- the ability to understand and share the feelings of another.
of or relating to a substance that is used in the treatment of mood disorders, as characterized by various manic or depressive effects.
I have been thinking about writing this post since I created this blog. But in order to start writing this I had to take time to really reflect on my experience and become emotionally ready to share this experience. I also had to create the perfect music playlist to listen to while doing so. 😉
With the help of my trusty emotional support cat Zedd currently sitting on my lap, caffeine in hand and a few deep breaths… I am ready.
I was fifteen the first time I took an antidepressant.
I don’t remember the doctor who gave it to me.
I was hopeful. Excited.
I didn’t know what to expect. All I knew was I wanted to feel better. Hell, I wanted to feel anything but the bleak gray sadness that had settled over me like a heavy blanket.
I was in tenth grade when I swallowed my first Effexor. I spent the rest of the day patiently waiting for relief that never came. The next day came and I swallowed the second pill greedily with a Diet Coke.
Weeks went by and I walked the halls of another new high school, wrote constantly in my journal and spent hours looking in the mirror for a difference in my appearance. As if taking this medication would somehow make me look happier.
I had been cutting myself for three years at that point. When the medication regimen began there was more time in between each cut. I had met someone at my new high school who quickly became my best friend. Our growing friendship helped me reconsider my choices to self mutilate. Eventually I stopped cutting for almost a year. It was a big accomplishment for me. I was almost proud of myself. Almost.
Shortly after that I was admitted to an psychiatric unit for the first time.
The memory is a bit fuzzy but this is what I can recall:
I remember coming home from school one day after days of planning to take my own life. The pills weren’t working. I still felt numb. I barely ate. I hardly ever did insulin. My blood sugars were consistently high. My body felt strange to me. I would touch my arms and legs and try to feel the connection between my limbs and my brain…but there was nothing. I felt ugly. Worthless. Weak.
I didn’t think about my parents. I wasn’t thinking about my siblings who loved and depended on me. I thought: “Everyone will be fine without me. They will learn to live their lives without me and will move on.”
I remember hot tears streaming down my frozen winter cheeks.
This isn’t right. They need you.
I don’t remember what happened next. But I remember being in the passenger seat of our car as my mother drove me to the hospital that had an adolescent psychiatric unit.
I remember her telling me that taking my life would be extremely selfish. It would destroy her and my siblings.
I knew she was right. But I still didn’t care.
My first psych unit stay is a blur as well. My medication was “adjusted”. I stayed in my room. I didn’t speak. I was fed four times a day. I was given insulin and my blood sugars lowered significantly.
I was given Ativan for anxiety.
And that is when I began the descent into the medication abyss.
When I was discharged a week later I felt better. Hopeful that I could manage my depression from home. Hopeful I could maybe be “normal”. The Ativan helped me sleep, but gave me terrifying nightmares. I would wake up next to my journal and see numbers and words that made no sense scribbled violently on multiple pages – and have no memory of writing them.
One year later I was back in a different unit. This time an adult unit because I had turned seventeen.
My anxiety consumed me. Inside my bare and cold hospital room I remember feeling panic spreading through my entire body. I remember swallowing a pill that was given to me with water.
According to my Father – he came to visit later that day and found me drooling on myself, staring into space. When we spoke to me I looked at him as if I didn’t know who he was.
My first experience with BuSpar and Valium.
Ativan became my best friend. My weapon against crippling anxiety.
Before school – a tiny white pill.
Before bed – a tiny white pill and two Effexor.
I was only ever present for fractions of my day.
Over the next fifteen years I tried different pills for different things. All with the same result…
I would have good periods of time where I could feel.
I became an adult. I started college. I had sex. I traveled. I went for walks.
I was admitted to a psych unit five times. Each experience was different yet the same. All at once. The beds were always the same. The food always sucked. I would befriend a fellow patient. Journal. Read. Stare at a TV screen and speak to psychiatrists that didn’t have time to get to know me.
I even fell in love with someone…In a psych unit.
Life was passing me by in a blur. I felt like I had no control. Part of me was always missing. And I didn’t know if I would ever find it. When I opened my eyes in the morning I lived a life that was removed. Relationships, experiences, and events always felt far away.
Psych wards are always freezing cold. No matter how many hours, or days pass you never warm up. In the last one they let us go outside three times a day for smoke breaks and I would stand, face to the sun trying to feel its warmth. Maybe it was the medication, or something else – but I never felt it. I was still cold, hollow, and lost.
Medication took me to a place I never want to go back to again. A deep, dark, abyss. Where time eluded me. I lost pieces of myself. My mind thought of things then lost them. It was as if I was in a constant nightmare, and I felt I would never return to the sunlight.
Lithium was the last medication I tried. A little over a year ago.
I had moved to Oregon and begun a new life. I was in recovery for Diabulimia and I was starting to feel that missing part grow and flourish inside me!
But my moods were still ‘swinging’. I was getting depressed, angry or happy for no reason. My blood sugars were lower but fluctuating constantly despite my best efforts.
I have a psychiatrist here that I trust. A first for me. We agreed on my long term goal of not being on any mental health medication. Dr. H. believed, when it came to me, that with proper blood sugar control my ‘bipolar’ symptoms would subside. And with all the work I was doing in therapy and my personal growth – I would be able to live my life healthy and happy without medication.
We spoke in detail about how Lithium may be beneficial for my mood stability until my blood sugars leveled out. This would be the only psychiatric medication in my system. It would be a process to find the right dose. Blood work would need to be done to monitor my liver and kidneys. But it might work.
It was a hard decision. Over the years I had always sworn that Lithium was the one medication I would never try. I cried as I drove the country roads home with the prescription in my purse. I was so fucking close to feeling completely REAL and ALIVE for the first time in my life. And after a lot of thought and consideration – I filled the prescription. With the tears still in my eyes I swallowed my first Lithium pill.
Weeks went by.
Side note: it is fucking terrifying to read things like “Lithium acts on a person’s central nervous system (brain and spinal cord). Doctors don’t know exactly how lithium works to stabilize a person’s mood, but it is thought to help strengthen nerve cell connections in brain regions that are involved in regulating mood, thinking and behavior. (Source: WebMD.com)
The tremors, dizziness, confusion and constant diarrhea subsided after a few months. I have a few scars from falls to remember the dizziness.
Yet I enjoyed my summer. Went on hikes. Fell breathlessly in love with my soul mate. Saw beautiful mountains, forests and even a meteor shower. I kissed Devon in the rain, danced with my cousin at a Speakeasy, worked as a server in a brewery and continued my journey of self discovery and finding peace.
In October 2017 I was a week away from turning thirty. Fifteen years ago when I was given my very first antidepressant I was told it would be “only temporary – not forever”
I was on the lowest dose of Lithium on Saturday October 28th. Devon and I packed our bags and headed to beautiful Bend, Oregon. I brought the bottle with me but didn’t take the pills that day. I immersed myself in my ‘birthday vacation’. I took deep breaths and made time to observe and enjoy everything from the hidden rooms and secret bars in our hotel, the dogs that walked past us on the street, and the sound of the music at the Halloween party. I danced my ass off with Devon that night. I remember looking at him, both of us sweating, and kissing him. Thinking to myself I am ready.
I never took another mood stabilizer or antidepressant. The Lithium stayed in my overnight bag and was put away when we got back home. Lucky enough I didn’t experience any of the withdrawal symptoms that had attacked me in the past when coming off certain medications.
I woke up on my thirtieth birthday and stood in the mirror. I pressed my palm to my reflection and smiled.
It was going to be hard. Things were going to feel different now. I knew I would have to continue using my coping mechanisms and lean on those who loved and supported me. But I knew deep down in my soul…
I was ready to be free.
Coming off medication was my choice. And mine alone. I have doctor’s I trust. And a fantastic support system. I am eternally grateful to all those who have helped me get to where I am today.
There is still work to be done.
And I am ready to do it.