I’ve Returned After Dealing with A Mental Health Crisis

It’s been quite some time since I’ve written anything here. I promised myself that I wouldn’t post just for the sake of it as a New Year’s resolution and unlike just about every other resolution, I really seem to be sticking to it…maybe almost too much.

Most of my absence over the last month-and-a-half has to do with the fact that I have been battling a bout of anxiety unlike I’ve ever felt in my life. I’ve always been an anxious person, but this involved things that I could intellectually recognize were false – like my sudden aversion to make left turns in the car – but I still had crippling fear. Thankfully, my doctor put me on two new medications and they appear to be starting to work in earnest.

I stay on top of my mental health these days as if it were a full-time job. I’m 43 years old now and was diagnosed with a generalized anxiety disorder at 22 and bipolar disorder at 26. While I was in and out of therapy and generally took medication as prescribed, I was not militant in watching my mental health, especially in my mid-30s.

Instead of making sure my mental health was taken care of – and taking steps to correct it if not – I used my addictions to pornography and alcohol as the crutches to get me through the tough days. The stress and anxiety I felt in life was like a fire and my addictions were a bucket of water used to temporarily extinguish them.

Except it wasn’t a bucket of water. It was more like a bucket of gasoline. And with years and years of throwing gasoline on that fire, it was destined to eventually burn out of control.

That inferno came to a head five years ago last week, when I was arrested for crossing the line in looking at pornography that strayed from “young woman” to “older girl.” I never would have ever guessed I could be the kind of person who crosses past the line of legality, but I was at the end of a long run of not taking care of mental health.

I look back to that day and while it was the rock bottom moment of my life, I also wonder how much further rock bottom would have got had it not been for the police intervention. I wonder if I’d actually be here today or if my addictions would have led me to an early death.

The best thing for me to do a month ago was step away from my work, step away from this blog and simply focus on my mental health. My therapist put it to me so I didn’t feel guilty shying away from my usual responsibilities. She said that if I had broken both of my hands, I’d simply need to sit there and let them heal before I moved forward. Since I was in a time of crisis with my mental health, I needed to simply sit there and heal before I moved forward. Just because you can see the broken hands but not the broken mind doesn’t mean it’s equally as important to let heal.

I urge you if you think you have any mental health issues to see your primary care physician to discuss it and potentially get referred to a therapist or psychiatrist. There is no shame in taking care of yourself mentally, and as I showed from my neglect, the consequences can be damning.

 

When the Sharp Reality of Regret for Your Actions Starts Setting In

For the longest of times, decades really, I lived by the philosophy that it was better to go ahead and live life the way I wanted and to apologize to people if I crossed any lines than it was to ask permission about crossing those lines in the first place.

I don’t know exactly where subscribing to this way of thinking came from. My parents, both elementary school teachers, were not “rock the boat” kind of people. My friends were usually not in line with that philosophy either.

My guess is that it has to do with the manic side of my bipolar disorder. I wasn’t put on medication until my mid-20s, and there were times I pulled myself off of it in the last 15 years, including the year or so leading up to my arrest. I think it could also do with the development of a warped set of survival skills as a small child. I can thank an abusive babysitter for that.

I’ve been struggling a little bit lately with depression. It’s the second time this year I’m dealing with it. Surprisingly, I haven’t had a lot of depression to deal with over the last five years. My therapist believes that I was probably in more of a manic state during the 22 months I was waiting for sentencing, 6 months I was in jail and several months after my release as I began to see how my life played out. She suggests my mind was occupied with anxiety and manic energy, shielding me from the reality of what I was going through.

Now that I’ve made my way to the other side of the legal process, she says my body’s defense mechanisms are probably going back to the way they were before I went off the deep end with the porn and alcohol. I’m back to normal, but normal includes bouts of depression.

When I’ve gone through these cycles of depression in the past, I know they end in one of four ways: I basically sleep it off and let it pass, something extraordinary happens to shock me out of it, I figure out what is at the root of the depression or I up my medication. These cycles typically can last anywhere from 2 weeks to 2 months.

I went the medicinal fix root earlier this year, but would prefer to avoid it this time. I’ve been sleeping a lot extra this last month or so – about 9 hours per day vs. my usual 6 – and it’s showing a few signs of working, and the extraordinary option is out of my hands.

That leaves me with figuring out the root problem, and I think I made a big stride last night as I was lying in bed, fighting off tears of which I couldn’t identify the source.

Then it dawned on me: I have been letting regret smother me and I don’t have the tools to fight it off.

That earlier philosophy I mentioned is the root of my problems. I clung onto it during the worst of my addiction, when business partners were leaving, as I was becoming increasingly estranged from my family and while my world was crumbling. I stopped taking the bipolar meds, hoping to tap into the manic side of things during this time and continued to play by my rules, which included treating women like shit in chat rooms on the computer late at night.

I don’t think most people understand manipulating women to my will on the computer – often ending in them taking off their clothes – had very little to do with sex. Yes, it’s a sex crime, but it was an activity I engaged in to assert power. If I wanted porn, I knew how the internet worked. I wanted to control these women.

I don’t remember if I ever thought it was wrong at the time. My mindset was a mess at the time. I just needed that fix of power and control and I was going to get it anyway possible. If it occurred to me that it was despicable behavior, I certainly didn’t stop. I was going to do what I wanted to manipulate these women and I wasn’t going to ask if it was OK.

Then, the police knocked at my door. It turned out that one of those women I treated so poorly was a teenager. There was no saying sorry to get out of this situation.

Now, nearly five years since I was arrested and six or seven years since I was thinking straight regularly, I’m finally starting to understand the real wreckage I caused. I’m not going to run through a list of damages because frankly, it’s too long, involves too many people and it’s mighty painful.

My actions forever changed the course of my, and my family’s life. Someday, I will have grandchildren who discover what happened. Someday, I will want to move from my home and have to adhere to any residency restrictions a town may have in place for sex offenders. Someday, I may want a loan from a bank, but because I’m a former felon, it will be denied. Someday, I may want to get a job outside of my house and will have to cling to the hope they don’t perform a background check. Someday, I’ll want to travel out of the U.S., but dozens of countries won’t let me in. Someday, I’ll be a frail, elderly man who needs somebody to help him get to the police station four times a year to check-in as part of a restriction for a crime he committed decades earlier.

The philosophy I lived by led me to one place, a locked closet of regret and right now, I don’t have the key.

I’m not asking for pity or to be seen as the victim here. I did horrible things and deserved to pay a price. This is what I have coming to me. I thought that mentally, life would be easier the further I got away from it, but the regret just grows deeper.

Also, I’m not just starting to live with the regret. That started on the day I was arrested. What I’m living with now is the knowledge the regret will never go away.

Regret is knowing you did the wrong thing, knowing there is nothing you can do about it, and living with the fallout. It’s a fallout I’m coming to terms with more and more every day and it’s a painful process.

I lived my life without regret – and it’s the most regrettable thing I’ve done.