Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Self Medication and Albert Ellis

A comment from Francy asks if anyone has ever gotten out of the drugs and depression cycle. I'll take this question seriously being as I have personally been institutionalized for suicidal tendencies.

Interestingly when I was institutionalized, I was not smoking weed. Smoking weed apparently gives me the capability to notice and examine my feelings -- in real life I am quite adept at avoiding unpleasantness. As it happens, I hadn't smoked weed in years until a few summers ago. As it happens, it was only after I picked up the bong again that I realized my marriage was o-v-e-r.

I was sitting on my terrace a few summers ago enjoying being a little high, the sun, my pedicure and the view of Central Park. I was thinking that I was completely miserable as Mrs. S***** (name withheld since I'm prevented from mentioning his name by my divorce decree) - but the environment was nice. I instantly remembered splashing my toes in the turquoise waters of Jamaica in the mid-1980's. I was thoroughly disillusioned with my fiance of seven years. He had taken me to a very expensive resort, left me with a few spleefs and ditched me for the golf course. So I was a little high, thinking I hate this relationship, but being rich is very nice. It was this fiance that I left for my husband. Actually I had six fiances, counting my husband who is the only one I married - and this one, whom I will call Baloney, is my very most favorite. We're still great friends most likely because we never married.

The moment I made the connection that my feelings about life were identical in both cases, I knew I had to get divorced. For me, smoking weed slows down my thoughts so that I can catch them and examine my feelings. I look on this tendency as a personal version of a vision quest. Further, I will always maintain that there is nothing wrong with smoking weed - or doing anything else that gets you through the day - as long as it doesn't interfere with your ability to take care of business.

I don't smoke weed because I'm depressed. I have undoubtedly turned to drugs in the past to avoid feeling my feelings, but anyone who has been in therapy knows that is called Self Medicating. Back before I was institutionalized, I saw an endocrinologist while trying to get a diagnosis for my autoimmune condition (Morphea Schleroderma) which I'm sure was caused by running behind the DDT truck in Beaumont, Texas as a child. The kids in the neighborhood loved running behind the mosquito truck better than the ice cream man, but I digress. Endocrinologists want to know about drinking and drugs. When this fellow heard about my college activities, he was stunned. He went so far as to say I was lucky to be alive and wondered how I stopped doing all that stuff.

It was simple really. I left Austin to go to grad school in Webster Groves, Missouri (dullsville) where my parents lived. I could have found a connection if I were interested, but I wasn't interested. I was still miserable emotionally and could have drank myself into the ground like a number of my alcoholic relatives have chosen to do - but I hate being hung over. I have to add, here, that Granny the Ho had not moved to Lake Tahoe at the time, and no one ever partied more hardy than Granny. Hell, her first husband was a bootlegger. Everyone knows how I love my Granny. Maybe being surrounded by people you love and who love you keeps you from going off the deep end. Pardon me for turning Pollyanna.

But just because I wasn't doing any drugs in grad school - unless I went back to Austin to see my buddies where we'd blast an eight ball up our nose in one night - doesn't mean I don't like to partake. I suspect there is a big difference between fooling around and masking a deep depression.

I've been in psychotherapy for sixteen years now. Sporadically at first, but since I got out of the bin eleven years ago, I've gone faithfully twice per week. I'm also on Prozac and Depakote for what some might call a form of bipolar disorder. My psychiatrist says it's because I really do feel my feelings more intensely than most people and need support to be able to swim in this flood. Another interesting fact: now that I've been divorced from Buzz Kill for 18 months, my shrink thinks I can finally go off my meds. I'm not saying Buzz Kill drove me crazy, but I was able to convince the judge he did which is why he had to pay for half my therapy for a year after the divorce.

Both my therapist and my psychiatrist are old school psychotherapists like in Woody Allen movies. For me that works. I have a friend, that charming fellow who now insists on carrying my suitcase I'm happy to say, who can't stand long term talk therapy. On the rare occasions he wants to discuss anything with a professional, he sees someone from the Albert Ellis Institute.

I am sure I will get something about Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT) wrong since I have only a passing familiarity with the concept (
As I understand it, REBT is similar to The Bob Newhart show with Suzanne Pleshette. Sometimes a patient would go to see Bob, talking and talking and talking about some goofy behavior. Bob would say, "Just stop it." My parents are kind of like that too. If there's something in your life you don't like, just stop it. Even my shrink, who has thousands and thousands of my dollars, says that before a person can address the issues underlying a behavior - like drinking, for example - s/he has to stop the behavior. Ergo, talk therapists also say "just stop it."

Granted, that is often easier said than done.

In the end, however, we must all take responsibility for the people we are and do the work to become the people we want to be. I like to smoke weed. I feel a little guilty taking my son's Ritalin to wade through my desk, but I know I do it because I feel lonely sometimes and Ritalin & Weed is a good buzz. I know it; I own it. And guess what, I like it or else I'd stop.


Kitty said...

Bad depression? Been there my friend. It was hell. Absolute hell - I wouldn't even wish it on HWNLR - that's how bad it was. To be out of depression is something I'm thankful for every time it crosses my mind. It is as debilitating an illness as anything which might render one physically paralysed, since it too paralyses, only via the mind.

In my experience there are two kinds of people - those who have known depression and those who haven't. And those who haven't are different aren't they? They haven't been to a place which alters us forever.

I did a talking therapy but only for around 18 months - it was publicly funded and I simply couldn't afford to do it privately. I'll never forget my therapist - she witnessed me fall to pieces, but patiently stood and supported whilst I put myself together again - or at least the beginnings of putting myself back together anyway.

Take care. x

P. E. Nolan said...

The great thing about living in New York City is that almost everyone is familiar with depression so at least there aren't a lot of people blaming a mental state on personal weakness - although many would prefer to simply take meds and never look at how they might change. Too easy to blame one's own problems on other people or circumstances. Or one's own self, for that matter, which isn't any good either. Being in the loony bin was one of the best things that ever happened to me because I finally experienced a sense of common humanity with others. And slowly I came to forgive myself for being human.

It's a wonderful story. I'm hoping to have a book about it finished in November when I read again at KGB, a literary bar in the East Village.

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