I Did Something Very Stupid the Other Day

So, I’ve been feeling pretty good this week. The new book was released, I somehow navigated my daughter’s 21st birthday without too much fret that I was getting old, I’m just waiting for the green light to announce something else fairly major that I thought was coming this week and the weather has been standard Maine summer, which evokes a sense of positive nostalgia. Also, the hammock my kids got me for Father’s Day has really been a nice respite at the end of the day.

Several days ago, for the first time ever in my life, I was offered edibles — marijuana-laced foodstuffs. It has been preached to me to try smoking a little to see if it helps with anxiety issues, but with my wife working in a respiratory therapist’s office, she’s taught me to be smarter than to ever put any burning substance into my mouth and ingest it into my lungs. Weed smokers — I know you like to preach that it’s more organic than cigarettes, and it is, but it is never healthy to have any kind of smoke in your lungs. Are you familiar with how they smoke meat? Your lungs are meat.

Anyway, through a third party, I was given a small tub of cotton candy and a chocolate bar. While my anxiety isn’t kicking my ass right now — it oddly hasn’t been since the start of the pandemic — I wondered if this might be the answer instead of the Ativan, which has some side effects.

I asked a friend who I know is a marijuana guy how many milligrams I should ingest. He said he didn’t know. He liked smoking because there was a fine line of edibles not working and of sending him into a deep high he didn’t like.

Like a geek, I looked at the Internet and it said that the first time user should go for 10-15 milligrams and appreciate that everybody’s metabolism is different. Some need more, some need less. Some hits fast, some takes forever.

My body is not predictable with chemicals. I don’t know if it has to do with the bipolar disorder or if I’m just a rare bird. I have no medical data to back this up, but I believe when I was 17 and had a nasty, extended case of mono that my body’s chemistry changed. Maybe it was coupled with the end of puberty, but I came out of it different than I went in. Suddenly things like codeine or Nyquil had a stimulant effect, yet to this day, there are also sedatives that my doctors have laughed about because they give me the dosage they start a 90-pound, 80-year-old person on and it knocks me out for two days. Morphine does nothing for me and I’ve had three hydrocortisone shots that have done the exact opposite of what they are intended. Anytime I try new medicine, I never know what’s going to happen.

I also wonder if the mono could have somehow triggered or aided the bipolar in developing because it was immediately after I recovered that I started having the kind of manic and depressive swings that marked the next eight or nine years. Whatever it was, my drinking increased a bit post-mono, but I discovered marijuana and for the first time in my life, I started feeling OK.

I’m not going to bore you with long stories of my extended adolescence/early adulthood. I don’t find them interesting either. Suffice to say, for three years, I smoked marijuana at least five days a week, usually seven. Much like the way I enjoyed drinking alone, I was not a social smoker. I did it on my own in a safe place. While it numbed me to the point of what most people call stoned, I tried not to overdo it. I just wanted to feel nothing.

But, feeling nothing isn’t an exact science and there were times the marijuana was either too strong or I didn’t pace myself. In my spectrum of intoxication, be it alcohol, marijuana, or one of the other substances I may have experimented with in my youth, I realized that I have different stages. The final stage, overdose/poisioning, happened a couple times but I don’t really tell those war stories anymore. The stage before that is being out of control. I can’t control my thoughts, my mouth, my actions. This is when I always knew to be in a safe place, just ride it out and not interact with people. Prior to that stage is very intoxicated, and then it winds down.

I don’t know if I was addicted to marijuana in those three years, but I quit one day, cold turkey, without even thinking about it. It was the week after I was put on anti-depressants and other anti-psychotic meds (I love the name…so dramatic) for the first time. I didn’t need the weed anymore so I stopped. The co-pay on the pills was much lower and it was still technically illegal at the time. (When I think about it, between the invention of the Internet, legalization of gay marriage, legalization of marijuana and this Coronavirus…my world is really different than it was 30 years ago. History marches on, even if you don’t feel like you’re part of it.)

I briefly returned to smoking for a couple months at 25 when I dated the woman I saw immediately before I met my wife. This woman smoked for a lot of the same reasons I did prior to getting on meds. Now, the weed just made me tired and hungry. I didn’t need it anymore and didn’t like the sluggish feeling it left me with. Prior to us breaking up, she started in on meds and her smoking dropped a bunch, too.

That was probably 2000 or 2001. Over the next 10 years, I took a hit off a joint or pipe four or five times total. Over the last 10 years, I haven’t touched the stuff once. Marijuana hasn’t been part of my life over the last 20 years. There’s been plenty of drama…weed just hasn’t been a player.

So, the other day, I took what I figured to be around 5 milligrams of cotton candy around 4:30 p.m. I wasn’t feeling anything by 5:30, so I took another 5 milligrams. I still wasn’t feeling anything at 6, so I broke off a piece of the candy bar, which I thought was 10, but turned out to be 25 upon inspection the next day. At 7 p.m. I was still not feeling anything, so I took another 5 milligrams of cotton candy.

And then around 7:30, it all hit. In my typical obsessive fashion, instead of taking the 10 to 15 milligrams and being patient, I had to keep adding on until I felt something. By the time I did, I was 40 milligrams in.

My wife knew that I was doing this and even she thought once 7 p.m. rolled around that my body had just changed and the THC wasn’t going to hit me. I was alone watching TV in our bedroom when it did because I just don’t like the Survivor binging kick my wife and son have been on since the pandemic started. I texted her to come in the bedroom and was completely honest, telling her that the sense of intoxication was coming on strong and that I may have gone too far with it, like my friend had warned.

When she came in the bedroom and I started trying to talk to her, I was immediately back at that place of being a 20-year-old kid, holed up in my room in my apartment, unable to put together a real sentence because my thoughts wandered between the start of the sentence and the finish. I felt nothing but shame. This was the bad kind of nostalgia.

Within this moment, there was the recognition that at 22, I never would have told anybody what was happening. The fact I could tell my wife open and honestly without fear is actually a big step. Shame forced me to hide so much in my earlier days. At least with my wife, I clearly was beyond that.

My son went to bed early since he now has a job that kicks his ass he has to be at first thing in the morning. Around 9:30 p.m., my wife needed to go to bed, so I went to the living room and continued watching Everybody Loves Raymond.

I next entered the phase of false enlightenment, when I start to understand the subtext of everything — even if it isn’t there. It usually starts as something stupid, such as recognizing that in Everybody Loves Raymond, the character of Debra is the surrogate for the audience watching, not Raymond. Or, that Michael Scott only plays dumb on The Office and he’s the smartest person there. You know…totally deep stuff. This also comes with a sense of shame because I know come the next day, I won’t find any of this stuff especially interesting, and am embarrassed I do in the moment because I know I shouldn’t be high to begin with.

After that comes the creativity. This surprised me. I spent the next two hours writing a series of disjointed paragraphs that could serve as openings to chapters from a couple different recovery books. I was thinking to myself, “Maybe it’s good I did this because I don’t have the next great idea yet and this is helping me!” But, the next morning I read over this stuff. While it wasn’t incorrect, it wasn’t exactly groundbreaking stuff. Reading it that next morning made me feel like an idiot because I know in the moment I’m writing it, I feel like a Pulitzer Prize, and perhaps even a Nobel Prize, is coming from my fingertips onto the page.

This entire time, though, there were introspective waves of regret for trying the edibles, knowing from the beginning there couldn’t be a happy ending. Sometimes the introspection was about all the mistakes I’ve made in life and others it was about how grateful I am to have what I have despite all of my bad choices and poor treatment of people along the way. I tapped into something in my mind that I hadn’t experienced since I was an addict more than six years ago. It was a level of self-loathing and regret I thought was behind me. I also had lots of jarred memories of being high when I was younger and what my mindset was then, a cross-section of naive optimism and a sense my future was doomed. Introspective waves are the toughest to go through when I’m in this condition. They are what make me feel completely out of control.

Then, it’s just a matter of being tired. This hit me hard around 1 a.m. as the effects of the edibles turned the corner and started easing off. I went to bed about 1:30 a.m., slept like crap and had a headache and dry mouth most of the next day. I also threw away the rest of the edibles. It was an experiment and a big part of me is glad it didn’t work because I don’t want to become a marijuana guy. I know every other person has their dispensary card and perhaps they can handle it better than me, but since kicking alcohol and porn, I don’t need something to extract me from real life. I prefer real life now.

This experience also reminded me that I’m getting older, my body isn’t what it once was, and there isn’t any need for me to seek any kind of medicinal relief because I have it under control. My issues with addiction were always about control and I don’t know if my marijuana use in my early 20s had anything to do with it, since I don’t think I was actually addicted, but with the lack of control it made me feel, I recognized that security is more important to me now than ever and the criteria for making choices as a 44-year-old in recovery is very different than the criteria of a 20-year-old guy who is just trying to navigate early adulthood.

The experience sucked, the lessons I learned were ones I probably already knew, but needed reinforced. It was stupid, but it could have been so much worse.

Remember kids, Just Say No.

No, It’s Not The Coronavirus That’s Making Me Depressed

The thing that sucks about heading toward a depressive/anxiety episode, as my body is telling me that I’m doing is that there is very little I can do to stop it. It’s just part of the deal with bipolar disorder. I can call the doctor and ask them to up my meds, which I may do in the coming days, provided they don’t demand an office visit. I refuse to pay $152 for something they can just do over the phone. When they insist, I usually just tell them “Never mind, I’ll try to get by” and then I get my way.

I have to make sure that I’m also not helping along some self-fulfilling prophecy. I don’t want to feel shitty and I have to constantly make sure that I’m not overblowing it. My grandmother left me scarred as far as knowing when I’m actually sick or not, so I constantly have to assess the situation and make sure I’m not telling myself that I’m better or worse than I actually am. It’s a little easier with a physical ailment, especially if it’s bleeding, but with a mental issue, I have to double-check that I’m being honest with myself.

One of the slightly annoying things is that I don’t feel like I have the manic upswings I once did. If I have to have the lows, the trade-off should be the highs that I experienced when I was younger. Maybe it’s a good thing they don’t happen now that I think about it.

I’m off to see my therapist in about an hour. I only visit her about once every three weeks now, but I’m going to suggest that we make the next appointment a little sooner. I really hope she doesn’t ask me what my mother and wife have: “This doesn’t have to do with being scared about the Coronavirus does it?”

I wrote about it last week and may have dismissed it a little more than I should have, but no, it’s nothing to do with that. I do think if Tom Hanks dies from it, we should rename it Tom Hanks’ Disease, like we have Lou Gehrig’s Disease. Maybe that’s morbid. No, that’s definitely morbid. The thing that hit me last night was that my uncle who died in late January has no idea that any of this happened. I don’t think his death has actually hit me yet. Maybe it won’t.

Mother Nature can be a bitch, but I think it’s important that humans are reminded now and then that we don’t have the power we think we do. We still can’t control the weather, nor natural disasters and we still can’t control pandemics. The world has had its share of volcanic eruptions that destroy the ecosystem or floods and fires that wipe out huge swaths of land. We’ve seen hurricanes and tsunamis take hundreds and thousands of lives and yes, there have been many diseases and plagues that took the lives of even more.

All that said, the human animal is resilient. We’ve gone 200,000 years and we’re going to go a lot more. In the coming days, you’re probably going to hear a lot more negative news and a ton of new cases, which is going to cause some people to have fatalistic, “the sky is falling” attitudes. To this, I say, “I don’t believe we’re on the eve of destruction.”

It’s interesting how people who haven’t experienced depression or anxiety think it works. When most people hear depression, they think sadness and when they hear anxiety they think scared. While I do get helpings of each, it’s more about a physical and mental paralysis with me. I physically feel both a tightness and a sense of detachment from my body and mind. For those who have smoked marijuana, it’s a little similar to that high. I just can’t operate at normal speed as I feel impaired.

Last year, I had a horrible bout of this, but I don’t see this one being even half as bad. I think what may have made it worse last year was that I didn’t recognize it soon enough and get the necessary rest to help move things along. I’m not going to make that mistake this time. I’ve cleared a bunch of my work for the next couple weeks and aside from a major radio show this weekend (if you’ve got Sirius XM, I’ll be on Sunday at 6 on Channel 131) I’m stepping back from marketing the book.

Anyway, I think I just needed to get this babbling out of my system before I see my therapist. I hope everyone has a good day. Wash your hands.

I Can Sense the Next Bipolar Spike is About to Begin

When my mind starts to really wander into metaphysical, philosophical and quantum mechanics areas of thinking at all times of day, I know that either a bipolar high or a bipolar low is about to make an appearance. I’ve made the decision to track some of these thoughts over the next few years so I can see if there are any trends in the content of the thoughts so I can predict which way things are going to go.

I tried to explain this to a woman at rehab once. I know people get songs caught in their head. That happens to me all the time, but a lot of the time it’s as if they are songs that aren’t in a language I can understand. It’s just background noise, like when you leave a fan running at night so the room isn’t quiet.

The best way I can describe this is as getting a really complex – yet utterly pointless – song caught in your head, and then getting like two or three songs caught at the same time. It’s like I’ve stumbled across an idea and I can’t just let it go. If you’ve ever binged at something, whether it’s a TV show or video game or something else, you might also understand this. For instance, when Tetris first came out 30 years ago for the Nintendo Gameboy, I played it so much that I was rotating blocks and hearing 8-bit classical music even in my sleep.

 

Here are a few examples of these things that get stuck in my head…

 

Almost every religious text references the end of the world. I was flipping through the TV channels the other night and one of the religious channels had a guy preaching that the coronavirus was the signal of “end times.”

Then, I was driving in the car and the song “In the Year 2525” by Zager and Evans came on the radio. It basically talks about mankind moving toward an unknown future and considering it was written in 1968, it probably makes more sense now than then. It got me wondering if mankind will still be around in 5,000 years.

Let’s say we do something stupid and we’re not around in 5,000 years. I think that’s entirely possible. Our ability to develop technology far outstrips our ability to recognizes consequences. Disregarding our similar, yet different, relatives, the modern human has been on Earth for 200,000 years.

If we have less than 5,000 years to go, we are 39/40ths of the way to extinction. If you’re on vacation for 40 days, don’t you consider the 39th day the end of the vacation?

Maybe end times aren’t coming. Maybe we’re living in them now.

Is the head technically a body part? The head is a collection of body parts, but is it a part itself? Is it more of just a concept? Can a part be a collection of other parts?

You could say that the ear is part of the head, but the ear is just a collection of other parts – the eardrum, the tiny bones, etc., so is the ear truly a part? I’ll admit I know nothing about the eardrum, and it’s too early to go researching, but it’s possible that’s made up of other parts.

So let’s say, yes the head is a body part. Does that make the body itself a body part because it encapsulates everything or does it stop being a part because it’s a whole? If I am in an accident and lose a finger, my body is still a whole…or is it?

If you take a piece of pie, the rest of the pie is still the pie. But when there is less than half the pie left, we talk about it in the past tense, “How much of the pie is left?” It was once a whole but is now less than that. If it’s less than a whole, it should be a part.

In this same vein, what would it take to officially exhume the Titanic and not just parts of it? At what point would we say we have the boat from the ocean floor? A lot of stuff has just rotted away and is gone. How much of the boat had to come to the surface of what’s still left to be considered saving “the boat” and not just pieces?

But, if things like head, pie and boat are concepts just as much as they are actual things, what isn’t a concept. Aren’t words just concepts used to codify and identify things? If that’s true, why dwell on this?

 

Anyway, that’s just a tony look at the kind of stuff that’s clouding my head right now. I’m also thinking a lot about the fact that every person I see has a complete, complex life and if there are any types of ranking systems to determine what a good life or bad life would be.

Sometimes my head doesn’t buzz with this kind of nonsense and other times it feels almost debilitating. It’s kind of exhausting, which I guess is why I’m drinking more caffeine than I have had in a while. I’m also sleeping a lot, which makes me think things are on a downward slope, but there’s nothing concrete signaling depression on its way.

I’ve been like this forever and I know that part of my addiction was not just to cope with trauma, but to escape this kind of thinking that is just loud random chatter happening in my head. I’ve talked to doctors and shrinks about it and none of them seem too considered, so I won’t be either. The addictions helped slow my mind. I know there are things like meditation that is supposed to help, but I can’t get there. I’ve tried many times. Meditation is either me going deeper into these crazy thoughts, or falling asleep altogether.

Don’t worry about me. I can cope with this stuff. I just wonder if anybody else has stuff like this happen.

 

Think Addiction and Bipolar Disorder aren’t Connected? Think Again.

Quite often when I’m doing interviews, I’m asked about the connection between my bipolar disorder and my alcoholism and pornography addiction. I’ve always felt like there was some link between the two, but I finally did a little research to confirm it. As it turns out, there’s a huge link.

Bipolar disorder, which has made it onto the list of most self-diagnosed conditions (migraines continues to top that chart), actually only occurs in between 1.5 and 2.5 percent of the population according to one 2018 study. Another said that it was 4.4%, so I guess you have to believe the one you want.

I was diagnosed at age 26, although I can recognize episodes of mania and depression going back to my mid-teens, not-so-coincidentally when my addictions first began to surface. Ironically, the average age for onset of bipolar disorder is 25, but I know I had it long before that.

Unfortunately, there is not a lot of research yet on the likelihood of someone with behavioral addictions like sex/porn addiction, gambling addiction or video game addiction also suffering from bipolar disorder, but based on what we know with substance addictions, I think it’s safe to say there’s a link.

To the unaware, bipolar disorder (formerly known as manic depression) is essentially a psychiatric disorder characterized by unstable moods, depression or mixed manic and depressive episodes that are accompanied by drastic changes in sleep patterns and energy levels. Erratic, irrational decision-making can also be a sign of untreated bipolar disorder.

Back when I went untreated, manic was my norm. It was the bouts of depression that indicated to me something was wrong. I’m not going to give my entire history here, but if you’d like to see an article I wrote for my magazine way back in the day where I essentially confessed to the community I had bipolar disorder, click here. It’s a long read, but a good one.

I’m going to try not to turn this into an academic paper, so if you want sources for my statistics, just let me know and I’ll provide them, but I’d rather these be an easier read.

In the US population, roughly 15% of the population are tobacco smokers. Among those with bipolar disorder, anywhere from 60% to 80% either were or are currently tobacco smokers. I was among those in early 20s, but I quit a two-pack-a-week habit in my mid-20s. I took it up again shortly after I was arrested (ironically in rehab) in 2014 and kept it up for about 9 months before quitting again.

In the US, about 1-in-8 people, or 12.5% or the population can be classified as alcoholics. Among those who have bipolar disorder, it’s closer to 42% to 44%, depending on which study you use. I was firmly in this group as well.

As for drugs, someone with bipolar is 14 times more likely to have a substance use disorder than a person without. In fact, over half the people with bipolar disorder (56%) have a history of illegal drug use. One study I saw said that number could be as high as 70%. Although I experimented a little bit, I never embraced illegal drugs the way I did alcohol or pornography.

There is information out there that also links bipolar disorder to populations who report much higher than average anxiety, ADHD and eating disorders.

It’s important to note that it’s just not higher rates of addiction among people with bipolar disorder. You’ll find higher rates of homelessness, violence (both committed by and against), crime and suicide in this population.

There is no known cause for bipolar disorder, addiction, or co-occurrence. It’s just as important to highlight that addiction does not cause bipolar disorder and while the numbers clearly indicate those with bipolar disorder have a much, much higher likelihood of a co-occurring disorder, it is not guaranteed. Researchers believe a combination of factors, such as environment, genetics, biology, etc., are believed to play a role in both bipolar disorder and addiction. Reading between the lines, that seems code for, “We still have no idea.”

When I was at rehab, it felt like two-out-of-three people claimed they had bipolar disorder. I thought they were way overstating it, but as it turns out, maybe those numbers were right on the money.

I hope that the scientists who conduct the kinds of studies and surveys that I referenced above are studying behavioral addictions look to establish a connection between them and bipolar disorder as they’ve done with substance addictions. Anecdotally, based on the sex and porn addicts I’ve known, I think you’ll see very big numbers.

Pacing Myself Has Never Been My Strong Suit

Last spring, I was burnt out. I had just experienced a prolonged bout of anxiety, worse than any I ever had. It sent me away from this site for a while and through the first five months of the year, I posted on here as much as I did in an average week these days.

Behind the scenes, I was in a particular busy cycle with my freelance writing/ghostwriting career and I was putting the finishing touches on the first draft of the book that will be released on December 1. When it came to writing this blog however, I just wasn’t feeling it.

So, around Memorial Day, I made the decision to shut it down. I was done with the book, it was in the editor’s hands, I didn’t feel like telling my story for the 300th time on a podcast and I was out of ideas to write about, or simply didn’t want to put in the effort when it came to my website. I found somebody who would produce a few guest columns for me and I only posted one all summer, when I came off of probation in July. I went on vacation for the month of August and largely forgot that this site existed.

I had to play catch-up upon returning, so the first couple weeks of September were a little slow on here, but the book had progressed to a point where real progress was made and a release date was set. Having not told my story for around 4 months, I agreed to appear on a couple of podcasts and, rather unplanned, I started posting here every day. That may have had to do with a spike in the manic side of my bipolar, but either way, I was producing more content then ever.

Here we are, two months later and I’m not getting fatigued in the least. I recorded one podcast last night, already recorded one this morning (you can watch HERE, just fast-forward to 1:02 to get to my part) and I’m recording one tonight. I also have two to record tomorrow. I’m also creating a website post every day and doing a few other things to prepare for the release of the book.

Yeah, the freelance/ghostwriting thing is slow right now, and I’m not pursuing much new work, so that’s a drawback, but I’m not starving yet and my bills are getting paid. I’m just not saving money.

In my burnout last spring, I said that I could never put the energy into promoting a book, or simply continue to put the energy into spreading the message of porn addiction that I had in the first half of 2018. I didn’t want to go back to that marathon, but here I am and I’m pushing twice as hard. Granted, I feel like I’ve helped create a book that will do far more good and reach far more people than my memoir did, but I’m starting to recognize I should put some limitations on myself.

I think next week, I’m going to refrain from posting on Thanksgiving, and maybe the day before or after, and I won’t write something and schedule it in advance. I think that I’ll make sure not to do any podcasts for a few days before Christmas or a few days after. It’s dawning on me that I’ve never been great with balance. I find a project, I fall in love with it, and I work it hard. Stepping back and taking breaks is going to be a learning process, but it’s one I intend to succeed at so I can continue to do this work. Hopefully someday this will pay off monetarily, but it feels very purpose-driven either way. I just have to convince myself to maintain balance for that purpose.