For those with a dual diagnosis of bipolar plus substance use, entertainment journalist Conor Bezane has been there, done that—and he compiles inspiring peer stories to share.
Entertainment journalist Conor Bezane fell in love with punk rock as a teenager, snagged a Rolling Stone internship in college, and logged six years as a writer/producer at MTV News. Then came panic attacks, bipolar I onset, and intense drinking. Now, 12 years stable and eight years sober, he’s published The Bipolar Addict: Drinks, Drugs, Delirium & Why Sober Is the New Cool.
Are you a musician yourself?
Barely. I picked up guitar when Nirvana and Smashing Pumpkins were really popular. My guitar is vintage now—a 1994 Fender Stratocaster. It’s got that grunge sound that everyone covets now. I started taking private lessons again four or five years ago. I can play a lot of Beatles songs and some random classic rock songs.
Do you see a link between creativity and bipolar disorder?
I think people who have bipolar have a deeper sense of empathy. I believe we are able to feel emotions more strongly. That’s what music is, that’s what art is, or theater, or any sort of artistic endeavor—it’s emotion.
Where did the personal stories in the new book come from?
Almost all of the stories in The Bipolar Addict came from [people I met through] Alcoholics Anonymous. You’d be surprised how many people in AA struggle with mental health issues.
That’s a switch from your “mini-book” Soberheroes: 12 Celebrities, 12 Stories, 12 Steps.
People are really interested in celebrity stories. Whenever I post a “bipolar geniuses” article, it gets a lot of traffic on my blog [also called The Bipolar Addict] and my Facebook Author page.
Which came first for you, bipolar recovery or sobriety?
Bipolar treatment came first. In spring 2008, I went to Philadelphia on a press junket promoting the music scene there, and I was completely scorching-hot manic the entire time. When I came home to Brooklyn, my boyfriend took notice and we ended up setting up an appointment with my psychiatrist. She started me on a mood stabilizer and an antipsychotic, and I started talk therapy three times a week.
Surprisingly, quitting drinking was not that hard for me. Maybe those first couple of weeks in rehab were really hard, but the support I was getting … dare I say, rehab was kind of fun. Ten people from all walks of life, in one room together, sharing their stories.
What coping strategies help you the most?
Exercise is important. I walk everywhere I go. There’s a beautiful lakefront bike trail along Lake Michigan here in Chicago, and I can ride my bike on that path. I still see my doctor for talk therapy once a week.
Music is one of my greatest coping mechanisms. It’s my higher power in AA. Every night I sit down with my stereo and I spin vinyl records. For two hours I listen intensely to my favorite music, almost as a means of meditation. It’s life-affirming and it’s beautiful, and it’s therapy to me. Going to hear live music is like going to church for me.
You have seasonal depressions. Any preemptive plans for this winter?
Starting around November, I use a lightbox. And while I’m sitting in front of it, I like to color. I’m really into adult coloring books. I have one that’s the Beatles’ Yellow Submarine. I have one that’s Coloring the Seventies.
I also end up going to bed quite early in the winter, sometimes as early as 7 or 8 p.m., partially because I feel depressed at night and partially because I like to get up in the morning and write. That’s my most productive time for writing.
You see your blog and books as anti-stigma efforts. Do you see hope for the future?
I do believe the younger you are, the less of a problem you might have with someone who has bipolar or PTSD or depression. In the same way that being gay isn’t stigmatized as much anymore. It’s like, who cares?
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