Excerpt from Life After Lithium

This excerpt is from early on in the book, when I discuss my life before I started lithium.

It was at Options Day Treatment where I was introduced to the concept of mental illness as a “real” medical disease. I was almost relieved. So it wasn’t my fault. Suddenly, my eating disorder was no longer a moral issue! It was a chemical imbalance that caused it all! This answered the nature/nurture issue for me. Solved! Although the therapists continued to try to find something wrong with my upbringing I was positive, finally, that this was all chemical. I decided to pursue this further after my mother found a book in a bookstore by two Harvard doctors, called New Hope for Binge Eaters. This book represented groundbreaking work at the time. Somehow, through research, these doctors had shown that the drug Imipramine, a tricyclic antidepressant, could stop binge eating in its tracks. After pouring through this book I was determined to get my hands on this pill.

I felt ashamed to admit my true feelings aloud to anyone, though. I was afraid to say just how badly I wanted this pill. If the solution was that easy, why wouldn’t these doctors give it to me in an instant? They had the power. I was powerless. Why, in turn, did I not come out and say what I wanted directly? “Please, just write a prescription for Imipraminine so I can end this horror story once and for all!”

The doctors and therapists told me something similar to what many with eating disorders were often told, especially back then before the death of Karen Carpenter. These professionals didn’t believe I really had anything very serious at all, especially since I stated I did not vomit. Some of them thought I was “faking it for attention.” Others believed I was lying. “You look okay, what’s the problem?”

As for Imipramine, later on, it didn’t take long for the research results to fall flat. Perhaps the study was flawed, or the virtues of the drug were overblown in the literature. I didn’t know this, though. I was still determined to try anything I could to get hold of this pill. Therapy was making me worse. How could I find a psychiatrist who might believe me? I went to a few and they only turned me away, saying I didn’t have a mental illness, or at least not one worthy of their time. My friend urged me, “Tell them you are anxious. Or say you can’t sleep. That’ll work.” I tried these tactics but neither method succeeded to get me on drugs. Finally, my friend told me if I go to an ER, that will finally get them to listen. It was January, 1983.

Being admitted got me pills, but didn’t get me the kindness and understanding about my eating disorder that I really needed. I managed to get a different therapist, a private practice one this time, who promised to do a better job. Still I wasn’t seeing the results I wanted. I didn’t know if I should say anything. I was afraid of hurting his feelings. The pills didn’t seem to be the right ones, either. They made me pace around the unit. I also noticed after a week or so my hands got shaky. After I was discharged I noticed the pills had no positive effect on my eating problem. I didn’t know what to do. Was it the wrong pill? Utterly discouraged, I got myself admitted again and again, hoping this time they’d understand just how much binge eating was wrecking my life. I hoped each time they’d give me the right one, or say some magic words that would fix this once and for all.

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