As my consultant said recently, medication has its role, but it’s not the be all and end all. I really respect her for this view – it’s close to my own opinion.
So this had me wondering how else I ‘medicate’ myself aside from the meds I take.
My first risky run in with self-medication was with alcohol, in my early days of doing psychiatry. I hadn’t been diagnosed bipolar as yet, and was cycling out of control between hypomania and depression. When my father killed himself the stress and claustrophobia of that weekend in hospital were colossal, and when the life support was switched off my mood soared (stress has often made me go very high). I remember the train journey home with my sister feeling elated, superhuman, able to take on the universe. The sky was ethereal, the clouds whitest white and fluffy. I was staring down the universe – filling the universe. I started drinking straight away – a bottle of wine a night to start with then upwards from there. I drank because I found I could, and it fascinated me. I could drink any quantity of alcohol then wake up without a hangover and start again. Hypomania just seems to make this level of drinking physically possible. Hypomania also leaves you needing less sleep, with more time available for drinking. My friend sat drinking with me one night until I left her behind drinking jugs of cocktails. She told me I was in trouble, and was drinking to forget. That warning went unheaded, and I headed onto vodka. Weirdly, it wasn’t the quantity of alcohol I was drinking that gave me warning signals, but the fact that I recognized that my thinking had become badly skewed. I caught myself out justifying drinking vodka with fresh orange juice because this ‘was healthy’… Once I’d called myself on my wonky thinking I found it more straightforward to address the problem.
Nowadays I hardly drink. I think I have different ways of self-medicating now. I think I need movement. A few years back I developed akathisia from an anti-psychotic medication that had been increased to a high dose. John has talked about akathisia previously, and it’s a horror side effect – completely impossible to live with. Insane insatiable urge to walk – it chews your legs til you’d chew them off rather than experience it. There’s no comfort or relief – you may get a few minutes of relative calm after walking hard for an hour, but then the sensation is building again leaving you setting off walking again. It’s the most bizarre and ridiculous state of affairs. The thing is, that looking back on this time I think I had akathisia at a lower level for all the years I took this particular medication. It’s just that at the time, walking 8, 10, 12 miles a day just seemed to be part and parcel of the illness rather than the treatment.
From my whiz walking days, I’ve carried over a need for movement. I still walk a lot, but more than that I pace at home. I’d pace anywhere if I could do it without drawing stares. I think that walking helps calm the conscious mind and lets the subconscious work its magic. A lot of writers plot and compose while they’re walking. I find that sitting on trains and buses has a similar calming effect. Another way of moving through the scenery. This week i’ve been sitting on buses for hours watching the city go past while I try to deal with my mind. What works for you?