National Alliance on Mental Illness
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(800) 950-NAMI; firstname.lastname@example.org
“That was the worst thing. It wasn’t, ‘How silly of you to think I was killing myself.’ It was that I was going to do it the house,” he recalls.
But eventually his wife’s pleas persuaded him to at least consider getting help. The following morning he ended up at the Adult Psychiatry Department at Kaiser in Santa Clara, Calif. With Sarah still with him, a doctor soon came and began to ask questions: gathering basic medical information, asking about his history with mental illness, planning what to do, asking about what had happened the night before, the doctor’s mellifluous voice convincing Eric to be more forthcoming with his answers.
Then came the all-important question, the one that would determine what steps were taken next: “Eric, will you be safe alone?”
It was a simple question. He either did or he didn’t. And if he didn’t, he could lie. Make it those two weeks to Jan. 3.
Eric Victorino / Photo: Eric Belladonna
“I really wanted to say yes,” he remembers. He could go through with his plan. Succeed. All he had to do was say yes. Yes doctor, I just had a minor breakdown, but I feel all right, he could say. I’ll be okay by myself tomorrow. But that’s not what he said; he didn’t say anything.
“I wish I could take credit for being brave and saying that I needed help, but I didn’t. I just started crying. I was just so broken,” Eric remembers.
Taking his cries as a response, he was 5150’d (fifty-one-fifty’d)—slang for an involuntary psychiatric hold. Section 5150 of the California Welfare and Institutions Code states that when any person, as a result of mental disorder poses a danger to his or her self, they may taken into custody and placed in a facility for a 72-hour treatment and evaluation.
So for three days he was held at a crisis stabilization center. Seventy-two hours he was watched, tested and examined. But in those three days he gained something he hadn’t received in his nearly quarter of a century off-and-on therapy. He got an answer: bipolar disorder. He was officially diagnosed.
Receiving that diagnosis wasn’t easy. It made it real. The results from the 500 question diagnostic test may have let him know exactly what he was dealing with, but it labeled him.
There was the stigma and negative connotations with the illness that he knew, and the general understanding of what a mental illness was, but he didn’t know what it really meant—what the hell it meant to be bipolar.
He started researching, scouring the Internet for any piece of information to help him define himself. What did mania really mean? What was “officially” considered a depression? Was it permanent?
“Getting that diagnosis was hard. It still is. Sometime it helps, sometimes it doesn’t. But, you know, sometimes just knowing that it’s there and understanding that it won’t ever completely go away can help you manage it,” Eric says. “You can learn techniques to see something coming and recognize it.”
His brush with suicide and subsequent diagnosis caused him to think back to a book of poetry he wrote in 2009, Trading Shadows for Sunshine. For Eric, poetry is an outlet for handling his struggles. Writing for the Limousines isn’t the same, Eric explains. When he’s writing for his band, he’s making a pop song; he doesn’t feel he can make as many allusions or include complex ideas that have to think about in order to understand. In short: it has to be something light and fun that they can sing along to.
Eric and his wife, Sarah / Photo: Kayvon Saidat
Looking back he noticed that much of the writing was in third and second person—there weren’t very many I’s. As a consequence he didn’t feel like the book read honestly. He felt like he was trying to hide behind his words. But a funny, and possibly lucky, thing happened. The original publisher had gone out of business and he didn’t have the files. All he had was the book itself.
“I had to retype everything word by word. But in the process, I completely trashed the old version. I only kept a quarter of the original poems,” Eric says. As a result, when it was re-released, he retitled the book Trading Sunshine for Shadows.
The seminal piece of the collection, and the one he feels most strongly about, is “Bridges,” in which he recounts the night and morning surrounding his involuntary commitment.
Receiving the diagnosis was just the beginning. He still had to learn to live with his illness, which now had a name, and how to manage it. Doing so would not be easy. The life of a musician isn’t the most conducive for one with bipolar disorder. The clichés—late nights spent partying, heavy drinking and the opportunity for drugs and incessant invitations for sex from strangers—they’re all real, and they mix as well with bipolar disorder as oil does with water.
Eric, along with Giovanni Giusti, the other half of the duo who make up The Limousines, were to set out on a spring tour with The Sounds, less than three weeks after being released from the hospital, a tour half way around the world in Europe potentially without any supports that he may desperately need.
On the one hand, Eric actually finds being on tour beneficial. It creates a routine. You know where you have to be and when you have to be there. You have brand new cities that need to be discovered.
“It keeps you busy,” says Eric. “But the big problem touring when you have bipolar disorder is that your sleep patterns get all messed up.”
And then you get home and it’s like stepping off one of those moving sidewalks at the airport at a hundred miles per hour. You’re right back to picking dog shit off the ground and cleaning dishes.
Especially in a place like Amsterdam whose manna is its nightlife and where clubs don’t even think about opening before 11 p.m.
“Other people can stay up till four in the morning and drink and party and the next day the biggest worry they have is a hangover. But for me, if I disrupt my sleep pattern badly enough I can just go off into a tailspin.”
Even though he understands the negative consequences of drinking heavily and taking drugs, the temptation is still there, a temptation that has almost become an addiction.
“Being on tour with a pocketful of Xanax is a horrible thing,” says Eric, “If there around, I’ll just eat them up.”
For someone living with a mental illness, that can be even more damaging. Pills that might very well be helpful on their own for someone else might work counter to Eric’s personal symptoms, especially when a rainbow assortment is consumed together.
The urge to take them stems from the desire to disappear. “It’s a way to be gone. Popping pills and drinking they satisfy that. They satisfy the urge to get out of here, whether here is alive or simply the chair I’m sitting in.”