Upon arriving home at the end of sophomore year in college, which had been devoted to hyper-control and a carefully maintained, entirely black-and-white existence, I quickly realized, to my dismay, that I would not be able to live my life with this rigidity while under the same roof as my family. I was no longer fully in charge of each day’s twenty four hours and how they’d be allocated, no longer able to decide what I’d eat and when, how much or little I’d talk to others, or what external stimuli I’d be witness to in a given day. In essence, I was no longer running my own show, and I was scared out of my mind.
My life had become so small that previous year, and, with the snap of a finger, I felt that this handful of components that made up my existence—my food, my exercise, my isolation—were now being taken away from me. I fell apart. With my all-or-none personality, I decided that there was no point in trying to control things at all anymore. If I couldn’t run the show completely, I wouldn’t run it at all. I made the executive decision to throw away all the ‘hard work’ I’d done that previous year to stand tall in the face of having a serious mental illness, and completely sabotage myself. Unconsciously, I chose to spiral out of control.
I rediscovered alcohol, amazed that I’d almost entirely ignored its existence in that last year, and it quickly became an integral part of my life. I reconnected with an old group of friends from my pre-boarding school years and we started a nightly ritual of playing drinking games in a rotating sequence of garages and basements until the early hours of the morning. I didn’t care that I’d have to wake up at seven each weekday to get to work because I had my sleep medication at home waiting patiently for me on my bedside table to get me to sleep and my antinarcoleptic waiting by my sink to get me going in the morning. I paid no heed to the warning labels on my medications telling me to avoid alcohol, indifferent to the potentially harmful side effects of combining it with pills. In fact, this new incapacity to understand the consequences of my actions swept over me entirely.
I stopped exercising. I stopped caring about restricting what I ate and instead began to do the opposite. I didn’t care that I was starting to black out at night and not remember what I did the night before when I’d wake up in the morning. It didn’t matter to me that I was showing up to work hung-over on a regular basis, despite the fact that dozens of kids were depending on me as their tennis and squash coach. The only things I cared about at that point were my nightly escapes from reality. I was living my days, barely, with one intention—to get to my nights so that I could shut myself off from the world, from my thoughts, and from my feelings. The antidepressant wasn’t doing what it was supposed to do, so I had to resort to other methods. I ceased any attempts I may have once had to address the increasingly destabilizing emotional turmoil that was churning in my brain, no longer caring in the slightest that my depression was deepening with each day that passed, because I knew I could numb myself each night, first with alcohol, and next with my sleeping pill. I had fully accepted my misery as being a permanent part of my life, and saw it as something out of my control. It was being done to me, not caused by me, so I had every right in the world to do whatever it took to temporarily shut it off whenever I had the chance.
My rapid self-destruction sent serious aftershocks through my family, but I was incapable of understanding this, or even of really seeing it at all. I viewed their concerns as further evidence that they just had no idea what I was going through, of the agonizing depression I was experiencing at every level of my being, and that if they did, they’d understand why I was going out every night, coming home in the wee hours of the morning, and drinking the way I was drinking. Those nights were saving me! They were keeping me going! They were all I had! I defended them with every fiber of my being, and with each statement of concern or worry from my family members, I pulled myself further and further away from them and from their love.
The summer months progressed this way, and by August, I was more than ready to return to school. I was sure that my misery would lessen once I moved into my apartment and was alone again. My bipolar disorder had spiraled out of control, and I was convinced that it was because of all the external factors in my life. Because of Greenwich, because of my family’s concern, because I couldn’t run my life the way I wanted to, it had become impossible for me to maintain stability and get this mental illness under control. My antidepressant was clearly ineffective and needed to be altered and my antinarcoleptic wasn’t performing the way it had last spring, but at least I could rely on my sleeping pill to do its work unfailingly every night. I’d get my meds figured out once I was back at school. Once they were sorted out, things would be OK.
I was determined to gain control of my life back, knowing that once the destabilizing forces I’d been faced with while home were out of the picture, I’d be able to gather the wreckage of my past three months, put it all together again, and pick up right where I left off at the end of sophomore year. Of this, I was sure. I had never been more wrong.
Mad in America hosts blogs by a diverse group of writers. These posts are designed to serve as a public forum for a discussion—broadly speaking—of psychiatry and its treatments. The opinions expressed are the writers’ own.