My Bipolar Disorder Pushed Me Into Drugs and Prostitution
A young woman writes about her experience self-medicating for bipolar disorder.
I never knew what being bipolar meant. I always associated it with my dad yelling at my mom whenever she was in a bad mood. “Your mom’s bipolar, I swear to God,” he would tell me.
I have this memory of him telling my mom to “take her happy pills.” As a 12-year-old, I had no idea she was depressed; I assumed the medicine was something to make her laugh when she was having a bad day. OK, so bipolar is when you’re happy one minute and mean the next, got it. Mental health was never talked about in our household. It was swept under the rug, never acknowledged. Even after I was diagnosed with an eating disorder at 18, my parents refused to recognize there was something wrong in my brain.
Until I got diagnosed with bipolar disorder this past summer.
Promiscuity as a Form of Self-Medicating
Bipolar disorder is defined as “a disorder associated with episodes of mood swings ranging from depressive lows to manic highs.” I found myself exhibiting the behavioral symptoms, which include risk-taking behaviors, excess desire for sex, hyperactivity and impulsivity. I’d have racing thoughts and stumble through sentences.
I started “sugaring” when I was 22. I heard it was easy money: Go out with an older man for dinner in exchange for a luxurious lifestyle. My experience was a bit different. The first “daddy” I had made sex a large part of our arrangement. He was only five years older, so it felt like having a boyfriend who didn’t care about my day and gave me $400 for taking his cock. I dissociated the first time I slept with him, and I would with every man I met.
After a while, my job wasn’t “having a sugar daddy” anymore; it was prostitution. I was selling my body for money and disguising it with something people wanted to try. I’d disappear for hours, sometimes days. I let myself get into Ubers with men I didn’t know and go to places I didn’t know. I met strangers in hotel rooms. I acted out rape fantasies. I always said yes until I finally learned to say no.
I stepped away from that life, but I didn’t know the worst was yet to come.
Living With Bipolar Disorder During the Pandemic
The pandemic took a major toll on my mental health, but I kept the storm inside me to myself. I felt selfish complaining when the rest of the world was in the same boat. I refused to go to therapy. In my opinion, it's not my place to whine when millions have it much worse. So I self-medicated with drugs, booze, even sex.
My best friend urged me to go to the ER after a breakdown last August. I kicked and screamed that I was fine, that I didn’t need any help. I finally caved on one condition: I could bring my stuffed giraffe. I’d never been to an emergency room before. I was by myself, lost, looking for someone who could help. I made my way to the nurses’ station, where a nice man asked why I was there.
“I’m pretty sure I’m bipolar,” I said with tears running down my face.
“We’re gonna get you some help, OK?” he said.
Eventually, I was called back to the “we need to make sure you won’t kill yourself” ward. Every 20 minutes, a new doctor came to my room, and every 20 minutes, I told my story while they took notes with the same stone-cold expression.
Self-Medicating Is Easier—and Cheaper—Than Getting Professional Help for Bipolar Disorder
It’s no secret that American healthcare sucks. I couldn’t get in with a psychiatrist without a recommendation from a general practitioner, and they couldn’t recommend one until I saw a therapist, no matter how much I cried on the phone, begging someone to help.
I had to spend nearly $1,000 (with insurance) to talk to someone. I was sick, and no one would help me. I didn’t have a broken arm or terminal illness, so I was shoved to the back of the line. After I finally spoke with a doctor, he recommended switching the medications that my general practitioner—who had little to no psychiatric experience—had prescribed. I stopped those cold turkey, and for five days straight, I threw up and lost control of my thoughts. I wanted to kill someone. If I could have gotten away with it, I would’ve stabbed someone on the street.
Once the storm settled, I felt myself again, but I knew it was temporary.
Whether You Take Medication or Self-Medicate for Bipolar Disorder Doesn’t Matter
Medication hides mental illness; it doesn’t cure it. It can’t take your demons away. It hides them in a closet, where they wait to take you away. I even tried crack. I didn’t even think about it; I just did it. My boyfriend worries I’ll disappear. I honestly don’t even know if I’m gonna be able to finish this piece. So far, I’ve bought a desk, lamp, new table, diet cat food, shampoo and a couch. I’ve cleaned the house twice and snuck the rest of my coke at 9 a.m. And, as of ten minutes ago, I got drunk while dog sitting.
Mania doesn’t give a warning when it’s coming or tell you how long it’s going to stay.
I’m spending insane amounts of money on cocaine. It’s an expensive habit, but I crave it every day, and it takes me 30 seconds to get it. I can’t sit still, and I’m five minutes away from texting my dealer because I need to get high. In fact, I’m high on my way to my parents’ house for Easter.
I want to believe I’ll get better, but optimism only lasts so long. You can have a strong support system, but it can’t fix you. You can have a prescription, but it can’t stop your dark thoughts. You can have vices, but they won’t cure the sadness in your heart.
It’s on you to try, even when you’ve given up; but then again, when have I ever taken my own advice?