Who, Me?

Who, me?

This was my honest response to my psychiatrist’s diagnosis of bipolar. Not only did I not accept it, I thought she had my file confused with someone else’s. She clearly wasn’t listening to anything I was saying. If she had been she would know that I am only ADHD.

Let me be honest and say that I was labeled bipolar multiple times throughout my life by strangers and by family so it wasn’t anything I hadn’t heard but this time it was coming from a professional, a psychiatrist at that. Nevermind what happened after that because I left her office and did not plan on returning.

I didn’t know who she thought she was but she obviously needed to see me a few more times. And that she did. I committed to going back to her because I didn’t like her and that meant I couldn’t get over on her. In active addiction, I learned a great skill, manipulation. In trying to break this terrible habit, I told myself in order to remain sober, I had to get down to the source of my problems. Antidepressants worked fine for my anxiety, with an added just in case pill, but I was still experiencing depression. I needed someone who knew what the hell they were doing and who could see through my bullshit. And …. that she did.

I would see her once a month for 8 months before accepting a mood stabilizer. At the point in which I had, I was at my lowest in years. As soon as I walked through her doors she knew I was ready. She looked at me with emotion in her eyes. My pain was evident. She wanted me to help me. I refused brands I had tried. “Not that one”. Finally, I said yes to an atypical antipsychotic. One that promised to target the problem immediately. One with minimal side effects. The one I continue to take today.

The depth of my depression wasn’t the case for me saying yes. Research was. Over the eight months I researched and investigated the symptoms of bipolar, I read stories and I accepted that I am indeed, bipolar II with rapid cycling. The sad thing was that I was medicated as a bipolar patient without being formally diagnosed with bipolar. I was told I had major depressive disorder, never bipolar yet I was on mood stabilizers while institutionalized but when I wasn’t I only had antidepressants. Odd? Wild, in fact. I still do not know where the communication failed.

The symptoms that allowed me to accept my diagnosis were rapid speech and irritability. I have had severe anger outburst my whole life. I never knew this to be a symptom of bipolar. I thought bipolar was all about depression and mania but boy was I wrong. There is much more to this spectrum disorder. Irritability is a signal to a cycle, for me. It is usually an ending to a hypomanic phase which can last for days sometimes weeks. With medication, my rapid cycling is under control but that by no means makes me exempt from symptoms. I notice an increase in irritability if I miss a number of doses. I try not to miss my medication but sometimes I seem to forget only to quickly be reminded by unstable moods.

Ironically I do not have ADHD as I had self-diagnosed. My problematic lack of focus is on behalf of bipolar disorder. I have an overactive mind that rarely shuts itself off. I have terrible mood swings before and during my cycle. I have a lot of pent-up anger, for no apparent reason. I am not naturally happy even when I try to be. I am unstable, without medication. Hi. My name is Candace and this is my bipolar experience.

If you experience any of symptoms like or similar to mine and life has you low, I ask you seek professional help. Life can be better. There are options. You are worthy of a life with stability.

Journey to a Diagnosis, Part II

Today, I continue the story I began in Part I.

My husband and I drove to the inpatient facility, arriving in about 30 minutes.  I remember being so afraid.  I was afraid of what I was experiencing mentally and frightened of going to this inpatient facility.  I didn’t know what to expect.  I was also sad about leaving my children.  My youngest, only 5 months old, was still breastfeeding.  I had a friend who donated some milk for her to consume in my absence, for which I was grateful.  I had no idea if I would be able to continue nursing after they gave me medications.  There were so many uncertainties that night, but overshadowing all of these emotions was my determination to get help.  There was going to be no turning back.   I was determined to get better–for me and my family.

When we entered the lobby, I remember the lights being dimmed because it was the middle of the night.  Whatever was illuminating the room cast an orange glow over everything.  There was another person in the waiting room, but he appeared to be asleep.  After completing the intake paperwork, we were called back to a small office to meet with a kind man who asked me about my symptoms.  I told him everything that had been happening, no matter how inconsequential it seemed.  He then led my husband and I downstairs where I would be sleeping.  My husband carried my bag down for me and then we hugged and kissed goodbye.  He had to leave to go home at this point.

I can remember how scared I was!  I would be sharing a room with a person I had never met in my life who was there for a similar reason that I was.  I went into the darkened bedroom, quickly changed into my pajamas and lay down on the mattress, but I was too anxious to sleep.  I got up and asked the night nurse for something to help me relax and sleep, but whatever she gave me hardly put a dent in my anxiety.  Eventually, mercifully, I finally slept.

When I awoke in the morning, I realized that my fears were unfounded.  My roommate was an elderly woman named Barbara, and she was kind.   Everyone I met there shared a story similar to mine.  We were all trying to get help.

That first morning I remember getting a doctor’s examination and blood-work.  It didn’t take long for them to get the results back and I was asked by the doctor if I had ever been on thyroid medication.  I had to admit that I had unwisely gone off of it cold turkey.  I was promptly put back on it.  I also met with the psychiatrist who would be supervising my care.  He was also kind.  He is well renowned where I live and I feel grateful to have been in his care.  His name was Doctor Holland.  We chatted briefly and I explained, again, everything that I had been experiencing.  He asked me if anything like this had every happened before.  It hadn’t.

I soon learned that we were kept busy throughout the day with classes and group activities.  These included learning about self care, learning relaxation techniques, doing crafts or exercising.  The first group class I went to, the teacher was leading a discussion about what we enjoyed doing.  Favorite movies were brought up and I shared two of my favorites and then burst into tears with my head down on the table.  The enormity of what I was experiencing was so overwhelming.  The teacher kindly asked if this was my first time with this type of experience and I tearfully shared that it was.  I didn’t understand what was happening to me.

After a short stay in the basement, I was then moved to a room upstairs.  I’m not sure exactly why this happened.  My roommate there was a young girl, about my age.  She was also nice.  It turned out that being in the inpatient facility was not as scary as I imagined it to be.  I was grateful to be there.

Doctor Holland initially diagnosed me as having major depressive disorder.  I was started on anti-depressants and was rapidly titrated up to a therapeutic dose.

It’s been so long ago now that a lot of the details have faded from memory but I do remember that the first antidepressant they tried me on caused my tongue to move involuntarily and made my eyes dart around. My husband came to visit me as often as possible and he came one evening when I was dealing with these side effects. He says he remembers seeing me acting so strangely that on the drive home he was overcome with tears of sadness and helplessness. He was afraid he had lost the Chelsea he loved.

I was switched to a different anti-depressant but it wasn’t long after that that we realized the anti depressants were causing me to go manic. At one point, I felt on the verge of losing touch with reality. I alerted the nurses and apparently this means I was on the verge of psychosis. They were quick in treating the problem. I was given a shot of antipsychotic in my buttocks. Not the best and funnest thing I’ve had to live through. I felt so helpless. I wondered again and again what was going on and how I would get better.

Doctor Holland stopped the antidepressant and started me on mood stabilizers. I was told, at this point, that I would have to stop breastfeeding. I had been pumping at the hospital and sending it home when possible but I stopped doing it. This was heartbreaking to me.

Doctor Holland left to go on vacation. I was put under the care of a different doctor. My symptoms were not improving so another mood stabilizer was added: lithium. This made a total of 3 medications that I was on. High doses of each.

Finally after a few days on lithium, my symptoms stopped. I remember how deeply grateful I was to have calm in my mind!  No more chaos–I can’t even begin to describe how good that felt.  My doctor diagnosed me with bipolar disorder. I was so thankful to know what it was, and even happier that they had figured out how to stop the awful roller coaster.  Finally, after 2 weeks in the inpatient facility, I felt well enough to return to my family at home.

I was released just before Halloween, 2006.

There’s more to this story.  Watch for part III coming soon.

Are Antipsychotic Drugs Safe?

Today’s topic is an interesting one to write about, are antipsychotic drugs safe?

I am by no means an expert in the field of medicine and what works for a mental illness. Instead I write from exeprience.

I have been taking antipsychotics since day one of my diagnosis of Bipolar disorder. My antipsychotic of choice is Quetiapine (known by its brand name of Seroquel.) In my own life, it is the most important drug that I take besides Ativan. I have taken Seroquel every day for the last ten plus years.

Seroquel became a part of my daily cocktail of medications because I was hearing voices. It was during my first suicide attempt when I was first brought to the hospital and entered the psych ward. Over time, my psychiatrist put me on the strongest dosage allowed. I have been up and down with the dosage ever since.

It is this one medication that I can’t live without, but the side effects are often something that I have “to deal with.”

That is where I want to go first. One of the things that I regret in the beginning when first receiving my diagnosis is that I didn’t ask questions about anything. I did what the doctors told me and took any medicine that they gave me. I did some research in later years but by then medication was a part of my life.

hush-naidoo-382152.jpg

I didn’t care enough about myself at the time to understand taking antipsychotics would mean having to live with side effects.

Here are some of what I deal with daily when taking Seroquel.

The simple ones are dry mouth. I have to combat that with lithium as well so I drink lots of water throughout the day. I also chew gum. I often go through a pack in three or four days (sugar-free of course) and gum also helps with anxiety.

When I have already taken my dosage, it can sometimes leave me dizzy when trying to get up to walk around late at night. Even at a high dose, it can take me up to three hours to get any real sleep.

The one I struggle with the most is when waking in the morning. Seroquel is a powerful antipsychotic. I use for sleep beyond keeping my psychosis in check. But in the morning it sucks. I wake usually at around six or seven in the morning, but I am not really awake. I can feel still partly asleep. It can take up to three hours before the Seroquel has left my system completely and I can get out of bed.

When have to force myself to get up and it takes a mountain of caffeine before I am myself again. Seroquel stays in my system longer the higher dosage that I am on. At the moment I am at 500-600mg most nights.

I wanted to dedicate the rest of this blog post talking about an important part of any new medication but antipsychotics in particular. It is paramount to always research especially when taking antipsychotics.

  1. It is important to know the risks of antipsychotics. You can achieve this through research on more than one source. Complete information on any medication you will need to make the right decisions.
  2. Don’t be afraid to tell you, doctors, you don’t want to take an antipsychotic. In the beginning, it would have been better to know that over time I would become more reliant on Seroquel. My first dosage was 50mg and it has done nothing but increase over the years.
  3. Also don’t be afraid of the side-effects. Antipsychotics have their uses and if you decide you need it but are afraid of what you learn, don’t be. Everyone is different. You can write down what is working and the side effects in a journal and discuss it with your mental health team.
  4. My last point is exploring alternatives to medication when it comes to antipsychotics. I was very anti-counseling when I was first diagnosed. I still don’t go to group therapy because it’s not for me. But for you, it could mean never taking a medication ever.

katherine-hanlon-242213.jpg

I am sometimes left wondering if everything I deal with today could have been different without medication.

I am by no means an expert. I always write my blogs through my own experiences. It is always good to listen to what your psychiatrist or doctor is telling you. They have the expertise that I don’t, at the same time the long-term effects might be something you don’t want.

I can’t imagine taking Seroquel because without it I may slip back into psychosis. What is even worse I may never sleep again without taking my Seroquel. it is the only medication that can put me to sleep anymore, and I have tried everything under the sun to sleep.

To answer the question if antipsychotics are safe, my answer isn’t so easy. Antipsychotics have their place and for the most part other than depending more on it, Seroquel has been good to me. It’s important that we work with the people on our mental health teams to find what works for you.

Always Keep Fighting.

J.E. Skye

Photo Credit:

unsplash-logoJonathan Perez

unsplash-logoHush Naidoo

unsplash-logoKatherine Hanlon