In my second blog post I’ll do something I probably should have done in my first post: introduce myself.
My name’s Tristan. I’m in my early 30s. I love heavy metal, hardcore, punk and music in general, as well as tattoos, horror movies, craft beer, NBA basketball, my cat, my friends, and writing poetry and prose. There are lots of other things I like, of course, but those are probably my primary passions. I’m also passionate about mental health, wellness, and mental illness. I have a full-time job working in a post-secondary institution and absolutely love it. I have also lived the last ten years or so with a diagnosis of Bipolar II. I’d like to tell you a little bit about myself. Hopefully you don’t mind. I guess since this is asynchronous communication, whether or not you mind probably doesn’t matter. What does that mean? CAPTIVE AUDIENCE!!
Life before my diagnosis was probably not all that different from any other 22-year old adult. I worked a job, had friends, and was pretty normal in general. I don’t think I really paid attention to the ups and downs because I hadn’t been turned on to noticing them. I don’t know if I experienced any denial about my diagnosis, but I denied the need for medication and the need for treatment. The denial of medication and treatment, when I was younger, was maybe not as bad. I had my ups and downs but I coped okay with them. I was relatively successful in keeping my shit in order. As life’s curveballs came my way – new relationships starting, established relationships failing, starting a job I liked, quitting a job I hate, looking for a new job because the job I liked I started to hate, etc. – it became harder and harder to hold the threads together. Being in party mode and drinking and doing drugs didn’t help for sure, but hey, I’m a man, right? I’m invincible. I’m untouchable. Taking pills would have changed who I was and I wasn’t standing for that. That thought’s hilarious because it’s like, what? Taking a prescribed dosage of a mood stabilizer is going to make me somebody I don’t want to be? I guess that’s possible, and if that’s the case then you tell your doctor and your doctor changes your medication and you get your shit together. So, there’s that option or the option of continuing to do drugs and drink like a fish. I chose the latter option. The thing that’s so funny about that to me, in retrospect, is that I was sitting here thinking those things didn’t affect my personality? That they didn’t make me somebody I didn’t want to be? It’s funny the things we tell ourselves to get us through the night. Unmedicated life was messy and unpredictable. There were a lot of days I wanted to stay in bed. There were a lot of days I did stay in bed. There were days I dragged my ass to work and struggled through the day. There were days where if somebody asked me how I was doing where I had to fight to keep everything together and keep myself from falling apart. That’s really hard to do, and when you’re a 20-something man who’s been conditioned that feelings and emotions aren’t good, that if you’re hurting you just should just keep it to yourself and walk it off, man, those things just aren’t easy go deal with. Life was chaotic and I thrived – and still thrive, to a certain degree – in chaos. Chaos, despair, anger, unbridled rage, those things were my closest friends. They were the things in which I could confide, from which I could draw strength, things to which I could run for shelter and under which I could bury myself and protect myself. What’s funny is those all those concepts are about sustenance, about comfort, about being safe, and depression is hardly safe. Unmedicated life was defined by self-abuse, self-destructive behaviour and nihilism and I was down with that. Does that seem comforting or sustaining or safe? Obviously not, but when you’re in the vortex, when you’re down the well, you stick with what you know and run with it. And man, I ran with it for damn near close to ten years.
I only got serious about handling my diagnosis about 14 months ago because unmedicated life cost me a lot. One of the biggest things – and this happened through a combination of factors not entirely related to my unmedicated nature – that I lost was a long-term relationship with a wonderful woman. Like I said, there were certainly other factors that contributed to the decay and collapse of a near 7-year relationship, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t take some responsibility for it. The key thing there is that it’s not blaming my illness. My illness might have been a factor, but that’s like saying the rain caused you to crash your car when you were driving too fast. My being irresponsible in a lot of ways cost me one of the most beautiful things in my life. I can’t take all the responsibility for it, nor can I be devoid of responsibility. It is what it is and I have to accept that. I’m at peace with things. I’m cool with the ex. I accept the breakdown of our relationship. Can’t the change the past, right? That’s what they tell us anyway. I tend to agree. But things might have been different if I’d been healthy, you know?
So 14 months ago, I went to see a sweet band from Toronto called Blood Ceremony who are awesome (by the way, if you haven’t ever heard them or seen them; real sick. If you like Black Sabbath, Blood Ceremony are your jam). My friends and I went to see them and it was great. Being in a hypomanic stage and hammered out of my mind (what a combo, I know) and on our way to another bar, if another bar would have even let any of us in, I jumped over a fire hydrant and ate shit face-first and broke two of my front teeth pretty much in half. I got really lucky and didn’t require any treatment beyond a pair of fillings on them. I got mad lucky and that, in addition to this finally affecting a job I love, got me to say, “Dude, you need to get your shit in order.” I’m lucky to have a fantastically supportive workplace and an incredibly supportive director. I told her what the scoop was and what my plan to get my ass in gear was. I’m not good with commitments, but that’s a commitment I needed to be good with. I finally realized that the act of not treating my illness wasn’t all that different from somebody with a physical illness not treating that accordingly. I remember my mother telling me it was only going to get worse and I didn’t want to hear it. I didn’t believe it until I lived it.
And now I’m living the medicated life and you know what? Life is good. It’s pretty much the same, but I don’t go through major swings anymore. I’m productive. I’m happy on a consistent basis. Being medicated has unlocked the writing realm that I had so much trouble accessing during depressive phases and that was depressing in and of itself. Tell a writer to write but take his skills away – that’s what depression did to me and that just pushed me further down the well. Since I got my life in order – haha, well at least my medication anyway – I’ve finished two books, a book of poetry, and last weekend completed a 3-Day Book challenged and pumped out a 31,500 word novella. My interest in craft beer is actually an interest now rather than a coping mechanism. The things I like doing aren’t just band-aids or placeholders. I’m a normal personal again, or at least as normal as I’ve ever been. I think I’m more in-tune emotionally. I’m more open. I’m more self-aware. I’m better at communicating. I still have a ton of baggage, but I’m not full of bullshit anymore. What you see is what you get with me; it’s not a mask or a persona to try and be who I am and to try and be happy and jovial and extroverted and outgoing. I’m real cool with who I am. I’m real cool with being an extroverted introvert. That’s all good to me now. Seeking treatment, getting medicated, being responsible, that’s all good, man. It’s all good. I’m taking care of myself. I’m being a real adult and not some jerk.
With all that said, I’m very much still a work in process. That baggage I mentioned? I’m carrying less around than I used to, but I’ve got some to discard still. I’ve still got some shit I’m working on and trying to work through, but I’ll get there. I’m in a position where I can get to where I want to be. Not taking my medication, not even getting my prescription, that’s like, I don’t know, man…that behaviour was way more self-destructive than any drinks I’ve drank, than any drugs I’ve done. 100% for sure. Were drinking and drugs going to kill me? They very well could have and that’s probably another story entirely, but I can tell you without a doubt that the path I was on was not going anywhere good. What it had already cost me was probably nothing compared to what it would cost me and I don’t think that’s hyperbole at all. I don’t think that’s being dramatic or romanticizing or Byronicizing (you know, like Lord Byron) anything at all. Don’t take your pills? Go nuts, but get in line to check out sooner than if you take your pills.
About Tristan Baggins
I have always wondered where to start with these bios, but I guess it’s always best to start at the beginning. I’m in my early-30s and I’m passionate about NBA basketball, heavy metal, hardcore, my cat, my friends, writing prose and poetry, helping people, craft beer and mental health. I am also diagnosed with Bipolar II; the clinical definition might have changed with the release of DSM V, but the title doesn’t change my experience. The bulk of my 20’s were defined by erratic behaviour, depression, paranoia, anxiety, and, if I’m being honest with myself, a lot of inadvertent self-harm and self-destructive behaviour. What I learned coming through on the other side of the tunnel is that the light’s there, it’s not a myth, and it’s worth reaching towards.