I don’t usually revisit my past writing. But I feel it is now time to write this 4-year follow-up to one of my most popular pieces I’ve written, “How I Overcame Bipolar II–and Saved My Own Life.”
When I wrote that article in 2011, I had been symptom free for 4 years previously. This summer of 2015, looking back on it now, I had a major recurrence of mania. (You probably noticed if you were following my Facebook around May, June and early July!)
I say “looking back” because I didn’t realize something was wrong–you rarely realize something is wrong while in mania–until I crashed.
Since around mid-July of this year, I have been battling a very serious depression, which has brought me right up against my own will to live. I didn’t write about it until now because honestly, most of my attention has been going inward, trying to beat this, and I wasn’t ready to be public about it until now.
A lot of this was intertwined with drug use, and the stopping of drug use. The mania was both partial cause and partially caused by a binge in partying and use of psychedelics (mostly mushrooms, and a little-known designer drug called Moxy, but also 2CB and LSD) and GHB and pot, that started slowly the summer of 2014, after I had grieved my separation from Jena for 6 months.
After all the heaviness of that process, I wanted to go out and party and have some fun, which is exactly what I did. This started to build over that summer and fall of 2014 until it got, by my own reckoning (and some of those around me) out of control this past May, June and early July of 2015.
When I realized there was a problem, I stopped drugs, and immediately my mood crashed into a severe depression, that I am still battling today.
Once solidly in the depression, I realized that–probably owing a lot to my own partying–my bipolar symptoms had come back big time, and once again I needed to overcome them.
During my last battle with bipolar throughout my 20s, as covered in that article from 2011, I tried both lithium and lamictal, both of which I quit due to side effects that were intolerable to me. (Since it was dietary changes that ultimately helped me, some people think that that article was an argument against conventional pharmaceutical approaches, but it was not. It was my own personal story, that’s all, not an argument. As detailed in the article, I was completely open to pharmaceutical approaches, just as I am now, and stopped them only because of side-effects, not out of any philosophical or ideological opposition to mainstream psychopharmacology.)
During my last round of battling bipolar in my 20s, I was not regularly using illicit drugs, though I was drinking a lot of alcohol and coffee, and eating a ton of sugar. Cleaning up my diet, cutting out the alcohol, coffee, and refined sugar–plus the commitment to a yearlong challenge that gave me meaning and purpose–turned out to be enough to lift me out of my symptoms at that time.
This time, the first wave was a month of severe depression in which I experienced a total inability to feel any pleasure, and all I could think about was how pointless my existence was and how much better it would be to not be alive (though I wouldn’t pull that trigger, as it would crush my parents and those who love me.) After about a month of this, at my parents’ urging, I dragged myself to a new psychiatrist who–as in the last article–suggested lithium, and lamictal.
If you’ll recall from that article, I quit the lithium the last go-round because it caused the appearance of horrendous, pea-sized zits that I was not willing to put up with. 10 years later, my teenage/20something acne was now gone, and I figured it might be a different situation.
The mega-acne did not recur, and I have now been on lithium for 2 months. I definitely feel it keeping a lid on my mania. I also feel it slowing down my brain and, it feels to me, keeping a lid on my creativity. Also, it has more or less totally erased my libido, which is interesting to observe (for someone who has been so obsessed with sex). Slowing my creativity and losing my libido are not a long-term option for me. But honestly, things got so bad, I’m willing to trade these for a while to avoid the manias and get stabilized.
As fun as the manias are, they end up being destructive. And, as my psychiatrist pointed out, if you get into a mania, you *will* get depressed afterwards, there is no option to be manic without the following crash. So you have to treat the manias as well as the depressions. I’m hoping that, if I get everything balanced in my life, and stay off the high-producing drugs, etc., eventually I’ll be able to get off the lithium, as I’d like to have a healthy libido again!
We had hoped that the lithium would help the depression as well, but the it did nothing for the depression. So he put me on Abilify. That worked quickly, and lifted my depression for about 2 weeks, before it stopped working and the depression came back. The side effects were really bad as well–almost total insomnia, leading to intolerable fatigue, and also, an elephant-sized appetite, causing rapid weight gain.
The next line of defense against the depression has been lamictal. If you’ll recall from that article, I quit lamictal the last time because alarming amounts of hair were coming off my head in the shower when I took it. Well, since that time, I’ve finally thrown in the towel in my decade-long fight with male pattern baldness anyway, and lopped off my hair in April. So any added hair loss is not a problem!
I have high hopes for the lamictal but it has not kicked in yet, and might not for another month. In the meantime, I have tried a legal ketamine infusion. This is ironic, because I have in the past partied with ketamine illicitly. But it turns out ketamine has remarkable, fast-acting anti-depressant qualities, so much so that there are now legal clinics set-up where you can get an infusion for depression (though it doesn’t make you high smile emoticon (Google “ketamine and depression” if you’re curious.)
The first infusion didn’t do much for me, but I will try a few more in the spirit of leaving no stone unturned.
No stone unturned – that is my approach. It is a severe depression that makes almost every day it drags on intolerable. I have been sober (no alcohol, pot or illicit drugs) for 9 weeks, which has both made it harder psychologically (no escape!) but which I know is necessary. I’ve been exercising, getting a lot of sleep, avoiding sugar (I don’t drink coffee or alcohol anymore). I just went to a naturopath who took all kinds of blood tests–nutrient levels, thyroid, testosterone, food sensitivities, heavy metal toxicity, neurotransmitters.
I should probably meditate more. I will also probably start therapy soon. I had resisted that, because it felt to me like this was primarily chemical problem, massively fueled by all the chemicals I was pumping into my brain while partying. But a few months of sobriety has revealed to me underlying issues that I had not wanted to look at, and was probably using all those drugs to avoid looking at.
I need to get this bipolar beat once and for all, and I will do anything I can to do it.
The reason I write this is, it seems part of my purpose for living is to be open and honest about the dark side of life, the struggles that are equally a part of human existence as all the love and light, so that others don’t feel so alone.
I hope that by sharing this, anyone else who is struggling (or has a family member struggling) with mental illness can feel less alone, less ashamed, and less stigmatized. Fuck the stigmas around mental illness, it is something that millions of people are going through, and hopefully by talking openly about it there can start to be less shame around it. It’s not something I would have chosen for myself, but I am proud to be keeping up the fight to be well again, and to keep sharing my experience as I do.