Your Gateway to Music and More from a Christian Perspective
Slow down as you approach the gate, and have your change ready....
the Rock Doc
Sound Advice for a Song
By Dr. Bruce L. Thiessen, aka Dr BLT, psychologist
* Details contained in the original correspondence, or inquiry have been omitted or otherwise altered to protect the confidentiality of the inquiring party and to make key spiritual/psychological points.
Dear Dr BLT:
I hate to use clichés but Iím at the end of my rope. Iím a country singer from Oklahoma, and I follow what youíre doing over there in Bakersfield with taking the old Bakersfield sound and making it new again. I think thatís really cool. I have a steady gig, a steady job, but an unsteady pattern of moods. Iíve been diagnosed with manic depression. I think you guys have a new word for it, but it amounts to one great big roller coaster for me. The psychiatrist Iím seeing doesnít seem to care about me, and always looks like thereís somewhere else sheíd rather be.
My medication would probably work, except that youíre not supposed to mix medication with alcohol, and Iím been hitting the Jim Beam quite a bit, especially since my third wife left me in June of í07. The holidays are tough for me.
We used to turn our place into a haunted house every year, and Mary, my ex, would be the life of the party. I still drank then, but it was on occasion, relatively light, and for the purpose of celebrating.
Now I just sit around and drink every holiday away. Iím getting scared because Christmas is coming, and I know Iím going to be very tempted to get on a binge at Christmas too. Christmas is typically when Maryís family would come over from Texas and we would have a great big family Christmas. Iím an adopted child, havenít met my own biological parents, and donít even know who they are. I donít care to really. Iím not very close to my adoptive parents either.
I noticed that you write for a Christian e-zine and so I wanted to share with you that I feel Iím losing my faith in God because of my roller coaster mood patterns. When Iím on top of the world, I feel I donít need God, and when Iím at rock bottom, I donít think God exists. I feel like God has abandoned me.
Can you help?
First, before we figure out what you need to be doing, I think itís important to figure out what youíre doing now, and eliminate that which is not working. I am immediately concerned about your health and safety since you appear to be self-medicating with alcohol. You are doing what the person in this song of mine appears to be doing to solve a heartbreak:
Halloween with Jim Beam
Part of the problem may be that you are not drawing what you need from the psychiatrist you are seeing. There are psychiatrists and other mental health practitioners out there who are enthusiastic about their work and invested in their patients. I know because I recently interviewed one-----------Dr. Al Howsepian, a psychiatrist from Fresno, California that I had the privilege of going to school with. Listen to how he describes his work and contrast that to what you are observing with your present psychiatrist:
ďI have a very deep desire to understand, relentless curiosity, and I obtain great joy both in the exploration of ideas and in the exercise of creativity. Some people become exhilarated by the adventure of exploring other lands, other terrains; I become exhilarated by the adventure of exploring the mental and conceptual realms, traveling along psychic and logical structures, going places where the greatest of thinkers (psychologists, psychiatrists, philosophers) have gone before, scaling those emotional cliffs on which my patients are stranded and from which they are in danger of falling, and (in virtue of my love for philosophical and psychiatric research) going places where no person has ever gone before.Ē
Sometimes psychiatrists get burned out and need to take a very long vacation. Perhaps this is the case with the doctor you are presently seeing. I would also encourage you to explore your feelings towards your doctor with her, as some of it may have to do with what us shrinks call ďtransference and counter-transference.Ē That means that you project certain issues onto your psychiatrists, and she, in turn responds with projections of her own.
I would be curious as to whether or not your substance abuse, and your clinical Bipolar condition are, to some degree, related to genetic factors. Of course without having a history on your biological parents, you are limited in terms of gaining a complete understanding of why you experience symptoms of Bipolar Disorder, and why drink to drown your sorrows and manage your chaotic mood patterns.
But what you do have present access to are what are known as ďpsychosocial stressors.Ē Listen to what my friend, and psychiatrist, Dr Al Howsepian had to about their role in contributing to the condition you apparently suffer from, once called Manic Depressive Disorder, now referred to as Bipolar Disorder. Again, this has been extracted from my recent interview with him.
ďÖthe environment can, in many cases, be decisive regarding whether one who has this loading goes on to develop these disturbances. It is especially telling, as I see it, that the index major mood episode in Bipolar Disorder and the index psychotic episode in Schizophrenia are almost always accompanied by substantial psychosocial stressors. This is less likely to be the case in later exacerbations of these illness (along the lines of a 'kindling' model in which subsequent episodes require less of a stimulus trigger than previous episodes of the same illness).Ē
Are you drinking more than you used to? If so, it is possible that you are experiencing the type of phenomenon that Dr. Howsepian described ďin which subsequent episodes require less of a stimulus trigger than previous episodes of the same illness.Ē So it may take less and less for you to take that old familiar emotional plunge into hopelessness and despair than it once did, and, in turn, to that degree, you may be engaging in self-medication via alcohol.
I would recommend, in addition to finding a psychiatrist and/or mental health professional that is enthusiastic and invested in his/her work, seeking out a good drug treatment program in your neighborhood. Although I have been openly critical about certain aspects of both NA/AA, the support offered through such programs can be invaluable. The journey to recovery is much easier to embark upon and preserver with if that journey is shared by those who have a personal, intimate understanding of the struggle.
In general, I would suggest surrounding yourself with supportive friends and family members. Dr. Howsepian suggest that,
ďFamily members or friends are critical to recruit in the context of a comprehensive treatment, so that often one is treating not just one patient, but many.Ē
Bipolar Disorder is complex enough, in an of itself, but, as Dr. Howsepian suggests,
ďSubstance abuse and the high risk for self-harm further amplifies the complexity.Ē
I probably do not need to remind you that alcohol only serves to intensify your Bipolar symptoms.
So, in summary, I would suggest finding a therapist you can work with, (or working it out with the one youíre with), and then working with whoever you end up with, towards identifying what isnít working, eliminating those dysfunctional thoughts and behaviors, and experimenting with thoughts and behaviors that have a much better chance of working.
You have clearly not resolved core personal and interpersonal issues such as the sense of abandonment, the fear of being alone, the rejection, and, of course, the loss of the person and relationship once dear to your heart.
Diligent adherence to your medication regimen will produce stability, as will exploring memories and underlying emotions associated with your relationship loss and your mood disorder. Moreover, trying out new thoughts and new behaviors after eliminating the ones that arenít working, will do wonders. But adding Jim Beam to the mix will only further your downward spiral. This is probably not news to you.
What youíre doing in terms of your faith, is seeing God from the various vantage points reflected in your frequently fluctuating moods. God is constant, and his nature does not change. He does not change according to your moods. Itís hard to wrap your head around that notion, because you are not feeling that constant divine presence in your life.
Predictability may be an elusive prospect, as Iíve alluded to in this song:
However, God remains peaceful, calm, reassuring and loving and his loving, gracious mercy is the only thing in this life that remains predictable. Dr. Al Howsepian said this in my recent interview with him:
I am a Christian who takes seriously St. Anselm of Canterbury's maxim, 'Credo ut intelligam' - 'I believe so that I may understand', St. Peter's admonition to "Always be ready to give a defense to anyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you" (I Peter 3:15), and Jesus' 'Greatest Commandment', viz. to love God with all one's heart, soul and mind.Ē
At the moment, you may lack faith, as your faith is being tested by your internal demons and the external reinforcing agents that fuel the fire of your self-destructive thought and behavioral patterns. And without faith, understanding is exceedingly more difficult.
To see God clearly, at this point, the clouds of alcoholism, mood instability and all antecedents that have contributed to your condition, will need to be cleared. When the light begins to peak out of the clouds, believe me, believing will become easier, and with believing, will come understanding and wisdom.
*If youíre a musician in
distress or a concern spouse, relative, or friend of one, contact Dr BLT