Let’s Talk about Medication

medicine
My current prescription on top of my eccentric collection of empty pill bags and extras since Day 1 of treatment

Ever since my first day of psychiatric therapy and prescribed medication, I’ve received so much advice that my medicines are poisoning me more than helping me. Many people have suggested that I stop taking those harmful medicines and seek psychological counseling services instead. At some point, everyone around me seems to become like a doctor who knows my medical record well. I’m not saying that the friends and family members who have advised me out of kindness are not appreciated, but I really want to stress that I know what I’m doing, and only I know how much my psychiatrist and the medicines have helped me all along. Also, it’s indeed very very frustrating to hear people asking me to stop my treatment because it is possible for me to take medication for the rest of my life with bipolar disorder.

It really has taken a long exhausting journey for me to find the best prescription so far as my condition always changes and my body reactions are very unpredictable — I’ve gone from Generalized Anxiety Disorder to Depression with many relapses to Bipolar Disorder I now. So unsurprisingly, my prescriptions have been quite diverse and ample:
– Tranquilizers (for my anxiety)
– Antidepressants (for my depression)
– Antipsychotics (used its side effect to help me fall asleep)
– Mood Stabilizers (for my bipolar highs and lows)

Each category has its wide range of brands and drugs. The most appropriate one is prescribed depending on the patient’s condition and reaction to the chemicals. I can easily name five different antidepressants that didn’t work or no longer work for me: Ixel, Wellbutrin, Effexor, Pristiq, and Mirtazapine. Honestly, I’ve never felt so ‘knowledgeable’ about medicine before trying out so many different drugs of the same family, as I’m very loyal to one single brand that works best for me whenever I’m sick. I always stick to Pepto-Bismol when I have an upset stomach and Advil when I have a fever or any pain issue. However, this practice of loyalty doesn’t work well for my mental illness.

Psychiatric medication is all about testing, waiting, and testing again, since I don’t know whether it’ll work on me, and if it works, how long the magical effect will last. Unlike physical illness on which we can apparently see the treatment’s progress, mental illness treatment requires a lot of time to wait for the maybe slight improvement, a lot of patience to create the best combination of drugs for the most desirable result, plus a lot of tolerance of pain and a lot of willingness to hope while the illness hasn’t been cured completely.

I won’t say that my prescription is doing 100% good to me because all drugs have side effects. Friends and families might see my freaking swelling face and body only, but there’s way more than that and I’m still willing to be on medication because I know I really need it. Fatigue, drowsiness, weight gain, headache nausea, dizziness, blurred vision, increased risk of suicidal thoughts and behaviors are all common side effects that I might experience as well. People without mental illness often focus only on the harm of medication rather than the help of it. I’d dare to say that I couldn’t be able to have made this far without having the medicines fix the unbalanced chemicals in my brain. Although I never know when I’ll have to adjust my prescription again, I’m more than excited to see how the newly added mood stabilizer has worked wonders on me so far. It really does balance out my manic behaviors in particular my impulsive excessive spending habit, which is extremely unbelievable for a signature shopaholic person. My urge to read and write unstoppably due to the fear of having no time left has also been eased significantly.

I thought 2016 was a tough enough year, but there’re certainly more challenges to face this year. It’s only the very first month of 2017, I’m just beginning to fight bipolar disorder, with many other unexpected incidents happened lately. And I’ve already almost killed myself using a sharp piece of glass and put myself back in another depressive episode again. 2017 wouldn’t be an easy journey, but every single time I survive, I gain a little more courage.

Best,
Norelle
Early Evening, 1.12.2017

 

How Mental Illness Hijacked My 2016

 

img_3902
Sadness from Inside Out | “None of the other Emotions really understand what Sadness’s role is. Sadness would love to be more optimistic and helpful in keeping Riley happy, but she finds it so hard to be positive. Sometimes it seems like the best thing to do is just lie on the floor and have a good cry. – Disney•Pixar’s Official Character Description

These two week have been extremely fluctuating and torturing. It feels like my heart’s being stabbed over and over again. I’ve been drenched in intense depression and uncontrollable irritation, which makes me and my psychiatrist really puzzled whether there’s a possibility that I’m now bipolar, which is quite possible and really SUCKS. It’s really hard to not hate myself and think of myself as a burden especially at this particular period of time. I’m not even counting how many suicidal thoughts I’ve had already anymore because there’re way too many. Racing thoughts, suicide attempts, and the feeling of suffocation are no longer strangers to me now.

2017 is approaching. And this is crazy. I didn’t expect myself to witness this.
By the end of every year people including I’d normally say something cliché like “Oh, how time flies, and a year’s silently slipped away“; I wouldn’t say it this year, however, because 2016 didn’t slip away. It realistically passed minute after minute, day after day, with me desperately counting how many days until I meet my doctor again, counting how many pills I have to take each night, counting how much longer I’ll have to avoid seeing my loved ones, and so on.

This list can sum up my significant ‘accomplishments in 2o16 (as far as I can recall as I’m very forgetful now):
Leaving the United States.
Part-time English teaching job, soon quitted due to mental illness.
Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) Certificate.
First tattoo, oh yeah.
A personal blog.
A Facebook page.
Unique handmade cards to promote my page.
Initiatively talking to strangers in bookstores and elsewhere.
An unexpected new friend who is always caring and considerate, and leads me to think from different perspectives.
Swallowing ten pills at a time (sometimes I fail, though).
A great psychiatrist who fights the battle with me.
Ongoing weekly psychiatric therapy and medication.

These words can sum up how fucked up I’ve been feeling all the time throughout 2016:
Insomnia.
Nightmares.
Fatigue.
Hyper.
Sharp Pain.
Generalized Anxiety Disorder.
Depression.
Agitated Depression.
Worsening Depression.
Relapses.
Bipolar.
Fear.
Guilt.
Avoidance.
Uncertainty.
Disguise, etc.

I really understand that everything I possess now including that intangible air is a blessing. I know that there’re numerous people whose sufferings are way beyond mine, whose lives are way worse than mine, but I must confess that, I’ve never suffered like this before in my entire life, and I’m feeling very very weak and vulnerable. 2016 has been a freaking painful year, so I’d never simply say it’s just gone and gone because there’s too much to remember for a lifetime. I’m blessed to be still alive because I could have long killed myself six months ago, but I’m incredibly in pain pretty much most of the time every single day. The more I tell myself to pull myself together, the more easily I’d worsen the whole situation, but sometimes I just can’t help it.

When I’m feeling OKAY, I’d always try my best to stay positive. I wouldn’t look back at this 2016 focusing on the Sadness side only, but I’ll NEVER exclude Sadness in my life. Although depression sucks and tortures me to a point that DEATH’s been a real temptation for many times, maybe my dear friends are right, maybe my doctor is right, that my presence can be a blessing to the others. 

Let me share one of my favorite quotes that gives me slight encouragement when I’m lost:
Do not go where the path may lead.
Go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

I’d be willing to scream ‘FUUUUUUUUUUUUCK YOU MENTAL ILLNESS!’ for a million times, but I’m not willing to let this demon called mental illness take away my life so damn easily. Perhaps waking up feeling painful every day should represent that I’m still alive, paving my own trail little by little even if I cannot walk and have to crawl someday.

THANK YOU VERY MUCH, to whoever has said even just one supportive word or shown a tiny act of kindness to me. I’m learning to become a kinder, tougher, and better person as I fight the battle and strive to stay alive each moment. By the way, I’m sending sincere blessings to you and wishing you a fruitful new year with happiness and health ahead.

Very Early Morning,
With Much Love,
Norelle
12.27.2016

 

My Diagnosis Began with…

img_5658
a drawing of myself in cap and gown in front of Royce Hall, UCLA (doodle back in May 2016 as a means of self-healing)

I used to be extremely afraid of sleeping on my own when I was young, and I’d always crawl into my mom’s bed when she’s sound asleep. I could recall seeing many doppelgängers of my grandfather (still strong and healthy now) in the apartment I lived when I was like 6 or 7 in a repetitive nightmare. I was so frightened that all the monsters in my nightmares were real and could come catch me.

When I was a teen, I still hadn’t overcome the fear of sleeping alone completely, but I managed to listen to the radio or chat with my night-owl friends until I couldn’t help shutting my eyes. However the monsters would still visit me from time to time, especially during exam periods. I remember crashing into an infinitely giant wall of tofu (yes, tofu) in a pitch-black space alone, and was awakened shivering and almost crying from an afternoon nap after having Chinese listening and Math exams.

When I was in college, my fear of sleeping remained, with an addition of more frequent and intense nightmares. One night I couldn’t escape from seeing a doppelgänger of myself attempting to kill me with a knife in a dream within similar dreams while being consciously awake. In other words, I surreally felt the pain and shock of being killed by another self with a poker face. Ever since then even the thought of sleeping itself was a complete nightmare, and I decided to seek professional help.

I had my first therapy at the counseling and psychological services center on campus on May 12, 2015, followed by another two appointments within the same month. I also found a psychologist who speaks Cantonese in the end of May, the day my friends and I had group graduation photoshoot. All of the professionals diagnosed me with anxiety and sleep disorders, highly possibly caused by my childhood memories, the upcoming graduation, and the unknown future after college. Will I get a job? Will I be able to remain in the States or have to move back home unwillingly? What’s ahead on my path? How will my life become after college? However back then I didn’t realize that having insomnia and nightmares consistently is a real problem, and I somehow stopped having therapy soon after graduation. I managed to take doses of Melatonin and drink neuroSLEEP to get myself off to bed directly and effectively. It did work like magic AT FIRST. I found this pre-sleep behavior somewhat became an addiction because I wouldn’t go to bed without having either of them, even when it didn’t make me sleep anymore a couple months later.

Sleeping has always been a luxury to me. I have experienced sleeping for 15 minutes ONLY and went to work. I also have experienced not sleeping at all for 70 hours and going out running errands numbly. I just cannot sleep. Even when I do sleep in reality, I wake up in the dream world. So I never quite consider myself capable of sleeping normally.

I decided to visit a professional almost a year later because my anxiety symptoms were affecting me so much that my long post-study-abroad-college life was gradually hijacked. I could hardly get up at 6 in the morning for work because I couldn’t sleep and was still crying helplessly at 5. I feared that my anxiety came back again; to be accurate, it’s never gone away. I was so exhausted and desperate that I put aside my teaching job irresponsibly, made numerous phone calls while still on the bed in the morning in the hope of finding a same-day appointment urgently. Not surprisingly I failed many times because all visits must be made by appointment only. But luckily in one of the calls the nurse said that she could make time for me in the afternoon on the day, and I immediately rushed to the clinic and met my psychiatrist, Dr. L for the first time.

She is a beautiful and friendly lady whose voice can already make you calm. During the first visit, I was so nervous and stuttered to describe my feelings toward not sleeping well and having terrifying nightmares all the time, and explain my physical symptoms like endless headache and diarrhea. I was soon diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder. At first I was only on a small amount of medication treating anxiety. But as months went by, many depression symptoms appeared and the addition of Depression to my medical record horrified me.

My depression is partly genetic and mostly environmental. By environmental I’m referring to my surrounding family members and relatives, friends, things to do, and places to go. My parents especially my father didn’t quite believe or accept that I’m mentally ill in the beginning. Their actions of telling me I’m totally spoiled to be not working and making excuses for my ‘so-called anxiety,’ and financially stopped supporting my medical fees had worsened the whole situation, tremendously. They didn’t see how desperate I wanted to get back my own life too. And that was when my depression began to grow significantly. But thanks to my sister’s understanding and her long and constant explanations to the family over the months, they’re now barely accepting it and coping with me. But I’m strongly unsure whether they’ll put me in that kind of situation again.Words are very powerful weapons; they come out from one’s mouth quickly, easily, and perhaps mindlessly, and the bloody truth is what’s been said cannot be erased. What’s happened during my journey can hardly be forgotten. Everything counts in my world, fortunately yet unfortunately.

Every support is sincerely appreciated. But almost all of my family’s and friends’ reactions only reflect that they have no understanding of what’s going on and knowledge of mental illness. Sayings like “you don’t look sick at all,” “oh god you look so fat and swelling now,” “pull yourself together,” “I’ve been worse than you,” “go volunteer and realize how lucky and grateful you already are,” or “your medication is only poisoning you” disappoint and hurt me; they’re like verbal attacks. Not knowing since when exactly then, I’ve been having numerous avoidance behaviors; it’s like locking all of your feelings and building walls and walls of self-protection.

To make it short, my depression is unstable despite the huge amount of prescription that even my doctor doesn’t want to increase anymore, and I’ve had three well-planned suicide attempts and countless uncontrollable racing thoughts to a point that my doctor suggested I’d be hospitalized (This suggestion still freaks me out and will do forever I believe). Anyway, I promised my doctor I’ll try my best to stay alive and embrace self-compassion. I’m now battling day after day, and being alive for each more day is already so rewarding. However when the demons do show up, I feel like waiting to be executed willingly with open arms. My anxiety is now OKAY, but I’m still avoiding meeting people and going out on my own unless necessary. I couldn’t even pull myself together for once and attend my sister’s big wedding day. My sleeping problem will probably never be solved forever. Nightmares are always here with me even during a very short nap, and I’d recall 3-5 dreams or nightmares each morning when I wake up. And headache and diarrhea won’t seem to go away. I still cannot sleep. I’m beyond exhausted, but I’m hyper-functioning all the time.

Having experienced all these, I’m now a strong believer that anything is possible, just as everything is unpredictable. I’ll never say that I must win this time because nothing can ever be guaranteed. But I’m not giving up. I’m still here, still jobless, still anxious and depressed, and yes I’m still blogging (Yay! which I consider a self-unemployed job).

Do what you want now, for you’ll never know whether you’ll have the chance to do it later.

Thank you very much.

Best,
Norelle
Late Afternoon 11.28.2016