Tim Langlais, a writer and Riverbend consumer, wrote the following essay. He shares it with the hope of helping others on their journeys toward recovery.
I came to Riverbend Mental Health Center, like a wild raccoon in search of its next meal. In my effort to spurn the illness that had come to derail me, I’d felt gun-shy and helpless. I’d been “around the block” a few times more than were good for me. Diagnosed with what is now called Bipolar disorder, my thoughts and feelings were more troublesome than not, and yet eventually I would come to take on all of that which opposed me, and to do so with vigor; but for the time being, the saying, “patience is golden,” danced before my eyes like a tuft of whirling snow.
The path ahead was obscure and too rock-strewn for easy travel. At that time, the severity and rate of my symptoms seemed to prohibit all remedy: no matter how hard I tried I could not bring about my own wellness. One therapy would end and another begin, and then another. The Magic-Bullet-Med would be found one day, and then lost the next; with ruthlessness and cunning, I’d seek freedom from the demons that sought to ruin me, only to have that freedom snapped up in a turtle’s mouth; I’d try to befriend those who might lend a sympathetic word, a kind gesture, a box of chocolates, only to be abandoned, shamed and discredited. I’d be sent to the mental hospital, I’d attend daily Mass, I’d take long walks without measure or purpose. I’d try to kill myself.
To ward off feelings of inferiority, when in High School, I kept to myself like a locked door. I endured much depression, and the simplest of things threw me for a loop: taking the trash to the dump for my father, for instance, was as troublesome as was true as falling to sleep. Sadly, I neglected my duty to myself as a junior scholar of a kind, and received lower grades for it.
Indecision and at times a panicked, skewed appraisal of who I was or would become, became like bits of me fed into a large machine. I knew I was in some ways not well but could not properly indentify the source of my distress. No, all I knew really was that I felt poorly about myself in a continuous way.
After high school I attended a small college in Manchester, New Hampshire, where feelings of discontent, alienation and deprivation even—founded upon my experience in high school—took over. I was after all a loner, I’d not known better. For the sake of bringing an end to my ceaseless ups and downs I began to medicate with alcohol. In time I became increasingly worried and, for just this very reason—with a head full of booze—I decided to quit. If left with a choice in the matter, rather than earn a college degree, it seemed best to follow Timothy Leary’s advice to “turn on, tune in and drop out,” and without a better way to overcome the worst of my difficulties, that’s what I did.
Back home, I began to work in a tannery. I was surprised to find that I could drink beer after my toil had ended and then return to my job the next day without much trouble. In due course alcohol would become like gas for the car that sat in a sandy lot. I’d drive about many a country road with a six-pack situated just so, unafraid of police, undeterred by the many warning signs then present. I didn’t need to be told I was an alcoholic, I was one. I was down and out to the extent that only a bottle of Miller High Life could lift me up.
Many years later I came to realize that my alcoholism would—if left unattended—hijack any bid to get well. However, as hard as I had wanted to, I could not stop my drinking. I soon came to attend Alcoholics Anonymous, and yet for a variety of reasons—nervousness, mistrust, self-doubt, etc.—I could not find myself as comfortable there as I had wished to be. Starting up again, I’d drink in a way to blot out reality. Pained when it came time to buy more beer—more beer and more scorn to bear from the upstart cashier—I lumped it as best I could, vowing to carry on not of heroism, but of necessity.
Along with the success I would gain from my eventual sobriety, one day things began to go well for me in an unexpected way: I had found the best therapist to date and in all manner of speaking the therapy introduced by him was not a life-boat so much as an oasis. Herb’s manner was exemplar and I trusted him implicitly. As a doctor of psychology he was on top of several cutting-edge therapies, ones that were gaining recognition nationwide. One therapy in particular is now widely known as CBT, or Cognitive-behavioral therapy. Teaching me that many of my thoughts were distorted because of the way I had come to regard myself, he lent me the very tools by which I might come to see myself in a more favorable light.
Over time this one therapy particularly brought forth the notion that with a little practice my thoughts could predict—and even determine—a new way to see myself. I would become someone who resided in his own skin more comfortably; opposed not so much to himself anymore but in agreement thereof.
I began to task myself with goals that seemed to promise extraordinary success. Moreover, my therapist said that I could actually “master my own fate.” It seemed strange at the time, this what he said, and at first I was rather taken aback. “Master?” I’d thought. To think of myself in ways once thought unimaginable would become like a promissory note. And if “heard,” delusion, illusion, and an anguished, terrified interior, would all but fade to a whisper. I felt gratified in unforgettable ways.
Week after week, and day after day, my counselor and I would come to set up a whole new system by which I would measure myself, and so do something about that self. Beholden now to a jury that would judge me with candor, I was more forgiving of myself and my self-esteem rose in an unfettered way. Some of my good points had been entirely lost in the shuffle; amiability and politeness, for instance, were traits left in the dust of yesterday’s pain. I hadn’t known that I had been my own worst enemy, for during my darker days, I could see myself only within the context of that which I had come to hate about myself the most—that I hadn’t the courage to lead my own “brigade.”
But as with all things of change and not of timelessness, this has mostly come to be a thing of the past. I have many people to thank for helping me and my loyalty to them with never change. I am well enough now, that is, to have at least come to a point where I can write about my own experience with mental illness—as hard as this is to do at times—and help those who may not yet be to the point of where I now am. Best to one and all.