Monthly Archives: March 2013

Side Effect Hell, part 9: Sinking Through the Floor, or Floating Just Above It

For an index of all Side Effect Hell posts, click here.

 Drug: Sertraline

When you walk, you feel your feet touch the ground below you. It’s a reassuring sensation, but it’s one you never really think about. It’s always there, and you only notice when it doesn’t happen – like when you are expecting flat ground and instead step downward. It feel a bit odd then, like the earth has fallen out from underneath you.

Imagine feeling like every step you took was sinking in to the ground below you. Like your feet were passing right through the ground you could see, and hitting the ‘real’ ground an inch or two below you. On sertraline, it took almost a month before that feeling went away. It affected my balance, and made the world around me feel completely surreal.

That feeling was preceded by a month of feeling like I was floating an inch or two off the floor. Like my feet never touched down.

I knew that these things were a trick of my mind, that they weren’t real. But it didn’t stop me feeling very disoriented. Feet are supposed to feel like they hit the ground, and consistently not having that feeling helped make the world around me feel unreal.

Side Effect Hell, part 8: Dizzy Spells

For an index of all Side Effect Hell posts, click here.

 They call it ‘orthostatic hypotension’. It means that when you stand up or stretch, your blood pressure suddenly drops – and occasionally, so do you.

I have relatively low blood pressure as is – 105/70 seems to be around normal for me. And it seems that every psych drug on the market has the potential to cause these sudden drops in blood pressure. I don’t have a lot of room to deal with these drops, and it means that I often stand up and then sit down in a comical hurry.

It’s only a ‘minor’ side effect. It doesn’t happen all the time. But you feel like a running joke when you suddenly come over all dizzy and drop occasionally. It looks pretty funny, I’m told.

When you add it to everything else going on, it starts to get very wearing. I just want to feel normal, or at least somewhat close to it. Instead, every little thing seems to underline how not-normal I am.

Epilepsy and evangelical Christianity

In addition to having bipolar, I also have epilepsy. Not the scary grand mal  type – I have absence seizures, which mostly look like I’m staring right through you, until I waken a bit confused. It’s pretty well-managed, and I haven’t had a seizure in ages.

My diagnosis was one of the scariest things that happened to me in my teen years. See, my family was very Christian. and one of the things that they believed was that epilepsy was caused by demon possession.

I had already moved out of home, and started moving away from Christianity. But I was still involved enough to be afraid of what people would think, and what they might do.

I felt like if I told anyone, they might think that I didn’t have a ‘real’ illness, and that they would try to cast the demons out of me. I didn’t believe that I was possessed – I understood enough biology to understand that I was physically unwell, not under spiritual attack. But the part of me that still clung to faith was terrified. What if they were right? What if my sins were manifesting as demonic possession and I needed to have them cast out?

This delegitimising and stigmatising of a real illness, one that was affecting me, was part of what set me on the path to atheism. I couldn’t reconcile the fact that I had a real problem with the church view of brain problems as demons.

Evangelical Christianity treats many mental health issues the same way. They’re evidence of sin, of letting demons in to your mind by not guarding against them. Having real problems reduced to ‘you aren’t trusting God enough’ is disempowering for sufferers. It adds guilt to the already difficult process of accepting neurological and psychological problems.

It’s not ok.

My dreams

I will have to live with mental health issues for the rest of my life. It’s been hard, but I’ve come to accept that they’re part of me, and there’s no cure, only management.

It means that many of my dreams are no longer realistic. Unless I get myself REALLY stable, I can’t go into teaching like I’ve wanted to do since high school. My dreams of being an academic in the university system seem almost out of reach, given how much I struggle now. I don’t know if they’ll ever come back.

It’s time for new dreams and ambitions. I have to find a new path, and I don’t know where to start. I’ve been working toward the goal of either teaching or academia for several years, and looking elsewhere is difficult.

The one thing I desperately want to do with my life is to find a way to improve the mental health system, so that people like me have a better chance at living a normal life. I don’t know how, I don’t know where to start, but I’ll find something.

Someone has to stand up and make the changes happen. I want to be that someone. I’ll find a way some day.

Running out of options

I met with my case manager at Community Mental Health today. I’ve been asking for almost a month now to see a different psychiatrist, after the one I was assigned . . . well, didn’t work out so well. The news wasn’t good.

Apparently, the process to change psychiatrists in the mental health system involves having to see the relevant party again with another worker present and try to resolve the issues. Because I don’t feel like I can do that after that first meeting that left me feeling so beaten down, they can’t move forward with the process. My options are to go back to said psychiatrist or to look elsewhere for help.

A large part of me feels like I just can’t go back to him, that he was so disrespectful of me and so arrogant that I don’t want to go back into that situation. I feel like not going back keeps me safe from the feelings he triggered in me. But there’s a part that says ‘you’re sabotaging your own treatment by not going to him. If you don’t play the game then you’ll never get treated. You need to stop being so difficult and do what’s expected of you’.

I feel trapped by these two conflicting thought patterns. I don’t know whether I should go back, whether I’m just being stubborn, whether I’m flat-out wrong. Or whether I’m within my rights, that I shouldn’t have to go back to someone that treated me badly (badly enough that my partner was fuming as well), that I’m keeping myself safe by not going back into a situation that made me feel unsafe.

My partner and I decided that we would take another path. We have the resources to be able to see a private psychiatrist, so we’re taking that option. At least when you’re paying them, you get to have the choice of who you see.

I feel a lot of guilt doing this. Most people can’t afford this option, and they have to just take whatever the system throws at them and make the best of it. So I feel guilty for being able to short-circuit the system. But the other option seems so much less appealing.

Side Effect Hell, part 7: My Brain is Dipped in Honey

For an index of all Side Effect Hell posts, click here.

 Drug: Olanzapine.

I’m a student and a mother. Both of these activities require rather a lot of brain function – I have to be able to juggle the kids’ needs and wants, their appointments, my study, my appointments, and whatever else crops up. I need my brain to be in working order.

But the meds I’m on have dipped my brain in honey. I can’t think straight, I repeat myself, I can’t remember what I’ve said or done, and I can’t multitask. If someone’s talking in the background, I can’t focus on what I’m doing. I can’t deal with multiple inputs with any degree of logic or accuracy. And these things are essential to my daily living.

I’m adapting by carefully focussing on one things at a time, but with a couple of kids, that can be really hard. It means that if I’m chopping veges for dinner and one of them has a question, I have to stop what I’m doing or I’ll chop my fingers off and still not answer the question put to me.

Can I have my mind back? I need it!

Don’t tell me to stop taking my meds

I am bipolar. It’s a fact of my life, and I’m trying to come to terms with it. It hasn’t been easy – it initially felt like a life sentence. Slowly I began to realise that it did explain some of the crazy things I’ve done in the past, and unless I get it under control and keep it there, I’m going to repeat some of those crazy things.

I’m doing my best to learn how to manage this. It’s a combination approach – meds, thinking, and lifestyle changes. Each of these elements is important, and I need to stick to them.

For reasons that I cannot fathom, everyone thinks that a healthy lifestyle is great, and encourages me to pursue that. They also accept that talk therapy to help modify my thinking is a great idea. But when it comes to meds? Not so much.

I don’t know why, but people really push back at the idea of taking psych medications. The blunt fact is that without them I’m not functional. I may be going through hell on them, and they’re really affecting my ability to function – but since I started the great medication experiment, I’m up off the couch. I spent more than a month not moving unless I absolutely had to, in the depths of depression. That’s not living – at least now I may be sub-par in the functionality department, but I get up and do things. I write. I study. I cook. I spend time with my kids.

My manic episodes are scary – I get out of control. I’ve up and disappeared. I’ve ended up dancing the night away with complete strangers and ended up alone in apartments with men I don’t know. I’ve spent more money than I have. And I can’t control these things.

I need the meds as an essential ingredient in keeping me stable. But over and over again, well-meaning people question my need for them, suggest ‘natural’ ways to treat myself, tell me that they’re dangerous and destroying me.

Don’t. Just don’t. I’m trying to live a healthy life, and that means treating my body well, going to therapy, AND the meds. I hate them, but they give me enough of a stable base line to build on.

Medication is a fact of my life. Don’t try and tempt me to not take them. It’s not in my best interests, nor in anyone’s who know me. I want to be well, and I’m doing everything in my power to be that way. Meds included.