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Mental Health

A reminder that this article from our magazine Visions was published more than 1 year ago. It is here for reference only. Some information in it may no longer be current. It also represents the point of the view of the author only. See the author box at the bottom of the article for more about the contributor.


Helping me enjoy the world go by

Howard Dempster

Reprinted from "Medications" issue of Visions Journal, 2007, 4 (2), pp. 15-16

stock photoI’ve been in the mental health care circle for almost 15 years, trying to get to the bottom of what is going on with me. Five years before that, I was a full-blown drunk and cocaine user.

I took care of my ills, when it came to feeling sadness and emotional pain, by getting loaded—I’d had periods of unexplainable ups and downs since I was a kid. At the time, this worked for me. I did quit drinking for a while to save a relationship, but that didn’t do the trick; she still sent me packing. So I started drinking again. And because I worked in an industry where I was out of town a lot and drug use was part of the scene, I got drunk and stoned more and more.

Then, on one day, I got two impaired charges. I thought I’d be going to jail for sure. As the time grew closer to my court date, I became increasingly concerned that I would die in jail with no booze or drugs—so I checked myself into Pender Street detox for 21 days. And I went to court, and my lawyer got me off with no jail.

I never went back to drinking because, after that close call with jail, I got sober for me. I was pretty grateful for evading jail. And I kind of knew there had to be something better for me, though I didn’t know what.

After I quit drinking, though, I was left with this tremendous anger, depression, a feeling of not belonging and the most incredible feeling of loneliness. So I started on my journey to find out what was going on with me.

I sought out counsellors, psychologists and a psychiatrist. They all basically said it was the way I lived my life. My life was a mess. I didn’t eat properly, didn’t wash, didn’t clean my place on a regular basis, and was in a relationship I shouldn’t have been in because the lady was still actively using.

I had to agree with some of what they said, because I really didn’t know how to live my life sober. But I also had this sense of not belonging, of being all alone. And I had this feeling of doom and gloom—what will happen next?—and that cloud that shrouds it all.

The psychiatrist said it was depression and prescribed numerous varieties of prescription drugs.

As hard as I tried to convince myself that these drugs were working, nothing had really improved. So I parted company with the psychiatrist, and took time off from seeking help. But as the days went by, I was getting worse. Talking to my sister one day, I said I’d had enough of this life and all it had to offer. She got quite worried about my well-being and phoned Tri-Cities Mental Health. I didn’t know she’d done this, so was surprised when they phoned me, but I took the appointment.

And I started on yet another journey, hoping it would go somewhere different and not to the same old place.

When I got there, the first thing they said was that I was depressed. And, once again I was given the same meds that didn’t work for me the last time. I almost went my own way yet again, but, like a good boy, I took my meds and went for the ride. I really believed this was my last stop to get help, and I was determined that someone would hear me.

I’m not sure how long I’d been going to Tri-Cities when it came time to have my 15 minutes with the psychiatrist. I guess my behaviour wasn’t up to her standards, because she asked me to check myself into Royal Columbian Hospital psychiatric unit for a stay. Well, whatever it was that I did to end up there, I sure as hell won’t do it again!

Going there was a hard road to travel. But it was a road nevertheless, and the beginning of a new life. Before my stay was over, I was diagnosed with full spectrum bipolar disorder, and my meds were changed again, to lithium, Zyprexa and lamotrigine. I have been on this round of drugs for two years now, and let me tell you, with these pills, I have a chance of getting my life in order.

I thought that once I started this journey to recovery the cloud over my head—the one I’d been trying to get rid of by drinking and doing drugs—would finally go away. Well, I’ve been clean and sober for 20 years, and after 20 years this cloud is still over my head.

My counsellors say I’ve been making strides, though. Without my meds I don’t think I would be in the position that I’m in today. I wouldn’t be in a position to even learn how to live, or to try to be in a relationship. I wouldn’t have a chance to function like a human being. Now, I can take my lady out for dinner and really enjoy the dinner with her. I’m able to go out and watch the world go by, and enjoy it.

Today I also speak to groups about mental illness and addiction. I may not always make the best lifestyle choices, but I get to make my choices now instead of my illness making them for me.

I don’t want to be on this stuff for the rest of my life, but I think I will be because when I miss them I know there is something wrong. My whole sense of well-being changes.

I think that anybody who is taking prescription drugs for their mental health should have a counsellor to help them on their road to recovery. In most cases, we are pretty screwed up prior to being diagnosed with our mental health problems. I know that when I started taking my meds, I didn’t have much of a clue how to live. If it weren’t for my counsellors, I wouldn’t have bothered taking any meds.

Now we have these wonderful drugs—but what do we do with them? Nothing—because we don’t know how to live! Counsellors can help us work through this.

So, what is the point of taking our meds? Well, without them our minds wouldn’t be able to figure out how to live.

I really don’t know where I am today, but I do know one thing: it’s better than where I was. Now I’m trying to live life on life’s terms, not my own. I’m trying to make me proud of me.

So, to sum it up, take your meds and keep taking them and don’t be afraid to tell your care worker if you think the meds aren’t working. And keep going to counselling.

About the author

Howard was born in Vancouver. He has three children, works in construction and is in a relationship he really hopes will work.


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