Lithium, and where I’ve been all these weeks

When I was 26, I got on Lithium and it was like a miracle pill for me.  Now I am 50 and I tried Lithium again with very different results:

The first couple of weeks on Lithium were very good.  My concentration was good, I remember.  But as soon as I raised the dose there was trouble.  I can barely type now.

I apologize that I forgot to get little Puzzle into the picture.

Yet another consequence of turning 50

Did you notice I changed the photo up there?  Here’s the one I replaced:

Notice the problem with it?  I’m going bald!  I’ve had to restyle my hair to cover up the bald spot.  I’ve even got “shine”!

My sister-in-law pointed out that I should cut my hair and style it more becoming for someone my age.  I think she should tailor her insults for younger people, like, say, her kids.  I’ll wear my hair any way I damn please.  I think she’s jealous of my beautiful long braid.  I get loads of compliments on my braid.

So now I’ve got a new pic up there.  Let’s see how long this one lasts before I find something wrong with it.

New Photo Essay

Hey, everybody!  I love you all!  I just got a photo published!  I’ll provide a link to the published photo when it is up on the web, but meanwhile, I’ve made a little photo essay that includes the photo.

There is so much I want to tell you!  I have so many thoughts running through my head right now.  Mostly, I am too exhausted to share my ideas at the moment.  But you will hear from me!  I promise!

Here’s the link to the photo essay: http://photos.breakdownlanetraveled.com

Enjoy!

All-nighters!

Hello, Cyberspace.

Those of you who have been reading my blog for a while know that I have a tendency to stay up all night sometimes, and I also have a tendency to brood over this habit.  I am brooding over it tonight, and my heart is heavy, because I have an appointment with Dr P tomorrow and she’s sure to ask me how my sleep is going, to which I have nothing but bad news to report.

Since the 15th of March, I have done seven all-nighters: on the 15th, 17th, 21st, 25th, 28th, 29th, and 31st of March.

When I do an all-nighter, I stay up all night, and I generally do not sleep the next day. 

So my sleep is not, as one might think, “reversed.”  My missed sleep is not postponed; it is nonexistent.  In sixteen days I missed seven nights of sleep.

Goldie and Dr P agree that in doing this, I am being rebellious.

I am also beginning to realize that in doing this, I am practicing self-harm.  I am pushing my body to its limits to see how far it can go.  I am gnashing at a wound to see how close to the bone I can get.  I have deprived myself until my body, wrecked and wretched, collapses on the couch, my dog licking my face in wonderment; I am unable to rise at all, to bathe, to eat, to answer the telephone or come to the door; I am out cold.

Sound familiar?

Pushing one’s body to the limit….I cannot help but draw parallels here.  I sometimes tell myself that I can stay up for days, “because that’s what homeless people do when they don’t find a place to sleep.”  So am I likening myself to a homeless person, a person who is deprived and suffering, just so that I can stay up yet another night?  An anorexic girl might likewise compare herself to a concentration camp victim: if he can get by on nothing but broth, well, then, so can she. 

There is something in me that finds suffering appealing.  I don’t think it’s a healthy trait.  I see it in my mother, clearly:  She keeps the thermostat down below 60 degrees in winter, keeps the light dim, and wears shabby clothes and ill-fitting shoes, though she certainly has the money to afford otherwise.  She seems to think it’s right for a Jewish woman to suffer.  It is a sign of mental and physical strength to be able to endure these hardships, and when life is easy, one must create hardships for oneself, right?  Right?

If you ask my mother how she’s doing, she’ll say she’s doing pretty well, she’ll talk about the taxes or her little bike rides, or how she’s fixing up the condo, or how things are going at the new temple she’s at.  The only time she ever said life was truly hard was when she was taking care of Dad (he had cancer) and that was a time that she didn’t have to create hardships for herself; they were already there.  But during all these times, if you asked her how her mood was, she would have said her mood was fine; she was never depressed; in times of hardship she was in her element.

Somehow, she taught me the myth that suffering is good because it means you are strong.  Recently I told myself how “good” I’d been by skipping a trip to the toilet, until I realized there was nothing good in self-deprivation at all, that I had been stupid, not strong, to deprive myself of relief.  Life is not an endurance contest.  Nor is life a contest of longevity.  I am not a better person for living longer or louder or more colorfully than my neighbor. 

I do not enjoy tiredness, though.  When I become sleepy from my medication, I get upset and have the urge to stop taking it–I might complain to my doctor.  Sleepiness is not a desirable state, and yet what I induce in myself is more than sleepiness; it is extreme exhaustion.  Perhaps it is the way “the whole bottle is not enough” for some alcoholics.

What will be the solution?  What is the best approach?  Good night–I’ll sleep on it, and perhaps will have more answers tomorrow.

New!! Photo essays!!

Brand new feature! Photo essays!

Yep, I’ve finally figured out yet another way to tell stories.  This week I’m featuring a short photo essay about Puzzle’s early puppyhood.  It’s not exactly fascinating but the photos will determine Puzzle’s status as Cuteness Queen in any viewer’s eyes.  Come have a look.

PS: Don’t bother with the slide show, because the captions don’t show properly.  Watch the filmstrip!

http://photos.breakdownlanetraveled.com

An e-mail to my therapist

Hi Goldie,

This is where it stands right now:

I haven’t done any school work, except for teaching-related preparation and notes, since turning in the last packet.  Most of this has had to do with depression.  Recently, though, my reluctance to do school work has been because of a conscious decision to stop doing it.  I really want this break.  As soon as I stopped, I felt relief.  I felt better because I felt relieved of the pressure of having to complete specific tasks by specific deadlines, tasks that would have been impossible for me to accomplish given my depressed state of mind.  I didn’t tell anyone that I had stopped working, not my brother, not you, and not Bea (my advisor) because I felt ashamed.  My brother will say that I’ve given up and he will accuse me of being a quitter.  I am not a quitter.  I am doing what I need to do to stay well.

Now that I’ve “let it go,” I need to let go of all the guilt I feel.  First of all, I feel guilty for having stopped, even temporarily.  It feels like the way I’ve felt slipping out of church or synagogue worship services before they are finished.

I need to see an end to another sort of guilt, the guilt I’ve felt since sometime last semester, my G3 semester last fall, whenever I’ve engaged in one of my non-school hobbies such as knitting or photography (“You’re not writing!  Bad! Bad!”).  I’m stopping school for now and until July I do not need to feel guilty about finishing Puzzle’s sweater or taking hundreds of photos of her, or arranging my MP3 collection for her to listen to while I’m out at the gym.

I am not the least bit concerned about how I will find “structure” while I am taking time off.  My shrinks are more worried about this than I am, clearly.  It is possible that I may attend some workshops, depending on what is available.  Bea suggested short-term workshops rather than those that go on for weeks.

What worries me is that I will not get better.  I have to improve otherwise I will not be able to return to school.  I have to have some kind of measurable difference in the quality of my life.  Of course, since I keep accurate records, it is easy to determine whether a change like this has taken place.  I am not at my baseline–I haven’t been since the end of the fall semester–and I would like to be at baseline.  How I am to make this improvement I don’t know.  Maybe you shrinks have some ideas.  Grad school is the hardest thing I’ve ever done and maybe all I need is a break from the hardest thing I’ve ever done, and I’ll get better just by breathing a bit.

Julie

Regarding Medications, and so on

Well, I’ve returned from my trip out west, finally, and had a decent time.  I haven’t written here in a while and life has been a bit hectic with jetlag and unpacking and getting into the swing of studying again.  For those of you who don’t know, I’ve been at the required residency for Goddard College, where I am studying for my MFA in creative writing.  I was away from February 9th until the 19th, and I picked up lovely Puzzle on the 20th.  Before and during the residency I was full of worries because I’d been depressed.  I was concerned about how my low mood would affect my ability to function fully at the residency because of the rigorous demands of the residency schedule and the demands that the program places on students over the course of that time, but I managed okay, with some difficulty here and there–nothing major to speak of.  I was also worried about my studies over the course of the semester.  I’m still worried.  But I’ll put those worries aside for now.

NOW THAT I’VE THOROUGHLY BORED YOU (SKIP TO THIS PARAGRAPH IF YOU WISH) I’ll talk about something entirely different–

–Meds.  I feel like I’m totally dependent on these chemicals to have a decent life.  I’ve worked closely with my psychiatrist to combat the depression I got myself into and worked out a plan for the residency but it took a while to tailor it: I took an off-label dose of the antidepressant Cymbalta (120mgs) for the duration of the residency, which kept me above water in terms of the depression, more or less, and also took extra Thorazine, an antipsychotic, beyond my usual daily dose (700mgs instead of 600mgs).  I survived nicely.

Insurance (Medicare, Part D) wouldn’t pay for the high dose of Cymbalta but I had extras, just enough for the trip.

At any rate, my old problem came back with my eating, which I found rather disturbing–not that again–before and during the residency.  I found myself unusually drawn to food.  In the last couple of weeks before I left I was bingeing on whatever was around (one day at home I ate about three pounds of chocolate all at once) and at the residency I ate indiscriminately with no regards to common sense–at least to my perspective that was what I was doing.  When I got home it felt like a magnet was pulling me toward the kitchen and something supernatural was causing me to force-feed myself.

Then, as planned, I lowered the Cymbalta from 120mgs to 90mgs.  Magic.  It felt like an ugly curtain had lifted.  No more problems with food.

From 1980 to 1984 I had trouble with bingeing and I found it extremely disturbing to the point of attempting suicide because of it.  In the summer of 1984 my doctor put me on Lithium.  The bingeing suddenly stopped and stayed stopped.  Magic.

And so on.  So I truly don’t believe this crap about bingeing being caused by this “psychological need to comfort oneself” or out of loneliness.  It’s not a fucking bad habit.  It’s a very serious psychiatric problem and you don’t poo-poo around with it.  At least in my case, it comes from a chemical imbalance and no amount of therapy could “cure” it.  And I do believe that for a lot of people that is the case, and they don’t realize it or haven’t considered medication (or haven’t tried the “right” medication) to combat bingeing.  If you binge it doesn’t mean you’re weak.  If you’re depressed it doesn’t mean you’re weak.

Which gets me to this point: I feel like I’m this organism that responds to chemicals.

Still, the meds haven’t changed my personality.  I’m still the goofball I always was.  I still put my foot in my mouth at times.  I’m still sort of slow at things.  Like at the airport.  Took me forever to get my stuff into the bins at security.  Don’t you feel intimidated by all that crap they put you through when they make you walk through the metal detector, etc?  I’m glad none of my meds are in liquid form.

No, but seriously, I wonder what life would be like if I never got on meds.  I think I’d have died a long, long time ago.  These drugs are life-sustaining.  Believe me.