In Love with Lithium

Here’s what gets me upset:  regardless of the program, therapy, rehabilitation program, or self-help book off the shelf at B&N, attempting to tame an addiction without a thorough investigation into one’s mental health by a professional (not a therapist, not a sponsor, not a general practitioner, but someone with the specific credentials to understand mental health “disorders” and the drugs that can possibly help), is like teaching braille to someone with complete hearing loss.  It might open up a new world of sensory exploration for your fingers, offer an insight and language with which to communicate with a specific group of people who share a different physical problem than your own, but it does not address the bigger issue of not being able to hear.  And lumping all mental health disorders into one massive category and allowing non-professionals to diagnose and prescribe, even via a casual personal story, is no less harmful than saying addiction to alcohol is the same as every other addiction whether it be sex, bath salts, binging/purging, meth, heroin, and on and on.

Too often, addiction is a symptom, not the problem, but in the hands of the wrong people, that claim can be turned on its head and used as some form of sick proof one is “in denial” or that their ego is fighting against the fact they are really just a ‘bozo on the bus’ and not being honest with themselves about their true condition, a condition through which adherence to a few simple steps can bring freedom, serenity, and joy.

Somewhere along the way, it became cool to be a part of a larger program of recovery;  that’s great.  Actors step forward and claim their seat.  Writers do the same.  Politicians even.  But it seems that with this new esteem has come the bashing of psych-meds, medications that not only save lives but that treat the problem, not the symptom.  I could run through the list of diagnoses I have been given by various professionals throughout my adult life, could tell story after story of how I fooled some professionals into giving me the exact diagnosis I wanted to hear at the time, and more tales of unsolicited advice from people who insisted they knew what I was going through because they, too, shared the label, “Addict.”  Or they were a family member of an addict or a whole family of addicts.  Often, these people are the ones out there shouting the loudest in a well-intentioned attempt to bring relief to others.  Often their shouts just confuse the issue for those of us suffering from something other than our addictions.

Lithium.  What does that word bring to mind?  To me it’s looney-bins, ‘One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” Francis Farmer (or rather Jessica Lang), and on and on.  So unfair, so off-target, such a stereotype from an old generation of labeling.  I don’t know a thing about Lithium outside of what I just read in the below article.  Not a thing.

[‘I Don’t Believe in God, but I Believe in Lithium’]

 

But I do know about Wellbutrin, Effexor, Zoloft, and Prozac.  In the first three, up until last December, I held my hopes for some relief along with a heavy dose of therapy and 12-step.  Why the first three and not Prozac?  Because of magazine ads, commercials on TV, suggestions from friends, and stories in ‘the rooms.’  These were the newer, cooler, if you will, medications that could and would bring relief.

A week before the end of a 90-stay in my first rehab, 90 days after having tried to shoot an 8-ball of meth into my arms with a 4 year-old rusty veterinarian’s needle previously used on our cat, 11 weeks after telling one of my rehab counselors I wanted to die to which she replied, “Oh Spencer, leave the drama for the stage,” 5 days before leaving that rehab, my other counselor said, “You don’t need that Effexor.  Just stop taking it.”  Literally.  I was advised to go cold turkey days before heading home.  What happened after isn’t the point; the point is this person wasn’t qualified to discuss psych meds, a psych med that had been prescribed by a physicians assistant the previous year.

I stayed off that med and all others until 5 years later Wellbutrin and Zoloft were prescribed by that Harvard trained psychiatric nurse.  They worked as well as they could while I secretly kept my truth:  I was raiding the needle-exchange closet of all the used needles dropped off by the meth users in town, sometimes scraping the residue out of those needles and using the clean needles on the shelf above, but at other times, just filling the used needle up with water, shaking the left over crystals together with the client’s blood and shooting it into my veins.  At work.  Yes, I hit a major bottom, nearly killed myself by going septic, and eventually went away to the PRIDE institute.  There, the doctor, a pediatrician, gave me her diagnosis and psychiatric recommendation.  A pediatrician.

A few more years later, last fall, when I finally accepted I couldn’t stop thinking about killing myself, I finally admitted to my therapist these fears (they had become not just ideations but a fear I would succeed), and I saw a psychiatrist for the first time in my life.  There was an initial diagnosis, multiple visits to ensure ‘bi-polar’ was not appropriate, and a thorough discussion of my med history and my current two meds (Wellbutrin and Zoloft).  We eventually landed on my needing to stop Zoloft and to add Prozac.  Prozac?  Isn’t that so 80’s?  Wasn’t that the catch-all drug of a generation of self diagnosed depressives?  Wasn’t it a joke?  I had to check my biases, my baggage, my history in order to hear what he was saying and to realize he was the one with the expertise who could possibly give me my life back.

He did.  As did Prozac.  You see, I’m on the obsessive compulsive spectrum which I never really knew.  My binging, purging, love of sticking needles into my arm, self-mutilation, and addictions were as much a part of obsessive compulsion and they were in what I thought was an inability to stop (addiction.)  Suddenly (weeks later), instead of a tiny unexpected thought creeping into my head creating a chorus that would scream, “DO IT (‘it’ being whatever desire was hitting me at the moment), I heard the initial voice and could stop other voices from joining it.  Instead of crying on the way to get drugs, hating myself because I couldn’t stop, I could now see my thought process. Where before I had no control over where those thoughts went, now my thinking was under my own reigns.  My obsession wasn’t in control  That is a big difference in the mind of a depressed, self-destructive addict.

I write this because I cannot emphasis enough how important it is to seek professional help, to question the baggage of all those non-professionals offering help, and to make sure you cover all your bases.  If you were recovering from a car crash, you wouldn’t just have your bones reset; your medical team (TEAM) would cover all the basis.  Putting all our eggs in one basket only makes for a big helping of raw, scrabbled eggs.

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