If you ask a 100 Psychiatrists/Addiction Specialists which comes first addiction or mental illness, you will get 100 different complicated answers. It is complicated when you’re dealing with the brain. I can only say what I know and what I have witnessed.
There is addiction and mental illness on both sides of my family. Generations of it. This includes both of my parents. I never thought my father had any mental health problems until we started to talk about it in the last few years.
MY MENTAL ILLNESS AND ALCOHOLISM
I’ve said before that my memory isn’t the best so I’ll estimate and go by what my dad has told me and what I can remember.
When I was as young as 6 or 7 I felt out of place everywhere. My own Birthday parties filled my stomach with butterflies and I just wanted to hide. I shared these parties with my twin who I would watch as she laughed and enjoyed herself. I couldn’t understand why I didn’t feel the same as she did.
I have always been extremely sensitive to everything. I cried often and also had a quick temper that I took out on inanimate objects. I had a strong fear of abandonment and had a time with sleepovers or staying at another person’s house. I spent most of my time in my room reading.
At one point my mom talked to my dad about my behavior and suggested I see a doctor. He said that I would grow out of it and to leave me alone. I did spend time with my dad because we shared a passion for animals. I told my secrets to my mom.
Our family had a lot problems at one time. My brother was drinking and doing drugs. He had his own issues that my parents were not equipped to deal with. His father had been mentally ill and an alcoholic who committed suicide by driving his car into a cement barrier. My brother had a hard time accepting my dad and dealing with the secrets of his own father’s death.
My mother had several “nervous breakdowns” when I was younger and was hospitalized. She was never diagnosed or given medication. My father and mother both quit drinking when I was about 6. She would continue to have depressive episodes the rest of her life.
I started to dry heave before school everyday starting in Junior High. I never used the bathrooms and lunch was always difficult. My anxiety was out of control. I felt useless and invisible often. I had one friend. I was an observer of life. I started to sleep more and more.
In my later teens I would have times where I felt I had a thousand cups of coffee and I could do anything. I talked fast, started but never finished a million things, worked after school, and spent all the money I made.
At 16 I tried alcohol for the first time. My anxiety went away and I found I could talk to anyone and not care what they thought. I was funny and felt attractive. The pain on the inside was also gone. The feeling doesn’t last long so I had to keep drinking to feel normal.
My father admitted he drank because he had anxiety and a problem with being around groups of people. He still has anxiety.
I was diagnosed as Bipolar after 20 years of self medicating with alcohol. I’ve been sober 9 years. I wouldn’t have been able to stay sober without the help of anti-anxiety medication. No one should have to live with anxiety so bad they have ulcers at 17. Anxiety so bad it prevents them from doing normal activities. There was point I couldn’t go to the gas station by myself. That isn’t living.
As I’ve watched other people in my family it always seems like a mental health problem or a mental illness was the underlying factor in their drug or alcohol abuse.
When I did see doctors they only wanted to focus on the alcohol and never even thought there could be anything else going on. They had my family history of mental illness and still focused on the alcoholism. This needs to change. Both issues need to be treated together and doctors need to realize that the majority of addicts have a mental health issue. The ball is being dropped too many times and we are losing too many beautiful people.