A Mad Tea-Party

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‘So, don’t make me sad, don’t make me cry
Sometimes love is not enough and the road gets tough
I don’t know why
Keep making me laugh – Let’s go get high
The road is long, we carry on
Try to have fun in the meantime’ – Born to Die, Lana Del Ray

‘Pretty puke puddle that I’m laying in………
Drugs seem like the quickest fix
Temporary escape from the estates
And all the fucking pricks
That’s why I’m in such a rush to take the first hit or first sip’ – Drugs Don’t Work, CASisDEAD

Yes, out of all the songs ever made about drugs these are the two I pick, interesting mix I know. However, I think, together, they bizarrely illustrate a very accurate representation of what it feels like to have a dual diagnosis, this is when you suffer with mental health problems and substance abuse. When I say substance, this can range from alcohol, to legal highs and illegal drugs.

The mental health charity Mind, explains on its website how some people with mental health issues use substances as a way of coping, using them as a form of self-medication.

I am not dual diagnosed, but I can say that I do have depression and have used substances as a way to numb my problems. The indie and romanticized picture painted by Lana, is like the voice in my head when I feel like utter rubbish and I know how I can feel better. However, on the occasions, and they have been frequent, when I’ve gone too far with using them, the second set of lyrics are more apt. Anger at myself that I need these things to feel something and also the disgusting aftermath of using them.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse concurs with this opinion, stating that people with mental and anxiety disorders, are more likely, well two times more likely, to suffer from substance abuse problems, and vice versa. ‘In 2015, an estimated 43.4 million (17.9 percent) adults ages 18 and older experienced some form of mental illness (other than a developmental or substance use disorder). Of these, 8.1 million had both a substance use disorder and another mental illness.’

I’m not in the slightest saying that if you drink a bit too much at the weekends, or smoke weed recreationally or take a pill at a party or a festival you’re going to lose your mind and become a schizophrenic. Or that if you have depression or anxiety or bipolar you are going to go full Trainspotting and start shooting up smack.

It’s just if you have a substance abuse problem, in the sense you feel a dependency on it, withdrawal when you don’t have it and mood swings when you do/don’t take it, then you are running the risk of affecting your mental as well as physical health. And if you have a mental health problem, even as minimal as stress or trouble sleeping, and you don’t try and get help or don’t realize the true extent of how bad you feel, then you are running the risk of finding something very unhelpful to cope.

On their website, Mind supplies two very thought provoking cases, I’ll put the full links to their stories at the end. One is about Tom, he used alcohol to mask his depression; he states it masqueraded as a ‘reliable friend whom I could lean on’. It ‘lightened’ him up initially, made him more chatty and fun, allowing him to hide his depression from his friends. Behind the mask however, ‘alcohol only serves to makes things worse when you feel low’. And like many who suffer with dual diagnosis, he became intensely angry about what he’d become and how he relied on something to make him feel better, as it made everything else in his life, for him his relationship with his girlfriend, worse.

The organization, Rethink Mental Illness, explains that dual diagnosis, like the singular diagnosis of both these problems, can infect all aspects of your life. Your motivation to do anything can be totally diminished, you might have money problems, your relationships with friends and family can become troubled and also you may experience episodes of psychosis and even committing crimes. In the long term, it can lead to further mental health problems and substance abuse.

Cheerful stuff right?

Well, if this situation is true for you don’t despair. The second story they provide is from Jonny, he had bipolar and used alcohol as a coping mechanism as well. I am not going to now recant his tale of woe, that’s not productive, instead his recovery. He sought help; you can go to your GP, or the counselling services at university. I have also provided a link to necessary hotlines and services at the bottom. He also started being kind to himself, there’s no point hating yourself.

My view? You aren’t a bad person, life happens and sometimes we struggle to deal with it in the best way. Is that surprising? We’re only human and we’re also still very young. I was honest with myself, I tried to stop being angry at myself, I still have to fight this feeling, and I wanted to try and stop using substances to cope.
I was out with my friends a few months ago, I could feel that sinking feeling coming on, I call it having a ‘funny turn’, and instead of doing my usual and just drinking through it, I stopped. My friends wanted to go ‘out out’ but I knew that was a bad idea. I went home, got a KFC, got in bed and watched a Series of Unfortunate Events. Was a banging old evening. It felt great that I managed to stop for the first time, it was a start.

Although I still use substances to make myself feel better, it’s to a far less extreme and it’s far less frequent. I can go out and drink but not abuse it; I can have fun and celebrate occasions, for example, friend’s birthdays or getting our house, without just trying to get so annihilated I forget all my problems. I do have setbacks sometimes, but its process, lots of back and forth but you just need to stick at it.
If you think it’s best to completely cut out using substances then do it, to be fair I had to for a few of months before I could just use them socially instead of going back to my dependency.
My bit of advice? Definitely seek some form of professional help, it’s good to have a stable core to support you and help you through relapses if they occur. I also suggest finding something you like to do, concentrate your energy on that and although I’m not saying you’re going to get better, at least not straight away and without any bumps in the road, you will feel less a need to use a substance to make you feel better. It will also help your mental health by giving you a passion.

My ‘passion’? Writing this column, it helps to talk about it and I feel good that by sharing my experiences, other people may find comfort in the fact they aren’t alone, that there is something they can read to help them or even make them laugh about their situation and maybe encourage them to get help and not feel so ashamed about struggling.

You could go to the gym, join a sports team or a society, start a band, write, act, whatever will make you happy and also occupied.
People make mistakes, stop wasting time asking ‘riddles that have no answers’ (Alice in Wonderland, Chapter 7: A Mad Tea-Party). Trying to work out ‘why is a raven like a writing desk’ (Alice in Wonderland, Chapter 7: A Mad Tea-Party) is still more helpful than constantly questioning yourself and your actions. Do what Alice did in this chapter, leave the mad tea-party and explore what else there is to offer.

Tom’s story: https://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/your-stories/one-more-pint/#.WYwoCYWcGT0
Jonny’s story: https://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/your-stories/bipolar-alcohol/#.WYwoMYWcGT0
Helpful links: https://www.google.co.uk/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=16&ved=0ahUKEwiY48GgkMzVAhVkBsAKHQpBC8IQFghxMA8&url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.rethink.org%2Fresources%2Fd%2Fdrugs-alcohol-and-mental-health&usg=AFQjCNEt-HJNQ5rBC8xu_OYlSoR7arsBCA

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