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Posts Tagged ‘medications’

It’s really hard for me to admit that I have prejudices towards others with mental illnesses. I have one; why the hell would I be biased against them? I like to think that I’m open and accepting and understanding, but my personal battle with bipolar has made me a bit of an asshole when it comes to other people with diagnoses. I try to battle with my knee-jerk emotional reactions using knowledge and logic but I don’t really succeed.

Something about people with personality or “non-chemical” disorders grates me the wrong way. I know that people with Borderline Personality Disorder or people who hoard can’t help that they do the things that their illnesses tell them to do just like people with chemical imbalances. I get it intellectually. But something about hoarders and people with borderline just grates on my nerves. I think it’s because my ex-roommate was both a hoarder and suffered from borderline, and the fact that my maternal grandmother is a Class A hoarder.

My grandmother hoards her own feces and used tampons and her floor is covered in two inches of rat shit because of her disgusting compulsion. My great-aunt slept on her couch once (I don’t know why she’d agree to that; the smell of the place makes me want to vomit) and woke up in the middle of the night with rats unraveling her afghan and trying to nest in her hair. My mom grew up in that shit-hole and I don’t know how she did it. It explains her apathy towards clutter, however. But I can’t separate other hoarders from this very extreme example.

Then my ex-roommate. Sigh. She fits the borderline disorder to a T. Koios and I never cooked or went in the kitchen for the 4 months we lived there, lest she go absolutely insane on us. She didn’t understand cause and effect at all. She broke the washing machine by putting rocks in it. So she could dye them purple. She also stole someone’s car and drove it to Alaska, but since she returned it a few weeks later with a bouquet of flowers she thought that it was “okay”. She tried to commit suicide while she was dog-sitting for a few hours, leaving the front door wide open. Our dog is a Beagle and that was one of the number one rules we set: no doors open when he’s not in our room, otherwise he’d follow his nose and we’d never see him again. Luckily he’s a service dog so he didn’t run, he kept licking her face and biting her fingers to keep her conscious despite her psych med OD and a fifth of vodka. She was a tyrant, going into rages over absolutely nothing.

My prejudice with personality disorders comes from the fact that I (illogically) think it should be easy for people with them to stop their actions. It’s not a chemical imbalance causing these things, so why can’t they fix it? I know intellectually that it’s even harder for people diagnosed with PDs because there aren’t any medications that effectively “fix” what’s wrong in their minds, but I feel like it should be easy to change behavior. Just stop doing it, you know? I can’t get my empathy past the “if you’re doing things that harm yourself and others, don’t fucking do them” thought process. Yes, I am a jerk.

The other prejudice that I have about mental illness is in regards to unmedicated bipolar people. I know so many people who are diagnosed, realize that they have bipolar, but won’t do anything to help themselves. Just go to the shrink and start trying out medications! You wonder why your life is shitty: your unwillingness to take meds is why! The fucked up thing about this bias is that I understand the allure. If I could, I would probably go off my medication despite the fact that I know that they make my life  better. I miss those feelings, in a weird Stockholm-syndrome way. I miss the emotional freedom to feel everything.

But there’s a difference between those who hope to learn to manage their illness without medications and those who choose not to do anything, even though they complain that their life is shitty. I don’t think that I could manage bipolar without meds, but that’s my personal illness and opinion. If diet or meditation or light therapy helps someone in their struggle with bipolar, I tip my hat to them. But the people who choose to stay sick for some chance at tortured-artist glory or unwillingness to change– that’s what pisses me off. If you don’t want to take meds, then don’t bitch to me when you can’t keep a job or flunk out of school. The answer is right the fuck in front of you: reach out and grab it or shut up.

Part of this feeling is my own arrogance. I was very resistant to medication but I sucked it up and tried it. I was tired of feeling the way I did and didn’t want to die because of my illness, so I changed myself and my view of meds (slowly, haha). I call myself the biggest quitter in history. I joke that if I had cancer I would just quit and not bother to fight it. I have poor taste in humor. Anyway, the point is that if I could stick with it and figure out the best medication combo possible, anyone probably could. I recognize that I had a supporting significant other and decent healthcare, which most people don’t have, but I still feel that everyone should fight their bipolar or not bitch about it ruining their lives.

Yes, I am an asshole. I know that. But these prejudices are just my emotional reactions to other mental illnesses based on my own life with bipolar. Is it fair? Of course not. Should I change my thinking? Probably. But I doubt that I ever will.

-Ashes

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While I’ve experienced stigma based on my bipolar on many occasions, none of them were as blatant and infuriating as when I had to go to the hospital last year. Last January I was having episodes of chest pain and shortness of breath. I’ve had occasional chest pains since I was six or seven years old but the pain only came when breathing too deeply; if I took really shallow breaths I would be fine, but when I tried to breathe even halfway as deeply as I could intense paralyzing pain would shoot throughout my chest and arms. These weird spells would pass after a few minutes and I never thought to get treatment for them. I also have exercise-induced asthma that can be triggered by cold weather, but I’ve never had chest pains that accompanied those asthma flare-ups.

The chest pains in January of 2010 were different than anything I’d felt before. My heart felt like it was beating in an odd rhythm, like that feeling you get in your middle when you miss a step while walking down a flight of stairs. The pace of my breathing was off. It would change from fast pants to deep inhalations and back again. The pain in my chest was only an ache, but on top of everything else that was going wonky in my body it convinced me to go to the hospital.

The ER staff treated my case as though they were bored of over-reactive patients with chest pains, but they did x-rays and drew blood and took my history. My doctor was thorough and listened to me, coming up with a few theories (he was saying that it was possible that the trip I returned from a week before this could have fucked up the part of my brain that regulates breathing and heartbeat from stress, altitude changes and lack of blood flow through my body from flying). He said that he would be back after my blood results came in.

Then came the nurse who asked me about current medications. As I hesitantly started listing “Buproprion, quetiapine, Adderall…” I saw the look on her face. Her whole demeanor changed. She left the room almost without another word and me, Koios and my family waited.

The doctor never came back but after an hour of us waiting for someone to tell us what was going on, a nurse finally told me to come to another room and told my parents and fiance to go wait in the waiting room. Luckily Koios told her that he was going where ever I went. He’s my backup in medical situations since I’m terrible at standing up to doctors and medical staff.

She led us to a tiny room with a couch and a doctor’s chair and told us to wait for the counselor. The door clicked shut and she locked us in the “waiting room”. I never been in a waiting room that had a goddamn security camera in it. Koios told me that it was the “crazy room” where they take the mental patients. Then the counselor came in and told me that my blood work was perfect and that I must have had an anxiety attack.

Koios and I were pissed at this point. I’ve had anxiety attacks and this wasn’t one and I told her so. Then she used her condescending “I’m your friend” voice and started asking if I was suicidal or if I thought that I was experiencing an acute illness often. She also asked Koios about his mental health, to which he stated “I have PTSD, but as you’re not being paid to analyze me, we should focus on my fiance who was obviously not having an anxiety attack back there”. I love him so much. I know it’s not productive to get hostile with medical people but we both knew that I was getting the shaft.

She made me sign something that said, in essence, that I would try calming techniques before I bothered them with health problems. I was so dishearted and pissed off that I signed it just to get out of there. I knew I hadn’t had an anxiety attack, that the chest pains and breathing troubles weren’t the result of my overactive imagination, that there was no reason to treat me like that. But something about medical settings takes the moxie out of me. I don’t want to fight them. I can’t muster the confidence to stand up for myself. I did email my Primary Care Physician and told him that I had gone to the ER and felt like they hadn’t taken my symptoms seriously, and that I was hoping to look into my odd episodes with him.

Two days after being written off and discharged by the emergency room I received an email from my regular doctor. He got the results of my blood work from the ER and was amazed at what he saw. My thyroid stimulating hormone levels were through the goddamn roof while the levels of actual chemicals my thyroid producing were on the very low end of normal. My fluttering heartbeat and odd breathing rhythms could have easily been a symptom of my thyroid abnormality.

Words can’t adequately describe the shift in attitude and demeanor that came over the nurses and other staff once my medication list was out in the open. One minute the doctor is talking about a possible EKG and CAT scan and the next me and my symptoms were ignored. My family and I were avoided like we were lepers. Then the rude probing into my mental health and the assumption that I was lying or hysterical, being locked in a room with thick carpet on the walls and watched through a security camera…

What if I was having a cardiac reactions to my Adderall? What if my birth control was creating blood clots that were sent to my heart and lungs? Why didn’t they use my medications as another possible cause for my symptoms rather than a sign that I was crazy and therefore not worthy of treatment? How could they ignore my extreme thyroid results?

That experience has made me determined not to go to the ER ever again. I’ll never see another emergency room unless they bring me in an unconscious in an ambulance. I know that this reaction isn’t mature and could endanger my life, but what’s the point of going to the ER if they’ll simply send me home when they learn about my prescriptions to drugs for treating mental illness? We’re all vulnerable when we’re sick or injured; why would those of us with a mental illness subject ourselves to the stigma and the indifference to our physical health?

I hope that I never have to go back there. I’ll try to make sure that I don’t end up in the emergency room so long as I’m not on death’s door.

-Ashes

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I know that those of us with mental illnesses aren’t supposed to do hallucinogens or other drugs that can hugely affect brain chemicals, but I have only glowing praises to share about salvia divinorum. It’s a plant-based drug that can cause mild hallucinations and perspective shifts while intoxicated. In my state salvia is completely legal, but a handful of other states rushed to criminalize it after young teens were found to be using it.

Salvia doesn’t create the strong effects (so long as you use it as a tincture rather than smoking the dried leaves) that acid or mushrooms can, but it does can some effects. Each time I used it I was able to see my life and bipolar disorder in a new light. I credit it with being the catalyst to my final acceptance of this lifelong illness. Although I had been diagnosed for 3 years before I started using salvia occasionally, I hadn’t really let go of my overwhelming sense of bitterness and anger. I still have moments of those feelings but I would still be a wreck without the two hours in my head that let me see that I’m relatively lucky; that I have the strength to live with this and still be myself.

The other nice thing about salvia was my ability to be honest with myself and Koios without breaking down like I usually do. Salvia let me get over some of the things that were holding me back. After I started my medication journey I lost the ability to paint or create mixed-media pieces. I have the technical skills and knowledge, but my drive was purely based from my bipolar emotions. I was very bitter and angry about it. I miss painting. I miss letting my mania actually result in something tangible and real. I miss losing my depression in mixing my paints and using my painting knives to create something totally different. But it was during a salvia trip that I was able to turn to Koios and say “I’ll never be able to paint again but it’ll be okay. There will be other things that will let me express myself. It’s okay if it’s not through oil paints and wire mesh and newspaper clippings.” The amazing thing was that I actually felt what I said. After I came down, I realized that I was right: I knew that painting wasn’t what made me me, that I didn’t need to hold onto that sadness. I didn’t need to mourn that loss anymore. Now that I’ve found a passion for writing fiction I have another outlet. If I was still refusing to create in any media because of my resentment of my lack of ability to paint, I wouldn’t have participated in NaNoWriMo and discovered that I love writing.

I’ve only had one “bad trip” on it, but it wasn’t terrifying or immobilizing. I was aware that it was just a trip and that it would end soon and it was an interesting experience. I’m not certain why my mind manifested the image of me being bludgeoned to death with a hammer, but it didn’t have the frightening feeling of reality that it would have if I had taken another drug. It felt almost like a buried memory or past life experience, but I obviously haven’t died and have never experienced any type of “past life memory” so who knows? Either way, I wouldn’t call it a bad trip personally, just an odd one.

While I’m not advocating that all of us crazy people go out and use mind-altering substances, I’ve found in my own life that salvia divinorum can have a positive affect on my opinion of bipolar and its implications. It might not be for everyone but it certainly has helped me.

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Prescribing psychiatric medications to children has become both commonplace and taboo simultaneously. PBS Frontline has a special exploring the issues of effectiveness, safety, and legitimacy of these medications as well as the wisdom of diagnosing young children with bipolar disorder. The Medicated Child tells the story of some of these kids and the pitfalls of the medication fix.

I’m all for medication for mental illness; believe me, before I was on meds I didn’t think that I would make it to 20 years old. I knew that I would commit suicide or develop a drug addiction to try to escape the unbearable lows that come with bipolar. It was a simple fact of my life. Medication made all the difference for me. But diagnosing a child– a 4 or 5 year old– with bipolar disorder and putting them on medications that can rewire their brain and chemical balances for the rest of their lives? It makes absolutely no sense. Yet there has been a 4000% increase in children diagnosed with bipolar between 1996 and 2008.

Many of the kids featured in The Medicated Child obviously have behavioral and emotional problems, but how much of that is caused by developing brain structure or the home environment? How many more “symptoms” are really just side effects of taking powerful anti-psychotics and mood stabilizers? Is it really necessary to label a child as bipolar and stuff pills down their throat? I understand that a lot of these parents are simply at the end of their rope. They’ve tried everything that they can think of to get their children to act “normal” and medication is just another stop in the journey to control their kids. It would be incredibly difficult and heart-breaking to watch your child react explosively to the littlest situations and I can understand the allure of a diagnosis. A diagnosis for your child means that you haven’t done anything wrong. It means that outside of medication, you don’t have to worry about trying every minute of the day to make your child be okay. There’s nothing more that you can do to help them, besides working with their doctors. The everyday struggle to ensure your child’s safety would be almost too much for any parent to handle and the desperation that it would cause is understandable.

There are obviously children that don’t behave or react in the accepted norm of childhood behavior and development, but why does the answer have to be harsh chemicals? I don’t see why these kids can’t be in therapy. Child psychologists that are worth their degree can be hard to find, but I feel like they would help these children a lot more than sedatives and atypical anti-psychotics. Children can’t express themselves in the same capacity that adults can, so how do we know that these outbursts and tantrums aren’t the caused by situational forces rather than a chemical imbalance? Starting a child in therapy before medicating would make sense, even if in the end medication becomes the more effective option. Talk therapy has a much lower chance of creating mental trauma, poor health, and lack of scholastic progress than these medications being used off-label in children.

Relating this back to myself (because I’m self-centered), I’m glad that I was diagnosed as a teenager because it gave me time to learn how to balance my medications and my life before I really had a life to screw up. I fiddled around with my medications and had my bad reactions before I had these responsibilities and obligations that could really set back my life. I graduated high school two years late because of my bipolar, but I don’t have credit card debt caused by hypomania spending, I’ve never been fired from a job for calling in sick when I couldn’t get out of bed because of depression, and I don’t have any kids that would have had to live through my mood swings and medication side effects. I don’t think that psychiatrists should wait until patients are 18 years old before helping them, but there has to be a line.

For Christ’s sake, let’s have some common sense. A 14 year old, despite the hormone changes, could probably be accurately diagnosed with a mental illness. But to say that a toddler’s tantrums are caused by bipolar is absolutely ludicrous in my opinion. Even if a 2 year old grows up to have bipolar, that doesn’t mean that doctors should medicate the toddler “just in case”.

Bipolar disorder is hell. I wouldn’t wish it on anyone, nor would I want someone to suffer with the disorder when there is a treatment available. However, too much is at stake for children to be prescribed potentially dangerous medications if there isn’t a need for it and there are other options.It’s negligent at best, child abuse at worst. The fact that over one million children (according to TMC) think that there is something wrong with them, that they need to “act normal”, is a depressing fact. Children are learning and growing all the time. It seems cruel to me to tell a kid that they’re not normal or that they have a disorder when they could possibly grow out of those symptoms or develop more refined emotional control and awareness. “If you don’t take these meds you will keep acting wrong” just seems like the wrong message to be telling these kids.

The Medicated Child was both disheartening and eye-opening. I’m glad that I watched it because it showed me just how prevalent diagnosing children really is. The only other thing that I can say is that I hope that neuroscientists soon develop a more conclusive test for all mental illnesses to try to save these kids from having to grow up before they really have to. Tell me what you think about this documentary! I want to know your opinions and experiences.

-Ashes

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When I first started the long and irritating journey of medication I didn’t think that they would be able to help me. I thought that nothing would be able to balance out my moods. Part of me felt that how I saw that world and myself was just a part of me, not the symptoms of bipolar. I didn’t want to live with the highs and lows anymore, but I didn’t believe that these magic pills would make me okay.

Once I was prescribed a medication cocktail that alleviated some of my worst symptoms, the pendulum of my opinion on bipolar disorder changed. I was under the impression that it was only a matter of time before I found the right mix of meds to make the remnant symptoms go away.

I now know that there will never be a magic fix for bipolar disorder. Even though I’m on a great mix of medications that let me be myself without the feeling over-medicated, some of my actions and responses to outside stimuli are still (and probably will be for a long time) irrational reactions based in my bipolar brain. Doing errands is enough to make me fume and stew for some reason that I haven’t deduced. If my fiance is a bit short with me, my reactions can be enough to turn it into a full-on argument if he doesn’t help me calm down. Driving to nowhere with my music turned up makes me almost manic and much more reckless with my decision-making processes. I know that these aren’t normal reactions and they make it painfully obvious that I’m not living a “normal” life with reasonable reactions.

This is where the Spoon Theory comes in. For those who don’t know (or don’t have the time to click the link), the Spoon Theory is a great view of how people with chronic health conditions have to function in their daily lives. People who are sick have a certain number of “spoons” each day, and every action that you make takes away “spoons”. Those with chronic illnesses always have to remember that they are sick because of the limitations of the illness. Even though I have a chronic mental illness, I see a lot of truth in the Spoon Theory in my life.

If I stay up too late and throw off my sleep schedule, I have less spoons to do chores and errands because it saps my motivation and follow-through. If work is crazy and I have a lot of intense or demanding customers, I’m not up to interact with my fiance or friends as I normally would. If I wake up early and take some time for myself in the morning, I’m better able to juggle the interpersonal demands of my life. The list could go on and on, but you get the gist.  Even though bipolar doesn’t limit me physically, no matter how stable my life and medications are there are still things that I have to worry about and plan around.  I always have to plan things out according to where I am in my ability to just live my life, lest I open myself up for a mental snap which derails my whole week.

Anyway, I wish someone had told me these things when I was first diagnosed. But then again, I probably wouldn’t have listened. I’ve always had to figure things out on my own.

-Ashes

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