I underwent an experiment over the last few weeks. I tried to taper off my lithium, mostly because I didn’t like its side effects. Mostly things like big muscle twitching and vision impairment. It sucked not to be able to read a book, and it really sucked to be using a mouse and have my hand freak out and decide it needed to click things I didn’t want it to, or to bang the keyboard randomly. Riding a stationary bike? Straight out. Karate? Not much better.
Then there were the memory issues. I couldn’t remember a goddamned thing. I could watch an entire tv show and not remember anything about it. Fun times. Never mind tv shows, what about my life? My daughter? Memories are what make a human life. Without them, what’s the point of living? It was like I had gone full circle around suicide back to a place where I couldn’t see what the point of living was anymore. Something was terribly amiss. A quick check over at Crazy Boards told me I wasn’t on the wrong track: there were many people over there who absolutely refused to take lithium for the exact same reasons.
So I asked my psych nurse what to do and he suggested slowly tapering off until I was only on my other drug that is supposed to balance my moods, etc. So I did that, very slowly, over several weeks. I got crankier and crankier the closer I got to zero. 600mg seemed to be okay. I figured out that I really needed to take at least some dose of lithium when I had a couple of days that were just awful. I was terrible to the people I love most, and I felt horrible. I added lithium back in and took some Ativan to mitigate my horrible feelings and to make me sleep.
This really upset me. I had really wanted to be off that particular drug. It was a purely psychological reaction to have so many different things to take. I wanted to be off at least one of them, and if I could be off that one, maybe it meant I wasn’t so bipolar as we had all thought. But I was. I really was, or am. And I had to grapple mightily with my desire not to be like my mother, who was bipolar and an awful person.
But in a way, making that realization and staying on at least a small dose makes me NOT like her, because realizing she needed help and needed to stay on her meds was something that she could never do. She was always too proud to stay on them, telling herself that she could push through any trouble herself, she didn’t need any drugs’ or doctors’ help. And that clearly wasn’t true.
I have bipolar illness. I am not bipolar. That is, I have a disorder, rather than being the disorder. It’s tough to make that distinction. I imagine it is for other people as well, especially ones who really don’t know anything about it. And if I have this disorder, I must take my meds, just like a diabetic. Granted, I have far more medicines than the average diabetic, but we’re talking about the human brain here. It has a lot of convolutions, and if I need to take several meds in order to address those convolutions, well then so be it. I imagine those meds will change a lot over the years as we figure out what works and what doesn’t.
But what absolutely does NOT work is denial. I can’t tell myself that I can stop taking this stuff after a while. I’ll always have a little army of brown bottles that are my friends twice a day. I can’t escape that, not if I want a normal life. Other things may mitigate that little army, but they’ll always be there in some form.
Part of me is asking myself why in Heaven’s name I have chosen to write about these things in a public blog. After all, most folks with a mental illness don’t decide to wave their flag high and proud. They hide it as much as possible. That’s why: I’m not a hiding person when it comes to something important to me. And this particular important thing is subject to a lot of prejudice and misunderstanding. Perhaps waving my flag will help end that prejudice and misunderstanding that seems to be attached to bipolar, depression, mania, suicide, mental illness and its medications, so on and so forth. People speak freely of other physical maladies they suffer from: MS, rheumatoid arthritis, diabetes, cancer, etc. Why not these? Afraid we’re going to snap and go Hannibal Lecter on your ass? Not likely. So chill, and read, and hopefully learn something.