by Julien-Pierre “Johnny” Campbell
Content warning: discussions of addiction, mental illness.
“If you don’t have your own, store-bought is fine!” The Ina Garten saying was heard often in my house growing up, as Food Network was my mother’s favorite channel. I never paid it much heed. It was just something a TV personality said a lot. No great significance.
That was, until I was scrolling through Twitter one day and saw a piece of art that took me by surprise. There was a framed cross-stitch someone had made that said, “If you can’t make your own serotonin, store bought is fine!” It featured a little serotonin molecule. How cute, I thought. It was always good to see positivity around taking medication for your mental illness.
I knew it wasn’t for me, though. I’d grown up with older siblings addicted to various substances. A therapist that dolled benzos out like breath mints had earned one of them a stint in rehab. I would hardly take Aspirin after that. I knew my fear of pills wasn’t rational, but I was so afraid of ending up like my older sisters. If I avoided all pills, I reckoned, then I couldn’t possibly get addicted to them. Right?
As I grew older, my attitude towards substances slowly changed. I understood that drinking a few beers after work wouldn’t turn me into an alcoholic. Hanging out with my friends who smoked wouldn’t make me a drug addict. But pills — I was still terrified of those.
While I worked through my own drug trauma, I knew there was something deeper at play. I knew I was mentally ill.
I’d known since I was around fourteen that there was something wrong with my brain. My emotions were (and are) huge. My highs were euphoric, but my lows were hysterical. I stayed up for days at a time and never stopped thinking about suicide. Certain traumatic events in my life affected everything I did.
But then again, there was this other side to me. The gregarious student, the cheerful performer. The extrovert always in a good mood, always ready to lend an ear. It’s hard to reconcile that I could be such a happy, loving person but have such darkness inside me. That was, until I was diagnosed with bipolar II and PTSD. My care team proposed three different medications: one to stabilize my moods, one to help me cope with my depression, and one to assist my sleep.
I’ve been taking my medication diligently since then. I feared taking them in the beginning. But I took the plunge, voiced my fears to my care team, and worked accordingly. And I feel much better. I haven’t been suicidal in weeks. My mania is tempered. I can sleep for more than three hours a night.
I’m happy. And you know what? I couldn’t make my own stability. It turns out that store bought is just fine after all.