Content warning: mental illness, medication, substance use
Lamotrigine saved my life.
I didn’t think I’d ever say that, but let’s back up a bit and talk about what it took to get me here.
I’ve spent the last fifteen years being incredibly skeptical of the benefits of psychopharmaceuticals. I’d heard horror stories from friends; young women who’d never been able to orgasm, or mothers who’d lost all libido after being prescribed Prozac for postpartum depression. I’d hugged friends goodbye after not seeing them for a long time, and they confessed that while they knew they should have been sad to see me leave, Zoloft had flatlined them to the point of not being able to feel. I’d seen dear friends used as human beakers, pumping them full of The Newest and Latest™ experimental drug, then letting them come down when that didn’t work or they got worse, and then onto the next.
I weighed the pros and cons. I knew that whatever combination of depression and anxiety I had cooking, or whatever long-cycling highs and lows I experienced, it didn’t seem worth losing my connection to my sexuality (which was, at times, the only pleasure I derived from life) and being able to feel even very unpleasant emotions seemed like a good trade-off compared to not being able to feel at all. I promised myself that if things ever got too hard, I would seek out meds — but I saved it as a kind of “final straw” option.
My final straw came last summer. I was wading through the pain of an abusive and unsalvageable relationship, and embroiled in another sort-of-kind-of relationship with someone who really loved me, but lied about me to their partners, and generally kept me in a push-me-pull-you holding pattern for months. To make matters more complicated, this someone also has a significant trauma history, and our courtship happened to coincide with the anniversary of one of the most fucked up things that’s ever happened to them. In hindsight, there’s no way this could have been a healthy situation. I was focusing on their pain and trauma instead of dealing with my own. They were feeling neglected and unsupported by their partners and used me to grab their attention. I was at turns over the moon and completely miserable.
I spoke with a mentor of mine, and amid the stellar advice she gave me was this lifesaving gem: “Say YES to drugs!”
I’d read about Bipolar II years ago when I was trying to figure out what was up with me. I’d been diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder, and even Obsessive Compulsive Personality Disorder, and while I found shades of those maladaptive behaviors in myself, neither of them made complete sense. My mood had generally always been low, ever since my first major depression hit in high school. Since then, I know I can rely on one or two major depressive episodes a year, usually a few weeks in length. While I’m in the midst of them, I often feel like I’m looking down a very long tunnel, but the pinhole of light at the end feels impossibly far away. Sometimes, though, I’d have these spells of feeling on top of the world, even on top of the universe. It’s like being center stage in PJ Harvey’s “Good Fortune.” Last summer, I was simmering in one of those moods for months. I was laughing even when things weren’t funny. I couldn’t focus on anything. I was talking faster and more energetically than usual (and that’s saying something). For the first time in my life, I applied the word “manic” to this behavior.
Let me make this clear, feeling manic is fun. You can do anything. The world is yours for the taking. You’re the life of the party and any self doubt you might be feeling is gone. I’ve had people describe being on heroin like this before. Even hard things are fun… Dysfunctional relationships, for instance, become puzzles to solve, something you can fix! But eventually, it’s like being at a 6 hour rave that leaves you sore and spent the next day, only extrapolated over a period of days, weeks, maybe longer.
I eventually met with a clinician. She was skeptical at first of my Bipolar II as a diagnosis. I asked her to trust me, and to my astonishment, she did. She prescribed Lamotrigine, and I’ve been on it for over a year.
The verdict? I could never have predicted how much better my life would be after the addition of a single prescription. I’m not perfect, not by any stretch. But I’m better. The word that comes to mind is “normal.” I imagine this is what people who aren’t mentally interesting feel like most of the time. I don’t have the high of mania anymore, and I sometimes feel like a slackass for not getting as much done as I used to during those episodes. Plus I miss the high. As a friend said once, a 10 on drugs like ecstasy or heroin make a roller coaster feel like a 4. So I’m readjusting. But I also don’t feel like Atreyu’s horse getting sucked into a sludgey swamp of his own apathy.
(Sorry for re-traumatizing an entire generation with that one.)
I’ve since come to accept that this is just another awkward part of who I am. I’m crazy as a shit house rat, and that’s okay. This has meant dealing with my own internalized ableism, my loathing of the pharmaceutical industry, and my desire to have willpower win out. Because, you know, you can will away mental illness. Like how diabetics can will their diabetes away. Or alcoholics can just stop drinking. Right.
Needing help isn’t a bad thing, it’s not a sign of weakness, and it doesn’t make you lesser. If you’re like me, you’ve been holding the metaphorical glass of water for way too long — the longer you hold it and the more that gets added, the worse it gets. It’s okay to set it down, and if drugs will help you do it, take my mentor’s advice and say YES to drugs.*
If you’re struggle busing really hard, check out this guide: How to Be Seriously Mental Interesting
If you’re confused about diagnoses or meds or anything having to do with being a crazy person, check out this excellent resource: Crazy Meds
*My advice is based on my own b.s. opinions and obviously don’t replace the advice of a doctor. If you can’t afford a snazzy doctor, see someone on a sliding scale. Find a way to take care of you, cos you’re a magical glitter pony and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. ❤