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Partying with a Mental Health Disorder

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I care about my friends. I always have, even before the onset of my mental health disorder. My deep feelings surrounding the importance of building and nurturing strong connections with my friends in college and those relationships are cataloged in my memoirs about those years. 

Anyone would be hard-pressed to say my friends were the last thing on my mind when I first got sick. Instead, they were at the forefront, wrapped up in a complex delusional system. Until we graduated, my friends took the brunt of my misguided thoughts and cognitive distortions around our relationships. Even worse, untoward behavior as a result and the impact of my actions on our relationships.

I spent years recovering and, at the same time, trying to make mends with many friends I hurt as a direct result of my behavior. It seems like a never-ending struggle between dismantling the friendships and repairing the damage I exacted on the relationships for many years. I give many of these people credit for hanging around as long as they did in some cases. 

Only recently can I let go of the friends who left on their terms and refused to be moved by my overtures to hang on while I make amends. These were the most complicated friendships to give up. 

I felt utterly powerless. 

Powerless to my disorder for enabling much of this havoc. Too weak to keep my behaviors in check when I knew they were doing so much damage. So, when I did experience longevity in a friendship, you better believe I invest a hundred and ten percent at all times. I am usually pretty over the top, so you can only imagine how much I invest in those who stick around and wait out the madness while relapsing, recovering, and pressing on through my illness. 

Years went by after college. Those years soon became a decade of memories, seemingly, tarnished and stained by the wake of illness. Even down to having a ‘good time,’ schizophrenia always seemed to intervene and make good timeless fun. For these ten years, I would repeatedly experience this in different circumstances but with the same impact on my enjoyment and overall experience of partying with friends. 

After we graduated, most folks weren’t making keg stands or blacking out daily. Nevertheless, folks in their early twenties that went out to bars and clubs in New York City are determined to have a good time. A good time can mean many things to a lot of different people. I get that now more than ever. You have to understand. When I finally got home from college, my parents drove me home drove my parents home from a state hospital in upstate New York, where I dosed on and off from the impact of sedating anti-psychotic medication and other medication. 

For me, a good time meant being outside. Not locked behind barb wire and walled off by supervising police and ‘safety’ officers. It also meant walking around the community freely and without reporting to a nurse or social worker about what I was doing and why I was doing it. 

A good time spent meant being autonomous and in charge of my behavior without fearing retribution or losing privileges. Alas, for my friends, this level of ‘fun’ was unknown to them. I would suspect unimaginable in terms of living out the experience when it came to their reality as new, young, privileged graduates. My friends were at the stage of life where they worked and lived as they should when it came to ‘normal’ societal expectations for healthy young adults in the community.

So, I was wary when they went out to the bars and clubs. First off, I couldn’t drink anymore, given the interference from my medications. I also couldn’t keep up with them. I was tired and felt uncomfortable in crowds. Sure, in college, I was the party’s life at times. Interacting with new people and my buddies, all while running around the college town from bar to bar and house party to the house party.

When I got home from the state hospital, it seemed as though I had lost my ambition to go out and socialize. I couldn’t seem to locate the energy. It was as though it escaped into a vacuum and left me for good. 

I was confused and disturbed. I was also furious and bitter. I was mad with myself and the result of the problematic aspects of setting out on recovery during the early years of healing from schizophrenia. I was so lost.

I took my issues to my therapist whenever I could, but she couldn’t solve all my problems—and there were so many to work through in a small forty-five-minute space of time. So, looking for additional help, I took these problems to my friends.

I imagine they were just as turned around as I was, if not more so. After all, they didn’t know what had become of their friend. Now, that friend had come to them asking for advice on being the person he was in college. 

Years passed, and I knew I would never be the same person again. I give my friends credit for sticking around on their terms. After all, the disorder I was stuck with wasn’t on my terms. Yet, I didn’t need its permission when I got sick or relapsed.

So, when my friends started to get married, you better believe I would be there for their bachelor parties. I went to all of them.

Even if it meant partying in strange and exotic locations, I barely felt comfortable navigating sober. The other day, I told my friend I recently received another bill for the ambulance ride to the hospital from his bachelor party in Austin, Texas. I told him point-blank that Medicaid doesn’t pay for out-of-state trips to the ER.

“That’s strange,” my friend said. I told him, not really, if you think about it. How many folks living with Medicaid as their insurance are jet-setting across the country to party? Not many, I presume.

“I guess that does make sense,” he said. Of course, it does! Medicaid isn’t going to pay for my trip to the ER in Austin because I smoked something I shouldn’t have and collapsed in a hotel lobby after wandering from the group I was with the night before when we first went out.

The New York Medicaid system only pays for medically necessary trips to the ER when out of state. 

I imagine that is why the medic in the ER attempted to put a catheter in me so many times before I finally regained my senses…

On second thought, I still can’t figure out why he was so adamant about catheterizing me.

The important part is that I went out. I celebrated with my friends in the only way I knew how to at the time and was myself. I knew this meant taking on some risk. I also knew it meant that I would likely be on everyone’s radar during the weekend in Austin. I cared enough about my friends, and they cared enough about my safety to make the trip memorable and worthwhile. I don’t regret going and smiling each time Texas Medicaid re-bills.

So, be yourself as best you can, even when misfortune seems to intervene.

Choosing to live life as freely as possible despite your illness is the best intervention for you or your friend.

About the Author

J. Peters

Max Guttman is the owner of Recovery Now, a private mental health practice in New York City. Through his work as a Licensed Clinical Social Worker, therapist, and disability rights advocate, Max fights for those without a voice in various New York City care systems. He received a ‘2020 Bearcats of the Last Decade 10 Under 10’ award from the Binghamton University Alumni Association.

Guttman treats clients with anxiety and depression but specializes in issues related to psychosis or schizoaffective spectrum disorders. He frequently writes about his lived experiences with schizophrenia.

‘I knew my illness was so complex that I’d need a professional understanding of its treatment to gain any real momentum in recovery,’ Guttman says. ‘After undergraduate school and the onset of my illness, I evaluated different graduate programs that could serve as a career and mechanism to guide and direct my self-care. After experiencing the helping hand of my social worker and therapist right after my ‘break,’ I chose social work education because of its robust skill set and foundation of knowledge I needed to heal and help others.’

‘In a world of increasing tragedy, we should help people learn from our lived experiences. My experience brings humility, authenticity, and candidness to my practice. People genuinely appreciate candidness when it comes to their health and Recovery. Humility provides space for mistakes and appraisal of progress. I thank my lived experience for contributing a more egalitarian therapeutic experience for my clients.’

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