You’ll begin to notice a theme in these posts.
I’m very wary of pill-pushers in matters of the mind.
In January 1991, during Desert Storm, I almost died of acute iatrogenic end-stage kidney failure in the Emergency Room of Women’s College Hospital.
The cause? Lithium toxicity.
“Iatrogenic” means treatment-caused. My lithium levels weren’t monitored carefully enough. My case was rare, but not unheard of.
The Lithium Carbonate I took for close to 16 years to treat my manic depression permanently damaged my only kidney. It seems I was born with just one.
There was no going back. I would never get better. Just worse. Sicker. Until I had to go on dialysis. For two years.
On March 7, 1994, I had a kidney transplant. My sister Glorianne gave me one of her kidneys and saved my life. Now we both have just one.
Ever since, I’ve taken mouthfuls of pills every day.
The longer I have my transplanted kidney, the more pills I need to ensure my body doesn’t reject it, and for other complex reasons.
Once a week I inject myself with EPO because I’m chronically anaemic. You'd better believe that all these drugs have their side-effects.
Back in the 1970s, Lithium Carbonate was hailed as a psychiatric revolution –– the first drug to treat the mental illness, not just the symptoms.
It would supercede psychoanalysis and psychotherapy. Imagine.
Sigmund Freud was thrown into the dumpster.
It was quite the fad.
Choreographer Joshua Logan took it and swore by it.
It hit big after TIME magazine published an article titled “Maude’s Mania” on February 9, 1976.
It discussed how the temperamental diva in that popular sitcom was going to take Lithium, “the first wonder drug of psychiatry.”
Norman Lear, the show’s creator-producer, witnessed firsthand the results in one of his relatives on the drug.
My shrinks compared my mental illness to diabetes. A common analogy.
Both are chronic conditions. Both can be managed with medication.
Manic depression with Lithium. Diabetes with insulin.
It's really bad analogy, but I bought it. What did I know in 1975? What did anyone know?
Even the shrinks.
Lithium robbed me of my health. And it didn't even work for me.
Back then, it was prescribed in doses five times higher than today. I was a guinea pig. And it was the only game in town.
Now, psychopharmacologists know more. Lithium may be helping you. If not, there are other mood stabilizers that might. With fewer side effects.
The point is, find the right drug for you.
I found mine. Tegretol. It's very innocent, for me. After I started taking it in 1988, I never had another major manic episode.
I never stopped my psychotherapy, either.
Drug therapy should be one part of a mental health strategy that must include good “talk therapy.”
If your psychiatrist won’t help you, find someone who will.
A psychologist. Social worker. Consider group therapy. Peer support. Find a community mental health centre. There’s help out there, but you have to find it.
And start talking.
Mental illnesses are emotionally traumatic. Drugs are tools. Talking heals.
I’m not advocating that you make a decision in isolation to go off your Lithium. That's never advisable. Adjustments should always be medically supervised.
But you can see why I’m skeptical about drugs for the mind and psychiatry by prescription.