By Courtney Rundell
I love the Zoloft commercial with the sad ball guy who’s tragically lost his bounce. Even if he had the energy to play with the cute bluebird vying for his attention, the persistent rain cloud over his head would ruin all the fun.
Then he takes a pill.
Next time we see him, he’s smiling. He has his bounce back. He not only notices Mr. Bluebird, but they are downright chillin’ together. And that annoying raincloud? Totally turned into white fluffy clouds of love.
For years, I bought the idea of a happy pill – all I’d need to get to “happily ever after” was a prescription.
Boy was I wrong.
While medication might be the bright orange water wings that keep me from drowning, just as with any floatation device, it only helps keep my head above water. If I don’t move my arms or kick my feet, I’ll only keep floating in the deep, wondering why I’m not getting anywhere.
Just holding onto an inflatable isn’t good enough; I need to swim.
Enter my lovely therapist. If my psychiatrist is Prince Charming, she’s my Fairy Godmother. It took me a few tries to find her as well, but the trial and error was well worth it. I went to therapy twice a week for 2 years and yes, it was expensive. I sold my record collection and clothes and begged my in-laws for money. In the end, my sanity was worth more than my stuff or my ego.
It’s been a good investment. By doing the work, I’ve become aware of and subsequently eliminated many triggers and self-destructive habits that were pushing me back toward the deep waters. Toxic relationships and codependency are still big stumbling blocks for me. I’m not perfect, nor will I ever be, but I am becoming more and more aware of circumstances that can take me down, medicated or not.
Granted, not every bipolar person spent his or her formative years with an abusive sociopathic alcoholic father. I did. I needed more therapy than the average person. And though we all come from our own set of circumstances, I’d venture to guess that most people struggling with mental illness would probably benefit from some good therapy.
Of course, in fairness to our cartoon ball guy, I’ll admit that there’s no way I could have made the progress I’ve made in therapy without the cushion of medication. When I’m chemically balanced we dig deeper; when I start to get out of balance we pull back. It’s like dancing or walking a tightrope – under close supervision.
The other equally important part of my recovery is keeping my addiction issues at bay. I’m a recovering alcoholic and drug addict and have been sober for 13 years. I had to stop drinking and using before I could be diagnosed properly, find the right medication, or get any benefits from therapy.
I use the 12 steps to stay sober, but there are many other ways to arrest addiction. It doesn’t matter which path I take, I just need to remember that I can’t recover from my mental illness if I’m drinking or using drugs. The 12 steps and meetings have given me a fellowship, a spiritual set of principles to live by and a higher power that gives me strength when times are tough.
With my situation, regular therapy sessions and my 12-step program continue to be as important as medication. For others, it may be church, support groups, exercise, diet, writing, singing, dancing or any other healthy, self-esteem building outlet.
I’d like to make my own Zoloft commercial. The beginning would be the same, but after he takes the pill, he has night sweats and binges on carbohydrates. He may have lost the rain cloud, but he’s gained fifteen pounds. The chubby ball then trudges to therapy, noticing the happy birds but not yet singing with them, sleeps for 12 hours, downs a cup of coffee and bounces off to his support group. He keeps up this routine for several months, after which he turns to the camera and slowly smiles.
Somehow I don’t think my version would fit into a one-minute time slot.
Courtney Rundell is a freelance blogger for the International Bipolar Foundation and the North Hollywood Patch. She speaks all over California about thriving with alcoholism, bipolar, and PTSD. When Courtney was diagnosed bipolar in 2006, a life she never knew was possible began. She’s devoted to inspiring and sparking hope in others now that she’s finally a free woman. Her personal blog can be found at http://beepea.com/.