In a recent article I addressed the challenges of “coming out” in public. Do you tell people you’re mentally ill and face the resulting backlash? Or do you pretend that everything is normal while still displaying symptoms? Neither seem like a good option, and there’s no third choice. I’ve also mentioned how much I admire Carrie Fisher (as well as many others who speak in public about mental illness). Her straightforward attitude regarding her struggles gives me a great deal of courage.
Ms. Fisher was briefly hospitalized recently after an incident on a cruise ship. According to reports she appeared drunk, her behavior erratic. Was she drunk? Maybe. Or she might have been on one of any number of mood-altering drugs commonly prescribed to bipolar patients. Look at these headlines:
Carrie Fisher briefly hospitalized (CBS News)
I can not speak for Carrie Fisher. But I have taken a drink more than once. I don’t like alcohol and I hardly ever drink socially. But when the anxiety of a manic phase becomes too much, when the buzzing gets too bad, I have few options. Narcotics? Sure. I have bottles full of the things, a different color for every occasion. Problem is, one pill can last for hours, sometimes days, long after the symptoms have worn off. In almost all cases the side effects from a tranquilizer are much worse than the symptoms of mania.
Alternative? A shot of Bacardi. I was doing that LONG before I was diagnosed – all through college in fact. For a while I was worried about becoming an alcoholic. I used to just grab a fifth and down a few swigs. Yeah, Janice Joplin lite. The effect is nearly immediate, it doesn’t last nearly as long as pills, and I can FUNCTION. The buzzing emotions calm down. Now that they’ve started flavoring the rums, it almost tastes good. Sort of.
Of course, there are a few downsides to this. Empty calories for a start. During my heavy drinking period I pudged out quite a bit. Not pretty. And, of course, alcohol is addictive. Once you reach the point of addiction any benefit a person may receive from doing a shot is negated. Now you have two problems – you’re still bipolar and now you’re an alcoholic. Joy.
There’s also a third downside which only becomes apparent as the cycle progresses. I only need to drink when I’m manic. I get the jitters, I start to spaz, I need to calm down fast. But when the mania phases into depression… then what? I start to feel awful, I reach for a shot. And I immediately feel worse. What makes the manic phase bearable makes the depressive phase a living hell. But it’s not always obvious when the phases have switched, except in retrospect.
Carrie Fisher, wherever you are this morning, I salute you. As always you give me courage. Courage to write, to get the word out, to continue to champion the cause of those who struggle with mental illness. It’s not a sexy fight, but hey – someone has to do it.