Getting It

June 6, 2017

Captain Michael Morse, retired, Providence Fire Department

I am mentally ill. There, I said it. I have been medically treated for depression since 2001, when my psychiatrist prescribed Wellbutrin for my condition.

Does it work? I don’t know, but I’m afraid to stop taking it. The medical community did not come knocking on my door. The phone did not ring. I never got a message stating that it was time to get my act together. I was just sick and tired of being sick and tired.

Prior to being properly medicated to treat my condition I drank. A lot. Intoxication was the only state that brightened my outlook on what I thought was simply the way I felt – the way I thought that everybody felt. I honestly believed that there was something wrong with me, not officially wrong, but morally wrong. I could not figure out why I couldn’t kick the blues like everybody else.

“Darkness Descends” is a good way of describing the world I lived in nearly every day. I thought it was normal to live that way, and to live a shadowy existence where even the brightest sunshine was obscured with cloudiness manifested in my mind. I had moments of happiness, but those were fleeting, and worse; I knew they would not last. I tried to enjoy the relief from the inner oppression the best I could while waiting for it to end and darkness to return. It always did.

I made a choice. I decided I had my last drink. I swallowed my pride instead, and sought treatment.

Still, I wonder if I don’t drink and don’t take my medications will everything be okay, or will I start drinking again to alleviate my dreary existence? I often wonder, but it’s just not worth the risk, because life is pretty darned good at the moment. So I take the meds. And I feel great. And it doesn’t go away.

But what if…what if I wasn’t able to take any medication because I didn’t have enough money or decent health care insurance or the ability to seek professional mental health advice, or simply refused to get professional help because I was afraid of the stigma that comes with a diagnosis of depression, and self-medicated, and continued to drink alcohol heavily, and eventually did something stupid, such as drive drunk, and maybe, just maybe somebody got in my way and got killed because of my actions… where would I be now?
I wouldn’t be writing this and you wouldn’t be reading it. I would be in prison or dead, and people would know only one thing; that Michael Morse was a drunk who killed an innocent person. Nobody would care about the rest of the story; the jury’s verdict would be final, and I would be my harshest critic, and would be leading a life far different from the one I now enjoy.

Or, I might have gotten lucky, and stayed out of trouble, but lived with an addiction that would inevitably lead me to hopelessness, despair, poverty and could very likely become dependent on government services like so many of the people I am called to help were.

When I was in charge of an ALS crew in Providence, RI, (Captain, Rescue Co. 5) people would often ask me why I was overly “nice” to our mentally ill patients, the schizophrenics, bi-polar patients and chronically depressed; even when they would threaten us, spit at us, and physically attack us. They wondered why I never got “mad” at the drunks, the “bums” and the lost and helpless.

Well, I never walked a mile in their shoes, but I still learned a lot at the half-mile mark. I am fortunate, and know it. Far too many people will never have the opportunity that I do. They will struggle with their disease and delay or never get treatment, and try to live their lives the best they can while carrying the weight of the world on their backs. It is impossible to lead a productive, contented life with that kind of baggage holding you down. I know it because I lived it. I also know that with a little work, a little more courage than you think you have and a proper plan anybody can. Right now is the best time there is to make a commitment to getting on with your life, turn the lights back on and see for yourself exactly how good it feels to put an addiction behind you.

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