I wrote this today, in a Yahoo! group I belong to, in response to kudos for being “open” and “honest”.
I have had a lot of experience being “open” about myself – different issues than my bipolar diagnosis in the last nine months or so (what a relief THAT was!) but issues that, in groups (be they A.A. or HIV-related), trained me to risk being open. Too bad I self-medicated over the past couple of years, particularly recently with my brother’s death, but now I can compare how that worked (it did not) with how I stayed sober through my Dad’s death five years ago.
I am absolutely devouring “The Bipolar Advantage” by Tom Wootton.
My brother’s death has brought up what would, by most grief counsellors, be classified as “survivor guilt”. In a nutshell it seems like if life was fair (which I acknowledge it is not) I would have been the one to die. Despite also having AIDS, as I do, Craig had a loving partner (I do not), a very active life (mine is only now on the rebound after a bad accident of my own a few years ago), etc. I do not think such guilt is unnatural but it is absolutely useless, that is for sure.
It points to older issues of what I have always felt about my right to occupy space on this earth…stuff I never really articulated but “acted out” from very early years onward.
Did I mention (to use a “B-P Advantage” phrase) that I thought, even before diagnosis in 1989 that “if anyone DESERVES AIDS I do!” To unpack that statement takes a while – as if ANYone, including me, “deserves” AIDS (or any other illness).
While my family has been extremely accepting of both my brother’s and my homosexuality – for which I am very grateful – the whole coming to terms with my own sexuality was done in a vacuum, with “gaydar” unoperational between my brother and me. Plus I went away from the family’s liberal, and ultimately accepting, church and, for a brief time, joined a fundie Xian church…as if that might help me(!) So sure, there was guilt galore about that and I feel like I missed a few good years with Craig while we were on such different paths with the same ultimate destination – coming out.
When I came home from Mom’s, after we had spent a couple weeks together following Craig’s funeral last month, I crashed big time. Having suspended my drinking (which had started slowly again in 2005) I went overboard with it from the moment I got on the train back here the third week of May until June 20.
Careful not to combine Seroquel with drinking, I dropped off Seroquel. Naturally. Not only that I spent a few thousand dollars (about $800 a night) on $20 dances at a gay strip joint – where everybody was SO happy to see me come in, don’tcha know? It was so non-sexual that I just kept going and going with massage and the like…man, did that all add up!
So, yes, I admit I feel guilty and stupid (as pointless as it is to whack myself with a sledgehammer).
I must say, however, that I am definitely emerging – on the surface at least – from the worst of this despair.
I have gone back to A.A. meetings, both gay-identified and more ‘mainstream’. I have seen both my family doctor and my HIV specialist. They agree that priority number one is to stay sober and take my Seroquel. We have put myself on an HIV meds “holiday” because my sporadic compliance, with the twice daily regimen of handfuls of pills, fell off the rails and it is better to be off them altogether for awhile than to be taking them willy-nilly.
My HIV doc said “I’ve almost lost you before (in 1993-94) but you survived. You can get through this too.”
There are a few HIV meds options, both approved and in trials, should any of the ones I was on fail now after being off them. I’ve been a drug trials guinea pig from the days when AZT or DDI were the only things available.
Not that I can take my “nine lives” for granted.
I just need to stay on the beam, coming back to life while being treated simultaneously for my physical and mental conditions.
I can affirm, for myself, that my survivability over the years has inspired people – even if I wasn’t one of them. I need to claim some of that strength as my own.
One last thing, which I know is common among those of us bipolar. Having been accustomed to mainly treating the depression over the years – beginning when diagonsed HIV-positive 18 years ago – the manic part was not caught.
Mania? Yes, now that I recognize what it looks like, I can see the beginnings of it go way back. I have little or no respect for the value of money, and have spent (or gone in debt) accordingly (including recently). After being sexually abused as an adolescent, which followed a tyrannical teacher abusing me in many other ways in early school years, I had no appreciation for the value of my body either, sexually or looks-wise. Promiscuous? You betcha.
Worth the trouble of feeling guilty? No way.
Then I drank, as soon as I went away to college. (Academics has never been a problem for me, by the way, although I dare say I would have done much better in school had I been able to actually discipline myself to study.)
All of which, incoherent as it may be, is to say that I am a survivor. I just keep bouncing back – even if I fear my chances may well be running out. This has a motivational edge to it. The more I dodge the bullet, whatever that may be, the more I realize that I cannot take such good fortune for granted.
That’s why I am going to try, with everything I’ve got (including a lot of help) to make this big comeback – and I am confident that, putting one foot in front of the other, I will come back!