Wednesday, November 17, 2010

San Fernando Valley of the Dolls

Some time ago, a fellow playwright asked for names and descriptions of pills I've taken in the past for bipolar disorder (as part of research for his play). And I realized I've taken a lot. Treatment of bipolar disorder requires somewhat constant vigilance as far as looking for new medications, and tracking what's working and what's not. I tend to wonder how these pills affect other people differently than they affect me, so if anyone else out there has experience with such things, I'd love to hear what worked and didn't for you.

Why am I sharing this? It's a little personal and probably a little scary, but my determination is to do what I can to lift the stigma on mental illness. It's a disease, just like any other, which requires medication and attention. I've always been very open and honest about it, and I think all the people in my life know if they have questions about it they can always ask. And also the title of the blog was just too good to resist.

Here is my Zagat's guide to brain pills.

Halperidol: This was what I was on in the hospital in Italy. Its nickname is Haldol. There is something called the "Haldol shuffle" - the description for the walk that you develop when on too much of this drug (which I was) - because you kind of zone out and can't really be bothered to lift your feet when you walk. Scary shit.

Risperdal: This was one of the first antipsychotics they tried me on. It made me extremely antagonistic and angry. I think at one point I threw the bottle of Risperdal at my mom. I was on this for an extremely short amount of time.

Zyprexa: I was on this one for a long time. It causes intense carb cravings, and I gained about forty pounds on this drug. (Which I've since lost, thank you Weight Watchers.) Other than the weight gain, this was a very good drug.

Abilify: I think I was on this one for about a year. I don't remember any negative side effects - I think at some point either it stopped working or we wanted to try something new.

Geodon: I was on this for years - ridiculously expensive, so much so that my doc was prescribing double doses but since they were caplets filled with powder, I had to break them in half and divide the powder and wrap each half in foil. It made my kitchen table look like that of a low stakes drug dealer. The nice thing was the 40 mg pill is my favorite color (turquoise). The bad thing was it occasionally caused my mouth to lock so that I was unable to speak. And then more and more occasionally until I had to switch to...

Lithium: Which I probably should have been on from the beginning and I'm frankly still not sure why it wasn't. It's older than time, it's an element so it's pretty natural, it works really well for me and I feel more like my old self now than I ever have on meds. As of this edit (2015), I've been on it for a couple of years and it's still great. Minor side effects for me include thirst which leads to licking my lips a lot which makes me look like a creepy old man sometimes.

Lexapro: An anti-depressant, which is often mixed with anti-psychotics to manage the lows of bipolar disorder. Sometimes I'm on this, sometimes I'm not. You have to be careful with anti-depressants because they can cause mania. In fact, when I was first going to doctors in Italy, they suggested that I take Prozac, and my spidey sense told me not to. Turns out I was right - my breakdown would have come faster and been much worse if I had taken the Prozac. I have to monitor my feelings really closely to know whether or not I should take the Lexapro. Currently not taking it.

Ativan: Absolutely my favorite of all my drugs. It is possible to develop an addiction to this anxiety pill, but I've managed to be all right with it. It is the most "Valley of the Dolls" of all the pills - it takes the edge off. And it also makes time move faster. Good for plane trips and anxious situations.

I think that's it. It's common for bipolar people to go off their medication, sometimes intentionally and sometimes unintentionally. It happens to the best of us. For a while I was putting stickers in a dayplanner to mark that I took a pill each night. But it's become habit, and I don't think I've missed a day in over a year. Yay me.

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