New Scientific Possibilities for Help, But Not Hope

Sometimes I question whether I just wasn’t made for this world. That perhaps I was born defective and unable to survive. Many people are born with parts of their body that didn’t fully form or formed differently; some without the necessary components to function or function fully. And lots of people, who may have these differences, adapt and manage, and do not let their difference stop them from enjoying all life has to offer.

But my “defect” is in my brain, and I can’t seem to find a way to adapt or manage on my own. Often times, there are devices and tools to support and help in this process. I have tried the “devices” for my impairment: medications, ECT, exercise, diet, sleep, and a variety of therapies, to try to work with what I have been given. But for some reason, my brain remains resistant to change, unable to manage and function at a level that is personally acceptable.

It’s been exhausting – the entire process. And since I was in my late teens/early 20’s, I never thought I could make it to 35. I assumed my body would simply get too tired of the pain and stop working, or I would have to help do it myself. But even with these dark thoughts, every so often, there were flashes of hope; moments of a belief that things could get better. And so here I am – three weeks into 35, with a new possibility for change at my chemically-enhanced door.

I have had a good year and a half where I seemed to have found a concoction that made me feel more stable. Not perfect – I still dealt with mood swings, depressive dilemmas, and uncomfortable side effects – but enough to make me hopeful that I could work to form a functional and fulfilling life. Then we changed a medication, and the past three months have been a clusterfuck of mood swings, depression, and a melange of side effects. We hit a road block in terms of options and so a few weeks ago, my doctor conferred with her colleagues to see what ideas they may have for bipolar II medication-resistant treatment.

When I saw her last week she told me about two new scientific advancements that could drastically help me get better. (Please forgive my explanations, as I am still learning.)

The first suggestion is a test for genetic markers that show what medications work best in an individual’s brain. There are five markers and they are able to indicate drugs that will work; some that might work; and others that won’t. I found a website of a company that does it called Genesight. I don’t know if this is the company my doctor is referring to – but the hope is that with this test, we will stop having to do so much guesswork with my meds, and may find out if some are actually decreasing the positive effect of other drugs in my system.

The other suggestion is the use of folate. We all know about folic acid. (Okay I didn’t, but everyone else seems to refer to it like I should.) Doctors encourage women who are pregnant to use it to help with a fetus’ growth and have noted that it could help with growth and rehabilitation of other cells. If I were to just ingest folic acid, it would go through my blood stream and I would pee it out. However, this new folate supplement called Deplin specifically goes into the brain blood stream. Evidently, by delivering the folate directly to the brain, it helps with your body’s ability to absorb medications. So for me, while I have slightly benefited, my medication is still not being fully absorbed, and therefore, I’m not actually getting the full impact of the medications.

After explaining these ideas to me, my psychiatrist asked me if I felt hopeful.

The genetic markers sound interesting, though I feel like it isn’t going to be that helpful. I suppose it would provide me with the peace of understanding that there are genetic reasons why I am resistant to so many medications. And perhaps provide new ideas for medication usage. The Deplin definitely sounds too easy. The idea that a supplement is going to help engage my medications and that would help me feel better – I suppose it just sounds too good to be true. Then again, I know people who take incredibly small amounts of anti-depressants, and it changes their life. I find myself skeptical, but willing to give it a try. However, I would not say I am hopeful.

Hope is a complicated emotion for me. I don’t always have control over my hope – sometimes I can feel it behind my cynicism, trying to push through, small bursts getting by, evoking images of peace and contentment. But through the years, it has become an enemy of my depression – spreading fallacies of possible happiness into my brain, only to be devastatingly wrong.

I remember when I started to feel better after a few weeks of ECT. I was ecstatic because I had finally found something that would allow me the chance to have a life worth living. The short term memory loss was a bit annoying, but at the time, it was a small price to pay to have the heavy pressure of depression lifted. I’d found the “piece” that I was born without, that would make me whole – the component that would provide an adaptation to survive. And then it stopped working. And then I found out it wouldn’t work anymore, no matter how many times I tried. And then I was expected to go back to the medication drawing board and start again.

I would say that’s when my trust of hope died. That’s when I started to wonder if I was just too broken, the deficit irreparable and too impairing for me to ever be able to have dreams again. Hope had hurt me one too many times. So am I hopeful? All I can give right now is that I’m not NOT hopeful. I’m open to being pleasantly surprised, but I’m not running around telling the world to watch out because I’ll be out there soon! I have a feeling even if the Deplin works, I will still need to make changes to my meds, there will still be quite a bit of side effects, as well as possible withdrawal and mood swings. I am not naive enough to think that this is “my piece” anymore. But if my doctor is telling me that my what I was feeling this past year was only a fraction of the medication working and that I could feel better than that, I’ll swallow the pill faithfully, I’ll change the dosages, I’ll try medications again, I’ll do whatever it takes. At this point, what do I have to lose?

While some people believe that hope takes less energy than despair, I think there is a key component to that theory that often gets overlooked. Because when you are in the despair, you have to work to get to that hope, and you have so many factors against you. To reach a place of hope you must push through the exhaustion, find a way to ignore all past failures, and find the strength to block out the despair that radiates throughout your body and mind, draining you, beating you down, offering the temptation of rest.

I imagine myself on the side of a sea cliff, trying to pull myself up to get to safety, knowing that if my muscles get too tired; if I miscalculate one move; or a piece of the cliff simply loosens and drops, I could fall quickly into the dark, depressive water below, possibly being killed on impact. I wait, terrified, for a surge of strength or an outreached hand.

I want to have hope that I can feel better and find a new normal that doesn’t include dire mood swings and hypomanic bursts. I want to believe that help is on its’ way. But hoping for help doesn’t save me. And frankly, I’m getting really tired of holding on to this “sea cliff,” waiting for the moment when I can stand on firm ground.

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One Extra Pill: My Brain is Such a Drama Queen

Besides the constant tremors and occasional rapid heartbeat and dizziness, the new drug regimen I started last Tuesday seems to be working. I feel different. More steady. Anxious more than sad, which while anxiety sucks, still feels safer than sadness.

I am astounded at how incredible the mind is. Changing a medication by .25 sends it into a rapid depressive episode that last for weeks. Upping a drug by 100mg makes the person feel ready to face the day, even on the days she doesn’t want to.

Don’t misunderstand me. It doesn’t fix you. I still have dark “abnormal” thoughts about myself and my life. I worry I will, like before, suddenly spiral into destructive behavior. I’m not normal, whatever that might be. And I never will be.

But for now, at least for today, I’m pretty sure I won’t. And that is amazingly different than just a week ago.

‘Nuff Said: Mental Illness, Gun Control, and Our Nation’s Offensive Ignorance

Okay, so I clearly have some thoughts on this. And a few people in both the news and around me that I would like to “have a word with.” I would imagine anyone who suffers from mental illness or knows someone who does, has thoughts on this. But honestly, I can’t do it justice. However, my man, John Oliver can. (I should note that the segment is really more about how our country is not dealing with mental illness – guns are really just the jumping off point.)

My First Birthday in Years

I prefer my cake without your spittle, but thanks.

I don’t know when it started, but I suppose it makes a lot of sense. I have spent most of my life developing a strong sense of self-hate, embarrassed by my existence, judging my lack of “lived” life and goals, and basically despising myself for being alive. So the idea of celebrating my birth and continued existence in this world with a “year to grown on” has always seemed silly and hypocritical.

I don’t really like holidays in general. There’s a part of me that gets so nervous: there’s all this pressure for that day. Like, on New Year’s – this is THE day out of 365 that I’m supposed to reflect on my life goals and make plans for the future? Thanksgiving – ugh. Here’s a day, out of 365, that I was supposed to stop, look at all the people around me, and think of all I had to be grateful for and how lucky I was and how others deserve the same but do not have it? What an IMMENSE amount of pressure for a day. It always seemed to me those days should just sort of happen throughout the year, in random moments rather than set times.

So I have a tendency to avoid those kind of holidays or at least avoid them until the last possible second before everyone arrives and I have to put on my clown costume and smile. The only ones I did like were these “holidays” my mom called “Just Because” days. When we were growing up, she would wake us up and tell us we could sleep in – we didn’t have to go to school. And then we could hang out with her that day – I don’t even remember what we did. But given that she worked quite a bit, it was so special to have the day to spend with her, no matter what we did. And it wasn’t on a specific day – it was just a random day (at least it seemed for us) where we got to make that day special and have fun.

But my birthday – that’s the worst of all. After spending an entire year running from my desires, being lonely, hating my body, my face, my personality, my life. After a year of feeling as if I am missing opportunities to grow, to experience, to find joy. After a year of and wanting, waiting and hoping to die. Well, after all that, the idea of getting together to “celebrate” me just seemed rather depressing. Woohoo – another year wasted; another year of burdening others; another year of pain! Here’s to the next!

In fact, if anything, my birthday has come to serve as a horrible marker in my depression. It was a day were I reflected on where I was, who I was, and how incredibly miserable I was in both of those dimensions. Unemployed, overweight, living at home, miserable, unable to leave the house. Perhaps not the best circumstances to “reflect” on. Also, during my depressive episodes, my birthdays have always served as expiration dates. A month before I turned 30 was the first time I decided I was going to commit suicide. I decided I would not turn 30 being the person I was. I panicked and made the minor (but helpful) “mistake” of telling some people. I began ECT a few weeks after my 30th birthday. About a year and a half ago, I sat my mom down and told her that if I was still in as much pain as I was then when I was 35, I was going to end it. Not because she didn’t do enough, not because I didn’t love her, but because I was tired and that just seemed like an age where it seemed fair to give up. (Needless to say, she disagreed with my “thoughtful and rational” idea.) Sometimes I tell myself that if this medication stops working and I hit rock bottom again, I’m not doing this anymore. I’m just too exhausted to keep trying.

Therefore, I have adamantly protested any “celebration” on the day of my birthday. In the past few years, we have agreed to stop mentioning my birthday on the day of. My family promised not to say anything or send cards. I might get a “gift” in the mail the week earlier or the week after, but with no acknowledgement of the birthday – more of a “love you” gift. My friends are harder to tame but given that I live 3,000 miles away from them, it does make a “surprise” party harder.

So, I am turning 34 in two and a half weeks. I’m not going to have a party. I don’t plan on making the day a romp around town, treating myself all day to elaborate “pleasures” of food and beauty. I’m not going to try and dress up or put on extra makeup or spend the day reflecting (ok, I probably will but I’d rather not.) I am not planning on blowing out candles and will not be making a wish. (I’m still not ready for “optimism” or thoughts of “the future.” Baby steps, people.)

But I think it would be nice to go out to dinner somewhere comfortable where I enjoy the food. Maybe I’ll make a yummy vegan cake and once again laugh at why everyone is so surprised when it tastes good. Maybe I’ll let someone take a picture of me, even if I know I’m not going to like it. I’m going to try and pick up the phone if someone calls to wish me a happy birthday. I’m going to thank people who email me. I will open cards and appreciate the love within them even though it is still a struggle to not protest their thoughts.

I think I kind of hope people wish me a happy birthday this year. Because while my life is still a chaotic mess of confusion, chaos, and clusterfucks – and while maybe next year I won’t want to celebrate – for now, I am grateful for the people around me; for the opportunities of growth I have had this year; for the strength and personal compassion I have found within myself; the decisions I have made; and the way I have handled disappointment and stress.

Happy birthday to me.

Third Floor or The Penthouse: My Current Attempt at Climbing the Floors of Recovery

If I did reach the penthouse, it would most definitely have a bowling alley!

If I did reach the penthouse, it would most definitely have a bowling alley!

Disclaimer: I recommend not searching for images of “penthouse” on Google. I forgot there was a magazine by the same name…gross.

I was watching a television show the other night and this talented, made guy tells this new ingenue who’s just getting started, and I am paraphrasing: “You are choosing to jump from the third floor because you are afraid you’ll never get to the penthouse.” I.e. you’d rather fail now instead of risking the possibility of succeeding. I imagine you would do this because a) you are afraid you’ll never make it to the penthouse; and b) if you got there and had to jump, that’s going to hurt a lot more than just jumping from the third.

It panicked me, because sometimes I think I want to jump (metaphorically). When I try on hope and see the potential life may have to offer me, I don’t know what terrifies me more: not getting it or getting it and … whatever follows after that.

I don’t know what floor I’m on but I’m getting to a place of discomfort because I am now starting to do things I have only ever done depressed. So, for example, I have gone to parties, flirted with boys, lost weight, and lived alone – all while being severely depressed and often drunk with a touch of self-mutilation. But I’ve never done those things with my new brain chemistry, and sober … until now. And I don’t really know how to do it. I joke about how I’ve been stunted in so many ways by this disease – my experiences so fucked I find myself flailing at the maturity of a 14 year-old (Sometimes 22 – depends on the issue).

I went to a party where I only knew one person and I didn’t know who I would be. After all, in the past, I was “me”. But now, I’m me, but more raw, with possibilities racing through my head. I’m still thinking: “everyone thinks I’m too loud; I’m too obnoxious; I just did a gigantic overshare; wow, they must think I’m a big perv.” But I’m talking to people I don’t know, introducing myself, asking questions, dealing with my answers. Some things are the same: I’m pretty loud; I like to make people laugh; I will take over and “guide” the group if the party seems to be waning…and I am kinda pervy and tend to overshare when I’m nervous. I’ve always done that, but I didn’t know until now that that’s me, not my depressive self.

I’ve also just started to live alone. I totally can’t afford it, but it was my first big step towards independence. The only other time I’ve lived alone, I was suicidal and didn’t leave the house for days on end. So like, how do I live alone? What kind of person am I when I live alone? Can I do it? What if I do the things I did when I lived alone last time: stopped leaving the house; made pancakes every day; didn’t answer calls; self-mutilated in the bathroom. I mean, technically, that’s the example I’m working off of.

So a part of me says: “just pretend that you’re 26 and this is your first time living alone. And you are like this. Now…live.” What I’ve learned: I’m still pretty clean and organized, though not as OCD like in the past (as tempting as it is). I know that if I decide to cook or bake, I should do it around 3, and cook multiple things so when I’m tired at 7 and don’t want to do anything, I’ll have everything ready to go. I still talk to the television and myself, and still need my noise machine and an eye mask to sleep. I still like having systems and schedules – but this may be because I don’t have a job or volunteer internship yet.

Some days I don’t want to get out of bed or leave the house. I do get dressed every day even if I’m not planning on leaving the house so if I do, I’m ready to go. Sometimes I even put on gym clothes just to make it easier if I get an impulse. On those days, even if I just take out the garbage or walk to the library, it makes it different than before. And on those days, I’m just tired and cranky and maybe a little down about my life. This past week, I just felt tired for days, but I decided it was hormones and forced myself out today. I feel better. So, I guess this is what I live like when I live alone. This is me now, living in an apartment.

Unfortunately, for the past few weeks, I have also had cravings to cut. They come on kind of like food cravings. Sometimes it’s in the car, or watching tv, walking to the library, or when I’m getting into the shower. At first it threw me off. I panicked that the meds stopped working. But when I wasn’t thinking about cutting, I was level. I usually just keep driving, or watching, or walking, or washing until the impulse passes.

It makes sense to me. With all these changes, I’ve just been overwhelmed, worried, scared, sad, anxious, hyper, giggly, silly – kind of like being bipolar II but in a good way? I think my cravings are more about my need for control than about punishing myself. I used to cut when I was overwhelmed with pain and nothing else could tamper it. For just a moment, it became a vortex, pulling all my emotions into the act. It never worked the way I wanted it to, it never lasted long, and then I had to deal with all of the ramifications of doing it. Trust me, I know and did know, there are better ways.

But I think in all this chaos of unknowns, I have felt very little control over the big picture. I’ve been craving control and the possibility of a calm minute where a vortex could just quiet my mind. I know that the positive ways of providing some calm are breathing, mindfulness, stepping back from my thoughts, feeling into my emotions, and being in the moment. There’s also medications that can help and I’m not afraid to use them. But you know, sometimes it’s tempting to go with what’s rote than practice a new skill. Especially when you’re shaking and can barely breathe.

I’ve also noticed some changes in my eating habits. Partially it’s because I hurt my knee and my exercise regimen has decreased in intensity. (Man I miss those endorphins!) I have been successfully losing weight gained during the depression and between diet and exercise, I have been scared that the loss of intense exercise would throw off my goal. It seems I have become much more severe with my food. I’m vegan, so it’s not like I have a ton to go crazy off of, but it’s very easy to eat like shit and get some serious calories even when vegan. But I’ve been cutting back, controlling and watching what I’m eating. I find I am limiting my intake and have become far more obsessive about it. So this screams out, once again: control.

But what is also interesting, is that about 3-4 nights out of the week, I’m also bingeing. Not necessarily the kind where I literally am in a fugue state and can’t remember what I have eaten (though that has happened). But I’m angry and tired and scared, and while I have spent the day attempting to reign in those emotions by controlling my food and my schedule, etc., this seems to be more of an attempt to lose control, to literally feed the fear. Anyway, I thought that was an interesting juxtaposition my mind is playing into.

All of this is to say, I’m really scared and scarred. I only know life through a lens I currently don’t have. I’m trying to keep my eyes open, to keep stepping forward and trying new things that scare me. I’m trying to be compassionate when I chicken out and don’t do them. But in the next year, there are some major decisions coming down the pipeline – some of which are already on the calendar. I’m trying to sort out what my hopes, dreams and desires are. I’m supposed to be deciding who I want to be and what I want my life to look like and how to make those things happen without losing my shit completely. I truly feel like a child in an adults’ body and everyone is looking at me to know what a 33-year old should know by now. And I don’t. And I might not ever – because a lot of people don’t either.

I can’t control my destiny down to the next five minutes, let alone the rest of my life. But I know, in the end, I’ll never be in control. Everything inside me, based on my past, is telling me to jump from the third floor – “get off while you still can!” The safety of not trying tempts me every day. I look up at the penthouse and I’m not sure if I’ll ever reach it, or if I’ll even know if I ever get there. And there’s a part of me that doesn’t know if I’d ever recover from that – losing everything I have built and finding myself once again at the ground floor. I’ve done that a few times now, and it’s so fucking exhausting, I feel like it ages my soul.

So many emotional habits that I have built over time are trying to pull me down – telling me it’s not worth trying only to fail. But there’s this little part of me, I guess in this “new” me, that’s kind of like “Why not try? If you fall from the 3rd floor, the 8th or the penthouse, you’re going to end up in the same place, so why not move up and see what’s on each floor while you can? There might be free food! And maybe, just maybe, you won’t fall at all.” I usually giggle at that voice – partly because I want to believe her and I kinda remember her – like an aura of myself as a child surrounding me.

I don’t know if I’m going to make it. And while I really want to end this with something inspirational and uplifting, I don’t think I’m quite there yet.

But I will try to take a breath, become mindful, and take the next step forward by walking alone from my apartment to meet my family for dinner.

If Pharrell Can Be Happy, Why Can’t I?

“Because I’m happy
Clap along if you know what happiness is to you
Because I’m happy
Clap along if you feel like that’s what you wanna do”

– “Happy” by Pharrell Williams

My therapist recently asked what my schedule for the week looked like. We do this a lot because I find structure and productivity can calm me. I listed off doctor’s appointments, calls to insurance companies, a few errands, some cleaning – the usual. Then she asked me what I would do during the week that I would enjoy or derive pleasure from- something that would make me happy.

I laughed at first, an excellent stall tactic, and then began to cry. My mind was a complete blank. In attempting this second chance at building my life, she asked a very simple question: What do you like to do? What is one thing you would choose, want, and like to do in your day? She wasn’t asking me what I wanted to do with my life, she just wanted to know what I was going to do to “treat” myself between obligatory tasks.

I of course have heard so many people talk about what they enjoy: mani-pedis, a day at the beach, a long hike, going to a movie, snuggling in and reading a book that’s been gathering dust. In the past, I have done all of these things, but because of the depression and anxiety, there was always a caveat that took away pleasure. I hate getting pedicures because I feel like the process is so condescending and I hate my feet so why should someone else have to touch them? (Even now, I still agree with this statement.) A day at the beach usually means wearing a bathing suit which would mean showing my body which I hate and where scars and cellulite abound. Also, too much sun – I worry about my skin aging or sweating profusely. (Is this where I should say I know most of these reasons are not entirely rational or fair? Yeah, no duh.) I would say I love hiking but it could lead to looking out of shape if I start heaving up a storm, sweating all around, and I really hate how I look in shorts, but then when I wear pants I get so hot…(Don’t worry, I’m almost done with the list.) I have loved movies since I can remember seeing one. They are the epitome of awe and wonder mixed with an opportunity to step out of my life for a few hours. And going to movie theaters, at least when I was a kid, was “an experience.” But now I worry I will miss the movie if I have to go pee. I used to be really nervous there would be too many people. Now, it’s just too fucking expensive. Snuggling in to read a book, I like to do this. But it’s rare to find a book worth snuggling in for. In the past, it also gave my mind a chance to double-time and start thinking irrational thoughts and leaving me anxious with a Xanax and water in hand.

But I’ve gotten better with my body (on good days). I openly admit that since I turned thirty, I evidently became a sweater (but at least I’m hydrated so it’s odorless!) I still prefer to watch movies at home but that’s because when you hang out with your parents for a few years you get addicted to closed-captioning and when you watch movies without it you feel like you are missing half the dialogue. Besides, movies cost like a bagillion dollars nowadays (my rates of inflation may be a bit off) and I really do have to pee like a pregnant lady. And yeah, I’m down for a book – but it better be fucking good. I’d say 1 out of 15 I get rocks my mind and then I spend two weeks trying to tell everyone and their mother why their lives will be changed and they can’t understand life fully without reading the book. But are those things I “enjoy”? Maybe.

Now, I’m not saying I don’t have things in my life that bring me joy. I only have to see a picture of my nieces and nephew and I get a surge of love. Sometimes, I’m on the phone with a friend, and I have one of those laughs that go deep down to your core – the kind that is so pure you can’t breathe. Sometimes, I do something that scares me, and for a moment or so, I feel flushed with happiness.

But, I’m not sure those are what she meant. It’s not like once a day, I can look at a picture and that’s my “me” time for happiness. And it makes me really sad that I don’t have an answer. All of a sudden, I have this personal choice and a strength of will I’m building. I can, for the most part, fight my fears and try things. But with this choice comes the stress of fear and failure and the realization that I’ve been depressed for so long I don’t even know how to be “happy.” It should be noted that I am also in the process of learning how to be “sad” while depressed, too.

I guess I have to start experimenting to see what makes me “happy” even in unideal circumstances. What are the things that bring me joy? Do I still love art? Cooking for other people? Sitting in a classroom and having my mind blown? Taking long walks to nowhere? Walking through book shops and getting excited just by reading the back cover? People-watching – anywhere really but especially in coffee shops or in restaurants? Giving platelets or volunteering?

What are some things I can do now, that maybe I couldn’t have done before that would now give me pleasure? What about the things I used to do, will I still enjoy them? Will it feel different? Is it okay if I don’t enjoy them? What else should I try? What does enjoyment actually feel like? How long should it last? What if it’s like drugs and it only feels really great the first time you do it?

Fuck. Should it be this hard to know what you like? Well, my mind is still kind of speechless. What do you do for pleasure or enjoyment? If you had a day ahead and could decide what to do, what would that be? How did you find it? Has the “it” of happiness changed in life or has it always been a certain thing? Have you found enjoyment with “it” during depression or only when you are in the clearing? Do you need to do them with a friend or do you prefer to do them alone?

In the meantime, I’m still hesitant to “clap along” Pharrell, but good for you.

Medication: A Complicated Balance

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It’s ironic that the next topic I wanted to discuss on this blog was medication, because the reason why I couldn’t sit down to type about it was because of my … medication. It’s a tricky thing – medication is intended to help you get back to your life; to quiet the demons so you are strong enough to get out of bed, get out of the house, try to have some sort of consistency or “life.” But it’s a balance because feeling better is a complicated mix, with some severe side effects that are both psychological and physiological.

I have been on prescription medication since college. With each medication came its’ own set of side effects including: dry mouth, akinesia, stomachaches, weight gain, (a pro-depressant if you ask me,) headaches, light-headedness, dizziness, sluggishness, wanting to rip my skin off, insomnia – pick an uncomfortable side effect, and I’ve had it. And sometimes you have to decide if the side effect is worth the effect you are receiving psychologically from the medication. This is a personal, complicated, and often difficult process (both in starting new meds and withdrawing from old).

Four months ago, I went on a medication and within two months, had gained 30 pounds without change in diet or exercise. At that point, I didn’t care if it made me feel like someone in an anti-depressant commercial, it wasn’t worth it. Getting off that medication was difficult with headaches, sluggishness, and stomachaches, (in other words – withdrawal,) and the weight still hasn’t come off. Two weeks ago, I went on another medication and developed akinesia. It was like having 18 cups of coffee on 2 hours of sleep. I couldn’t stop moving but every time I took a step, I wanted to lay down wherever I was – in the street, at the gym. I was spelling words incorrectly, having a hard time doing anything for more than 15 minutes, and having massive panic attacks. So yeah, I decided after two weeks that all that the negatives outweighed the positives on that one.

The medication I am still on makes it difficult to fall and stay asleep. So, I take medications to help decrease anxiety (both mentally and physically) and medication to not only help me fall asleep but ideally stay asleep. I know – you all of a sudden go from no meds to having five because the one you are taking needs four to compensate for the first one. But at the same time, I can see the positive changes psychologically the first medication is making and it makes the other four worth it. At this point in time, even with the sleep aggravation, it’s an aggravation worth dealing with because the benefits of this medication do outweigh the annoying disadvantages. And besides, if I’m taking one pill, what’s another four. :)

A large problem for people with bipolar or schizophrenia (or any other mental illness for that matter,) is that they go off their meds. They decide to either self-medicate or go cold turkey because they don’t like the side effects. On meds, they don’t feel like themselves – they’re cloudy, unable to concentrate, and feel like their creativity is suppressed. I cannot tell anyone what they should or should not do because making these sacrifices/decisions are personal. I will say that sometimes we either think we don’t need medications when we feel better, even though it’s the meds we are taking that are making us feel that way, or we don’t want to feel the side effects so we give up. Unfortunately, given the power of mental illness, I think sometimes we just have to honestly weigh how bad the side effects are in relation to the impact and effect the medication is having on our overall mental health and well-being.

Another reason I’m often tempted to go off meds is because I miss how I “normally” feel. Sometimes you are depressed or sick for so long, that being like that starts to feel like the norm. I’ve been feeling different since I was eight and with the meds, I sometimes feel like I’m faking this version of myself and that version lacks the sensitivity, passion, and creativity I used to have in handfuls with my depression. In fact, when I take medication and start to make plans and build up life, I feel this deep sadness. At first I thought it was the depression creeping back in but I think sometimes I’m mourning the loss of my sadness and mood swings.

It is in those extremes, I feel most “alive.” I am more impulsive, more creative, and less passive. I yell at people instead of being polite; I hate myself without the guilt of those around me telling me I shouldn’t; I hurt myself and no one can stop me, and in a way, it makes me feel powerful, in control, and “normal.” Life may not feel dulled like when on medication, but I realize the feelings I have that are “full,” are dark, foreboding, and negative. When I’m having a hypomanic episode, I feel effective and efficient, but tottering on a string, about to slip and fall into a large hole of deep, intense depression. And I realize that in the end, it’s all about about the long-game and every day survival.

I know, at least for me, I also don’t just take these medications for myself. I take them for my family and friends. Because without them, I know eventually I’ll become suicidal (shit, sometimes even with them,) so I have to keep trying. After all, I don’t want to hurt my mom who tries so hard to help, or my friends who have stood by me for so long. I don’t want my sister to have to explain to her children what happened to their aunt. Even if I can’t fully do it for myself because at the moment all I can see is that this dry mouth is really impacting making any conversation and my jaw hurts from chewing so much gum, I have seen the possibility in others of what my life could look like, and I recognize it just takes time – even though I detest that idea, no matter how true it is.

I mentioned that I’ve been on medications for over 10 years. And that’s because sometimes medications stop working. Or they re-diagnose you. Or your lifestyle changes and a side effect is no longer viable. (I can imagine for some sex drive might become a game-changer. Sadly, not for me at this time.) I can’t think of a metaphor for how frustrating and disheartening this process is. It also has personally given me trust issues – what if I go on something and it works and I build my life up and then it just stops working and everything comes crashing down. Then, after all that, you want me to try it again? Patience is a bitch.

But every so often, I’ve found myself in a good place with medication and so I know it’s possible. And while faith is not a strong part of who I am, I can’t seem to get rid of the hope that one day I’ll find something that works and won’t quit on me. And so, at least for now, I won’t quit on myself.