Dual Diagnosis


William, 1963-

“When I settle down at Bonita House, I’m going to write a book about my life. Dual Diagnosis, I’ll call it. It is time the community learned about it.”

I had a rough childhood. I was seeing a psychiatrist since I was about eight years old. Anxiety, inability to focus, and getting in with the antisocial crowd. My addiction started young, my first addiction was food. Then alcohol, which made me feel better, temporarily. And I liked it.

Married for eight years, and held a job for 15 years, selling electronics. Through it, I was using cocaine and alcohol, mainly on the weekends, then it got worse. I went through a couple of rehabs, and was in and out of psych wards. I was put on different medications, but self-medicating always helped me more. Throughout my life, there were periods when I was too far gone in my addiction and my mental illness.

In rehab, I met a girl whose drug of choice was heroin. From then, I became severely addicted to it. I’d find myself going to very bad areas: lower east side Manhattan, Bushwick, Brooklyn, South Bronx. I came out here to the Bay Area a year and a half ago, hoping to find a little room to spend the rest of my life with dignity. That did not happen. Instead, like a story in a book, I got hooked on meth. I had never smoked it in my life, but being homeless, seeing kids smoking everywhere, I looked at it as being social. I used to be much heavier; I lost 50 pounds, eating only once a day. Close to death, withering away to nothing

For the past six weeks, I have been clean, sleeping on a friend’s coach, and selling Street Sheet*. I am trying to do something with myself. I am on a waiting list for housing at Bonita House, a good program for people with dual diagnosis of mental illness and addiction. It is a long process, but I am being patient. I also go to Berkeley Mental Health to get my medicine: Risperdal (antipsychotic), Effexor (antidepressant), and meds for severe insomnia. I get anxiety attacks, depression, and sometimes voices. But even with the right meds, the housing problem is still there. You get on the right medicine, but it is hard to keep up with it on the street. If you’re inside, it’s a lot easier to take care of yourself.

I have been clean before, five years, in fact. I was in a program, and became a senior drug counselor at the Phoenix House in NY, a therapeutic community for substance abuse rehabilitation. It was a rewarding job, helping people like myself. But there was another piece, I was clean, but still dealing with my mental illness, and it keeps bringing me back to the drugs, eventually.

I have had a lot of heartache in my life. People OD’d, friends dying in my arms; there is nothing but death in drug addiction. But sometimes you get to take responsibility and do something. There is hope no matter how old you are, and there is help if you want it. I 53 years old, there’s still time for me. When I settle down at Bonita House, I’m going to write a book about my life. Dual Diagnosis, I’ll call it. It is time the community learned about it.

* A newspaper published by The Coalition on Homelessness, and sold around the bay area.

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