MQ – Li = ?

Life is hot. Seriously. The UK is in the grip of a heatwave, and it feels like reliving summer holidays to the States. 

The good thing about this is I feel so tired and yuck that I haven’t really noticed any withdrawals from the lithium. As of last night, I’m lithium free! A week or two ago I was going on and on about how it felt like coming alive again, but I’m not sure if that still applies. I don’t feel anything at the moment…except hot!

Last week I had a quick trip to Spain to see an old friend – three seconds after take off it became apparent that monstrous anxiety is still alive and well inside me. I freaked out, convinced with every teeny tiny bump that we could be about to die. Picture someone clutching the seat in front for the entire flight, and trying to hold back from telling air hostesses to eff off when they ask if I’m alright. I felt tears of relief when we landed.

Naturally, I worried about the flight home for the duration of my time in Spain, and when the time came I had a surprise. Once we took off and the bumping around started, I went kind of manic. Manic as in hyper, bouncing around, singing Adele’s ‘Rumour has it’ over and over and over. It was awesome. People kept turning round to stare at me, but when I’m manic I really couldn’t care less. I hadn’t had one of these swings in a year or two so I slowed down the lithium reduction for a couple of days. 

So now I just have to see how it goes. Therapy is as hard as ever, so that’s where I’m expecting to see the difference. I don’t really want things to feel more intense there, but I recognise they probably need to if we’re going to make a difference. 

I wish I felt braver. Time isn’t giving me much choice.

Slow and steady wins the race, but does she have the patience?

Since Wednesday I’ve gone from 700mg lithium daily to 500mg. I haven’t noticed any withdrawals, but I think the flush out takes a good 48h plus, so early days.

Its killing me to go this slowly. Every night when I pop open my pill box I have to fight the urge to remove some more. Get this over with. But the responsibilities of a full time job win over – last time I went cold turkey and had a hard time, I could stay at home and keep out of sight. I can’t now. Especially given the recent…screw up.

On that note it’s been okay at work – I had to talk to a couple of heads of division to explain myself which was a bit nerve racking, but my co-workers have been very supportive and laughed it off like nothing. It’s amazing how quickly the pessimist in me can take over – when I realised my mistake last week I was immediately thinking through the consequences if I resigned, and where else I might look for work. I feel pretty pathetic for crying, but hey, I felt terrible.

I wonder how I’ll feel post-lithium. For me it’s a buffer, numbing everything a little – which was perfect when I was suicidally depressed because it took the heat out of my worst moods. The thought of feeling those achingly bad moods again scares me a little, but I don’t think I’ll be able to forgive myself if I don’t give my all in therapy, now that time is limited. I need to be sharper. I need to feel my anger, sadness, and fear in order for them to pass. I think losing lithium could really help.

I just need to not rush the withdrawal and end up dealing with some stupid med drama that detracts from the real work.

Not my finest

I fucked up at work today. Ended up in tears at my desk. Actually it was a mistake I made a while back that came to light today, but what’s the difference. My carelessness has affected 30 people’s lives, plus the admin team now trying to fix this. One of the team, who I really respect, said his evening couldn’t have been made any worse.

Bugger.

I didn’t handle it very well. After work my housemate said it doesn’t matter what mistakes we make, it’s how we deal with them – except, my life philosophy is doing everything possible to avoid mistakes in the first place, so I don’t have to deal with them. When I do make a mistake it’s awful, I can’t take it – thus the tears today.

I’m not very proud of myself.

But I’m not going to wallow in self-loathing either.

Repeat after me, MQ. We all make mistakes. Get over it.

Waking up

The last few days have felt horrendous, but they’ve been worth it. I forced myself to keep reading my old journals, and cringing aside, something stirred inside me. I know who I am. Where my head is. I know I’ve been sleep walking through the last two years, hiding from anything that might cause anxiety. I chose blissful ignorance, the easy life, avoiding problems by not actually doing anything. 

Today I wrote a new journal entry, and it felt like clasping hands with an old friend. 

I told Dr T that I can’t coast through the six months of therapy we have left to work with. I’ve been going to him for five years now and I STILL struggle to be open with him despite the trust we’ve built – I don’t think I’ll ever have that level of trust again, so if I don’t somehow beat my depression now I’m really scared I never will. And he listened. Asked the things I wished he wouldn’t. It’s hard, harder than running 5k, but it’s right. Now the low mood has a twist of hope, and that makes it bearable.

Therapy isn’t the only arena of change – I’ve decided it’s time to lose the lithium. I’m not bipolar – I’m on lithium to boost the fluoxetine – so I don’t think it’s a dangerous move. For now I’ve gone from 700mg to 600 – I don’t know if I have the patience to go this slowly. Surely the withdrawals if I go cold turkey can’t be worse than they were for venlafaxine? 

If anyone reading this has come off lithium, I’d be very interested to hear your experience.

A memory like swiss cheese

The last few days haven’t been easy. My mood has been so low at times it’s practically scraping the floor, although it’s encouraging that I haven’t been driven to self-harm. That’s something.

I’ve been re-reading the journals I’ve kept since my mental illness began, and it scares me how much of it I don’t really remember. I think I dissociated a lot more than I realised. I regret that, but at the same time I suppose it probably helped me to keep functioning.

In particular it’s almost heartbreaking to read over old sessions with Dr T. We used to have such deep, meaningful discussions, whereas for the last two years we’ve been skimming the surface – how are you today level stuff compared to ‘Dr T I’ve been thinking about X that we discussed last time and I have a couple of theories we should explore…’. 

What happened?

It’s my fault. After such a difficult period when the depression and anxiety really took hold, I couldn’t help but crave some stability. Stability came to equal numbness. Forced ignorance. And that doesn’t change anything.

I keep realising what a coward I am. I let this happen. Even now, writing this, I’m still struggling to really make myself do something about it. What a waste of a human being.

‘Despair to Deliverance’ by Sharon DeVinney & Robin Personette

This post is a special one that’s been a couple of years in the making. It’s time to talk about ‘Despair to Deliverance’, a collaboration between Robin and Dr DeVinney. Up until recently this was a series of blog posts released teasingly slowly on Sharon’s website, and now I’ve discovered the book it has become. Discovered, and devoured.

Hey MQ. You read a lot. What’s the big deal over this one?

It had me at the concept. A collaborative work between patient and therapist, describing Robin’s mental health difficulties and the efforts of her therapist to keep her alive, and keep her healthy. Who doesn’t want to know what their therapist is thinking? What motivates them, what lingers with them beyond a session? And at the same time, to read Robin’s take on her experience and her treatment – to actually find an answer to the question of ‘is this normal?’/’is it just my therapy that’s like this…?’

How often are we invited to see inside the therapeutic relationship, from both angles?

The concept had me hooked, and the content kept me there. I could relate to a lot of what Robin describes. Intense depression, anxiety, but then faking normality in front of everyone to try and maintain the life she has at the time. Been there, failed that too. Bipolar symptoms. Impulsive self-destruction. A stubborn refusal to try groups. More medications than you could shake a stick at. Biological depression and psychological depression. I could go on…

I’ve read a fair few first person accounts of mental illness, but not many that I’ve really connected with. I instinctively feel I understand parts of Robin’s journey so well that I trust her to teach me things about the parts that we don’t share – e.g. she makes me question my refusals of ECT. Robin’s descriptions aren’t anything like the scary stories we’re led to believe. In fact, she makes ECT sound less like torture and more like…treatment! I never trusted those assurances coming from my psychiatrist, but I trust it in Robin’s accounts. Her writing comes across as so honest, so thoughtful but still concise…what more can you ask for? On a side note, I think it asked a lot of Robin, and it’s amazing that she’s been able to share her story like this. In consenting to and participating in writing this book, I think it’s fair to say Robin’s inspirational.

As for Dr DeVinney’s part in this…where do I start? I stumbled across Sharon’s blog in the depths of my biological depression, when my issues with Dr T were at their most intense, and I read and re-read Sharon’s posts, desperate for anything that might better help me understand my own situation. Sharon’s writing has reminded me on more than one occasion that Dr T is a person. A revelation, I know! And at times, I can admit that I’ve been jealous of the level of support Sharon gave Robin. I’m getting by at the moment, which is a lot more than I was a couple of years ago so it’s not like there’s a real problem here – more that Sharon really knew Robin; she could join the dots or hear the words going unsaid, she knew what Robin needed, and if she could, she gave it to her. That’s priceless, and I find it comforting to know that it’s possible.

 “Despair to Deliverance” stands out from almost everything I’ve read in another way too – that Robin’s battle with mental illness is messy. She is hospitalised on multiple occasions, sometimes when you were just thinking she was doing better. Her diagnoses change with time. It takes many, many attempts to find the right medications for Robin – and sometimes the mistakes have a dangerous impact on her health. Driven to keep working (and be ‘normal’), she forces herself to take jobs when she isn’t ready, only to crash and burn after a few weeks. This all stands out to me because in other books I’ve read, there seems to be a formula of person gets (correctly) diagnosed, person is given (correct) treatment, person gets better, and I don’t think that’s the typical pathway for a lot of people. The expectation that is it is normal just amps up the pressure. 

This has turned into a bit of an essay, but I think deservedly so. I thoroughly recommend “Despair to Deliverance” for the following:

  • If you suffer from depression and/or anxiety, and might find comfort in reading about someone else’s journey.
  • If you want to read first person accounts of psychiatric hospitalisation, ECT and medication regimes.
  • If you’re curious about psychotherapy from the therapist’s perspective.
  • If you live in the UK and want to rediscover some gratitude for the NHS – financial worries play a huge part in Robin’s account, and that’s one stress I was much less exposed to.

Links to the blog posts and book are at the top of the post.

(And no, this isn’t a sponsored post or anything like that. I think that when we read something that moves us, we should share it in case it can move others.)

  

 

The ghosts of words unsaid

Oh boy, therapy was difficult. I pride myself on being an emotionless robot, but my body betrays me. I took paperclips to fiddle with (I like to untangle them when I’m anxious), but I had to keep putting them down so I wouldn’t throw them. They wouldn’t have done any damage, but I might have died of embarrassment.

It was the first session since Dr T announced he’s leaving at the end of the year, and I could barely look at him. It was awful. All I could do was say that I was fine, when it was obvious I wasn’t. A personal plea more than anything else. There was this massive elephant in the room that his announcement had managed to upset me, but each time Dr T tried to talk about it I had such a strong mentally-allergic reaction that I shut it right down.

I did manage to tell him about the auditory hallucinations though, which was good because he re-assured me that it wasn’t as big a deal as I’d thought. I think I just need to be vigilant – if it happens again it may need a medication adjustment (*groan*).

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go bury my head in the sand.