Prescription medication vs herbal remedies

I’m almost a little scared to write about this, because it seems like these to very distinctive camps simply cannot agree. But in this post I don’t want to discuss which one is better than the other, or what I prefer. I just want to bring some facts to everyone’s attention, and hopefully give some insight. I’ll do my best to keep my personal opinion to myself.

Most people who prefer to uses herbal stuff are all-natural, free range, organic kind of people. The whole thing, as I understand it, is about not putting anything that the earth didn’t produce itself, into your body. I think. I respect that. The prescription drugs we take to keep our brains under control can have nasty side-effects and while they are good for your brain, they’re not always so good for your body. But is herbal remedies really that much better, just because it is only made from plants and things?

My major problem (and hopefully the last of my opinions) with herbal remedies is that it leaves waaaaay too much room to be swindled out of your money with nothing to show for it. A quick google search shows you that you can use anything from lavender to kava to a whole lot of unpronounceable herbs to ‘cure’ your depression. And these drugs are not tested by the FDA. Often, or dare I say most of the time, no studies were performed on these remedies, or the sample size was very tiny. So we can’t even know what the side-effects are most of the time, until we experience it. If you take a remedy with say hibiscus, your whole oral cavity can swell up and you wouldn’t have known that it would happen. At least when I took anti-convulsants, I knew of the possibility that a rash could develop.

The other major problem is that herbal remedies aren’t usually tested to find out how they interact with other herbal remedies, or western medicine. Maybe someone can help me with this one (honest question because I really don’t know): I’ve never used St. John’s Wart, mostly because the leaflets in my medicine boxes says it can cause a bad reaction. My question is if St. John’s Wart comes with the same warning label? How about its interaction with ibuprofen, paracetamol, codeine etc? Is it safe?

I understand why someone would want to use herbal remedies instead of medication for things like insomnia, anxiety, depression, energy etc. Heck, I used to use them for anxiety and insomnia. They aren’t addictive, for one. And maybe some of them actually work and are safer. I didn’t experience any side-effects from the ones I tried. But then again I didn’t experience any effects at all!

So here’s what I’m saying: Don’t dis western prescription medication. They have been tried and tested and refined. Sure, they can be bad for you, but there is at least some science behind them. You can talk to various specialists and while they won’t agree 100%, they will agree on the principles. And don’t start the ‘big pharma’ debate where I can hear you. If it wasn’t for medication I wouldn’t be typing here, I’d be dead by my own hand.

If you prefer herbal remedies, that is your prerogative, and if you have found something that has been proven safe AND effective, please let me know so I can check it out. But before you stick anything into your mouth, whether herbal or not, DO YOUR RESEARCH. And that’s not just checking the first site you can find on google. Find at least three corroborating  sources. TALK TO AN EXPERT, whether traditional alternative therapy practitioners, or western trained doctors, and make sure you find out about possible side-effects and interactions. MONITOR CHANGES TO YOUR BODY, just like you would with anything else you take. DON’T GRAB THE FIRST THING YOU SEE, because more expensive is not necessarily better. CHECK THAT THE MANUFACTURER IS CREDIBLE.

Don’t be a sheep and don’t be taken for a fool either. No matter what you choose to treat yourself with, be sure to check the facts and get your bang for your buck.

How mental illness is good for the environment

Let’s face it, in recent years, and maybe not so recent, us humans have been abusing and destroying our beautiful planet. My country is classified as a ‘developing’ one, and our government is incompetent at best. So when it comes to all things environmental, despite having brilliant scientists, I would say that we are generally a bit behind.

So when we had electricity shortages a few years ago, and then again a few years after that, no one was prepared. And when we went into a massive drought, where some areas have now been declared as disaster areas, no one was prepared. ‘Yeah, so what?’ I hear you thinking. ‘What has this got to do with bipolar or mental health?’

It’s simple. In trying to be more vigilant by finding ways I can save resources, I have found that due to my mental illness, I already do! Let’s look at saving water, for example: when I’m depressed I save loads of water from not showering or washing my hair. I’m not proud of this, but if you’ve been depressed you’d know that personal hygiene is really too much of an effort. I mostly just swap one pair of pajamas for another pair, so I very rarely have to do laundry. And even when I do, I just don’t. I certainly don’t touch the dishes (if I even eat), and my mushy brain completely forgets to water my few pot plants. The only water I really use, is for drinking, brushing my teeth (the one thing I always do) and flushing the toilet.

As for electricity, no need to turn the lights on when you’re sleeping most of the time. I don’t use much hot water, or big appliances. My food intake is normally restricted to pizza delivery, ramen noodles, bread and cheese or a meal replacement shake. And lots of chocolate. So no using stoves and ovens here!

And my carbon footprint? Well as we know many people with mental illness are unemployed or work from home. I now fall in the second category, which means I might leave the house once a day to buy groceries or see family (I would love to add ‘and go to the gym’ but that’s not exactly happening right now, or when I’m depressed).

So there you go. If your depression, anxiety, medication side-effects or whatever your brain problem is makes you behave in a similar way that I do, always remind yourself that even though you feel like trash, you are helping mother earth to survive. Who knows, maybe that is our collective goal as the mentally ill. When the planet is in trouble, we get sick so lighten its burden and help it get better, if that makes sense. That’s what I’m going to tell myself the next time I’m horribly depressed, anyway: The planet needs me!

 

*This post is meant to be a bit tongue in the cheek-ish, so if you are an environmentalist reading here, please don’t be mean and bury me under links to piles of scientific research. I might have a panic attack and slip into a deep depression. Or get mad and go into bipolar rage, and you really wouldn’t want that.*

Am I being bipolar, ‘normal’ or just lazy?

From the forums, other blogs and articles I read, I think many a bipolar diagnosed person asks themselves this question. I certainly do, every bloody day. Since all the major changes in my life happened, it’s like I can’t quite seem to pull myself together.

The first month or so after my move it didn’t really matter, because I was okay financially, and I was happy to take the time I needed to recuperate, sort out my living arrangements and set up my business. My deadline was 2 May, because we had a lot of public and school holidays here in April. Until then I wouldn’t really care sleeping until noon (or past it) and just doing a little bit of work every day. And now, after the deadline came and went?

I gave up my 50mg Seroquel for sleep a few weeks ago and while sleeping was obviously hard in the beginning, now I don’t struggle so much and I can actually wake up at 8:00 or so. The problem is, I don’t WANT to. It’s way past noon on a Thursday and I am actually embarrassed to admit that I am still in my pyjamas. I have to start actively promoting my business which means handing out flyers and phoning people, but I just can’t do it. I am completely overwhelmed by the idea of interacting with strangers. Yet, on the other hand I am freaking out because I kind of need to start making money soon.

I’m pretty sure that the ‘oh crap what if this fails and I lose everything?’ part is ‘normal’. I’m sure that, for an introvert, anxiety about putting yourself out there and talking to strangers is ‘normal’ too. But what about the complete mental block? And feeling like I can’t breathe at the mere thought? What about the refusal each morning to wake up, shower and leave my house? Despite the fact that I (think) I WANT to work and stop feeling like I’m a lazy, unambitious, blob of a person doing nothing and going nowhere in life?

And the guilt, OH the guilt! I do nothing, yet I feeling incredibly guilty about it, so I totally beat myself up about being lazy, but it doesn’t make me get up and moving. So do I cut myself some slack and spend the day in bed without feeling guilty, or do I pick myself up by my bootstraps and just freakin get over it?

Am I being bipolar or lazy? That is forever the question.

Big wave, little wave

*trigger warning* This post contains mentions of suicide.

Greetings  blogosphere and interwebs in general. I’ve delayed writing a bit because you see, a lot can happen in a year. Also because bipolar folk are notoriously unreliable when we hit an episode. It’s really not our fault.

As for me, I won’t share all the details because it will be much too long and I don’t think it will necessarily be helpful to anyone. So just in short, in the past roughly 10 months, I did a stint in clinic because I was suicidal, then thought I was fine. Then, mostly unbeknown to myself, depression became a mixed episode and my life and my brain became all kinds of fucked-up (I will gladly share details if someone wants to PM me), then I did actually try to commit suicide, failed/was stopped, spent 5 days in ICU, went through the aftermath with the people in my life (this was by far worse than anything else). If you want to kill yourself you better make damn sure you die. That being said, now I’m kinda glad I didn’t. Most of the time.

Anyway, then my life fell apart. I had to take unpaid leave from work and left the city to stay with my parents in my home town and receive intense therapy. My doc also put me, and here is the important part of the post, Lithium. It took some time and a whole lot of blood tests to get the dose right, but it pulled me out of my very deep hole. I won’t lie, Lithium has its stigma for a reason and its side effects are horrendous. Apart from the common shakes and dry mouth, there is hair loss, stomach cramps, vertigo, unbearable thirst, acne, possibility of kidney and thyroid problems and probably some others. But how does it look on a practical level? It means if I don’t carry water with me all the time, I get incredibly agitated from thirst. I can’t apply eyeliner or do any detailed kind of work with my hands. My writing is even worse than it was. Some days my stomach cramps so much or I get such bad vertigo that I have to lie down. No matter what I do, my skin looks terrible. But to me the worse is probably the hair loss. I have thick and long hair and it’s EVERYWHERE. I shed worse than my cats and it frustrates me to no end. These side effects make me feel very sorry for myself.

So why take it if it’s so horrible? Because the 1 pro far outweighs the many cons: It keeps me from wanting to kill myself. It’s as simple as that, and the no. 1 reasons doctors prescribe Lithium despite its side effects. I’m still not on ‘normal’ between hypomanic and depressed, but I’ve only have little waves, not big waves. And this has been with a whole bunch of crap happening in between. I quit my job, left the city to move back home, had to find my own place, my father passed away and I’m starting my own business. It hasn’t always been easy, and there has been plenty of days spent in bed or in front of the TV, but I’m managing.

While most of this is largely thanks to Lithium, I am also on Wellbutrin, Venlor and a very small dose of Seroquel. I’ve also basically stopped drinking and have a good exercise routine. I’m not under big city stress (like traffic), and I am not in an extremely deadline driven industry. I try to at least do one big task/errand a day. All these things help too. I still need to get into a better routine and do something about my diet (currently I have only bread, cheese and a bunch of sauces in my fridge).

I curse the fact that I have to live with these side-effects every single day. I get very angry that people don’t see it and therefore don’t know what I’m going through. I feel embarrassed when someone sees my food fall off my fork because my tremour is so bad. But then I get over it and remember where I could have been. How I almost drowned in the storm of my own mind. And I ride my little waves, that no one even sees, like a pro.

 

*If you or someone you know need support, please call the suicide prevention hotline in your area immediately, or reach out to someone you trust. Threats of suicide should ALWAYS be take seriously.*

Update on mental health resources

I have finally taken the time to update the resource page. When it comes to researching my illness, I have become quite fanatic about gathering all the information I can get my hands on. I receive various newsletters from different sites weekly, google any questions I might have, and subscribe to online and print magazines. When it comes to bipolar specifically and mental health in general, I’ve become an expert with way more than a layman’s knowledge. I think that learning absolutely all you can about your illness is essential. Firstly, it will make you feel less isolated and alone. Secondly, it will make it easier for you to explain to the people in your life what you are going through, and you will know where to refer them when you can’t explain it yourself. It makes it so much easier to create awareness and being up to date with the latest research and medical advancements make for educated decisions and conversations when it comes to discussing medication and different forms of therapy.

Take some time to browse the resource section of this blog, and please leave resource that you’ve found helpful in the comments so that I can add them.

Picture the sun

After a year I think I am ready and in the mood (ha) this blog up again. Maybe for no other reason than that I need to. I need to write about my experiences and about what is going on in my head. I need to not care what people think when they read it, and focus on the good it can do myself and potentially other. An I miss writing, to be honest. Even if the only thing I’m writing about is myself and my mental illness.

But before I launch into what you’ve missed over the past year, here is the tattoo that I finally got that was originally inspired by when I started this this blog and chose it’s title. Isn’t it the most beautiful thing you’ve ever seen?!tattoo

Admitting when you need help

Earlier this week I went to see a new psychiatrist. Naturally I was sceptical but it didn’t take her long to win my trust. Her assessment of me was very thorough, she is open to new treatment options and seems to care (or at least pretends convincingly that she does). Her suggestion was that I go to a clinic to receive in-patient treatment while we adjust medication and to give me some space to just be without having to manage myself in the world, as this is more exhausting than most people would think. I agreed and will be going in next week.

Some people I have spoken to seem to confuse the reason I’m going, as I am not suicidally depressed or running around hypomanic off my rocker. They think I’m going in for a little rest, or a nice vacation funded by medical aid. While that is true, I will be doing a lot of resting and sleeping and switching off from society, that’s not the whole point. The reason I’m going is exactly because I am not suicidally depressed or hypomanic. Not yet, at least. Or rather, not at the moment. The reason I agreed to in-patient treatment is because I want to PREVENT things going too far.

For the first time since I was diagnose I’m actually pre-empting this thing. I can do that now, because I am more self-aware than I use to be. I can recognise a crisis creeping closer before it actually bitch slaps me through the face. I might be feeling fine right now. Right now going to a hospital and putting my life on hold feels like such a silly idea. I clearly don’t need it. But the reality is that I don’t know how I’m going to feel tomorrow. Or this evening for that matter. It’s become clear to me that I probably have some rapid cycling going on and that is part of what I want to figure out while I’m in the clinic. I can have my meds adjusted without having to worry about whether or not I’ll be able to make it through a day at work. I can talk to a psychologist every day if I want to. I can get focussed treatment and don’t have to drag it out for months.

It doesn’t mean that it’s not scary. And I think that’s what people who think I’m going on vacation don’t understand. There will be intense group therapy, one on one therapy, new drug regimes, routine, all in a foreign environment where I will likely be sharing a room with strangers who snore. But it’s not my first rodeo, so I know I’ll be fine.

I’ve taken the first steps; admitting I need help and accepting it. It can only get better from here.

Celebrating small victories in the midst of depression

When I’m depressed, I become obsessed about being depressed. So instead of actually doing my job, I spent the day on bipolar blogs and forums, finding comfort in shared pain.

I read a post somewhere (wish I could link to that blog, but I really can’t remember where I read it) about ‘how to get out of bed in the morning when you’re depressed’ and the person talked about a technique that I thought could be very useful: taking life one baby step at a time, while giving yourself the freedom to back out at any time. The person talked about how, when she woke up, she would convince herself that life is better once she’s had coffee, so she might as well get up and have coffee. Then she would tell herself that she doesn’t have to go to work, but that having a shower will make her feel refreshed. And then that she doesn’t have to go to work, but she likes to listen to music while she’s taking a drive. And so on until she would eventually get herself to work. The trick is to stay in motion. For someone going through paralysing depression, just getting to work is actually a huge accomplishment.

Today I was suppose to go to a Pilates class; one I know is pretty intense; but I felt so crap all day that I didn’t want to move, never mind do Pilates. I so badly wanted to be alone on my couch eating chocolate and staring at the ceiling. Under normal circumstances it takes a huge amount of effort to get myself to exercise. When I’m depressed it’s practically impossible. If I can’t get myself to go dance, I am certainly not able to get myself inside a gym. So I approached the situation with the same mindset. After work just get yourself to the gym. Just take your card and swipe your access card. Turn right around if you want to. So I did that. Once inside, I said to myself, just put on your gym clothes. You’ve got your bag here, just get dressed and leave. By the time I was dressed I thought, might as well spend 5mins on the bike (the only form of gym cardio I actually enjoy). Five minutes turned into 20 and I was actually disappointed that my time was up just as I was half way through my second game of solitaire (machines these days, incredible).

While lying in the fetus position bawling my eyes out not a few hours ago (what is it with the fetus position that it is so comforting?), feeling pain take over my whole body and soul, I reflected on this. Look, I barely broke a sweat. I wasn’t even out of breath. I didn’t make it to Pilates. But I was there. I showed up. I kept moving and for 20mins of my day, I actually felt a bit better. In my brain I know that it was actually a victory. In my brain I know that I should be proud of myself, because putting one foot in front of the other is an achievement when you’re depressed. I rewarded myself with that chocolate I was waiting for all day.

I still feel like shite. What it feels like when your emotional pain is so intense that you actually feel it in your whole body is something I can’t explain. I don’t know if the same technique is going to work to get myself to work tomorrow. Maybe I’ll be fine by tomorrow (I’m starting to suspect that I might be the rapid cycling kind). At least I know that today I did something. And that’s a small victory worth celebrating.

Getting over it and back: The first (practical) signs of depression

Happy belated new year to the troopers actually still willing to read my sporadic ramblings.

For me it’s mostly been a good one. I’ve realised that blogging, for me, is like praying (which is wrong on so many levels); when life is good, there really isn’t much to say (except for the occasional ‘thank you’), but it’s when things start going pear shaped that we (I) feel the need to reach out, express what I’m feeling or not feeling, look for understanding and kindness and someone to say that it will all be okay.

The last two weeks of December I found myself in a remote location on holiday with no working electronics to speak of, and no electricity for the most part. This recharged me like I couldn’t have imagined. It really put life into perspective and brought about peace that I had not felt in a long time. But then we get back to reality and have to face the world and we fall back into old habits and hangups.

As I mentioned in my last post, my psychiatrist told me to just ‘get over’ this little, ‘mild’ bipolar problem of mine. So I decided, skrew you, I will do exactly that. Which also means that I won’t see you again and not that it really matters, but you will lose my money so HA. I did give it an actual try though. My meds were working in their higher doses and I felt fine. So I decided no psychiatrists, support groups, blogs, forums, no nothing. Just taking my pills morning and night without thinking about it. And it actually worked, sort of. I really wasn’t giving much thought to this little ‘like high blood pressure’ problem of mine. I would talk about it freely with those who asked, but in a detached manner, like it was just something part of my past.

So I was almost two months in with this and it worked pretty well. In the meantime I met a very nice man, who it then didn’t work out with (men hey…). But shame, it’s not his fault that I’m depressed now. Maybe just a little bit. But I think it started a week or so before we broke up. Today I was extremely irritated and even a bit bitchy. I had one of those days where you just want to lash out and scream. And while I was lying in the bath tonight, while I was actually suppose to be at a dance lesson, it hit me. I am depressed. Not suicidally depressed, but it’s definitely there lurking underneath the surface. And I realised it’s been 3 to 4 weeks. And I wasn’t surprised as it seems like my period of calm is two months. It never lasts longer than that. Being older and wiser and being better at recognising things for what they are, instead of thinking it’s all in my head, I can now see some of my early signs of depression, which I will gladly share with y’alls.

The conversations in my head sound roughly like this:

  • ‘I am so bored. My work is so totally unstimulating, I can do it in my sleep.’ Followed by job searches.
  • ‘Once <insert event here> is over, I’m going to start tapering off my meds. I don’t FEEL anything anymore’.
  • ‘I have become such a boring person. Where is my sense of humour?’ (misses hypomania)
  • ‘Why bother getting up early when no one even cares if I’m an hour late for work.’
  • ‘There is a fat man standing on my chest.’
  • ‘I know it’s not really true but today it feels like life isn’t worth living’.
  • ‘Chocolate! I need chocolate!’
  • ‘I’m so fat!’
  • ‘Fuck I hate pms! This is the worse in my entire life!’ Followed by the realisation that I will only be having pms in a week or two.
  • ‘Take me back to the clinic where I can sleep all day and people feed me.’ Followed by looking at the clinic’s website and reminiscing.

Other signs include:

  • Easily sleeping 12 hours, being awake for about 7, and then sleeping another 12.
  • Drinking to get drunk.
  • Throwing all my good quit smoking resolutions out the door.
  • Being permanently irritated with my colleagues (but in my defense, some of them are chronically annoying)
  • Spending most of my time either watching series or staring at the roof.
  • Feeling like I have achieved nothing in my life and that I will die alone.
  • Guiltily stuffing my face, in a way that feels like I’m punishing myself.
  • Not showering over weekends.
  • Having unreasonable fits of rage or feeling like a friend/family member is out to get me or hurting me on purpose.
  • Obsessively worrying about something or someone.
  • Being totally unreasonable in general.

You get all those websites that list a bunch of symptoms about sleep and appetite and not enjoying things, but what I have listed above is what it FEELS like. The practicalities of it.

Luckily I have caught myself before things got out of hand. As always when I go through some kind of mood episode, I’m almost crippled by the thought that it isn’t the first and it won’t be the last. And frustrated that the medication that worked so well a few weeks ago has seemingly stopped working. And of course the horror of imagining riding out a depressive episode.

But chin up! This is still quite manageable. I compiled a shortlist of psychiatrists to research and luckily there is a support group next week. I don’t feel it, because I feel nothing but dread and horror, but cognitively I know that I can be proud of myself for spotting the signs early.

Getting over my ‘mild bipolar’

After having my meds adjusted last week, I went to see the pdoc again today. Changing from Geodon to Seroquel was not so easy, despite the fact that the pdoc said there should be no problem. For two days I was shaky, dizzy, anxious, couldn’t work and could barely sit up straight. (As an aside, no matter who says what, cold turkey is never a good idea. Taper taper taper.) This little experience has taught me to always listen to my own body before listening to the voices around me. Also that Seroquel is the unfortunate answer to my little hypomanic problems.

So back to today, bawling my eyes out because I am just too tired to face another day and then being told by my pdoc that I really focus too much on this whole bipolar thing. Mine is only mild and more on the depressive side (like depression is not excruciating) and at least I don’t have bipolar 1. And he sees loads of fucked people (his words), and I am not one of them. I am actually doing well. Now I can’t really argue with that, because I am not locked up in a state mental health facility chained to a bed. So yes, life could be a lot worse. But does that make what I am experiencing here, now, any less real, or earth shattering for me? No. In my frame of reference, this might not be the worse it’s been, but it’s getting pretty close. I’m not necessarily as depressed (touch wood), but my little trip into hypomania was almost as bad as it was when I was first diagnosed. So for me I’m pretty close to rock bottom. A more self-aware semi-rock bottom, but still. And maybe my rock bottom might not be as low as someone else’s, but it’s still pretty shitty.

Look, the man makes valid points. I know he says it to me like it is and not what I want to hear. And I know I can be a bit neurotic. But on the one hand you have people telling you to be kind to yourself, love yourself, take it easy, and on the other hand you have people telling you to put on your big girl panties and get over it. Life is hard and it’s unfair. I think this is what makes the journey so lonely; you can’t really win either way. People will always give you contradictory messages. You can’t compare experiences. And in the end you go back to it just being you. Not sharing what’s going on in your head and heart. You are still isolated, because none of us can truly understand what another person is going through, whatever it is. So we’re all lonely little beings wondering this planet by ourselves. Life is all we have, says the doc. Nothing, and no one else, really. Thanks for the good cheer, doc. That’s exactly what a depressed person wants to hear.

Yes, I have a lot to be grateful for. But that’s the problem with depression, isn’t is? There are no feelings of joy. Cognitively, yes, I get it. A part of my brain tells me what these emotions should be. But on the inside? I don’t feel it with my soul. There I feel only apathy, with bouts of anger. Mostly, I’m just tired.