“Be sure you put your feet in the right place, then stand firm”- Abraham Lincoln
A few days ago, we had our work holiday party at The Keg. It was at night, so of course, alcoholic beverages were being consumed en masse (because wine and cocktails are that much better when you don’t have to pay for them). There is that awkward moment when the waiter/waitress comes around and asks if you would like some wine, or a cocktail, or to see the drink menu and you politely decline and get offered a soft drink and people look at you and say, “What? You don’t drink?”
Yes. I am not a lover of alcohol. Especially around people I don’t know well, and who do not know about my anxiety and bipolar diagnosis. What would they do if suddenly I became anxious? I do not believe in mixing my medications with alcohol. As well, wine and I don’t get along; it makes my face red almost immediately, which makes me feel anxious and hot, and you can imagine the vicious cycle that starts. As it turns out, one of the other staff members who happened to be sitting beside me does not drink either, for her own reasons, so I was not alone. She seemed to be happy that she was in good company, as the girls across the table from us kept pestering her to get “a drink” and then told her that she could at least get a mocktail. She was happy to order a soft drink, like me.
What do I have against alcohol? To be clear, I am not saying I don’t have a tiny bit of wine in any given year, but I very rarely consume alcohol, and if I do, it’s before I take my pills for the night.
My issues with alcohol:
- I dated an alcoholic. At the beginning, I didn’t realize how bad the problem was, and neither did he. Once I started having anxiety and later realized he made me anxious when he drank and embarrassed me, I had some clarity. Once he was so drunk he did not understand that “no means no” when it came to intimacy and as a result, I was actually frightened of him. To be open about a dark chapter that I don’t like to talk about, I have unfortunately been the victim of incidents like this more than once, and he, being a boyfriend at the time, made my thoughts and fears about sex, trusting men and my own vulnerability worse.
- While dating said alcoholic, he and his friends had a lot of house parties when their parents went away, which meant a lot of drinking. I learned the hard way that it is a terrible idea to consume alcohol while you are on Zoloft. The first one of these parties I went to after starting Zoloft, I found out that drinking while on antidepressants can make you feel like sh**. I ended up feeling so depressed and was bawling my eyes out in a room away from everyone else. Thankfully, my best friend was there and consoled me.
- There was a period of time when I was off medication as I was doing well, and of course, drinking seemed like an excellent idea and it was university, and that’s the time to enjoy yourself. Plus, some of these parties were literally within walking distance of my house, so why not? One night, I got so drunk that I ended up with a 3 day hangover. I know that may sound ridiculous, but I was so nauseous and headachy, I became very anxious and could not get out of bed and refused to go to school for 2 days. I feel terrible for all the times my friend had to make sure I got home okay.
- Me + alcohol = obnoxious drunk. Drinking can make people seem more fun, carefree, easygoing. Maybe a little bit can make me “loosen up”, or be “less stiff”, or “relax” as my mom would say, in relation to me being so serious sometimes. However, I don’t think she ever knew the extent to which I drank at parties, and how inappropriate I was when I drank. I am sure I embarrassed myself in hindsight, but other drunk people probably don’t remember…right? What do I mean by obnoxious drunk? You know when you are talking and you think no one hears you, so you just talk louder and louder (“Hey! No one is listening!”), or you just have no filter and say things you should NEVER say out loud and then embarrass other people, i.e. your best friend that is going to console you later when you are anxious and hungover. To make matters worse, I would become excessively flirtatious. Around this time in my life, I had lost a lot of weight (because evil Zoloft was out of the picture and Weight Watchers actually worked for me at the time), I was very confident with how my body looked and I didn’t understand that I was hypomanic. I just knew I felt good, life was good, and I enjoyed flirting and seeing if I could make so and so like me. I was seeking attention, for lack of a better way of putting it.
So there you have it, drinking turns me into a hyper mess and can trigger anxiety. I know now that I do not need alcohol to be fun. I may not be the most spontaneous person, and I may not enjoy clubs or drinking parties anymore, but at least I am being true to myself and I am being myself.
In my last blog I talked about how running into a former friend dredged up some unwanted feelings and memories and triggered anxiety, because I realized, in being friends with her, I was not being true to myself. One of the most important qualities in a person to me, is the ability to be yourself.
Sidebar -I have to give credit to my husband and say that one of the reasons why I respect and love him (besides his ability to make my laugh) is that he has never been afraid being himself and won’t change for anyone. That and he has put up with the good, the bad and the ugly when it comes to my moods and behaviours and he still loves and respects me because he will always see beyond my diagnosis- so thank you Daniel, for being you.
I may not feel confident about my body, or the way I look, but I am confident that I am acting like myself and being myself. Yes, I have to “act” while I am at work in the sense that I need to stay level during the workday and I do not think it would be beneficial for the office to know about my diagnosis. However, I never put myself in situations where I have to be phoney, i.e. sitting in the lunchroom and feeling compelled to participate in a conversation that I know is not for me.
In terms of my social life, I only go where I am comfortable, and I am very aware of what I can and can’t handle. I hope that my friends understand when I can’t make it to their events because I am having an off day, or because someone who will be there or the location is a trigger. I know by going to an event like that, I will have to be phoney, or pretend, and it’s just not worth my energy. This may not be the approach for everyone, but one perk is that it’s a good way to find out who your real friends are. Oh – one more sidebar – always remember to thank the people in your life who have been there for you, the “no matter what” people that you consider to be family (you know who you are).
There is a line from the book, The Help, that my mom and I always used to tell each other that I think of as very comforting:
“You is kind. You is smart. You is important.”
I am going to pat myself on the back now and say I am proud of myself for how far I have come (because you have to be kind to yourself), for realizing who I really am and for recognizing my strengths and limitations, admitting to being wrong at times, admitting I needed help when I didn’t want to, and for being able to recognize my mood swings now and say, “Yes I is.”
About Melanie Luxenberg
My name is Melanie Luxenberg and I am finally ready to live openly with mental illness. I was first diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder in 2003, which I still experience. At the same time, I was diagnosed with Social Anxiety (which I also still experience), and then briefly experienced Agoraphobia. I have had depression on and off since I was 13 years old. In July 2010 I was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder II. Shortly after it was realized that I experienced rapid cycling. I can experience multiple cycles in a week. Despite my diagnosis, I completed a university degree and then a college program. I have always held stable employment, regularly taken my medication and regularly attended my doctor’s appointments. There have been times of hopelessness, but I have always found support from my family, husband and 3 dogs. I am a law clerk, social media/content writer and of course, mental health advocate. My Twitter feed is full of mental health advocacy messages. I hope one day to see the end of stigma towards mental illness, because stigma has to stop!