By: Ryan Pettigrew
How can one of the most frequent things that plagues society still be so misunderstood? The ignorance alone turns something so common into supernatural and even the medical professionals disagree to the point of stalemate. Patients bow their heads because of the false labels and many go untreated, preferring internal misery to being looked down upon. Mental illness isn’t the end of the world and, like with anything, a little knowledge goes a long way.
When puberty hit, I went from a great kid to a monster but it wasn’t only due to out of control hormones, it actually brought on a case of Bipolar Disorder. The problem was that even though I knew something was internally wrong, I didn’t know what, and because of misinformation about mental illness, I foolishly disregarded it.
Scared to death and alone, out of control but void of malicious intent, I started down the path to rebellion because the internal misery felt at home around social outcasts. I began using drugs as a way to mask the pain but that only fueled the fire, resulting in full out madness.
Thirteen years later, I was finally diagnosed with Type 2 Bipolar Disorder and sever anxiety. Relief set in but I had dug myself a deep hole, only a few years in to a 10 year prison sentence and in solitary confinement for misbehaving in prison. It all started to make sense but way too late, however, I found peace in knowing that I was sick and not evil.
Treatment began with a low dose of Depakote that worked really well to regulate my moods, and with less manic tension, my headaches went away. I was starting to have panic attacks though but that was brought on more from the long term solitary confinement, so I started studying the subject to find a viable solution. Meditation became the answer and with 20 minutes a day, they went away.
Between the medication, exercise and meditation; I had my mental illness under control even in an environment known to worsen the symptoms. That is, until I finally caved in to my psychiatrist’s demands to raise the dosage despite the current dose working just fine. The higher dose lowered my blood platelet levels to the point where I could’ve bled out easily. I was extremely sick and it was all because I didn’t stick to my guns.
Due to how seriously sick I got, I had to change medication, and was put on Tegretol (another mood stabilizer). The side effects were bad though and I had the urge to urinate every five minutes while trying to sleep. So now I was getting less sleep and that increased my moodiness. I was miserable on it so I quit and was put on Lithium, which had even worse side effects.
This was also during a time that I was earning my way out of solitary confinement and was dealing with all the psychological issues that it caused. My mind would lock on to something and I would be obsessed with it until something else came along for me to obsess about. This was severe OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder) that stemmed from anxiety. All this in addition to the homicidal dreams and cold sweats, the latter being caused by vitamin d deficiency, or so I think because it stopped the first few days out in the sun, the former came from a chaotic psyche.
I made up my mind to go at it without the medication because it seemed to be the worst part of being mentally ill. And with each medication I took, I had to take others for the side effects, then more for the side effects of the side effects. It was an endless cycle of medication and I was done with it.
I’ve been out of prison now for a year and off medications for about 18 months but it was the best decision I have made regarding mental illness. I meditate daily, lift weights and jog for my treatment plan. Some days, in my depressed state, I lack energy and feel grumpy but I push through it knowing that it’ll only last a few days. Other times I’m so hyper that it’s hard to focus but that’s fixed with meditation. Soon I plan on doing acupuncture to reduce anxiety, but overall, I’m doing good as is; or at least as good as I ever will. It’s not really about fixing the issue because my chemical imbalance is permanent, but is more about managing it and understanding my body so I know when I need to do what.
Most mental illnesses are caused by thinking errors run amok but some are more biological in nature, although specific causes are yet to be found. The good news is that the former can be fixed with correcting the thinking errors but that’s easier said than done. The mind is a powerful thing and mental illness can turn into physical illness when not fixed, increasing the misery inflicted. Mental illness shouldn’t be feared and it doesn’t mean that you can’t live a happy and productive life; it just means you have to learn how to deal with it and have the self-discipline to stick to it. If I can do it, anyone can, but it starts with knowledge.