More meds and some Med

The past three weeks have been dedicated to getting used to an increased dose of quetiapine (now up to 600mg daily) and the introduction of valproate (500mg as Epilim Chrono). The fluoxetine has stayed the same at 20mg; psychiatrist wanted to double that dose to 40mg but I tried that once before and it triggered hypomania.

So far the valproate doesn’t seem to have kicked-in. Psych says this can take 2-4 weeks and couple of 6-8 weeks before noticing any change in mood. The valproate / increased quetiapine together have had a very sedating effect and at the moment this would seem to be the only side effect so far.

It’s been a real pain trying to get the prescription sorted with GP and pharmacy; the former seems to find it impossible to write a simple repeat prescription and the latter seem inept at getting a stock of quetiapine. Though I’ve noticed the past month that several people on Twitter have also reported problems of pharmacies getting stocks of it.

The school year has now ended and in the end I managed to have only 4 days off sick. I was aiming at having 0 days this academic year, after the several months I had off last year. I see these 4 days as failure, though no-one appears to agree with me.

I’m going away on holiday to the Med; I’ve worked bloody hard for it.

 

tabs for blog2

June update

I’m relatively stable at the moment, hence the reason I’ve not written anything here in a while. The sole reason for this stability is my meds. After all, I don’t have any other help or input – in this respect I’m where I was three years ago, before therapy and starting on quetiapine + fluoxetine. I am theoretically in the care of my GP though I never see my GP.

After having so much time off work last year (several months) my main objective this academic year was to have no time off at all. That’s how stubborn I am! But here we are, seven weeks from the end of the school year and I have 100% attendance.

It doesn’t mean I’m “better”. I’m not; there’s no cure for bipolar. No cure for anxiety. No cure for OCD. No cure for the dissociation (DID). There’s just medication; damage limitation.

I still, of course, get intrusive suicidal thoughts. I still don’t sleep well. Surely 550mg quetiapine + 20mg fluoxetine daily should be knocking me out all night? But no, I’ve not slept through the night in decades, if I ever did at all. My short term memory has taken a severe hit (I suspect some of this is memory lapses linked to the DID symptoms) though my long-term memory in many respects would put your average elephant to shame.

Quetiapine continues to function in making me fat. It’s a straight either / or choice with these meds: Fat or Mad. I’ve opted for the former, somewhat reluctantly.

There’s a blog piece to be written about the DID symptoms I’ve experienced through my life and I’ll write than when I’m able to collect those thoughts together.

 

Madness

However much I improve, however much I remain stable, I’m still balancing on the edge of madness. So much so that I feel, even with a smile on my face, that balance could be tilted and into the mire I slip.

There’s no doubt I’m so much better now than I was all my life until the climb began a couple of years ago. While therapy did little except drag up tons of old stuff (childhood issues, physical and psychological abuse) that was then left to fester un-dealt with, the meds – currently 550mg Quetiapine, 20mg fluoxetine – have clipped the ends of my mood swings. There’s been no obvious hypomania for quite a while now, no deep low. My sleep is still almost as bad as ever and decades have passed since I slept right through the night – if indeed I ever did so.

Anxiety is always there to some degree; it’s the main symptom of my ultradian bipolar that hangs around stubbornly poking a long stick at me. The OCD, while a nuisance and often unpleasant, is mild and I can handle it.

I’ve had to live with this my whole life – I don’t just have bipolar, I am it – and as the saying goes, I’ve survived every bad day I’ve ever had. I’m still here.

But I’m still doggedly hanging onto sanity. Those claws could slip any moment making me fall into madness.

I call it (but only to myself) the other one. That other me sharing my body but lurking in the shadows rather than being out here with Me. The one in the mirror sometimes. Dissociation is something else I’ve always had; I can remember it in existence as a child. I’m uncertain whether the other one wants to choose madness. I think we always opt for survival, and bipolar suicidal ideation I believe to be little about actually wanting to die but rather, wanting to be free. To be whole, to be well. Whatever that is.

On the edge of madness, 24/7. Fighting a range of battles, physical and psychic. It’s quite the balancing act. Sanity is winning a struggle against ‘inner demons’ or the other one. Always teetering, always throwing one’s weight in the direction of self.

 

10 tips

My advice, from experience:

  1. Allow yourself, wherever possible, to be not well. Some days are like that; in fact many days are like that. But it’s easy to feel guilty handing your day over to something outside your control. If you have a job, it’s even more difficult. But on those not well days, take it easy: watch TV for too long; don’t shower if it’s not essential (and when is it essential?); indulge, mindfully, in your drug of choice later in the day (thanks, I’ll have a kir or white wine).
  1. Get some sleep. Preferably at night. OK, so this is totally outside our control and I really don’t know what the answer for insomnia is. Mine is chronic and seemingly without reason. It used to be worsened by night-time hypomania but I’m medicated now.
  1. Speaking of which, always – always – take your meds. Don’t change the dose without consulting your psychiatrist / doctor. Follow your medication programme closely. And if you’re bipolar then why aren’t you on meds?!
  1. Exercise isn’t the be-all and end-all; sure, a little walk on a sunny day isn’t going to hurt you. I discovered quite recently that too much exercise can trigger hypomania. So before you decide to climb that mountain, take heed to allow plenty of time and be mindful the whole time that you – not your illness – are in charge.
  1. Treat yourself. Indulge in those treats that ease your moods. Could be music – those old favourite tunes – could be chocolate (tell me about it..), could be a glass of wine (go easy, young fellow!). Don’t let it be anything destructive; hypomania rules that part of you so stand up to it, show it who’s boss. In theory at least.
  1. If you must buy loads of crap, buy cheap crap. And no, that Harley is definitely not cheap, even if it is cheaper than a yacht. I bought four USB drives the other day, didn’t need any of them but I can handle a £20 hit and they’ll get used eventually. Maybe not in my lifetime, but eventually.
  1. Do what the Walker Brothers and Edith Piaf told us and have no regrets. Don’t obsess on things. Just learn from things.
  1. Try not to kill yourself; it leaves a hell of a mess and doesn’t achieve much. It also means you’ve lost.. and you’re not a loser are you?
  1. Talk about it. Preferably to someone with ears.
  1. Get a grip. Do what it takes to stay sane. Yes, of course it’s a battle. A daily battle. Focus on the endgame: not the battle but the war. Be who you are.

22 of them

Time passing fast, almost the end of January.

I’ve been pretty much discharged by my psychiatrist as I’m seemingly one of her success stories; the meds appear to be working. The fluoxetine is clipping the extreme lows, with Quetiapine helping it out and of course clipping the highs as it does so. Poor overworked Q!

I returned to work at the end of last July, just before schoool broke up for the 6 week summer break. And I’m still there, having not missed a single day so far. That’s how stubborn, some would say how strong, I am. I’ve had a lifetime, middle-50 years, fighting, struggling, but ultimately winning.

It takes concentration, a continual fight, to exist. Yes, that’s what it comes down to: maintaining existence.

My enemy (well, part of the pack) is still that damned intrusive suicidal ideation that looks for any glitch in the system, any gap atomically small. And says “hey, do it! Why wouldn’t you?”

Why wouldn’t I.

And I’m in this war alone; single for almost 2 years. Almost friendless, alone. I was pretty much discharged by my psychiatrist at my latest appointment in the shadow of the New Year. Now I really am on my own. Me and my meds. Featuring battles such as “fat or mad” – I continue to put on weight despite my best efforts.

I don’t trust the meds; it would be extremely foolish to do so. Madness still breathes and creeps inside me. I still don’t sleep. I’m sedated much of the time, I’ve stopped writing (poetry, fiction). Meds and me, we’re like that chess game in “The Seventh Seal”.

 

 

So long ago. So clear?

This October has marked one year since I began taking Quetiapine (Seroquel) and yesterday my son told me I am very much better (“nicer”) than I was thirteen months+ ago. Personally, I can’t see it, though I’m aware that the meds have worked their virtual miracle on my out of control, life-long bipolar symptoms. I have no reference point to ‘getting well’ as I’ve never been well.

Although I only sought medical and psychiatric help two years ago, at the age of 54, I can recall mood swings and what I now assume were brief psychotic episodes back to the age of four. So then, a half century of bipolar and depression, untreated and ignored by those who knew me. Who know me.

Having had eight months off from my stressful job last year, I have managed to stick at it for a couple of months now without missing a single day. I’m stubborn; I won’t let bipolar dictate its terms to me anymore. I must have always been stubborn, otherwise I’d have sought help before now. Actually, as you’ll know if you’ve been reading this sporadic blog (sorry), I did present myself to my GP when I was 20 with severe depression. He told me: “Pull yourself together” and sent me away without help. I was so embarrassed I waited almost a quarter of a century before handing my current GP a letter detailing my illness.

I know exactly when the light bulb above my head lit up regarding bipolar. I’d tried several different anti-depressants over the years for reactive depression: divorces, deaths in the family. That kind of thing. But these meds had made me ill; none of them worked. Then I read a book called ‘Why Am I Still Depressed?’ and it all made sense.

Which brings me to October 2016 and twelve months of Quetiapine (and at some point the addition of fluoxetine). The Q dose crept up and I now take between 500-550mg a day in three or four doses; the days I’m in work I take that extra 50mg for anxiety.

The biggest issue for me has been the Fat or Mad? decision. It became apparent early on that I had to make a choice, and I chose not to be mad. So in a year I’ve gained over a stone in weight and my general fitness has suffered greatly. No-one talks about the physiological symptoms of bipolar, but they’re very much there. I’m sedated half the day and I ache like hell from tip to toe.

I still don’t sleep through the night, not by a long way. I wake every hour or so then fall asleep again quickly. My anxiety level is still higher than I expected it to be by now, and my mild OCD with it. The meds haven’t really touched the OCD at all. Neither did the nine months of CBT I received last year before starting meds.

I look back on hypomanic and manic phases with more embarrassment and utter bewilderment. How on Earth was that person me? A stupid question as I have no idea what or who me is.

Some things disturb me more than others now. About the illness, I mean. The dissociation is scary and confusing. I tried to get help for that during my therapy but after dragging this issue out from the depths of me, it was then left unaddressed. Yes, the dissociation disturbs me; I don’t like it at all.

The meds have lessened the occurrences of ‘extremely intrusive suicidal ideation’. It’s clipped the top off the highs and the bottom off the lows. I’m more stable. The fact that I’m compliant – both with taking my meds and attending my psychiatrist appointments – shows that I’m in a better place than I was. Not a good place, just a better place.