A “Strong Suggestion” Killed my Friend
The stigma associated with mental illness is a terrific one.
I have struggled with depression and anxiety most of my life. I have battled both anorexia and bulimia and participated in other self-injurious behaviors over the years…even in sobriety. It wasn’t until I got sober that I was given proper diagnoses, mainly because I was “self-medicating.”
Many of us have what the professionals will call a “dual diagnosis,” meaning that we have both a mental illness and substance abuse issues.
I have met many people over the years that have similar stories to mine, and others that suffer with much more serious afflictions.
Years ago I had a friend named Paul that had a psychotic disorder. When he got sober he did so with the help of a 12-step program. He struggled for a bit, but eventually found a routine that suited him and weeks turned into months.
He found a sponsor and jumped into action with both feet to make the changes necessary to recover from his alcoholism. He seemed to be doing well for quite a while.
One day I saw Paul at our favorite coffee shop and he didn’t look like himself. He was pale and appeared frazzled. His eyes were not as bright as they had been the last time I had seen him. I sat with him a while in hopes that he would feel comfortable telling me what was going on.
Paul told me that his sponsor had suggested that he was not completely sober. This confused me because he had just weeks before showed me his six-month chip, celebrating “half a cake!!” He told me of his sponsor’s concern regarding his choice to take medication for his mental illness. He told me he was taking himself off of them because he wanted to be “totally sober”. He did not want to depend on any kind of substance and was sure that with all he had learned about himself, he would be okay.
He was dead within a year.
He was sober when he died, but the voices got the better of him.
I tell this story in hopes that people will understand the dangers of giving out medical advice without a medical license. I also hope that those who do suffer or live with mental illness understand that whatever medication choices they make with the guidance of a physician do not have to be discussed outside of that relationship.
If you wish to discontinue a medication, please discuss it with your doctor and do so only under his or her supervision.
We all have the desire to be accepted, no matter what route we choose to recovery. Mental illness is not a game. It is not a choice or a switch that can be turned on and off at will.
I beg of you to be careful with your words and your judgment of people who may have problems that you do not understand.
We are given the opportunity to offer our experiences to others that may identify, and grow with the knowledge that they are not alone in their fight. We can give support even if we don’t have experience to offer.
It’s okay to say, “I don’t know what that is like, but I can surely put you in touch with someone that can help.”
There are many resources available and stories like Paul’s don’t have to end in tragedy.
If you or someone you know is struggling with mental illness, please educate yourself with the facts and find support. Please visit our Resource Page, or send an email firstname.lastname@example.org if you don’t see what you’re looking for.
Please don’t give up. As long as we are breathing, there is hope.
Julie Maida lives in Massachusetts with her amazing husband and three children. She has been in abstinence-based recovery since May 2, 2000.
Julie is eternally grateful for all the gifts of recovery and fiercely determined to advocate for, and connect ALL women with the appropriate support and resources necessary to achieve their personal recovery goals. She writes about mothering with mental illness at juliemaida.me.