, I did something for the first time: ate an entire weed cookie at the office to calm myself down. This led to an ER visit because I became convinced I would “float away” and die. (years later I found out that if I had that feeling again I’d merely just zone out and fall asleep for a little while with no detrimental effects.) I am very smart, you see. That made me anxious for a few months but I eventually just got over it with no long-lasting effects.

Eventually the new meds calmed down my anxiety and the heart issues calmed down as well so long as I kept well hydrated. However, the office I worked in started stocking beer and I would be gently pressured in to having a couple after work on some Fridays, I was still generally responsible and generally avoided anything harder, except for small amounts during special company events. The major problem was that I started to like the taste of alcohol and alcoholic beverages, which made being responsible harder. Eventually I would leave that job and start consulting for a coworker who also left said company, which was ultimately one of the worst decisions of my life – although having stayed likely would’ve had the same outcome.

The consulting would occasionally lead to meetings over food and beer at a bar, or planning sessions over mimosas at his house, or debrief sessions at the airport bar. This set in motion a bad precedent: drinking with coworkers as an expectation.

By this time I had developed a taste for beer and cider, white wines, and well-made mixed drinks, but life was going well enough for a time, or so I thought. Work pressure grew, as did the yelling/mistreatment by my boss, but the money was better and I was stuck there anyway with no way out. Things began to fall apart for me. By this time I had met a friend online that I was quickly falling in love with who would eventually come to visit, that would work out poorly. I had wine on hand for us to drink as we were both on vacation, but I started drinking to cope with the stresses of work and my personal life around this point. I was starting to really worry my friends when they’d visit or I’d visit them, though due to how much I’d drink and just how low my mood would get.

Alcohol was starting to taste great and I started to really like feeling drunk…it was better than being myself. The old familiar misery after the happiness wore off, less anxiety, but the difficulty walking and needing propped up was a manageable side effect. I was still being somewhat responsible, or so I thought. A few times a week, and not to excess – maybe a large cider, a beer with dinner, or a (fairly large) glass or two of wine. It wasn’t impacting my work just yet.

Money started getting tight due to less work coming in and I was in 5-digits worth of tax debt. My income was $50 more than rent and I was borrowing heavily from a friend to pay bills and food. I borrowed from a separate friend to have enough to go out drinking every Wednesday. I was no longer being responsible: the intent was to get drunk, and the drinks tasking good just made it easier. A friend who lived in the neighbourhood ensured I got home safe, but I would still worry everyone I was around at the event though.

Come the 8th of August 2018, everything would fall apart. Relationships ended, friendships strained. I was at my lowest point: The Night the World Ended. I went out drinking as usual, but my local friend was not there that night. I got a ride home early from a friend shortly after puking in the bar bathroom. Shortly after arriving I hopped on a phone conference with some friends, but eventually had to puke again. My heart rate spiked to about 200bpm and it was not a regular rhythm either, so I ended up in a very necessary ride in an ambulance to the hospital. I was there for a at least a day or two. A couple times during the stay I was given a dose of a benzodiazepine again to calm down my anxiety and let me sleep a couple times.

After being discharged and returning home I was terrified: I had a new health problem on top of my existing stresses, and the anxiety was back. I poked a new local friend I’d met a few weeks back and went to sleep there for the night. I ended up having another severe panic attack after arriving and ended up at the ER again, and was again given a dose of a benzodiazepine and returned to her place where I spent the night. I would later start having panic attacks most every night, sleep was difficult and I couldn’t return to my old apartment without having a panic attack. Her other roommates ended up ultimately letting me move in. I did a 30-day heart monitor and was eventually prescribed a medication to keep my heart rate within normal levels. Eventually I was semi-voluntarily admitted to a mental hospital due to the severe anxiety and depression.

At the mental hospital I was prescribed a benzodiazepine for use as-needed while I was there for 2 weeks or so. I would end up taking it at least once more-or-less every day: I was becoming dependent on the anti-anxiety meds. I was prescribed a mood stabliser and was discharged. These meds did little for my anxiety, and I could barely leave bed without having a rapid heart rate and panic attack. After frequent ER visits due to panic attacks and many rough nights, I would be involuntarily committed again: the further-lowest point of my life. My use of the anti-anxiety meds had reliably become at least once daily. I was on an antidepressant that made me paranoid, further making my anxiety even worse.

The anti-anxiety med use would continue for many months at that amount. It would take weeks to get off the benzodiazepines and on to the antipsychotics, mood stabiliser, and less-addictive (but less effective) anti-anxiety med.

Fast forward to 2022 – to this day, I feel my anxiety is still above my early-2018 levels but it’s at least manageable now. I don’t have severe panic attacks very often, but the anxiety is still present.

I haven’t had any alcohol since August of 2018 but I still have cravings on many days. I don’t think that will ever go away, unfortunately. It would be easy to relapse there if not for the fact it’d probably land me in the hospital again at best – so that’s a pretty big deterrent.

Haven’t touched a benzodiazepine since mid/late 2019 but I also still have cravings for them. My baseline anxiety level is higher than years ago and I just felt too relaxed on them. Stress and anxiety would melt away, except I’d just fall right back in to feeling miserable eventually. As a result, I will refuse to ever be administered one again unless it’s a part of anaesthesia for a medical procedure. The antipsychotics and less strong anti-anxiety med at least make sleeping while anxious more doable.

Addiction has been a long and hard road off-and-on since 2011, but it has become easier as time goes on. I occasionally have nightmares about relapse, which can be hard, but I have healthy ways of coping with that. There are good and bad days, but more good than bad as time progresses, thanks to everyone who has supported me throughout the years.

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