“Truth” of Medical Cannabis, A Patient’s Perspective
This is a guest blog post by Michael Wellington – Speaker, Author, Athlete, Patient, Advocate
Here is some truth for you: in January of 2001, I was 23 years old and correctly diagnosed with bipolar disorder by a doctor in Ft. Myers, Florida. I was born and raised right in the middle of the United States in St. Louis, Missouri. I was certainly not a rich kid, but I didn’t grow up poor either. I went to a quality high school and turned that into a collegiate golf scholarship.
At the time of my bipolar diagnosis, I was 23 years old and one month removed from finishing college. My college experience in the great state of Alabama was filled with a few constants: drinking, late nights, working for the school newspaper, playing competitive golf for my college golf team and more drinking. If you knew me in college, my behavior was defined as “outgoing”. When I got outside of the friendly surroundings of college life and into the real world, my behavior was given a different name: “bipolar”.
That behavior in the real world caused my friends to contact my parents because it was obvious that my words and actions were a bit more than just “outgoing”. So, my parents came to visit me at my new apartment in Florida, just a three-hour flight from my hometown in the Midwest. They brought me to a doctor who laid out a piece of paper on the table in front of me with a list of traits and actions that are associated with bipolar disorder. I may not have come from a lot of wealth but I was wealthy in my education. My high school and college years had taught me well in many areas. So, when I saw this list, I knew that this was me. No doubt about it. I knew in my heart and my mind at that exact moment that I had bipolar disorder. There was no denying it. My biggest problem was that I had never heard of bipolar disorder. I truly did not know what it was or what it was capable of doing to the human mind. But I would find out quickly. That doctor would prescribe me a bipolar medication. I was never in denial about having bipolar. I was in denial that I needed to take medication to manage it.
If there is one single piece of advice that I wish my 40-year-old self could give to my 23-year-old self is to take your bipolar medicine EVERY DAY. It took me five and a half years to figure out that important piece to my health puzzle. In those five plus years, I learned hard lessons and wound up in places like police stations, emergency rooms, psychiatric wards, on the side of an interstate highway in Illinois bleeding from my hands and arms after taking a baseball bat to my own car, passed out on the stairs to a church in Columbia, Missouri and on a meaningless car ride through Florida in search of a golf match with Tiger Woods.
I wound up in all of these places because I refused to take my bipolar medication and by not doing so, the intoxicating manic behavior caused by my illness owned me and ran my life. But I couldn’t tell. The mania was a blind spot to me. It was like a fever that I didn’t notice. While my friends and family had a front row seat to what was happening to me, I just thought this was regular life as it happened, business as usual. Every single time that I wound up in a less than desirable place there were two common denominators. I was either skipping my medicine or drinking or both.
I grew up in the city that was the home of Budweiser. Drinking was glorified as the cool thing to do since the time I was fourteen years old. I was fooled at a young age into thinking that drinking was cool.
Here’s some more truth: if you have bipolar disorder and you don’t take medication and you drink on top of it…good luck, because you’re fucked. My ride with bipolar disorder was so wild that in October of 2011, I decided to quit drinking and write a book about my competition against bipolar disorder. No A.A. meetings, no thirty-day treatment, no sixty-day sober living house. I just stopped drinking and began to write. My hangovers were causing a suicidal depression that was simply too much for me, so I had to take alcohol completely out of my life equation. I had to make this change or the combination of my bipolar and drinking was going to kill me. Candidly, I was lucky to still be alive.
From 2006 to 2011, I had been able to put a better harness on my bipolar mania because in the early summer of 2006, I was the center piece of not one but two interventions. These weren’t interventions to get me to stop drinking or doing drugs. These interventions were planned and executed by eight of my best friends who informed me that they couldn’t be in my life anymore unless I began to take my bipolar medication EVERY DAY. If I were to continue skipping or being inconsistent with my meds, I would lose all eight of those incredible friends. I decided that bipolar disorder was not going to rob me of friendships that I valued.
So, in that five-year window, I was able to slow down my mania because I became diligent about taking my pills every morning when I woke up after brushing my teeth. The mania had caused so many issues over the years that it was good to find some solid footing by keeping the mania at arm’s length with consistent medication usage. But now that I had put the mania in check, I began to experience the other ugly side of bipolar disorder: Depression. Specifically, suicidal depression. Even though I took my meds each day, my drinking was causing my hangovers to produce the most lethal form of depression. Alcohol is a natural depressant so using any booze was like pouring gasoline on my own bipolar fire. The key to living productively with bipolar disorder is to find that “middle ground” and by that, I mean five steps up from depression and five steps below mania. That’s the sweet spot. It took a seventeen-year case study on myself to successfully locate that middle ground.
It took me ten years to figure out the correct recipe to keep the mania out of my life. That recipe turned out to be very simple: take your meds every day and don’t put alcohol in your body.
After a lot of trial and error in defeating the mania, I had a new challenge that came to me in early 2012. I now had to figure out a way to keep my depression at bay. When I do public speaking appearances, I refer to this as “playing defense against bipolar depression”. There are some fundamental things that aid in fighting depression and I have used all of these at different times: exercise, music therapy, proper sleep conditions, proper sleep amounts, strong diet, yoga, massive hydration (water intake), transcendental meditation and cryotherapy. No one is exempt from depression. It can hit you when you lose a job, it can wreck you when you go through a divorce and it can pain you when a loved one dies. As a person who has lived through many different bouts with depression, I can confidently say that I know the feeling and will do just about anything to escape what the feeling of depression creates
From 2012-2016, I used all of these different techniques to try and stave off my depression. There were many days when I had to force myself to go to the gym and exercise. Other days were a challenge because I didn’t understand how to sleep enough or how to sleep in the correct atmosphere. I learned how important drinking lots of water is because proper hydration fights off fatigue and fatigue is a major catalyst for depression. I changed how I ate and I took transcendental meditation classes. And at the beginning of 2017, I decided to add something new to my health recipe. Cannabis. That’s right. You may know it as marijuana, grass, pot, dope, Mary Jane or green. I reached out to a friend of mine in Colorado in January of 2017 because I was doing many of the activities that I knew worked well against depression but no matter what I tried, I felt sluggish and suicidal.
My friend in Colorado recommended a type of Cannabis called Sativa which is known to provide a boost of energy. I was pretty desperate because of how I felt. I had used Cannabis in the past but only recreationally. This was a concentrated effort to find out if Cannabis could be a useful tool in the battle against bipolar and depression. I would have to break the law in order to execute this experiment but I didn’t care because my feelings of suicidal depression were so overwhelming.
I decided that I would use this Sativa strain of Cannabis for six months straight and monitor my suicidal thoughts. My (illegal) package arrived in the mail to me during the last week in January of 2017. And it really couldn’t have gotten to me fast enough. I was easily in the deepest darkest depression that I had ever felt. During that February, I experienced an enormous turnaround. My sluggishness melted away. I had been working out every day before I got my illegal package and now I was still working out every day but my sessions at the gym were longer and more productive. I was sleeping better through the night. I was sharper and more productive with all of my work and competitions. I simply had so much more energy each day and the drag of depression lifted its foot off of my head. February erased all of the ugly depression that I felt for the three months prior. March was great, April was the same, May was really strong and productive while June was a positive month as well. My mood and outlook weren’t good only because of Cannabis. I was using other pieces of the puzzle like exercise first thing in the morning, taking my bipolar meds, listening to lots of music that I liked, monitoring my sleep, taking time for meditation, eating clean and of course, no alcohol anywhere near me. In July, things started to change.
Toward the end of that month, I was traveling a lot and I ran out of my Cannabis. But I kept all of the exercise, medication, strong diet, music therapy and all other positives in play but the Cannabis was the only piece that I changed on purpose because I wanted to monitor myself without it in my system. By mid-August, I was in a dark place. I was waking up every morning at 5:30 to drive to the local high school track where I would stretch, run, run stairs and do burpees. It was an explosive release of endorphins to start my day. Which is the way all people who battle depression should fight against it: rustle up the endorphins! Even though I began my day with this intense exercise, my depression was gripping me again. It was a dark feeling. I felt like I needed to stick to my plan and stay away from the Cannabis and give this test a full research.
Bipolar depression has a deep, dark, invisible and sinister pull because the most intense bipolar depression is definitely suicidal depression. Very recently, I saw an interview Jane Pauley did with actress Glen Close and her sister, Jesse. Jesse had been diagnosed bipolar at age 50 and had the most accurate explanation that I had ever heard in defining bipolar depression. She explained the depression as “beyond blackness”. She said that the disorder and the depression combined to feed her brain a message over and over: “kill yourself, kill yourself, kill yourself, kill yourself”. This was a train of thought that I had experienced many times myself. It’s not fun to admit it, but when trying to exterminate these depressive feelings and improve ourselves, we must identify exactly what is going through our minds. That ugly train of thought clearly explains why so many people that have bipolar disorder commit suicide. This interview conducted by Pauley with the Close sisters truly helped me connect the dots and see more clearly that you can never have too many weapons in fighting suicidal depression.
As I got into the middle of September in 2017, the depression was still there. I was eating right, exercising at an extremely high level, taking my meds and doing everything I was “supposed” to do. I wasn’t using Cannabis and I wasn’t sure how much longer I could go without breaking the law again and reaching out to my friend in Colorado who could send me another illegal package. I think the stigma associated with Cannabis helped me to hold out longer on making another order. There are so many stigmas associated with mental illness and bipolar disorder. The stigmas of Cannabis are out there too. Somehow, I made it through October, November and December. By the start of 2018, I was fighting each day against suicidal depression. I was fighting that battle without Cannabis. But I was losing the battle.
By February of 2018, I had had enough. The thoughts that I was experiencing were so dark that I had to break the law and send for an illegal shipment of Cannabis. Such a shame that I have to severe the law in order to experiment for optimal health. I needed to again incorporate Cannabis into my daily routine along with my daily practices of intense exercise, taking bipolar meds, eating well, music therapy, keeping a gratitude journal and drinking an obscene amount of water all while keeping a close eye on my sleep habits. On March 1st, I placed the illegal order. Is it weird or correct that I would have to commit a crime to fight off suicidal depression?!?
The point of this writing is to help the blind people out there see that Cannabis is a medicine that helps many different people for many different reasons and I know for a fact that Cannabis aids in the fight against depression. Some may say, “well, why don’t you take an anti-depressant pill to combat your depression?” The simple answer to that is that anti-depressant pills have a tendency to spike mania for people that live with bipolar disorder. In short, the Cannabis is simply safer for me than an anti-depressant pill cocktail. Cannabis buffers the sting of depression.
Fighting depression isn’t just as simple as one pill or one joint. Fighting depression is a series of orchestrated activities, techniques and exercises that are proven to fend off depression. If you’re only doing one thing to combat depression, you will probably lose the battle. There are many ingredients that go into the salad of the science well-being. And I know this because I’ve almost lost it all. My bipolar disorder has put my life in jeopardy on more than a half dozen occasions. In order to live a reasonable life, I had to become a professional depression fighter. Cannabis helps the fight. And anyone who can’t figure that out needs to head back to the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s. That’s the truth. Welcome to 2018.
Michael Wellington is the chairman for Birdies4Bipolar and is the Author of “Birdies, Bogeys & Bipolar Disorder” Foreword By David Feherty. The book can be found on Amazon.com.
Michael lives in St. Louis, Missouri and is a professional speaker and golfer. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or Birdies4Bipolar.org
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