Christmas is the season to be jolly. Not so far.
These last few weeks have been difficult. I think I usually run at a lower level to others and have to challenge my negativity on a daily basis even when things are running smoothly.
But I started to feel the heaviness get heavier than usual. Of course, you respond to the challenge and work harder to see the positive, and ensure you do the tasks required of you, but without realising it, I’m feeling more tired and my temper becomes shorter.
All of a sudden I’m with friends and I know they hate me and are plotting against me. OK. Sure. I love CBT and DBT, but when my mind starts believing that the world hates me, that anything could be true, then the whole basis of CBT and DBT themselves turn upside down.
I turned to my psychologist, who is both a friendly counsellor and an advocate. I had my blood tested and my lithium levels were .4 rather than .8 or .9. Because of the toxicity of lithium in high doses my psychiatrist refers me for another blood test and prescribes another ½ a tablet extra of my Abilify. However, I prefer the results of Risperidone and take some of the tablets I still have left.
A week later, the second results confirm the first results, and the psychiatrist prescribes me more lithium and another blood test after Xmas to ascertain if further lithium is required. I, however, notice my emotions and thoughts stabilising with the increase in lithium over the next few days, and feel relieved that this latest episode is halted so quickly.
My psychologist explained that the drop in my lithium levels could well be because it is a hot summer and I have been drinking more fluids, which in turn would dilute the lithium. Although you’re advised to drink enough water with lithium. I also wonder what this means as the weather cools, will I need to again reevaluate the amount of lithium prescribed… More questions for my psychiatrist next appointment in the new year.
But the upside of this destabilising time is that I feel more comfortable with the label bipolar. I definitely feel a lot – usually negative – but also have mixed episodes, rather than the pure manic state I understood when I initially learnt about bipolar.
But my psychologist has said to me to not focus as much on the label as the symptoms. At first, that was a truly frightening concept. How could I understand myself, what I was going through, without a diagnosis, a category to pigeonhole me, clarify the situation, give me a clear identity? But when you look at the various reincarnations of the DSM-V, with the elimination, creation and ever-changing definitions, I might be classified as something altogether different 10 years from now. And that may also be because I’ve changed and so too has the nature of my mental illness.
Aren’t we more than a category or a set of symptoms (although sometimes all I feel I am is a mass of symptoms and there is no personality left)?
But I am more.
Engaging in the social media community about mental health is cathartic, informative and even healing. To hear how others daily overcome internal struggles and share my own. How we gain meaning and identity, makes me feel less alone in a world that can be fairly judgemental if you have a serious mental health condition.
Believe you me, being well is my life’s work. Don’t underestimate my strength or belittle my achievements. Pop psychology and gurus who promise a simple formula for success do not speak to the complexity of mental health issues and the diverse way individuals experience it, nor to my truth, my success and the way I create meaning in my life’s journey.