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.

Hello manic phase of my bipolar disorder, I remember you

For those people who don’t have bipolar disorder or simply aren’t familiar enough with it, there is a misconception that medication completely takes care of your highs and lows. It doesn’t. It can mask it for a while, but I’ve recognized I’m currently experiencing a manic phase.

The role of the medication is to not make the highs too high or the lows too low. What used to be a minor manic episode, like the one I’m going through now, is about as bad as it gets these days. While it may rank a 7 on my 1-to-10 scale now, it would have been a 2 or 3 back when my bipolar disorder went untreated. Earlier this year, I had my worst depressive/anxiety episode I’ve had in over a decade. It was an easy 10 by today’s standards, but would have been average when I was in my early 20s.

The one drawback I find to the medicine is that years ago, I could see the manic or depressive episode coming on. It was like a freight train at night in that there was no stopping it, but I could see it from a mile away. Now, I don’t realize if I’m up or down until I’m well into it.

There are a few things that indicate to me I’m in a manic cycle:

I’m writing/journaling/blogging at all hours of the day – There are weeks where I find it challenging to put up one post a week here. The past 10 days, I’m finding it challenging not to post twice every day. I started writing this around 7 a.m. and I never blog that early. The piece I posted last night about intimacy and jail was written in the early evening, and I never write for this blog that late.

The upside is that I think it’s healthier than a lot of things I could be doing. I’ve got a powder keg of thoughts and feelings going off in my head right now and the way I’ve learned to deal with them is to get them down on paper. Of course, me being me, I need an audience and this blog serves that beast.

Lack of sleep – I should qualify the word lack more by saying “Lack of a need.” Back in the day, during a manic phase, I could go 60 hours without sleeping, or I could go a week catching a daily three-hour nap. I’m not at those staggering levels anymore, but I can get by on five hours of sleep during a manic phase.

Fortunately, lack of sleep now means just watching a lot more TV, reading or playing games on my phone. Instead of drinking or looking at porn, it seems like you can find Everybody Loves Raymond or Two and a Half Men somewhere on television 24 hours a day. Who would have ever thought that Charlie Sheen would be my answer to not watching porn?

Trouble working – While it’s ironic that I can sit here and write my thoughts on a continual loop, when it comes to getting my actual freelance writing done, it’s like tredging through molasses. Lately, my main source of income has been ghostwriting professional or empowerment blogs for clients. Those usually run 500 to 700 words and take 90-to-120 minutes to write, depending on what kind of research is needed. Now it’s taking me 3-4 hours.

A lot of that is because I’m distracted. I can pound out 1,000 words for a blog in 15 minutes, but I can’t put three sentences together with my work without going and checking e-mail or reading news sites or playing with my dogs. I still mostly ignore politics and bad news, but during manic phases I suddenly seem to care about celebrity and science news.

Trying something new – I left social media the day I was arrested and haven’t been back. It wasn’t exactly my choice. I was banned from social media while out on bail and while on probation. That was more than five years. Then, a few days ago, I started a Facebook page for the porn addiction education component to my life. I figured with my new book on pre-order and coming out soon, it would be a good idea to utilize it for promotion purposes. I’m going to write more about this experience later today or tomorrow, but let’s just say it didn’t go well and the page is now gone.

I’ve also launched a LinkedIn page. Why? Good question. I’m not sure, but it can’t end as badly as the Facebook thing did. But I’m sure it can end badly. Guess we’ll have to wait and see. My hope is that I can play both the professional writer and porn addiction educator at the same time and connect with people who might want my services for both. I haven’t tried LinkedIn to this point. It may not be a good idea – and that’s the thought I have when I know I’m in a manic phase but try things anyway. Thankfully the things I try now (like rejoining social media, or learning to cook, or getting another dog without telling anyone) pale compared to the dumb shit I did when I drank or looked at porn and was riding a manic phase.

If this goes on for too many more days or gets worse, I’ll call the doctor, like I did when I was going through my depressive episode earlier this year and see if the meds need tweaking. The nice thing is that I can manage everything now because I’m vigilant about my mental health. The combination of addiction with my mental health issues was often too much to handle in the past. But now, I know it’s a cycle and that things will change. I also know that I won’t do the kind of damage to myself I did in the past when I was unmedicated, in active addiction, unwilling to talk to people about it and frankly, not doing anything about it.

Bipolar disorder can be a burden, but we’ve all got crosses to bear, so I’m not looking for any sympathy. I just want the non-affected folks out there to understand that kicking your addictions or being on a usually very effective cocktail of medications doesn’t make it go away.

 

 

Guest Blog: How Men’s Mental Health is Completely Ignored

Note from Josh: While I take an extended break this summer, I wanted to provide some kind of content, so Patrick Bailey was once again nice enough to contribute several entries you’ll read over the next few weeks.

By Patrick Bailey

With the recent news on suicide of high-profile public figures such as Anthony Bourdain and Avicii, it may be difficult to wrap our head about the fact that mental health for men is very underrepresented. Whether it’s because women often speak out, or there is generally more women who suffer from mental health issues, this is not an excuse to ignore the other side of the spectrum.

 

The facts about mental health problems in men

Also known as the “silent battle”, many men often fear coming clean of the issues they are facing because of the stigma about mental health. Often, it is easier for women to admit that they are facing these issues because there is no double standard when it comes to talking about emotions. Many men suffer in silence for two main reasons: they don’t want to be thought of as “weak”, and they don’t want to be labeled as someone with a mental health issue.

However, this problem is only making the situation worse. According to recent statistics, 75% of the total population who commits suicide annually are men. In simpler ratio, a man attempts to take his own life every 20 minutes in the United States. The stigma isn’t helping–and the silence is aggravating the situation either way. Often ignored, men may even suffer more severe symptoms of mental health problems when untreated. Some of the common conditions include:

Depression

A total of 6 million men in the United States undergo depression every year. Since men may be less attuned with their emotions, some of them have less awareness that they might be suffering from a condition. Male depression is much less diagnosed compared to female depression. Some of the telltale signs of depression in men are:

  • Fatigue – general exhaustion, lack of physical energy to do usual tasks
  • Irritability – easily angered, annoyed, displays negative moods which are far from the usual self
  • Aggression – threatens to hurt others, hurt oneself, or shows physical or verbal signs of abuse
  • Loss of interest in activities – lack of motivation in work, hobbies, and relationships

These signs are quite different from those of women, as women often report feelings of hopelessness or worthlessness. Since men’s minds are wired differently, depression may manifest differently.

Anxiety

Aside from depression, men are also prone to developing anxiety problems. Some of the symptoms may include:

  • Extreme sense of worry – loss of judgement over things that may cause actual harm vs. those that shouldn’t be thought about too much
  • Physical manifestations – nervous breakdown, panic attacks, cold sweats
  • Loss of function – in some cases, anxiety may be severe to the point that a man may refuse to even avoid daily activities to suppress feelings of anxiety

Another hidden problem that has lately starting to gain attention are men diagnosed with social phobia or social anxiety disorder. Some men isolate themselves to the point that they never go out of the house for years, as seen in Japan’s epidemic called Hikikomori in men.

Bipolar Disorder

Over 2.3 million Americans suffer from bipolar disorder, half of which are men usually around the ages of 16-25. Bipolar disorder is characterized by extreme mood swings which have two opposite poles: manic phase and depressive phase.

During the manic phase, a man may feel a sense of invigoration, similar to feelings like “he can conquer the world”. This results to sleeplessness, heightened senses, and even engagement with reckless activities. This might be very draining as some men experience manic episodes even during normal times of rest. During depressive phase, men may feel sluggish, unmotivated, and restless to seek another “high”.

A lot of men who suffer from bipolar disorder couldn’t sort out their emotions clearly, making them resort to unhealthy ways to cope such as drinking alcohol and taking in drugs. As a result, bipolar disorder can be accompanied with problems in substance abuse.

Psychosis and Schizophrenia

Schizophrenia and psychosis is a very debilitating condition that affects how a person views reality and their internal thoughts. It is characterized by hallucinations, delusions, and bizarre ways of thinking. People with schizophrenia may even be acting on things that appear on their minds, having mistakenly thought that it was appearing in real life.

Other men who have schizophrenia have reduced feelings of happiness, may have a flat affect, or have trouble remembering past events.

It is shocking to know that most schizophrenia patients are men over 30. This is an alerting statistic that professionals should be taking mental health for men more seriously, as early diagnosis and treatment for schizophrenia disorder is key.

 

Why are men’s mental health often ignored?

To understand the reasons why men’s mental health is not given its due attention, we must take a look at the problem in many angles.

There are double standards for men in mental health.

Looking at a sociocultural perspective, the stigma on men has always been there–they are perceived as emotionally tough, mentally strong, and does not break down with the slightest challenges in life. This is often portrayed in the media through Hollywood’s superheroes, soldiers, and other men of valor who did not let their “feelings” get in the way.

As this stigma is embedded in men’s minds, it has become difficult for them to open about what they are going through because men are supposed to toughen up. This double standard to be “emotionally strong” has caused lesser men to seek help from mental professionals.

There are many organizations that support mental health for women, but rarely for men.

A lot of mental health organizations are created specifically for women, such as those related to eating disorders, postpartum depression, and anxiety. These organizations run programs that speak specifically to women’s issues, and it is for a good cause.

However, the emphasis on these programs for women strikes a loss of balance for organizations that are specific to men. Thankfully, this has been called to attention and there are now new organizations meant to address some problems commonly faced by men such as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and Depression.

Mental health is often overshadowed by a substance abuse problem in men.

Men are known to be problem solvers. Whenever something isn’t right, they don’t want to talk about it–they want to do something about it. This is why in moments of depression, anxiety, or loss of control, men often resort to whatever could seemingly “fix” the problem–whether it’s consumption of drugs, alcohol, or any other form of addiction. Men are more likely to try out different kinds of illicit substances than women.

The problem now appears to be more of a substance abuse problem and the underlying causes that brought about the abuse are often ignored. Although mental health issues are still more common than women, it may be possible that statistics for men are higher if only they sought help instead of turning to substances.

 

What should be done to help increase awareness for men’s mental health?

Given that men suffer as much as women when it comes to mental health, what are specific steps that communities should take to bring awareness for mental health towards the other gender?

Equally promote gender-targeted programs for men.

Just as women have campaigns on their own, men should also be given the same privilege. There should be more programs open to men who are looking to solve mental health problems–campaigns for PTSD, drug rehab for men, and other gender-specific programs to help them feel that they are not alone in their battle as men.

Men should be assured that it is not only women who seek help for mental health. Having more gender-targeted programs make them feel secured that there are other people who may be going through the same problems as them.

Re-program stigmas through media.

The idea that men shouldn’t be talking about how they are feeling should be removed the way it was introduced–through media exposure. Advocates can lobby in media companies and pitch advertisements, campaigns, and programs that would help increase mental health awareness in men.

Additionally, they could also spread the message in other forms–through social media campaigns, contests, and short films. It is okay for men to share their feelings. It is not a form of weakness, rather, it’s a way to unload and to let others understand your mental and emotional states. When men say that they are okay even when they’re not, others might just believe it. Re-programming the stigmas can completely change how men see their mental health.

Strengthen advocacies related to suicide.

Three-quarters of suicides in the United States are done by men. A lot of these men go through bouts of depression, and a recent study shows that men have consumed alcohol over the last hour before their decision to take their own life. This all links back to the tendencies of men to alcoholism, drug intake, and other dangerous addictions as a way to cope with depression.

The thing is, these suicides could have been prevented if the problems in depression was addressed initially. When men suppress their feelings, they tend to deal with their problems in the ways they think would give them satisfaction–through temporary, yet dangerous highs. By cutting the root of the problem, it is easier for men to succumb to problems of addictions and abuse, and ultimately suicide.

There should be more advocacies to help men who are undergoing depression. It would be helpful to see more male high-profile personalities coming out and testifying about their struggles on depression and thoughts of suicide, to help other men understand that they are not facing the challenges alone. When more people talk about it, others muster enough courage to get help.

Check on all the precious men in your lives.

Government programs and non-profit organizations are helpful–but they can only reach as far as those who ask for their help. As citizens, we can always do our part to help men succeed against mental health problems.

The first thing is to understand the signs of common mental health problems in men–whether it’s depression, bipolar disorder, anxiety, or something else for that matter. Trust your instincts and talk to a professional right away if you notice some signs on your male loved ones. They might be able to give you some ways to encourage the men in your lives to get a definitive diagnosis and treatment.

The second thing to do is to be an encouraging person in times that these people in your life show signs of their mental health problem. We can’t truly, fully, walk in their shoes and understand their struggles, but we can empathize with them. By letting them know that we are there, and we care, they are more likely to be motivated to get help for their issues.

Lastly, it is also important to be an encourager through your actions. Perhaps your husband may be suffering from substance abuse due to depression. You can be an encourager by inviting him to try jogging outdoors. Maybe your brother exhibit signs of bipolar disorder. Give him motivation by presenting thoughtful reminders about his medication. These simple acts of encouragement makes the men in your lives feel that they matter, and for that they would want to be better.

 

Men deserve help as much as women

When it comes to mental health, men deserve all the help they can get as much as women. Men can also affected with psychological factors as much as any other type of person. However, they might be discouraged to open up due to the lack of support and stigmas in society.

The purpose of this post is to spread awareness that men can also be victims of mental health problems. By understanding why they might be reluctant to seek help, we might just be able to find ways to reach out to them.

Patrick Bailey is a professional writer mainly in the fields of mental health, addiction, and living in recovery. He attempts to stay on top of the latest news in the addiction and the mental health world and enjoy writing about these topics to break the stigma associated with them.