Recovery: Bipolar & Substance Use

Spotlight On Mental Health


By Pauline

Bonjour, I’m Pauline. It’s a privilege to offer my experience to your understanding of bipolar and dual diagnosis with substance abuse. I once self medicated with alcohol but now have 11 years of sobriety. May I begin by respectfully acknowledging the Musqueam, Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh Nations on whose traditional and unceded territories I live, work and play.

I’m a 55 yr old mother of 3, Nani-Ji to a half Punjabi Grandson, I’ve spent 35 yrs being the wife of a saint. I’m a daughter, sister, friend, teacher, mentor and colleague. Many people are affected by my having this soul sickness. Besides social dysfunction I have suffered from denial which presented a barrier to accessing care and finding interpersonal healing.

In the last 16 yrs I’ve been on 10 meds, now fine tuned on 3. Honing my insight I’m at my healthiest yet with the expertise of my psychiatrist and psychologist.

It was far easier to relinquish alcohol and gain a clear mind than give up the highs of mania. I had resisted adequate treatment fearing “a root canal of my soul”. To compound denial my eccentricities were encouraged by all but those closest to me. I was lauded for my flamboyance, generosity and humour.

Coercion to step up treatment occurred in 2014 when for one day I found myself psychotic after many sleepless nights in pain. I was rescued by my family and kept safe in 5 point restraints over night. This, my only hospitalization, lasted 1 month. Besides avoiding hospitalization the imperatives to accept aggressive treatment also include avoiding depression and dementia both associated with brain burnout from highs. Less ups means less downs. Depression is waking to the disgust within the nostrils of my rotting body. It is the compulsion to take all my pills and slip under the bath water, a profound inertia confining me to days of indecision and bird watching from the sofa. Where can one find hope? In the words of Tagore; “Hope is the bird who feels the light and sings while the dawn is still dark”. For patients suffering mental illness hope is the gift that treatment extends into the darkness. To the many scientists and clinicians who have played a part in this miracle of healing I give my deepest gratitude.

Treatment resulted in dampening my inner world of symbols and connections. Purpose and significances I now share with others. I am abstinent of spirituality; which has been replaced with reasoned atheism and measured forays into transcendence. I still write poetry but much less prolifically. And I am more objective about their quality.

POSITIVE trends with medications, exercise and CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy);

Ecstasy is replaced with peace
Unpredictability becomes constancy
Impulsivity is stayed with pause
Multitasking concedes to completing one
Irritability softened into patience
Restlessness is answered by acceptance
Overconfidence yields to humility
Bragging surrenders to confidentiality
Interrupting quiets for listening
Over-sharing is set aside for curiosity
A monologue of opinions opens to dialogue Gregariousness settles in self contentment
Flirtation returns to loyalty

*Which brings me to an awkward taboo; dark secrets of affairs and a high divorce rate associated with bipolar. In desperation at age 45, I persuaded a gynaecologist to remove both ovaries (the source of testosterone) in order to tame my libido. AND I am ever so much better behaved now that I’m an “it”. Where were we in the transformation?

The clown bows to equanimity
Extravagance levels into moderation
Risk taking is tempered with caution
Selfishness imbued with empathy
Insomnia crushed by sonorous coma

I don’t miss drinking whatsoever but I do miss my highs. I doubt myself when I am feeling good to better, worried I’m escalating. Rebuilding self-trust is by one deserved day at a time. I am grateful to have got a grip before I lost everything I cherish. I am thankful for effective treatment, for wholeness and the chance to renegotiate my identity and rediscover my soul.