Sick and Suffering: Dealing with Dual Diagnosis in Recovery Part 1

“Calling it lunacy makes it easier to explain away the things we don’t understand” – Megan Chance

I have three illnesses that are considered fatal. Addiction, Coronary Artery Disease, and Bipolar Disorder. I no longer live in fear of any of them. But before I found a way of life that worked, the bipolar was the hardest for me by a long shot. If you’re an addict with a mental illness, there is help. The condition of “Comorbidity” is defined as “the simultaneous presence of two chronic diseases or conditions in a patient.” according to the dictionary. I call it hellish, crippling and confusing unless both illnesses are in check. For those members of long-term recovery who have mental illness and are practicing a recovery lifestyle, one day you’re out “saving the world” having spiritual experiences helping others and loving life and the next you can wake up in the very same life suicidal, terrified and disoriented. These mood switches can come out of nowhere and in many forms.

You’re doing nightly inventories, involved with your sponsor, maybe sponsoring others and you may find yourself buying electronics that you don’t need with money you don’t have at 4 am in Walmart. You’re doing the best you can at being a better person and find yourself with two or more lovers that all believe they are the only one and you’re not quite sure how it happened. You can’t sleep or can’t get out of bed. Gaining or losing massive amounts of weight. You may be ready to take on the world in grandiose fashion or leave it all behind in an epically tragic way. Worse you blame it on character defects and chalk yourself up as a hypocrite or a fraud? The spiral is vicious. What’s the solution? The first part of any solution is identifying the problem.

The Problems with Addressing Dual Diagnosis


One initial problem with that is most people reject the diagnosis for as long as a decade. We move forward after being diagnosed in denial. Nobody wants to be labeled “crazy.” We’re not equipped to deal with that, in the literature it says, “No person likes to think he is bodily and mentally different from his fellows.” That applies to more than just alcoholism and addiction.

Undiagnosed Mental Illness:

Only a professional can diagnose. If we haven’t had any contact with professionals how would we even know? Those that are addicts or alcoholics that came straight to the rooms and have never seen a mental health professional wouldn’t have been afforded the opportunity to be properly evaluated. It is not the same when friends, family members or significant others point out our irregular or scary behavior, especially if we are drinking and using. It also isn’t the same as being a Google doctor and assuming we have certain conditions or that we’re not “that bad.”

Not Being Medication Compliant

Many have been diagnosed in treatment, or after hospitalization and find it almost impossible to be disciplined enough to take the meds both daily and consistently. Many mental health meds take weeks or longer even to kick in.

The Guinea Pig Phase

Many who start out being medication compliant wind up aborting due to the frustration of side effects. Sometimes they can appear to be worse than the symptoms of the mental illness itself. The symptoms can vary so widely it’s ridiculous. There are symptoms like nausea, headaches and other physical symptoms that are annoying, but symptoms like gaining forty pounds, loss of sex drive or mental fog are debilitating.

Many of the psychiatrist use “cocktails” meaning more than one med attempting to treat multiple symptoms. If you add that to the time factor for the medicines to kick in it could take over three weeks to see if its working and if a med had an adverse effect to your lifestyle it could be difficult to tell which one to switch.

Mental Health and Recovery

This subject is broad. The big book says, “There are those too who suffer from grave emotional and mental disorders, but many of them do recover if they have the capacity, to be honest.” Honest about both their spiritual illness (alcoholism or addiction) and mental illness. This blog was aimed at the members of the recovery community that already have embraced the recovery lifestyle and are still struggling.

Mental illness is traced in biology. It’s a chemical disorder in the brain. It cannot be prayed away. The recovery literature implies a Higher Power made doctors and mental health professionals for a reason. The 12 steps can do many amazing things to change a life, help you overcome mental illness is not one of them. They can make it easier to be able to face life on life’s terms though. Sometimes that is what we need to clear the way to be ready to meet our mental health head-on.

For those who are new to both recovery and are battling mental illness, there are particular actions that can be extremely helpful. That will be the topic of discussion of part two. Always make sure to discuss any new medications with a licensed health professional. These practices are what have helped me personally. Reach out to others that have been through what you’ve been through, but only employ medical advice from a professional.

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