Discovering and Dealing with Bipolar (Originally Posted on DJBooth)

Ed. Note: This piece was originally published on DJBooth in 2016. I want to thank Brian Zisook and his team for allowing me to speak my peace. I’m (finally) placing it on this site because it helps flesh out who I am. Also, since The Sorest Loser 2 is on the way, I figured it’d be great to revisit this piece since the first Sorest Loser was one of the first albums I recorded while being properly treated for my mental health issues.

I’m from Baltimore and I’ve come to realize that, like The Sorest Loser song of the same name, I’m a product of my environment. That’s sometimes because of it, and sometimes in spite of it. I love the Orioles, I have a twang in my voice, I say “warter” and “Bawdamore,” and I started rapping because it was either that or let my frustrations with my early life in Baltimore take me down the wrong path. Mama Young wasn’t having it, though, so I wasn’t out running the street 24/7–but I wasn’t a saint by any stretch of the imagination.

That said, there’ve been some things I’ve gone through I can’t ascribe to just being from Baltimore.

Me before I shaved (circa May 2021)

As an artist, I always knew I was different. Even as a kid, I’d always be gripped by these bursts of creativity where I’d have to be in some sort of studio. Days later, though, I’d want to be as far away from music, beats or whatever sparked my initial excitement as possible. One moment I’d be in a really great place, but the next had me saying “screw it” and running off somewhere. My music, much like my thoughts, was pretty scatterbrained. One second I’d be thinking about revolutionary verses, the next I’d be on some “Suicide Is Painless” vibes. 

When I entered college, as clichéd as it sounds, things finally changed. At the urging of Raquel, I decided to go to a campus health specialist. Between releasing new records, and experiencing high highs and very low lows, followed by bouts of extreme hostility, we both figured it was time.

After a few tests, I had a discussion with my doctor, who told me I might be bipolar. I was scared. When I thought of bipolar, I thought of the “classic” TV versions of the disorder. Reckless, hypersexual, dependent on drugs, et cetera. Plus, I began to wonder if my creativity was a byproduct of this disorder and if it would go away if I started on, say, lithium. As a result, I decided to forgo treatment.

Artistically, I continued to crank out new music, but I began to self-medicate through drinking 151 and Everclear. Instead of treating my mind, I was possibly killing my liver. “Fair trade,” I thought. “At least borderline alcohol abuse is less stigmatized than mental illness.” Keep in mind that this was still in the mid-2000s where it was still considered “cool” to be able to drink vast amounts of alcohol, but not cool to struggle with your thoughts and emotions.

As the years went by, I continued to struggle. Mental illness is one of those things you shouldn’t go at alone–or unmedicated.

Around the release of my 2013 album, Songs For…,  I found myself having manic episodes almost daily. These episodes became so horrific, I would shut myself off from everyone. The drinking didn’t relieve my problems. Hell, during a Baltimore-area “album release” party for S4, I found myself having a panic attack on top of my manic moments. It wasn’t fun. Again, my experience wasn’t anything like you’d see on a scripted TV program. 

It was some real, scary-ass shit.

Instead of, for instance, boning every woman who gave me “The Look,” my heart felt like it was beating outside my chest while my thoughts raced, quickly moving from suicidal thoughts to elation over finally releasing my album. In lieu of partying my face off, and then waking up with one hell of a story to tell, I was surrounded by friends–and people I didn’t know from a mole on my arm–looking at me like I’d just pissed myself in public. They were worried. There were no synapses firing off creativity at every turn. Just fear, confusion and embarrassment. I looked like a walking poster child for why you should take care of yourself, mentally and otherwise. 

After my episode, I immediately began treatment. The next day, I took myself to a doctor and began my path to self-correction and self-discovery. But, as is the case for some bipolar patients, finding the right mix of medications wasn’t easy. Musically, things began to become darker but more truth-filled (even more so than usual). That could have been because I was afraid and worried about the diagnosis. Or maybe it was because I was finally able to see clearly about being bipolar. 

It’s scary, and it can be dark, but it wasn’t the end of the world. No mental illness, when properly treated, is the end of the world. Besides, I knew I had rejected treatment, and there’s no telling how far I could’ve fallen. Today, I’m being treated properly for my conditions, which run the spectrum from rapid-cycling bipolar to anxiety to possibly dealing with adult ADHD. Well, mostly properly; insurance companies don’t always want to give you exactly what you need, but that’s another story entirely. My treatment has helped my creativity because I’m more focused and less all over the place. In fact, it’s helped me put out some of the best music I’ve ever done over the past three-to-four years.

Additionally, I’ve been mostly sober for six years with no real plans or desires to drink heavily or anything of the sort ever again. Readers, I hope that my honesty helps assuage your fears about your own potential issues. If you’re afraid to seek treatment for a mental illnesses, don’t be. It’s not the end of your life, or your career, if you’re bipolar, have borderline personality disorder, deal with schizophrenia, whatever. You can still have a great life. Trust me. It just needs a bit of work.

Because while mental illness ain’t no whore, I ain’t one, either. And neither are you.

Speed on the Beat

Whatever you need to know about me, you can find out on speedonthebeat.com

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