This post was originally published on October 12, 2016.
Like your garden-variety bipolar patient, I recently started questioning whether I even have the disorder in the first place. This all started when I decided to lay off the sugar and ease up on the caffeine because I recognized that my atrocious eating habits—like eating nothing until four in the afternoon—may be contributing to my regular ups and downs. I know. Duh.
Prior to being diagnosed in 2001, I was thinking that my mood problems were more about unsteady blood sugar rather than a full-fledged mental illness, so I started looking at my eating habits. Like any proper college student, I survived on four or five cups of coffee a day, peanut butter Power Bars (the only bars available in the ’90s that basically tasted like peanut butter-flavored beef jerky) and the Kellogg’s cereal of the day at the dining hall (the alternative was scrambled eggs so rubbery I couldn’t bear to take a bite)—all the while noshing on the booze-filled dark chocolates my roommate kept stashed in the dorm room. You know the ones; they’re shaped like bottles of liqueur.
I’d also heard a lot about how amino acids can work just as well—if not better than—psych meds to cure depression. Since my symptoms of depression typically emerge when I don’t eat enough protein, and since both Tryptophan and Tyrosine—which stimulate serotonin and dopamine, respectively—are packed into proteins, I thought maybe if I roasted enough chicken, fried enough eggs and boiled enough beans I’d be able to get off the psychotropic meds.
My recent reasoning to go off my meds was because I kept hearing that they may have adverse effects when taken for years on end. I’ve noticed that my focus is growing worse with each passing year, and writing seems to get harder every month. There have been times, recently, when I space out so bad—forgetting names and dates and even to close my car door when I park it—that I decided that my psych meds are making me stupid and maybe even diminishing my vocabulary. (It’s possible, though, that my addiction to the quick hits off Facebook might have more to do with it.)
So I raided the Vitamin Shoppe and bought special women’s vitamins, PMS formulas, K1 and K2, tyrosine and tryptophan and choline, DHA and other fish oils, calcium and magnesium and vitamin D. I also continued to watch my intake of refined sugar and white flower—all of this, I decided, would certainly make it okay for me to taper off all of my psych meds.
Now it’s true that I didn’t run any of this by my psychiatrist. I did, however, tell my roommate and my best friend, and though they were skeptical, they didn’t yell at me. I interpreted this as a big green light and I thought for sure I’d be alright. Plus, I’d recently tapered off a different antidepressant (while still taking Wellbutrin) a few weeks earlier, and that process wasn’t hellacious at all, so I figured I’d be okay.
I was! Well…for a few days.
I cut my dose of Wellbutrin down by half, and since I take such a low dose in the first place, I ended up cutting it out entirely after about a week. I couldn’t believe that I felt so normal a few days after axing it. But anyone who knows anything at all about psych meds knows they stay in your system for at least six weeks, sometimes up to six months. It was a little early to be so excited. I also started cutting off 25 mg from the 200 mg of Lamictal I was taking daily as a mood stabilizer.
Everything was fine until about three or four days later. I suddenly became very paranoid that my roommate was furious with me. Every little thing she did I interpreted as a sign that she hated my guts—like when she slammed the door to the microwave while making her Lean Cuisine. When she innocently mentioned it was my turn to buy coffee, I thought she was passive-aggressively trying to hint that I should just move out because I’m not responsible enough to remember whose turn it is to buy coffee. A small part of me knew it might have to do with the meds, but another part of me was convinced that she truly hated me. Though I recalled that prior to going on an antidepressant, my already bad social anxiety was off the charts—everything was about me, just in case my paranoia was actually keen perception, I decided to check it out.
“I’m thinking maybe I should just move out,” I stammered the next time I saw her.
“What are you talking about?” she asked.
“You seem upset at me,” I said. My voice began to rattle more, stuck somewhere between rage and complete terror. “And I don’t want to keep upsetting you with things like not getting the coffee.”
You should know that Karen is 65—so well beyond the mind games most people play in their 20s. Second, she’s a total “normie,” with one of the sanest and most rational constitutions I’ve ever encountered. So she set me at ease really fast.
“That’s all in your head,” she said with particularly sharp enunciation and an above-average volume to be sure the words pushed through my thick skull.
Later that day, I found myself lying face-up on the floor beneath my desk while choking on my own sobs, tears pouring down my face for no reason with the hairdryer roaring on the floor next to me. I didn’t remember turning it on. From this position, I stared at the dust-ridden baseboard and contemplated a range of self-destructive activities that might pry me out of that desperate sorrow. I could drink. I could smoke. I could off myself. Once my mind went there it occurred to me that the best thing to do was to get up off the floor, take my meds and wait it out.
“Don’t be a fucking idiot. Take the fucking Wellbutrin for fuck’s sake,” I said out loud to myself. “It’s better than fucking drinking! Anything’s better than drinking!”
This is true for me. The idea of drinking just makes me want to vomit. Toward the end of my drinking days, I’d get super trashed in an effort to shut my head off, but instead, alcohol made me feel 500 times worse.
It didn’t take long after I popped my pills for my moods to even out. Just a half an hour later, the sobs stopped and by the next day all those paranoid thoughts vanished—my roommate no longer hated me. But most importantly, I’ve learned that until I’ve spoken to my psych doc about these brilliant ideas, I have no business pulling the plug on the whole med thing.