Author: Steve Bringe

I have bipolar. Is my life hard? Yes. Is my life harder than other people? Who cares?

I have bipolar. Keeping my symptoms in check so I can function in society following the same rules of the same social contract we all agree to is really hard for me. Perhaps it’s harder for me than others who don’t have bipolar. I can’t determine this. I don’t live their life and don’t know their challenges.

What I do know is I’m responsible for my life and how I live my life. I’ll never disempower myself by believing in “their privilege” and “it’s not fair” and “it’s so much harder for me.” All of these things may be true and to that I say “So what?”

If I have fewer opportunities and have more challenges, that’s my life to contend with. What we all share is the social contract implicitly signed by taking part in community, society, and civilization. So I work hard to live up to that, because in the final run through only I have authority over me. Anything less is disempowering and I work too hard to let that happen.

Starting psych meds and remaining suicidal – or – Starting psych meds and only then becoming suicidal.

Last week’s thrifting found two DVDs from a medical-sounding production company directly funded by the Church of Scientology. These DVDs are candid interviews and group discussions with parents who lost a child to suicide. Viewing the material a few times, I recognized this logical pattern.

1.) Child is depressed and suicidal.

2.) Parent chooses to take child to medical provider.

3.) Medical provider prescribes antidepressant.

4.) Child begins med regimen.

5.) Soon after, the child suicides, by these accounts within days of starting the med regimen.

6.) The medical provider and their prescription is to blame for the suicide.

This logic troubles me greatly. As a peer who has cycled through many different antidepressants, I can attest to the dreaded “it’ll take two to four weeks to see if it even works.” And in this efficacy lag time, quite often I remained suicidal.

No antidepressant I’ve taken has ever worked within days.

Based on my experience and my understanding of psych meds, the query is plain:

Did the medication cause the child’s suicide, or did the child continue to be suicidal as before starting the medication?

The Church of Scientology is infamous for their outspoken denouncement of psych meds, and aggressively so. For DBSA and STS, Craigslist was a great way to reach peers in search of a peers support group. Well, the local Scientologists messed that up for everyone by overposting. Now, no peer support group posts are allowed.

You see, the church posted daily dozens of “support group notices” of the ilk:

“Do you have anxiety? Come to our support group.”

“Do you have depression? Come to our support group.”

“Do you have bipolar? Come to our support group.”

“Do you have PTSD? Come to our support group.”

“Do you have insomnia? Come to our support group.”

“Do you have an eating disorder? Come to our support group.”

And onwards.

There was no accompanying contact info, just an address … which was the local office for the church. I dropped in once in curiosity and upon arriving I was near immediately asked if I was prescribed psych meds and given literature similar to the DVDs I watched this week.

There were no support groups.

What’s so troublesome to me is how hazardous this tactic is, using manipulative illogic to dissuade peers from exploring every option available, in this case psych meds.

Don’t give your suicidal child psych meds because I did and it made my child kill themselves.

I asked the plain question earlier, was it the psych med that pushed the child to suicide or did the child remain suicidal and end their life in that dreaded two to four week lag time?

The answer is also plain. The child remained suicidal. Some will take this as me being insensitive and ignorant, which if you know me and my advocacy efforts you’ll know is not true.

What I find concerning is using correlative illogic to convince peers psych meds are universally deadly. How can that be? There are millions of peers making use of psych meds who are alive and healthy, their lives more successful and joyful in part from having the choice of psych meds available to them. This includes me.

We’ll never find a DVD of interviews with parents whose child has benefitted from psych meds. Like Yelp, reviewing activity is skewed greatly towards complaints and not praise. To take a (thankfully and blessedly) small population of family tragedies and claim this represents inherent danger is knowingly irresponsible.

How can I know this? Because if psych meds were as damaging as claimed, the pharmaceutical manufacturers would have been out of business decades ago.

This is plain logic that makes good sense.

My feelings on psych meds and treatments options for mental illness is consistent and transparent. Peers benefit the most from having as many choices as possible available. For my wellness, I am alive because of the choices I made in my treatment, and this includes choosing to have a psych med regimen.

It is responsible to encourage and promote support for all existing choices and the creation of new choices. Peers benefit from having choices.

And to be balanced, this includes choosing not to take psych meds.

A mental health diagnosis is only an explanation, not an excuse

Let’s be 100% clear. Mark this down, come back for reference, let it sink in, accept it as truth, and realize this is the central theme of this narrative.

Everyone on this planet has the same social contract with everyone else on this planet.

I’ve got bipolar, and I’ve done some really stupid-ass stuff when symptomatic, particularly when in the throes of hypomania. I had sex with five different girls in one day. I got myself convicted of 4th degree felony embezzlement. I did all sorts of crap that got me fired from job after job.

In each instance, there were consequences. The latter is self-realizing; I’d get euphoric, I’d get charismatic, I’d get irritated, I’d get angry at a co-worker… and I’d get fired. The middle critter is a blog of its own. And the former is a source of such shame and guilt that I’m going to use it as the example of how I broke this social contract with my fellow planet-mates.

Back in my New Mexico Tech days (late 80s, early 90s), we’d have this thing called 49s Weekend. It’s a mining thing, the Miner 49s of the 1849 California Gold Rush, and it was a tenuous connection to New Mexico Tech which was originally named New Mexico School of Mines that wasn’t founded until 1889 while New Mexico was still a territory. The 49s were a forty year memory by the time our school was founded, and not in California. I tangentialized there, and it won’t be the last time in this blog because this is really difficult to write.

Shame, guilt. I was a halfway decent looking guy with halfway decent social skills at a school where nerds and geeks came to learn and perhaps breed. That’s not good. I’m not going to erase the “breed” word because it’s yet another ploy of severity-diversion that is untoward for this topic. It was just that sort of flippancy that permeated my thinking while manic.

It was 49s Weekend, and each year the school rolled in the War Wagon, a Budweiser panel truck that opened on each side to reveal a good dozen beer kegs with free taps for all. There were lots of intoxicated nerds and geeks, and there was a festive flair that lent itself to impeded critical thinking from kids who came to this university on the strength of their critical thinking skills. I loved 49s Weekend because, in retrospect, it would trigger an incredible euphoric hypomania that was rife with exaggerated charisma/charm and a huge drive to get laid.


Hypersexuality is common for people with bipolar. And this sypmtom of hypomania was not a good combination for the planet. For me, it was a great combination in theory and not in practice. For the five girls who fell victim (and they really were victims) to my unchecked, undiagnosed bipolar disorder, it characterized my modus operandi towards having sex. What it manifested was heartache, betrayal, and a casual flippancy of “So what? You agreed to go back to my dorm room.”

“So what? You agreed to go back to my dorm room.”

How romantic and charming. Five girls. One day. Cashing in on charisma and paying out in shame and guilt. And it was earned shame and guilt. Because it didn’t end well for anyone.

One girl was a virgin. And three days later she killed herself.

Better still, she named me by name in several paragraphs of her suicide note. I did this. This was my doing, this was my fault. I might as well have poured the poison down her throat myself.

It didn’t matter that her suicide note was sixteen pages long and all handwritten, both sides of the college ruled notebook paper. It was those several paragraphs that pointed to my culpability that grabbed my attention. I did this. I took her virginity, and because I didn’t care about anyone but myself, this young woman killed herself. Because of me.

Five girls wasn’t an accomplishment, it wasn’t bragging rights, it wasn’t anything but complete disregard, disrespect, and, worst, disinterest in the welfare of these women.

It was just something to do. Nothing wrong because it’s simply what I wanted to do and how could that be wrong?

It’s difficult to talk about this. I’ve shared this at APD’s Crisis Intervention Training, an audience of a few dozen. I’m putting this on the interweb as a mea culpa that might be read and might not be read. It’s difficult, and this is part of my recovery journey, and it’s something I’ve been forced to own as part of who I am now.

In 1999 I was finally diagnosed with bipolar disorder by trying to do myself in. Only in retrospect do I understand what I understand now. I can try to gloss this over and say:

“I wasn’t diagnosed yet” or “I can’t be blamed because the bipolar made me do it” or “When I’m manic I can’t make any promises.”

Let’s go back to the core of this blog. Let’s bring that first concept up to the front of the class again. What were the words I shared? Oh, yes. Copy & Paste:

Everyone on this planet has the same social contract with everyone else on this planet.

It doesn’t matter if I was symptomatic and unaware and egocentric because I have bipolar. My behavior wasn’t kind or thoughtful. It was cruel and damaging. That’s not holding up to my end of the bargain. Behavior like sleeping with five girls in one day is not what the rest of the planet considers acceptable behavior. I broke my contract.

Since then, particularly after I was diagnosed, I’ve learned a few things. First, and most important, is that people kill themselves for their own reasons that are much deeper-seated than losing their virginity to an insensitive cad like me. There were some fifteen additional pages to her farewell narrative that also played into what might not even be the root cause of her suicide. It wasn’t my fault (try convincing me of that… 18 years of therapy hasn’t done much more than help me accept this in the most academic of terms).

Second, romantic fidelity was crucial in my relationships thereforth. It was a “scared straight” event that had me key in on one girl and one girl only after that, and perhaps the penance is I married this girl and now have the PTSD to bear because of it. No longer was I going to treat women like disposable, broken toys.

Third, I am responsible for my behavior, aware of the bipolar or not, and ESPECIALLY because I am aware of it now. I’m as responsible for my behavior as anyone else on this planet, so I don’t get to say “I can’t be blamed because the bipolar made me do it” or “When I’m manic I can’t make any promises.” I have to be constantly aware and constantly vigilant of my symptoms because I refuse to harm another through romantic indifference and infidelity.

Here’s where I’m going with this. I’m sharing this very difficult to tell story because I feel the same way about criminal behavior in peers. As a peer, I don’t get to say “I can’t be blamed for breaking the law because the bipolar made me do it” or “When I’m manic I can’t make any promises I won’t break the law.” Same social contract, and I face the same consequences as everyone else on this planet.

Peers do not get to say “I can’t help it because I have a mental illness” as a get out of jail free card.

I’m an executive board member on the Bernalillo County Forensic Intervention Consortium, a collaborative of community stakeholders dedicated to diverting peers to services rather than jail time. The idea is that those peers who are only first becoming aware of their detrimental behavior deserve an opportunity to treat their symptoms to be sure not to break the law again. That’s a good balance that places the responsibility on the peer in exchange for the community’s help in obtaining services. I firmly believe we are all responsible for our own behaviors, and I also firmly believe peers do deserve a chance to seek treatment to help themselves and keep their social contract with the community.

For me and those with bipolar, it’s more specifically called “playing the bipolar card” to get out of trouble or justify lies or explain away responsibility for how I treat others. It might be harder work for me than others on our planet. I take meds and have to be aware if they’re working. I have to make use of psychiatric services and trust the guidance of my providers. I have to find coping tools and symptom-management skills that will help me keep my detrimental bipolar symptoms in check. And more than anything, I have to make this promise:

I promise that I’ll stay diligent in treating my bipolar symptoms so my actions won’t harm others.

This was really tough to write. This promise I make through learning lessons in the most harmful of ways. And it’s the same promise that everyone else on the planet makes to me. We’ve all got the same social contract, and having mental health issues is no excuse to break this contract.

by Steve Bringe

Green Day’s new song “Still Breathing” sings the Peer Experience

Seminal rock band Green Day has a new tune out called “Still Breathing.” The tune resonates with notes of the Peer Experience. Heartwarming, inspirational, and just plain funky is this tune.

Thanks, Billie Joe, Mike, and Tre for the tuneage. Well done, bravo, rock on.

You can listen and watch the official lyric video here:

Still Breathing by Green Day

“Still Breathing”

I’m like a child looking off on the horizon
I’m like an ambulance that’s turning on the sirens
Oh, I’m still alive
I’m like a soldier coming home for the first time
I dodged a bullet and I walked across a landmine
Oh, I’m still alive

Am I bleeding? Am I bleeding from the storm?
Just shine a light into the wreckage, so far away, away

‘Cause I’m still breathing
‘Cause I’m still breathing on my own
My head’s above the rain and roses
Making my way away
‘Cause I’m still breathing
‘Cause I’m still breathing on my own
My head’s above the rain and roses
Making my way away
My way to you

I’m like a junkie tying off for the last time
I’m like a loser that’s betting on his last dime
Oh, I’m still alive
I’m like a son that was raised without a father
I’m like a mother barely keeping it together
Oh, I’m still alive

Am I bleeding? Am I bleeding from the storm?
Just shine a light into the wreckage, so far away, away

‘Cause I’m still breathing
‘Cause I’m still breathing on my own
My head’s above the rain and roses
Making my way away
‘Cause I’m still breathing
‘Cause I’m still breathing on my own
My head’s above the rain and roses
Making my way, away, away…

As I walked out on the ledge
Are you scared to death to live?
I’ve been running all my life
Just to find a home that’s for the restless
And the truth that’s in the message
Making my way, away, away

‘Cause I’m still breathing
‘Cause I’m still breathing on my own
My head’s above the rain and roses
Making my way away
‘Cause I’m still breathing
‘Cause I’m still breathing on my own
My head’s above the rain and roses
Making my way, away, away…
‘Cause I’m still breathing
‘Cause I’m still breathing on my own
My head’s above the rain and roses
Making my way, away
My way to you

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