Toxic

 

I’m fine, but I’m bipolar. I’m on seven medications, and I take medication three times a day. This constantly puts me in touch with the illness I have. I’m never quite allowed to be free of that for a day. It’s like being a diabetic.

– Carrie Fisher

Hats off to Carrie Fisher! I couldn’t have said it better. For me, medication is a daily chore. No different from brushing my teeth or making my bed. I’m on four different medications twice daily. I take up to ten pills a day.

 

I am bipolar in my attitude towards medication. On good days I will dutifully take my pills, thinking how much they have helped me. On bad days I will complain about them, how they make me feel flat, how they shackle my creativity, how they nauseate me.  Perhaps I’ll ‘forget’ to take a dose.  But it’s less of a choice and more a responsibility. A trade off between side effects and stability.  I have a little one to look after now.

After a night of violent vomiting a few weeks ago, I came to the conclusion that I must be suffering from lithium toxicity. It seemed the only logical explanation for my nausea, mood swings, and shakiness. My recent bout of illness and dehydration could have easily resulted in concentrated blood levels. It all made sense. Lithium toxicity can be serious, even fatal. My nurse was at my place to assess me within an hour of my phone call to the hospital.

I was told to stop the Lithium, and because I was worried (and because I was angry at the potential effect that medication had caused) I stopped all other medications as well. That was a mistake. I spent the weekend grumpy, depressed, and dissociating so badly that it was hard to walk.

When the blood results came back I wasn’t toxic at all. In fact, quite the reverse. My level’s were too low. So I restarted all the pills and quickly returned to my ‘normal’ (but really, what is normal? ;)) self.

How did my lithium levels become too low? Partly, I suppose, due to the IV fluids I was given during my recent hospital visit. But mostly, I suspect, due to my careless attitude towards the medication. Skipping a dose here, a dose there. I’m not crazy anymore. I don’t need that stuff.

I seem to hold a deep distrust in the opinion of the medical profession. Somehow I believe my limited knowledge on psychopathology and pharmacology is superior. Then I get upset when my  medication experiments backfire. Funny that 😉 Recently I have been seriously questioning my diagnosis. Am I really bipolar? Was I really that unwell? Perhaps it was all a strange dream. Now, while I am stable, I simply cannot believe I became that unwell.

I talked to both my psychiatrist and psychologist this week about this issue. I remarked to them that I felt like I was making the whole experience up. I can’t imagine feeling that depressed, or that unstable. I felt angry that I couldn’t remember aspects of my experience. But the recollections I had and others provided just didn’t seem like *me*. Rather than telling me to move on, that the past is the past and the present is the present (what I have been telling myself!), they both explained that I had been through a kind of trauma. Not the hospitalization itself, as my experience there was a positive one. But the very fact that I became so unwell and so unstable. I had assumed my inability to remember key parts of my hospitalization was due to being…well…mad 😉 I had also assumed my somewhat flattened affect and reduced emotionality now was medication induced. But both are apparently symptomatic of those who have experienced some kind of emotional trauma.

Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t feel traumatised. Not in the least. But I suppose that is part of what is going on. I don’t really feel any emotional response to what I have been through. It’s just something that has happened, no different to going to the shops for groceries. Apparently this will change, and my experience will become integrated with my sense of self.

Writing, talking to people, and my weekly therapy all help me piece together this puzzle of myself. It’s fascinating. I have learned more about myself in the last three months than I think I ever knew. I say now, and I will say again, that the experiences I have had (however apparently traumatizing they may or may not be) are one of the best things that have ever happened to me. I feel a confidence in myself that I never had before, and I have learned what is important in life. I’m happy being me, something I wasn’t for a very long time.

I assumed I had lithium toxicity when really it was the lithium I needed to become well. I assumed that a diagnosis of bipolar disorder was negative, when it resulted in an area of personal growth I may never have attained otherwise. It’s funny how something so potent, something so seemingly toxic can actually be the remedy.

 

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